Every time something annoys me, I take it as a learning experience. For example, Darling Daughter Number Three has been remiss at getting back to me lately, with the lament,

“But I’m SO busy!”

I understand she just finished filming a TV show and has people line up for hours to get her autograph, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

On the other hand, if she gets in a bind, I’m always the first person she calls. As I grumbled to The Invisible Developer, “We make time for things that are important to us.”  I realized that I was just as guilty.

What is important to me is getting everything lined up for our game demo in Las Vegas on Friday. It’s just a small get-together game demo but it’s the first one we’ve done so I want it to go off perfectly. Finishing the second game, revising the first game, getting contracts out to the people we are hiring are all important to me.

It occurred to me that other things are important to the clients we already have, like their quarterly reports, progress on meeting in-kind match requirements. To other members of our staff, their travel arrangements for various meetings are important, getting their business cards ordered, getting put on the payroll – all of which I have  to review and approve. So, I’ve been trying to make a sincere effort to devote more attention to those other responsibilities that matter to other people, reminding myself that those PEOPLE are important to me and helping each other is, by definition, a two-way street.

Last week, I tried to contact a vendor about an order we had that they completely screwed up – as in, objects showed up broken into a large number of pieces that are supposed to come in one piece – and no one was in their office after 5:30 pm. There wasn’t even a voice mail option to leave a message! This made me wonder about our customer service. If people contact me directly, I get right on it or see that someone else does. However, we did a survey of our Kickstarter backers asking if they’d had a problem installing the game. Very few did and most of them tweeted about it or in some way attracted my attention and I contacted them. I asked if we had followed up with each person who mentioned on the Kickstarter survey having a problem. It turned out we did not – so, if you received an email this week, that’s because we went back and followed up with each person.

You know that rule about

“Do Unto Others as You’d Have Them Do to You”

(Yes, I know that text color is purple, not gold, but gold wouldn’t really show up, now would it?)

Whenever someone is a jerk to me or some business pisses me off, I try to ask myself,

“Do I ever do that? Could our customers/ employees/ vendors ever feel that way about me or our company?”

and if the answer is, “Yes” (more often than I’d like to admit), then I try to fix it. The worse they are, the more ways I can see that we DON’T want to be like them. In that way, even if you are a complete ass and your company sucks, maybe we benefited from dealing with you.
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Learn math. Save lives. Learn culture. Kill animals. (Relax, it’s a game.)

7 Generation Games Logo with feathers

In her dissertation on African-American leaders, Dr. Shanetta Robinson has a couple of memorable quotes on this topic.

One executive she interviewed urged women leaders that have reached the top to “leave the ladder down”.

Another admonished that if you reach the top, you should bring someone else with you.

Michelle Obama, in her beautiful speech at the Democratic National Convention said that her husband

…  he believes that when you work hard and done well and walk through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you.

No, you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that help you succeed.

It’s funny because I wrote almost the same thing on my blog on judo yesterday, that success is what you leave behind, about my friends and mentors, Frank Fullerton and Bruce Toups, who provided the resources I needed to win the world judo championships. In appreciation, I still teach judo to this day.

The same applies to business, to academia. We hire interns, I teach graduate students, not because it pays off that much but because at some point someone gave me my first opportunity , someone (more than one) spent time to show me the ropes, answered my questions.  When someone hires us instead of a large multinational consulting company, we appreciate that. We do a lot of business with small local companies. We’re the largest customer for a number of small businesses. We believe in leaving the ladder down.

Recently, a successful young business owner argued with me against working with another developing small business,

Sorry, but I’m an established business. I’m successful. I can’t be experimenting by working with someone who is just getting started and isn’t sure what they are doing.

That young person was wrong. We’re all experimenting all of the time. Sometimes the chances pay off and sometimes they don’t. If no one took a chance, though, we wouldn’t be here.

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Learn math. Save lives. Learn culture. Kill animals. (Relax, it’s a game.)

7 Generation Games Logo with feathers

When I started dating my late husband, I was a 26-year-old engineer and he was 44-year-old manager. In addition to forever losing any possibility of criticizing age differences for any boyfriends our daughters might bring home, it also means that he had a view on life that I often did not appreciate until years later.

He had an excellent reputation as a manager, and I asked him,

“What is it that makes you so successful in your job? “

He answered in that slow, country drawl of his,

“Well, darlin’ the key to being a good manager is to see what needs to be done and then do it.”

I argued that was redundant, of course anyone who saw what needed to be done would do it. He just shook his head at my naiveté .

He was right.

Very often these days, I find myself facing tasks that I don’t want to do. I don’t want to criticize someone’s work, stay until 2 a.m. to work on a deadline, tell someone we won’t take a contract to work with them because it does not fit with our strategic plan (yes, unbelievably, we have one). I don’t want to tell anyone that their skills just don’t fit with what we need at the moment, no matter how nice and smart of a person they might be. I don’t want to throw out a design and start over because the first one did not meet our client’s needs.

These are the times I feel like whining,

Can’t someone else do it?

The answer is no. It’s my job to make decisions and follow through.

The fact is that many people see what needs to be done and, paradoxically, they DON’T do it. They put it off, they have meetings about it, avoid seeing the people involved.

When I catch myself thinking I will talk a decision over with other staff members, tackle a problem when I get back from a trip, I stop and ask myself whether I’m really just avoiding doing what I know needs to be done. More often than I’d like to admit, the answer is “Yes”. Once I face up to the facts, I just bite the bullet and have what my late husband used to call a

“come to Jesus meeting. Why, darlin’ that’s when we all sit down and I explain things to them and then they see the light.  And if they don’t, “

he said, taking a long drag on his Marlboro cigarette,

“well, then, I fire their sorry asses.”

So, there is another thing I learned in almost 55 years. When you see what needs to be done, do it.

 

 


Five more things I have learned in almost 55 years.

  1. Jealousy is bad for you.
  2. Scrupulous honesty about your motives will pay off.
  3. Much negative criticism stems from jealousy.
  4. Yes, employers ARE right to turn you down because you are over-qualified.
  5. Don’t take it personally but DO take it seriously.

I am on a roll today, no?

Jealousy is bad for you.

By this age, I’ve had the unenviable experience of many vicious comments, spoken behind my back, in email and on-line (although almost never to my face). I’m the first to admit that I live so far from perfect we don’t even have a passing acquaintance. Still, what’s it to you? I’m certainly not in a unique position here.

I’ve seen people go so far as to track the times their colleagues came into the office, when they left, how long they spent for lunch and question everything from their expense accounts to salaries to paid time off.  When I see someone repeatedly running down a co-worker or  supervisor. I wonder why.  The common thread I’ve noticed is jealousy – Suzy has a job, salary or reputation that they don’t.

Take it from me, running to upper management or the board with their “concerns” is not helping you. Your argument that you are “only concerned about what’s best for the organization” is not fooling anyone. If you left two hours early yesterday, then complained that Suzy came in an hour late today, it’s pretty evident that you only want to “get Suzy”. Do you really think that no one noticed you left early? Complaining about Suzy just makes you look like a hypocrite. It WILL get back to Suzy, and how likely do you think she is to lift a finger to help you in the future? Your co-workers are going to trust you less because they expect you’ll do the same to them.  When you leave your position, odds are good that supervisor you complained to (or about!) will subtly let others know that you are difficult to work with, making it harder for you to find a new position.

Even if you are not so crazy, it reflects poorly on you. For example, I do not do mornings and before I agree to work with anyone we have an understanding that if I’m in the office before 9 a.m., it had better be REALLY important. On the other hand, I’m working past 10 pm on a regular basis. I never miss a deadline. But I still don’t do mornings.

I’ve been in a few situations where someone has gone to the powers-that-be to “let them know” that I didn’t come in until 10 a.m., well, ever. In every case, since upper management had already agreed to those hours, it reflected badly on the person complaining. Their boss would be offended that Complainer was criticizing an arrangement that he or she had made with me, since it seemed to be questioning the boss’s judgement. It also was clear that Complainer hadn’t mentioned any concern to me – setting him/her up as a person who doesn’t  try to solve problems but just does running to the boss.

 

Stop sign

STOP!

Be Honest about Your Motives

Before you get to the point of  climbing under a desk and short-circuiting Suzy’s computer, ask yourself what this is all about, because, believe me, your colleagues are asking that question already.

Is it REALLY because you are so concerned about whether the company is over-paying for Suzy to have three meals a day on her per diem when she did not leave on her trip until 11 am, so she should rightfully only get breakfast? Really? That was the biggest problem that needed your attention at work today?

If your motive is to get Suzy fired so that you can get her job, it’s probably not going to work. Even if it did,  you might forget that you had booby-trapped her computer and die an agonizing fiery death your first day on the job.

Zombie

You don’t want this, do you?

Even if Suzy gets fired, there is no guarantee you’re going to get her job. Why should you, really? Does she really suck totally at her work? If so, she’ll probably get laid off or fired eventually anyway. If she doesn’t have as much education or experience or, let’s face it, intelligence as you, is that sufficient reason to fire her and give the job to you? From your perspective that might seem fair, but that’s not the way  the world works, because if it did, we’d have a never-ending cycle of firing and promotions. There are actually several very good reasons to keep people in a job even if you can get someone “more qualified”. Yes, employers are correct to not hire people who are “over-qualified” and replace the less qualified people who are working for them. That is a post for another day, since I have to head to the airport in a minute.

Being honest about your motives is going to make you a better person with a better life in all areas. Here is a non-business story but I think it relates.

Many years ago, my daughter was competing in judo. She had a back and forth rivalry with another child. I could not stand this kid’s coach. About the same time, Ronda was going through a growth spurt and it was difficult for her to stay in the weight division, but she was also getting much, much better. When signing her up for the next tournament, someone made a comment that we (the coaches) were just using our children to get back at one another. Now, this comment came from one of the most odious people you’d ever meet, who made a hobby of saying hateful things to people – which didn’t make him any less right in this instance. I moved Ronda up a weight division over her complaints (“I can beat her, Mom!” “Yes, I’m sure you can, but you’re not in the same division any more.”) It was the right decision, even if the person was being snidely critical, he was correct.

Ronda went on to do well in judo and now mixed martial arts and I have no idea where  the other kid is now, nor her coach.

Whether it is on your coaching style, your research design or your code, people often do criticize you because they are just plain jealous and want to hurt you. That doesn’t mean they never have a point. If the criticism is correct, fix what you can and go on with life as they go to hating on other people.

Jealousy is bad for you but it may actually pay off for the people you are jealous and critical of if they have the right attitude.

Funny how that works.

 

 

 

 

I travel A LOT for business. This occurred to me today as I realized I knew where to find an outlet in the one restaurant in the Grand Forks International Airport. (It is international because the have a couple of flights two and from Canada, which is about 80 miles due north and it is a restaurant because it serves wine. I’m not complaining. I have wine and power, which is more than I can say in a lot of airports.)

If you travel, there are basically two kinds of problems you can have:

  • Not having the stuff you need.
  • Not having the time you need.

So here, from massive experience, are a few things I have learned in (almost) 55 years.

If you NEED to have it when you get there, never let it out of your sight.

I mean this most literally, both the word “need” and the phrase “never let it out of your sight”.

What is is that, if you arrived at your destination and found you did not have it, your first response would be:

I am so screwed!

For example, I am legally blind without my contacts or glasses. So I need an EXTRA pair of contacts or a pair of glasses in case the pair I am wearing gets lost or ruined. I cannot see, drive or work without them and they are at the strength that I guarantee you that no one is going to have them in stock.

Any data on my laptop has been stripped of personally identifying information, but still, there is a lot of work on there, plus I need it to work wherever I land. I can’t always count on being able to connect to the Internet and dropbox.com has turned out to be a great disappointment in terms of reliability.

If I bring a projector with me, it’s because I’m not sure that where I’m going will have one and I need to do a presentation. Again, I’m not letting go of it.

I can probably buy clothes wherever I’m going and if not, I can wash what I’m wearing in the hotel and dry it with the blow dryer. I have pulled clothes out of my carry-on and replaced them with a projector when I was required to check my luggage plane-side because I was flying in a six-seat puddle-jumper to some place. Good thing I did, too, because somehow my bag didn’t make it on that plane. The only time I let go of anything I MUST have is when I go through security and I’m legally required to do so. My list:

  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Debit Card
  • Identification (drivers license or passport)
  • Laptop
  • Spare contacts or glasses
  • Projector (depending on location and purpose of visit)
  • Cell phone

If you decide what you absolutely must have and keep hold of that small subset of stuff, any problems you have may be inconvenient but nothing will rise to the level of a catastrophe.

Give yourself enough time and then add time.

I’m continually amazed by people who leave for the airport in time “if everything goes as planned”. Nothing ever goes as planned. I usually check my flight date and times the week before I leave and then forget (I travel a lot and it’s easy to get the times mixed up). I check again the night before and again a few hours before. I absolutely positively refuse to fly early in the morning because I know myself and I know damn well I am going to sleep until the last possible minute. If I can’t fly after 10 am then I’m coming in the night before on a red-eye. If your business requires me to take a 6 a.m. flight then we’re not doing business, sorry. (I think that should be another post – don’t work for an asshole.)

If you are going to LAX assume that there will be traffic any time of the day or night. If you’re flying Southwest out of terminal 1 in LAX – well, just don’t, but if some fate forces you to do so, give yourself an extra hour. Unless you KNOW that something will not be an obstacle – for example, it is a safe bet you won’t run into a traffic jam heading to the Grand Forks airport on Saturday afternoon – assume it will be and plan accordingly.

So what if everything DOES happen to go right and you get there an hour and a half early? If that’s the worst that could happen, find something to do – read a magazine, watch CNN, call your mother. I would say always have work with you that you can do – that’s what I do but I’m not sure it’s a good thing and is perhaps something that I should UNlearn after (almost) 55 years, but that’s a subject for another day.

 

 

I’m not perfect. God am I ever not perfect.

I’ve been working  on the Spirit Lake Game beta on and off for the past several weeks, adding, fixing, changing. In most of these cases we knew months ago as we wrote the game that we needed documentation or that we would need to come back and re-design one part or another.

Yet, we made the decision to go ahead last fall and test the game as-is. I cringe a little when I think of all of the work-around and trouble-shooting we required of Dr. Longie, our vastly under-appreciated site coordinator, and the teachers in the pilot classrooms. On the other hand, I feel pretty good about all of the improvements to show them next week when we are in North Dakota.

map-overview

Even with that work done, daily, I am going in and replacing pages that I knew at the time could be done better. We had framed pages that we replaced with our own code, videos that we replaced with our own videos. I’m making some supplemental games. Marisol and Danny are working the Easter eggs  that will pop up in the side quests (thanks to Ronda for suggesting this when she wasn’t busy punching people).

There are SO many reasons for getting something out in the world with all it’s flaw and imperfections rather than waiting until you have a perfect product.

One is apparently contradictory – that is, to put some pressure on to get it done.

You see, if you are working on something that you are going to release, then you have all of the time in the world to make it better. If you have something already in people’s hands, you feel like you damn well better fix whatever that bug is and NOW.

Another one is that with the right people testing it, you will find lots of improvements you hadn’t considered, so you can make many changes in one fell swoop.

Yet another reason is that once people have something concrete in their hands, they know you are serious and not just one of a million other people with an idea. You will get more people who are willing to work with you, work for you, advise you, provide you funding. That’s assuming, of course, that your product doesn’t suck.

Wait, what, didn’t I just say that our alpha version had a ton of glitches, compromises and problems “to be fixed later”. Yes, I did say that, but it was still a good first effort and the students and teachers involved were well aware that they were getting a first effort. We deliberately selected a group who would work with us as collaborators in developing a better product rather than just critics pointing out the flaws.

Similarly, the people who backed us on Kickstarter realized that what they received a few weeks ago was our first beta. There will be an update in a few weeks. We are actually just holding it off so that our new, soon-to-be-hired intern can play the game on several browsers and identify any problems that require immediate attention. So, they got a decent, playable beta version and will get a better version in a few weeks.

By the end of September, we should have that game looking REALLY good along with the first six levels of our next game, as we start to iterate again. We’ll send those same backers another update in January when we roll out the game in several schools.

Through this process we have obtained funding from Kickstarter and USDA, entered into agreements with several schools, met personnel from several other schools interested in working with us AND continually improved the game.

By the time we DO have a nearly-perfect game out there, lots of people will be aware of it and many kids will already be playing it.

The biggest reason to not wait to try something – turning in a paper, releasing a beta test on the market is as a philosopher once said,

The Best is the Enemy of the Good

I had a couple of friends in college who often chastised me for my slacker ways.

One semester, I had a programming class that had a syllabus stating do X number of projects for a C, X+2 for a B, X+4 for an A.    Since I was required to keep a B average for my scholarship, I did X+2 projects by the third week and took that time over the remaining 13 weeks to catch up on my sleep. (Hey, it was the mid 1970s and computer programming seemed as likely to be useful in my future career as, say, making integrated circuits.) Those of you who are sniping at my decision probably did not simultaneously attend college, work full time and compete in a varsity sport plus win the national championships in a second sport. I was tired. Also, 17 years old.

Anyway … one of  my friends gently scolded me about this and pointed out how he was going to get an A in the class. He wanted me to agree with him that his projects for the course were far superior. Knowing him, I asked if he had turned in his assignments yet. He told me no, he was still improving them. He had too much pride, he said, to turn in work that would earn him less than 100%.

The end of the story …. he ended up taking an incomplete in the class because his assignments never were perfect enough by the end of the semester. He had incomplete grades in several classes and still had three semesters left when I graduated, even though we had started at the same time.

Perfect is good, but getting something done is better.

Many people have commented how ironic it is that I’m writing computer games these days because I’m one of the least playful people you’ll meet.

I have a confession to make, although confession is perhaps the wrong word because I don’t feel the least bit bad about it.

Playing with small children bores me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my children and grandchildren and I would do anything for them. I taught my children to read, took them to soccer/ judo/ track/ swim practice , to piano/ bassoon / guitar/ drum lessons and ballet / tap/ hip-hop classes. I worked thousands of hours of overtime to pay for camps in Europe, in marine biology, private universities.

And yes, I went to the park, played with my little ponies, pushed children on swings, threw them up in the air (and caught them – any problems they have are NOT because they were dropped on their heads at a young age no matter how much their behavior during adolescence might lead you to believe otherwise). I read The Perfect Jennifer her favorite book – Where the Wild Things Are – so many times that I still have it memorized years after she finished graduate school.

AND YET …. when I hear those women rave about sitting down with their children and eating carrot sticks while they played with my little ponies together were the most fulfilling moments of their lives, I think to myself,

What? Are you fucking kidding me?

And apologies to the nice man at SAS Global Forum who reminded me that some people read my blog at work and asked me if I could not swear quite so much. I did post four days in a row on factor analysis and no swearing was involved, so I made a good faith effort, I really did.

Seriously, though, that’s what fulfills you? My little ponies?

Because as I was listening to my granddaughter talk about my little ponies what was going through my head was how I could use a statistical test for the difference in sample proportions to prove that a set of data I was asked to analyze was fraudulent. I’ll probably post about that next week. I was also intrigued by the very simple way the Muthuens had demonstrated comparison of competing factor solutions by using a table showing the chi-square, RMSEA and presence/ absence of Heywood cases.

When my four-year-old granddaughter told me she wanted to be a princess when she grew up I told her,

Princesses suck and I hate princesses. They’re useless and they don’t DO anything.

To which my darling daughter number one responded that “we” don’t say “hate” and “we” don’t say “suck” and I believe she muttered under her breath something about it being a wonder that she turned out normal with a mother like me. Obviously, this is a new meaning of the word “we” that doesn’t include the other person.

I am certain that I muttered under my breath, “Well, it’s true. They DON’T do anything useful.”

As penance I was forced to go to Disneyland and visit the Pavilion of Princesses. My granddaughter ADORED it. I was bored out of my mind by the princesses but the radiant look on her face DID make it worth taking a day away from work and paying Disneyland the equivalent of the median annual income in many countries for seven of us to eat churros and buy random pink crap bearing the stamp of useless women a.k.a. princesses.

The truth is, as much as I truly loved my children – and I had three under age five while working on my PhD – at the end of each day, when they were all asleep, I sighed deeply, sat down and read books on multivariate statistics and matrix algebra and was satisfied with life. I did NOT wish they would wake up so we could dress up like princesses.

There you have yet another of the 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years – you can be bored to death by Curious George, Strawberry Shortcake and every other thing designed to appeal to people with the mind of a three-year-old and still be a good mother.

It reminds me of a story I heard about someone who had a son who was crazy about baseball. The father bought season tickets, attended every home game and when the team made the World Series he flew to whatever city it was being held in to attend the games. When someone said to him,

I never knew you loved baseball so much.

He replied,

I don’t. I think baseball is the most boring game ever invented. But I love MY SON that much.

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Here are four more of Dr. De Mars 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years, and that is that there are four thing students should have learned in school but often didn’t.

1. Say what you mean. I don’t know who those teachers are who reinforce students for using longer words, longer sentences and writing more pages but I hope someone finds them and beats them senseless with The Elements of Style , which nearly a century after it was first published I still think is one of the best books on writing out there. When you write,

In the experiment under discussion we utilized two conditions in the manner such that one group of the subjects referred to in the preceding paragraph received no treatment, that is, they were what is referenced as the control group. The other group, that is the second group, which was the group receiving our treatment described in the section under procedures which follows is hereafter referred to as the treatment group. A treatment group is defined by Academic-Guy (2012) as …

instead of,

Subjects were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group.

You may think the first example makes you sound intelligent and well-educated but it doesn’t. It makes you sound like you learned English by watching the Power Puff Girls and imitating Mojo Jojo. People – clients, your boss – are busy, and grant applications have page limits.

2. Don’t be a pain in the ass. I wrote a post about this, Why the cool kids won’t hang out with you. In brief, no matter how smart you are, if you constantly run down your co-workers, flaunt the policies of your organization and are rude to your boss, at some point they will replace you with an equally smart person who is less of a pain. This may sound hypocritical because if you have been reading this blog for long you are well aware that I swear, don’t do mornings and, if I have to wear a suit, I charge extra. However, I work with clients that are cool with that.

Really points 1 & 2 generally reveal a person trying to prove that he or she is smarter than the other people in the room. That usually reflects an underlying insecurity. I have met some absolutely brilliant scientists and businessmen/women. None felt the need to try to impress me. I was already impressed when I met them, and I’m sure that was the reaction they got from almost everyone.

3. Mean what you say. If you say you will be in the office at 8 a.m., be in the office at 8. I tell clients I will be in by 9:30 or 10 if necessary because I know there is no way on God’s earth I am dragging myself out of bed at 7 a.m. It’s not happening. On the other hand, they know that if I say I will be in by 10, I will. If you say you can write programs in Perl or are experienced creating multi-media PowerPoint presentations, then when I ask you to do that, you should be able to do it. [I don’t really need anyone to do either so if you are applying for our summer intern position, you don’t need to mention these. It was just an example.]

child at computer

4. Learn to code. It doesn’t matter what language. It’s absolute bullshit that once you know one programming language you know them all, but it is certainly true that once you have the idea of loops, arrays, properties, methods, classes, extend, functions and a few dozen other key concepts, it will be much easier for you to pick up a second, third or fourth programming language. The Perfect Jennifer is an amazingly great history teacher and she is in one of the minority of fields where you can not do any programming and have a decent, stable job. Did I mention she is amazingly great, and works an enormous amount of extra hours? However, if you are planning on going into consulting, management or a large number of other fields, knowing how to code will help you immensely. Even our Chief Marketing Officer, who only focuses on marketing, has done a little coding and has some idea of the constraints of developing a new product. I’m so convinced of the personal and professional value of learning at least a little bit of programming that I have gone back to requiring it in my statistics courses. Often students don’t learn to code because they underestimate themselves. They believe programming is done by people who are smarter, more focused or in some way better than them. That’s simply not true and learning to code will give them both more skills and more confidence.

So, those are four more things I have learned in (almost) 55 years and that I think any student graduating should learn as well.

 

 

There are, or so I have heard, people who are energized by parties, meet-ups and social events. I am not one of those people.

Dinner with the family

If I had my choice, I would never go to any gathering larger than our family dinners for the rest of my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to intelligent people nor that I don’t appreciate all of the great people that I get to work with in the course of the year – I really do. However, I have to confess, that is a fringe benefit. What I am most interested in doing is sitting at my computer solving problems. If there was some way to get anyone else to go to the meet-ups, demos, conferences and pitches, I would do it.

Most of our staff at The Julia Group is like that. When meet-ups or other networking opportunities there is more whining than taking a kindergarten class to church.

“Oh, man, do I *have* to go?”

“I just went last time.”

“Can’t I go next time?”

“Isn’t it somebody else’s turn?”

In fact, we DID hire someone, our new Chief Marketing Officer to handle these responsibilities because I got so tired of hearing the whining from everyone, including me. Now I only go when she tells me that I have to – and I still whine.

In my experience, most meet-ups will have from zero to one good point that  is worth knowing. Usually that comes from whoever they have as a speaker, but not always. You’ll meet, if you are lucky, one interesting person with whom you wish to follow up, several people who want to sell you stuff and a couple of people who have an idea and are looking for someone to give them money so they can pay someone else to make it. Yet, I still go because that one point is worth hearing and the one person is worth knowing.

Here are five points I have learned from start-up meet-ups. Since you read my blog you can tell your CMO that you get to skip the next five (she probably won’t buy it, but it’s worth a try).

1. Cash is more than king. – From Jenny Q. Ta , founder of sqeeqee.com This advice from a highly successful founder confirmed what I have thought for years. At one point our company rented an office because I thought we should have one to look like a “real company”. Almost no one ever went there. Most of us work at home and we have people in several states. Now we Skype, FaceTime , email or meet in the office downstairs in my house. If we need a conference room, I rent one at the business center a half-mile away. Sometimes people are unimpressed that we still haven’t permanently moved out of the downstairs, but what we save on renting offices for a dozen people goes a long way to making sure we are in the black every month. If you have a healthy cash flow, you can get by without investor money for a long time.

2. Put off taking investor money as long as you possibly can – This is another good tip from Jenny Q. Ta The sooner in the game that investors come in, the more of a risk they are taking and the larger percentage of your business they are going to want.

I find it ironic that the two things that might impress a casual observer – paying for office space and getting angel investor money are the exact points that she argued against. (She’s not the only one, check Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Growing a Business). We have people putting in considerably more hours than they are getting paid for a share of the business – those are co-founders and that is the best investment we can get because not only is it equivalent to funds but it brings the talent with it.

3. Don’t believe everyone knows more than you. I heard this at a General Assembly start-up event and it is worth repeating. There was a time when I thought all of these people spouting so confidently that the target market for their product was in the hundreds of millions (it isn’t) or that the best choice for an application was Ruby (it wasn’t) knew so much more than me. Now I realize that many of them are just posturing. They’re either trying to sound confident for investors, or they just have a different world view than me. I’m a statistician. If I tell you we’ll make $5 million on a product I believe there is a greater than 50% chance based on the facts at my disposal. Others, if they say they’ll make $500 million are basing it on an assumed 5% chance and convinced they’ll make it with the right strategy.

4. Find a co-founder or two. I believe the optimal number of co-founders is three. More than that, you dilute decision-making too much. Less, and you probably haven’t covered all of the key skills.

 

The fifth and most important thing I have learned and I have heard it several times – most of success is just keeping working even when it’s hard and frustrating.

Speaking of which, I was taking a break from revising our first game to write this post but now I’m going to get some sleep and hit it in the morning.

(And there you have five more things I have learned in almost 55 years.)

I highly recommend, The Dip,  a short book by Seth Godin that lauds the value of quitting. I wrote about this at greater length on my other blog on judo and life, under the topic, “Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” where, being the horrible mean old woman that I am, I suggested that giving up trying to make the Olympic team, going back to school and getting a real job might be a better path for some people.

Or in the words of not one, but two of my professors in graduate school, at two different institutions thousands of miles apart, the 19th thing I have learned in (almost) 55 years is

“Never play with a stacked deck.”

The deck might be stacked against you for a number of reasons. One of the professors who told me that was an African-American woman and at the end of the academic year, she left for another university. She was right that she would probably never get the job she wanted at that university. Her research wasn’t African-American studies – it was policy analysis, and she taught not multi-cultural something or other but statistics. She could have stuck around hoping to get tenure and make them see that she really was just as good, just as smart – or she could have gone to another university where they already knew that.

The other professor was white, male and vice-president of a major corporation who had come to teach in the MBA program for a year because he felt like it and he was rich and important, so there. We were glad to have him. He was a great professor. He pointed out there are times that you are not going to get what you want, because, say, the company was a family business and the owner’s son was going to end up as president no matter how wonderful you are. It could also be that there is an entrenched group and they are not going to support you in your job no matter what you do. They’ve worked together for twenty years and you just came in here because the boss hired you over them. One of the students asked,

“Isn’t that letting them win if you just give up and leave?”

The professor answered,

“Or, you could stay there for five years and fight them and maybe after five years, bring them around to recognize your contribution to the team and support you. In the meantime, you’ve wasted five years when you could have been working somewhere else where people got behind you and got the job done and been five years further ahead in your career. So tell me, what did you win?”

Sometimes, it’s not people that have stacked the deck against you. Maybe you have had too many injuries to come back and compete. That may sound hypocritical since I won the world championships with a knee missing all the cartilage and 2/3 the ligaments. The fact is, I was lucky and if I had taken one more shot that took out that last ligament, I would have been done not just competing but probably walking.

So, that brings me to my 20th thing,

Know what you are willing to risk.

In the case of competing, I was willing to risk never walking again without crutches. Thank God for the medical advances in knee replacements or I’d be on crutches now. Right now, I’m making half the money I could be making because I’m spending a lot of time on starting up 7 Generation Games and not taking any new consulting clients.

This might sound hypocritical again, because isn’t doing a start-up something for only young people? As Vivek Wadhwa said, isn’t it true that the average venture capitalist portfolio consists solely of white and Asian males barely old enough to shave? So isn’t this playing with a stacked deck?

Not at all. We may not get $10 million in venture capital but I’m okay with that (really). We have learned not to trade our lives for stuff. We’re pretty happy with life because we’ve learned not to want too much what we haven’t got.

We’re willing to risk some of our own funds and half (or more) of our time for two or three years to make this game happen. Looking at the progress we’ve made so far, the people we have working with us and the work we are all doing, I am pretty optimistic, but it’s a risk. If it doesn’t succeed, I will be disappointed, we all will. Then, we’ll pick ourselves up and after some swearing and possibly a martini or two, we’ll go on to the next idea, because we have learned that failure is never permanent and neither is success.
See how it all fits together – it’s like Legos.

capybaraI know that’s actually a picture of a capybara and not Legos, but you see, I didn’t have a picture of Legos and I had this one of a capybara and I really do like capybaras.

Which brings me to my twenty-first thing I have learned …

You’ll be a lot happier in life if you don’t  take yourself too seriously.

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