What can business leaders learn from NASA decision to stop flying Endeavor?

May 26th, 2011

I heard this story on NPR the other day about how NASA is discontinuing missions to the international space station so that they can focus on missions that can take astronauts deeper and further into space.

How will US astronauts visit the space station to finish existing projects without NASA shuttle missions? They’ll rely on renting seats on Russian aircrafts, as well as commercial spacecrafts that companies are developing.

This sort of innovation in the way astronauts get to space is allowing NASA to pursue more ambitious missions and further innovate.

NASA’s decision to stop flying to the international space station is going to allow its people to focus on what’s next: building rockets that propel deeper and farther into space. Now, most organizations do not have the luxury of stopping doing what they are doing so they can focus on something new. We need to service our customers, produce revenue, etc. But we can ask ourselves: can someone else be working on what I’m working on so I can focus on what’s next? Are my people doing stuff that they should be handing off to others? Can I outsource this function because it is not core to my business? Should I be doing this at all?

Everything you and your people do distracts them from something else. Make sure that you are choosing to do or not do something.

Leaders in business can learn from NASA. Tough choices have to be made. Doing things that are easy and comfortable can stifle innovation or be distracting. Leaders must focus on ground-breaking areas to propel business forward, and not get stuck in a rut of executing the same thing over and over again. They should also be willing to outsource things that others can do just as well.

Learning to do something well is very important, but it can also become a distraction from getting to the next level and going deeper into space. Learn to balance both.

Paul O’Connor Interview Part 2

April 22nd, 2011

Earlier this week, I posted the first half of my interview with Paul O’Connor, self-described “…insightfully funny suit, who is actually serious about collaborative future building…”. Paul’s take on the economy is both positive and unique, and he sees Gen Y driving change in the economy. This part of the interview focuses on the economic climate specific to Chicago. What do you see as happening in the economy? Is your view as positive as Paul’s?

Paul O’Connor Interview Part 1

April 18th, 2011

On January 21st, Paul O’Connor spoke on a panel at an Economic Club of Chicago lunch along with Kevin Willer from Google (now president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center) and Randy Blankenhorn. The topic was the GO TO 2040 Economic Development Plan for the 21st Century.

Paul is a self described “…insightfully funny suit, who is actually serious about collaborative future building…” His background is far too distinguished to list all his accomplishments here. Check out his LinkedIn profile if you want a deep dive. Paul founded World Business Chicago and was its Executive Director for 9 years. Today he leads the City Design Practice at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. We are also on the Board of Directors together at the Metropolitan Chicago Information Center.

I was inspired by his upbeat message about the future of Chicago and how Gen Y is going to lead us into a bright future. His refreshing message about us getting getting our head out of our hands was something I thought more people needed to hear. So I invited him to record the first interview on my blog.

I hope you enjoy the first of two parts, which focuses on Gen Y. Thank you, Paul, for your time.

Five Years of Business Travel to India

April 20th, 2010

Over the past 5 years I have been lucky enough to travel to India for business at least once per year. India is a wonderful place. Visiting this country and learning from its people has made me a better person and business leader.

While I have visited Mumbai, Delhi and Agra, almost all of my time has been spent in Pune. I took an unconventional approach to creating an India strategy: I picked a city. India is a huge country and I did not want to spend my time flying around the whole place while I was there. When one of my first employees went back to Mumbai for his wedding, I asked him to pick the city to start our India strategy. Two months later he returned and said Pune.

I had never heard of Pune, but quickly did some research. I learned it was one of the fastest growing cities in the East, had many great universities, and a lot of leading companies were shifting their strategies in India to this city. Also, it was in the mountains and had tropical weather. :) I set up calls with about 10-15 companies and decided on four to meet in person. That was 5 years ago. A lot has changed in India since my first trip. This video post attempts to capture some of that change I have witnessed.

Total Attorneys: Corporate culture undefined

February 14th, 2010

Crain’s Chicago Business stopped by Total Attorneys and did a wonderful job capturing what we are up to and what we are all about.

The video was recently upload to the Crain’s Chicago Business YouTube Channel.

Using Agile and Scrum to Manage Philanthropy

November 2nd, 2009

Most businesses struggle with creating a framework of organic innovation inside the company as they grow. Once companies get to a certain point, they have a difficult time continuing to develop interesting and innovative products for their customers.

About one year ago, Total Attorneys decided to return to its agile beginnings. At first, we broke into small, cross-functional teams. After a few months of this, it became clear that we would need a common framework to make our agile methods effective. The decision was made to adopt Scrum inside Total Attorneys.

Scrum is a methodology of breaking large projects down into smaller tasks with the purpose decentralizing decision making, understanding your velocity and promoting self-organization. Traditionally, it is used in the software industry, but we have also applied it to all areas of the company, including our accounting, legal, and recruitment departments. Employees went through extensive training to learn the methodology.

One of the most interesting applications of Scrum that I’ve seen within Total Attorneys came from a philanthropic effort. We are partnering with Purse of Hope to fund a house in Uganda that will shelter and give aid to women caught in the human sex trafficking industry. The house provides the women with counseling, educational, vocational, and other resources to change the course of their lives. Women’s rights is definitely the cause of our century.

A major benefit of scrum is that it is a decentralized process, and allows people to be innovative and take ownership of what they are working on. So, not long after I announced our partnership with Purse of Hope at the last Total Attorneys all-company meeting, I was happy to see that people had begun to work on the the project organically, and that they had already begun to self-organize. I was walking down the hallway and noticed that a Scrum board for the project had been created, complete with the Story, Task, In Progress, and Done categories.

When you walk through Total Attorneys, you will see many of these Scrum boards all over our walls. It was only natural that people would use Scrum for the Total Impact House because it’s the common framework to get things done here. You can always walk around and see where everyone is at with their projects.

Creating a common framework in which everyone can work is an effective tool to increase productivity. People are able to work together at the drop of a hat. Look into Scrum or other agile methodologies and see if they would be effective at your organization.

My dad is running for Governor?!?!!

October 7th, 2009

About 2 weeks ago I received a call from my father.

“Eddie, do you have a few minutes to talk?” he said.

“Of course dad, what’s up,” I replied.

“I’m running for governor,” he said to me, as if he was saying he had an extra ticket for the Notre Dame game.

I nearly feel out of my chair. He want on to explain his reasons and how he thought someone who had never been in politics or government was what this state needed to get back on the right track.

If you are interested in seeing why he wants to run and what his platform is you can click here.

He has some wonderful ideas for our state of Illinois. I hope you are able to join him in a conversation. And if it sounds good to you, lend your support.

See his site www.scanlanforgov.com for more information.

Crossing of Social Media Streams (with Egon Spengler’s prospective)

August 21st, 2009

Like a lot of people, I have my twitter account synced into my facebook page, so that whenever I update on twitter, my facebook page displays the same update. This has gotten me thinking about the purposes and audiences of facebook and twitter, and whether or not they are the mutual.

Twitter seems to have its own language.

Take this recent tweet:

@edscanlan RT @EJWalters: Great tweets from the streets of Afghanistan by @Katulis. Best election coverage (again) on Twitter. #afghanelection”

People viewing this as a facebook update only probably find the text strange. However, on twitter, the abbreviations used and the odd-looking link are common occurrences. Does this mean that the audience for twitter and facebook different? Or are they just using different language?

In terms of content, are there topics more appropriate for twitter, while other information is more appropriate for facebook? Which site is more useful for sharing links? Or, are they the same? Is one site considered more “professional” than the other?

On facebook, you have to add someone as a friend, and they have to accept your invitation for you to view their profile. Contrarily, twitter allows users to see each other’s updates without sending requests (unless privacy settings are changed by the user). What does this say about accessibility? Is it easier to network on twitter because of the difference in privacy standards?

From Wikipedia – Crossing the Streams
“There’s something very important I forgot to tell you. Don’t cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”
—Egon Spengler on crossing proton streams

Crossing the streams was initially discouraged, as Egon believed that “total protonic reversal” would occur: this effect would have catastrophic results (see quote above). However, in a desperate effort to stop the powerful Gozer the Gozerian, Egon noted that the door to Gozer’s temple “swings both ways” and that by crossing the streams, they may be able to create enough force to close the door on Gozer and its control. As Peter points out, Egon said crossing the streams was “bad” but Egon says “there is definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.” As the Ghostbusters cross the streams, the combination of that much nuclear energy closes the door to Gozer’s dimension and severs its ties to our world. The resulting blast destroys a good portion of the roof and blows up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Should you cross social screams and have twitter feed your facebook profile?

Reinvent the day job for Generation X & Y (part II)

July 22nd, 2009

From my perspective, which is that of running a technology enabled services business, I have seen some things you might find unexpected while focusing on reinventing the day job for Generation X and Generation Y.

• All generations respond positively and their levels of commitment rises beyond the commitment they have had at other companies

• Passionate employees far exceed order takers and are willing to put any amount of time necessary to succeed

• Your employees never stop working, they are always thinking about how to make the place they love better

• Your customers, potential employes, vendors, partners and press can all feel the positive energy radiating from your organization

• Your brand can be built from the culture of your company, which in the emerging world of social media is critical

For those might be concerned that this new generation of workers is doomed to drive our country into the ground (or better yet, those who are interested in engaging this new work force) I encourage you to read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott.

Grown Up Digital is about the Net Generation, which starts on January 1977. (I was born 1 month after this generation started, which I guess gives me a first mover advantage.) Listen to the intro that Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) gives Don in the first minutes of this video and you get an idea of how well respected this guy is.

While this focus on reinventing the day job might not be applicable to every industry, it has served my tech enabled services business quite well.

Reinvent the day job for Generation X & Y

July 10th, 2009

Start working on reinventing the day job for Generation X and Generation Y.

A new generation is starting to establish leadership positions in companies all of this country. They are driving change. They are driving innovation. You should want them driving in your company!

This generation wants work to be in balance with outside interests, like playing in band, acting, family time, traveling, and maybe all of those. Working 70 hours a week is not acceptable. Hyper productivity in 38 hours, perfect!

They want the company they work for to be fun.

They want the company they work for to be different.

They want the company they work for to have integrity.

They want the company they work for to treat them like an individual and not with a one sized fits all HR policy.

They want to be enabled to make decisions and impact rapid change. The way something was done yesterday is rather boring to this generation.

Those who are able to engage these generations in the creation and execution of their companies mission will win.

If your company can focus on giving Gen X and Gen Y the above, I’m confident that they will be able to lead your organization to new heights.

What else do you think Gen X and Gen Y’ers want out of a job?