Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Uber, Lyft, and City Congestion:The Future of Urban Planning

Chicago, and several other big cities, have found that Uber and Lyft have increased urban congestion.

The thinking had been that these services would replace drivers.

Instead, people are also using them as a convenient substitute to mass transportation.  Ridership on CTA buses and trains are down, while downtown roads are getting clogged with drivers picking up and dropping off passengers.

Today, I had the idea that one future solution would be to convert strategically chosen parking lots into drop-off zones.  They could also create ride share-only lanes which connect these drop off lots.

Then, while regular traffic flows on the main roads, Uber and Lyft drivers can traverse downtown by these side streets and pick up/drop off in the closest drop off lots.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gender Pay Gap, Transparency, and Privacy

The Economist recently had an interesting article on the gender pay gap.  April 4th was the deadline for employers in Britain to start reporting the difference between the average pay of men and women (for disclosure, The Economist reported a median gap of 29.5%).

As The Economist pointed out, there are some caveats to these values because they compare total salaries, without regard to similarity in roles.  So, for example, the gap will be really high for Premier League football (soccer) clubs because they would be skewed by the players' salaries on the men's side.

However, in general, they think the data could lead to a dialog about the causes of the pay gap, which they think would make it worthwhile.

One of the causes that The Economist mentions (besides the need for better parental leave) is the asymmetry between employers (who know all salaries) and workers, which give employers an advantage in negotiations.

They feel that more salary transparency is needed for good-faith negotiations.

The trade-off then becomes transparency vs. privacy.  For example, in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, anyone can look up anyone else's salary.  This is pretty radical and would probably meet with resistance elsewhere, such as in the U.S.

However, from the article, I thought that Germany has found an elegant compromise.  Rather than showing individual salary data, companies with at least 200 employees have to provide employees who ask with the average salary in their peer group.

For Business Success, Your Strategy Should Support Your Loyal Customers

New Lands' End current CEO, Jerome Griffith, is cleaning up after the previous CEO, Federica Marchionni, who was ousted in 2016.

Before Lands' End, Marchionni was a former Ferrari and Dolce & Gabbana executive.  She tried to remake Lands' End to compete with trendy chains such as Zara.  Instead, she alienated the chain's loyal customers and employees—who objected that she stayed in Manhattan, rather than locating to headquarters in Dodgeville, WI.

The new CEO, Griffith, grew up on a dairy farm and now lives near headquarters.  He discontinued the flashy clothes lines that were higher priced and smaller sized than traditional Land's End products, and he returned to the chain's roots: outdoor clothes with elastic waistbands.

The lesson for businesses: don't try to copy others.  Instead, remember the reason for your initial success.  Embrace your unique advantages and become an improved version of yourself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New Business Development: What's the best way to launch a chocolate brand?

1. Have a very good product. 2. Have a good story. 3. Tell your story and hand out chocolates as much as possible. 4. build a small, loyal following. 5. get a few retailers to carry your chocolate.
At that point, you are launched and can then focus on getting your followers and retailers to make intros to bigger players.

Healthcare: How would healthcare jobs change in next 10 years with AI and with Amazon now going into healthcare?

Healthcare jobs that are purely clinical, such as drawing blood and processing them, will be endangered. You want to focus on higher, more consultative jobs, such as doctor, physician assistants, nursing, etc.
The AI might do the test and diagnose, but humans would still have to explain the diagnosis, help the patient understand what he/she has to do, and follow up to make sure they are implementing it. In other words, healthcare workers would become change managers dealing with the patient as the project.

Marketing Strategy: How can I narrow down what target market or niche to focus on?

Choose a niche where: 1. You enjoy the work. 2. You already have some satisfied clients. 3. There is an ecosystem of related professions (ex: realtors, bankers, title companies, lawyers, home inspectors). Number three is important because solid businesses are built on a pipeline of referrals, and clients won't give referrals to competitors. So, for example, if you are a web designer focused on real estate agents, don't ask for referrals to other agents. Ask for referrals to real estate lawyers, home inspectors, bankers. The agent would gladly give them to you.  Then, build relationships with them, saying that you design websites for real estate agents. They refer you to agents and you can refer them to agents. Then, when you get new real estate agent clients, ask them for lawyers, inspectors, etc. So it becomes a virtuous cycle. Also, if you are reluctant to pick a niche, remember that a niche is for outgoing marketing only. If people from other niches come to you, then feel free to work with them. So you really aren't limited yourself to the niche.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Key To Having An Effective Business Website

As a management consultant, I helped one client, a small jewelry firm, increase their online sales by 300% by recommending changes to their website.

There are three types of websites. 

The key to having an effective business website is to figure out which type you want and design around that.  Never try to mix types, because you want your website to be simple and easy to use.  

The three types of websites are: 

1. Sales.  An example of a sales website is Amazon.
2. Credibility.  An example of a credibility website would be one for a professional (doctor, lawyer, or consultant).

3. Informational.  An example of an informational website would be Wikipedia.

In the case of the jewelry firm, I helped them focus on type #1 (sales).  We focused on making the website strictly about their jewelry products—with large, clear pictures, and easy ordering/navigation.

The Easiest and Hardest Parts of Running A Business

The easiest part of running a business is doing the actual work itself (i.e. satisfying the customer). 

Most business owners started their business because they found something that they enjoy doing, are good at, and enjoy helping other people with. 

The hardest part of running a business is getting customers.  This is because:
     1. Most business owners are not trained marketers.

     2. We are in the Attention Scarcity Age, where everyone is bombarded with demands for their time and attention.

Stop Creating To-Do Lists!

I learned this strategy from Alan Weiss.

I Stopped creating to do lists.  Instead, I create appointments to do important tasks, and schedule them on my calendar, as if they are a meeting.  When the "appointment" occurs, I do the task.

Two Common Leadership Mistakes

As a consultant and executive coach, these are 2 of the most common mistakes managers make:

1. Taking back delegated tasks - if a manager delegates a task to an employee, and the employee comes back to the manager because of an issue, the mistake managers make is to then tell the employee what to do. This sets up a pattern of dependency, and the employee will come back to the manager whenever there is a new issue.

Instead, the manager should tell the employee to first think about how he/she would solve the issue, and then come to the manager with both the problem and proposed solution.  Then the manager can comment on the solution.  By getting the employee to think through problems first, the manager is reducing the employee's dependence on the manager. In the future, it will be more likely that employees will solve new issues on their own.

2. Making decisions by team consensus.  A new trend is for managers to get by-in from subordinates for decisions, and only taking decisions that the majority of the group is in favor of.  While is it ok to ask employees for their opinions, the manager needs to make the final call.  He is responsible for the results.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

2 Tips for Businesses on Improving the Customer Experience

As a management consultant who has worked with numerous businesses, here are my two best tips for giving a great customer experience:

1. Practice user simplicity - this means that you put yourself in your customers' shoes, and go through every part of your business that is customer-facing.  How can you make it simpler and easy?  As an example of something NOT user simple, I once went into a store to buy a vacuum cleaner.  There were many models there, and nobody to explain the difference.  Once I decided which one I wanted, I realized that it was locked to the shelf.  In fact, many of the vacuums were locked down—apparently by random since the most expensive models were not locked up.  I had to search for an employee, then wait for her to find the right key.

2. Make the most of mistakes - This is not to advocate for mistreating the customer but, despite our best intentions, issues do occur.   How you handle it can make the customer's experience even better than if the issue hadn't occurred! Adopt the mentality that the customer is a normal, healthy adult (until proven otherwise) and not out to cheat or abuse the system.  Empower your employees to make decisions worth a certain amount of money and encourage them to ask the customer "what would make you happy?" For example, a guest who stays in your hotel and has a normal stay won't talk about it on Facebook.  But, he will post: " I stayed at Hotel X.  The faucet was leaky, but they fixed it immediately, and gave me a free dinner in the restaurant!" 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Questions vs. Answers

“You can tell if a man is clever by his answers, you can tell if a man is wise by his questions.” 

- Naguib Mafouz, 1988 winner of the Nobel prize for literature.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How companies often waste time and money

As a consultant, I find these three areas as the biggest cause of business waste:

1. Meetings - Inevitably, meetings in organizations become inefficient, dragging on affairs.  Why?
     a. Managers focus on inputs (bureaucracy) vs. outputs (customer value).  They equate meetings with accomplishment.
     b. Over-scheduled Managers send subordinates who can't make decisions.
     c. Risk adverse employees continually rehash discussions rather than commit to taking action.

2. Documentation - While documenting procedures are important, companies fail in this area because:

     a. Over-documenting—even trivial procedures are formally documented.
     b. Over-complicated formats—resulting in the actual task being easier than its documentation.  This causes project delays.
     c. Documents tend to be officially stored on overcrowded servers, making it difficult for employees to retrieve.

3. Failure Work - Work is not done right the first time and needs to be redone because:

     a. The outcome and/or process wasn't originally communicated properly.
     b. The proper resources (people, time, budget) weren't originally sufficiently allocated.
     c. Subordinates did not understand, but were afraid to ask questions.

My February 2018 "Chicago Business Journal" Column

I wrote this month's column on Grubhub's deal with Taco Bell and KFC is evidence of two new trends in restaurant technology.

Inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame

Last week, I received one of the biggest honors in the field of consulting. I was one of several outstanding global consultants from diverse disciplines who was inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame on February 15 at a ceremony at The Bernardus Inn, Carmel, California conducted by Alan Weiss, PhD, the globally-acclaimed “consultant’s consultant.” Criteria for membership in this elite group include: • Serving as an exemplar to others in the profession. • Manifesting the highest levels of integrity, ethics, and accountability. • Contributing intellectual capital to the consulting profession. • Engaging in continuing, challenging, personal and professional development.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Best Practices for Businesses to Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS)

As a business consultant and specialist in simplicity/productivity, I've worked with many fast-growing clients to create SOPs.

1. Why SOPs:

    If operations and knowledge aren't written down, then they will live in the heads of a few, key employees.  This results in those employees being overworked while other employees are underutilized due to lack of knowledge.

2. Priorities:

    SOPs should first be used to create those processes which are used 80% of the time during the workday.  After that, the less common (usually more complex) tasks can be written down as they occur.

3. How To Get Started:

   Have the person who is currently knowledgable of the task write down the steps as they are actually performing the task.  This way, they are less likely to leave out any steps.  Then, the next time the same task needs to be done, a new person should do the task while following the SOP, with the expert observing.  This will help them streamline the process and discover any missing steps.

4. Important:

  One important thing about SOPs, that I have learned from some of my clients, is that the SOP should be written simply, and be easily accessible to all necessary employees.  

I once had a bank as a client who recorded SOPs in a formal, wordy format (with unnecessary details) and stored it on a crowded internal network.  People didn't use it because it was much easier to ask people informally than to locate and read through the entire document.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When You Get Pushback Against Innovation From Within The Organization...

Serving as an innovation consultant for a recent large client, I met a lot of resistance.   The product/sales side was very interested in innovative new products/services that they could offer their customers, to be more competitive within their industry. The IT division, on the other hand, put up a lot of resistance. They prided themselves on stability, and were afraid of making changes to the system. They also wanted to focus their resources on upgrading existing systems. On the other hand, they also considered themselves to be the "innovation leaders" of the company, and didn't want outside consultants or groups talking or promoting innovation. We finally reduced their resistance by reminding them that they are critical partners, and would always have an important role in innovation. We also told them that they need to see themselves as "facilitators of innovation", rather than having to innovate themselves. They should think of themselves as an "internal cloud services" start-up that enables the rest of the company to create solutions for their customers.

2018 Technology Trends

As a business/technology consultant, I'm seeing these 3 trends among my clients:

1. More portable workspaces, where units within companies use their own cloud-based tools, rather than what IT provides them.  IT simply provides a secure interface for them to access company systems/data.

2. More adoption of AR (augmented reality) through glasses and phone apps, to allow employees to work in hybrid physical/digital spaces.

3. More exploration of using blockchain technology to track financial transactions and to track products through the supply chain.  This will especially be used more for tracing food recalls back to their sources and for proving eco-friendly and ethical sourcing.

Three Productivity Tips

Productivity tips I learned from Alan Weiss (@BentleyGTCSpeed):

1. Get a paper calendar planner that shows each month at a glance.

2. Forget work-life balance,use calendar to track both work/personal.

3. Don't make to-do list—treat tasks as appointments & schedule on calendar.

Ikea's Ingvar Kamprad and Simplicity

Ikea's late founder knew the value of simplicity in business.

A recent WSJ obituary mentioned that he resisted pressure to tailor the company's products for each local market, because "that would have added complexity and raised prices."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Future AI Technology Neither Panacea Nor Threat

I contributed to this "Society for the Advancement of Consulting" Press Release:


Ease, A Slower Pace, Less Chaos

People today are thirsty for ease, a slower pace, and less chaos.  I think it's a reaction to our times, which I called the "Attention Scarcity Age". We have left the Information Age. Now, we are drowning in information and big data. We tweet in sound bites and rush around, always on call. This is one of the reasons that Strategic Simplicity® is so important for businesses today. Your customers, employees, and suppliers are all overworked and overwhelmed. You are fighting to attract their attention and loyalty. One of the best ways is through incorporating simplicity throughout your business. I help my clients with 4 types of simplicity: market simplicity, decision simplicity, user simplicity, and operational simplicity.

The Hard Truth of Becoming an Entrepreneur

As the owner of a solo consulting firm, I'm an entrepreneur myself and also work with other small businesses.  As I learned from my mentor Alan Weiss, the hard truth about being an entrepreneur is that, no matter what product or service you provide, your main business is marketing (not sales).

Especially for services, cold calling doesn't really work, since we are in the Attention Scarcity Age.  People are bombarded with pitches, emails, social media posts, etc.  

Somehow, entrepreneurs need to break out of the noise and attract prospects to come to them.  The insidious thing is that this issue doesn't manifest itself right away.  Most entrepreneurs have enough connections that they can attract customers for a year or two.  But, then business starts to dry up and they find that they need to attract people outside their circle.

This is the hard truth of entrepreneurship: either build a pipeline to keep providing prospects, or else suffer feast or famine.

Think Like An Entrepreneur: Continuing Education and Reinvention

What I love best about being an entrepreneur is that I control the training budget, and can pay for any training I feel will increase my value to my clients and give me a great ROI.  

When I was in the corporate world, even in management, training was one of the first things that were cut to reduce expenses and I felt that, rather than invest in keeping employee's skills updated, corporations were willing to simply replace them when new skills were needed. 

So, even if you are an employee, in this case it pays to think of yourself as an entrepreneur.  Be willing to invest in yourself, and keep your skills relevant.  

Don't let your career stagnate.   Look for opportunities to reinvent what you do.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Praveen's Strategic Simplicity® Framework

My Strategic Simplicity® framework helps leaders to dramatically improve their businesses.

Here are the components:

1.  Market Simplicity - What big idea or theme do you want your business known for?  Even if you can do more, what one thing do you want to focus your marketing on?

2. Decision Simplicity - How easy is it for prospects to decide and evaluate among your offerings?  Is it easy for them to see the value of your products compared to those of competitors?  Does your product portfolio overlap and cause confusion?

3. User Simplicity  - Once a prospect decides to become a customer, how easy is it for them to buy, use your product, and take advantage of sales and servicing?

4. Operational Simplicity - How simple and streamlined are your internal processes?  Consider your employees to be (internal) customers: do you provide them with user simplicity to do their jobs?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Examples of Work Simplification

The Wall Street Journal recently had an excerpt from a new book called "Good at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More" by management professor Morten Hansen.

Hansen's work overlaps my own work as a consultant specializing in Strategic Simplicity® and business simplification.

He discussed how most office super stars don't work longer hours than their co-workers—in fact, it's the opposite.  They focus on, and prioritize, a smaller number of tasks, which they excel at.

If their manager tries to pile more tasks on them, they don't meekly accept them.  Instead, they ask their manager what they should prioritize on.

Hansen gives some examples of how simplicity and focus can help an organization:

1. A manager at a Maersk terminal focused his attention on one activity—how crews moved containers on and off ships.  He ended up noticing that the drivers would unload a container, drive it from the pier to the container lot, then would drive back empty.  The process would then repeat with another container.

Instead, he asked the drivers that, before driving back from the lot, they find an outbound container destined for a nearby ship and drive back with it to the pier.  They ended up adopting a motto "Never drive empty", and their productivity increased substantially.

2. A business analyst at an insurance company noticed that one type of product was growing in popularity, but the online application process for this particular product was buried under several layers of menus.  She asked the software people to change the process for this product to allow it to be filled out with only a few clicks.

Friday, January 5, 2018

My "Stock Trading Riches" Portfolio After 13 Years

It's now been 13 years since I've invested my portfolio according to the system in my book Stock Trading Riches.

In 2017, My "Stock Trading Riches" account beat the S&P 500 again (26% vs. 21.83%).

Here is the cumulative 13-year return (Source for S&P500 returns):

Year, Me, S&P 500  

2005, 13%, 4.91%  

2006, 14%, 15.79%  

2007, 22%, 5.49%  

2008, (40%), (37%)  

2009, 44%, 26.46%  

2010, 22%, 15.06%  

2011, (5%), 2.11%  

2012, 13.3%, 16%  

2013, 23%, 32.39%  

2014, 13%, 13.69%  

2015, 1.49%, 1.38%  

2016, 20.88%, 11.96%  

2017, 26%, 21.83% 

My portfolio had a cumulative 13 year return of +281% vs. +187% for the S&P 500.  
That translates into a 13 year average annual return of 10.84% vs. 8.45%