Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fighting "Brain Drain" at Your Company

How does a successful business prevent its top people from leaving, so-called "brain drain"? Is it critical to keep individual stars or is it more important to have a system that nurtures, develops, and retains talent? Here is a good article from Harvard Business Review:
"On: Innovation, Creativity, Leadership Getting Smarter about Google's 'Brain Drain'" by Bill Taylor

I have worked at a number of different companies, for a number of different managers. I can say that Lesson 2, "If you want to keep great contributors, develop better managers," is critical. Working for a great manager keeps you energized, you don't even think about leaving. That is the most important thing for me.

I also think that Lesson 3, "Just because people leave doesn't mean they're gone for good," is very important--and almost nobody realizes it! I have found that when I leave a job my newly former employer doesn't want anything to do with me. I always found this strange, because it is inevitable in my experience that they end up calling back a couple years later wondering if I'd like to come back. It has happened to me multiple times, with multiple companies. One of my former employers tried every two years like clockwork to hire me back. They were always a day late and a dollar short--if they had just been serious about it (make the better offer a few years earlier) they would have gotten me.

My former employers never thought they would want me back or laid the groundwork for this. Put it another way: I think that I've always made every effort to leave a company on very good terms (I've never worked for a bad company, so that helps), specifically so I would be return if the right situation arose. But the companies didn't seem to care if they left me on bad terms. As I've grown older I've never understood this. People move around a lot nowadays; they don't stay in one job for their whole career. What better situation than to go back to an organization you already know, with new skills that you could never get within that organization? In my present situation I could come back into my old job and do it a LOT better. I have a much clearer perspective on the way customers (relative to my former job) think, because I am one now!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can Bullies Manipulate Google?

These are interesting times we live it. Technology continues to change everything. But there are always people who figure out ways to game the system and harm others. Consider this article from the New York Times:
"A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web"

I don't know enough to comment on the technical facts of the article (whether Google can truly be gamed like this, whether they are working on a fix, et cetera).

But I'm just as fascinated by the human aspects of the story. On the one hand you want to knock this guy out for being such an asshole. But there is a (very small) part of me that admires his ability to make accurate observations and design a business model to take advantage of what he sees. He simply does what works, even if it is despicable.

At this point it is probably best to turn the commentary over to Search Engine Land. If you liked the original story and want to hear more details, you'll like this, too. Danny Sullivan was quoted in the original story and continues with more analysis here:
"Google’s 'Gold Standard' Search Results Take Big Hit In New York Times Story" by Danny Sullivan

Interestingly, Bing has the same problem. But as Sullivan points out, "Google’s the market leader and over the past year or so has aggressively pushed that it has great search quality in a variety of ways, such as public relations and blog posts. That doesn’t excuse Bing from needing to do the same improvements. But similarly, the 'Bing has the same problem, too' response won’t wash with me." Nor should it.

Also interesting in both stories is the response (or lack thereof) from the credit card companies. Not very impressive.

It will be interesting to see how Google, Bing, eBay, Amazon, credit card companies, and others respond to this tactic. It certainly appears that there is a lot of room to improve here.

Update, December 1, 2010
From The Official Google Blog:
"Being bad to your customers is bad for business"

"Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

"We can't say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Will Higher Taxes Reduce the Deficit? Really???

A friend of mine in high school and college taught me a lesson about fiscally irresponsible people one day. Just to give you some idea about him: He was a big spender, ran up tons of credit card debt (among many other types of debt), and eventually declared bankruptcy. Anyway, back to the story. We were in college and went up north to go skiing. While there he saw a ski jacket that he simply had to have. But his credit cards were all maxed out already. So he called up one of his credit card companies. He said he had an emergency and needed to increase his credit card limit. His credit card company increased his credit limit by $500, over the phone. After he hung up he looked at me and he said that's $500 of "free money." The credit limit was bumped but his minimum payment stayed the same. I was incredulous that he looked at it that way.

This story is not an analogy for what I want to discuss in this blog post. But I tell the story because my friend's mindset reminds me of politicians. You give them an inch and they take a mile, without giving a second thought to the consequences of their actions.

So with that in mind, let's talk about taxes and deficits. There is a claim now that we can't "afford" tax cuts (as if it's the government's money, which is completely false as I've discussed before, most recently on November 13, 2010, How to be a RINO, courtesy of David Stockman). There is a belief that we need to raise taxes in order to balance the budget. Which is complete bullshit. The simple fact is that if we do raise taxes, politicians will actually raise spending MORE. That is, when they get the extra money they won't run a surplus to pay down the debt. They won't even bother to balance the budget. They will increase their spending faster than the increased taxes they collect.

From the Wall Street Journal:
"Higher Taxes Won't Reduce the Deficit" by Stephen Moore and Richard Vedder

"The draft recommendations of the president's commission on deficit reduction call for closing popular tax deductions, higher gas taxes and other revenue raisers to drive tax collections up to 21% of GDP from the historical norm of about 18.5%."

"The claim here, echoed by endless purveyors of conventional wisdom in Washington, is that these added revenues—potentially a half-trillion dollars a year—will be used to reduce the $8 trillion to $10 trillion deficits in the coming decade. If history is any guide, however, that won't happen. Instead, Congress will simply spend the money.

"In the late 1980s, one of us, Richard Vedder, and Lowell Gallaway of Ohio University co-authored a often-cited research paper for the congressional Joint Economic Committee (known as the $1.58 study) that found that every new dollar of new taxes led to more than one dollar of new spending by Congress. Subsequent revisions of the study over the next decade found similar results."

"Politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in—and a little bit more."

"But no matter how we configured the data and no matter what variables we examined, higher tax collections never resulted in less spending."

Because the Wall Street Journal sometimes removes links, here is an article that references the WSJ article. This article also has some links to better ways to balance the budget. From Reuters:
"Should Republicans refuse any tax increases?" by James Pethokoukis

Here is another link, for the same reason. From the American Enterprise Institute:
"Higher Taxes Won't Reduce the Deficit" by by Richard Vedder and Stephen Moore

Finally, some of Vedder's earlier work, from a report prepared for the 102nd Congress:
"Taxes and Deficits: New Evidence ('The $1.59 Study')" by Richard Vedder, Lowell Gallaway, and Christopher Frenze

Look at the date on this study. It's from 1991. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here is a portion of the Executive Summary:

"In recent years higher taxes have been repeatedly justified to reduce the Federal budget deficit. This strategy has been based on a self-styled 'pragmatic' approach, pragmatism being defined as what works. Concern about the effect of new taxes on the economy, or on the spending habits of public officials, was given short shrift by pragmatism. The crowning triumph of this strategy was the 1990 budget agreement, which raised taxes $160 billion, supposedly to reduce the deficit. However, the facts contained in this study and elsewhere show that Federal spending actually accelerated after the 1990 tax increases were enacted, and budget deficits have hit record levels. The only problem with this fiscal pragmatism is that it doesn't work.

"This stimulation of higher deficits by tax increases is not surprising. An earlier study by the same authors on the postwar years 1947-86 found that every $1.00 in new taxes generated $1.58 in new spending. Other research as well as practical knowledge about how Congress operates suggests the same general conclusion: new revenues will be spent on more or bigger programs rather than deficit reduction. The hemorrhaging of spending under the 1990 budget summit was predictable and in fact predicted by its Congressional opponents. The only mystery is how anyone could believe that Congress would not spend all of the new taxes, and then some."

I repeat: "The only problem with this fiscal pragmatism [raising taxes to reduce the deficit] is that it doesn't work. ... new revenues will be spent on more or bigger programs rather than deficit reduction."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More Google Voice Tips!

Have I mentioned before that I love Google Voice? Oh yes, I think I have! Here is another article with helpful Google Voice tips.

From Lifehacker:
"The Most Helpful Ways to Use Google Voice that You're Not Using"

Don't forget to click the many good links embedded in the article, too.