I have a young inexperienced employee who is viewed as immature and non-professional in meetings. I thought the best way to improve her perception was through working with her on following an easy “best practice” list of accepted behaviors.  Below is the list I compiled to review with her gathered from my own observations and from posts from  across the web:

Participating in a Meeting – If you are participating in a meeting, here are 15 fundamental techniques to follow:

  1. Show respect to the process and the person who called the meeting.  Arrive on time; be well prepared with all meeting materials printed out, notes on the subject at hand, and a pen and notepad to take notes.
  2. Do not state your opinion on everything.  Don’t share your opinions just for the sake of it. Sometimes it is better to say nothing and just listen.  When the time is right, then you can state your opinion.
  3. Stay Positive. This is a business meeting and you are there to make progress on the issue, not bash it
  4. Don’t be quiet throughout the entire meeting.  When there is something positive, important or insightful to say, be sure to say it.  Don’t hold back.
  5. Don’t ramble.  State what you have to say in as few words as possible.  If you go on for too long, the point might be lost.
  6. Do not say anything negative about anyone.  This includes your staff members, boss, co-workers, and customers.
  7. Don’t feel like you’re in a competition to be the smartest.  Sure you want to make sure your boss or upper-management knows how talented you are, but at the same time saying less is sometimes more.  Do do not argue, play mind games, or try too hard to get attention.  Always remain calm and professional.
  8. Don’t agree with someone just because you feel intimidated.  Speak-up when you disagree. It is not okay to keep quiet, and then complain about it later .
  9. Don’t interrupt. At least let the other person finish their thought before speaking.
  10. Watch your body language. Most of our communication comes from the non-verbal. Don’t make faces, roll your eyes, cross your arms, slouch in your chair, unless you want to send the message that you are extremely disinterested.
  11. Don’t tune out.  If the topic doesn’t interest you or is import to what you do, suck it up and listen.
  12.  Don’t be rude. EVER
  13. Recognize people. If you like what someone said or did, tell them. Everyone loves getting recognized in front of their peers.
  14. Don’t have side conversations. It’s just rude to all.
  15. Keep commitments. If a decision was made to do something, do it. Other people are keeping their commitments.




This is a long article that finally gets to the point of “This is a tall order for a leader. It moves the CIO from being the one to say “Here is your computer, and your database, and your file system, and this is how you enter information and save files,” to someone who says, “Here are all the ways you can work with information, now go to town and see how you can use this stuff to get our goals met!.  here is often a metaphor used for the difference between “Giving someone fish” and “Teaching someone how to fish.” For the future role of the CIO, this metaphor will be a little different. It will be the difference between “Giving someone a fishing pole and telling them what to catch” and “Giving them the river, they have their own pole, and they know what to catch.”

The Future Role of the CIO in the NonProfit | NTEN.

Everything we thought that technology would do to democratize information is happening, and it’s happening in ways that we didn’t dream of. So do we still need an IT department, or a CIO?

This is the deal: Everything we thought that technology would do to democratize information is happening, and it’s happening in ways that we didn’t dream of. Had Arthur C. Clarke known that there would be social media, HAL and Dave in Kubric’s classic movie 2001, A Space Odyssey, would have been tweeting while making their journey to Jupiter. #monolith

The result of everyone being able to access very sophisticated technology tools with only an Internet connection has broad implications in the way we think about leading the way people work. In both the private and in the nonprofit sectors, the role of the technology department has always been to provide technology as a service, but if the functional areas of an organization that the IT department traditionally service can get this from the cloud, why do we need a technology department? Or a CIO for that matter?

Two recent events occurred that have brought into my horizon the topic of the future role of the CIO in the NPO sector. The first event was the NTC panel on IT leadership where colleagues Peter Campbell, Almin Surani, Laura Quinn and I bantered on this topic while NTEN program director Lindsey Martin-Bilbrey did her best to keep us on task. The second event was that upon returning from NTC, I was asked to speak to this same topic, as part of an interview that transpired as result of an award nomination for San Francisco Bay Area CIO of the Year.

Luckily, the themes from the recent discourse with my NTEN colleagues and those that attended the panel were still fresh in my mind, and one of those themes was that of the future role of the CIO in the NonProfit.

A key idea that emerged from the discussion from the panel was that the future role of the CIO is to ensure appropriate integration and alignment of all these exciting democratizing tools into the business strategy of the NPO. Once the CIO took care of integrating these tools, it was time to get IT out of the way and let innovation occur!

This way of looking at IT in an organization presents the CIO as less of a change agent in regards to increasing adoption of a new technology platform, but as a cultural change agent: One to get the organization to be able to incorporate all this democratized technology and put it to use toward the mission.

The success of an IT organization then can be measured by how well the organization can seamlessly executive strategic initiatives that further impact and improve efficiencies, with little dependence on IT in the traditional way.

This can be a dilemma: We want our organization to like (and to hopefully love) technology, so that they can use all this cool stuff to help propel the mission, but at the same time, we hope that all this access we are providing to the Internet is not distracting them from the task at hand. The last thing CIOs want to be in the future is just a better cyber-cop, figuring out more complex ways to monitor Internet usage, remote swipe mobile devices, and filter urls.

So, at the same as we will be empowering our employees to use all these great democratizing tools to further our missions; we also have to ensure appropriate alignment with the strategic direction of the organization while also addressing security concerns. Simply put, most CIOs get a little nervous at the thought of allowing everyone to set up their own Dropbox, Basecamp, Smartsheet, Google Docs, and the list goes on. But as CIOs we also think, “Heck, that will help them get things done without calling helpdesk and having to set up more servers!”

The role of the CIO in leadership given this dilemma will be the one who helps transform the “users” of their job, into the “owners” of their jobs.

Let me explain: In today’s world of ubiquitous access to universal communication, any person in any organization has access to all information. If you want the people who work for your organization to use these tools to their optimum potential, they have to “own” the tasks and jobs that they do for your organization.

This is a tall order for a leader. It moves the CIO from being the one to say “Here is your computer, and your database, and your file system, and this is how you enter information and save files,” to someone who says, “Here are all the ways you can work with information, now go to town and see how you can use this stuff to get our goals met!”

There is often a metaphor used for the difference between “Giving someone fish” and “Teaching someone how to fish.” For the future role of the CIO, this metaphor will be a little different. It will be the difference between “Giving someone a fishing pole and telling them what to catch” and “Giving them the river, they have their own pole, and they know what to catch.”

I learned very early on in my career that what gets measured gets improved.  Yet, I am still surprised to this day at how many business leaders do not practice this principle. Maybe they do not understand or believe in this principle, maybe they are too busy to implement this principle or maybe they just don’t ask their technology departments to mine the data necessary to implement this principle.

As a leader in Micro Technology Stewardship I do my best on a daily basis to preach this principle of utilizing data from Business Intelligence initiatives to track those items you look to improve, be it sales, revenue, costs or productivity.

Striving to improve and utilize the many models of continues improvement is a key element in leadership success.  Continuous improvement at the  most basic level is easy, just ask yourself and your personnel three easy “How” questions:

1. How are we doing

2. How can it may be better

3. How about if we try something different

But remember, you can not improve without the data, you need the data to establish a baseline starting point (what are we doing today) and you need the data to measure if your changes positively improve or negatively impact your desired outcome and you need the data on an ongoing basis to continue to improve and course correct if things start to slip.

I just gave up all parenting responsibilities this weekend to Mark Cuban. Meaning, my kids and I watched eight straight episodes of “Shark Tank”.

For the past two years, people have been begging me to watch “Shark Tank”. One friend of mine, who has co-invested with me on two deals, has given me two pieces of advice in life. One is: “you never know what someone is worth until they declare bankruptcy”. The point is, we all speculate that someone is worth $100 million or a billion or whatever, and the next day you read in the newspaper that they declare bankruptcy. Now you know.

The second thing my friend and co-investor was always telling me was that “James, you need to watch Shark Tank”. Now, after watching every episode, I can say I agree with him.

For those of you who don’t know what Shark Tank is, it’s the best reality TV show I’ve seen. 5 investors sit on a stage, keeping them slightly higher than the supplicants who come in asking for money. Then, one by one, aspiring entrepreneurs are led into the “Shark Tank” where they pitch their products and the Sharks, right then and there, decide whether or not to give them money. The entrepreneurs are often humiliated, laughed at, insulted, ask the stupidest questions I’ve ever heard, but occasionally get some good advice and even better, walk away with a check if one or more of the “Sharks” think their business is a good idea.

(A Shark Tank Pitch)

“The Sharks” as the show describes them, “are filthy rich” and invest their own money. It’s not always the same sharks each show. Mark Cuban is often a shark. (See also, “How I Helped Mark Cuban Make a Billion Dollars“) And the rest of the often rotating cast includes Barbara Corcoran, of real estate fame, Kevin O’Leary, who started and sold “The Learning Company” for $3.2 billion to Mattel. Robert Herjavec, who I had never heard of but he’s sold “companies worth $350 million”, Daymond John who started Fubu and “has sold $6 billion worth of products” and Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian who has created an empire out of making fun of rednecks. Power to him. God bless them all.

I’m never jealous of any of these people. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it certainly solves your money problems. It’s up to you after that to be happy or not. To not self sabotage at every opportunity. I can tell you this: I am very good at making money but have often had a talent for self sabotage. A talent I have been hoping these past few years to suppress.

So I think highly of the people who have learned through experience not to sabotage their successes.

So what have I learned from the show. Some items are good for investors, some for entrepreneurs, some for me, and some for my kids.


Math: The first thing that happens when an entrepreneur enters is: “Hi, my name is ABC and I’m asking for a $100,000 for  10% stake in my company.”  At this point we would pause the show and I’d ask my kids how much the company is worth. Any trader, investor, entrepreneur, does this math instantly and I wanted my kids to get good at it.

And they did. At first the answers (from either kid) would be a nervous “I don’t know”. Then they’d start to figure it out but still be nervous “one ….million?” And then finally, by the last episode, they were doing it in their head and blurting it out before I even hit pause.

But sometimes the entrepreneurs would present confusing numbers like, “I’m asking for $85,000 for 15% of my company.” And then they’d launch straight into their story. To be honest, I can’t even do this accurately and quickly in my head. I always wondered if these entrepreneurs did this on purpose, so that the sharks would focus more on the product than the specific valuation.


Not everything is as it appears. This is a TV show. Not a venture capital firm (where, also, by the way, not everything is as it appears. In fact, in all of life, nothing is as it appears but this is never more true than a “reality” TV show.) For instance, in the beginning intro the show says “Barbara Corcoran took a $1,000 loan and turned it into a real estate empire worth hundreds of millions.” Except she sold her “hundreds of millions” company for “60 million”, which they don’t say.

(Barbara Corcoran)

I’m not saying she’s poor. She’s incredibly smart and successful. But the TV show hypes it up. There’s subterfuge like that throughout the show. Kevin O’Leary, who plays it up as the most obnoxious member of the Sharks, is described as someone who “built a software company in his garage and sold it for $3.7 billion”. That’s true. He built The Learning Company and sold it to Mattel. What they don’t say is how much he owned of it (so we can estimate his worth). He clearly made some money on it. But he bought hundreds of companies first. So each company, assuming it was bought in part for stock, diluted his share. So his stake might have been tiny.

And then, Mattel repeatedly missed their earnings estimates because of the acquisition of his company. In fact, the acquisition has been described as “one of the worst acquisitions in history” in various articles about it. But, fair enough. Kevin turned this “success” into having a role at a venture capital firm. I am guessing it’s his firm’s money (rather than his personal money) which he uses when writing checks on the show.

I went through this exercise with each “Shark” and in every case it was not how they described it on the show (except in the case of Mark Cuban).

My only guidance for the people who are going on the show, or for anyone who pitches any investor, is to carefully study every aspect of the background of the people you are pitching. There are many ways you can use that to your advantage in the actual pitch. And because these guys, in particular, have very public personas, there are a lot of venues you can research their net worth, their successes, their failures, their interests, their distastes, and so on.


Sell the Dream, not the Sales. Many of the entrepreneurs go in there and say, “I sold $11,000 of this product last year from my garage.” These are the people that get either the worst deals or no deal at all. Nobody cares about $11,000 in sales. Sometimes the Sharks didn’t even care about close to $1 million in sales over the last year. (A great example was games2u.com which I thought was an excellent company but walked away with no deal).

And yet some companies with no sales walked away with a great deal. Here’s what the Sharks, or any investor, want to really understand: Do you have a great product? Do you know what the size of your market is? Do you have some sense of a business model? And, in some cases, do you have big breasts?

How do they know if you have a great product? They can tell by your background, they can tell by the technical expertise you needed to make the product, they can tell if you have a patent, and they can tell if you say, “I have 3 distributors about to send me purchase orders for the product.” You might not have a dime of sales but if you show that people are interested and that your product is special, you’ll get an offer. If you also say, “and for the last three years I’ve had a total of $53,000 in sales even though I’ve had a full time job” then you will definitely not get a deal.

Sell the dream. Better not to have sales unless you are going to blow them away with your sales numbers.

(She sold the dream)


Don’t Nickel and Dime. It’s not so bad to “nickel plus dime” and I’ll explain that in a moment. But if you went in there and said, “I’d like $100 for 25% of my company” and you have no sales and one of the Sharks says, “I’ll give you $100 for 40% of your company” then just say yes. What do you care about the percentage? As Cuban said in one of the episodes, “better to have 20% of a $100 million company than 100% of nothing.”

With one successful company I sold I wanted my partner to take 10%. Instead they asked for 50%. I gave it to them and sold the company 4 months later. To them! Because with 50% they had to care. With 10% maybe they would not have cared.

However, you should nickel plus dime. If Mark Cuban offers you $100k for 30% of your company push forward and ask for a few more nickels. Price is often the least important part of a negotiation. Ask him: can you introduce me to Netflix, can you get me a promotional deal with the Dallas Mavericks, are there any distributors you can help me license my product to?

Get value out of every deal aside from the money. Money won’t save or help your business for more than a short time. But the right deal and connections will make or break you. So while they are playing around with the dimes, make sure you collect as many nickels that they may have left lying on the floor.

If you want a deal, then take a deal. Unless…


Don’t Take the ‘Hail Mary’ Deal

Kevin O’Leary is famous for this deal. He waits for the other Sharks to say “I’m Out” and then he knows he’s the only possibility left for the entrepreneur. So then it suddenly doesn’t matter at all what they are asking for. Let’s say the entrepreneur is growing, they  have profits, they have one million in sales, etc. Kevin O’Leary doesn’t care at all.

Instead, he makes the Hail Mary offer. Let’s say they were asking for $500k for 10% of their company, valuing their company at $5 million. Even if the company could be reasonably valued at that, he doesn’t care.

He’ll say “I’ll take 51% of your company for $500k”.

It doesn’t matter to him if they say “yes” or “no”. If they say “yes”, then it’s a great deal for him. He just bought control of a company he knows is worth a lot more. If they say “no”, then no problem, one out of ten will say “yes” and he just has to wait it out. It’s the same concept as the story of the guy who wants to have sex so he stands on a street corner and asks every woman who passes him to have sex with him. Obviously every girl will say “no” to him. Except for maybe one out of 200. He’s just standing there waiting for that one. And he’ll get it. Unless it’s me. Then its one out of three thousand.

(Kevin O’Leary)


Be the Source

Kevin O’Leary has two other techniques as a Shark that I have to admire, despite his persona as very obnoxious on the show. That persona becomes an asset in various ways because the entrepreneur is instantly trying to get on his good side. But that’s not the technique I admire (by the way, that technique of being obnoxious first—a technique I would never be able to pull off is similar to Neil Strauss’s “negging” technique in his book “The Game” when he talks about seducing women.)

One technique Kevin does is he sits there while one or two of the Sharks make their offer. Then he asks the entrepreneur to leave the room. Then he turns to the Sharks who made the offer and says, “Lets join forces and do this one together”. Then the entrepreneur comes back and whereas before they had 2 or 3 competing offers (an auction environment is always what you want), now they have only one combined offer. They have a minute to decide, and the offer is worse than the lowest offer they had before. Kevin takes charge of the auction, makes it an “all or nothing” deal and again places himself in a can’t-lose situation.

The other technique he uses is to be the Source for the entrepreneur. Almost as if they are his friend. Three or four of the Sharks might make an offer and are competing. Kevin will then say, “Ok, to summarize, here are your four offers.” So he’s being a source of information. He’s “the bank” all of a sudden, seemingly in control of all four offers, and he can spin them in any way he pleases and quiet the Sharks who protest because he behaves as if it’s a legitimate part of the show. When you are the Bank, it gives you a slight edge over your competitors because the customer wants to do business with the Bank.


The Deal Doesn’t Close Until The Money Hits

Many times the entrepreneur will strike a great deal. He comes in asking for $100 for 10% of his company and he might get $300 for 5% of his company. At the end, the Shark who made the deal and the entrepreneur will smile and shake hands (or hug, in the cases when the entrepreneur has big breasts and the Shark is a male). It’s all good. Then, in typical Mark Burnett reality show-style, there’s the post session interview where the entrepreneur is whooping it up and saying, “Yeah! I just made a deal with the Shark Tank! Yeah!”

My guess is most of these deals don’t close. I only have anecdotal evidence. But I looked up several of the companies afterwards and there’s no mention of their new co-investor. There’s only mention of “see us on ABC’s Shark Tank this Tuesday!”

One deal, Hyconn, got $1.25mm for 100% of his company, from Mark Cuban, with a three year employment agreement and a royalty. He sold some sort of contraption which made it easy to attach your hose to the faucet or whatever you call it. But when you go to his facebook page he talks about another group of investors and he says, the deal with Mark Cuban didn’t work out. No other details.

Any deal in life goes through several stages: sales, initial questions, the auction (if there is one), the accepted offer, the honeymoon period, due diligence, legal contracts, potential buyer/seller remorse, and then cash getting wired. The TV show only takes us through “the accepted offer” but at any point there’s the chance the deal can fail. This is important to remember in any deal at all, including personal relationships.


Know What You Are Good At

When an entrepreneur first steps through the door, we would try to figure out which investor/Shark was good for the entrepreneur and we were usually right. If it was a clothing idea then if the FUBU guy didn’t like it, it was all over. If a product looked like it would be ideal for an infomercial (a pushup machine that makes pushups easier) and the informercial expert didn’t like it then no deal. If it was an Internet play and Mark Cuban didn’t like it, then no deal.

This is useful to me as an investor. I don’t like to think very hard when I invest in private companies. I like to know that expert investors who are experts in the space of the company are co-investing alongside of me. In fact, another Kevin O’Leary trick: he would stay silent, but if he saw that the informercial king was investing, he’d try to get in on the action and partner with him because he knows the infomercial king would make an infomercial, get it on TV, and do all the hard work. It’s also useful to entrepreneurs. Pitch to the right guy. Don’t just throw it out there to Barbara Corcoran, the real estate queen, if you have a product that you are going to sell to fire stations.

Which leads me to


Get Advice When You Can

Some of the pitching entrepreneurs simply had bad ideas. If you’re selling a pair of jeans, for instance, and the FUBU guy doesn’t want to buy it, then that tells you right there that you probably have a bad idea. But I only once on the show heard anyone ask, “what did I do wrong in this pitch” asking for advice. And even then, when they gave him advice, he was defensive and insulting to them. If you don’t get the deal, learn what you did wrong, and either modify your product, your approach, or just start a new business. This is not the end of your life if you don’t get some crappy deal on Shark Tank.



Who Cares?

You just presented your product for 15 minutes on a nationally broadcasted TV show that will be re-aired at least two or three times and sell a ton of shows on itunes. That sort of advertising would cost about a million dollars or more. So who cares if you get a deal? Make sure your website is ready for publicity, for the onslaught of traffic and orders no matter how good or bad the product is, and be thankful for the free publicity. Some of these people were crying when they couldn’t get a deal. An entrepreneur takes advantage of every situation and opportunity. A million dollars worth of free advertising plus great advice from a bunch of insulting billionaires is a great experience for you and your business. Make the most of it.

These ten lessons are for my daughters, because I told them at the end of our marathon Shark Tank session that if they don’t have an idea by next week that they can build into a business then “No Christmas this year and no summer vacation!” Which would make my life infinitely easier. That’s the way I roll. Take it or leave it.

Ten Lessons I Learned from Shark Tank | TechCrunch.    James Altucher 

This infographic (from SBI) talks about modernization of health IT systems, and how $19 billion was allocated to expedite the health IT systems under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  It goes on to talk about spending technology-wise, and how technology is being used in the healthcare system.  It is not only an interesting bit of information about the healthcare system, but an interesting look at what types of gadgets doctors prefer to do their jobs.  The infographic informs us that US hospital spending on IT systems will be $4.7 billion by the end of this year, and will grow to $6.8 billion by the end of 2014.


Doctor’s Tech Toolbox Infographic | The Infographics Showcase.

One of the most often overlooked aspects of leadership is the need for pursuit. Great leaders are never satisfied with traditional practice, static thinking, conventional wisdom, or common performance. In fact, the best leaders are simply uncomfortable with anything that embraces the status quo. Leadership is pursuit – pursuit of excellence, of elegance, of truth, of what’s next, of what if, of change, of value, of results, of relationships, of service, of knowledge, and of something bigger than themselves.   In the text that follows I’ll examine the value of being a pursuer…

Here’s the thing – pursuit leads to attainment. What you pursue will determine the paths you travel, the people you associate with, the character you develop, and ultimately, what you do or don’t achieve. Having a mindset focused on pursuit is so critical to leadership that lacking this one quality can sentence you to mediocrity or even obsolescence. The manner, method, and motivation behind any pursuit is what sets truly great leaders apart from the masses. If you want to become a great leader, become a great pursuer.

A failure to embrace pursuit is to cede opportunity to others. A leader’s failure to pursue clarity leaves them amidst the fog. Their failure to pursue creativity relegates them to the routine and mundane. Their failure to pursue talent sentences them to a world of isolation.  Their failure to pursue change approves apathy. Their failure to pursue wisdom and discernment subjects them to distraction and folly. Their failure to pursue character leaves a question mark on their integrity. Let me put this as simply as I can – you cannot attain what you do not pursue.

Smart leaders understand it’s not just enough to pursue, but pursuit must be intentional, focused, consistent, aggressive, and unyielding. You must pursue the right things, for the right reasons, and at the right times. Perhaps most of all, the best forms of pursuit enlist others in the chase. Pursuit in its purest form is highly collaborative, very inclusive and easily transferable. Pursuit operates at greatest strength when it leverages velocity and scale.

I also want to caution you against trivial pursuits – don’t confuse pursuit with simple goal setting. Outcomes are clearly important, but as a leader, it’s what happens after the outcome that you need to be in pursuit of. Pursue discovery, seek dissenting opinions, develop your ability unlearn by embracing how much you don’t know, and find the kind of vision that truly does see around corners. Don’t use your pursuits to shift paradigms, pursue breaking them. Knowing what not to pursue is just as important as knowing what to pursue.

It’s important to keep in mind that nothing tells the world more about a leader than what or who they pursue – that which you pursue is that which you value. If you message to your organization you value talent, but don’t treat people well and don’t spend time developing the talent around you, then I would suggest you value rhetoric more than talent. Put simply, you can wax eloquent all you like, but your actions will ultimately reveal what you truly value.

Lastly, the best leaders pursue being better leaders. They know to fail in this pursuit is nothing short of a guarantee they’ll be replaced by those who don’t.

This One Leadership Quality Will Make or Break You – Forbes.

Smartphone sales in 2011 are estimated to reach 468 million units, a 57% increase over 2010. While the idea of reaching out to consumers via smartphone apps is clearly not new, companies have been stubbornly hesitant to embrace app technologies. It’s the same inertia we saw in the early days of the internet.


Top Line Growth? There’s an App for That – Robert Plant – Harvard Business Review.

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