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The Creative Networker
Updated: 4 hours 10 min ago

50 Days Away from Home

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 19:50
US Tour Destinations

I feel a bit strange.

Saturday was the first of a 50-day trip across the USA as part of my global book tour. I was on the first of what will be 14 flights, looking at a schedule comprised of 20+ cities, 17 events, 3 road trips, a couple of train rides, a handful of national parks, and many, many coffees.

I have never done this before. I’ve never been away from home for more than 4 weeks. Given that I’m someone who loves to be home, this will be a challenge. A slight feeling of homesickness is nothing strange to me.

Fortunately, I won’t be all alone. Raoul will join me on this trip after 14 days. And I’m looking forward to meeting many people with both familiar and unfamiliar faces. Maybe you are one of them! If you are, don’t be offended when I politely decline some social invitations. It will be hard enough already for me to keep my sanity. And I can only recharge when I’m not socializing.

Now and then, we should all do something that feels uncomfortable. When we do something that is a little bit scary, we are creating a new experience. And experiences make us happy. I’m sure I will feel that way about this trip as well.


The post 50 Days Away from Home appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

Managing for Happiness FAQ

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 13:55
Managing for Happiness cover (front)

In June 2016, John Wiley & Sons will release released my “new” book Managing for Happiness, which is a re-release of last year’s #Workout book. Some people asked me questions about that.

Why do you re-release the #Workout book with a publisher?

My aim is to be a full-time writer. That means I must sell more books so that I can earn a full income from writing. (Right now, I don’t.) A global publisher can help me with that. A second reason is that I want to reach as many people as possible with my message of better management with fewer managers. A third reason is that wider availability of the book (in bookstores and libraries) is not only good for new readers but also for my reputation as a public speaker.

Categories: Project Management


Mon, 07/04/2016 - 11:50

I recently enjoyed a chat with Doug Kirkpatrick, one of the advocates of self-management, and I had a great meeting with Harvard Business Review author Ed Batista, who is working on a book about self-coaching.

The words that such authors and experts use fascinate me. As a complexity thinker, I am already well aware of the concept of self-organization. And in the last year or so, I’ve had more than a few discussions with people about the topics of self-development and self-education.

This made me think.

The most frequently asked questions in business are all about changing other people. And management, coaching, organization, development and education are, by default, things we do unto others. The prefix self appears to be the special case.


“Be the change you wish you see” is a famous quote, usually attributed to Gandhi. Gandhi felt the need to emphasize that changes in the world must start with ourselves. It seems he also noticed that most people mainly seek to change others.

Perhaps this is one reason why I’ve never been very interested in doing any coaching or consulting. As I always say, I have too many problems of my own, so I don’t have time to deal with those of others.

However, I love to write and speak about my problems and how I’ve tried to solve them. And with our company Happy Melly, my team and I seek to be the change that we wish to see in others. What we do is mainly self-management, self-coaching, and self-development. The result is a never-ending stream of experiments that, hopefully, are an inspiration to many. So they can change themselves too.

photo (c) 2008, Philo Nordlund, Creative Commons 2.0

The post Self-Change appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

My Improved Travel Checklist

Wed, 06/22/2016 - 17:20
My Improved Travel Checklist

Last week in London, I wanted to shoot a video, but it appeared that I had left my camera’s memory cards at home. On my previous trip, it had been my Android tablet that I had forgotten to bring with me. The trip before that, it was my stack of local currency, my power adapters, my sunglasses, or whatever, which I hadn’t properly packed.

Sure, I have a travel checklist. But clearly, it had turned into a checklost. With at least 50 confirmed upcoming events around the world, it was time for me to redesign it.

Four Preferred Places

My original checklist was one large unorganized list of reminders. This regularly led to problems because, by scanning the list too quickly, I easily overlooked an item that was buried among all the other things that I only knew too well. So I divided the checklist into four parts:

  • Personal items (that I carry on my body)
  • Shoulder bag
  • Handbag (typically carry on luggage)
  • Extra bag (typically check in luggage)

Each travel item on my improved checklist now has a preferred place. This not only helps to keep the individual lists smaller, and easier to check more carefully, but it also helps me keep things in the right bag. I don’t want to have that situation again where I thought I had my universal adapters or chargers packed in the other bag (but found out later that I hadn’t).

(And preferred means that items can change places depending on context. For example, my keys will have moved to my shoulder bag before I arrive at the airport, while my passport may temporarily move to my pocket while suffering the security and customs rituals.)

Standard versus Extra

Another thing I noticed messing up my packing efforts was that some standard items are by default in my bags (such as passports and adapters), other extra things are by default out of my bags (such as clothes and toiletries), and some items had a Schrödinger-kind of existence, not clearly being in or out, until I opened my bags to have a look (such as device chargers and headphones).

After the reorganization, packing my bags with my improved checklist now consists of two distinct activities:

  1. Checking that all standard items are where they should be;
  2. Adding all extra items to the place where I want them.

Hopefully, this will save me some stress and headaches in the future.

For example, I once had to interrupt my trip to the airport because my passport was not in my bag: it was still under the scanner next to my computer. I always know that my passports are in my shoulder bag, except for the one or two times when, apparently, I was wrong. And thus, I made it a separate activity to check that I am not deceiving myself, thinking that the standard items are where they should be before adding all extra items. And a Schrödinger-kind of existence is not part of the improved design.

Optional Stuff

And then, of course, there are the optional items that mainly depend on the weather forecasts. I remember once nearly freezing to death in Helsinki because I had no warm coat or gloves. I was once drying my clothes in my hotel room in London because, stupidly, I had brought no umbrella. And more than once, I have been sweating in the sun because I was silly enough to bring only dark blue jeans and long-sleeve shirts.

Short versus Long trips

Finally, things can always change a bit depending on context.

On short trips (one or two nights), I don’t need to take the larger bag with me. But this means I must jam any books, running gear, and clean clothes into my hand luggage, which is not always possible, or else just leave some of it at home. And on long trips (ten or more nights), the large bag magically changes into an extra large suitcase, and this also changes what I can bring with me (usually a lot more clothes).

Well, there you have it: the philosophy behind my new-and-improved travel checklist. I include the full list below (as it is now).

Is there anything missing that you have on your travel checklist, and that may be useful for me as well?

House keys
Car keys

Shoulder bag – standard items
Credit cards and bank cards
Travel cards and loyalty cards
Pens and markers
Presentation clicker
Spare batteries
Memory sticks
Display adapter

Shoulder bag – extra items
Tablet + charger
Foreign currency

Handbag – standard items
Spare underwear, socks, and shirt
Spare medicine, contact lenses
GoPro camera
GoPro stick
GoPro batteries
GoPro charger
GoPro memory
GoPro microphone
Universal adapters
USB chargers
Business cards

Handbag – extra items
Notebook + charger
Gloves, scarf, ear muffs [IF forecast = cold]
Umbrella [IF forecast = wet]
Travel clothes [IF distance = long]

Large bag – standard items
Laundry bag

Large bag – extra items
Extra shoes
Running shoes and clothes
Book / giveaway
Fleece jacket [IF forecast = cold]
Warm socks and sweater [IF forecast = cold]
Raincoat [IF forecast = wet]
Short pants [IF forecast = hot]

photo (c) 2013 Chris Lott, Creative Commons 2.0

The post My Improved Travel Checklist appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

The Failure Shirt: Agile Diplomats at the EU

Mon, 06/13/2016 - 15:23
The Failure Shirt

“We made a mistake. They are going to hate me tomorrow,” he said.

Imagine a room with 28 EU diplomats, twice that many specialists, dozens of translators, and one chairman who needs to tell everyone that his team has made a planning mistake and that everyone will suffer for it.

Needless to say, the chairman wasn’t looking forward to the next day. “I need them in a cooperative mode,” he said. “It is hard enough already to get agreements out of 28 countries. They will be very annoyed with us screwing up the planning. We’re not going to make much progress tomorrow.”

The Failure Hat

This problem made me think of people management in agile environments. Agile teams often have creative solutions to social problems, and one of those solutions immediately came to mind.

I told the chairman that, on some agile teams, if anyone has made a mistake for which the entire team has to suffer, that person wears the failure hat for a whole day. If someone accidentally destabilizes the product or “breaks the build” he or she is visually identified as the scapegoat, in a playful manner, so that everyone knows who did it. With a failure hat, people change from pointing fingers to poking fun.

Resentment and Vengeance

It is a human tendency to be resentful when other people make mistakes for which we have to suffer. In fact, vengeance is one of the sixteen basic desires of human beings, says behavioral psychologist Professor Steven Reiss. Even if there’s no immediate urge to hit back and retaliate for any (accidental) wrongdoings, we certainly feel it’s in our right to be pissed off and remain uncooperative, until the feelings of irritation have worn off. And this can take a while.

That’s why it’s rarely enough just to say, “I’m sorry”, however sincerely these words are spoken. The apology takes just one second of communication. But it can take hours for an annoyed person to say sincerely, “OK, I forgive you.” And on an agile team, or with a group of 28 diplomats, these can be costly uncooperative hours.

The Failure Shirt

I advised the chairman, “After you told them that you’re sorry, wear a silly hat, or a stupid shirt, for the rest of the day. Explain to them the meaning of the failure hat or failure shirt: You openly admit the mistake, and you allow everyone to point at you and laugh at you for a whole day, on the condition that you can immediately switch back into a collaborative mode.”

The next day, the chairman, who is well-known for his expensive suits and crisply tailored shirts, did exactly what I said. For the sake of the meeting, he sacrificed his dignity, admitted the mistake of his team, took off his jacket and stark white shirt in front of 80+ diplomats, specialists, and translators, and revealed the most ridiculous colored T-shirt that anyone had ever worn during an EU negotiation.

It was a huge success.

He received great applause, and laughs and cheers from everyone in the room. During the coffee breaks, half of the attendees took pictures and selfies with him and some congratulated him on his smart management move.

Most importantly, the rest of the day, the group enjoyed a cooperative and maybe even somewhat festive mood. People’s feelings of resentment and vengeance were satisfied: They could all see the chairman sitting there, suffering, in his silly shirt. Who wouldn’t smile at that? Let’s take another picture! The rest of the meeting was conducted in the failure shirt.

Afterward, the chairman said to me, “We made significant progress today, and I am now ridiculously popular. You’re my secret weapon!”

I felt extremely pleased that better management practices can work in any context. And also happy that I had an opportunity to assist in the career of my husband.

p.s. Make sure that wearing the shirt or hat feels somewhat embarrassing to the guilty person. I wouldn’t feel guilty in a colorful T-shirt. In fact, it was my shirt.

The post The Failure Shirt: Agile Diplomats at the EU appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

Don’t Pull My Finger

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 11:54
Dont Pull My Finger

As a public speaker, I get the weirdest requests.

Sometimes, event organizers want me to provide some “seed questions” that a moderator can ask me after a presentation. Usually, they use these when audience members do not immediately raise their hands when asked if they have any questions. In such a case, the moderator switches to a prearranged seed question after which the audience has usually awakened from its coma.

I don’t like giving organizers seed questions. Why should I be the one to tell them which questions they must ask me? It makes me think of a not-to-be-named family member who asked kids to pull on one of his fingers when he felt some gas coming up. And when they innocently pulled a finger, guess what happened? He thought it was hilarious.

Event organizers know their audiences better than I do. There’s no need to be lazy or to defer the bootstrapping of the Q&A to me. It is their job to make sure that we answer the important questions of their audience. And they shouldn’t care about anything that I most urgently want to get out of me.

When moderators do their job well, they generate a question or two on behalf of their audiences. And when they do, it happens often enough that they pose me questions I would never have imagined, and I need to think and offer an answer fast!

That prevents me from being lazy too.

I’m not going to let anyone pull my fingers. So don’t ask. If I have something relevant to say, I’ll say it. I don’t need to have it pulled out of me. Instead, I look forward to getting surprising questions that will challenge me!

(c) 2008 Derek Bridges, Creative Commons 2.0

The post Don’t Pull My Finger appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

Don’t Be Silly

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 17:23
Don't Be Silly

I’m giving away exclusive keynotes and webinars at the price of just a few books. Don’t be stupid. Grab that chance before June 27!

I get many requests for free keynotes and frequent inquiries for online webinars. I decline them all. I don’t believe in working for free (unless there is a non-monetary value attached to the work). And I have bad experiences with webinars.

However… I will make some exceptions.

After the release of my new book Managing for Happiness on June 27, I will pick FIVE lucky communities and companies who will get from me a free keynote. They will not pay me anything, not even travel or accommodation!

I will also pick FIVE lucky winners who will get from me a free online webinar. Again, I will require nothing from them except an appreciative audience and the handling of all logistics.

You could be one of those winners!

All you need to do is taking part in the Preorder Party: order some copies of Managing for Happiness, send me the proof of purchase and nominate a community or company. The communities and companies with the most votes have a big chance of winning one of my free keynotes or webinars.

Tip: Nearly all communities and companies in this pre-order party have been nominated only once! But my free talks go to those with the most votes. It should be very, very easy to become a winner in this contest. Be the one with more nominations than others!

Seriously, don’t be silly. Don’t email me asking for a free keynote or webinar. I will just say no. Simply pre-order some books, nominate your community or company, and make sure you get more than one vote.

I am the silliest person here, giving away so much value at such a small price.

Categories: Project Management

Successes and Failures are Illusions

Wed, 05/25/2016 - 09:19
Successes and Failures.jpg

In my talks around the world, I emphasize the need to run management experiments and I offer examples of interesting ideas that worked well for my team. Of course, with so many events per year, it was inevitable that someone would ask me, “What is your least successful experiment?”

I had to think about that for a moment and I had difficulty coming up with examples. That was strange, I thought. According to information theory, we learn most when roughly half of our experiments fail. When I’m able to name a good number of ideas that work, and I’m not able to list ideas that don’t work, does that mean that my learning process is suboptimal? That would be a reason for concern!

When I thought about it, I realized that, at least for me, success and failure are temporary statuses and I perceive them both with an optimistic mind. I have plenty of ideas that work for now, and I have a lot of ideas that don’t work yet. This means that, when you ask me about a successful experiment, I will happily share with you something that is successful now, knowing quite well that it may turn into a failure later. Likewise, when someone asks me about a failure, I have difficulty producing examples because I’m not considering the ideas that aren’t working yet as failures. They often just need more time, adaptation, and customization to make them work.

In other words, for my long-term optimistic brain, half of the experiments succeed and the other half will succeed later. I’m sure there are people with a negative mindset who would turn it all around: Half of the experiments fail and the other half will fail tomorrow. (My short-term pessimistic brain often works like that: “Nothing works, and even if something works, it breaks when I start using it.”)

Successes and failures are convenient illusions. They are judgement calls of the human mind, subjective evaluations of the consequences of our actions. Outcomes can be observed by anyone but successes and failures exist only in the eyes of the beholder.

Photo: (C) 2010 Paul Keller, Creative Commons 2.0

The post Successes and Failures are Illusions appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

Lean Funding

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 17:02

The traditional way that we fund startups is broken.

I know what I’m talking about. My own startup failed in the early 2000s, though it was just a minor failure. I blew away “only” 1 million euros of investors’ money on a business model that never really worked. When the dot-com bubble burst, my startup’s demise was nothing more than a dog’s fart in an imploding galaxy.

With perfect hindsight, I know what we did wrong. Our business model was unsustainable, but we had no talent for switching to another. We could have benefitted from the Lean Startup method: iterate with small production cycles, validate with paying customers, and pivot when things don’t work. We might have changed direction faster. But I think the Lean Startup approach only addresses half of the challenges of entrepreneurs. The other half could be dealt with using Lean Funding.

Less Prediction

When bootstrapping (self-funding) and crowdsourcing are not valid options, entrepreneurs usually turn to angel investors for seed capital. To obtain this capital, entrepreneurs engage in an elaborate courtship ritual with potential investors. In return for the investment, the angel investor gets equity ownership. The great challenge is: how much capital for how much equity?

Because there is often no inventory and there are hardly any sales, it is common to guess potential sales of the new company so that investors can calculate the current “value” of the business. Here, the entrepreneurs have reason the exaggerate the potential of their fledgling business to epic proportions, drawing hockey stick diagrams of fabulous “projected revenues” that are even larger than their egos.

I did that too, many years ago. I even won a business plan contest with it. With traditional seed investments, optimistically “predicting” the future is rewarded because if you’re not a naive optimist, you won’t get any money. Now I realize that my business plan and its impressive diagrams should have been classified as a work of fantasy, with lovingly crafted fantasy art.

As we have learned in the Agile community, there is little value in trying to predict the future. Startups should learn to embrace change instead of following a plan.

Less Negotiation

The mating ritual of entrepreneurs and investors is interesting to watch, but I consider it a complete waste of everyone’s time. Elevator pitches, business plans, six months of networking and negotiating… Yes, entrepreneurs should spend their time selling, but to customers not to investors. However, because a “seed round” is only done once or twice, there is a lot at stake. And both parties waste a significant amount of time finding the “right” balance of capital and equity.

I remember having endless discussions with my investors, trying to convince them that, no really, my ideas were thoughts of pure gold, and they just needed to sign on the dotted line.

The whole process is suspiciously similar to getting agreement over a requirements study with a large customer. Because both parties want to go through this ordeal only once, it only makes the process more complicated and more agonizing. After the signature on the deal, there is no way back!

The Agile Manifesto teaches us that customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation. Every minute you spend talking with investors about imagined customers is one minute not spent collaborating with real clients.

Less Documentation

I still have the legal documents of my failed startup, with all its impressive signatures. These papers not only cost me a lot of time and effort to obtain, but they were also expensive to produce. My God! The legal fees that financial and legal “experts” charged me were insane. And did they deliver any value? Not really. The papers went into a drawer, and they never came out. If I had used that money to get ourselves a room full of massage chairs, it wouldn’t have made any practical difference to our performance. Except, my startup would have collapsed more comfortably.

It would have been nice if we had a product that was being used, and paid for, by a customer. After all, as agilists, we have learned that working products are more important than comprehensive documentation. I’m not saying that you can simply run a business without any documents. But the effort and costs that went into producing legalese could have been better spent on finding customers first.

Less Capital

The more you have, the less it’s worth. When you only have a small amount of money to pay your bills, that money will be worth a lot to you. But when you have so much money that it doesn’t even fit on one bank account in one country, you’re probably not using it with care.

I remember spending a ridiculous amount of our startup capital on some overpriced professional bookkeeping software because I felt the need to plan ahead. My diagrams in the business plan said that we would be making a huge amount of money from customers in a few years, and I had just received several tons of capital from my investors. So, why not purchase the Ferrari of bookkeeping programs? At least nobody could say that I lacked the will to invest in the future.

You can find similar stories of well-funded startups about overpriced tools, outrageous perks for workers, lavishly decorated offices, and other non-value adding expenses. Startups with an abundance of cash often lack an abundance of restraint and foresight.

As agilists, we know that individuals and interactions beat processes and tools. If I had not received such a large amount of capital, I would not have been able to waste it on useless tools and perks. Instead, I might have invested more time in networking with friends and partners who could help keep the business afloat at a minimum of expenses.

Lean Startup + Lean Funding

A friend asked me recently to invest in his startup. I like his business idea, and I think he is someone who could make it a success, with a bit of help. However, now that I was suddenly asked to sit on the other side of the negotiation table, I wanted to think more deeply about my own (bad) experiences with funding and how the problems that I described above might be addressed with a more Agile and Lean mindset.

Less prediction, less negotiation, less documentation and less capital. That is what many entrepreneurs should strive for, in my opinion. The Lean Startup method, useful as it is, doesn’t deal with these issues. It offers an approach to creating products and services that work, with a clear focus on getting money from customers. But it offers no suggestions on funding the business, by receiving money from investors.

So, let’s solve that problem! Here’s what I have come up with.


There are several ways of assigning a value to a business. You can calculate assets minus liabilities, and add some goodwill on top, but this won’t get you very far with a startup which doesn’t have any of that. The only “assets” of startups are the founders themselves, which is exactly what many angel investors value most when they offer an entrepreneur seed capital: they believe in the person. I admit, I could be quite charming 17 years ago.

Another way of calculating a value is by taking the revenue of the business and multiplying it by an industry-dependent number. For example, an accountancy firm may be worth its annual income times 100% but a pharmacy may be worth its revenue times 25%. These are just rules of thumb, of course, but it’s better than nothing. The startup we want to invest in probably has little or no revenue, but that doesn’t matter. We know in which sector it operates, and there should be revenues soon enough. The entrepreneur will make sure of that. (Keep reading!)

The third way is to base a startup’s valuation on future earnings. The Discounted Cash Flow method is the most famous example of that. But, as a true agilist, I refuse to go there. What the company may or may not earn in the future is interesting for futurists and fantasists, not for a lean investor.

Conclusion: with a startup we can only base valuation on the worth of the entrepreneur and the sales he can generate. We can make a simple funding formula for this. For example, Value = 100K * Founder + 100% * Annual Revenue. In other words, the value of the startup is 100,000 euros for each founder, plus any revenue earned in the last twelve months.


With a traditional seed capital approach, the valuation and funding process easily takes months. But when something is hard to do, agile thinking suggests that we should do it as often as possible, in small iterations, which forces us to keep things simple. Well now, we have a formula, which means we can apply it anytime we want, for as long as it works!

For example, on January 1, the entrepreneur doesn’t have anything, except for his smart brains, and therefore his business is worth 100K. But if he works hard on validating his business model in the first three months, maybe he can send a couple of invoices worth 5K in Q1. This means that annual revenue (last 12 months) is 5K on April 1, and the value of his startup has grown from 100K to 105K.

Maybe by the end of the year, the entrepreneur will have earned 40K, and his startup will be worth 140K. Obviously, when he wants the value of the business to increase further, he will have to sell more in Q1 of next year than he did in Q1 of this year.


Now comes the interesting part: at any time during the year, the entrepreneur can ask for investment. The amount of capital that he asks for will (if the investor agrees) be traded against equity in the startup using the valuation at that moment.

For example, in January, the entrepreneur asks for a 10K investment, just to get started with the business, purchase some essentials, and pay the fees of one or two part-time workers. A 10K investment in a 100K startup means the investor gets a 10% stake in the company at that time. Three months later, the entrepreneur asks for another 10K. However, now the value of the business is 105K. Therefore, a 10K investment results in an additional stake of 9.52% in the company. The price of equity has climbed a little because the entrepreneur made a little bit of money.

By generating revenue, the entrepreneur will be able to trade away less of his business to the investor. A year later, at a valuation of 140K, an additional 10K will be traded against 7.14% of the company. With 200K in annual revenues (a valuation of 300K), a 10K investment would be worth just 3.33%.

With this investment approach, the incentives for the entrepreneur are in the right place: He should validate his business model as soon as he can, with paying customers, because actual revenue will drive the price of the shares up. He will be giving away less for more. He should also ask for as little money as possible, just enough to survive in the next few months. Because asking for too much means trading away equity at a price that is steadily climbing. As long as the business is growing, it is best to postpone each trade.


The reverse is also possible: the entrepreneur can give money back to the investor!

For example, suppose that the business is suddenly taking off in the second year. Annual revenue turns out to be 100K, which is more than double the amount of income in the first year. The entrepreneur now has a choice: keep investing in the business in the same way? Maybe ask a bank or a venture capitalist to scale things up? Or just grow the business naturally with cash from customers?

Either way, the entrepreneur can try to buy back his shares from the first investor. But the investment formula still applies, which means the entrepreneur has to pay a much higher price for the equity than the price at which he sold it. If the investor agrees to sell, he will have made a nice return on investment. It will all depend on the situation and plans of the investor and the entrepreneur in the future. Maybe they decide to choose the long road and aim for an IPO. Maybe some other opportunities come up, such as an acquisition by a larger firm. Right now, they don’t know, so it’s better to keep all options open, including divestment.


Investments and shares in the company can change hands at any time, but that doesn’t mean that you need to formalize everything with legal documents in those early stages. Nobody cares about legal documents, except the overpaid experts who make them. Between an early investor and an entrepreneur, a simple I.O.U. with a signature should suffice. If they don’t trust each other, they shouldn’t be collaborating anyway. Formalization of ownership status can be done later, or at longer intervals.

Lean Funding

I am going to start experimenting with Lean Funding. Diversifying your investments is always a good idea, is what the experts say. Investing everything I have in my own business is therefore not a wise approach. It’s better to let some of my money work for friends and partners who have good ideas and a talent to realize their dreams.

But I will not be interested in plans and projections for the future. Entrepreneurs can share their fantasy stories with their spouses and children, but I will want to see actual achievements regarding sales. I want to invest in startups that generate revenues, not forecasts.

I will also not waste much time on negotiations. We will use a funding formula that will be more or less the same for different entrepreneurs. And once we’ve agreed on the formula, we use it for all further investments or divestments. No startup will waste its time on my negotiation table. I want to see them sell great stuff to clients, not to me.

We will waste none of the money I invest on legal experts and documents. Of course, we will sign a simple one-page I.O.U. that should even hold up in court. But capital should be used to create working products and services, not comprehensive documentation.

Last but not least, I will invest as little as I can get away with to keep the startup alive. Lean Funding should be like a life support system for newborn businesses when their caretaker(s) lack sufficient funds. But I’m not going to bathe the newborn in champagne and dress it in robes of silk and silver. One pair of shorts will be enough.

Lean Funding is a perfect companion for Lean Startups. It allows entrepreneurs to focus on individuals and interactions, customer collaboration, working products, and responding to change. While the Lean Startup approach guides the development of products and services, Lean Funding takes care of the capital needed to make them.

At least, that’s my hypothesis.

Let’s start the experiment!

(c) 2011 Images Money, Creative Commons 2.0

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Categories: Project Management

How to Save Your Business

Thu, 05/12/2016 - 23:10

When it comes to transforming their organizations, people often ask me the same silly questions.

Imagine a village of people who have successfully lived in a forest for hundreds of years. Some have grandiose tree houses; others have excavated spacious homes under the ground. Some villagers are specialized woodcutters; others prefer to hunt or gather nuts and fruit. And a few of the villagers are officials who take care of this small but thriving society. They see to it that all specialist jobs are adequately covered and that all are properly represented on the Village Council.

Recently, however, there has been some unrest in the village: There is a strong wind from the west and it carries with it the faint odor of… fire.


This is a metaphor that we can use for almost every company that has made good money in the past and that is now facing the threat of eradication by globalization, innovation, and a relentless pace of change.

As a public speaker, I travel around the world quite a bit, and I encounter many of such villages, small and large. Fortunately, almost everyone I meet has realized that their village cannot escape the fire. To survive, the villagers will have to move elsewhere. But the people in these villages have a lot of questions for the traveling visitor:

Where is the environment safe?

Everywhere but here! The question assumes that there are safe and unsafe places for organizations to exist. Well, guess what? The world of business is changing faster and faster. Most places are variously safe and unsafe at different times. Fires, tsunamis, and earthquakes can now happen everywhere. The goal for a business should not be to resettle in a “safe” environment. Workers should learn to become organizational nomads: get used to the idea of packing your bags and relocating the whole organization to another business environment.

Which framework do we implement?

A framework for what? Do you want a predefined migration plan? Do you want a Gantt chart for turning a village into a caravan? I suggest you get people to figure out how to make vehicles from your tree houses and appoint some scouts who are willing to explore other environments. You can pick up books such as Out of the Forest, Escape Your Tree, and Business Nomads. They may speed up your learning. (You’re not the first to run from a fire.) You move your village by forcing everyone to accelerate their exploration and learning, not by arguing about the best framework for implementation of a plan.

How long will the transformation take?

Every time you ask a silly question, it takes one minute longer. How long does it take to get a group of people on the move? It depends on how many people you have, how willing they are to leave their homes behind them, how smart they are learning new skills, and whether the fire is still far enough so that you have some time to properly pack your bags. If you can see the fire, drop everything and run! Travel will be slower without preparations, but at least you’ll live. As a villager, you can estimate all these things better than I can, as a visiting traveler.

Should the transformation be bottom-up or top-down?

Is that in any way relevant? The fire is coming sideways! Everyone in the village will have to prepare for the move. Some will start earlier than others. Some will learn faster than others. And some will do more than others. Failed transformations are those where people waste time debating endlessly who should take the lead. The fire doesn’t care if the officials are leading the escape or not. Leaders are those whose bags are packed first and then show others how to do it. In an escape, there’s no bottom-up and top-down. There’s only inside-out.

How do we convince the managers?

Convince the managers of what? That there’s a fire coming? If they don’t smell it, I would start packing my bags without permission of the managers. But managers often know quite well that the village isn’t safe anymore. The usual problem is that they want to manage the migration the way they always managed the village. They want to apply the laws for tree houses also to mobile homes. But a band of travelers is different from a group of villagers and thus, they need different rules. Tell your managers that the road trip needs management with new rules.

Are OutOfTheForest and BusinessNomads just buzzwords?

Who cares? Smell the fire! Don’t just stand there discussing proper terminology. Start leading the escape!

Organizations change and survive when people accelerate their pace of exploration and learning. The way a company was managed in its old environment doesn’t work that well when it’s moving about, finding a new environment. And another one. And another one. Even worse, none of the same rules apply to the transformation itself. The migration, at least in the beginning, is all improvisation!

So, instead of your usual plans, targets, performance evaluations, committees, and policies, I suggest you hold a regular corporate huddle or town hall meeting and get everyone involved in updating each other on the status of the danger, the opportunities for safer places, and the progress of the travel preparations. Each person, from their own discipline, takes responsibility for learning how to be a valuable community member among the new business nomads.

That’s how you save your business.

photo: (c) 2006 Ervins Strauhmanis, Creative Commons 2.0

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Categories: Project Management

Goodbye, Knowledge Workers. Welcome, Creative Workers!

Thu, 05/12/2016 - 23:02

Twenty years ago, I taught people how to develop their own templates, macros, and solutions in Microsoft Office programs. It was good business, for a few years. But rapid innovation in desktop software quickly eroded my business model. Deep knowledge of Office products became useless and I had to move on to other ideas.

We can see the same happening across many industries and business models nowadays.

I don’t need highly-paid photographers anymore because it’s easier than ever to take great photos with my smartphone. I hardly need my accountant because better software takes care of all the simple bookkeeping rules and answers to complicated questions can easily be found online. And I don’t need to understand how to design my blog because talented, affordable designers can be found all over the world through online marketplaces.

In this century, there is less need to know things and more need to make things.

The half-time of knowledge has been shrinking steadily over a decade or two. Has anyone recently read a manual for a tool or application? For me, the last time was five years ago, when I bought a digital camera. The only thing I remember from the manual was how to set picture quality to automatic. This turned out to be a fine setting for 99% of the photos I took with it, for two years, until smartphones stole its job.

In the 21st century, there is little value in knowing how to use a tool because tools emerge and disappear faster than piercings in a teenager’s body. The value now is in making great-looking photos with any tool you happen to have in your hands. Likewise, there is little value in knowing which tax rules to apply to which invoices. The value is in making the software that does this automatically for its users. And maybe there is some value in knowing HTML for ordinary writers and publishers. But the real value is in making blog posts and articles that are so inspiring or remarkable that they get many views.

All of this means that Peter Drucker’s knowledge workers are on their way out. Investing in knowledge and then trying to charge a good price putting this knowledge to good use is a dead business model. Knowledge can be found everywhere, at almost no cost. This century is for creative workers, who invest their time in experimentation and practice while continuously updating and replacing their knowledge.

Thanks to ubiquitous information, the knowledge economy has turned into the creative economy.

photo: (c) 2016 Jurgen Appelo

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Categories: Project Management