Book review: Influencing Virtual Teams by Hassan Osman

Hassan Osman has been managing virtual teams for a living for over ten years. In Influencing Virtual Teams, he shares his experience in the form of 17 tactics. The value of these tactics lies not on their novelty, but in that they have been successfully applied over the years to real projects. Although the book is titled “Influencing Virtual Teams”, the tactics on this book can be also applied successfuly to local teams.

Although the author includes references to case studies and scientific material, his intention is not to focus on why certain a tactic works, but help you manage your team. Nor will this book give you arguments to convince upper-management on the advantages of working remote. It just assumes the reality that in many companies, projects are handled by people that don’t work physically in the same place.

I couldn’t help but remember a quote from “The Checklist Manifesto”, by Atul Gawande: “Checklists gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (…), and lets it rise above to focus on the hard stuff”. Something similar can be said about the tactics in this book. You may have heard some or most of them before. They certainly don’t cover all possible scenarios, and don’t delve in the complexity of managing people. But if you use them systematically and consistently, they will help you manage your team team work with effectiveness and efficiency, so you can focus on getting the work done.

If you have experience managing teams, this book will give you some clear actions you can do to improve the way you delegate and communicate with your team. It also makes a good read for your reports if they are not familiar with the tactics discussed.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

Tags: virtual teams, remote work, team management, best practices

Link: A Startup Definition

The definition of a Startup, according to Paul Graham:

A startup is a small company that takes on a hard technical problem.

Tags: startups

Link: 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral

Emailcharter is a page with ten short and practical rules to better email writing. As stated in the first rule, the underlying principle is to respect recipient’s time:

The onus is on you to minimize the time your email will take to process.

I discovered EmailCharter while listening to Tim Ferris’ conversation with Maria Popova. (Maria Popova is the sole author of Brain Pickings, a page that gets more than 5 million readers per month.)

Tags: productivity, email

Book: The 7 Day Startup. You Don’t Learn Until You Launch by Dan Norris

7 day Startup

Dan Norris is a entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing. He spent fourteen years launching several businesses and trying to make them profitable. But none of his startups survived. He failed every time.

His current company, WP Curve, is profitable and growing over 10% month after month. It is one of the world’s fastest growing WordPress support company. What changed? What did he do different?

In The 7 Day Startup, Dan synthesizes his experience in a seven-step guide to launching a startup.

The biggest mistake people make is obsessing over their idea and not focusing enough on finding people willing to pay for their product.

Dan learned the hard way that you cannot run a business based on assumptions, or that it makes no sense to spend months and money trying to put the perfect webpage and paying system in place, when you have no customers. Because he didn’t understand his business model, increasing revenues had almost no impact on his company’s profits. He found out that while execution is everything, ideas certainly matter. A well-executed bad idea won’t make a business sustainable.

This book can be read back-to-back in a few hours. The main point the author tries to make is that you should launch your business as soon as you can, because until you launch, you are working on assumptions.

Norris covers topics like how to avoid failed validation techniques, how to qualify an idea for a bootstraped startup, or why you should see the point where you can hire in staff or systems to replace you and still continue to generate a profit when testing your idea. In the last pages, the author tries to give day-to-day advice for running your business. However, beware that because the number of topics covered in a relatively short book, there is no in-depth treatment of any of the techniques recommended.

The value of this book for me is that the advice given comes from the author’s personal experience with failure and success. If you have a tendency to overanalyze things, and postpone launching your projects because you don’t have enough data, reading Dan Norris’ The 7 Day Startup can help you get “out of the building” to find customers for your product or service.


Tags: book review, startups, entrepreneurship

Amazon and Simon & Schuster

Amazon has closed a multi-year deal with Simon & Schuster, covering both e-books and printed media. Negotiations only took three weeks.

As David Gaughran points out in his article Amazon and S&S Agree Terms. Who’s The Bad Guy Again?, this leaves us wondering why Hachette can’t come to terms with Amazon.

Tags: Amazon, publishing

Take a break from your connected day…

Take a break from your connected day… and remember the important things in your life.

Link: How to prepare yourself to start a Startup

In his essay Before the Startup, YCombinator’s founder Paul Graham explains that because startups are counterintuitive, you can’t always trust your instincts when starting a startup. Then he gives a list of 5 things you can do to prepare yourself for the task.

For example, where to get ideas for a startup? Not by making an effort to think of startup ideas, but by (1) learning a lot about things that matter, then (2) work on problems that interest you (3) with people you like and respect.

The whole essay is worth reading.

Tags: Paul Graham, startups, ideas

Link: How to be creative

Short PBS video on creativity. The creative process is relevant not only to artists but to anyone who must solve complex problems.

Julie Burstein explains her view on the creative process and negative capability at the beginning of the video:

[Creativity implies] the ability to stay in a space where you don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next. Willing to chase down ideas, and also willing to understand that not all of them will lead somewhere. But knowing that the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next step.

Each creative person develops his or her own set of tools. The creative impulse is one piece of the process. But at a certain point you have to sit down and do the work. Understanding how to work is a key part to bringing your creativity to a point where you can share it to other people.

Inspiration is for Amateurs. I just get to work.” (Chuck Close)

(via FarnamStreet)

Tags: creativity, workflow

Link: Macworld shuts down print edition

Macworld's first Cover

Shortly after Apple’s iPhone 6/6+ launch on September 9, IDG announced that the print edition of Macworld is shutting down. Jason Snell, Macworld’s lead editor for more than ten years and who has worked in Macworld for more than seventeen, writes in Goodby, Macworld:

Over the last decade we all made an enormous effort to transform Macworld editorial from a magazine mentality to a web site mentality. And honestly, it worked: By the end, the magazine was essentially a curated collection of the best stories from the website, cut down and copy edited and with nice photographs. The economics of the business just didn’t make it possible to continue.

I wonder if magazines from other industries will follow the same path. Most magazines now offer access to their digital counterpart when subscribing to the print edition. I find that even when subscribed to the print edition of some business magazines, most of the time I read the articles online.

Tags: macworld, publishing, print

Amazon vs Hachette

Amazon logo

The news have been reporting on the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Neither company has disclosed the details of the dispute, but the argument is understood to be about e-book pricing.

Amazon argues that e-books should sell at a lower price because of the lower costs of the e-book value chain. Also, according to Amazon, e-books are highly price elastic. (If an e-book priced at $14.99 sells 100 copies, lowering its price to $9.99 will increase sales numbers to 174 copies.) Therefore, with some exceptions, Amazon position is that e-books should cost no more than $9.991.

Hachette’s argument is that book publishing is more than just printing books. Publishers make author discovery possible, have editorial teams that make sure that books meet quality standards, and do a significant marketing effort in promoting their authors and books.

Is this dispute important?

The outcome of this dispute will be important for the publishing ecosystem. Hachette is one of the Big Five3 publishing houses. This renegotiation is the first in a series, part of the settlement reached between the big five publishing houses with the US Department of Justice in 20122 under suspicion of colluding prices. Negotiations with other big publishers will follow.

Because of the volume of books affected, the result will set a precedence on how e-books are priced in the whole industry. The Big Five publish most of the books published in the world.

Another factor is that online outlets have become critical for publishers. In 2013, 41% of books purchases were made through and online retailer, while bookstore chains accounted for 22%. Amazon, the biggest online book vendor, sells 65% of all new print and digital books4.

If Amazon wins, most e-books will sell at $9.99. As the revenues from e-books become more important for publishers, they will be forced to rethink their business models.

Book quality won’t be affected

As a reader, I value a book’s quality over a cheaper price. One could think that Hachette’s position will lead to books with better content. But book pricing doesn’t work that way, and money is rarely the prime motivation for writers.

From a monetary point of view, book writing and publishing is a winner takes it all kind of market. Lots of books are written and published each year, but only a small percentage provide their authors or publishers with significant income.

Seth Godin says that a book gives you leverage to spread an idea, but if you are doing it for the money, most of the time you’re going to be disappointed5.

  1. cfr Announcement Update: Amazon/Hachette Business Interruption

  2. cfr Publisher’s Weekly, Federal Judge approves settlement in DOJ e-book case

  3. During the last decade, the publishing industry went through an important consolidation process. Big publishing houses bought small imprints and publishers, or merged among themselves to form bigger companies. As of today, the industry is dominated by five companies, often referred to as the Big Five. In no particular order, they are:
    Penguin Random House, owned 51% by Bertelsmann and 49% by Pearson. Bertelsmann is a giant media company with revenues around $20 billion. Penguin itself has revenues of $3.9 billion, around 10,000 employees, 250 imprints, and publishes 25% of the world’s English-language books.
    Hachette, owned by Lagardère Publishing – the biggest publisher in France and the second biggest in the UK. It is the world’s second largest trade publisher overall. Lagardère Publishing is itself part of Lagardère Group, a giant worldwide media company – magazines, radio, television, online, digital, and books – with annual revenue of approximately $10bn dollars. (cfr David Gaughran, Amazon v Hachette: Don’t Believe The Spin.)
    HarperCollins, subsidiary of NewsCorp.
    Macmillan, corporate parent of the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, which has 50% ownership of Die Zeit.
    Simon & Schuster, property of CBS Corp., owner of the most watched network in the US with revenues over $14bn. 

  4. cfr Can anyone compete with Amazon? and View on Amazon vs Hachette.  

  5. Seth Godin has some very good insights about the publishing industry. See, for example, Knock, knock, it’s the future, An end of books, and Advice for authors

Tags: Amazon, book publishing

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