Polishing my mirror

reflecting the collaborative reality of our networked world

Month: February, 2013

Running a startup is a team building exercise, so why not share the joy and learn from each other.

The illusion:

Comfort and luxury are not drivers of innovation. How do I know you ask? Well, I feel as if all three of us here at RareBridge are running around seeking solutions as if our heads were on fire and we were looking for water! Comfort or luxury would not describe our circumstance, though at least judging by my two coworkers innovation is a necessity. Ignorant illusion at times creeps into our subconscious that if we only had more resources we could be more innovative and productive. Well, the past week I was dissuaded of that false illusion!!!

 

The contacts:

Working on a startup and being broke, one cannot afford many luxurious vacations. However we do have friends at global mega corporations with very deep pockets. One such friend informed me that they were planning a major corporate off-site to work on their corporate communication issues, a team building if you will. I laughed thinking of our great team of three, we could only dream of having communications issues. Though when I learned that my friends off-site was going to be held in Medellín in a posh hotel and I was welcome to crush for free, I knew my world was looking up.

 

The disillusion:

Little did I realize the mega corporate team building retreat is going to help me realize how lucky our startup is in terms of our scale and limited resources. The mega corp with their huge cash flows has many layers across all the continents, for them communication is not just something they do to get things done, it is an department in the organization. Learning and innovation as it turns out has to take a second seed to a lot of other organizational issues. For the team-building event they hired a professional facilitator with fancy degrees to help them figure our how to communicate. At our small startup we can only dream of access to the resources they have, but we have absolutely no problem communicating. You could say running the startup is a team building exercise, a perpetual off-site.

 

The pitch:

For us, the young entrepreneurs, resources of a mega corporation should not be an allure as that is a false image of prosperity. We are the foundation of the new economy. What we need the most is access to nimble starved creative open-minded over educated entrepreneurs like ourselves. Our conversations our collaboration and our ideas will help all of us succeed and come to market with the success that we are. At RareBridge we are creating a platform to make that communication and collaboration happen for all of us. Come check us out.

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Problem with silos or why we should seek out opportunities to work across many communities

In the beginning:

Growing up in Poland I was aware of the existence of other countries, but because I was living in a national silo, I just did not have much interaction with them.

When I began studying finance at an US university, my school administrator was perplexed by my odd requests for permissions to take classes in other silos of the university, like mathematics, philosophy or music. Why, she asked? It is not required.

Later, I joined a global company in their finance organizational silo. My coworkers in the finance silo and I laughed at the crazy marketing people, who within their silo had no concept of the industry. We laughed at the entitled front line employees, because only we in the finance silo knew what was really going on. But even within the finance silo there were even smaller choice constraining silos. The Newly minted MBAs joining my team were complaining that we are not giving them enough work that fits into the MBA work type silo. Many were making themselves unhappy because of that silo mindset.

We all were growing up and being indoctrinated into a silo world without even realizing it. That, however, will not be the world of our kids. We are experiencing a massive structural change in our social and economic structures. And this will change everything.

Paradigm shift to networked world:

This evolution in psychology and cultural behavior of the society is not a random move but a point on a long continuum. With the onset of the scientific revolution towards the end of the Renaissance, we have systematically started discovering and classifying the world. It has benefited us greatly. By the time I was born in the 70’s, almost everything was squarely organized by the society into its proper boxes stacked up in silos. These technologies and innovations brought about change in sentiment and after the summer of love and Woodstock in the 60‘s, the social changes reverberated on into the early 1970s. However, the idea and movement of the Age of Aquarius and the associated change in values and structures was sadly premature for the world was not yet ready. That revolution is only happening now with social media and 24/7 collaborative connectivity at the forefront, blurring the lines of the tired old silos.

During my years in the university setting, I started realizing that I do not fit into the silo world. I loved architecture and finance equally but there was no choice to study both simultaneously. “You have to pick one. Why?”, I asked. I picked finance. Later at work I was advised against moving out of finance to different silos. In order not to go crazy in my silo, I channeled my creativity to studying world history and arts, traveling around the world visiting museums in my spare time.

During my MBA, I discovered that I am not the only crazy one, that there are accomplished professors who also see the silos as a problem. I will never forget when Prof. Jeffrey Sachs came to the Business school to introduce his earth institute project.

As it turns out, our world of silos is a major obstacle to problem solving. When we need to solve worlds big problems or when we need to get small companies off the ground, we need to reach out to other communities and find a way to work together. Professor Sachs was explaining that even within the same university it is a massive challenge for the business, engineering and say health sciences to find a common language to communicate across their self-contained specialized silo nomenclature. Just the communication is a challenge. That is why profesor Sachs created the earth institute.

How we are helping:

At RareBridge we agree with Professor Sachs. Collaboration across various communities of interests and specializations is what’s needed to create the innovation to solve our world’s problems. It is also needed to get many small companies off the ground. We believe that it is not only fun to go across the lines, it is the fundamental driver of innovation. That is why we are creating a platform where a cross community of enterprising experts can find a way to collaborate and find each other to solve the little and the big problems. Come check us out.

Big business lessons for big and small companies from sending a USPS certified mail

The problem:

At the beginning of last week I mailed using USPS certified mail a two-inch thick blinder full of important legal documents to my lawyer in Pittsburgh. Because it was a certified mail, I signed up for e-mail tracking notifications. The next day, just before 11am, I got an email from USPS with a status update all in caps: UNDELIVERABLE AS ADDRESSED!!!! I Panicked!!! Hours spend preparing the documents, and here I was fearing they were going to be lost see. I called USPS customer service, and a nice lady told me that there was nothing I could do. Packages marked as undeliverable are automatically returned to sender. More panic. I do not live in USA, and they will not return it outside of USA when the package was sent from Brooklyn. I pushed the lady and she said, “well, we can launch an investigation if you like to find out what happened.” Ecstatic I scream YES PLEASE! She informs me that it will take 24-48 hours. A lot can happen in 24-48 hours, what do I do?

The solution:

Well, we are not living in the 50’s or 60’s anymore. We have Google. I googled post offices in the zip code of my lawyer. The people at the local post office were very helpful. However, the person who was attempting the delivery of my package was still out on the delivery route. I am told to call the next day in the morning before they go out on the run. In the mean time, I decided, out of desperation, to call the centralized corporate customer service to see if they have any updates. I talk to a gentleman who politely laughs at me, “you realize we need time to investigate” he says. He nicely points out that I have just initiated the investigation a few hours ago and that they need 24-48 hours. He apologizes that such are the rules, that my package will most likely be returned to sender, and he assures they will call me back once they get a chance to investigate. Well, next morning I call again the local office as instructed, and it turns out all of it was my fault. I have only addressed the mail to my lawyer by name, without specifying the big law firm where she works. It just so happens that the address is a skyscraper where three thousand people work, although the law office has a few hundred employees, finding my lawyer in the big building would be a monumental task, thus the my misaddressed mail rightfully marked undeliverable as addressed!!! Yup, squarely my fault!!!!! Once we figured my goof-up and I told the nice post office employee the name of the law firm, he smiled reassuringly, told me not to worry, that he knows that place well and he assured me that my package will be safely delivered there the next day. As far as I know the investigation on corporate end has not yet begun.

The business lesson:

Centralization and specialization has its problems, particularly when it comes to delivering informed customer service. Just like JetBlue flight attendants and pilots multi task and also clean the plane decreasing their aircraft turn time, employees in all big corporations will have to learn to undo some of the Henry Ford specialization, and learn to multitask. Given our current networking technology, we can design systems that route my help request to the source, as opposed to adding inefficiency and cost to the company at the corporate level. My example with USPS demonstrates that the customer service provided by helpful employees on the ground can not possibly be provided at any cost at the corporate level. The centralized employee will not know anything about the relationship of a law firm with the post office. For the corporate employee, that contract is rounding to irrelevant, on the ground people know their biggest customer. There is no amount of training that you can provide for a centralized employee to have that kind of knowledge. For me, the concerned consumer who trusted my very valuable delivery to USPS, the level of service and knowledge of the situation is huge. I am grateful for the autonomous helpful USPS employes on the ground who solved my problem before the centralized investigation was able to do anything. This example has significant organizational implications to major corporations like hotels, airlines, and car rental companies. This also highlights immense potential for small decentralized companies and startups who can find a way to collaborate across various regions to simulate the offerings, benefits and power of a massive global company, if only the small companies could find each other. Small is beautiful, even if you are global 😉

At RareBridge we love to connect all the small companies of the world!! Come check us out at https://www.rarebridge.com

I also like to give a shout out to the all the excellent people I have spoken with at the Pittsburgh post office who helped me to locate and to deliver my package. You guys rock! Thanks a million!!!