Copyright and The Law of Fair Use

Fair use of copyright, from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s ruling in Authors Guild vs Google Books:

The ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding, which copyright seeks to achieve by giving potential creators exclusive control over copying of their works, thus giving them a financial incentive to create informative, intellectually enriching works for public consumption. This objective is clearly reflected in the Constitution’s empowerment of Congress “To promote the Progress of Science… by securing for limited Times to Authors… the exclusive Right to their respective Writings.” Thus, while authors are undoubtedly important intended beneficiaries of copyright, the ultimate, primary intended beneficiary is the public, whose access to knowledge copyright seeks to advance by providing rewards for authorship.”

This article is also available in other languages:
Tags: copyright, google

Link: Infrastructure

Great piece by Seth Godin about Infrastructure.

The ignored secret behind successful organizations (and nations) is infrastructure. Not the content of what’s happening, but the things that allow that content to turn into something productive.

(…) Here’s something that’s unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we’d like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money on the four things [Transportation, Expectation, Education, Civility], we’re surprised at how much of a difference it makes.

Click the link and read it now. Worth your time.

Working from home effectively

Working for home

Working from home and working remotely have been getting more attention from companies in the past years, as can be seen from articles published in business magazines like Harvard Business Review and Forbes1. Among others benefits of having remote workers, executives mention the posibility to seek for talent globally, regardless of location; improvement in retention rates; increase in productivity; and reduced office space costs2.

Another interesting question is why do employees want to work from home. According to Microsoft’s Work Without Walls Survey (2011), the main reasons of information workers across several industries for working from home are: less commuting; better balancing work/home priorities; the need to finish work that can’t get done at the office; they are more productive at home than in the office; and, working in a less stressful environment.

Whether you work for a company that allows some kind of remote working, or are a freelancer or entrepreneur who works from home, be aware that while some people thrive working remotely, not everybody is able to work effectively from home or enjoys it.

For example, some people miss office chit-chat, and the physical interaction with their colleagues. They find it difficult to work as a team without face-to-face interactions. Others get nervous because the fear of losing “visibility”, or being left out of office politics, or that their bosses3 will judge them negatively because an unconscious —or not so unconscious— bias against remote workers.

Can you be effective working from home?

An adequate place to work

If you search the internet for requisites for working from home, you’ll find articles that focus on infrastructure. Having a separate room at home with a closed door to use as an office is ideal. You’ll also need ample desk space with good lightning —best if it allows to alternate between sitting and standing. Of course, since you’ll be spending an important part of your time at your desk, the best chair in the world or some of its clones is a must. Also, know that several studies show the benefits in having a window looking to an open place.

Don’t let those articles fool you: none of those things are indispensable. If you work full time from home, it may make sense to make some investment in your home office. But your focus should be first on doing outstanding work. In many cases you can start with what you have, and invest in furniture and equipment only when you’ve acquired some experience working from remotely.

For starters, you will only need a desk or a table that you can call your own during your working hours, in a place where you won’t get interrupted just because you are in the middle of the house’s traffic or activity. And of course, a decent-speed internet connection and your laptop.

You will also need a backup place.

Be realistic. Interruptions at the office can be a problem. But if your children are having their friends coming home to play in the afternoon, chances are you won’t get any work done during those hours. So, you’ll have to either decide that you’re not working that afternoon because you’re playing with your kids, or head to your favorite coffee shop for some hours to get your work done.

Other times, you’ll just get tired of the same four walls and having a backup place helps a lot. A nearby coffee shop, or a coworking space will do.

Acquire the necessary habits

The real key to working effectively from home —or elsewhere, for that matter— lies in your working habits and skills. Are you a self-starter, or do you need the pressure of a boss behind your back to get work done?

The ethos of someone working from home can be summarized in what Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, calls the pro mindset :

The pro mindset is a discipline that we use to overcome resistance. To defeat the self-sabotaging habits of procrastination, self-doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the self-strengthening habits of order, regularity, discipline, and a constant striving after excellence.

For example, having a personal schedule is indispensable. You need to decide beforehand not only at what time you’ll start to work every day (if you work for a company, probably they have some policies about this), but how you structure your day, and stick to that schedule.

Keep track of what you do during your working hours, and make a review at the end of the day. There a bunch of free or nearly free apps for your smartphone that can help you track your activities. (See Resources at the endo of this article.)

There is lot written about routines and rituals —see, for example Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a good recompilation of the habits of several artists— and how important they are for doing meaningful work. (More in a moment about how to structure your time.) The good news is that acquiring an habit is within the reach of everyone. Start small, but be consistent. According to some studies, the average time to acquire an habit is around 22 days, depending on your previous habits and difficult level of the habit itself.

Be clear on what you expect to achieve every day

Any coach on time management will tell you that having a clear understanding of your priorities and then blocking out time daily to accomplish the most important tasks is critical.

Defining your priorities, filtering what’s important from what’s just landed in your email inbox, is crucial for being productive. As Shawn Blanc explains, decisiveness brings motivation for action. Action brings clarity. Clarity helps us make future decisions4:

Keep in mind that a big part of setting a goal is to be decisive for the sake of boosting your motivation and sparking action. And it’s in the place of doing where we so often find the additional clarity we had been waiting for all along.

Oftentimes the clarity we’re waiting for comes after we start making progress. Because what we needed was experiential knowledge, not just head knowledge. There are times when, yes, we do need more information. But sometimes we just need to pick a direction and start moving.

You could start your work day by defining the most important action for that day, and deciding when are you going to do it. Or you could ask yourself everyday what Gary Keller, in his excellent book The ONE Thing, calls the Focusing Question:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Allocate blocks of interruption-free time for Deep Work

Cal Newport, author of the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, coined the concept of Deep Work: cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve. This is the kind of work that matters.

But as Newport explains, deep work is not part of most knowledge worker’s diet:

Knowledge workers dedicate too much time to shallow work — tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on). This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy (there’s something oddly compelling in responding to a question; even if the topic is unimportant).

Paul Graham, founder of YC Combinator, wrote a great article some years ago titled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Understanding this different modes of working is key for being effective and doing deep work.

The manager’s schedule follows the appointment book, where the day is cut into one hour or half hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if needed, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. This is the time for meetings, making phone calls, reviewing reports, doing follow-up tasks, answering mails and the like. Interruptions during this time may be annoying or not, but don’t have a great toll on your productivity.

There are other tasks, however, that require a longer time span and great attention. An hour for this kind of task is barely enough time to get started. This is the maker’s schedule. Knowledge workers in particular need this kind of time. It is in this kind of uninterrupted work where you find relationships between ideas, get to the root cause of a problem, or where you are able to synthesize complex reasoning into simple and clear statements. You enter a state of flow, where you produce great stuff through absolute concentration.

Awareness is key here. Your more meaningful work requires, with high probability, to work in the maker’s schedule. Time-block your schedule so you can work on the most important things. There are no guarantees that there won’t be interruptions, but at least you are fighting hard against self-interruptions and dispersion. (This, too, is an habit that can be acquired.)


There is abundant literature on how to run effective meetings. Sorry to tell you, but very few people know how to do it.

People in managerial positions tend to view meetings a the way to resolve things. Meetings are the natural way managers have for dealing with anything of some importance.

Without pretending to be exhaustive, some tips that may help to better run meetings:

  • Show respect to others: Arrive some minutes before the meeting. Silence your phone. If you are expecting a call, say so before starting the meeting. Otherwise, do not answer phone calls.
  • If there is no agenda set, always ask for the agenda. Everybody knows and has read about the importance of the agenda, so nobody will disagree with you about this point. (That is, nobody except the person who scheduled the meeting and forgot to send the agenda.)
  • Take notes. I take notes of every meeting that I attend, not only because I find it indispensable for later reference, but because it helps me greatly to be focused on the topic at hand.
  • Don’t speak your opinion about every topic discussed. (It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt5.)
  • That said, learn to disagree and make your points clear when needed.

Learn to use the proper tools

I prefer to favor process over tools. That said, knowing how to use tools effective spare you lots of time. Which tools you use will depend greatly on whether you work on your own or work for a company.

For example, consider email. Even if there are some great tools that partially substitute email (for example, Slack), email is here to stay and the preferred method for communications on most organizations.

There is a lot written on how to use email effectively. (See, for example, email charter, or Inbox Zero by Merlin Mann.) Without being exhaustive, some points to consider:

  • Choose clear and informative subjects. If you change the topic of the conversation, change the mail’s subject.
  • Be succinct, write with precision, don’t be overly verbose. Avoid open or ambiguous questions.
  • Email is not an instant messenger, so don’t expect instant answers. For instant answers… use an instant messenger or the phone.
  • For emails with lot’s of questions, reply inline to make it easier to read. “You’ll find my answers in blue in your text below.”
  • Use cc: sparingly. Some people feel their bosses need to be informed of every single mail they send, so they cc: them everything. Please don’t.
  • If the sender does not expect a reply, do not send a reply. For example: “The meeting has been cancelled.” Don’t reply: “Thanks!”.

If you are going to work from home, better get good at staying at the top of your inbox, or whatever technology will be your primary communication channel with coworkers and clients.

Interaction with others

Most work requires interaction ith others, be it clients, coworkers, or your boss. You’ll need to share information that is complex or personal.

From Sean Graber’s article Why Remote Work Thrives in Some Companies and Fails in Others (HBR March 2015):

Successful remote work is based on three core principles: communication, coordination, and culture. Broadly speaking, communication is the ability to exchange information, coordination is the ability to work toward a common goal, and culture is a shared set of customs that foster trust and engagement. In order for remote work to be successful, companies (and teams within them) must create clear processes that support each of these principles.

An important part of culture, Graber continues, is developing trust. Cognitive trust (based on competence and reliablity) can be developed remotely. Affective trust, however, is based on feeling, and is trickier to build virtually.


The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. I find it very appropriate for doing deep work, i.e., working in the maker’s schedule.

The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as “pomodoros”, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro meaning “tomato”. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

See The Pomodoro Technique for more resources and information. The book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Noteberg is also a good start.


Some useful apps I’ve used and I can recommend.

Freedom App Freedom, an app that blocks Internet access for a defined period of time you define so you can focus on the work at hand. (The only way to re-enable internet access before the timer ends is to reboot your machine.) Available for Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Hours App Hours. A time tracker for iOS with a nice user interface, and customizable notifications. Free for a limited time. You can see it in action here. A free app for iOS and Android that let’s you track personal improvement toward goals. Very useful for building habits.


Pomodoro Technique Illustrated Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Noteberg
Remote Office not Required Remote. Office not Required. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
(Influencing Virtual Teams Influencing Virtual Teams, by Hassan Osman.

  1. Follow this links to see the results of searching HBR’s site on Google for working from home and remote working. This link shows results for similar queries from Forbes

  2. cfr Lessons Learned From 3 Companies That Have Long Embraced Remote Work, by Sara Sutton Fell. Also see Top 100 Companies to Watch for Remote Jobs

  3. Microsoft’s Work Without Walls Survey (2011) mentions as a problem for remote workers that “business leaders assume employees who work remotely and take advantage of the policy are not really working. This is because of the loss of control. Employers lose direct oversight and cannot witness productivity firsthand.” cfr also Krauthammer’s Out of sight does not mean out of mind

  4. cfr The Focus Course

  5. Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Tags: working remotely, working from home, home office, productivity

The Rise of the Ad Blocker

Stop Sign

Are you interested in improving the loading speed of webpages on your mobile device by 4x, and generating savings of 50% on your data plan, on average? Get an ad blocker.

Crystal, Purify, Adblock Plus, and other ad blocking apps are offering these or similar improvements for users of mobile devices1.

Ad blockers have been available for Android and desktop users for a while now, but until recently their adoption had never been huge. With the introduction of iOS 9, the latest version of its mobile operating system, Apple has opened the possibility for third-party developers to write ad blockers. Installing an ad blocker on an iPhone is now as easy as buying and installing any app on the App Store.

The mobile advertising industry

As Ben Thompson writes, mobile is the greatest market any industry has ever seen:

Mobile is a great market. It is the greatest market the tech industry, or any industry for that matter, has ever seen, and the reason why is best seen by contrasting mobile with the PC: first, while PCs were on every desk and in every home, mobile is in every pocket of a huge percentage of the world’s population. The sheer numbers triple or quadruple the size, and the separation is increasing. Secondly, though, while using a PC required intent, the use of mobile devices occupies all of the available time around intent. It is only when we’re doing something specific that we aren’t using our phones, and the empty spaces of our lives are far greater than anyone imagined.

Mobile browsing represents 14% of total web browsing, and 52% of it is done on an Apple device3. Global mobile advertising spending is predicted to hit $100 Billion in 20162. This means around $50 Billion of mobile advertising spending targets iPhone and iPads.

While it’s too early to know how many iPhone users will install ad blockers on their devices, a scenario of a 10% blocker adoption rate would translate in a revenue loss for advertising companies of around $5 Billion in 2016. No wonder advertisers are worried.

Browsing the web while being observed by a team of marketing specialists

Most advertisers narrowly track your web usage when you visit a page that displays an ad or has a tracker installed. What is less known is that they can also track how you use that page: the links you click on, the movements of your mouse, page scrolling, average time spent on the page… Everything can be tracked and sent to the advertisers’ server to be automatically analyzed.

Facebook Ad Configuration

A screenshot of a portion of Facebook’s ad configuration page.

This information is used for marketing intelligence, to measure the advertiser’s campaigns’ effectiveness, conversion rates, showing more focused ads to a more precisely defined audience. If you want to see how far the rabbit hole goes, try placing an add in Facebook. If you are new to online advertising, you will be surprised by the fine level of segmentation Facebook offers so that your ad is displayed only to the relevant audience.

To make this detailed tracking possible, advertisers need not only to show ads but also to load and run programs in the user’s browser. Sometimes, lots of programs. From the user’s point of view, the side effects are longer loading times (i.e., slower browsing) because of this extra code needed to display the page, more data consumption and therefore decreased battery life.

Advertising and trackers in El Comercio

This screenshot of the webpage of El Comercio, a leading peruvian newspaper shows on the upper right corner the various advertisement and tracking codes embedded on the page as detected and blocked by Ghostery, a free ad blocker available for most platforms.

People have been blocking ads forever, by ignoring them, writes Seth Godin writes. Click Through Rates —the clicks to an external link to the number of impression of the Ad— of 0.15% worldwide across all verticals, and as low as 0.08% in the US confirm this. But Advertisers still need to meet their goals. In order to attract our attention, some of them resort to more obtrusive ads and flashier formats5. Also, the density of ads per page has increased, further annoying the visitors of those websites.

Privacy concerns because of detailed tracking of user behavior, longer load times, obtrusive ads, and higher number of ads per page… Is anyone surprised that the most frequent reasons cited by users for using ad blockers are Misuse of personal information (“I feel my personal data is being misused to personalize the ads”, 50% of respondents), and the increase in the number of ads per page6?

How is Facebook affected?

Facebook can benefit greatly from this war. Facebook’s app is unaffected by most ad blockers7, and the vast majority of Facebook users use the Facebook app when mobile. Facebook is positioned to attract a big portion of advertisers’ dollars. And as Ben Thompson writes in The Facebook Epoch, Facebook’s potential market is the biggest ever.

A company’s potential is first and foremost measured by its market, and Facebook’s potential market is, when you consider both sheer numbers and time spent, an order of magnitude greater than the PC-based Internet market ever was. Then, on top of that, you increasingly have brand advertising dollars —also an order of magnitud more than direct response dollars— looking for somewhere to go other than TV, and it just so happens that Facebook is the perfect brand advertising platform. The company has the right set of products in the right market at the right time.

Don’t forget Facebook’s initiative to bring the Internet to the two thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it. A great initiative, but somewhat controversial considering that’s offering consists of access not to the whole Internet but only to Facebook and a list of selected apps. According to Quartz, millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet. “Indonesians surveyed by [Helani] Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

The article continues:

The expectations and behaviors of the next billion people to come online will have profound effects on how the internet evolves. If the majority of the world’s online population spends time on Facebook, then policymakers, businesses, startups, developers, nonprofits, publishers, and anyone else interested in communicating with them will also, if they are to be effective, go to Facebook. That means they, too, must then play by the rules of one company. And that has implications for us all.

Free content in exchange for attention

Advertising has always worked based on the “implied contract” theory: users view ads in exchange for free content, free content in exchange for attention. However, as Marco Arment and others point out, this no longer applies for the web:

The “implied contract” theory that we’ve agreed to view ads in exchange for free content is void because we can’t review the terms first — as soon as we follow a link, our browsers load, execute, transfer, and track everything embedded by the publisher. Our data, battery life, time, and privacy are taken by a blank check with no recourse. It’s like ordering from a restaurant menu with no prices, then being forced to pay whatever the restaurant demands at the end of the meal.

Seth Godin writes:

On the web, more and more people have come to believe that the deal [free content in exchange for attention] doesn’t work, and so they’re unilaterally abrogating it. They don’t miss the ads, and they don’t miss the snooping of their data.

And advertisers have had fifteen years to show self restraint. They’ve had the chance to not secretly track people, set cookies for their own benefit, insert popunders and popovers and poparounds, and mostly, deliver us ads we actually want to see.

Alas, it was probably too much to ask. In the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all.

Advertisers, of course, aren’t happy. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, “advertising is the economic engine that drives the free internet”. Similar to the music industry when facing disruption by Napster, instead of recognizing a major and probably inevitable change in the industry, advertisers try to spread fear by claiming that if ad blocking becomes mainstream, access to information on the Internet will cease to be free.

This tweet reflects perfectly the mindset of some advertisers:

Default: block everything

Not all advertisers are evil and neither is all tracking. Lots of websites (like this one) use Google Analytics to measure visitors and other relevant data like which articles receive more visitors, where do those visitors come from (for example, from searching on Google), etc.

Other advertisers, famously The Deck, are strongly committed to respect user’s privacy:

Short version. We don’t track our readers in any way or allow any other behind-the-scenes shenanigans. We just serve useful, relevant ads in a simple, unobtrusive way to support independent publishers. Please white-list The Deck when using ad blocking software. Thanks. We will never share your personal information obtained by tracking, either individually or in aggregate, with advertisers or any one else for one very good reason: we don’t have any.

However, configuring an ad blocker to make such distinctions requires some configuration. Most users will default to block everything, using a sledgehammer approach, just because it’s their ad blockers’ default setting.

The Acceptable Ads Initiative

Acceptable Ads Manifesto

The Acceptable Ads initiative is an effort by Eyeo GmbH, the company behind popular Adblock Plus, to establish strict criteria for identifying nonintrusive ads.

From the Acceptable Ads Manifesto:

To preface, we don’t philosophically dislike advertising – much of it is entertaining and even useful. And certainly a lot of the free stuff we enjoy on the Internet owes its existence to the advertisers who support those websites.

But we don’t want obtrusive pop-ups, or obnoxious blinking ads, or 30-second pre-roll video ads running amok on our computers and mobile phones. We wouldn’t tolerate that in the physical world; why should we accept them just because it’s digital? Imagine a billboard jumping in front of your car while on the freeway, or a newspaper ad suddenly opening up and covering all the words you are reading. Why should online ads get special treatment? Moreover, the noisier that online ads get, the more people install adblockers to stop them. It’s an unwinnable, downward spiral.

Just to be clear, the Acceptable Ads Initiative is not a list of acceptable advertisers, but a definition of what constitutes an acceptable ad, broadly defined. Eyeo GmbH, as a company, has translated this definition into a more detailed technical specification, and keeps a list of whitelisted advertisers.

There is a catch, however: if you are a big enough company, you have to pay Eyeo a fee in order to be whitelisted. According to Megan Geuss from Ars Technica, in addition to meeting the acceptable ads criteria, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Taboola have paid deals with Eyeo.

This is a clear case of conflict of interest. Companies need to be profitable by definition. If you are charging companies to be whitelisted, then you’re selling them a service. Do you really expect your judging over what constitutes an “acceptable ad” to be always impartial when your company’s profitability depends on how strictly you apply the rules?


Ad blockers for your desktop/laptop

Ghostery Ghostery, a free ad blocker for your laptop available as an add-on for all major browsers. Recommended.
Adblock Plus AdBlock Plus, a very popular alternative, also available for all major browsers.

Ad blockers for iOS

You need to have iOS 9 in your device for these ad blockers to work.

Crystal Crystal, one of the top-selling ad blockers for iOS.
Purify Purify. This is the ad blocker I’m using with great results at the time of this writing.
Adblock Plus Adblock Plus. The iOS version of the popular desktop ad blocker. Also available for Android.

Resources about ad blocking

  1. Mobile browsing refers to browsing the web on your mobile device using an app like Mobile Safari or Chrome, and is affected by ad blockers. On the other hand, mobile apps like Facebook or Instagram are not affected by ad blockers. 

  2. cfr Why Apple’s latest software update has advertisers worried

  3. cfr PageFair Adblocking report 2014

  4. cfr Enrique Dans, Adpocalypse now, or can we give peace a chance?

  5. Which is effective from a revenue-only point of view. According to Google, CTR of Rich Media formats is 0.29%, vs 0.09% for Standard Media. 

  6. cfr PageFair’s 2014 Adblocking Report 

  7. Most ad blockers usually detect only third-party tracking. If you are logged into Facebook and on their site, that’s first party tracking, so they don’t get blocked. 

Tags: advertising, ad blocker, acceptable ads initiative, facebook

Link: Long-term vs short-term thinking

Great article by Seth Godin: The Interim Strategy.

This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because it’s always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.

Tags: strategy

Book Review: Cómo mandar bien. Consejos para ser un buen jefe, por Manuel Alcázar

Note to english subscribers: This a review of the book Cómo mandar bien by Manuel Alcázar Garcia. At the time of this writing, the only edition of the book is in Spanish, I’ve decided to post the review in Spanish.

Manuel Alcázar García, autor del libro Cómo mandar bien: consejos para ser un buen jefe, es profesor del Área de Gobierno de Personas del PAD —la Escuela de Dirección de la Universidad de Piura. Licenciado en Filosofía y Letras, Máster en Economía y Dirección de Empresas, PhD en Gobierno y Cultura de las Organizaciones.

Cómo mandar bien no está elaborado a modo de how-to o guía práctica, si no que profundiza en los principios antropológicos del mando. Este libro lo apreciarán especialmente quienes estén familiarizados con otros libros del autor o hayan asistido a sus clases. Para los que no, el texto puede ser más denso de lo que uno está acostumbrado a leer en libros de management. Como es de esperar, Alcázar refiere con frecuencia textos y conceptos de Juan Antonio Pérez-López.

El libro está dividido en tres partes: (I) Consejos para mandar bien, (II) Problemas, dirección y políticas de la organización, y (III) Nueve puntos que el directivo debe tener en cuenta

La finalidad del mando

El primera parte, Consejos para mandar bien, es un resumen de los conceptos básicos de Gobierno de Persona siguiendo las enseñanzas de Juan Antonio Pérez-López. El autor explica de modo práctico la finalidad del mando, que es servir a los que han de sacar adelante la organización:

Es la primera finalidad del mando: servir a las personas que han de sacar adelante la organización: las operaciones, el servicio a los clientes, usuarios (…) Un buen jefe debe, en primer lugar, entender esto, que es el sentido y el fin de su trabajo.

La organización camina mejor cuando la gente que la saca adelante decide y actúa mejor, dentro de lo que el entorno permita.

Por tanto, las razones por las que existen jefes, explica el autor, son repartir tareas y coordinar; asegurarse de que los subordinados tengan los medios necesarios para hacer su trabajo; sepan hacerlo —sepan qué hacer y cómo hacerlo—; y estén motivados, es decir, que quieran hacerlo.

El que obedece, por su parte, debe saber escuchar lo que se le pide y si no entiende, preguntar. Si no, ¿cómo va a cumplir lo que se le pide? Luego debe preguntarse: ¿puedo hacerlo? ¿sé hacerlo? Y, finalmente y más importante, ¿estoy de acuerdo? ¿quiero hacerlo? Los subordinados en una organización, explica el autor, tienen la obligación de hacer lo que se les pide aunque no esté de acuerdo, salvo que se les pida algo inmoral o ilegal.

La comunicación debe ser clara, y despersonalizada. Con despersonalizada se refiere el autor a que el que manda debe evitar usar frases como “porque lo digo yo”, “porque a mí me gusta”, “porque yo prefiero”, “porque yo necesito”, o peor, “porque aquí mando yo”, que confunden respecto a los motivos para realizar la acción.

A la vez, hay que asumir las propias responsabilidades y no esconderse detrás del organigrama cuando hay que comunicar decisiones difíciles. Por eso, es preferible decir, por ejemplo, “he decidido” —o hemos decidido, si es el caso— a decir “la empresa ha decidido”.

Motivos y motivación

Una dificultad que pueden encontrar algunos menos familiarizados con los escritos de Juan Antonio Pérez-López es el uso que hace Alcázar de los tipos de motivos, en especial la motivación racional por motivos trascendentes. Más adelante en el libro, al hablar de liderazgo, Alcázar da un buen resumen de la teoría de la motivación, pero parece oportuno revisarlo ahora para estar familiarizado con la terminología del libro.

El esquema es el siguiente: Las personas tienen necesidades de diversos tipos. Las empresas buscan resolver estos distintos tipos de necesidades que, a su vez, se corresponden con determinados tipos de motivos de la acción humana.

Los motivos son las razones objetivas —es decir, independientemente de la persona concreta— que tiene cualquier persona para actuar de modo determinado en una situación. La motivación son las razones subjetivas que tienen una persona concreta para actuar de un modo determinado en esa misma situación.

En palabras del autor:

En primer lugar, las necesidades humanas. (…) se puede decir, de manera rápida, que son tres: necesidades psicocorpóreas, cognoscitivas y afectivas. Las psicobiológicas están claras, y se solucionan con el tipo de cosas que el dinero puede comprar, y la salud proporcionar. Las cognoscitivas (el afán de saber). (…) Las afectivas: ser útil y sentirse querido; son las que dan sentido a la vida. Las dos primeras son necesarias para la supervivencia; las afectivas son las que hacen que merezca la vida sobrevivir. (…) La empresa está para resolver esas necesidades. (…) ellas son, a su vez, los motivos de la acción humana. Los famosos motivos extrínsecos, intrínsecos y trascendentes, de que hablaba Pérez-López. Los tres son buscados por todas las personas, también en la empresa y en las organizaciones políticas.

Y desde el punto de vista de la empresa u organización:

Las dimensiones de la empresa también son tres: eficacia, es decir, beneficio, rentabilidad, que es la capacidad de satisfacer los motivos extrínsecos (…); el saber distintivo, el know how diferencial con el que se satisfacen los motivos intrínsecos (necesidades cognoscitivas). Y la tercera, unidad, todos empujando en una misma dirección, que se basa en la confianza, capacidad de la empresa de satisfacer las necesidades afectivas de sus miembros. Lo importante es darse cuenta de que todo el mundo en la organización (…), cada vez que toman una decisión producen un impacto en estos tres planos: afectan para bien o para mal a la cuenta de resultados [eficacia], incrementan el patrimonio de ideas buenas [saber distintivo] y se hacen más dignos de confianza [unidad].
(…) Por tanto, los TRES son criterios a tener en cuenta en cualquier decisión dentro de la empresa, y no solo el beneficio.

Diagnosticar las fallas en la ejecución

Cuando alguien no hace lo mandado, no hay que reaccionar precipitadamente sino diagnosticar la causa. Y para hacerlo, el autor propone seguir el esquema que ya ha explicado anteriormente: preguntarse por qué el subordinado no ha hecho lo que se le pidió: ¿porque no ha podido? ¿porque no ha sabido? ¿porque no ha querido?

Si no ha querido, ¿ha sido por motivos extrínsecos? ¿por motivos intrínsecos? En este caso, el jefe puede considerar usar el poder persuasivo o coactivo para que el empleado cumpla con su deber.

En cambio, si no ha obedecido por motivos trascendentes, hay que considerar si el empleado tiene razón y lo que se le pide es injusto o va contra los fines de la organización, y en ese caso lo que corresponde es rectificar lo que se pide.

La función del jefe es subsidiaria a los subordinados, y por eso ejercita la prudencia en lo que respecta a sus intervenciones. Ni cae en el micro-management, ni se conforma con orientaciones vagas o deja a los subordinados a la deriva. El buen jefe deja trabajar:

Si las personas ya saben lo que han de hacer, saben hacerlo, pueden hacerlo, quieren hacerlo y lo están haciendo, entonces el jefe no ha de hacer nada ni mandar nada, salvo estar cerca y disponible sin molestar.

El uso del poder

Alcázar insiste en que el buen jefe debe mandar poco y por excepción. En esa misma línea, el uso del poder coactivo debe ser el último recurso. El uso del poder es innecesario cuando se tiene autoridad, cuando el que gobierna actúa sostenidamente con intención recta y competencia, es decir, conoce su oficio.

En todo caso, cuando hay que usar el poder, debe hacerse de modo oportuno —es decir, a tiempo—, proporcional —a faltas leves corresponden sanciones leves, a faltas graves sanciones fuertes— y justo. La motivación para usar el poder debe ser motivación racional por motivos trascendentes, es decir, velar por la unidad en la organización y el bien de las personas.

Malos usos del poder son el uso injusto, por ejemplo los atropellos, murmuraciones, humillaciones, calumnias, ya sean originadas por el jefe o permitidas; el uso en exceso; y, el uso en defecto, por ejemplo no corregir, no impedir abusos, o no elogiar o reconocer cuando es debido.

Cuando se manda en exceso se priva a la gente de la legítima autonomía y flexibilidad (motivos intrínsecos) que a todos nos agrada tener al hacer las cosas; se resta atractividad a la organización. Hay que dejar que la gente haga las cosas a su manera, dentro de un orden, y saber que no tienen por qué hacerlas a la manera del jefe.

La responsabilidad de las propias acciones

El autor dedica un buen número de páginas a explicar las acciones libres y no libres. Por acción libre entiende aquella acción que una persona realiza con consciencia— sabiendo lo que hace— y voluntariedad —queriendo hacer lo que entiende que está haciendo.

Somos responsables de nuestras acciones libres. Es equivocado tanto culparse por cosas de las que moralmente no somos responsables, como exculparnos de las cosas de las que sí somos responsables.

A veces uno quiere para sí un premio que no se merece y no quiere para sí una sanción que sí se ha ganado. Como recuerda Pablo Ferreiro, “a la hora de poner medallas sobran cabezas, pero a la hora de cortar cabezas faltan cuellos”.

Se deben premiar o castigar, por tanto, las acciones libres. Tiene tan poco sentido premiar al empleado que logra resultados sin esfuerzo —por ejemplo, por el crecimiento vegetativo del mercado—, como castigar al que no logró una meta excesiva imposible de lograr.

Si uno piensa que lo que manda o le mandan no es ético o es ilegal, entonces no debe hacerlo. Quien manda decide mandar, y quien obedece decide obedecer. No exime de responsabilidad al que obedece, por tanto, decir que sólo hacía lo que le indicaron.

Cuando uno se halla profesionalmente en un tipo de actividad donde no sabe si va a ser capaz de ser eficaz con asequible facilidad sin corromperse, tal vez sea mejor dedicarse a otra cosa, para no estar en peligro de cavar la tumba de la propia felicidad. (…) Si alguien no sabe hacer negocios sin corromperse él ni corromper a los demás, o aprende cuanto antes a ser eficaz y justo a la vez, o mejor que se dedique a otra cosa.

Cómo motivar

El primer paso para motivar, sostiene Alcázar, es conocer a los propios subordinados. Más en concreto, conocer qué saben, qué pueden, y qué quieren (qué les motiva). Hay algunos criterios básicos que el jefe debe tener en cuenta al mandar:

  1. No apelar a motivos que no motivan (para eso, hay que conocer a la gente)
  2. No apelar a motivos de inferior calidad. Apelar a motivos superiores. De lo contrario los subordinados se desalientan y frustran.
  3. Ser ejemplar. No apelar a motivos que a uno mismo no lo motivan. Si la jefa apela a la solidaridad, pero ella misma no es solidaria…

Para mejorar la “calidad motivacional” de sus subordinados, el jefe debe empezar por no impedir los motivos trascendentes. (Por ejemplo, se impiden los motivos trascendentes cuando se mira o premia solo el logro de la meta sin fijarse en el cómo se ha logrado.) El segundo paso es enseñar. Y el tercero, dar ejemplo. El mínimo de buen ejemplo que se espera de un buen jefe es que sea justo.

El verdadero liderazgo

El verdadero líder se mide, según el autor, de acuerdo a los tres ejes ya mencionados: eficacia, saber distintivo, y unidad.

El líder es eficaz. No sirven de nada los líderes “carismáticos” pero que no logran resultados:

Sin eficacia, todo lo que se diga es palabrería vacía. La cuenta de resultados eficaces es la primera obligación del directivo. (…) En eso se nota el estratega, que es la primer dimensión del directivo. (…) De nada sirve un general que pronuncie maravillosas arengas si no gana las guerras.

El saber distintivo, es igualmente importante:

No es sensato descubrir muchas oportunidades de negocio si al llevarlas a cabo se pierde de vista aquello que sabemos hacer bien de modo diferencial (con respecto a la competencia)

Así como en la eficacia se nota al estratega, en el saber distintivo se nota al ejecutivo, que es la segunda dimensión del directivo.

Hay directivos que son buenos estrategas. Otros son buenos ejecutivos. Algunos tienen ambas cualidades. Pero siempre “es preciso que sean líderes, si no cuanto más talento tengan como estrategas o ejecutivos mayor será el daño de su tiranía o su demagogia. Tirano es un estratega que no es líder. Demagogo es un ejecutivo que no es líder.”

El liderazgo es la tercera dimensión del directivo:

Líder es el directivo o gobernante que incrementa la eficacia siguiendo a la ruta de la competencia distintiva, siendo digno de confianza para su gente. Utiliza su talento como estratega y ejecutivo para satisfacer sus necesidades, satisfaciendo las de los demás.

Por último, el líder no solo actúa en las tres mencionadas dimensiones, sino que las usa también para medir y evaluar a su gente.

Problemas, dirección, y políticas de la organización

El autor empieza el segundo capítulo del libro explicando los problemas ocasionados las teorías de la organización y concepción de la persona inadecuadas que podemos manejar. “Los hombres de acción se creen al margen de cualquier condicionamiento, pero son esclavos de algún economista muerto.” Citando al premio Nobel Herbert Simon, continúa: “nada es más esencial para determinar nuestras áreas de investigación e informar nuestros métodos de investigación que nuestra concepción de la naturaleza de los seres humanos“.

El papel de las políticas en la organización

La acción directiva tiene aspectos formales e informales. Los formales —las políticas— no especifican acciones, sino que se espera que las personas actúen de modo “compatible” con ellas.

El jefe debe asegurar el trato personal a todos en la organización. Las políticas, en cambio, sirven para los problemas que atañen a muchos (por ejemplo, remuneraciones, sanciones, evaluación). “Es un error pretender solucionar un caso particular cambiando una política o sistema”. Para los problemas particulares hay que buscar soluciones particulares. Y el que debe hacerlo es el jefe inmediato, la instancia más cercana al problema.

Para entender cómo deben diseñarse las políticas de una organización —no simplemente pretendiendo convencer, pero tampoco simplemente pretendiendo obligar— , hay que distinguir entre fin subjetivo y fin objetivo.

El fin subjetivo es la formulación del propósito, las satisfacciones buscadas por el decisor. (Por ejemplo, saciar la sed.) El fin objetivo es la definición “operacional” del fin subjetivo. (Por ejemplo, comprar una botella de agua.) Es el fin que, si se alcanza, produce el fin subjetivo. El fin subjetivo es necesariamente amplio y no especifica la acción concreta —no es operativo. Un fin subjetivo puede concretarse operativamente en fines objetivos muy diversos, pues puede haber muchos modos de alcanzar un mismo fin.

Las políticas son fines objetivos de la organización que deben permitir alcanzar los fines subjetivos. Las acciones concretas que se espera de los miembros de la organización para lograr los fines subjetivos dependen, pues, del fin objetivo definido.

Mientras más concretamente se haya definido el fin objetivo, más concretamente se señala la acción y, por tanto, menos iniciativa le queda al que lleva a cabo lo mandado. Un directivo sensato quiere que su subordinado haga lo que él quiere (fin subjetivo), pero no necesariamente del modo exacto en que él lo pide (fin objetivo). Cuanto menos “operacional” sea una petición —mientras menos estrecho sea el fin objetivo— , mayores capacidades directivas se exige a quien la deba cumplir. Por eso, salvo que las políticas sean perfectamente operacionales —cosa nada deseable— el directivo debe tener en cuenta que todos los miembros de la organización son tomadores de decisiones.

Las buenas políticas son definiciones operacionales y no solo definiciones de propósitos. Pero no especifican totalmente el cómo, sino que dejan margen de acción a las personas que tienen que cumplirlas.

Nueve puntos que el directivo debe tener en cuenta, según Leonardo

El último capítulo del libro reproduce y comenta un artículo de Juan Fernando Sellés sintetizando nueve enseñanzas de Leonardo Polo que afectan al directivo. No reseño aquí el contenido, pues se trata más propiamente de un anexo.


Como digo al comienzo, este libro es recomendable para cualquiera que tenga interés en la dirección de organizaciones. Además del tema del mando en sí, es un buen resumen de una serie de conceptos básicos de Gobierno de Personas. Pero lo apreciarán especialmente quienes estén familiarizados con otros libros del autor o hayan asistido a sus clases.

Pienso que el texto se hubiera beneficiado mucho pasando por la mano de un editor profesional. Por ejemplo, la edición electrónica (Kindle) que leí tiene algunas fallas de diagramación. También se notan variaciones de estilo de capítulo a capítulo, o se dan por conocidos conceptos que no son de uso tan común y que ameritan cierta introducción.

Puedes comprar Cómo mandar bien: Consejos para ser un buen jefe en Amazon.

Tags: Gobierno de personas, liderazgo, Juan Antonio Pérez-López

Link: Words are cheap. It’s what you do and allow what matters

From Conor Neill’s article When you lead there is no such thing as a trivial act:

What do you know that is “wrong” but tolerate? What behaviours annoy you, but you don’t address them? If somebody arrives 4 minutes late to a meeting, are they allowed to attend? If somebody sends the report an hour later than agreed, are they sanctioned?
If you allow bad behaviour this is who you are. Words are cheap. What you allow is real.
What are your intolerables? What are the behaviours that you absolutely will not sanction? If you are not clear on this list, then you will allow bad behaviours to creep into your culture.

Tags: leadership, consistency

Link: Abandoning perfection

Seth Godin on perfection as a defense mechanism:

It’s possible you work in an industry built on perfect. That you’re a scrub nurse in the OR, or an air traffic controller or even in charge of compliance at a nuclear power plant.

The rest of us, though, are rewarded for breaking things. Our job, the reason we have time to read blogs at work or go to conferences or write memos is that our organization believes that just maybe, we’ll find and share a new idea, or maybe (continuing a run on sentence) we’ll invent something important, find a resource or connect with a key customer in a way that matters.

So, if that’s your job, why are you so focused on perfect?

Perfect is the ideal defense mechanism, the work of Pressfield’s Resistance, the lizard brain giving you an out. Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important).

You’re not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that’s what the world wants from you.

Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.

Tags: creativity, perfection, resistance

Link: Non-obvious startup ideas can yield the largest results

Amazon business started by selling books online. But for Jeff Bezos, selling books was just the starting point. Once Amazon had its infrastructure in place, it extended its business from books to electronics, toys, apparel, and almost any retailer category you can think of.

As Mark Suster points in his article Here is Why Non-Obvious Startup Ideas Can Yield the Largest Results, Amazon is emblematic of the sort of company that mostly disrupts industries behind the scenes, winning through distribution, logistics, inventory management, warehousing, customer support, etc. It never intended to disrupt just the book seller’s market… it intended to disrupt the selling of all kind of goods.


Mark Suster’s article is not about Amazon, however. It’s about MakeSpace. If you haven’t heard of MakeSpace, they define themselves as your closet in the cloud:

MakeSpace is New York’s #1 consumer rated storage company. We deliver free bins (or boxes if you’re outside of NYC, Washington D.C. or Chicago) for you to pack with items you’d like to store. We pick up, store, and deliver your stuff back when you want so you never have to visit a storage unit again.
At our secure storage facility, we upload high-quality overhead photos of your bins or boxes so you know what you have in MakeSpace at all times. This makes ordering your things back simple.

He makes a great analysis of MakeSpace’s business model, market opportunity, and the disruption of an existing but stagnant industry. And they are doing something similar to Amazon:

What tech has our capital raised gone into? Driver routing systems, scheduling, inventory management & tracking, warehousing systems, photography automation, customer service applications as well as the obvious front-end apps such as our consumer apps for keeping track of your goods. We have an amazing team of W2 drivers in NYC, Washington D.C, and Chicago with regional warehouses in each territory and our technology makes it more efficient for them to do their daily pickups with least-cost routing. But as you can imagine we’ve also built technology to allow third-party drivers in markets where we don’t want our own vans. We have built UPS integration to allow a product called “MakeSpace Air” to allow us to do national pickups.
We are building a national business and a beloved brand in a category that is large, fragmented and universally hated. I know that storage sounds unsexy to most but in terms of disrupting a large market where competitors can’t respond? It’s a market made in heaven.

The real question, as Suster points, is which markets will MakeSpace move into the future.

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Tags: disruption, innovator's dilema, entrepreneurship, startups

What is Facebook’s motivation in

In a recent video, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg defends and its freemium model. is Facebook’s initiative to bring the Internet to the two thirds of people in the world who are unconnected. They work by establishing partnerships between companies, governments, and mobile operators, and offering free access to a number of basic applications on the Internet. Additional access is offered through regular paid-channels.

Earlier today we announced we're expanding to give people around the world even more choice of free basic internet services. We're doing this in a way that respects net neutrality and is also effective in connecting the 4 billion people who need access.Here's my full video explaining our approach and what we announced today.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, May 4, 2015

An excerpt from the video:

Are we a community that values people and improving people’s live above all else? Or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s need? As we are having this debate, remember that the people this affects most, the 4 billion unconnected, have no voice on it. They can’t argue their side in the comments below, or sign a petition for what they believe. (…) History tells us that helping people is always a better path than shutting them out.

I think connecting every person in the world is a great initiative, but there are some questions. For starters, opposing the “intellectual purity of technology” against “people needs” is just plain manipulation and rings an alarm in my head. Are they really opposed? I think not. Pragmatism has its dangers. Imagine if the original Internet had expanded around the World under an business model.

What is more controversial, however, is that the free service in’s offering consists of access to the Internet mostly through Facebook. This is a classic situation of conflict of interest1. Sure, also offers free services like Wikipedia, access to job boards, and newspapers. But there is no Facebook-sized company offering, for example, free email services or other services that compete with Facebook’s messaging.

As Zuckerberg puts it, maybe this better than having no internet access at all, and they had to start somewhere. There is the old proverb —Don’t look a gift horse in its mouth. But I can’t help but also remember that if you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.

How can we be sure that Facebook’s main motivations are altruistic and not commercial? Are mobile operators’s intentions as pure as Facebook’s? An essential requirement for Facebook should be renouncing publicly to recollect, store or exploit their free-tier “customer’s” social data. I think Bill Gates solved this the right way. Instead of involving Microsoft operations directly in his quest for improving quality of life for individuals around the world, he founded the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation, which operates independently of Microsoft’s business endeavours.

  1. cfr Wikipedia, Conflict of interest: a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.  

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