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Inches Make Champions

Al Pacino’s epic speech in “Any Given Sunday,” combined with an archived blog of serial entrepreneur and VC guru Brad Feld, will set the tone for any day.  Throw in a little Ari Gold and you’re ready to conquer the world.

"Knock off the hippie shit, strap on a helmet, and start shooting."

The back of my iPod is inscribed with the phrase “Inches Make Champions.”  As Pacino said, “We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know, when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the fuckin’ difference between winning and losing.”

I enjoy running ultramarathons (LT100, SilverRush 50, Annapurna 100) and to date have DNF’d far more than I have finished.  Yet the mantra of ultras, “constant forward motion,” holds.  Often, this constant forward movement occurs in centimeters.

Life is a game of movement, of inches.  In the moment, consequences, odds, and scenarios do not matter.  To the competitor, focus sharpens to the inch at hand, to the next step, to the next action required to execute.

Feld’s blog reflects this mindset eloquently.  To paraphrase, one must play the point rather than the score, which is irrelevant to the point being contested.  The focus is on competing as intensely as possible and performing as perfectly as possible in favor of the point–the moment–compounding small victories to result in big ones.

Living is the inch in front of your face that you either sacrifice or stretch for 100 miles.  Inches, rather than metric measurements, are malleable, contingent largely upon ambition, work ethic, and will.

And “those inches we need are all around us,” waiting to be focused upon, fought for, and seized.

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Please Don’t Change the Channel

The office space where I work is shared by myriad firms.  There is a large flat-screen plasma TV in the break room permanently tuned to CNN with a notice reading “Please Don’t Change the Channel” affixed to the cable box.

I generally resent a hype-based culture of fear and enough tickers to make me epileptic, not to mention I prefer ESPN on my lunch break.  Naturally, I change the channel.

Over the past two months, I have noticed a curious thing: the TV is now permanently tuned to ESPN, because no one changes the channel.  The entire Penthouse is prisoner to the power of suggestion.

This bizarre anecdote is an excellent example of the way people’s brains can be rewired using the power of suggestion framed within the context of a social norm/authority.

Instead of reading “Please don’t change the channel” as an instruction/order, one may read the word “please” as a suggestion, “don’t” as a challenge, and “change the channel” as an opportunity for a paradigm shift.

Via this simple act (changing the channel), my desired reality (ESPN) is now the enforced norm by virtue of people’s own conditioning.

Moral: By thinking and acting outside the box, you may inadvertently gain the power to control people within the parameters of the new box(es) you have created.

Discussion Points:

1. What antiquated ways of thinking may you/your business be needlessly adhering to solely based upon convention?  Is this affecting productivity/happiness?  Is there a correlation (between productivity/happiness)?

2. Can you subtly rewrite the rules?  How?

3. How do you process declarative statements?  In other words, are they interpreted as suggestions, opinions, constraints, enforced boundaries, or challenges?  This may depend upon context and the individual issuing said statements.

4. How do the people you admire (role models, mentors, heroes, etc.) process declarative statements?  Do they recognize limits or boundaries of any kind?

Action: Change the channel.

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Why Good Old Fashioned Competition Works

Good evening!  My name is Andrew Parrott and I’m a Partner at a recruiting agency here in Denver.  I’ve spent nearly 5 years performing lifecycle Account Management and Recruiting in the web apps space, both in CO and nationwide.

Many of you will point out, and not entirely inaccurately,  that agency recruiters like myself target companies in a predatory fashion, spin biased bullshit, and are technically incompetent, knowing just enough to be dangerous to ourselves and misrepresent your firm.

Those arguments are sometimes true, and I have personally been guilty of each at various times in my career.  Yet the more I grow in the profession and the older I become (yes, I’m at the ripe old age of 25, receding hairline notwithstanding), the more I become convinced that the majority of human interactions may be simplified to two things: Relationships and Competition.  Perhaps in no profession is this as evident as technical recruiting.

Why use recruiters (internal or agency)?

Many VPs of Engineering and the like are well-connected in their field.  As such, they will likely first elect to mine their known contacts.  After this, job postings on myriad sites may be the next option.  Postings will certainly generate a large applicant base, but are these the applicants you want?  At any time, but certainly in today’s economy, the best candidates are those actively employed and passively seeking, afraid to move yet afraid of what might happen if they stay at their current employ.  Job boards, by and large, yield a very disproportionate ratio of qualified to WTF candidates.  Someone then has to sort through those candidates to find the golden nugget(s).  Does your VP of Engineering have something better to do with his/her time?  Perhaps that is why you have an internal recruiter or HR employee.  Agency vs. Internal recruiting aside, we have now qualified the need for a recruiter of some sort to actively hunt passive candidates.

Agency vs. Internal recruiters: the Agency value-add

I’m one of those sick cardio Nazis who competes in the Leadville Trail 100 and ultramarathons of similar nature.  The best way I personally can compare Agency vs. Internal recruiters is in terms of physical training.  Growth, whether personal or professional, requires dynamic–not static–challenges and environments.  Internal recruiters and HR tend to be static for numerous reasons.  First, they are only selling one company—yours.  But that’s a good thing, right?  Not necessarily.  Fish is a healthy meal to eat, yet if I cooked fish every night I would soon find myself mindlessly repeating the same steps, less aware of my surroundings and more efficient ways of giving myself nutritional value add.  So too with recruiting, which requires an adaptive, dynamic, and opportunistic mindset.

I submit that agency recruiters have more dynamic and specialized knowledge due to their work with similar skillsets across multiple verticals and product offerings.  Admittedly, my knowledge is broad and shallow.  Yet I do my homework on your company, seek out the intangibles for which I am allowed to discriminate but internal HR is not (e.g. the ever-elusive “cultural fit”), and most importantly, I listen.  A good recruiter spends most of his/her time asking candidates and VPs of Engineering alike questions and listening, and in this way educating him/herself.

Imagine there are two lions.  One lives in a zoo and has a guaranteed meal every day.  The other lives on the African plains and can only eat what he kills.  Which lion is quicker, stronger, and more aggressive?

That’s the value-add to agency vs. internal recruiting.

Economics

Eric Omer, Speaker and Business Coach, says by conservative estimate, it costs 30% of an employee’s salary to hire him/her, data supported by other estimates.  The typical perm fee for an agency is 20-25%.  For a $100K hire, that means you pay $5-10K less/employee.  It costs internal HR time and money to interview candidates, not to mention loss of productivity, learning curve for the new hire, and the like.  Conversely, I specifically screen all candidates via in-person interview prior to submittal.  Moreover, I work directly with VPs of Engineering and IT Managers, thereby eliminating the “middle man (read: HR)” and streamlining the flow of information.

Reality

In the world of recruiting, companies are one of two things: Clients or Sources.  Do I recruit your top talent if you are not my client?  Absolutely.   Will I sell the value of your company to your competitor’s top talent, using every resource, network and tactic available—for free?  In a heartbeat.  You only pay me IF you hire one of my candidates.

This is not merely a pitch for my company, although we are the best (and there is a great example of a recruiter’s biased bullshit).  Agency recruiters compete because we enjoy it.  Competitions are more fun for true athletes (i.e. recruiting firms) and ultimately more beneficial for your corporation when there is a diverse field and the best are allowed to rise to the top.

True competitors do not want safe base salaries and a pile of resumes to sort through—they want to be free to use their faculties to compete and prove they achieve the best results.

All I ask is for the free opportunity to allow myself and other agencies to prove that we are who we say we are—you be the judge.

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Leaders, Lions, and Gazelles

I am an Account Manager/Recruiter for a boutique headhunting agency specializing in web applications.  When I first interviewed with my firm in September 2005, the PEO sat me down and told me the following African proverb:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.  It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up.  It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

Moral: It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.

As the PEO concluded, he said, “Now that moral is feel-good bullshit.  We don’t hand out participant ribbons in our world.  Tell me which animal is faster.”

I sat and thought for about 20 seconds.

“The Lion,” I responded.

“Why?” the PEO asked.

“The Lion runs faster to be King, and the Lion runs faster because he is King” I answered.

I was hired the next day.

REFLECTIONS

1. What happens if the lion rests on its laurels once it is “fastest”?  How does this correlate with the business world?

2. Where is competitive advantage gained?  Just as workout programs and diets must be tailored individually, how must you tailor the fitness plan for your business to maximize results?  For yourself?

3. If the fastest lion chases, kills, and eats more gazelles than he needs to sustain life, will this benefit or hurt his future performance?  Do businesses become bloated and sluggish in the same way?  What is the optimal “feeding” level for your business?

4. In the business world, is it harder for a gazelle to become a lion, or for a lion to revert to being a gazelle?

ACTION

“Whenever you are not working to improve, your competition is.” This does not mean “work” related activities only.  Every action–diet, fitness, reading material, personal relationships, rest/recovery time, etc. should be calculated to create a progressive, well-rounded warrior.  Stay hungry.

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It’s Not Selling Out, It’s Ca$hing In

Hip hop is far from the first culture to be infiltrated and subsequently mined for profit by corporations, but the trends, rhythms, fashions, and lifestyle of hip hop has global effect, from suburbanites in the Valley to hustlers in Brooklyn to cab drivers in Africa.

With a global audience, it was only a matter of time before corporations reached out to hip hop to validate their image.  To this end, corporate America has met with unparalleled success, securing rap godfather KRS-ONE and all-around mogul Jay-Z as two of their biggest spokesmen:

KRS-ONE Interview: Rap Merges with Major Brands

Jay-Z Co-Brand Director of Budweiser Select

As more hip-hop celebrities become spokespeople for brands, we see a dovetail with earlier trends (reference “Remix!”) and the artists’ answer to recording studios’ new 360 degree contracts.  As individual album sales may drop due to open source technologies, artists both become and represent brands.

Artists can certainly profit in this manner, but is this trend (a) good for the culture the artists propagate and/or (b) a risky attempt to trade on “street cred” for major companies?

Perhaps some other dons of hip hop, the Wu-Tang Clan, have the answer embedded in the lyrics to their banger “Protect Ya Neck”:

First of all, who’s your A&R
A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?
But he don’t know the meaning of dope
When he’s lookin for a suit and tie rap
that’s cleaner than a bar of soap
And I’m the dirtiest thing in sight…

REFLECTIONS

1. When worlds collide (e.g. hip hop culture and corporate America) in pursuit of a common goal (profit), at what point is the relationship between credibility and profit no longer linear and exponential?

2. How can businesses draw on the talents and experiences of artists to profit in a respectful and reciprocal manner?

ACTION

Keep it Real.

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Remix!

This blog’s first post, “The Honor System,” profiled the artist Radiohead as an innovative example of musicians bypassing big labels and putting their trust (and profits) directly in the hands of consumers Radiohead Bypasses Labels.

Faced with an exodus of top talent, big labels have had their existence challenged Fast Company: Can Big Labels Survive? (see esp. post by Karen McGrane, echoed on MusicNews.com R.I.P. CD?).

Warner, Sony BMG, and Universal have all heeded the advice of McGrane and are working hard to adapt and invent, using Web 2.0 to their advantage (see post entitled “Web 2.0, SoJo, and Horatio Alger”) and striking a landmark deal with MySpace Business Week: Record Labels and MySpace Cut a Deal.

Big labels have also introduced the “360 degree contract,” which is all-encompassing (merchandise, tours, etc.) as opposed to merely CD sales The Economist: A Change of Tune: 360 Degree Contracts.

What ultimately happens to big labels remains to be seen. Yet recent events evidence that several labels are trying, in open-minded and innovative ways, to adapt and ensure their survival. As of now, a Barenaked Ladies chorus is the final arbiter for the industry: “And it’ll be great, just wait–or is it too little, too late?”

REFLECTIONS:

1. Consider the effects of competition among big businesses as they attempt to stay relevant to the consumer (e.g. Apple/iTunes, record labels, musicians). Does this competition help or hurt the consumer?

2. Does this kind of “consumer based competition” encourage or discourage innovation? What, in turn, does this do for everyone involved (artists, labels, consumers, etc.)?

3. What would be the effects of consumer based competition (as opposed to relative price fixing) in other industries (e.g banking, credit cards, etc.)?

ACTION

Focus on and trust your consumer base to drive innovation and a competitive advantage.

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Liquid Ambition

With 97% of the world’s water undrinkable ocean and 3rd world nations (especially in Asia and Africa) suffering from a lack of potable water, access to clean water is an oft-overlooked problem Ripple Effects (see esp. 2nd to last paragraph). As one of the UN’s Millenium Development Goals, the UN aims to “reduce by half the amount of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water” Goal #7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability.

Led by Danish company Vestergaard Frandsen and their revolutionary LifeStraw, check out the following examples of innovators addressing global concerns in addition to bottom lines:

LifeStraw

Dalberg

Healing Waters International

MetaVu, Inc.: Return on Environment (RoE)

Solar Water Purifier (click on “Solar Water Purifier” under Further Info.)

REFLECTIONS:

1. Is it possible for market based capitalism to drive profit via the solution of existing needs rather than manufactured wants? Which strategy is more profitable in the long term?

2. As the world becomes “flatter” and globalization demands not just awareness, but participation in addressing global crises, what role can your company play within its niche?

ACTION:

Donate some time, money, or your particular talents to an organization/project of global concern, even if acting on a local level.

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