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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year

We wish our readers Happy New Year.  We pray that the year 2014 will be the most fruitful one you have ever witnessed. Never you relent in making sure you achieve success throughout the year.

Business Tips From Once Homeless Billionaire, John Paul DeJoria

When John Paul DeJoria started John Paul Mitchell Systems in 1980, he was briefly homeless, sleeping in an old Rolls Royce along L.A.’s Sunset Strip.  But he and cofounder Paul Mitchell squirreled together $700 and hit the pavement, peddling their shampoo door-to-door. Today Paul Mitchell is $1 billion a year revenue business.

Proving that he wasn’t just lucky, DeJoria cofounded Patron Spirits in 1989 as a hobby and went on to create a global market for luxury tequila. The two premium brands, Paul Mitchell and Patron, have made DeJoria one of the wealthiest people in America with $4 billion fortune.
Here DeJoria, a product and marketing master, shares four secrets for entrepreneurs out to build a world-class brand from scratch.

1. Create the best product you can and know it’s the best product.
“Believe in yourself and know you have a great service and a great product that will put you in the reorder business… You’re never selling–you’re trying to get it into someone’s hands, whether it’s a service or a product–knowing it’s so darn good they’ll want o order it again or tell a friend about it.”

2. Stick to your vision and be ready for rejection.
“You’re going to run across a lot of rejection. Be prepared for the rejection. No matter how bad it is don’t let it overcome you and influence you—keep on going towards what you want to do–no matter what… You need to be as enthusiastic about door number one-hundred as door number one.”

3. Win over your early customers again and again.
“Once [a customer] say yes, you have to put your personality into it. Go by and thank them, make sure it’s going well…You must pay attention to your first customers—real attention, because it’s easier to keep somebody than to get somebody new. And those people you give the extra attention to will be your best sources for recommendations because they’ll like you and tell someone else.”

4. Hire one employee for multiple roles—it makes the company more flexible, efficient and lean.
“If you are hiring people, give them two or three jobs, and pay them a little more. If things get tough, you’ll never have to lay them off.”

12 Attractive Stocks For 2014 That Performed Superbly In 2013

With a new year upon us, I would pick the same dozen stocks for 2014, as I expect they will again be standout performers for at least the 12 months. Here are the 12 stock picks:
Apple AAPL +1.08% (AAPL), Bank of America BAC +0.08% (BAC), Coca-Cola KO +0.61% (KO), CVS Caremark (CVS), Facebook (FB), Ford (F), Home Depot (HD), McDonald’s (MCD), Pfizer (PFE), TJX Cos. (TJX), United Health Group (UNH), and Walt Disney (DIS).

1. Apple, which had suffered the biggest price decline in 2012, was trading at $450 a share when I picked it in January 2013 – way down from its high of $705. By the close of trading on Dec. 19, 2013, the stock had jumped to $550.77 a share. The bulls are confident that Apple remains a compelling value and they expect it will again climb to $700 in 12 to 18 months. So don’t count out Apple as the innovative and ahead-of-the-pack technology icon that it is, and expect it to launch new wonder products in 2014.

2. Bank of America is the financial come-back kid, trading at $11.15 a share when I included it in my 2013 favored list, up from a knocked down low of $6.72. It has leaped to $15.69 at the close of trading on Dec. 18, 2013. I expect the bank will be one of the strongest financial stocks in 2014. The bulls see the stock as still way undervalued and expect it to climb to $20 next year.

3. Coca-Cola, definitely a U.S. name that has become a well respected global brand, is the world’s largest soft-drinks company and the biggest producer of juice and juice-related products. It was trading at $36 a share in January 2013, with a dividend yield of 2.75%. The stock has since climbed to $40 as of the market’s closing session on Dec. 18, 2013, after hitting a 52-week high of $43.43. Analysts still consider the stock undervalued for the long term because of its high-quality products and profitability over the years. They expect the stock to climb to the $48-$50 level in 2014.

4. CVS is a dependable, major player in healthcare, operating one of the largest U.S. drugstore chains and pharmacy benefit managers. Trading at $51.41 in January 2013, the stock has since jumped to $69.69 at the close of trading on Dec. 18, 2013. If there’s one major healthcare company that will strongly benefit from the Affordable Care Act, it is CVS. “We expect EPS (earnings per share) growth to benefit over the next three years from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, specialty pharmacy growth and customer focus on quality as well as cost, of healthcare, offsetting slower generic drug sales and drug reimbursement pressures,” says Joseph Agnese, analyst at S&P Capital IQ. Rating the stock as a strong buy, he has raised by $3 a share his price target, to $79 a share.

5. Facebook. believe it or not, will be the market’s next wonder stock. Even as it has zoomed higher from a low of $17.55 last year to $55.57 at the close of trading on Dec. 18, 2013, the stock has yet to reflect its potential for enormous growth as the No. 1 social media giant. When I picked out Facebook in January 2013 as a must-buy, the stock was trading at $36 a share, reflecting the company’s steadier footing after its fumbled start when it went public. Facebook has already more than one billion monthly average users, and counting, who have over one trillion connections. Facebook has just began to show its real value and strength.

6. Ford continues to be the auto maker with the greatest potential to benefit from the auto industry’s turnaround and resurging auto and truck sales. Its stock was trading at $13 a share when I recommended it in January 2013. It has since climbed to a 52-week high of $14.30 a share. It closed at $15.65 a share on Dec. 18, 2013. Some analysts see the stock doubling in the next 12 to 18 months as the economy picks up more steam and the company continues to implement its growth program.

7. Home Depot, one of the most attractive bets on the housing recovery, was trading at $67 a share in January 2013, and has since climbed to $80.05. The stock is headed towards $100, according to the bulls, based on the continuing economic recovery which should benefit its 2,200 retail stores that markets a variety of products for the do-it-yourself and home remodeling markets.

8. McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food company with about 3,700 restaurants in 119 countries, is one stock that has yet to fully participate in the market’s full-blown rally. The stock was trading at $93 a share last January and has risen since then to $95.93. Analysts high on McDonald’s believe the stock will far exceed its 52-week high of $103.70 by next year. Fierce global competition has hampered sales growth as well as the slower economic growth in Europe and Asia. But McDonald’s potential for long-term expansion and improved sales growth will be fueled mainly by China and the emerging markets, where the fast-food giant still has far fewer restaurants per capita compared to its presence in the U.S.

9.Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, dominates its peers in the nearly $100 billion global pharmaceutical industry. But it still remains one of the undervalued Big Pharma stocks. Pfizer was trading at $26 a share in January 2013 but has since leaped to $30.77 by Dec. 18, 2013, exceeding most analysts’ target for 2013. Its hefty dividend yield of 3.56% adds to the allure of Pfizer, although like McDonald’s, it has yet to fully participate in the robust bull market this year. One likely catalyst for the stock is a recent restructuring that will transform the company into three distinct business segments, which will likely be a prelude for an eventual split-up of the company.

10. TJX, one of the most successful U.S. companies in retailing, operates a number of off-price apparel and home-fashion specialty stores, including T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods in the U.S., Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Poland. Shares of TJX were trading at $45 last January, and has since jumped to $62.55, exceeding analysts’ price targets of $50. Now the bulls expect the stock to climb to $70-$80 over the short term.

11. United Health Group is another effective play on ObamaCare: It’s a leading healthcare service company that provides benefit services to more than 36 million individuals across America. Trading at $56 a share last January, the stock has been on the rise since then, closing at $72.39 on Dec. 19, 2013, a new 52-week high. The bulls expect the stock to easily climb to $80-$85 next year.

12. Walt Disney, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment conglomerates, was trading at $54 a share in January 2013. It has been running up since then, to $72.93 on Dec. 19, 2013. Disney bulls cite among the positives the company’s expansive strength with its television, theme parks, films, and licensing businesses. ”We see further upside to Disney’s well-honed multi-platform strategy for content exploitation that’s balanced between organic growth and compelling acquisitions, including Marvel’s superhero and LucasFilm’s Star Wars franchises,” says T. Amobi, analyst at S&P Capital IQ, who rates Disney as a “strong buy.”

Despite the stock market’s ascent to new record highs, some seasoned investment managers remain optimistic about the outlook next year. “The world economy is approaching an inflection point leading to gradually accelerating resynchronized global growth throughout 201,” says Marty Sass, chairman and CEO of asset management firm MD Sass. And inflation will stay low, he adds, due to relative wage stagnation, lower energy prices, and persistent deleveraging.
Sass believes the three sectors that will strongly benefit from the favorable outlook for next year are the airlines, healthcare, and TV broadcasting. Among airlines, Sass is high on Delta Airlines (DAL). In healthcare, his picks are McKesson (MCK), Actavis (ACT), and CVS Caremark (CVS). And in TV broadcasting, Sass favors Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) and Nexstar Broadcasting (NXST).

Making Email Marketing Work For You In 2014

Does email marketing still work? Is social media not better? Email is old school! These are questions you have continued to ask and I think going through these basic points will help you build a community of people who have signified they love your business; they want to hear from you and are willing to buy from you.
The New Year, 2014, will be the year of content marketing and emails will become more relevant.
As people and businesses are more empowered to generate content online, there will be a lot of noise such that people who are interested in using the Internet to drive their business objectives will go beyond selling into building an audience.
Email marketing will move conversations about your business away from the noise of the Internet into a more personalised environment of your target audience – their inbox.
An average person who accesses emails on the phone does so about 15 times a day,that is if there are no notifications of a new email, the potential of selling through email is huge.
Let your website be smarter: Websites are no longer a want, but an integral part of running your business. How it looks will have an impact on whether people will do business with you.
Your website should remain your most powerful marketing tool. Everyday people are going online to search for products and services; they will snoop around websites, seeking more information, credibility, reviews and how to reach you.
Your website should effectively sell your product and services even when you are asleep. If your website cannot answer basic questions like; Who are you? Can I see what you have done? Where are you located? Why should I trust you? Is there someone I can talk to? If your website is not answering these questions, you may have been losing business opportunities.
Is it okay to buy emails and phone numbers? Frankly I am not a fan of buying emails and phone numbers but collecting them. However, if you must buy, buy targeted and segmented emails and so you know the people you are trying to reach which will influence the kind of message you are sending to them.
Avoid mass numbers and emails like a plague. Why buy phone numbers and emails of everyone and sending a blast, hoping you will make one per cent of them buy your product/service? Hard sell is not selling as it used to, people are getting smarter.
For a boutique which intends to send a marketing message, which is better? Sending a message to all persons in your vicinity or a list of women that attended a fashion festival?. How about the idea that you asked people to submit their emails and numbers to receive updates?
Focus on value exchange not hard sell: It is possible to keep sending emails to people and people are not buying because email marketing is about building relationships not a transaction counter. Focus on offering value, demonstrate your expertise, create something awesome and offer people to exchange their emails for it. For example, a pharmacy which sells cancer drugs and offer an ebook on managing cancer in exchange for emails, you offer tips on detecting cancer and somewhere along the line offer something to sell. You have built a higly-targeted love relationship that can translate into cash every time you have a special offer.
Own a landing page: This one ingredient is missing on most business websites. A landing or sales page is designed to promote what you offer and is just a page on our website. A landing page is what you want people to see when you advertise, it is where you pitch or sell to your website visitors. Depending on your objective, you can use the page to collect emails and phone numbers of people visiting your website.
Marry email and social media: Social media is not at war with email marketing but they serve to complement each other. Social media is an online community, your email campaign is a customer buillding tool. You can thereore use both channels to build your customer base.
Advertise on Facebook and Twitter, use it to drive traffic to your website, portfolio or landing page to collect emails or promote sales. From there you can build a subscriber list that can generate finds for you and your business. But remember social media will drive traffic, email will close the sales. Is it more effective than hand bills? Hand bills are nice, they give you a physical promotional material you can hand out to people, but that is the end. You will need to get it into the hands of the potential customers and that is where the work is; if they do not throw it away, they are used as bookmarks, jotters, thrown around on the road and very depressing to the business owner.
With email marketing, everything is done online, no pressing need to print real copies. I think depending on your target audience, cost- effectiveness ratio, I still think email marketing eats handbills for breakfast.
You want simple steps to get started? Talk to your designer and get your website together, get a landing page, integrate an autoresponder platform, advertise and promote your offers, communicate with your list and reap the beneits of building a relationship with your audience.
Somehow, today’s companies will not only think like marketers, they will also think like publishers.2014 can be your best year ever, if you put your heart to doing things differently. See you at the other side.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Meet Africa's Newest Billionaire - Abdulsamad Rabiu

Abdulsamad Rabiu
On a chilly autumn night in London, a chauffeured Bentley glides into the courtyard of an affluent home. Seconds later, atop the entrance steps, the doors swing open and out walks one of Africa’s richest men in a T-shirt, jeans and black overcoat. Hardly how one imagines the publicity-shy chairman and CEO of BUA Group, a privately-owned conglomerate with annual revenues estimated at $2 billion.
The look may be unpretentious. His ambitions are anything but, as revealed by his plans to invest more than $500 million in Nigeria’s economy over the next few years. This is Abdulsamad Rabiu, the unassuming Nigerian business tycoon, full of life, with a keen ear and a great business story.
FORBES AFRICA, working with FORBES magazine in the U.S., calculates that Rabiu’s stake in his commodities and cement empire, plus his real estate holdings in South Africa and London, are worth $1.2 billion, up from $670 million a year ago, primarily due to better information on Rabiu’s holdings and the revenue of his companies. He ranks 23rd on Forbes new 2013 list of Africa’s 50 Richest.
Born in Nigeria’s northwest state of Kano, Rabiu, age 53, is the son of well known businessman Isyaku Rabiu, who made a fortune in trade and industry in the decades after Nigeria’s independence from the UK in 1960. By the 1970s, Isyaku emerged as a key sponsor of the National Party of Nigeria, which became the ruling political party after the country returned to civilian rule following the elections of 1979. A military coup in 1983 toppled the government and led to the arrest of then-President Shehu Shagari and many of his close associates, including Isyaku.
Around this time, the younger Rabiu earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He returned home to find his father’s business in a precarious state following his incarceration. Barely 24 years old, with little business experience, Rabiu had to lead his father’s business empire during dark days.

“It was very difficult. When we started, our dad was not there. There was this huge vacuum because of his personality. He grew the business, he did everything, everybody reported to him, and then he wasn’t there anymore. So at a very tender age, I was saddled with so many things. I had to take a lot of important decisions, and don’t forget that this happened suddenly,” says Rabiu.
“At the time, there were three ships being discharged, rice and sugar ships. The government agencies tried to seize the goods, so we were discharging. They were taking. We were taking back. It was a big, big issue,” he continues. “The biggest challenge was that there were restrictions on confirming letters of credit because of the coup. Then there was the issue of the planes. There were two private jets and we didn’t know what to do with them. We couldn’t fly them. They actually grounded the jets. We were able to get the big one out and we decided we didn’t need it. I just got rid of it.”

In 1988, Rabiu set up his own business, BUA International, with the blessing of his father. He imported rice, sugar and edible oils, as well as iron and steel rods. His big break came in 1990 when a friend informed him of an opportunity with a government-owned steel company.
Production at the Delta Steel Company had been beggared by the Nigerian government’s decision to reduce grants. The company was considering approaching private business to finance the procurement of raw materials and Rabiu saw the promise. The deal needed approval from the government. After approaching the minister of steel, who hailed from Rabiu’s home state, he was asked to finance the project.

“We were able to get the business, which was worth almost $20 million at the time, but the idea was that we were importing their raw materials to the tune of 25,000 to 30,000 tons per month, and instead of them paying us back in cash, they gave us the processed products. We didn’t want to collect money because at the time you would sometimes never get it,” Rabiu explained.
The payment method was favorable for Rabiu and his company because the price of the products was government controlled. “I think it was around $6.30 from the company, but around $90 in the open market. So it was quite a good opportunity for us and we made quite a bit of money,” he recalled.
By 1992, a regime change came and the honeymoon was over. With the substantial profits he had made from the steel venture, Rabiu invested in Tropic Commercial Bank, which operated in Nigeria. He became the chairman of the bank after buying a majority shareholding.
n 1995, BUA acquired Nigeria Oil Mills, a peanut processing company in Kano, for more than $20 million. The previous owners had offered BUA the business based on its status as a player in the edible oils business. Two years later, BUA Flour Mills’ first factory was established in Lagos. The Kano flour factory was launched in 1998. Thereafter, BUA set up its sugar refinery in Lagos. The 2,000 million tons per day capacity plant is the second largest sugar refinery in West Africa, after the Dangote Sugar refinery, which produces an estimated 2,400 MT per day.
On a hot morning in Port Harcourt, on the coast of Nigeria, FORBES AFRICA visits one of Rabiu’s biggest projects, the BUA Mixed Development, which includes a sugar refinery with a production capacity of 2,000 tons per day and a 65,000MT storage; a flour mill; a pasta, semolina and rice mill. In the capital, Abuja, Rabiu’s BUA group has a huge housing project of 200 homes to be completed by early next year.

“He is very analytical, balanced and always calm under stressful situations. In spite of being experienced, he is always willing to learn more,” says Engr Olumo, BUA’s group project co-ordinator in the eastern region.
Rabiu has often been compared to Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, due to the fact that most of their businesses operate in the same sectors. He dismisses talk of any competition with Dangote, pointing out that their mutual interests in certain sectors derive from the inclinations of the patriarchs of their families.

“We are both from Kano and our parents were doing more or less the same kind of business, so we grew up in the trading environment. My dad had been doing rice, sugar and edible oil for a very long time. Aliko’s granduncle, Sanusi Dantata, at one time was the biggest trader in terms of imports in Kano state,” he says. “We’ve known each other since childhood. Although people seem to think that we are doing the sort of business that Aliko is doing, I keep telling them that this is a business that my family has been involved in before Aliko even started.”
BUA’s sugar venture has been a cash cow. The company was able to reap huge margins due to the difference in duties for imports of raw sugar, which was 5%, and that of finished, or white, sugar, which is 50%. With the money he made from this business, the amount of which he declines to reveal, Rabiu cast his eye further.

His research revealed that the cement business would offer good returns on investment. The first step was to secure a license to import cement. The market for cement in the country was characterized by high price through scarcity, which was due to the fact that few companies held licences to import. Conditions for obtaining the license included that the interested company must have a terminal where the raw cement would be processed and bagged, as well as have a plant in Nigeria where production is taking place, or be in the process of building one.

BUA set out to meet the requirements, starting with the acquisition of the Cement Company of Northern Nigeria (CCNN) for nearly $100 million from Scancem International in 2007. The next goal was to procure the terminal. Since it would have taken over a year to build one, Rabiu made the smart move to acquire a floating terminal. He approached the then-President of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’adua, to get the approval. The terminal secured the import license.
Production on this platform was carried out until last year, when the government restricted imports following the launch of Dangote’s $1 billion cement plant in Ibese, Nigeria. Although Rabiu disagrees with the government’s decision, he says he was prepared for it.
“We knew it was coming, so we decided to put up our own plant in Edo cement. Part of what we acquired from Scancem was a small grinding plant in Edo state, which is called Edo cement, but then with a large limestone deposit. The plant is being built as we speak and will be delivered next year. It is a 3-million ton plant and costs a little over $500 million. At the same time, we are also looking at Ilaro, west Nigeria.”

Rabiu says he planned to head to China for a meeting with CDMI, a Chinese cement plant manufacturer, to put up another plant in Ilaro. “We want to capture part of the south western market, because that is the biggest market in Nigeria today,” he explains, adding that Nigerian demand is greater than estimated. When additional supply is added and the price is adjusted further, he says, latent demand will be unlocked.

He ticks off the facts: Nigeria has around 170 million people. The country’s cement production capacity is 20-22 million tons. That’s 117 kilograms per head, which is low, he says. He is looking at a minimum of 250 kilograms per head in the next three to four years.
Then there are the prices being charged. “The price of cement in Nigeria is probably the highest anywhere in the world, apart from possibly Zambia, at $8.80 per bag, which is $173 per ton. It’s around $40 anywhere else in the world. Why should it be $170? It doesn’t make sense at all,” laments Rabiu.

“Everybody says we have issues with infrastructure and power; it’s nonsense. Power is cheap in Nigeria. Gas is cheap. We had to put up a power plant at Edo cement, which is about $60 to $70 million. Capital expenditure is there, and it’s quite a bit of money. But, it costs you no more than $20 million a year for gas and it is your biggest cost in a cement plant,” he says.
Rabiu wants to see the price of products decrease so that demand will increase. While cement has been a key focus of the group’s activities in recent years, Rabiu also has his eyes on the steel industry. Nigeria is the largest importer of steel and steel products in sub-Saharan Africa. The country does not have an integrated steel plant.

He is also making plans to invest more in expanding the sugar business to exploit opportunities that have been created by the federal government’s implementation of a national sugar master plan. “We want to ensure that we have at least 30,000 hectares cultivated for sugar plantation in the next three years. We have the Lafiaji sugar plantation, which we bought from the government around four years ago, but it is only around 15,000 hectares, so we are trying to develop another 30,000 hectares,” he says. His bet: that the demand for sugar will go up if the price comes down. And he thinks he can bring it down.

For a man who can easily afford the best in life—he has a Bentley and Aston Martin parked in his courtyard—Rabiu’s simplicity is remarkable. He speaks excitedly about going to see American jazz singer Stacey Kent play whenever she performs in London. The man is also a movie buff and is always on the lookout for blockbuster releases. With a whiff of triumph, he declares that he just saw the new biographical drama Diana, which captures the last two years of the life of the late Princess of Wales.

Besides his assets in the BUA Group, Rabiu owns property in Britain worth $62 million, and in South Africa, worth $19 million. Among his properties is a house in Gloucester Square in London worth nearly $16 million and a penthouse at The One & Only Hotel, in Cape Town, worth $12.6 million. Rabiu’s taste for good living is plain to see; he has bought homes from Eaton Square to Avenue Road, also known as Millionaires’ Row.

Rabiu jets around the world on an 8-seater Gulfstream G550 worth $44.9 million, powered by a Rolls-Royce BR710 turbofan engine, as well as an $18-million Legacy 600 aircraft.
Rabiu exudes an aura of a fulfilment. He gives the impression of one who values his achievements and success, but does not wear it on his sleeve. From being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Rabiu—Africa’s newest billionaire—has carved out his own place in the continent’s business history.

Samsung Unveils 110-inch Ultra-HD TV

A 110in TV that has four times the resolution of standard high-definition TVs is going on sale for about 150,000 US dollars (£91,000) in South Korea, Samsung has said.
The launch of the giant television set reflects global TV makers' move toward ultra HD (U-HD) TVs, as manufacturing bigger TVs using OLED proves too costly.

Last year, Samsung and rival LG Electronics, the world's top two TV makers, touted OLED as the future of TV. OLED screens are ultrathin and can display images with enhanced clarity and deeper color saturation.

But Samsung and LG failed to make OLED TVs a mainstream that would replace the LCD television sets and still struggling to mass produce larger and affordable TVs with OLED. Meanwhile, Japanese media reported last week that Sony and Panasonic have decided to end their OLED partnership.
Demand for U-HD TVs is expected to rise despite dearth of content while its price will likely come down faster than that of the OLED TVs. Much of the growth is forecast to come from China, a major market for the South Korean TV makers. Chinese TV makers have been making a push into the U-HD TV market as well.

According to NPD DisplaySearch, global sales of ultra-HD TV sets will surge from 1.3 million this year to 23 million in 2017. More than half of the shipments will be taken by Chinese companies between 2013 and 2017, according to NPD.

While Chinese TV makers have been seeking to boost sales of U-HD TVs with a lower price and a smaller size, Samsung's strategy is to go bigger with a higher price tag. Samsung's 110in U-HD TV measures 2.6m by 1.8m. It will be available in China, the Middle East and Europe.
Samsung said it received 10 orders for the latest premium TVs from the Middle East. Previously, the largest U-HD TV made by Samsung was 85in measured diagonally.
The U-HD TVs are also known as "4K" because they contain four times more pixels than an HD TV.

Amazing Science and Technology Innovations Coming Up in 2014

From the world's largest underground hotel to Star Wars-style holographic communication, the coming year is set to unveil an array of incredible advances in science and technology
Leia display system
The Leia display system is set to make holographic video calls a reality in 2014
Beam yourself across the world
The growth in video communication has been exponential. Skype now boasts 300 million users, and a 2012 Ipsos/Reuters poll revealed one in five people worldwide now frequently “telecommuted” to work. But Star Trek fans will be happy to hear that incoming technology will add a further dimension to international conference calls. Known as holographic telepresence, it involves transmitting a three-dimensional moving image of you at each destination – allowing you to converse as if you were in the room. One system from Musion, based in Britain, uses Pepper’s Ghost, an effect popular with illusionists, to beam moving images onto sloped glass. Musion has already digitally resurrected rapper Tupac Shakur at a music festival. But full 3D holographic communication is not far behind – in the shape of the Polish company Leia. Named after the Star Wars princess, its Leia Display XL uses laser projectors to beam images onto a cloud of water vapour. The result is a walk-in holographic room, in which 3D objects can be viewed and manipulated from every angle. An IBM survey of 3,000 researchers recently named holographic video calls as one technology they expected to see in place in the next year or so.

Formula E racing
If you think the atmosphere at a Formula 1 grand prix is electric, you’re going to love the new motor sport starting next year. Formula E will see drivers racing around city-centre circuits - including London - in battery-powered electric cars. The new championship, which is backed by the FIA, motor racing’s governing body, promises cars as sexy as those driven by Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel et al, but with lithium-ion batteries and electric motors instead of fuel tanks and pistons. And, while their top speed is expected to be 155mph, slower than Formula 1, the event will compensate with exciting street circuits and brightly-lit night events. The pit stops will be different too: with the batteries running out of juice after 20 minutes, drivers won’t just change their tires, they’ll jump into new cars. The season is scheduled to start on September 13 in Beijing, with further races in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and Los Angeles amongst others, before the final event in the centre of London on June 27 2015.

Faster online deliveries
In this age of instant gratification, waiting days for internet purchases to arrive suddenly seems very 2013. So, from next year, behemoths like Amazon and eBay will be stepping up their efforts to deliver goods on the same day they’re bought, even if that day’s a Sunday. Eventually, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos envisions unmanned drones bringing products to our doors within half-an-hour. In the meantime, he’s increasing his number of warehouses and overhauling his partnerships with couriers to get us what we want as quickly as possible. It’s another nail in the coffin of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

Virgin Galactic launches. Yes, really

Despite delays in testing – the first flights were promised by 2011 – Sir Richard Branson’s dream of making money in space is nearing reality. A test flight was completed in April, and it was announced in November that television network NBC has agreed to televise the first ever public flight from New Mexico “sometime in 2014”.

The Swiss Army knife of credit cards
According to a recent survey, one in five consumers in America no longer carry any cash on them. From next year, they won’t need their ever-growing collection of plastic payment cards either. San Francisco company Coin has invented a device the same size as a credit card that holds the information of up to eight debit, credit, loyalty or gift cards. Customers press a button to choose which one they want to use and then simply swipe their Coin in the usual way. And if you lose your Coin? The card is synched to your smartphone and when the two are separated your phone receives a notification. In other words: you can’t leave home (or a shop, or a restaurant) without it.

Shanghai’s underground hotel

In an abandoned quarry at the base of China’s Tianmenshan Mountain, 30 miles outside Shanghai, an extraordinary hotel is taking shape. At a cost of £345 million, the InterContinental Hotels Group is building a five-star resort that will boast two floors above the top of the 330ft rock face and another 17 storeys below ground level, two of which will be underwater. If construction goes to plan, the first guests at “the world’s lowest hotel” will check-in by the end of 2014.

As it stands, if you felt the urge to make the 54-million-mile trip to Mars, it would take you nine months. That’s around 39 weeks dealing with cosmic radiation, asteroids and wastage to your bones and muscles.
But VASIMR could change all that. Set to be tested aboard the International Space Station in late 2014 to early 2015, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket is an experimental engine that, if it works, could get us there in three months.
To simplify enormously: existing chemical rockets only produce short bursts of speed as they burn a vast amount of fuel in one go, but at a relatively low velocity. By contrast, VASIMR takes a tiny bit of propellant (plasma), heats it to very high temperatures (two million degrees centrigrade) using radio waves, then uses magnetic fields to push it out at extremely high velocities. The result is a steady, continuous acceleration to higher speeds, using far less fuel.
In theory. One current problem is the power required to heat the plasma. For short flights near Earth, solar panels suffice. But a mission to Mars would require a far bigger continuous power supply – and that means a wider initiative to build a nuclear reactor small and safe enough for the trip.
But manufacturers Ad Astra – lead by former NASA astronaut Dr Franklin Chang Díaz – say VASIMR is a game-changer. Better still, for the sci-fi fans among us, VASIMR even burns with the same bluish tint and luminescence of fictional spaceships engines. Which is what scientists like to call “the clincher”.

More transparent shopping
For some people, it’s about whether the factory workers are being treated ethically. For others, it’s about the impact upon the environment. For a great deal more of us, it’s about checking whether you’re about to feed your child a Turkey Twizzler made out of freshly-slaughtered Romanian horse. Either way: in the age of globalisation, knowing where your product has been made or grown, and its route to market, has taken on a new importance.
Embracing this shift in consumer priorities is Provenance ( - a new type of search engine attempting to chronicle just that. From chocolate bars to jackets to shoes to chef’s knives, Provenance tells you where a product is made, who the manufacturer is and what the product is made from.

But while Provenance includes vivid personal stories from farmers, workers, craftspeople and so on, there’s no attempt to catch out corporations with their hands in the sweatshop, Roger Cook style. Instead, the site works in collaboration with everyone from small-batch producers to large multinationals in the hope that, by simply taking the mystery out of supply chains and worldwide commerce, the site will help shoppers make better choices. As well as gently forcing companies to improve their environmental and social impact.

Fecal bacteriotherapy
Not every emerging scientific advance is complex, or sophisticated. Or, for that matter, something you'd discuss at the dinner table. Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) – the process of transferring fecal bacteria from a healthy individual into a sick recipient - has been around since 1957. But it’s only in the last decade that FMT has been seen as simple, safe, low cost, low risk, accessible, and, apparently, a permanent treatment alternative to increasingly high-strength antibiotics.
To explain: when a patient is given broad-spectrum antibiotics, the effect is to carpet-bomb all the healthy bacteria that live in our guts, leaving the patient open to infection by other bacteria - such as the potentially fatal Clostridium difficile. Since 2000, hypervirulent strains of C. difficile have developed, and now kill over 2,000 people a year in the UK alone. But FMT is the shock troops: a quick, easy way of restoring healthy bacteria into your guts to fight the infection. And fight they do: an incredible 89% of patients are instantly, and permanently, cured.
And new research suggests FMT might also offer cures for not just IBS, colitis, constipation and colonic ulcers – but also a growing number of neurological and auto-immune conditions such as Parkinson's. In October it was announced FMT was now available in pill form, making it slightly more appealing.



Twitter Could Become Profitable In 2015

Twitter filed its S-1 SEC form to go public recently. The company has over 218 million monthly active users worldwide (49 million in the U.S.) who send out over 500 million Tweets per day and generated $139 million in revenue in the June quarter. I have built a model with Twitter’s financial numbers and have projected revenue and earnings through 2015 which has the company becoming profitable in early 2015 using what I would consider to be optimistic assumptions.
Summary of Twitter’s financials and outlook
  • Twitter is a very young company with unknown revenue potential
    • Advertising accounts for 87% of revenue with Data Licensing accounting for 13%
  • Advertising revenue of $121 million in the June quarter grew 113% year over year
  • Timeline view growth is slowing with U.S. views only growing 3% quarter over quarter in June
  • Total 2015 revenue projected to be $1.8 billion from $317 million in 2012
  • Increasing monetization per user is critical, especially international users
  • Currently losing money with potential to be profitable in 2015
  • Positive operating cash flow in the first half of 2013
  • Stock valued at $20.62 for a market cap of $12.7 billion in its last private valuation
  • If stock is priced at $25 combined with 40 million IPO shares the market cap will be $16.4 billion
The company has only been in existence for a few years
One of the major challenges for the company and shareholders is the immaturity of the company. I don’t mean management is immature but that the business is in its infancy. The first tweet was sent out on March 21, 2006, and it was just two years ago that the company broke the $100 million yearly revenue run-rate with $26 million in the September 2011 quarter.
I would characterize the company as being in the toddler stage. It has learned to walk but will bump into various objects over the next few years. There will be major successes and failures. While it could work out very well in the long-run for shareholders I expect there to be major downdrafts in the shares at times, especially since the timing between quarterly reporting and being able to recover from mistakes or a slower revenue ramp than expected could lead to a miss in short-term numbers.
The company will be embarking on many initiatives to increase users, usage and monetization. From its S-1 filing it wrote “We plan to continue to build and acquire new technologies to enable our platform partners to distribute content of all forms.”
Twitter is a gateway to content
In some ways Twitter is similar to Google in that people use Google search to find information and then go to that site. With Twitter it can be used to receive content you are interested in which I believe is more valuable to an advertiser since the user is already interested in what they are receiving. As Twitter experiments with leveraging its platform it could hit on various veins of gold.
Twenty three of the top twenty five people with the most followers are in the entertainment industry with the other two being soccer players (or football depending on where you live). Notice that they also send out many more tweets that Facebook posts.

Source: IZEA
Total company revenue
Twitter generated $121 million in advertising revenue in the June quarter, an increase of 104% year over year and 87% of its total revenue. Data licensing generated $18.3 million for 54% growth and 13% of total revenue.
Advertising only generated $7 million in revenue for all of 2010 and is on track to exceed $500 million this year. While this is amazing growth and coming in at 105% if the company hits my $551 million projection for all of 2013 its growth rate has been ratcheting down from 317% in the June 2012 quarter to 113% in the June 2013 quarter. In my model I have advertising revenue growth continuing to decline in each quarter as the company continues to grow and it becomes harder to maintain such a high level of growth. In the fourth quarter of 2015 I’m projecting advertising revenue of $490 million with a still very healthy 53% year over year growth.
Twitter is at a very early stage of figuring out how to balance generating revenue while not impeding the user experience. Twitter could get to $1 billion in advertising revenue in 2014 for 83% growth and $1.6 billion in 2015 or 58% growth.
The company also sells its data to firms so that they can analyze historical and real-time pubic Tweets and their content. The top five data licensees accounted for 75% of Data Licensing revenue or about 10% of total revenue for the first half of the year.
Data Licensing was 35% of revenue in the March 2011 quarter at $6.3 million but has ratcheted down in importance until it is now only 13% of revenue in the June 2013 quarter at $18.3 million. As Twitter’s user base grows more firms may be interested and the company may be able to charge more. I have this segment’s revenue projected to be $190 million in 2015 or 11% of revenue with 51% year over year growth for the year.
Advertising revenue by geography
Total advertising revenue increased by 113% in the June quarter but there are major differences between U.S. and International metrics. Based upon the number of Timeline views times the ad revenue per 1,000 Timeline views you can calculate the advertising revenue for each region.
U.S. advertising
U.S. advertising revenue was $165 million in the first half of 2013, an increase of 89% year over year. However its growth did trend down from 97% in the first quarter to 83% in the second quarter.
Twitter’s U.S. ad revenue per 1,000 timeline views has increased from $1.70 in the March 2012 quarter to $2.17 in the June 2013 quarter or 28% in five quarters. This has led to the revenue per monthly active user to increase from $1.15 to $1.79 over the same timeframe, an increase of 56%.
Note that the Timeline views of 40.6 billion in the June quarter only increased 3% from the March quarter. Twitter will need to increase this metric, which could be challenging since this means its 49.2 million active users already accessed Timelines 9 times per day during the quarter.

UK could be Europe's 'largest' economy by 2030

The UK will be in a position to overtake Germany as Europe's largest economy, according to the think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR).

The CEBR predicts that Germany will lose its current top spot in Europe by 2030.

It cites the UK's population growth as an aid to economic acceleration.

The report echoes the recent confidence of other business groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

Silicon Roundabout - Old Street in London
Earlier this month, the BCC said that the UK economy would surpass its pre-recession peak in 2014.

In its annual World Economic League Table, where it ranks the ups and downs of global economies, and forecasts their future position, the CEBR said in addition that China will overtake the US in 2028, which is later than some analysts have suggested.

The UK will overall perform second best of all advanced economies, the CEBR said.

Yet, this performance will still lag behind growth in emerging countries such India and Brazil.

The CEBR in its report added that in addition to the UK's population growth boosting economic expansion, that "lesser dependence on other European economies" would also aid progress, as well as "relatively low taxes by European standards."

However, as far as Germany, the group said that should the euro "break up", that "Germany's outlook would be much better."

As for France, the CEBR said it will be one of the "worst performing" of the Western economies, and will be overtaken by the UK by 2018. This is because of slow growth due to "high taxation" in addition to the general issues of eurozone economies.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...
Rise and shine! Morning time just became your new best friend. Love it or hate it, utilizing the morning hours before work may be the key to a successful and healthy lifestyle. That’s right, early rising is a common trait found in many CEOs, government officials, and other influential people. Margaret Thatcher was up every day at 5 a.m.; Frank Lloyd Wright at 4 am and Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney wakes at 4:30am just to name a few. I know what you’re thinking – you do your best work at night. Not so fast. According to Inc. Magazine, morning people have been found to be more proactive and more productive. In addition, the health benefits for those with a life before work go on and on. Let’s explore 5 of the things successful people do before 8 am.

2. Map Out Your Day. Maximize your potential by mapping out your schedule for the day, as well as your goals and to dos. The morning is a good time for this as it is often one of the only quiet times a person gets throughout the day. The early hours foster easier reflection that helps when prioritizing your activities. They also allow for uninterrupted problem solving when trying to fit everything into your timetable. While scheduling, don’t forget about your mental health. Plan a 10 minute break after that stressful meeting for a quick walk around the block or a moment of meditation at your desk. Trying to eat healthy? Schedule a small window in the evening to pack a few nutritious snacks to bring to work the next day.

3. Eat a Healthy Breakfast. We all know that rush out the door with a cup of coffee and an empty stomach feeling. You sit down at your desk, and you’re already wondering how early that taco truck sets up camp outside your office. No good. Take that extra time in the morning to fuel your body for the tasks ahead of it. It will help keep your mind on what’s at hand and not your growling stomach. Not only is breakfast good for your physical health, it is also a good time to connect socially. Even five minutes of talking with your kids or spouse while eating a quick bowl of oatmeal can boost your spirits before heading out the door.

4. Visualization. These days we talk about our physical health ad nauseam, but sometimes our mental health gets overlooked. The morning is the perfect time to spend some quiet time inside your mind meditating or visualizing. Take a moment to visualize your day ahead of you, focusing on the successes you will have. Even just a minute of visualization and positive thinking can help improve your mood and outlook on your work load for the day.

5. Make Your Day Top Heavy. We all have that one item on our to do list that we dread. It looms over you all day (or week) until you finally suck it up and do it after much procrastination. Here’s an easy tip to save yourself the stress – do that least desirable task on your list first. Instead of anticipating the unpleasantness of it from first coffee through your lunch break, get it out of the way. The morning is the time when you are (generally) more well rested and your energy level is up. Therefore, you are more well equipped to handle more difficult projects. And look at it this way, your day will get progressively easier, not the other way around. By the time your work day is ending, you’re winding down with easier to dos and heading into your free time more relaxed. Success!

4 Secrets of Success

Of all the goals people set in life, two stand out: success in our personal and professional lives. It turns out, these two are interdependent.
Personal success supports and reinforces professional success. Professional success reinforces personal success. And together, they reinforce life’s most important pursuit — happiness.
That’s why both goals are on top of everyone’s agenda, especially the 20-something generation, as they begin the life journey from their parents’ nest.
How are these goals achieved? What does it take?
If you ask Rhonday Byrne, she’d tell you it’s The Law of Attraction.
Byrne argues in The Secret for the power of positive thoughts, which she says will act as a powerful magnet to bring things your way, and help you to identify and externalize your internal strengths and capabilities.

Put good things in your mind, says Byrne, and they’ll happen.
While positive thought may be a necessary condition for bringing out strengths and capabilities, it isn’t sufficient, counters Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica in The Element. That’s the second secret to success. Maybe you are exceptional in drawing, dancing, cooking, or some other field. That’s where you ought to position yourself. You must find your own “element,” your passion– the right field of study, the right occupation, sport or activity that matches your inner strengths and capabilities — which you might or might not even know you possess.

Besides, luck, being in the right place at the right time often makes a big difference – which is why you should be willing to try and try again, learning how to endure failure. That’s the third secret of success, according to Scott Adams, author of How to Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big. “There is plenty of luck to go around; you just need to keep your hand raised until it’s your turn,” argues Adams. “If you drill down into any success story, you always discover that luck was a huge part of it. You cannot control luck, but you can move from a game with bad odds to one with better odds. You can make it easier for luck to find you. The most useful thing you can do is stay in the game. If your current get-rich project fails, take what you learned and try something else. Keep repeating until something lucky happens.”

The problem is, however, we cannot keep trying forever. Our life journey may finish before we raise our hand a sufficient number of times to take advantage of what statisticians call the “law of large numbers” – which provides equal chances for each possible outcome to occur.
Besides, getting your turn to succeed won’t work unless you can execute, and steer away from harmful behavior that destroys whatever progress you have made towards success. That’s where the fourth secret comes in: get your priorities right; use your resources wisely; stay focused; develop the right relations; don’t be greedy; and don’t be complacent.

6 Secrets for Success

While I’m no scientist, I was impressed by Price’s methodology around building a startup, and thought his wisdom would be beneficial for other entrepreneurs. The following are Price’s tips for creating a lasting and powerful business idea:
Choose an idea you think is important
A sense of importance around what you are doing is critical, because that alone will nourish you through the inevitable ups and downs involved in running a business. “Find a company you can pour ten years of your life into, and one you can be proud of,” urges Price. There is no better form of motivation than having a sense that you are investing your blood, sweat, and toil into something important, and that — even if you fail – at least you failed doing something that was important.
As soon as you can, write down a mission statement — ideally as a blog post
Articulate your mission, what you aim to do, and why its important, says Price. It seems simple, but a well-articulated blog post that is publicly visible is better than any business plan you could ever write. Not only is such an exercise great for internal morale, it will also help outsiders to see your vision, and can become a rallying point for others to get involved — whether that’s investors, engineers, or future employees. It wasn’t until a few years after Price founded that he wrote his first blog post, which he submitted and was able to have published on the popular technology news website TechCrunch. In retrospect, he wished he had done it sooner: “Even if you haven’t built your idea yet, simply writing it down will have a transformative effect on how you think about what you’re doing.”
Focus on growth
Many companies fail because they aren’t disciplined enough about growth. The philosophy of “if we build it, they will come,” generally speaking, is not true. Companies that look like they grew like wildfire, were in fact founded by entrepreneurs who thought very seriously about growth. You need to think about where growth is going to come from. The best way to do this is to look to the industry or companies most similar to yours, and find out what you can about their strategy for growth. When Price built, he studied Linkedin, Bebo, High5, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest; he knew the growth profile and retention profile of every single company in the social space. If you are going into e-commerce, study in a very serious way how Amazon grew, how Zappos grew, and how grew. Know the industry you are going into, and learn what you can from those who went before you.
Learn from others, but retain a strong independent vision
Finding out what has worked and what hasn’t for others is valuable, but don’t let your knowledge of what others have done crowd out your own independent thought. Too much dovetailing or being in the Silicon Valley echochamber can encourage a certain degree of incremental thought, notes Price. Balance needs to be found between the advice given from others and one’s own strong powerful vision. Elon Musk is famous for saying “Don’t reason by analogy,” which means don’t make every decision about what will work and what won’t work because of what someone else’s approach was. Be a student of the space you are getting into, but independent of it at the same time.
A common mistake for first-time entrepreneurs is that they are often not disciplined enough about making a value proposition that is simple. They try to build too many features early on, none of which work very well. Engineering is expensive and one can only bite off small chunks at any one time to do them well. It’s better to something that solves a specific painpoint, and then build from there toward your larger vision for the company, than to try to take on everything at once. That said, make sure what your building has the potential to be a real company. Sometimes entrepreneurs go in the opposite direction, and build features instead of companies — ideas that ultimately can’t be segwayed into a larger vision down the road.
Tenacity and Determination
You’ve got to be a friend of the struggle. When Price first told people his idea to accelerate the world’s research by bringing it online, people thought he was crazy; they were adamant that science wouldn’t move out of the domain of journals and wouldn’t become open. Just a few years later the tide of opinion is changing, science is moving online, and notable investors like Vinod Khosla and Bill Gates are putting money into the space. An essential part of befriending the struggle is believing in the importance of what you are doing, and then not giving up when people tell you your goals are impossible. The message of tenacity and determination applies to every area of your business, from raising money to product development to hiring. Knock on every door, if something fails, try something else, and turn over every stone in every area of the business.

UK banks to accept photos of cheques captured via smartphones

Best new apps for tablets and smartphones: December week 1(©Corbis)
TheUK has passed a new law that obliges British banks to accept and process photos of cheques captured via smartphones, the Treasury announced.

The law, called Check 21, comes four years late to the game. Banks like JP Morgan Chase in the US have accepted and processed photos of cheques since 2010. British banks, on the other hand, had the legal right to see physical cheques before accepting and processing them.

The UK government is now finally embracing electronic cheques. In addition, Check 21 should help banks reduce processing time from six days to two. Barclays has announced a pilot programme for April 2014.

Barclays' programme will accept and processes photos of cheques captured via smartphones. The bank says we can expect to see the service eventually roll out to all customers sometime in late 2014.

The One New Year's Resolution The Most Successful People Always Keep

Never Complain
Every successful person is unique. (How could it be otherwise?) But invariably one of the things they have in common is this: They don’t whine. I noticed early on that the most successful people rarely (or never) talked about the difficulties that they had to overcome.

For the longest time, I thought it was modesty, but eventually I realized they didn’t talk about it because they didn’t think there was anything to talk about.
They had a problem or series of them. They took their problems as a given and worked hard to play the best hand they could with the cards they were dealt.
If the problem was caused by something they had done, they took great pains not to do it again. But if it was just a matter of fate, they accepted it and starting working on a way to overcome it.

Digging Deeper
There is a school of thought that says entrepreneurs–and other successful people–achieve their success because of their problems. They find a way to overcome the obstacles in such a way that leads to new opportunities, opportunities they would not have had except for the obstacles.
I think that is too pat.
Sure, it happens sometimes but I think to say the obstacle caused the success is far from always the case. I am not willing to go that far (although I know there are series of motivational speakers who tell me I am wrong.)
No matter what your position on this, we can all agree that successful people don’t let the obstacle be an obstacle for long. They face it head on and work to overcome it.

The Takeaway
Here’s where I come out on this.
A friend told me the following is Buddhist wisdom. I don’t know if he is right, but I know the thought is: “In life, pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional.”
Or, on a lighter note, as the football coach Lou Holtz once said: “Never tell people your problems. Ninty per cent of them don’t care, and the other ten per cent are glad you have them.”
Either way, don’t whine.
Just get the job done.

How To Protect Your Job Against Young Professionals

So how do you defend your job against the young professionals fresh out of college who can do what you do for much less? And how do you prove to your employers that you’re worth keeping? There are several things you can do, Teach says.

Be great at what you do.
Every supervisor wants results and if you give them results and make their job easier, it will be difficult for them to get rid of you, he says.
“Do your job 110%,” Benton adds. “The 100% is in the specialty required. The 10% is in your positive attitude at work, your treatment with respect towards others, your willingness to help others, your interest in learning other jobs so you better understand your piece of the puzzle and how it fits in, and your example to others of honesty, hard work, and good intent.”

Have a positive attitude.
If everyone around you enjoys working with you, this makes a big difference, Teach says. “If someone else can do your job for less money but you have the people skills advantage, it’s less likely your job will be in jeopardy.”

Become the go-to person for something.
Perhaps you help your co-workers fix their computer problems, even though it’s not your job. You now have added value in your department, he says.
“Doing good work is necessary but not always sufficient,” Benton says. “You also have to make people around you comfortable, help them grow, and set a good example. You can’t afford to become arrogant or lackadaisical. You must continue to add value.” One very good way to do this is to mentor the young up-and-comers, she says.

Remind your supervisor that you really enjoy your job and aren’t after his or hers.
Your supervisor could hire a young upstart who might eventually want the supervisor’s job. With you, that won’t be an issue, Teach explains.

Be a team player.
Remind your boss that even though you have no desire to move up the corporate ladder, you are a team player and will do whatever it takes to make the team look good and succeed. “Very aggressive and ambitious employees will sometimes selfishly focus on their own career paths and what makes them look good, instead of on the team as a whole, and this is something that won’t go over too well with many bosses,” Teach adds.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Four Essentials Of Strength-Based Leadership

It is in human nature to look for negative in everything first. Most of the stories on the news are negative (after all, they draw the most attention). There are more negative words in our vocabulary than positive and happy words. When something doesn’t go the way we think it should, our mind immediately jumps to negative thoughts and gloomy assumptions.

It is also in human nature to fix things. We love finding problems so that we could solve them and gaps so that we could fill them. Not only we use this approach with the projects we work on, but we also use this approach in evaluating our employees. After all, it feels natural, it feels right.
And that’s where we go wrong! This approach is the reason we cannot build strong and diverse teams. This approach is the reason we are not utilizing human potential to its fullest. This approach is the reason we have more mediocre managers than we have true leaders. And at the end of the day, all that impacts our culture and ultimately our bottom line.

The simple truth is that if we stop trying to “fix” our employees and rather focus on their strengths and their passions, we can create a fervent army of brand evangelists who, when empowered, could take our brand and our products to a whole new level.

Over the past several years a number of companies have embraced StrengthsFinder as an approach to evaluating individual employees and team alike. StrengthsFinder is a test and a guide that helps identify team’s top strengths to allow management to tap into the natural talents of its employees. However, the sad part is that in most companies this is usually a one-time exercise rather than a mentality. We come to the end of every year and we still pay more attention to areas of improvement than we should to strengths of our staff.
The companies that embrace the mentality of aligning people’s strengths and passions with the right projects and teams get amazing results in both employee brand evangelism and productivity.
Facebook FB -4% is one of those companies. Facebook’s culture and approach to hiring people is non-traditional. Sometimes they find the best talent in the industry and bring people on board without any particular role in mind allowing them to match up their skills with their projects of interest. Every 18 months or so, Facebook engineers are required to rotate and work on something different for a while. This requirement constantly brings new perspectives and experience to the teams and ignites new ideas. But the key is that, in doing so, they don’t force unnatural talent/project pairing.
Facebook also holds hackathons, monthly all-nighters where any idea or project can be brought forth for others to work on. If an employee is passionate about a feature that isn’t currently on the roadmap, (s)he can bring it to light and partner with others to get it to the state of usable code. It is considered an intellectual and creative exercise. The company provides food and beer; engineers, their ingenuity. The only rule is that during hackathons, one can work only on someone else’s project. Some of the most popular site features, like chat, video messaging, and Timeline, came out of these all-nighters.
The company encourages its workers to form teams around projects they’re passionate about and have the strongest skillset, because Facebook’s leaders clearly understand that great work comes out of doing what you love and applying your strengths in creative ways. This also creates a rather flat environment where anyone can be a hero: whether you are a CEO or an intern, if you had the best idea or code, you are celebrated. “Pixels talk,” said Joey Flynn, one of the designers of Timeline. “You can do anything here if you can prove it.”

3M MMM +0.77% is another company that allows its employees to apply their strengths towards the projects and ideas they are passionate about. We have all heard about companies like Google GOOG +0.05% allowing employees the time and encouragement to create, but it is a little known fact that 3M set the precedent for this practice years before with its “15 percent time,” a program that allows anyone who works at 3M to use a portion of weekly work time to create and develop his or her own ideas. As a matter of fact, the program has produced many of 3M’s best-selling products, including the Post-it note. In 1974, Art Fry, a scientist at 3M, came up with that simple but famous invention.
Strength-based leadership is often overlooked. Mostly because “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. We understood the value of improvement and fierce competition, so it stood reason that we have always tried to change who we are to become, well, “better”. However, if we want to breed more leaders, not more mediocre managers, we need to revisit how we hire people, build and manage teams, and, at times, fire as well.

Here is the ABCD of strength-based leadership:
  • Align, don’t fix. Instead of forcing team-members to work on projects that need to be done, ask “Who wants to take on this one?” Look at the skillsets of your employees, talk to them, and identify the best fit. You might find that someone who isn’t passionate about analytics would trade projects with someone who is and vice versa. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking. And sometimes you need to reshuffle your team and fill in the gaps. But ultimately, when all the pieces of the puzzle fit well and all the skillsets are utilized in the way they should be, you end up becoming a better leader and fostering an innovative environment.
  • Build diverse teams. Diversity of perspective, cultures, passions, ages, genders will help you build some of the most creative and innovative teams around. Building a successful team is like building a puzzle. When all of the pieces fall into place, you end up with a complete picture. Don’t just hire “yes” people, hire those who will be able to bring various strengths to the team, thus creating grounds-breaking thinking. Their success will take your success to new heights.
  • Create the culture of transparency. When your team-members trust you, they are open about their passions, motivations, and dreams. And if you listen (not hear, really listen) hey will give you their 110% and more.
  • Don’t manage, empower. Building a diverse and complete team is half the battle. The other half is to actually empower them to create art. And that requires risk-taking and unconventional thinking. As a leader you need to allow your teams to be naïve, curious, and bold. Even if sometimes it leads to a healthy conflict. A diverse team usually means strong perspectives and opinions. But that’s okay, because as a leader you can guide your team and their passions in the right direction without dampening their ingenuity and enthusiasm.
Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.