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    You Need Smart Lazy People

    April 20th, 2011

    Smart lazy people are the lifeblood of any company, big or small.  They are the people that are in the trenches, doing the work, getting things done, and contributing real value by approaching problems with a sharp mind.  But most of all, they are a little lazy.

    A friend of mine coined this term when we were hunting for the ideal candidate to add value to the marketing analytics team.  Now, he was speaking tongue-in-cheek, as he often did, but the underlying idea is actually quite valid.

    An individual who is ‘smart’ will really contribute in the trenches by understanding what the end goal truly is and distilling all of the input into a focused and actionable output.  But they may be so focused on the end result they will do whatever it takes to get there, no matter the effort required.  While this can be awesome, it can also be a waste of time.

    A ‘lazy’ person is someone who hates repetitive tasks; they just want to get the task done so they can go grab a snack or another cup of coffee or (better yet) go and dig in the data because it is just fun.  But, while focused on automation of reports or dashboards, they fail to understand what is really being asked and only deliver to specifications.  Delivering only what is asked instead of what is needed is an easy pit to fall into.

    Combined you get a smart lazy person – an individual who approaches a problem and understands what it takes to solve it and then goes and finds a way to automate it so they can move onto the next task in the list.  They don’t want to spend their time doing mindless repetitive tasks.  They want free time so they can take on additional responsibilities and projects.

    In reality, these people are not actually ‘lazy’, rather, they are in love with optimization and hate to see waste.  They care about the larger picture and realize “How do we get there?” is just as important as “Why are we trying to get there?”

    Take a moment and think about your own approach to issues.  Is there an opportunity for you to be a little smarter or a little ‘lazier’?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.



    Small Things Yield Big Rewards

    January 18th, 2011

    I once read in a book that an individual is less likely to sue a doctor if the individual likes the doctor. That makes sense, as people give a larger amount of room for error, in general, for people they like compared to people they do not like.  The element that makes this possible is trust.  One trusts a doctor that they like whereas if one does not like a doctor they are more likely to be skeptical of answers, treatments, and suggestions.

    The one thing that I feel like people fail to realize is what builds this sense of trust, in particular in the work environment.  Building that trust with people is a critical life skill because you can more often pick your friends than you can pick your coworkers or clients.  And this is not about a fake trust or a fake relationship.  This skill is about truly adding value to a conversation, project, or company.  When a person can do that out of genuine interest for the people they are interacting with they ensure that their friends, not coworkers, are there when they slip up.

    So how does one build that trust?  The answer is that the biggest differences between people are the smallest of things.  This is because it is the smallest of things that can really make a difference.  They all add up and most people only pay attention to the overall feeling of ‘nice’ or ‘not nice’, not realizing or even being able to articulate why they feel that way (“he’s just a good guy”).  The memory that most demonstrates this and sticks in my mind was right after I got my new (used) car.  I was pumped.  It was my first ‘nice’ car; a slight splurge because I enjoy driving.  I couldn’t wait to take my coworkers for a ride in it.  I tried to think of what they would notice first.  The all-wheel drive?  The jump from the twin turbo engine? The leather seats?  Any of the obvious ‘nice’ things?  But then my friend got in the car and started fidgeting around with stuff.  Pressing buttons and testing the hanger-hooks and handles above the door.

    I thought to myself “What is he doing?  Look at all the obvious nice stuff!”  And then he looked at me with this smile and said “the buttons have that satisfying click when you press them and your door handles have an elegant slow-retract to them.  Nice.”  Now, he was being a bit sarcastic with his remark, but it stuck with me.  Those are the sorts of things that, while largely ‘unnecessary’ are the exact things that make the car ‘nice’.  The engine, leather seats, nice rims…these are all things that could be put on or in virtually any car without thought.  But the satisfying, tactile *click* when I press a button or the softness of the cup holder opening up.  These are things that are small, one could say insignificant, but simultaneously the fine touches that truly make the car ‘nice’.  Things that are not obvious, not hard, but take a definite thought to put them in place

    Likewise, it is the small things that make the person, even in the business world.

    • If someone starts a thought and gets cut off by another, remember and ask what they were going to say
    • Listen for bits of personal details during a conversation and remember to follow up on it later
    • Set up a .cal list in Outlook for your company holidays (google it) and send it out to your coworkers
    • Make sure to have lunch with different groups of people to learn more about them
    • Sort the pages that are sitting on the printer
    • Make the coffee when the pot is about empty, even if you didn’t have any
    • Have that homemade treat if the person doesn’t often bring treats in
    • Stop by and thank that person for bringing it in, even if it was not homemade
    • Pass along an article you read to show that you’re thinking beyond your own position
    • Ask about a specific item in a person’s desk/cube/office (you’d be surprised how little people do this)
    • Say that you will get back to a person, even if you don’t have the time to fully answer now

    This is just a short list of small things one could do at the office.  They are all small, but they all take effort.  And don’t be fooled, they take lots of effort to do all of these things all of the time.  But as my dad likes to say “the only difference between work and play is your definition.”  So work to redefine your view and these small things that take lots of effort will become natural and maybe the next time you sit down in someone’s new car you’ll notice the satisfying *click* their buttons make.

    Do you take time to do the small things?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Conversion At Carnival Cruises

    March 2nd, 2010

    Well, their advertising got me in the door.  I decided to check out what this whole cruise thing was all about.  It looks like a great time, but I can’t help but think that their User Experience could be significantly improved (and therefore their conversion rate). Carnival is making some HUGE mistakes.

    Making sure you have a usable website, one that is intuitive and easy to navigate, is a key element of converting your visitor into a sale.  Lets take the first page after I entered in some information about where and when I wanted to take a cruise:

    The first thing I notice is that I am left to assume that these are per person rates.  Maybe it says that somewhere on the rest of the page, but this section is clearly the focus.   Making sure your user knows that this is a per person rate will save on hard feelings down then line.  After all, I am booking a room and rooms (at hotels) usually don’t care if you have 1 person or 2.  If I have never been on a cruise (and I have not) I could easily assume these are rates per room.  Update: It does not say that on the page, only when you hover over the lowest price (not shown in picture); does not show up when hovering over any of the other prices.

    Next I see that the base room would cost me $729 while the Suites will cost $1,399.  That’s quite a difference.  I wonder what I get for $1,399.  Let me click on the “Suites” link with the camera icon.  This is what will sell me on getting the expensive room.  A nice overlay pops up on top of the current page looking like this:

    Hmm…the first thing I notice is that I clicked on the Suite and the picture that pops up looks pretty unremarkable for the price.  Oh wait, the Interior room is selected.  Huh?  That seems like a pretty big miss.  But okay, I figure that out and click the suite.  I give them another chance to sell me on the room.  And…it is just an enlarged picture of the little thumbnail.  Thus far I am not convinced that I will double the price of my cruise.  But what could they do differently?

    First, they could give me more pictures.  It is basically free for them and would do tons to help convert me.  Some pictures that I would love to see:

    • What does the view out the balcony look like?
    • How big is the balcony?  What does it look like?
    • Is there a TV (like in the other rooms)?  Where is it?
    • How big are the closets?  Where are they located?
    • What does the bathroom look like?
    • It says it has a large vanity/dressing table…where’s that?
    • A whirlpool tub is listed.  Again, what does it look like?
    • How big is the desk in the corner of the room?

    All of these things are items that people want to know.  They want to know what they are getting for their dollar.  Instead there is one generic shot that does almost no good.

    The next things is the text below the single picture: “Includes stateroom category: JS, OS and VS.”  Ohh, right.  Category JS.  I’m not sure what JS means to them but to me it means Jack Squat.  Why would these letters have any meaning to me?  And, to make matters worse, I cannot click them to figure out what the heck they are talking about.  It is just meaningless text unless I’m some sort of cruise expert in which case I wouldn’t be on this page to begin with!

    Sorry Carnival, I’m not even all that interested in what your big green details button would give me.

    What do you guys think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    GMAT Tip: What To Study First

    November 24th, 2009

    If you have a very limited amount of time, there is one thing and one thing only that I would spend my time doing: reading strategies for GMAT questions.  As I have said in my previous posts, I don’t mean this site to be a comprehensive GMAT prep guide, just my thoughts.

    So, why would I say not to do any GMAT questions and just read the strategy if you only have a small amount of time?  The reasons are quite simple.  The first is you ROI (return on investment).

    If you only have so much time, then you have to get the most out of that time.  Reading GMAT strategies is going to provide the most incremental benefit right off the bat.  It not only gets one’s frame of mind in the right spot, but the information is useful no matter what level you are at, 400 or 700+.

    The second reason that you should start with the strategies is that you will start to learn how to approach the different types of questions.  Strategies will allow you to train your mind to recognize the small nuances that make it easier to eliminate some answers on tough questions.

    Has this worked for you?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Office 2007 Most Useful Ad-In

    October 21st, 2009

    I was working on my laptop today and was playing around with my newly installed Office 2007.  I really need to get to know it more, but work still uses 2003 and I have become quite good at using the 2003 version.  Some co-workers are even generous enough to put me into the category of Excel Expert.

    I’m not sure about all of that, though I have done some posts on cool Excel tricks, but I do know one thing.  I don’t have nearly as good of handle on 2007 as I do on 2003.  The I remembered something that @Fantastical7 told me that had changed my life on my desktop computer.  The Office 2007 Search Ribbon.

    This is the best download for Office that you have never heard of.  If you are having trouble figuring out where that old command went in the new ribbon structure, this add-in is perfect for you.  No more scouring the internet for answers to simple questions.  Just simple answers that are quick and, best of all, are exactly what you are looking for.

    At the time of this post, only 64, 169 had downloaded this add-in.  I have to say that that is a bad indicator.  I just wonder how much time people have wasted looking for the buttons when this add-in makes it super simple.

    So, what do you think of Office 2007?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    MBA: Incremental Value

    October 16th, 2009

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine the other day on which programs to apply to for an MBA.  If you have read my prior post you know that I am a fan of just going and getting the best GMAT score that you can; don’t worry about it too much.  Do your best and you’ll be fine.

    So, why do I think that just doing your best on the GMAT will lead you toward the right program?  The reason is quite simple actually.  You don’t take Calculus 3 when you have never had Calculus 1.

    While each individual has there own reasons to get an MBA, a common theme is to improve oneself – however you want to define that.  My thought is that your GMAT score will give you a good idea of where you will get in.  Don’t beat yourself up over getting into a top 10 school.  And, going back the the Calculus example, here’s why.

    If you apply yourself on the GMAT, and have no special conditions, you will have a score that – more or less – is an indication of your ability (yes, there are many exceptions).  That means that if you have a 500 level score, Harvard is probably not looking good.  But take a moment to think about it like a Calculus class.

    A student should not try and get in the most advanced class that they can get into with no regard to the level of their knowledge in the subject matter.   This we can all agree on but then some people hold a different standard to an MBA program.  The reality is that an individual new to calculus will get the same incremental value to themselves in a Calc 1 class as a more advanced person will get from a Calc 3 class.  If the goal is to improve yourself by X%, then both the Calc 1 student and the Calc 3 student will achieve their goals.  Either student going in the other’s class will make them fall short of their goal.

    Therefore, be realistic about what schools you can get into.  Don’t view a non-top 10 school as a failure or a shortcoming.  The goal of an MBA isn’t to get a top 10 school on your resume (or at least shouldn’t be the main goal).  The goal is to improve yourself.  There are many levels of ability which means that there are many levels of programs that will all give the same incremental benefit to the individual at all of the different levels.

    It is like the marathon I ran.  Just finishing was the goal.  I was happy with my time, but I’m sure an Olympic marathoner would not have been happy with that time.  The point is the same.  Different goals for different people.  A lower ranked school may be a better overall fit, and deliver more incremental value to the individual, than a top 10 school might.

    If you have found yourself discouraged about your GMAT score and the schools you might get into, maybe this gives you a fresh perspective.

    What do you think about a MBA program’s incremental value?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    The GMAT: An Introduction

    October 13th, 2009

    I have recently completed the General Management Admissions Test, or the GMAT, and I have a few thoughts on it.  I want to share some of those thoughts over a series of posts and so I am going to do just that.  I had the idea for this series after I had a particularly good day.  You may be able to guess that that was the day that I took the test.

    For starters I want to be clear that this series of posts are going to be my opinion.  I am not doing lots and lots of research to validate each and every detail.  I am merely sharing my experiences.  If you want textbook detail there are plenty of guides out there that already do just that.  No need to recreate the wheel here.  This is a blog about my experiences and I hope you find value in them.

    With that in mind, I present my first critical point: expectations going in.

    After talking to many people coming from differing points in their career or education I realized one common theme: get into a top 10 school or the like.  I think that this view is making a critical mistake.  Don’t fall into this trap.

    Goals are an excellent thing to have.  Setting goals is something that everybody should do for all sorts of reasons.  But, make sure they are the right goals.  If you go into the test thinking that you need a specific score so that you can get into a specific school you are setting your sights far too narrow and this will only do harm for most people.  Don’t confuse this with not setting goals, just make them more realistic.  Goals have to be S.M.A.R.T. to work.

    When I ran my marathon the goal was simple: finish.  There was no time pressure there wasn’t a “finish without walking” or anything else.  It was just finish.  Getting into a B-school is the same thing.  Just get in.  You should be looking at an MBA because you want to enhance your career and learn more.  The harsh reality is that while a top 10 or 20 school will give you a great education, there are plenty of others that will give you nearly as good of education but perhaps a little less powerful alumni network.  This means that no matter what score you get, there will probably be a place you can get into, so just enjoy the journey of the test and stop worrying about the end result so much.  After all, 700+ GMAT score doesn’t secure you entry; the score is just part of a larger application.

    That is my first advice to you when looking to take the GMAT.  Know that you are taking the GMAT to get into an MBA program and to enhance your skills, meet people, and learn.  These things can be done many places.  Take the pressure off yourself to perform and just do it.  Needless worrying will only bring you down.

    If you have to set a target score, only do so after you have done many practice tests.  Know where you stand.  Know what you can do.  Then put a little reach into it.  You’ll be fine.  Not going to Harvard is not the end of the world.  Lots of colleges can help you out.

    Now that you are in the right mindset to attack the test, the next step is to begin the journey to your score by a self evaluation.  Look for that in my future posts in the series, GMAT Journey.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Quick Windows Tip

    August 10th, 2009

    Every now and then a person stumbles across a small tip that makes life easy. Well, maybe just easier. Today I share one of those tips with you, the shift key.

    We all use the shift key, but few people know about the additional power that it can provide. Gone are the days where it is used just for making a letter upper case or YELLING on the internet.

    On a Windows OS,  holding the shift key while right clicking an item in a folder allows you to open the document read-only.  Very helpful if you don’t want to lock people of of the document, but still want it open.

    The second and more helpful trick that I learned is in Excel.  Have you ever wanted to have a single page summary, but just couldn’t get it to work because the column widths for the stuff above doesn’t match with the stuff you want below?  Shift can help.

    Copy the area that you want and then hold shift and go up to Edit > Paste Picture Link.  You now have a picture that is easily moved around, no matter the above column structure.  Better yet, if you change anything in the original range, it changes along with it!

    Update: As commenter Ryan, of RyanMalesevich.com fame, points out, this is for Excel 2003.  For 2007, no shift is needed.  Just click the down arrow below “Paste” > “As Picture” > “Paste Picture Link”

    Do you have any tips to share?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Internets Are Forever

    March 9th, 2009

    diamonds1Diamonds are not the only thing that is forever anymore. It is no secret that Google will dig deep and find things on a person that the person has long since forgot about. Individuals that are active on the internet are pumping out a HUGE amount of information that is then on electronic record.

    It could be a post in a blog, a comment on a blog, a Tweet, a Facebook wall post, a resume on your college club site, etc. The list of places that your name might show up grows almost every day.

    I was most recently reminded of this by an interesting site, Cursebird, that tracks curse words used in Tweets. It even gives a real-time stream. Not only that, but you can search by user and it gives you all the tweets that the person used a curse in and ‘rates’ them based on which and how many curses they use.  If you check it out, @TheCakeScraps has no results.

    While you may know all of this, and it may all seem pretty common sense, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded every once in a while. I will leave you with the short – but great – post from Seth’s Blog:

    A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.

    Three interesting resumes came to the top. She googled each person’s name.

    The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, “binge drinking.”

    The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, “I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I’m annoyed by it. I’ll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings.”

    And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

    Three for three.

    Google never forgets.

    Of course, you don’t have to be a drunk, a thief or a bitter failure for this to backfire. Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.

    What are your thoughts on the legacy you leave on the internet?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Opportunity Awaits

    March 5th, 2009

    OpportunityWhat do you see when you look at this picture?  Do you see a game of Jenga nearly complete?  Do you see a tower of block about to fall?  Do you see the next block that you would take out and add on top?  It all depends on your perception.

    Many people will just see the picture as a game of Jenga.  Passive.  Just a picture.  That may be true, but what it represents is opportunity.  Yes, there is risk in taking the next block out.  But – as they say in a casino – you cannot win if you don’t play.

    The economy is in an interesting state right now.  Things are a little wobbly.  But the interesting part is that we can change it.  All this is is economics.  As business pull back and cut ad spend that means that if you were to buy what they are leaving behind it will not only cost you less, but you will gain market share.

    This won’t work with all businesses and all products.  Some things just won’t sell with things as they are.  Then go somewhere else.  Wal-Mart is growing.  McDonalds is growing.  Thrift stores are growing.  It is easy to just dismiss these things as obvious.  Resist the temptation.  What they are really doing is providing a service that people are seeking out right now.  Yes, in this case it is value, but it doesn’t have to be.

    Really think about how your business can fit a need for the modern customer.  If Lands’ End had never expanded into apparel, would they still be around?  BMG is canning its mail-order membership.  I just got my “Final Mailing” because they are getting out and moving into a discount model rather than a mail-order model.  (On a side note, did you know that if you forgot to decline the ‘Featured Selection’ you could just write “Return To Sender” on the box and they have to ship it back and don’t charge you!)

    The point is that people still have needs.  Visualize how you can help morph your current business to fit a need.  It may be as simple as shifting your marketing to promote value.  Or if you are doing that maybe you have to highlight the value and some other feature that the product has.

    Winners and losers are being determined as you read this.  Which side is your company on?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.