Selling Point

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading Behind the Cloud, Mark Benioff’s story of how Salesforce.com “define[d] itself as the leader of the cloud computing revolution and spark[ed] a 46 billion-dollar industry,” but lately I’ve been looking forward to the day when everybody embraces the software-as-a-service model, more commonly known as SaaS, cloud computing, or software on demand.
 
For instance: Adobe, makers of such programs as Photoshop, Flash, and Reader. I use several of their products at work, but since switching to a Mac several years ago, I’ve had to do without at home. Admittedly, even if I had a PC I’d be hopelessly out of date – I bought my copy of Photoshop 8 years ago. And, honestly, I’d gotten to the point that I wasn’t using it enough to justify buying it again – but every so often you get a project that Word isn’t quite sufficient for – creating a really exciting resume, laying out a friend’s engagement party invitations – and miss it desperately.
 
Adobe has just released Creative Suite 5 (CS5), a bundle of all their programs for the bargain basement price of $2599. Buy that, and you’ll be afflicted with an inferiority complex when they release CS6 in two or three years.
 
And that’s when it hit me. Adobe Creative Suite as Saas, paid for as a monthly subscription and accessed online.
 
Let’s be optimistic (from their perspective) and suppose a new release every 2 years. At $2599, that works out to $108/month. But then, suppose they charged by the program – 15 programs – that’s only $7/month for each. I don’t say they wouldn’t play with the pricing a little to compensate for the less popular programs – and I’d pay $15, easily, for a month’s access to Photoshop or InDesign – but let’s look at the benefits:
  1. The cult of the new and shiny is eternally satisfied (Salesforce puts out small fixes every six weeks or so and bigger version releases every three months)
  2. Those of us who hate the “waste” of software upgrades are satisfied, because there’s only one always-current version.
  3. Adobe comes out ahead. Suppose on their current schedule the releases are closer to three years apart. Under that model, the obsessive-updaters are paying $2599 over 36 months. Under the SaaS model, because they’re paying at the 2-year price calculation, they’ve paid $3898 in the same amount of time. And the people who wouldn’t have upgraded until it became absolutely necessary are paying just as much.
  4. Adobe gains new customers. Because of the low, low barrier to entry, more people will use their services – especially if Adobe followed the Netflix model of allowing you to “pause” your account when you know you won’t have a need for their service. The $1500 necessary to get the minimum capabilities I would need is way out of my reach. They’re not going to get that no matter how much I’d like to give it to them. But they’d get a few bucks out of me here and there, which is better than nothing, right? There must be a lot of people in the same boat. Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of bored people who would say, “I’ve always heard about this Photoshop thing – I think I’ll try it and see what all the fuss is about,” who would never have invested $600. Maybe it takes, maybe it doesn’t. But every time it “takes,” Adobe has just gained a customer of incredible lifetime value (see #3).
 
I’m not Salesforce’s all-time biggest fan, although I would like to be, but the industry and model they pioneered? Yeah, I’m sold.
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Tectonic Shift

It’s been months since people first started saying I’m the busiest person they know, but the shock hasn’t quite worn off yet.

As I’m looking forward to the month ahead – wait, make that the next two months – and back over the last I-don’t-know-how-long, I’m beginning to think they might have a point. But I’m so used to feeling like the one who never goes anywhere or does anything that I have a hard time believing I’ve now overcompensated to the point of being busier than everybody else on the planet. Do these people have an unnaturally calm group of friends? Or am I like the house you want to buy – the least impressive in a very nice grouping? Hard to say.

What I can say is that after having class two nights a week, I expected to be overwhelmed with the comparative free time – but if I have a night “off,” it’s not because nothing was planned, but because I was too tired to do it. Conversely, planned nights of restful seclusion always get filled with something or other. The odd empty few minutes get stared at with fascinated bewilderment. “What are you, and how did you get into my life?”

The strangest part of the epithet is that it’s most often given in response to an apparent constant whirlwind of social activity. My first reaction is to inform the people making that comment that they’re insane. Me? Social? I never do anything! But here’s a fun little exercise: make a list of the social activities I’ve taken part in during the last 7 days:

  • impromptu dinner party
  • a hike
  • movie night
  • an unannounced drop-in from a neighbor
  • drinks with a work buddy to catch up on the recent upheavals
  • (and the one planned one which required doubling up with Friday’s traditional family dinner and racing back and forth across town)

Suddenly it all makes sense. Of course, all of that – and trying to catch up on 17 hours of self-directed training in time to have a couple of weeks “off” before school starts in 5 weeks – will interfere with writing a blog, advancing a career, trying to read 7 books at once, tackling the endless projects and chores of one’s own household, and exploring the cultural offerings of greater Los Angeles (three years, ten months, and counting, and I still haven’t made it back to the LACMA). Not to mention all of that is suddenly crammed into 4 weeks instead of 5, because the last week will now most likely be spent on a surprise work trip to New York.

All right, so I’m willing to admit I’m busy. This is strangely hard to get my head around – considering I used to feel life was so empty that I wanted to have five children just for the sake of “living in the middle of Grand Central Station.” Evidently I can create that just fine on my own, thank you very much.

But then, after a few months of the constant stress, you get to the point of bragging about being busy; it becomes a twisted competition of identity:

“I did six hours of overtime this week.”
“You still haven’t reached my normal workweek!”

“I had to go in [x hours] early today.”
“No sympathy from me. Do you know what time I have to leave for work every day?”

“I don’t know when we’re going to hang out – things haven’t slowed down as much as I expected.”
“Tell me about it! Now you know what my life is like.”

I suppose if you’re missing out on everything else you might like to do, or feel you are, and at the same time feel you’re not accomplishing what you should be, you have to raise the perceived value of what you are doing.

All the same, what I would really love is just one minute to do nothing but BREATHE. Not go anywhere, and not do anything.

Oh.

I just noticed for the first time that I have eight people following this blog. Oh. You mean people actually read it? Terrifying. Must now try not to freak out.

But, seriously, guys, thanks for the support.

Give Up

A recent conversation about leadership ended with the question, “Do you know what I’ve gone through to get there?” Yes. I do.

Later I wondered whether the only way to really know is to have gone through it oneself. Probably. I know what an accomplishment it is to have 30 people who don’t report to one consistently do one’s bidding, because I can’t get three people who don’t report to me to spend 10 minutes each month on a simple task. Do I know what it takes to gain influence over them, let alone get them to “jump through hoops”? Apparently not.

The summary given was 1) time, 2) get down in the trenches with them every time you ask them to do something, and 3) take an approach of eagerness to learn from them.

All are worthy of consideration, but the more I thought about it, the more what hit me was the phrase “what I’ve gone through.” It reminds me of the 18th Law of Success – The Law of Sacrifice.

To quote John C. Maxwell:

The life of a leader can look glamorous to people on the outside. But the reality is that leadership requires sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up.

The cliché of “paying dues” is misleading in two ways. For one thing, it suggests that the sacrifice is temporary, that if you put in your overtime, eventually you’ll reach a place where life is easy and the perks extreme – whereas, logically, more responsibility means more and bigger and thornier issues to deal with. But on the other hand, I suspect the cliché limits our idea of what’s at stake. Notice I said “if you put in your overtime.” I’m guessing most will have read right over that without a second thought, and yet, work is only one area where sacrifice can be required, and time is only one of many things on the table.

Maxwell poses a series of questions:

To become a more influential leader… are you willing to give up your rights for the sake of the people you lead? Give it some thought. Then create two lists: (1) the things you are willing to give up in order to go up, and (2) the things you are not willing to sacrifice to advance. Be sure to consider which list will contain items such as your health, marriage, relationships with children, finances, and so on.

As a first step to making such a list, I started brainstorming about the things that are available to be given up, regardless of whether I would do so or not. After about 20 sub-items to the obvious categories (sleep, exercise, hobbies, friends, pay cuts, etc) I landed on these:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Ethics and morals (Enron or Bernard Madoff, anyone?)
  3. Impatience/ dependence on the easy – I would suggest that this and the above are mutually exclusive
  4. Privacy
  5. Rights – Maxwell posits that rights decrease as responsibilities increase
  6. Your own preferences/ self-centeredness –the well-being of the followers or project must come ahead of yourself
  7. Excuses – the ability to shuffle any of the blame onto any other person or circumstance
  8. Security – success is rarely found in the comfort zone, and leaders rarely (ever?) in the pack

Even then, the term “Sacrifice” may itself be misleading, with its aura of passivity and diminishment. If you’re sitting boatless in the middle of the ocean, you will definitely gain from sacrificing your in-flight reading materials and maybe your shoes. But that won’t get you to shore. Progress is made when you start swimming, and start trading more and more of what you have for decreased resistance. Progress is made by motion, not sacrifice.

Turns out much can be sacrificed without gaining leadership, or advancement in some direction. I’ve recently given up about 6 hours of TV each week, and several hours on Facebook, and all I’ve succeeded in doing is not drowning in my to-do list. My ‘Getting Things Done’ post a few weeks ago acknowledged that there isn’t time to do everything. The sad truth is that to accomplish things of real value, you have to sacrifice more than the low-hanging fruit.

I dislike the term ‘compromise;’ to me it sounds weak and cowardly, like the quickest way to get to the lowest common denominator; and ‘sacrifice’ is depressing enough to provoke instinctual resistance. But, yes, life is a series of choices and trades. Success must be bartered for. It’s worth noting that in many cases you’re not discarding your assets. “Sacrificing” time now doesn’t mean you’ve given up your whole allotment, only that you’ve traded this moment of time for something you valued. If you have nothing of value to give, how can you expect to get anything of value in return?

Declarations and So On

Happy Independence Week.

While the Fourth of July is not my all-time favorite holiday, it is the most exciting one. The details of the story of how this nation came to be, and the characters that formed it, never get old. So on the appointed day this week, between BBQ and fireworks, I spent a few moments trying to imagine what it must have been like to be among the founders on the day they founded the United States.

Only, of course, it’s hard to say exactly what day that was. Adams thought July 2 would be the day in the history books, and there’s some thought the ceremony of signing the Declaration wasn’t until August. The war was won in 1781. Legally the colonies did not become a country until 1783. The Confederation didn’t give way to the Constitution – and the presidency of George Washington – until 1788.

So easy to think, as we troop down to the nearest open space to watch some fireworks, that the country burst forth in a similar blaze of glory on July 4, 1776. Nothing wrong with picking a day to mark the occasion, so long as we don’t forget that the real story doesn’t end with the Declaration of an intent to act. Just as with everything else, the work and the story that matters came after that.

Can’t Do Attitude Shows it Can Be Done

It’s a good thing I was reading sitting down.

I’d heard about Getting Things Done (GTD), the cult-classic productivity system by David Allen, here and there for years. Seven chapters and three weeks into Trent’s summary of it at The Simple Dollar, I finally felt compelled to get the book.

The basic premise is that you write down EVERYTHING you have to do, no matter how small, so that you can rely on the system and never have to clutter your brain’s limited space with remembering incomplete “stuff” – the highly technical term for “anything you would like to be different than the way it is, which you have any level of commitment to changing.” Don’t like that all your clothes are dirty and plan on using a washing machine sometime in the future? Counts as “stuff.”

It sounds easy enough and I do love organization, so I whipped out a notebook and started writing down everything I thought of that needed to be done. Problem was, it was finals week, so for every two things I could squeeze into the day, I added five more to the list. My to-do list was turning into a stack of to-do lists, and a 15-hour-long blitzkrieg of activity over a Sunday was insufficient to catch up.

I was obviously doing something wrong, and bi-weekly summaries of the system weren’t going to cut it – I needed answers faster than that. So I got the book.

And there, on page 19, I found this shocking statement:

In training and coaching thousands of professionals, I have found that lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they themselves may think it is); the real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project really is, and what the associated next-action steps required are.

Once I recovered from the fit of spluttering into which this threw me, I had to admit this isn’t entirely new. After all, the theory behind time management is that the problem is the management, not the time. But I was “managing” pretty well and I was not lacking in defined next action steps. In fact, I was crossing them off at a feverish pace. So, surely, I was the special exception, and for me, the problem was time.

The answer to this conundrum doesn’t come until page 41, when he acknowledges:

If you only have twenty or thirty [longer-than-two-minute, nondelegatable actions], it may be fine to keep them all on one list labeled “Next Actions,” which you’ll review whenever you have any free time. For most of us, however, the number is more likely to be fifty to 150.

On page 51 he adds:

You’d probably have three hundred to five hundred hours’ worth of these things to do if you stopped the world right now and got no more input from yourself or anyone else.

Whoa. Fifty to 150 items? 300 to 500 hours? Am I the only person who doesn’t find it depressing to have that kind of reminder of how much is not getting done in my life? Perhaps it is strange, although I found it perfectly natural, that given the rampant proliferation of things to be done, the last two weeks became defined by exponentially increasing jittery energy and stress. Which seems odd for a system subtitled “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”

And can I just say – if you have 150 things all given the rather urgent-sounding label “Next Actions,” how exactly is he defining free time, as in “review whenever you have any free time”?

Since it turns out that Allen actually does not disagree with the oft-repeated truth that we have more to do than anybody actually has time for, I’m willing to acknowledge that some people seem to get a lot more done with their time than others – like the man I met on my last trip to Chicago who is not only a lawyer (busy!) and a family man (three kids, I think – I don’t even want to think about the time demands of that), but also a noted blogger.

If anything, that makes it all even more depressing, because, as overwhelming as I find my to-do list, I don’t have that much going on. Sort of an “imagine how long my list would be if I were actually accomplishing anything.”

But in the end it’s about truth. Better to see the long list and be reminded to keep moving than to see only a fraction of it and pretend you’re in control of your life while forgetting half of what needs to be done and thinking about goals and priorities only on New Year’s. I liked this passage:

Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.

All that said, I’m going to keep working at this system because I do see some progress being made. The overwhelming stacks of vague “things to do” covering my desk have been processed, filed, or slotted into an electronic memory (more commonly referred to as a “calendar”), with the result that there are now only a few individual papers, easily corralled, which relate to various “next actions.”

At work, I made some adjustments to my Outlook folder system so that all flagged emails can be filed appropriately, and I can still see them in my default view. It’s a bit frightening to look at right now because there was one project in particular that I habitually flagged, then shoved out of view, pretended to forget, and routinely pushed back the “deadline” for every month – and all of those emails/tasks are now exploding all over my pretty inbox. I’m realistically optimistic that, now that I can’t get away from them, I’ll be motivated to tackle their ugly randomness to make them go away for real. And since, of course, I never really forgot about that dreaded project and it nagged in the background, this really will get me closer to the relaxed, clear mind GTD strives for.

As Allen says, “You have more to do than you can possibly do. You just need to feel good about your choices.” Being sure of what those are is a good first step.