Wednesday, September 30, 2015

App Overload Got You Down?

Are your app-infested mobile devices starting to look as cluttered as the outside of a Nascar stock car or the back of 5K fun run t-shirt? If so you’re not alone.

According to a comprehensive study by the folks at Kaizen Research in the U.K., more than 1,000 new apps hit the market every day and more often not they start to gather digital dust after the initial wow factor wears off. Here are some highlights of the study:  

  • The average, overall app retention rate, is highest in the first month of installing an app at 36 percent. Only 1 in 10 people keep an app for 12 months.
  • Over half of the 4,000 respondents surveyed (50.6%) of said the primary reason they uninstall an app is because it takes up too much storage.
  • More than two in five (40.6%) blamed intrusive advertising.
  • One in three (33.8%) cited the fact that the app kept freezing up.

As Kaizen’s clever infographic shows, when it comes to uninstalling business apps, the top three reasons are :
1.      Users found a better quality app that does the same thing (28.4%)

2.      Poor user experience (27.0%)

3.      You have to pay extra for the features you need (24.6%)


When we’re talking about work-related apps, only use the ones that truly save you time, make you more productive, or better informed. Junk the rest. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about developing apps for your clients or customers. The cool factor only takes you so far. Keep the design and registration process simple. Don’t hog the user’s bandwidth and respect their privacy. As with any other product or service, sooner or later the user gets frustrated or bored unless you’re delivering true and long-lasting value. And above all else, make your app interesting and engaging and don’t try to charge users for features that come standard with your competitor’s offering.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Do You Rule Your Devices or Do They Rule You?

I’m not highly religious, but I try to attend synagogue during the Jewish “high” holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a combination of guilt, lifelong habit and trying to set a good example for my half-Jewish sons that drives me to show up every year.
Do I enjoy attending services? Not really. Even though our temple is architecturally striking and the choir is first-rate, the timing of the Holidays always seems inconvenient. While my schedule blows apart in the secular world, time slows to a crawl in the sanctuary as we await instructions to rise-chant-sit-rise again-chant-and-sit, half a dozen times over a two-hour period before more lengthy passages of Hebrew ensue.
My watch seems frozen in time. The clouds filling the overhead skylights seem not to move. And it always feels like two pages backward for every page forward as we slog our way through the prayer brook (in the Hebrew tradition of right to left). How could time move so slowly in this fast paced world?

As is probably the case in your house of worship, cell phones and mobile devices are forbidden. My sons, like most of the congregants under the age of 80 start to get physically ill as they Jones for a little hit of electronic stimulation to make the time pass. Like most congregants, they don’t want to miss a critical tweet, post or text from the rest of the “gentile” world that’s enjoying a day off from school or a slow day at work.

But I’ve grown to like the technology deprivation tank most people call the synagogue. First of all, it’s the only time of the year in which I don’t feel like I’m racing the clock 24/7, feeling hopelessly behind schedule. It’s also great to go 120 straight minutes without having to react to a message, make a decision or put out a fire. I do some of my best thinking in the sanctuary, too. It may not be about my faith, or atoning for my sins or communicating better with the spouse and family….but some pretty good ideas have come out of my High Holiday sits. For more on this topic see our recent post I Do My Best Thinking in a (MRI) Tube.

Finally the Shofar blasts. The congregation sings Adon Olam, we shake hands with those in neighboring seats and we’re “released” from the temple. I have a renewed sense of energy and fulfillment. I wish I could attribute it to reconnecting with my faith and the inspiring chants and life lessons. Truth be told, it’s more about getting the battery recharged.

I sense I’m not the only one who feels that way. Our rabbi is a superb orator with a keen sense of humor and timing. He knows most of us are not regulars at the temple and he often finds a way to connect with us. Last week, while we were anticipating a moving sermon about the state of Israel, tensions in the Middle East or how to our young people more involved in the temple he threw us a curve ball and talked about the tyranny of technology. He also told us about the annual National Unplug Day in early March which is all about slowing down our lives in an increasingly unplugged world and taking a Sabbath from the wired world.

Rabbi proudly wears an Apple watch, but he showed us how technology has blurred the line between work and family time. Technology has unchained us from our desks and cubicles, so we can get work down anywhere we happen to be any time of the day. By the same token, it has OBLIGATED us to get work done 24/7/365 wherever we happen to be at any time of the day. There are no more boundaries between work and family life the rabbi lamented and he also said that thanks to technology, our communication with each other has become too superficial. Electronic communication is more convenient, sure, but us the rabbi pointed out—sending a quick text or email, takes a lot less effort and emotional commitment than making a phone call, writing a litter or heaven forbid, seeing each other face-to-face.

We want to meet you in person

To that end, we’re doing our best to meet each and every one of your in person, and we had some great meals and meetings over the best month with clients in the Bay Area, Boston, Portland Maine and New York City. Next step is Denver.

Yom Kippur starts tomorrow night. Most years I do try to fast for 24 hours (with moderate success) but I’ve been experimenting with a 24 hour technology fast every weekend since last fall—usually from mid-day Saturday to mid-day Sunday. I recommend you try it some time, regardless of your faith.

Have a great week and a wonderful new year. Get unplugged, call your mother and start living life.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


TAGS: Tyranny of technology, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, best thinking in unlikely places

Monday, August 31, 2015

It’s the Economy, Smarty

As the old joke goes, economists have successfully predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions—and the stock market probably more. If you have clients worried about the U.S. sinking into economic quicksand, tell them to turn off the news, look at the facts and stay disciplined about their long term objectives.

Sure, the markets dropped 10 percent over 5 recent trading days between August 17 and 24. Statistically experts say that qualifies as a “correction” which can be either healthy or foreboding depending on your point of view. According to Yardeni Research, there have been almost 30 corrections of 10-plus percent since 1950, but not always followed by a bear market or economic recession.

We’re not in the financial advisory business, but many of you who are, have assured us that last week’s market volatility is little more than long overdue waves in a long stretch of smooth sailing.

Last time we checked, equities were still considered “risk assets,” not T-Bills, so there are going to be some ups and downs from time to time. “Even though people are asking themselves if prices are too high, they are slow to take action to sell,” explained renowned Yale Economics Professor, Robert Shiller, in a thoughtful piece in yesterday’s New York Times. But “when prices make a sudden drop, as they did in recent days, people tend to become fearful, even if there is a subsequent rebound. They suddenly realize their views might be shared by other people and start looking for information that might confirm belief,” added Shiller.

Makes sense. But, as William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York opined last week, “The stock market has to move a lot—and stay there—to have implications for the U.S. economy.”

Case in point. The Commerce Department said late last week that durable orders rose a healthy 2 percent in July on top of recent increases in U.S. consumer confidence and new home sales. That’s a sign the U.S. economy is at least reasonably healthy and solidly expanding. That tends not to be when recessions occur, or true market corrections. If nothing else, take a step back and reflect. Most major market indices right now are pretty much at the same level they were heading into Labor Day weekend a year ago. Not a substantial return, but hardly bear market territory.

Millennials' impact on the economy

If that’s not enough, Bill Smead, who manages the Smead Value Fund
pointed out Friday that there are 86 million people in this country between the ages of 19 and 37. They don’t own stocks, they do drive cars, and they want to buy a house. This is nirvana for “them” said Smead, because they haven’t lost any money in the market, gas prices are plunging and mortgage rates are likely to remain low. All of which is great for the economy.

Need more? Last Thursday, the Commerce Department announced that our nation’s economy expanded at a faster pace than initially thought in the second quarter as businesses ramped up investment. Gross domestic product, the broadest sum of goods and services produced across the economy, expanded at a 3.7 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate in the second quarter of 2015, the Commerce Department said Thursday, up from the initial estimate of 2.3 percent growth.

Still not convinced? Well, the latest figures on business investment—reflecting spending on construction, equipment, and research and development—are especially welcome. The category rose at a 3.2 percent pace, compared with an earlier estimate of a 0.6 percent decline, suggesting a degree of optimism about future demand. Corporate profits after tax, without inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments, rose at a 5.1 percent pace from the first quarter, the biggest jump in a year. On a year-over-year basis, corporate profit growth was 7.3 percent. As Business Insider’s Elena Holodny noted last Tuesday, the risk of markets plunging dramatically again in the short term are quite low without “certain economic conditions being met.”

John Higgin or Capital Economics noted that "Major declines in the S&P 500 — that is to say, bear markets in which prices drop by at least 20 percent, which is roughly twice the drop that occurred between 10th and 24th August — have only tended to occur in, and around, recessions. And we doubt very much that one of those is around the corner." 

Since 1950, the US has seen 9 bear markets and 10 recessions. And almost all of these bear markets have overlapped with the economic downturns. The one notable exception was October 1987's infamous "Black Monday" when the Dow plunged a shocking 508 points — or about 22.6 percent. Although stocks were in a bear market, GDP never went negative.

In light of that, Higgins pointed out that the even with the recent stock plunge, the US economy is currently looking pretty good. GDP growth expected to be around 2.3 percent this year, and 2.8 percent in the next, and policymakers are (still) considering hiking rates this year.

Finally, blogger Ben Carlson, CFA indicated that investing during periods of unrest usually pays off for investors. Three years out from a recession the annual returns showed an average annual gain of 11.9 percent, according to Carlson. Five years out the average annual gain was 12.3 percent. Only one time since 1957 was the stock market down a year later following a recession, which occurred during the 2000-2002 bear market.

During the actual recessions themselves the total returns look much worse as they were negative, on average (-1.5 percent annually).  But this average is made up of a wide range in results, as stocks have actually risen during 4 out of the last 9 recessions. And stocks were positive 6 out of the past 9 times in the year leading up to the start of a recession, dispelling the myth that the stock market always acts as a leading indicator of economic activity.


Bottom line, there’s no reason to make any hasty or dramatic changes to your investing or business expansion plans, and there are bargains to be had if your risk tolerance and time horizon allows you to explore those opportunities right now. Even Shiller, whose widely followed CAPE (Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings) ratio signals that stock prices are dangerously overpriced admits we’re in a “rare and anxious “just don’t know” situation.

blog has more about this and related topics.

TAGS: economy and stock market correlation, risk of recession, bear market, investor discipline, business investment, Shiller CAPE, William Dudley, Bill Smead, Ben Carlson CFA

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Get Obsessed About Innovation

5 traits that great entrepreneurs and visionaries share

Summer doldrums got you down? Not firing on all cylinders like you usually do? Well, you’re not alone and it’s better to recognize the signs of mental fatigue than to beat yourself up for missing your lofty goals. Some professionals go to the beach, lake, mountains or Europe to re-energize. But, increasingly high achievers are going to conferences of like-minded peers, even when they start on weekends and are in non-resort destination cities.
Case in point. Last week I attended the American Society of Association Executives annual conference in Detroit. More than 6,000 association execs from financial, insurance, health care, manufacturing and education organizations descended on "The D" as locals now call it and they weren’t disappointed.

Keynote speaker and Detroit native Josh Linkner explained that creative thinking is the driver of both disruption and avoiding being disrupted. "Regardless of your job title or industry, all of us in the corner office need an additional unwritten title of ‘Chief Disruptor,’ ‘Business Artist’ or ‘Entrepreneur,’" said Linkner, CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners and author of the business best-sellers Disciplined Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention. If you haven’t been to downtown Detroit lately, you might be pleasantly surprised.

5 obsessions of successful entrepreneurs

Linkner’s not a think tank guru who’s never run a business. He founded four Detroit-based technology companies that sold for a combined $200 million. After becoming a VC, he became obsessed with the creative thinking methods of great entrepreneurs. After interviewing 200 great entrepreneurs and thought leaders for his book, Linkner said five common traits bubbled to the surface. As an advisor, you should pay heed to each of them:

1. Insatiable curiosity. "
The more obsessive you are, the more creative you become," said Linkner. He recommended asking why—not once, but at least five times in a row, borrowing a page from Toyota. Asking a deep question and then repeatedly probing "why" is not just child’s play. It uncovers layers of behaviors and assumptions that are taken for granted and are where the potential for creative disruption lies.

2. Crave what’s next. Even for wealth advisory and financial services firms that are healthy and not facing disruption, Linkner warns that you must constantly look to the future and be willing to reinvent yourself. He shared the example of legendary Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who trains his players to shout "Next play!" after every basket. "Coach K has trained his team to literally shed the pad every 20 to 30 seconds," said Linkner, who added that LinkedIn handed out 8,000 "What’s Next?" T-shirts to its employees the day of its IPO, so they wouldn’t become complacent and spend their days calculating the value of their stock options.

3. Defy tradition. For many companies, including wealth advisory firms, tradition can be a formidable barrier to innovation. So Linkner advised doing a "judo flip" by doing the 180-degree opposite of what tradition or experience would suggest. Rather than immediately dumping money and resources into solving a problem, try throwing imagination at it, he advised.

4. Get scrappy.
True innovators like to "MacGyver" their problems
, he said, in reference to the popular 1980s detective show about a protagonist who always got himself out of impossible jams with limited tools and resources. "It’s the classic mindset of the start-up, but even large, well-established organizations can adopt it by envisioning how a new start-up firm would try to gain traction in its niche. You can’t think that way without being the start-up," said Linkner.

5. Push the boundaries. Genuine disruption comes from more than just incremental change, observed Linkner. He advocates the "10X" test that his firm uses in evaluating venture investments. Does the idea have the potential for a tenfold improvement over an existing product or service that’s being offered? It could be a tenfold improvement in market size, cost, revenue or some other key metric that you use.


"No matter how good things are going, we can’t become intoxicated by our own success," observed Linkner. How many of these 5 obsessions do you honestly think you have? If you answered three or less, it may be time to reboot your world view.

If the city of Detroit can reinvent itself for the better, so can you.

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Innovation, entrepreneurship, Detroit comeback

Friday, July 10, 2015

Take a Lesson from USA Women’s Soccer—Don’t Write Off “Problem” Employees

Even if you don’t know a yellow card from a yellow cab, you had to be impressed by the USA Women’s World Cup soccer championship victory on Sunday in Vancouver. Led by midfielder, Carli Lloyd, the USA Women trounced Japan 5-2 to reach the pinnacle of the world’s most popular game for the first time since 1999.

Today, the team will be the first women’s sports team of any kind to be honored with a ticker tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.

Lloyd, who was cut from the US national team a few years ago, completed a remarkable physical and attitude turnaround with three breathtaking goals in the World Cup Championship game. Lloyd thanked her trainer James Galanis, the soccer guru who took a young girl just cut from the US Under-21 team — who actually considering quitting the sport — and helped teach her how to be a professional.

“All this from a woman who looked lost and out of sorts all through the [early round games], turning the ball over and uncomfortably shoehorned into a holding midfield role. She had one assist, no goals and no impact,” opined NY Post sportswriter Brian Lewis.
That is, until coach Jill Ellis took Lloyd aside and told her she was going to put another player into her regular midfield spot and push Lloyd up the field and let her lead the attack. Coach Ellis had faith in Lloyd to be the engine of the U.S. offense.
What a difference when the person you report to has faith in you in tough spots. Before this Women’s World Cup started, ex-US coach Pia Sundhage (now coaching Sweden’s national team) told the New York Times, “Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach, by the way. When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst. It was so delicate, so, so delicate.’’

In addition to Lloyd’s heroics, the USA women did NOT resort to showboating or trash-talking after jumped out to a stunning 4-0 lead in the first 16 minutes of the game—the soccer equivalent of scoring four touchdowns in the first quarter of the NFL Super Bowl. They held their composure as Japan—like Germany and Sweden in earlier games—become frustrated and grabbed, slide-tackled and otherwise got more physical to try to slow down the potent USA offense.

Kudos also to 35 year-old Abby Wambach, longtime team captain and aging veteran, gracefully accepting a substitute role after leading the team for over 10 years or rebuilding and tinkering.
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In sports, as in business and client relationships, chemistry and camaraderie can be more important than technical competency, when it comes to determining the right fit for the team you want to build.
TAGS: USA Women’s Soccer, Carli Lloyd, problem employees, out of the box, ticker tape parade

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Are You Ultra-Productive or Ultra Self-Destructive? (Part 2)

As we discussed in Part 1 of this post, Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of the bestseller Emotional Intelligence 2.0, shared 11 Things Ultra-Productive People Do Differently in a blog we help publish with our clients New York Society of Security Analysts and Naylor, LLC.

Directionally, we think Bradberry’s tips have merit, but like everything else, should be taken with a grain of salt which we’re happy to supply.

We know most of you are already among the most productive, highly motivated and driven people in our society. So you want to be more productive, not self-destructive, as you strive for a higher and higher bar each day. We commented on the first 5 in our previous post.

6. They Say No

No is a powerful word that ultra-productive people are not afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, they avoid phrases such as I don’t think I can or I’m not certain. Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them. WE COULDN’T AGREE MORE. We also believe you should try to avoid non-committal words such as “maybe”, “perhaps”, “let me think about it” and “let’s just play it by ear”… especially when you really mean “NO!”

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Learn to use no, and it will lift your mood, as well as your productivity.

7. They Only Check E-mail At Designated Times

Ultra-productive people don’t allow e-mail to be a constant interruption. In addition to checking e-mail on a schedule, they take advantage of features that prioritize messages by sender. They set alerts for their most important vendors and their best customers, and they save the rest until they reach a stopping point. Some people even set up an auto-responder that lets senders know when they’ll be checking their e-mail again. We’d like to add just a few nuances here. It’s OK to keep your email pop-up and instant messaging on all the time—just have the discipline to avoid responding instantly. Again, follow Bradberry’s advice and respond only at designated times of day. Also, make sure you ALWAYS proof your email replies carefully before hitting the SEND button. Once you get into this habit, you’ll be surprised how many errors of grammar (and bad judgment) you’ll prevent yourself from making.

8. They Don’t Multitask

Ultra-productive people know that multitasking is a real productivity killer. Research conducted at Stanford University confirms that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

Researchers found that heavy multi-taskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch.

Our take? You might be able to switch quickly between two, three or even more tasks on your plate. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re really working on more than one thing at a time with any sort of efficiency. Be fast. Don’t be foolish.

9. They Go off The Grid

Don’t be afraid to go off grid when you need to. Give one trusted person a number to call in case of emergency, and let that person be your filter. Everything has to go through them, and anything they don’t clear has to wait. This strategy is a bulletproof way to complete high-priority projects. As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, we try to take a 24-hour break from all forms of screen and technology every single week. In HB’s case it’s from 12 noon Saturday to 12 noon Sunday most weeks. Try it. It works great and you’ll come back recharged, not hopelessly out of touch.

10. They Delegate

Ultra-productive people accept the fact that they’re not the only smart, talented person in their organization. They trust people to do their jobs so that they can focus on their own. Our take? Hire people not like yourself who are especially good (or at least enjoy doing) things that are not in your wheelhouse. Our client, Gary Klaben of Coyle Financial Advisors in Chicago, has a great piece coming out soon about not being the “HIPPO” at your organization (only the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion counts).

11. They Put Technology to Work for Them

Technology catches a lot of flak for being a distraction, but it can also help you focus. Ultra-productive people put technology to work for them. Our advice—be selective about which new tools, apps and toys can really make you more productive. You don’t want to be a slave to them just to look cool and cutting edge. You also have to factor in time for the learning curve, updates, tech support, etc. before you can really determine if the next “shiny object” in your tool-belt is really making you more productive.


Again, explore any and all habits, tools and philosophies that can make you more productive. But you’ll never get too 100 percent. That’s okay. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably more efficient than the vast majority of your peers, not to mention the average American worker.


TAGS: David Bradberry, Finance Professionals Post, 11 Things Ultra-Productive People Do

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Professionals Can Learn from Bumper Stickers

I saw a great bumper sticker on the drive to work yesterday:  “Sorry for Driving So Close in Front of You.” If that wasn’t snarky enough, the message was in small type, so you had to be on the verge of tailgating the driver to read it. DISCLOSURE—I have a lead foot at times, but I was at a stoplight when I came across this particular bumper decal.

The point is, things aren’t always what they seem. It’s all a matter of perspective. Depending on whom you ask, your business or practice is  either on the verge of extinction or about to enter a golden age of customer/client engagement, connectivity and profitability. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I wrote a story about this phenomenon last week for Association Adviser, published by one of our longtime clients, Naylor, LLC. It's geared for trade association executives. But since many of you belong to associations, serve on boards of associations or partner with associations as you build out your niches, should find it a fun, but poignant read.

Have a great weekend and let me know if you see any great bumper stickers on the road. As the father of a newly minted teenage driver, I had to laugh (and cry) when I saw this one the other day.


TAGS: Bumper stickers, gaining a new perspective, learn while driving