Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Value of Collaborative Thinking

I used to think that leaders liked change and followers didn’t. I had this idea that leaders were out on the edge and they had a machete and they were cutting a path through the jungles of life, and they were always out in the front leading change, and the followers were way back crossing their arms singing, “I Shall Not Be Moved.”

What I’ve learned is this–that leaders don’t like change any more than followers unless it is their idea! Think about it for a moment-when change does not occur in an organization, it’s never a follower’s problem because followers do what followers do-followers follow. When change does not occur in the organization, it’s because some of the leaders in that organization didn’t like the change. And why don’t leaders like the changes? Because they’re always asking, “What’s this going to do to me? How’s this going to affect my turf?” And they say to themselves, “This could affect my turf. This could hurt me.”

Followers seldom stop change because they lack influence; leaders often stop change because they have influence. The potential for change in your organization increases with participation. What you want to do is involve as many people as you possibly can in the change process. In fact, successful people know how to get shared thinking in their arena. They not only have their thinking but they know how to bring people around and say, “What do you think about this?”

A great idea just doesn’t become a great idea. A great idea is a compounding effect of a lot of good ideas; it’s out of the getting a lot of good ideas on the table that you get a great idea. The right kind of collaboration will drastically improve the quality of the ideas being shared. So the value of understanding shared thinking is that the more good people you bring into a room and get around the table, the higher your odds of getting great ideas.

I do this exercise all the time: Every week, I put different groups of people around a table, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, to get their ideas on the table. I don’t, however, just open up the door and say, “Okay, what do you all think?” You don’t want to do that because most people don’t think. You don’t want to say, “Everybody tell us what you think.” Ninety percent of the people don’t think at all. Ninety percent of the people just look for a line that’s moving and get in it!

So how do you know what kind of person to bring around the table? Listed below are ten kinds of people you want.

1. People whose greatest desire is the success of the idea.

  • You don’t want people around the table who want to see the idea fail. You have to have people around the table who are committed to the success of the idea.

2. People who can compound another person’s thought.

  • You want to bring people around the table who can take somebody else’s thought and play off of it and tweak it and make it better.

3. People who emotionally can handle the changes of conversation.

  • The creative conversation is going to go left and right, and up and down. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and you want someone who won’t let their feelings get in the way of progress.

4. People who appreciate strengths in others where they are weak.

  • These are people who can complement one another. For example, where you’ve got one person who’s a focus thinker and another person who’s a creative thinker, they will have to be able to appreciate the input of the other.

5. People who recognize their place of value at the table.

  • They know why they’re there. If they don’t, you will have a problem.

6. People who place what is best for them below what is best for the team.

  • These people know to check their egos at the door. Subordinating your own agenda to what is best for everyone is always good.

7. People who can bring out the best thinking of those around them.

  • When somebody comes up with a great thought, they can probe a little and say, “Come on, go a little bit deeper here. Talk to me a little bit more. Give me some more out of this.”

8. People who possess maturity, experience and success in the issue being discussed.

  • I want all three. I don’t want maturity without success, I don’t want experience without success, and I certainly don’t want success without either.

9. People who take ownership and responsibility for the decisions that are made.

  • They have the ability to come to the table and, after there is a shared concept and idea or thought that evolves around it, they can take ownership of it.

10. People who can leave the table with a “we” attitude and not a “me” attitude.

  • Teamwork is essential to accomplishing great things. You always want people who are willing and able to grasp this concept on your team.

Commit to getting these ten types of people around the table in a shared thinking meeting and watch the results!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Why Start a Business in a Bad Economy?

The economic situation is apparently so grim that some experts fear we may be in for a stretch as bad as the mid seventies.

When Microsoft and Apple were founded…

As those examples suggest, a recession may not be such a bad time to start a startup. I’m not claiming it’s a particularly good time either. The truth is more boring: the state of the economy doesn’t matter much either way.

If I’ve learned one thing from starting several businesses, it is that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders. For example, Orbitz launched in July 2001 — two months before 9/11 and at the tail end of the dotcom boom. One would certainly argue that this was probably the worst time ever to launch a travel website. Airlines were grounded, people were afraid to travel and we were financially backed by the airlines that didn’t have one more penny to give us. We not only survived, we grew into a globally recognized brand with operations worldwide. Certainly the economy has some effect, but as a predictor of success it’s rounding error compared to capabilities and dedication of the founders and executive leadership.

Which means that what matters is who you are, not when you do it. If you’re the right sort of person, you’ll win even in a bad economy. And if you’re not, a good economy won’t save you. Someone who thinks “I better not start a startup now, because the economy is so bad” is making the same mistake as the people who thought during the Bubble “all I have to do is start a startup, and I’ll be rich.”

So if you want to improve your chances, you should think far more about who you can recruit as a co-founder than the state of the economy. And if you’re worried about threats to the survival of your company, don’t look for them in the news. Look in the mirror.

But for any given team of founders, would it not pay to wait till the economy is better before taking the leap? If you’re starting a restaurant, maybe, but not if you’re working on technology. Technology progresses more or less independently of the stock market. So for any given idea, the payoff for acting fast in a bad economy will be higher than for waiting. Microsoft’s first product was a Basic interpreter for the Altair. That was exactly what the world needed in 1975, but if Gates and Allen had decided to wait a few years, it would have been too late.

Of course, the idea you have now won’t be the last you have. There are always new ideas. But if you have a specific idea you want to act on, act now.

That doesn’t mean you can ignore the economy. Both customers and investors will be feeling pinched. It’s not necessarily a problem if customers feel pinched: you may even be able to benefit from it, by making things that save money. Startups often make things cheaper, so in that respect they’re better positioned to prosper in a recession than big companies.

Investors are more of a problem. Startups generally need to raise some amount of external funding, and investors tend to be less willing to invest in bad times. They shouldn’t be. Everyone knows you’re supposed to buy when times are bad and sell when times are good. But of course what makes investing so counterintuitive is that in equity markets, good times are defined as everyone thinking it’s time to buy. You have to be a contrarian to be correct, and by definition only a minority of investors can be.

So just as investors in 1999 were tripping over one another trying to buy into lousy startups, investors in 2009 will presumably be reluctant to invest even in good ones.

You’ll have to adapt to this. But that’s nothing new: startups always have to adapt to the whims of investors. Ask any founder in any economy if they’d describe investors as fickle, and watch the face they make. Last year you had to be prepared to explain how your startup was viral. Next year you’ll have to explain how it’s recession-proof.

(Those are both good things to be. The mistake investors make is not the criteria they use but that they always tend to focus on one to the exclusion of the rest.)

Fortunately the way to make a startup recession-proof is to do exactly what you should do anyway: run it as cheaply as possible. For years I’ve been telling founders that the surest route to success is to be the cockroaches of the corporate world. The immediate cause of death in a startup is always running out of money. The cheaper your company is to operate, the harder it is to kill. Fortunately it has gotten very cheap to run a startup, and a recession will if anything make it cheaper still.

If nuclear winter really is here, it may be safer to be a cockroach even than to keep your job. Customers may drop off individually if they can no longer afford you, but you’re not going to lose them all at once; markets don’t “reduce headcount.”

What if you quit your job to start a startup that fails, and you can’t find another? That could be a problem if you work in sales or marketing. In those fields it can take months to find a new job in a bad economy. But hackers seem to be more liquid. Good hackers can always get some kind of job. It might not be your dream job, but you’re not going to starve.

Another advantage of bad times is that there’s less competition. Technology trains leave the station at regular intervals. If everyone else is cowering in a corner, you may have a whole car to yourself.

You’re an investor too. As a founder, you’re buying stock with work: the reason Larry and Sergey are so rich is not so much that they’ve done work worth tens of billions of dollars, but that they were the first investors in Google. And like any investor you should buy when times are bad.

Were you nodding in agreement, thinking “stupid investors” a few paragraphs ago when I was talking about how investors are reluctant to put money into startups in bad markets, even though that’s the time they should rationally be most willing to buy? Well, founders aren’t much better. When times get bad, hackers go to grad school. And no doubt that will happen this time too. In fact, what makes the preceding paragraph true is that most readers won’t believe it—at least to the extent of acting on it.

So maybe a recession is a good time to start a startup. It’s hard to say whether advantages like lack of competition outweigh disadvantages like reluctant investors. But it doesn’t matter much either way. It’s the people that matter. And for a given set of people working on a given technology, the time to act is always now.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

The Best Test by Chris Widener

Chris Widener is a well known inspirational speaker. He sent this article to me. I thought I’d share it with you. He is right on point. You have to strive to be the best if you are going to move forward in life. Don’t let what happened “in the past” stand in the way of “your future.” The secret of successful people is that they believe in themselves and they stay focused on moving forward regardless of the obstacles that may be in front of them. They see obstacles as a challenge to overcome, not something that stops them. If Barack Obama can become President of the United States against all odds, you most certainly can be successful in your life. The only thing preventing you from doing so is yourself!

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You stop being average the day you decide to become a Champion, because the average person won’t make that decision.” – Tom Hopkins

“What characteristics would help someone pass the “Best” test? That is, what are the characteristics of those who become the “best” at what they do? Here are some thoughts on the subject.

The Best are Optimists. You can’t get to the top if you don’t think that there is a top or if you think you can’t make it. One characteristic of those who reach the peak is that they always believe that things can get better or be done better. This pushes them on to be their best.

The Best have Vision. They can see ahead of the pack. Their eyes aren’t locked into the here and now. They see the bright future and what things will look like when they reach their destiny. While working hard for today, they live for the future! They do what Stephen Covey calls begin with the end in mind.

The Best Relentlessly Pursue Excellence. The status quo is not for them. They want to be the best and experience the best. And that means giving their best. They go the extra mile so that in everything they do, in everything they say and think, they are striving for excellence.

The Best have a Life Long Habit of Personal Growth. They don’t want to stay at the level they are at. They want to grow in their work, their intellect, their spirituality, their relationships, and in every area of their life. And they discipline themselves to put themselves in situations wherein they grow. Personal growth doesn’t “just happen.” You choose to grow. I always suggest what Zig Ziglar does and that is to enroll in “Automobile University.” Whenever you are driving around, listen to a personal or professional growth tape or CD. Over the long run you will grow. Also, read more. The old saying is true: Leaders are readers. So are those who pass the “Best” test.

The Best Understand that They will be Pushed by the Competition – and They Welcome It. Like the lead runner in the race who has someone on his heels, the best know that the competition is right behind them. They love it though because they know that the competition keeps them from becoming lazy and resting on their laurels. Instead, the competition pushes them to go faster and to achieve more – to remain the best by forging ahead.

The Best have a Quest for Leadership. Someone has to lead – it may as well be the best! Those who attain it get there because they want to. They want to lead and help make a difference. And they want to be equipped with the skills necessary to lead others on to a better place.

The Best Leave a Legacy. They aren’t in it just for themselves, though they will surely reap the rewards of being the best. Rather, the build things that last beyond themselves, things that can be enjoyed by others as well.

The Best are Adept at the Two Most Important Pieces of Time and Personal Management: Prioritize and Execute. Just like weight loss boils down to eat right and exercise, personal management boils down to prioritize and execute. First, prioritize your activities. The important stuff goes on the top. Then, execute: do them. The best have habits and discipline that get them to the top by doing the best things and doing them first.

The Best Focus on Building Relationships. Success does not come alone. Everyone who achieves much does it with the help of countless others. How do the Best get others to help them? They treat them right. They embrace them and help them. People become the best because they help other people, and people like them.

The Best Make no Excuses. When they fail they admit it and move on. They get back up and do it right the next time. They let their actions speak loader than their words. They stand tall and do the right thing the next time. No excuses, just results.

The Best Understand that the Good is the Enemy of the Best. Yes, they could say, “this is good.” But that would mean they have settled for less than the best. Many people think that good is good. Good is not good. Good is the enemy because it keeps us from the best. Choose your side: the good or the best. The Best choose, you guessed it, the Best.

The Best Dare to Dream. While others live the mundane and settle into a life they never bargained for, a rut, the Best dream of a better life. And then they take the risks necessary to achieve their dreams. They live by Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs though checkered by failure, then to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilit that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Want to be the best at what you do? Take inventory on the above characteristics and then start moving to bring your life in line with the characteristics of the “best.” Then when you get to the top you will know that you have passed the “Best” test.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

The Entrepreneur Breeding Ground

Recently I have been thinking about all of the great people that I have had the privilege to work with at Orbitz. Turns out that we have been an excellent Entrepreneur Incubator. Quite a few companies have been formed by people that cut their teeth at Orbitz.

Orbitz Entrepreneur’s
Leapfrog.com
Sells products focused on children.
** This company was formed by others, but Jeff turned them around.
Jeff Katz – Former CEO of Orbitz

Kayak.com
One of the first travel meta search companies.
Steve Hafner – Original start-up team at orbitz
Karen Klein – Chief Legal Council for Orbitz
Keith Melnick – Helped create the Orbitz Business plan while working at BSG
Kellie Pelletier – Helped create the Orbitz Launch PR Strategy

G2 Switchworks
Travel agent desktop software.
**Company recently sold to Travelport

Alex Zoghlin – Original Orbitz CTO and created the Orbitz idea
Michael Harbin – Established Orbitz interface for ticketing systems
Roger Liew – VP Orbitz Development
John Sokel – Senior Developer at Orbitz
Ellen Lee – Manager in Marketing at orbitz

Viewpoints
Consolidates consumer reviews of products
Leon Chism – Chief Internet Architect at Orbitz
Kyle Bolstad – Senior Software Developer
Kevin Lilly – Senior Software Developer

Naymz
Personal identity management directory
Nolan Bayliss – Helped build Orbitz Hotel systems
Tom Drugan – Managed the Orbitz Search Engine Optimization systems
Anthony Czupryna – Senior Developer at Orbitz

Accertify
Internet credit card fraud detection system
Jeffrey Liesendahl – Finance Controller at Orbitz
Gary Doernhoefer – Original General Council at Orbitz
Michael Long – Established Fraud group at Orbitz

Interactive Mediums
Provides communication solutions that help businesses connect to their customers
Jeff Judge – Director of Complex Travel at Orbitz
Dave Farkas – Senior Developer at Orbitz

Jaxtr
World’s largest social communications company
** This company was formed by others, but Bahman was brought in to turn them around.
Bahman Koohestani – Former Orbitz CIO (our third CIO)

If you take the time to review this list it will become very clear that they all are innovating, not inventing. Every company took something that Orbitz does as a function of running our business and commercialized the idea. Awesome job everyone!

I will periodically update the list as I come across new business that were formed by the Orbitz Entrepreneur Incubator.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.