Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gold Rush or Something More Sustainable?

By the time the pioneers that small person is studying right now made their way west, most of the emigrants were farmers looking to build a sustainable way of life for their families. What got this wave of emigration really started though and broke trail and started the early settlements that made everything possible for the mainstream settlers was fur trapping and the gold rush.

Animal rights activism aside, fur trapping is an interesting business case - this was temporarily a sustainable industry fueled by an actual consumer interest in a particular product. What the mountain men out trapping fur animals and the companies that bought and sold pelts mostly didn't take into account was how fickle the market could be - it seems that silk became all the rage in Europe all of a sudden (but fur is so much warmer and it's not like they had polar fleece in those days!) and there went the fur trade. Companies went under very quickly after that because they hadn't come up with any viable alternatives.

Some did pretty well by shifting their strategy to one of provisioning the 49'ers and the more mainstream settlers, and therein lies another interesting business case.

A few people who were able to get in early and stake good claims right away did get rich off the gold they found. Most though, did not. By and large, the people who actually made money during the rush were the ones selling the miners the supplies they needed for mining and day to day life. Call me cynical, but I'm thinking that anytime you see that the only ones making any money are those 'helping' you to earn a living, you should run for the hills - and not the ones that are purported to have gold in 'them thar'.

And even when there really is gold out there to be had, it's important to go in with eyes wide open about what you're getting yourself into and to be as prepared as possible so that you're not caught short while you're still trying to make it. Keep in mind too, that just like driving in bad weather, sometimes it's not enough to be good yourself - you have to be prepared for the idiot(s) out on the road with you as well.

This whole cycle of gold fever, unprepared hordes who never got what they sought, and the people who made their wealth and lives off of said hordes has played out here in Seattle again and again. Not really sure exactly what that's about (note to self - think carefully about anything having to do with Seattle that sounds too good to be true), but I also know it happens elsewhere too.

So - no matter what business you're in or where you are, it's probably worth asking yourself if people really are making any money at it. It matters who they are and how they're doing it - if they're primarily making money off of each other, then what you've really got is a pyramid scheme. Is what you're considering really a sustainable concept or one that is too dependent on fickle tastes. How prepared are you for what lies ahead and how will you adapt if the market shifts?

On the good side, those pioneer farmers may not have made it big, but they did make it and when they found good homesteads, they made a decent living and raised loving families. They may not have struck it rich but many of them did thrive, always a worthy goal.

Interestingly enough, some of them even made it to Seattle. Some of us made it here a little later through later-wave pioneers - both the farming kind and then later than that through early aviation. Of course, real pioneering - the business of scouting out new territory and making it sustainable for more and more mainstream use - is a new topic altogether. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually though - since it's quite literally in my blood, I have a bit of a fondness for the subject.

If any of this sounds allegorical to the tech boom/bust or anything else, guess what... you're right.

After three weeks of studying about pioneering, I'm sure there's still plenty I don't know... and would be happy to dare you to stump me anyway. Send messages to me at and we'll talk about the gold rush or whatever else is on your alleged mind.

What is the reality of your current situation

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

This week, I've been helping small person build a fort. Not just any fort; the instructions from school are that the fort must be "authentic" and based on factual information. It's to be a fort that the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail would have encountered along the way. Let me just say I'm totally against the whole parent doing the kids' homework projects thing and yet I'm finding there is a slippery slope one steps upon the moment we begin helping out with things there is no way a nine-year-old could possibly do.

Let's just start with the research. There were sufficient parameters placed on this project (yeah, I'm a literalist too - why do you think I work with the people I do? the other parents are probably shaking their heads at how overboard I've taken this thing) that finding an appropriate fort to copy and have enough information to actually do something with it was next to impossible. At least at the beginning when I couldn't have listed more than a half dozen forts by name - most of them, as it turns out, not military.

This, of course, was one of the early stumbling blocks - according to the instructions, it's supposed to be a military fort. Guess what - it turns out that a lot of the forts the emigrants came to on their journeys westward were actually private sector trading posts. More than a week into the project, a handout surfaces with information on several forts, some of which we've already discarded as possibilities because we'd written them off as Hudson's Bay Company forts and the like. Ahh well, at least I know I have a problem being too literal at times.

After much internet search help from Parental Unit Mom (me), we settled on Fort Laramie. I tend to like to be a bit different than everyone else and this seemed way too obvious a choice, but it has its advantages. As a major stop on a section of trail that was shared by just about everyone heading to just about anywhere in the Pacific Northwest all the way down into northern California, there is a lot of information about Fort Laramie. Almost too much, given how much it changed over the years. Hey, on the good side, that means our model is bound to be semi-accurate for some relevant period of time... and even if it's not, it'd be tough to prove that!

Uncle Doug had the best idea ever - start with a cereal box. With the cardboard we cut from the sides, we made blockhouses and then made a run to the craft store for $40 or so worth of supplies. Small person found a package of horses about the right scale, dowels sized about right for tipi poles, little pompoms he figured would be great for bushes and just the right color of textured spray paint to make a cereal box look like whitewashed adobe. Oh, and not being a glue person so much except to know I've run across lots of kinds of glue that don't do what I want, I probably spent half of our budget on several different kinds of glue. Actually, I think we've used almost every kind so far except for one and we may still get to that one yet. Thank goodness there's a scrapbooking craze on.

I did the design work trying to figure out how to turn a cereal box into a believable rendition of a pioneer fort and small person cut everything out and folded up the sections making the blockhouses. He blacked in where the windows and doors would go on the blockhouses and the interior apartments and together we taped it all into place.

Spousal/Parental Unit Dad took spray paint duty (do you think he'd object to being referred to as SPUD?). Seriously - you're not going to let a nine-year-old wield a spray can, are you? The last time one did in our household, it resulted in significant patches of blue carpeting in the junior member of the partnership's bedroom and the loss of our damage deposit. Fortunately, I can report that he survived that incident and seems to have rehabilitated his penchant for destroying his surroundings. And if not - well, it's his damage deposit now and being able to afford that is presumably part of the motivation for graduating from college.

Similarly, the X-acto knife action needed to delicately remove bits of masking tape from the doors and windows was my job. To my credit and the horror of better mothers everywhere, I did let him use the awl to poke holes in the catwalk so he could put toothpicks in for a palisade. No blood was shed and I didn't even feel the need to hover over him after the first five. The carefully applied spray paint is still even (mostly) in place. Spousal/Parental Unit Dad will be happy about that.

Along the way, we also took apart the latest rocket ship probe (though we were able to save the control panel) in order to make the base. And we only got a minimum of blue river glitter all over the floor. Happy Days. Small person decided that we really needed ladders in this fort too and they do make a nice touch. We have yet to put together the corral and the tipis but hopefully there will be time for that around everything else that's going on the next couple of days.

The net result so far is that this project is looking way cool and is "done enough" even if we don't get to the remaining finishing touches. Small person has had help, yes, and yet a lot of the work has been his own. He chose the fort. He read all the materials I helped find and made a list of things he wanted to include in the overall display, found a lot of the supplies needed to make his vision a reality, and he has done most of the gruntwork that didn't involve spray paint or digit-severing implements. Especially with the size constraints placed on this project, it may be just as well that the Fort Phil Kearny that he built with his grandfather recently (and saved all this time just for this project) was not found intact.

I have to say I've definitely learned (or at least was reminded of) a lot too. Among them, things like... Spousal Unit is still better than I am at recognizing when we're at the point where it's advantageous to remember the enemy of good is better... how a tipi goes together... how stinkin' many people paraded west during the mass emigration that occurred in the mid- and late-1800's and how short a time window they had to make the trek... the value of making note of where we've been for future reference... how many of our skills get pressed into play in ways we never anticipated... different styles of leadership are needed from one moment to the next, even working with a single individual... and perhaps most important of all - kids (just like employees) often are capable of far more than we give them credit for.

Are you working on any cool projects you'd like to share or have some comments on parents doing schoolwork for kids - it's really about the equivalent of managers doing work for employees, isn't it? Send them to me at - till then, Happy Trails!

In what new ways are your past skills and experiences still relevant?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Put Me In, Coach

Tuesday night, I went to see Arlo Guthrie (what a truly awesome performance!) so I missed The Daily Show's send-up of life coaching. As a professional coach, I was curious to see whether I'd be able to laugh at having the industry skewered so I made sure to turn it on for the repeat broadcast early the next morning. As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "It's a fair cop."

As per usual, they go after their subject right where it's weakest. And as much as I believe in what I do, many professional life coaches as individuals and the industry in general do have some serious weak spots. Despite the growing popularity (both with people hiring coaches and with people wanting to become coaches), many are unclear about exactly what it is that we do. Many are untrained and uncredentialed. And at this point in the industry, there is very little barrier to entry, one of the first tests of any real profession.

On the flip (less flippant?) side, there is a lot happening these days that is sure to shift coaching toward a much more professional footing. Although these changes could penalize coaches who don't catch this next wave, they will most certainly benefit coaching clients, and that's a good thing so I plan to be part of the drive toward credentialing more coaches (myself included - yes, I'm still working on that!) and being sure that consumers are educated about what they're getting.

Right now though, I believe that as a group, we're kind of like the pre-teen who really wants to be seen as grown-up by everyone else and the jokes that prove that "everyone else" doesn't yet understand us - or perhaps understands some of us all too well - still sting a bit. When we really are grown up, I'm sure the jokes won't hurt so much because by then we'll be more sure of our own skins and more of it will be meaningless anyway.

In the meantime, I find myself mostly able to laugh, both at the gross mischaracterizations and at the barbs that hit uncomfortably close to home. Even more, I find myself thoroughly fascinated by the attention, especially since there seems to be so much of it all of a sudden. Over the weekend, even the New York Times Magazine joined in. Oh, and of course referenced The Daily Show piece too!

Just so we're clear - I happen to be one of those who sometimes struggles with explaining just exactly what it is that I do, mostly because it looks so different for each client I work with. It comes out in the success stories that follow the work that we do more than being anything particularly tangible.

Besides, working with the "show me" techie crowd like I do means that even more clients than normal start working with me for one reason only to determine partway through that something else entirely comes to the forefront. I'm getting comfortable with it, though, because dealing with that ambiguity and helping my clients through it seems to be one of my specialties. Y'know, come to think of it, it's kinda like the eBay IT ads. Wonder if I can borrow that strategy?

When your industry starts requiring more of you to prove your value, how do you handle it - or, if you'd rather, send to me at your thoughts or questions about the coaching industry. I can hold extended conversations on just about any subject!

Where do you need help laughing at yourself?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just Say No To Drive-by Carding

I've had quite a few conversations now about how informative and inspirational Keith Ferrazzi's presentation was the other day at the Microsoft Small Business Summit. Truly worthwhile, so I still recommend checking out the webcast now that they've managed to resolve most of the technical issues.

At least one guy who was there must have missed the point though. As I was getting ready to leave at the end of the day, one gentleman stopped by just long enough to give me the 5 second version of who he is and what he does and to give me a business card. I truly have no idea what I'll do with it. Chuck it, if I'm smart, but I anticipate my packrat tendencies and a desire to be 'nice' will mean that I'll stare at it while before that happens. Really, he could have made a little more effort to find out if I even wanted his card; that way maybe he wouldn't have wasted it or, more importantly, wouldn't have burdened me with it.

I had to laugh though - his next stop was to quite literally toss a card in the general direction of the guy with whom I'd had some pretty good conversation during the day and toss off the name of his business - all without breaking a stride. I have half a mind to check with Keith to see if this pegs his "eww - gross" meter as much as mine; I am reasonably certain it would.

Hey, even people who export their entire list of Outlook Contacts into LinkedIn are on stronger footing - at least they are more likely to have some level of connection with the folks in their Contacts folder. I not so sure that's quite as true of the people I'm finding who have 500+ contacts listed in LinkedIn. I mean, how well can you really know 500 people? While it certainly makes sense to keep in touch with as many people as possible, quality has to count for something.

And that, of course, was what gave me the chuckle about the drive-by carder. I'm sure he heard somewhere that you should be sure to give out at least 10-20 (or whatever number people tell you - I so do not know that number and don't care to) business cards when at a networking event. And I'm equally sure that he got to the end of the day and realized he'd given out less than half of them already. He'd have been better off focusing on more more decent conversation with someone where he really got to know the person. Even someone who doesn't need his services could be a great referral resource if he'd managed to bond with him or her even a little bit. Unfortunately, that person is not too likely to be me.

So - do you have funny networking stories or embarrassing moments you'd be willing to share? Send them to me at and we'll see what we can learn... or at least have a good laugh.

What does real bonding and connection look like and feel like for you?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pollyanna Has Left the Building

Sometimes I get accused of looking at the world far too optimistically. I try to be realistic about what I see and then from there generally choose a more optimistic perspective because the cynical views just don't seem to help me get to where I want to go quite as well. Here's the thing though - stuff does still get to me sometimes and today is one of those days. What's sad is that it all comes from being more excited about something than I thought I'd be.

I attended the live portion of the inaugural Microsoft Small Business Summit yesterday and was really impressed. Sure, there were a few misleading comments in describing products but overall, the focus really was on delivering worthwhile content combined with some useful information about a couple of products. It felt more like education (which I like) than the pushy sales-y approach we tend to associate with marketing (which I don't). Just as important, the steps they're taking with their small business-oriented products all seem to be in the right direction even if they're not yet to the point where they're able to solve all the small business problems in the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find they served lunch and even came away with a pretty cool SWAG bag. Nice.

My favorite presentation was Keith Ferrazzi, probably because he reiterated (with great examples and a lot of heart) the same views on effective networking that I've espoused for a long time. Maxine Clarke's story about Build-A-Bear also contained some worthwhile lessons, even for people who don't necessarily get excited about teddy bears; and I'd argue too that they apply even to situations beyond owning and running a business. In addition to having information more readily applicable to more than just business owners though , Keith was particularly captivating as a speaker and very genuine. I highly recommend hearing the webcast.

Here, however, is the chink in the armor although I am optimistic (see, even when I'm annoyed, I can still be hopeful) that they will be able to get the matter resolved. I can only guess that the Microsoft servers have been overwhelmed with people interested in these webcasts.

First, I had trouble logging in, getting errors and timeouts all over the place. When I finally did get logged in, I had trouble accessing the webcast I had scheduled to view. When I wanted to add another webcast later in the day, it wouldn't save. More errors and timeouts. Finally, I got into the first webcast I had scheduled ten minutes late only to find that the audio was terrible. The next webcast I couldn't access at all. After many more headache-causing issues and quite a lot of cursing (yes, I do that too - and quite well, I might add) at having been bounced out of the system numerous times, I was able to get logged back in and into the last session of the day even before it started. It's just too bad it's not really one of the high priority sessions.

The good news is that they are apparently aware of the problems - unlike the first session with the terrible audio, the last session has offered a phone number for dial-up audio, which is a good first step. And I have to believe that they're busy adding servers to improve performance. Already I seem to be having better success getting into the evaluations.

So go ahead, log into the Small Business Summit site and check out the webcasts. I'm sure they'll work when you get there.

And for anyone who has their own business or is thinking of going into business for themselves, it sure looks like the Small Business Center site has some really great tools and resources. Perhaps I'm being optimistic to the point of gullibility but I really do believe the explanation that I heard yesterday for all of this apparent altruism... They're working under the theory at Microsoft (in the Small Business unit anyway) that if they help small business owners become successful, they'll be in that much better position to purchase technology solutions and that much more likely they'll consider getting them from Microsoft. It works for me anyway.

If you listen to Keith's webcast or any of the others, I'm interested in your thoughts and feedback on what you got out of it/them. If you'll send them to me at, I'd enjoy a conversation on the subject. I might even still be in a mood to vent and commiserate over difficulties too if you experience any of the same kinds of issues I have today.

In what way does dwelling on a negative perception help you get what you want? What other perceptions would better help you achieve your goals?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.