Vacations are not for the weak. In fact, they make you stronger. So why do so many of us avoid them?
It’s hard to believe that half of us don’t take all the vacation time we’re allotted. How is that? In fact, of those who forego vacation, most give up 70% of the time they’re allowed to take. Incredible.
We just got back from two weeks at the beach, something we save for and anticipate all year. It’s paradise. Now, I’m not talking about a four-star resort. It’s a wonderful place we’ve visited nearly every year for close to 30 years, a home away from home.
Our kids have grown from toddlers to teens, from solo to boyfriends and back. We’ve welcomed extended family and been there just the four of us.
The cool thing about our vacations is that we immediately slip into our individual daily beach routines of bike riding, reading, walking the beach at dawn, taking an outdoor shower and so on. It’s a total break from normal, and while I don’t claim to avoid checking email, I’ve gotten better over the years about limiting my time online.
In fact, that’s the point. If you’re calling in and emailing, you’re not on vacation. You’re just telecommuting. One of my colleagues returned from his beach vacation yesterday and asked if I still re-live the beach schedule in my mind.
No, I don’t. While our time at the beach is sacred, once we leave, we’re gone. Hopefully ready to take on the world back when we resume our normal routine. (By definition, vacation, after all, means a break from what you usually do. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a vacation.)
Apart from the logical reasons to vacation — mental health, a break in the action, time to gather your thoughts away from the daily routine — there is a physiological reason to pack up and leave town. The brain, it seems, needs to rest in order to work well. Someone who stays at the office because they’re afraid of losing their job or in a misguided effort to show how dedicated they are is actually less effective because they’re not giving their brain a rest.
It’s true: vacations actually make you a more valuable employee. Not that that’s the reason to take one.
Summer is still here. You have a few weeks left. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get away and you definitely shouldn’t stay home. Recession or not, a vacation can help you function better as soon as you return to normal.
How do you feel about Obamacare? Have you actually read what it will do? Or is your opinion based on what you’ve read on Facebook and heard on talk radio?
Like you, my opinions are largely based on my life’s experiences. It’s difficult to separate what’s happened to me from my opinions because my experiences are real and I can’t deny them.
So here’s my experience about one aspect of Obamacare: establishment of health exchanges. These exchanges would be designed allow small businesses to join large groups that negotiate for better terms from health care providers.
There’s a lot of chatter, particularly here in southern states, that health exchanges represent government intrusion into the free market. Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal is proudly proclaiming he will not offer exchanges in his state no matter what the Supreme Court says.
“We have the greatest health care system in the world,” the GOP argument goes, “and we don’t need to change it!” Well, that’s not my experience.
Let’s go back to April 2002. The dot.com bubble had burst, taking hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs with it. I had managed to buy my firm back from the public company we had sold it to (and signed the papers just days before that public company filed Chapter 11).
Victory! Now I could re-launch my company and have more control over my destiny. One of my first steps: secure health insurance for my employees, as I had done in the past. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it’s an employer’s role to offer group health insurance.
My feeling is that I ask employees to commit to me. Providing health insurance, paid partly by the company, is one way I reciprocate on that commitment.
So I called my insurance agent and said, “I’m back! We need health coverage! Let’s go!” He was happy to oblige.
Step #1: He collected an employee census, the confidential survey where every employee provides information to the insurance company about their health. I never see these surveys — nor should I — and the insurer uses the data they collect to determine their exposure to health costs.
Just one day before coverage was to begin, I got the bill for our new insurance coverage. It was more than double what we’d paid two years earlier because it turned out one of my employees — unbeknownst to me — was seriously ill.
That made coverage prohibitively expensive for everyone else. (In 2002 dollars, a family of four at my company would have paid nearly $15,000 a year and that rate would increase by 18% a year, the highest allowed by law.)
We had been “max rated,” essentially priced out of the market because we had a sick employee, we were small and we lacked the employee base of a large company to negotiate for better rates.
As our agent said, “no one wants you.” And there was no recourse. There was no such thing as a health exchange that would allow our risk and rates to be spread over many companies, as exchanges are designed to do.
Everyone in our company had to opt for individual health insurance coverage, which was woefully inadequate. If you had a pre-existing condition, you couldn’t buy it. If you got sick, your policy could be cancelled.
My seriously ill employee had to leave our employ and take a job with a company where the headcount was large enough to absorb his risk.
Today, a decade later, we offer health care because none of our employees is seriously ill. But is that how it should be? Should companies with seriously ill employees be priced out of the market? How would I even know this is going to be a factor until I get the bill?
Should I be barred from banding together with other companies to negotiate with insurers? Doesn’t that represent a free market? In an industry as complex and capital intensive as health care, do we really enjoy healthy competition?
There’s fierce debate in this country about Obamacare and last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding much of it.
My experience tells me that for all of our amazing technology and treatments, our health care system is broken in many ways. Obamacare will help in some ways by establishing insurance exchanges. Other issues, such as our attitude toward health insurance as a vehicle to pay all our medical bills, remain unaddressed.
In my opinion, GOP arguments and many of the dire posts I’ve seen on Facebook, claiming that Obamacare is a threat to free markets and the greatest health care system in the world, aren’t accurate. What I read is often purely political and based on allegiance to a political party or a shallow understanding of an important issue that effects all of us.
I’ve been in business for myself through three recessions. We opened our doors in the middle of one back in 1990 but were too dumb to realize that it probably didn’t make sense to launch a company at that moment. Conditions began to improve a few months later but for all we knew, we were seeing growth because we’d hit on a winning formula.
Recession #2 came along in the summer of 2000. Few realized the dot com bubble had blown until the economy was headed straight down that fall. 9/11 made it worse. And on top of that, most of our customers were companies that had invested too early in internet marketing and were turned off by it. At this point I’d been around long enough to know times were bad and, indeed, business took several years to bounce back.
18 months ago the old feeling was back. With this recession, it wasn’t so much that companies canceled their plans or that we lost out on projects. It was more a case that customers decided to do nothing. Many of our competitors were experiencing the same thing.
Well I’m here with good news. Times are changing. Customers are thawing. There’s a white board around here from a year ago that shows our early 2011 pipeline and right now that’s where some of our new business is coming from. You can feel it. Yes, companies are still sensitive to pricing and in some cases, they tend to want a modest scope of work with a promise of add-ons down the road. (And in a few cases, those add-ons got added-on faster than expected).
I wonder if we just get tired of recessions and that’s how they end.
As a leading economic indicator, I’m here to tell you that 2012 is looking good. Barring some disaster in Greece or something we didn’t expect.
Regarding Kodak’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a quote that should resonate for every company:
“If you’re not willing to cannibalize yourself, others will do it for you.”
- Mark Zupan, dean of the University of Rochester’s business school
Through the years, I think my experience has been the same as most business owners. A lot of good people and a larger number of competent people have worked for us. My biggest challenge in growing a healthy, sustainable business has been putting together a team that’s “simpatico.” A team that’s simpatico means assembling a group — particularly those in leadership positions — that plays well off each other. They don’t have to have the same vision, they don’t agree on everything and they aren’t above arguing from time to time to make their point.
Disagreement is fine. As General George Patton said, “if everybody agrees then no one is thinking.” No, being simpatico is more a matter of each person bringing results to the business in their own way. Because they’re contributing to the growth of the company, they’ve earned the respect to be heard.
Studying companies I respect (A&M Records, Apple Computer) and a few local competitors who got it right, I notice that they all had strong players who were simpatico. The skills are complimentary — what one person excels at, other executives didn’t and vice versa.
My biggest challenge has been to build that kind of team. Those times when someone who wasn’t effective at their job, it was a relatively easy decision to move them out. Painful, yes, but necessary. As Bill Bennett put it the other night at the Georgia Chamber’s annual meeting, “getting fired isn’t terminal.”
The bigger challenge is what to do when team members are just OK. They’re not ripping off the company or sleeping on the job. They’re just going through the motions. They’re not simpatico, a critical issue if they’re in leadership roles. This is the biggest challenge a CEO faces and it’s where I’ve struggled the most.
Fact is, those people either have to be moved to another position where they can become great or they have to be moved out. And moving them out sucks.
But you know what? In most of those cases, those people went on to greater success elsewhere. Some just needed a different kind of environment than ours. Yes, a few of them don’t say kind things about me or my company after they left even though we always did the right thing by them. But that can’t slow you down. It’s the price you pay for being the CEO.
The more often I have made the difficult moves to build a team that’s simpatico, the more it’s paid off.
Black Friday, CyberMonday: online sales will hit a record this holiday because so many of us are skilled at shopping online. How can social media help you get good deals and avoid the turkeys? On Fox 5’s Good Day Atlanta, Gurvir Dhindsa and I talk about some smart strategies.
What’s Up Interactive has always been a Mac shop. We started on an SE in 1989 — 1 MB of RAM and a 20 MB hard drive. We stuck through Apple’s dark times when the company almost folded and watched it grow and prosper after Steve Jobs returned.
While I understand he was particularly difficult to work for, the results speak for themselves. And so does his message to entrepreneurs and to college students.
Here are those comments. The first is an MP3 file — Jobs’ answer to a question from the audience during the D3 conference in 2007. The questioner asked for Jobs’ advice in building a company with value. His answer is wise for everyone who is trying to grow a business.
The second is Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. His advice is so universally true.
“I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
“The first story is about connecting the dots.
“I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
“It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: ‘We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?’ They said: ‘Of course.’ My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
“And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
“It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
“Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
“My second story is about love and loss.
“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
“I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
“During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
“My third story is about death.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
“About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
“I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
“This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
“When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
“Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
“Thank you all very much.”
Business is brutal no matter what line of work you’re in. Successful companies are always changing to keep up.
Is your company thriving? Or is it in turn-around mode?
Either way, the marketplace is talking to you and forcing you to take a hard look at what you sell, how you sell and the process to deliver the goods. If you don’t, you’ll never cross the finish line!
In the last 90 days, I’ve seen the market for what my company provides change radically. All of a sudden, mobile devices are where it’s at. This week, the amount of traffic on mobile devices overtook web traffic from laptops and desktops.
Sure, smartphones and iPads have been around a while, but only now, mainstream companies have decided to invest money in developing websites and apps for them.
Technology changes faster than perhaps any industry except for healthcare. The emergence of mobile represents the third time What’s Up Interactive has re-invented itself. We started out 20 years ago as a company that designed press releases by fax. It was cutting edge at the time and provided a lucrative living.
Then the marketplace changed and faxes became obsolete. Yet there were people on my staff — those who produced the faxes — who were bitter that we exited the business.
Even big businesses aren’t exempt from radical change. In the early 1950s, A&P was the second largest retailer in the US. Then there’s the story of GM. The government forced General Motors to allow Chrysler to hire its CEO because GM was so dominant – in a move to help level the playing field.
Not long ago, Microsoft was so dominant in software and computing, governments in the US and Europe focused on reducing Microsoft’s power. Not so much the case anymore. Microsoft still innovates and produces wildly profitable software, but its era as a leading innovator has passed. (ReadWriteCloud)
Today RIM, maker of the BlackBerry,an $83 billion dollar company a mere three years ago has collapsed to a mere $15 billion dollar company today. RIM’s collapse begs the question: who would want to buy it? (AllThingsD)
And Apple, which was close to liquidation in the late 1990s could use its cash hoard to buy Nokia, RIM, HTC, Motorola and RIM.
What’s the lesson here? You have to be paranoid. You have to run your business for what the marketplace determines are the opportunities. And if you’re red-hot Apple, the moment you become complacent, you’re headed down.
Mobile has arrived. Yes, smartphones and tablets were factors long before Apple sold 20 million iPads. Apple’s mobile devices comprise roughly half the total mobile traffic on the web. And of the world’s 4 billion mobile phones in use, 1.08 billion are smartphones.
At last weekend’s New Media Slam at the University of Georgia’s New Media Institute, something was clear – corporate America is beginning to fund mobile development as part of basic marketing programs.
Students are ready. All their year-end presentations at UGA revolved around mobile or Facebook apps.
Attending the presentations were executives from some of the country’s most relevant brands: AT&T, Hearst, NBC, Newell Rubbermaid, and new media professors from other universities.
The presentations focused on ways mobile can enhance brands, generate revenue and make life easier.
One used a scoring system to help students find compatible roommates. Another helped users navigate and purchase music from Athens-based bands. A third focused on how O: Oprah Magazine could target its library of content to individual subscribers.
There are three decisions a company faces in pursuing its mobile strategies.
1: Does it focus on apps or mobile websites?
Apps work on individual platforms like Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, taking full advantage of each phone’s unique characteristics. Users download apps from stores like those from Apple, Android and Blackberry.
Apps are more versatile than mobile websites but not as universally accessible. Mobile websites work on virtually any smartphone but don’t take advantage of phone technology like accelerometers.
2: Does it offer “content snacking” or content that’s richer and more expensive?
Most content-oriented mobile sites offer a few paragraphs per page and maybe a picture. But the future will be augmented reality where mobile sites allow the user to make decisions about what action to take.
The more complex the “content serving tool”, the longer the download times, with more complicated formatting and higher cost of implementation.
3: How do you make money?
A year after the iPad first appeared and Zinio began selling magazine subscriptions for tablets, many consumers aren’t renewing. Even News Corp’s The Daily newspaper for the iPad is struggling.
This is a question everyone is still grappling with.
So, what is the future of web marketing? Judging from the end-of-year presentations at the UGA New Media Institute – if you haven’t already started thinking about how your site looks on a smartphone or the iPad, then you are behind the curve.
An interesting subtext for the day: the debate about the future of Facebook. With ongoing (and legitimate) concerns about the way Facebook manages privacy and with emerging competing platforms, time could chip away at the value of Facebook’s 600 million subscribers just as the company takes steps to go public. But that’s a topic for another day.
What's Up Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing and website design agency in Atlanta. What’s Up specializes in a variety of multimedia marketing solutions including: web development, social media marketing, search engine optimization, paid search marketing, and email marketing strategies. Find out more about us at www.whatsupinteractive.com.
Daybook has been a trusted resource for Atlanta news for 20 years. Cost-effective online press release distribution, free-to-read daily email and a community of professionals make Atlanta Daybook the local newswire of choice for thousands of communicators every day.