Monday, August 26, 2013

Don't Be That Guy

Watching the recent price reaction in Microsoft immediately following the announcement that CEO Steve Ballmer is planning to leave the company within 12 months gives one pause to think.  A quick rise of almost 10% and an addition of close to $19 billion in market capitalization came quickly and unexpectedly, some may say.  But should the move have been so unexpected?

By any measure, and as any longtime shareholder of Microsoft would certainly attest to, Microsoft's stock price has languished under Ballmer's tenure.  Complete underperformance to Apple and Google immediately comes to mind.  And what traders and investors are simply conveying is this:  Microsoft will perform better in the future and will be worth more as a company with anyone but Ballmer steering the ship.  Wall Street opinion is offered both rapidly and candidly.

Whether or not this assessment is fair to Ballmer deserves to be a case study worthy of examination by future students of a master's in business administration class.  What he did right and wrong during his helm as CEO will be debated for semesters to come.  Perhaps more interesting to think about are the potential reactions in other companies or organizations if the person at the top were to leave.  It seems as though that the leaders of early lean startups (true visionaries), were they to exit, could cause immediate investor disdain, whereas well-entrenched CEO's of large capitalized concerns might create a cause for celebration, a la Ballmer and Microsoft.

People are judged and evaluated within their professional lives each and every day.  We all want to feel as though we have made a definable positive contribution to our respective employers and organizations.  A wonderful benchmark to shoot for would be to have the public devalue the collective net worth of our employers and organizations as soon as we are no longer active participants within them.  Steve Ballmer will never be able to claim that benchmark.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Has Your Line Moved?

I had the recent misfortune of purchasing a complete counterfeit version of a pretty well known product.  And it wasn't a pair of Gucci sunglasses or a Rolex offered by an individual on a busy street corner.  It occurred via an independent storefront within the ecosystem, and it surprised the daylights out of me.

Upon further reflection, I determined that my expectations of Amazon have changed significantly over the last 15 or so years in that by clicking "buy" on their site, I subconsciously have very close to 100% confidence that what I ordered will be fulfilled honestly, correctly and expeditiously.  However, due to the fact that Amazon elects to lease their massive amount of internet real estate to just about any entity that puts up a shingle, the risk of a storefront conducting unscrupulous business practices is an ever-present risk.

To extrapolate on that line of thinking, I would imagine that other online destinations like Ebay or Overstock encounter a similar percentage of fraudulent occurrences during their normal courses of business.  And on the other side of the coin, no one would ever expect anything but an authentic Iphone when they walk into an Apple store to purchase one.

So what has happened?  Like anything else that we encounter, our expectations are continually shaped over time and experiences.  It must have been pretty scary for the first customer of Amazon to click buy as there was no frame of reference attached to the process.  We all have a vault within us that we constantly update and tweak to determine our individual predictions of any forthcoming economic transaction.  Sometimes the information within that vault is changed drastically and surprisingly, but it is all just a part of our ongoing self-learning growth.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Government Actually Working

Granted, we as citizens are accustomed to a hefty share of complaining and general dissatisfaction in virtually all levels of our government.  Budget crises and overall mismanagement of municipal and federal resources are the norm these days, and it seems that no one has any plans to change the course for the better.  There is one area of government, however, that I have been using as a trusted and reliable resource for some time now, and it never fails to disappoint.  It's the library.

Yes, the library.  Here in Chicago we are extremely fortunate to have a library system that is both functional and technologically up to date.  Gone are the days of pulling out rows and rows of index cards to attempt to find your next tome to attack.  Instead, all one needs to do is visit their local library branch and apply for a card.  Once you have that in hand, visit the Chicago Public Library website at, log in and search for the next book on your to read list.  Place the book on hold, and in about 4-6 business days, that book will be waiting for you at your local Chicago Public Library local branch to be picked up.  It's simply magical.

Now some may argue that the collection of titles available to check out pales in comparison to the current bestsellers at Amazon or the other big book chains.  My experiences in that regard tends to pour cold water on that theory.  A recent example would be the newly released autobiography of Jimmy Connors--it was released on May 13, and is readily available to anyone with a library card in the city of the big shoulders.

Since Chicago is my place of residence and my home library system, I'm not sure how the Chicago Public Library would compare to those in the adjoining suburbs, but my inclination is that those in the suburbs might be even a bit more efficient just based on size and scale.  Leaner and meaner might mean that citizens get their book requests processed a bit quicker than us big city folk.  More good news for reading lovers.

An extra added bonus that I have discovered through the use of this process is that it will convert you into a much more efficient reader.  How many times have you heard about a terrific read from a family member, friend or colleague and you immediately have it delivered to your home through a mega website, only to find it laying in a pile months later, still uncracked?  The due date on your library book acts as a ticking countdown clock so as to spur you to the finish line.  

But don't just take my word for it, get out there and try it for yourself and judge the results.  And while doing so, rejoice in the absolute stellar level of efficiency of this often overlooked sector of everyone's government.  We all certainly deserve something that works better than advertised, don't we?