John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Attention Span

My attention span is struggling under the pressure. There is a wide gulf between my life, my job and the startup that I’m trying to build.

I’m trying to learn about Quora. I am also trying to balance demands life, my job, my startup with the demands of my Blogs, guest contributions to other blogs,  Twitter, Google Buzz, my LinkedIn contacts,  Twitpic & Yfrog photography, and comments that I make on other blogs.

I want to keep in touch with all of these things because I advise customers who have their own lives, their own businesses and their own interests. To be the expert, I need deep personal understanding – AND the creativity to apply that understanding for my clients.

I think of myself as unique – a passionate, persistent, pragmatic, problem preventer, business and technology enthusiast. Former Marine, Ex Soldier & current geek.  Wrapping that up with my life is challenging because of my attention span.   It has never been such a problem before.   I don’t know if the problem is really MY attention span, or simply that the world is changing so fast. 

I want to improve some things.

I’d love to have a meaningful connection with my son but it takes two people to have a meaningful connection. I’d love to replace my aging Ford Explorer, but it only has 65k miles, and is very useful. I’d love to find a new job but my current job has been dependable since 1999 or so.  I’d love to explode my business because I think it can help hundreds of other businesses instead of dozens.  I’d love to write daily.  I’d love to bicycle about 30 miles a day, 5 days a week… but I can’t find 2 hours to do it.  To fit things in well, my days need another 24 hours each.

My world of information is exploding. Everyone’s world is. Staying on top is like juggling chainsaws and torches while flipping on a trampoline that someone randomly moves beneath my feet.  What sort of attention span can make it all work?  

Ultimately, I will need to set priorities and let things fall to the side. Everyone does. It is a challenge, and I need to find the attention span to make it all work, and make the right selections of what is important, and what isn’t.  

How do people do it? How do you?

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January 27, 2011 Posted by | Life, Other Stuff, People | Leave a comment

Horrible Flower Customer Service. Really.

I ordered 2 dozen flowers and a vase on February 4th. I ordered it from 1-800-Flowers.com for February 11th delivery.   I ordered it for delivery on the 11th because I wanted to make REALLY sure that it would be delivered by the 12th. I wanted to make REALLY sure that it was delivered in time for me to give to my wife on the 14th. Valentine’s day is not really a big holiday, but I didn’t want to forget it.  I knew that there was bad weather, so I assumed that by ordering it 10 days before Valentine’s day and specifyingGrocery-store  delivery 3 days before Valentine’s day – I would get it in time to deliver, yes, on Valentine’s day.

So – WHY did I order from 1-800-flowers.com?  There are two reasons. The first is that I usually order from Teleflora, but last time I ordered through Teleflora for a delivery in Caribou, Maine, they delivered it to Danvers Massachusetts.  Really?  Yes. Seriously. They missed it by an entire state. Teleflora doesn’t really do flowers every time. In the case of the flowers that I ordered for my Mother’s Birthday, Telaflora sent the order to a local florist in Danvers, Mass. Those flowers weren’t delivered on time. I put time and effort into getting flowers, and after getting some serious run-around from Teleflora, I decided to never order from them again. So I decided to either use Proflowers, or 1-800-flowers.   Here’s where the second reason comes in.  I saw an episode of “Millionaire Matchmaker” on TV and Patti Stanger was pushing 1-800-flowers.   That was the tipping point for me. If these flowers were good enough for MILLIONAIRES, they were absolutely good enough for my wife.

Really?  Yes.  I am not a  millionaire, but I want my wife to get some nice flowers for Valentine’s day. She deserves it. I have never really understood jewelry or flowers, but I understand that they are special to her, and that is important to me. 

On the 10th, I got an email from 1800 Flowers. Things were starting to go downhill in my flower experience.  The email said, “due to the extreme weather conditions, your order(s) may be delivered later than your requested date. “  That wasn’t any newsflash. I knew that weather was bad. That is why I ordered on the 4th.   The 4th !!!  Really.  They also said that I could “get the most updated information by tracking your package on the carriers’ web site using the tracking number that we provided to you in the Shipping Confirmation email.”  That was a problem because I did not get any shipping confirmation email.   I was able to take my ORDER number, from my original order, and get a tracking number from the 800-flowers website. What it told me, on the 10th was that UPS had been given information, but had not picked up the package yet. This was on the 10th, but I had ordered it on the 4th. Valentine’s day is, like, a BIG day for flowers, right?  

To clarify – On February 10th, my order for the 11th had not yet been picked up, and yet the flower company was blaming a late delivery on the shipping company.

Really.  (*sigh*)

I thought – there was really NO excuse for this, so I called to cancel the order. They wouldn’t cancel it. I asked for a supervisor. They wouldn’t cancel it. It had not been shipped yet, but they could not cancel it because it had been ordered. Not shipped… ORDERED. Really!

Finally, I started emailing, chatting, and calling trying to get the order cancelled.  I got the order cancelled. I thought my ordeal with the flower company was done. They promised a refund.  I realized that there was a flower delivery service that could provide worse service than Teleflora – and I had picked it.

On the 11th, I drove to the local Lowes Foods Grocery Store and bought 2 dozen of their roses, recycled a vase from a previous rose gift/purchase, and put together an acceptable floral gift for my wife.  Not great, but much better than nothing.  She was thrilled.  Really. Those are the roses above.  They were very nice.

On the 12th I got an email saying that Your Order number W00652302*****, detailed below, has been picked up by UPS and is on its way”   Really? Yes.  They cancelled the order, but they shipped the order.

So – I’m writing this because of two things.   At 12:08pm today, I got an email from 1800 flowers.com “thanking me for shopping with them.” Did they miss the part where I cancelled the order? Really?  At about 3pm, I got a knock on my door, and there were roses.  Not the beautiful roses I expected – but a set of wannabe-roses that were NOT NEARLY as nice as the grocery store roses.   Here’s a photo.1-800-flowers Inferior Roses

What’s the frosting on the cake?  After I got that pathetic excuse for flowers, I went back to the email from 1-800-flowers.   Sure enough, there it was “We’d love to hear about your experience. Click here and tell us what you liked about it or what we can improve–we welcome and appreciate feedback from all our customers.”

So – I thought, bad delivery, bad customer service, bad communication, bad flowers, bad timing – I will let them know what I thought. I clicked on the “click here” and guess what – the link goes to a survey that is “closed!” ARGH. I would like to say, there might be another way that they could have done worse, but I just can NOT imagine what it might be. In the same way that “Websites that Suck” taught good web design by showing the worst, I’ve learned so MUCH about good customer service… but experiencing the opposite. Really.

 

 As a post script: I got an email about these, here’s the photo of both of them. The Grocery store roses, from Lowes foods, were about 36.00 for 2 dozen. The 1-800 flowers roses were about $64.

 Both Sets of Roses

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Metrics and Life

We track what we care about – We track metrics that matter in our lives. If we care about something, it is important to HAVE metrics that we can track – metrics that measure improvement or not.

I had a doctors appointment yesterday. For the most part I just wanted to get some renewed RX’s, but as part of every visit, my doctor’s office checks weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and temp. My BP was a bit high, probably because I worked past 3am the night before, and started at 7am yesterday – probably because I’ve got 3 dozen projects simultaneously in need of care and feeding – probably because I was stressed about trying to get to the doctor’s office on time.  For the slightly elevated BP, I have rationalizations.

But I was also up 11 lbs since my last doctor’s visit, and that was only 3 months ago. scale I was shocked. For many years, I’ve made it a practice to check my weight daily. I’ve checked it in the morning, checked it in the evening, checked it randomly almost every day.
When I look at the results – the bare measurement – and the factors involved in reaching those results, I am left with 2 emprical findings:

1) I stopped measuring my weight
2) My weight went where I didn’t want it to go

These two things are connected. As a whole, in life and in technology, people measure what they care about.  Everyone watches their 401k, their annual salary… Everyone watches metrics about things in their life that are important to them.  The first big company website I managed increased its traffic over 500% in the first year that I managed it. I know that particular statistic because that metric was one that I cared about.

Over the last two months, I’ve sold a house, bought a house, moved from one house to another… I’ve painted 4 ceilings, 3 rooms, and climbed on the roof to blow leaves out of gutters 3 times. I’ve also started a new gig, gained several hundred twitter followers and gotten my latest business almost ready to launch.  The weight metric has escaped my monitoring because everything in my life has overwhelmed my time-limited and adhd-rattled attention-span.

I treated my weight as if it was less important.

We track what we care about – We track metrics that matter in our lives. If we care about something, it is important to HAVE metrics that we can track – metrics that measure improvement or not.
My point is – when you care about something, when something is important to you, make sure you have some measure of it. Make sure you have some metric that you can measure and monitor to ensure the thing that you care about is going in the direction you want it to go.   Monitoring that sort of measurement, that sort of metric is the best way to correct course when things aren’t going your way.

This morning, before I started work, I stepped on the scale.

What do you think? Do you have metrics for things that matter to you? Do you monitor and manage them?

December 9, 2009 Posted by | Business, Continuous Improvement, Life, Other Stuff, People | Leave a comment

Green Online Banking

Dreamhost has been my webhost since I sold my webhosting company in 2000. Last year they inspired me to *try* to lead a green initiave at my company when they went carbon neutral.   I have great respect for what they did.  It was significant because they did it in an all-encompassing way. They analyzed everything from the servers and power used for the meat of their hosting business to the coffee cups and commuting transportation. After they They purchased renewable energy credits and emission reduction credits.

Green Hosting at Dreamhost.com

I think that effort is beneficial in two ways. It is obviously responsible corporate behavior, and it also gives them competitive advantage. If you want a green web presence, but you’re not interested in doing the heavy lifing to make your own infrastructure green – host with them. That is simple added value that makes everyone a winner.

Considering the size of the bank I work at, I believe it would be impractical to do that across the business. But I’m not just another banker, I work in online banking and I wanted to make a change in online banking. I thought it would be possible to green our web presence, and by doing so, create a competitive advantage at a fairly reasonable cost. No other large bank has done anything like this.

The strategy would be to analyze servers, buildings, energy use, water use, and waste for the entire online effort, the space, the servers and the people in the online group. Of course this strategy also avoids the thousands of other servers and mainframes, and the many thousands of employees, branches and ATMs.  Despite the omissions, it would be an important step, and well worth the effort.
I thought it would provide significant competitive advantage to be the only major bank to provide green online banking.

It is a challenge to do the heavy lifting, and more of a challenge to do the organizational prodding. Every journey begins with a step and wherever my journey ends, I’m taking the steps.

Are you?

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Environment, Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Greening

Harvard business, like everyone else, is trying to find value, to find competitive advantage in all things green. They have an online section that covers enough topics to make it very very worthwhile.

Dreamhost already has competitive advantage in its hosting. If nothing else, they get it from the “trust and confidence” accorded to companies that find the “relationship between eco-orientation and company performance.”  They also get it from customers and potential customers.  Customers find the eco-orientation as a point for retention. Potential customers see it as a simple way to make a difference.

These two principles, building better retention with current customers and providing potential customers reasons to choose a company – these principles drive economic decisions. They are worthy goals and admirable accomplishments.

Replicating that would require various focus areas:

1) Committment – is there sufficient executive and leadership committment to do it properly?
2) Segmentation – what pieces of the business can be greened in a cost-effective manner?
3) Timing – when can it be done, when should it be done.
4) Benefits – how can benefits be smart? (i.e. specific, measurable attainable, relevant, timely)
5) A stream of continuous improvement, a philosophy of continuous involvement.

How can a company do that?
The key is finding money and environmental syngergy.  Find ways in which business objectives and environmental objectives align, and ways in which they can be encouraged or forced to align.

The key is the same as any other accomplishment – it is simply in deciding to do it, planning to do it, doing it, and monitoring how it is done.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Environment, Other Stuff, Technology | Leave a comment

2008 Holiday Gloom?

Driving in to work this morning, the radio stations were abuzz with holiday gloom and doom.  Everyone claimed that holiday spending was off, stores were empty, and projections were going to be bleak, gloomy, doomy, depressing and that the holiday season was going to be terrible for retailers.

But don’t believe that hype.  Holiday Shopping is off to a wonderful start.

Here are historical trends and the National Retail Federation’s projection for 2008. 

  • 2000  +2.5%  $352b
  • 2001  +3.6%  $367b
  • 2002  +1.3%  $369b
  • 2003  +5.2%  $388b
  • 2004  +6.7%  $414b
  • 2005  +6.1%  $435b
  • 2006  +4.6%  $457b
  • 2007  +2.4%  $460b 
  • Projected 2008  +2.2%  $470b
    source: National Retail Federation

So the estimate is a gloomy $470b in sales. 78m americans shopped on Black Friday, and 85m are expected to shop on CyberMonday.

To me, it is very difficult to reconcile those facts and projections with the persisting media projections of universal negativity.  It cannot be both ways.

December 1, 2008 Posted by | Business, Life, Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Growing Business

 With webs, there are constants that consistently drive traffic and grow business. In theory, it may seem important to divide growth from maintenance, but they are inseparable in practice. To be specific, it is important to maintain existing customers, deepen the existing customer relationships where possible, and simultaneously acquire new customers.

Here are some constants.

a) Know who your customers are, and who the right customers are.
b) Know what your customers want (and also where they are, when they are there, why they are there)
c) Give your customers what they want (where and when they want it, and know why)
d) Find other people who want what your customers want.
e) Make it easy for those other people to find you when they want what you have
f) Work Hard enough.
g) Eliminate negatives and accentuate positives.
h) Rinse and repeat.

These are simple concepts, and they work.

To reach success demands:

  • that a business ask customers what they want.
  • that a business watch, gather data, gather information, and thoughtfully analyze data created by customer actions and reactions.
  • that a business analyze competitor’s successes and failures.

 These principles are critical online.  While managing a website in 1998, our web log scanning and analysis alerted our executives to a competitor who used a single server to check every page on our site nightly between 2 and 3am. The competitor probably would have gone unnoticed if they hadn’t searched every page, every night, at the same time, during a time when our traffic was usually quite low. It did not help that they used a computer named “darkstar.company.com” Their focus seemed to be on our job postings. That sort of information only comes as a result of working hard enough.

Are you working hard enough? Do you have a continuous improvement program? Do you know about your defects before customers complain about them? Do you know what other questions to ask?

 

 

November 19, 2008 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Functionality, Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Expectations, failure and Terry Childs

Terry Childs had a professional responsibility to install, manage and secure the Fiber WAN network for the City of San Francisco. He was serious about his responsibility. For several years as he was installing the network, the department for which he worked failed to establish any written guidelines as to who should or should not be allowed administrative level access to the network routers – leaving only Terry in that position 24/7/365.

In early June of 2008, Terry made complaints against a manager of his department regarding incompetence. In most organizations, those might be career-ending, and that’s not a newsflash. On June 20th, Terry found another employee (a former co-worker not assigned to that office), removing a hard drive.  That person claimed to be doing an unannounced audit of the department and demanded the administrative passwords to the routers, but had no documentation or information to indicate that she was specifically entitled or authorized to such access. As presented, that could have been textbook social engineering. It seems undocumented, unannounced and unprofessional.

Terry refused access. A member of management called in the police and the case was made that Terry had caused a denial of service by refusing to surrender passwords. Terry was charged and jailed. Eventually, he gave the passwords to the Mayor.

So – I’ve tagged this under people, availability, manageability, security and other stuff because the incidents surrounding Terry Childs show how critical people are. They are the foundation of security, availability, and manageability. 

Terry was a professional had multiple copyrights for his work on the networks in San Francisco. (From the US Copyright Office: Application Title: MPLS VPN fiberwan computer program design and configuration : vols. I , 2, 3 Second Edition.)

Perhaps calling management about a possible intrusion would have been more effective than the path he took.  If, however, management was so incompetent as to warrant his multiple complaints, if his confidence in management was so low – perhaps he didn’t value anyone’s advice or opinion. His professionalism put him in a position where expectations were just too high.

When expectations are impossible, success will be very elusive.

*****

Relevant links:

http://www.infoworld.com/archives/emailPrint.jsp?R=printThis&A=/article/08/07/30/31NF-terry-childs-fact-fiction_1.html
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http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/07/30/31NF-terry-childs-fact-fiction_1.html
Paul Venezia (best articles anywhere)
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http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?no_d2=1&sid=08/07/23/1515203
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http://www.crn.com/government/209601143
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http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/07/former-san-fran.html
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http://www.cio.com.au/index.php/id;120354960
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http://www.computerworld.com.au/index.php/id;542215064;pp;1
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http://www.cio.com.au/index.php/id;1165348158;pp;4

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Availability, Manageability, Other Stuff, People, Security | Leave a comment

Security Overview

Security is NOT about preventing access and preventing risk. Rather, it is about managing access and risk.

In 1999, the US Department of Energy posted some simple web security steps:

Their recommendations are still surprisingly valuable and are a good place to start.  Here’s a summary of their “BEST PRACTICES IN MANAGING WORLD WIDE WEB SERVER SECURITY:”

1.  Place your web server(s) in a DMZ.  Set your firewall.
2.  Remove all unneeded services from your web server.
3.  Disallow remote administration.
4.  Limit the number of persons having access.
5.  Log activity and maintain logs.
6.  Monitor logs regularly.
7.  Remove ALL unnecessary files.
8.  Remove “default” document trees.
9.  Apply all relevant security patches.
10.  Do not use a GUI manager
11.  Manage, define and limit connections to your server
12.  Run the web server so it cannot access the real system files.
13.  Run FTP server in a tree that is different from the web server’s tree.
14.  Update from your Intranet; maintain originals and automate changes.
15.  Scan periodically for vulnerabilities.
16.  Use intrusion detection software.

This is a start.  Considering that this is circa 1999, I’m amazed that it remains such a valid foundation. Don’t become complacent though – this is not a slowly swimming shark. It is a light speed shark, with very sharp teeth, but it swims in an old ocean.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Other Stuff, Security | Leave a comment

Chasing the Shark

While updating my resume this weekend, I realized that I’ve taken lots of classes recently. I’ve expected to live a life of learning, but I was surprised when I realized I’ve taken 61 classes in the last 4 years. Even after I divided it into categories, it was still very cluttered. 

The categories are Technical Classes, Six Sigma Classes, Project management classes, Leadership classes, and Career Development classes. Some of the classes are pure and focused while some of them overlap.  I combined the Leadership and Career Development classes into a single category because there was such overlap.  All of these classes are just one facet of continuous learning.

Why so many classes? I’ve taken so classes because I work in a field where knowledge is a moving target. It is a bulls-eye painted on the side of a fast shark that swims and eats to stay alive. New technology, new concepts, new terminology, new certifications, new strategies and new financial worlds eat their predecessors like sharks. At the top of the metaphorical food chain, I chase the shark. 

Chasing is necessary because the shark doesn’t stop. Time and information move on. My most recent knowledge will likely be obsolete within 18 months. I suspect every field is that way, but in the world of managing information technology, we have been blessed with a very fast and voracious shark.

In a carnivorous world, if you don’t chase the shark, the shark chases you. Chase your shark.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Life, Other Stuff, Technology | Leave a comment