Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

On The Plane: The New Corner Office

We used to say that airplanes were the last place on earth where we could be out of touch. No phones, no email, no co-workers appearing in your doorway with just one quick question. There’s real power in that time when we’re suspended between two geographies, high above the clouds.It provides a respite from the usual demands tugging at us and allows us that true luxury — time to think.

Amazing things can happen in that chunk of time, be it an hour or six. Many people find an ability to focus on a plane that is all too rare in a regular workday. Ideas emerge. Decisions get made. Presentations are written.

Is it really being disconnected that makes us able to think? Or is it being forced to sit in a seat with a tiny desk in front of you, with few distractions beyond the in-flight magazine? I think there’s something to that.

It reminds me of a tip I once heard on how to go about writing a book. This sage advice was expressed in the acronym BIC. Otherwise known as Butt In Chair.

Now that more and more flights offer Wi-Fi onboard, does that spoil the feeling of stolen time we enjoy on a plane? Maybe. Or maybe it just means we can spend our mini-vacation from the world online shopping and catching up on Facebook.

How To Create An Atmosphere Of Trust That Encourages Innovation: 5 Tips

Posted by Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

At Tribe, we’re seeing more and more large companies making innovation a priority. Over and over, we hear how CEOs see innovation as the key to their companies’ growth. To stay competitive, top management feels the pressure to continuously innovate, and to innovate faster and faster all the time.

But how do you create a culture that fosters innovation? What do you need to do as a leader to make good ideas happen? How do you encourage your people to take the risks that are required to find new ways of solving old problems?

One answer is that you have to simultaneously build a culture of trust. Innovation thrives in a workplace where the crazy idea gets a warm reception. Only when people feel comfortable suggesting a different way will they go out on a limb and risk embarrassment in front of their managers and peers.

Make the potential up side for sharing good ideas overcome the natural resistance to go out on a limb. Honor the brilliant ideas that have changed the company over the years and decades. Remind employees of all the times in your company’s history that a new idea has changed the landscape of your company or even your industry. Help employees see that the company has always valued bold thinking.

Have a no-harm, no-foul attitude towards bad ideas.. If you can make it safe for employees to suggest something that might be stupid, you’ll improve your chances of them offering suggestions that are truly brilliant. Even better, make it known when you yourself come up with an idea that turns out to be a royal flop, and encourage the other managers in your company to do the same. The price of good ideas is being able to generate a lot of ideas, some of which will necessarily be bad.

Encourage an environment where fledgling ideas will be treated tenderly. If employees feel that any idea they offer up will be immediately pounced on by others, who will then poke holes in it and explain why it will never work, they’ll naturally be reluctant to share creative solutions that are half-baked.

Remember that all innovations begin as half-baked ideas. Few creative solutions emerge fully formed. They must go through a process of being evolved and refined, and that process is often best done with a cross-section of disciplines and departments. To forge a stronger idea, have a marketing idea viewed through the lens of the operations guys, and let the sales team react to the latest brainstorm from R&D.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you’re building a culture of innovation at your company:

1. Articulate a clear vision for what the company is trying to do so employees know what success looks like

2. Realize that innovation requires employees to be willing to embarrass themselves.

3. Coach employees to greet any new idea with suggestions on how to make it stronger, not reasons why it won’t work

4. Invite ideas from all levels of employees – especially from line workers, drivers, and other employees who are closest to the front lines

5. Involve people from different departments and at various levels in the company to help evolve an idea.

Free Shipping Enables My Shopping Addiction

-posted by Alexis Snell

With online shopping more popular than ever, it is crucial for companies to keep an edge on the competition. My favorite perk offered for online shopping is when the company throws in free shipping.

I say this because the shipping cost always seems to kill me in the end. I think I am getting a great deal on a 40% off dress, but then nope, here comes the shipping price, which just negates the great deal I got on the item.

Thankfully there are companies out there that care enough to contribute to my online shopping obsession. Companies like Target, Macy’s, Gap and Banana Republic offer free shipping once you hit a certain price point for your order. This is helpful since I end up with more items than I originally started out to buy, but it is not helpful to my wallet since it compels me to spend more on useless items just to reach the free shipping plateau.

Next up are the companies that ask for a once-a-year membership fee and then give you free shipping on any purchase after that fee is paid. Overstock.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders all offer this option to their customers. Again, beneficial, but I still don’t feel like I am getting my money’s worth.

My most favorite (and I am sure everyone else’s) are the websites that offer free shipping no matter what the cost of the item and without a membership fee. These sites were made for the indecisive shopper like myself. Zappos, Piperlime, Endless and Shopbop. (Notice the first three I mention are primarily shoe websites, this is not an accident.)

In addition to free shipping, they all offer free returns, an even greater bonus when shopping online. They understand what it is like to fall in love with something online, wait impatiently for the UPS man to drop it at your door and then hate it as soon as you unwrap it from the plastic wrap.  A lot of websites offer free shipping (in some form or another) but not many offer free returns. This service is supremely comforting to me. I know that I can purchase something and if I don’t like the item or I feel guilty for buying it, I can return it at no cost to me except for the time it takes to tape up the box.

If you haven’t made the leap into online shopping because of the added shipping cost, check out some of the sites I mention above. However, be warned. This new option for shopping can become addictive. But hey, there are worse things out there.

-Alexis

Z-Day

Though it may not seem like an inspirational topic, zombies have always sparked an extreme interest in me. Yes, I realize that zombies are outside the realm of reality, but it is extremely interesting to think about. I have always taken interest in zombie movies and games alike. I like the sense of camaraderie that mankind must have to ban together and survive. I actually find it to be quite inspiring, as well as eye opening to what I might do in such a scenario.

Some people would take the approach of strength in numbers. However, when your talking about an extremely contagious virus, others might say that solitude would be the only survival method.

Personally, I believe a lot would depend on who you were with when the virus struck.  Hopefully you would be with close friends or loved ones, so they could join you in your plan. Initial attempts would be made by the government to quarantine the infected and activist groups would keep them from killing the zombies in an inhumane way. While powerful men behind desks use their pens to battle to a solution, the virus would spread uncontrollably. Panic and chaos would ensue, but there is a bright side. A plan I have always had would be to steal a yacht. According to what I can gather from the majority of films and games, the bodily function of zombies is still that of a human minus the brain functionality. So, swimming would not be possible because the lack of motor skill function would have left the zombie uncoordinated ultimately drowning the zombie that needs oxygen to survive.

After that, it’s easy. Take the yacht deep to sea and find a remote island that was never inhabited by humans. When supplies run low, head back to a continent and fill up (this may be quite dangerous depending on whether or not your good at being stealthy) then return to sea. If you were to ever run out of gas you and your mates could simply be adrift until you did hit land. Ideally you would want to be in the Atlantic as oppose to the Pacific because distance would become an issue.

That’s it. You spend the remainder of your days in an early retirement traveling the seas or setting up your own island paradise. The only issue if you are equipped to handle zombies the brief time your on land is, what if a zombie bites a shark?

-Caleb

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Tina Fey On Management Techniques (“Bossypants”)

I’ve recently found a hilarious and realistic source for management techniques. Reading Tina Fey’s new book “Bossypants,” I not only worried my husband by laughing so hard he was afraid I would wake up our son, the dog and the neighbors, but also offered him frequent tidbits like, “Actually, this is really great management advice.” I stand by that comment, however.

In addition to pointing out workplace truisms like the difference in male and female comedians being that the male versions pee in cups, Fey also offers useful advice like “Bossypants Lesson #183: You Can’t Boss People Around If They Don’t Really Care.” Some of her best management advice turns out to be recycled from Lorne Michaels, although I have no problem accepting hand me downs from either Fey or Michaels. This is one of my favorites:

“Producing is about discouraging creativity.” Which translates to other industries as the fact that managing a group of talented people often means being the one who has to say no. As Fey describes it, “You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says ‘Welcome to Denmark.’ (The prop guys say) ‘we just thought it would be funny.’ And you have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa’s face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let’s go with the bran muffin on the white plate.”

Another bit of advice that really resonated with me was her conviction that “When Actors have ideas it’s very important to get to the core reason behind their idea.” Now most of us don’t boss around Actors, but many of us do manage folks who consider themselves stars. If we’re lucky, they are actually talented. Actors having ideas is akin to regular employees dragging their feet or resisting the doing of something they’re supposed to be doing. Fey’s wisdom for getting to the bottom of it:

“Is there something you’re asking them to do that’s making them uncomfortable? Are they being asked to bare their midriff or make out with a Dick Cheney look-alike? (For the record, I have asked actors to do both, and they were completely game.) Rather than say, ‘I’m uncomfortable breast-feeding a grown man who I just met today,’ the actor may speak in code and say something like ‘I don’t think my character would do that.’ Or ‘I’ve hurt my back and Im not coming out of my dressing room.’ You have to remember that actors are human beings. Which is hard sometimes because they look so much better than human beings. Is there someone in the room the actor is trying to impress? This is a big one and should not be overlooked. If a male actor is giving you a hard time about something, you must immediately scan the area for pretty interns.”

Really, that’s the crux of Fey’s management wisdom. Remember that the people you’re managing are human beings. People with egos and quirks, with big ideas and dumb ones, with good days and bad. Especially when you’re managing creative talent, whether it’s comedic writing and acting or brainstorming corporate events or developing computer code, it’s useful to acknowledge that the people who make it all happen are not machines. They’re human beings, with all the brilliance and annoyance that includes.

Tribe, Inc: Better Than A Trip to Japan

As a new recruit here at Tribe, Inc., summing up the positive experiences I’ve had in words without sounding over eager could be difficult. I would like to take some time to highlight the friendliness of the team, the quality of the work and the general professionalism displayed here every day, but let me sum up my feelings in a different way.

A couple of years ago my wife and I took a trip to Japan. Her brother was working there with his wife and it was the perfect opportunity to go for a visit. One day during our stay, we decided to head to the beach. We prepared as you normally would with towels, swimsuits and flip-flops. Before going to the beach, my sister-in-law Tara suggested we stop off in the old Samurai town close to their home for a parade that was taking place. Sounding like a good idea, my wife and I agreed. When we arrived, the parade was just beginning. Standing on the edge of the street in a somewhat remote part of Japan, we tended to stand out in the crowd. So much so that one of the groups noticed us and began attempting to communicate with us.

Eventually it was determined that they were offering me the opportunity to help them push their float. This was not a float you would see in your local parade. This was constructed using large thick hardwood lumber and was not light. I was pretty much “all in” during my trip to Japan so I thanked them for the offer and agreed to help the group push the float.

The parade began and there I was in a small town in Japan helping push this parade float. It was going pretty well as we reached a point on the road that dipped down and allowed us to gain some momentum. Then from the sidewalk I heard my wife say, “Oh Alan. Oh no.”

As I peaked around the corner from the back of the float, I realized we were about to turn a tight corner and go straight up a big hill. Did I mention that this thing was heavy? We made the turn and everything slowed down. There I was with my “fellow” Japanese grunting and groaning and pushing this thing up the hill. This is where I made a very bad mistake. If you recall, we were on our way to the beach. Therefore, I was doing all of this in flip-flops. Once I hit the hill, they kept slipping on me and I wasn’t able to get any traction. This lead me to make the horrible error of discarding them on the street to push with my bare feet.

It was working out well. We reached the top, my Japanese friends all thanked me for my help and asked me to hang out and eat with them. However, this was not an option. Two things were happening with me at this point. Neither of them good:

  1. After spending a week in Japan in the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning, I was dehydrated to the point of almost passing out.
  2. The soles of me feet were shredded.

My wife brought me my flip-flops and I put them back on and told her, “We need to go back to the house. Right. Now.” My sister-in-law Tara raced ahead of us to go get the car as my wife and I moved a bit slower. At one point, I just walked into a carport and sat in the shade because I knew I was close to passing out. A young Japanese girl saw us in a moment of need and went into her house and brought back a tray consisting of two cold teas and a large bowl of water with ice. We thanked her and I began drinking.

A few minutes later Tara showed up with the car and we headed back to the house. Once we arrived, my wife, being the wonderful person she is, began helping me fix up my feet. I won’t go into the details, but it can be described as, “not fun.”

So how do my first few weeks at Tribe, Inc. compare to having my feet shredded due to helping push a huge and incredibly heavy float up a steep hill and almost passing out on the streets of Japan? It was waaaaaaaay better than that.

-Alan

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Tips For Building Trust In The Corporate Workplace

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock lately, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an online forum or town  hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management the hard questions. That gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. By answering their questions though, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is a management blog, which we at Tribe liken to “walking the halls, electronically.” A employee blog allows a CEO to communicate one on one with the entire workplace, and to reinforce the vision over and over, and to discuss a range of aspects of that vision.

— posted by Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What a Fifth Grader Can Do That Scares Many CEOs

At Tribe, we often find top leadership in major national and global companies reluctant to blog. Although it’s a fantastic way to build employee engagement, particularly in companies with multiple locations separated by geography, CEOs and other high-level management tend to be apprehensive.

My fifth grader could teach them a thing or two. His blog, MythMash, is read in countries ranging from the US and the UK to China, India, Brazil, Sweden and Malaysia.

This is how he describes MythMash on the home page: “We find all the Internet myths online, and see if they are real or fake. All posts written, and researched thoroughly, by John Baskin.” He posts about eight posts a month, the same number we shoot for in the blog you’re now reading – which, incidentally, takes the entire staff of Tribe rotating responsibility for contributing regularly.

His most popular post is currently “Is Elvis Presley Still Alive?” followed closely by “If You Shoot A Car’s Gas Tank, Will It Explode?” Both are classics, if you ask me. Sometimes he reveals to his readers that a myth is false, sometimes that it actually is true and other times, like in the case of Elvis, he’ll come right out and say it’s hard to know.

He’s also the only blogger I know personally who actually makes money on his blog. Thanks to Google Adsense, his site draws revenue from advertisers ranging from Coke to Sephora, from technology companies to bee keepers.

Originally, he planned to publish his MythMash content in a magazine that he could sell door-to-door in the neighborhood. After further consideration, he switched to a blog format because, as he says, “That way I could reach more people.” He’s right. It would be much tougher for a fifth-grader in Atlanta to go door-to-door in China, India, Brazil, Sweden, Malaysia  — and all the other countries where he has readers.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Delicious Doughnuts

The origins of the doughnut are unclear. Some say the doughnut was introduced by Dutch settlers in the 19th century. An American named Hansen Gregory claimed to have invented it in 1847 on a lime trading ship when he was 16 years old. Regardless of the origin, one thing is very clear: Doughnuts are delicious. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life doughnuts would definitely be on the short list. My stand by favorite is a hot glazed Krispy Kreme pulled right off the conveyor belt. Regardless of how may times I frequent the fine establishment on Ponce de Leon Ave I’m overcome with a child-like excitement. I must wear a paper hat, stand in front of the glass and watch the doughnuts being made, and then consume as many as I can as fast as possible until I’m sticky and nauseous.

It’s not just the Krispy Kreme ones that I like. I grew up on Dunkin Donuts. They were always a Saturday morning garage sale staple. Once or twice a year I would look forward to getting up early with my mom and brother to drive around and put signs up knowing that I would be rewarded with a box of doughnuts. We would get an assorted mix and then cut them up in quarters so we all could get a taste of each flavor.

When I travel I love finding local doughnut places. You’ve got the obvious ones like Café Du Monde in New Orleans, but if you happen to be in Iceland be sure to stop by Bernhoftbakari  and try the Berlinarbolla (it’s the round one that’s covered in powdered sugar). If you live up North you’re probably familiar with Tim Hortons. Canadians love their doughnuts and eat the most per capita of any nation. Right now my favorite is Bob’s Doughnuts on Polk Street in San Francisco. Go at 5am and watch them make the doughnuts and eat a hot apple fritter.

I’m not sure what it is about doughnuts I like best. They are very delicious but it’s more than that. I love the colors and the fillings, the icings and the sprinkles but most of all I like the smiles on peoples faces. A doughnut is a joyous food. It makes me happy just thinking about them.

-Lindsay

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What Do Your Meetings Say About Your Culture?

Walk into a meeting in any major corporation and you get an instant snapshot of the culture. Some companies take their role as hosts quite seriously, offering individually made cups of coffee or tea from a Keurig machine, bottled water and gracious introductions. Others may spend the time during visitors’ presentations checking their Blackberries, texting under the table or even nodding off.

In internal meetings, some companies may operate with the need for speed while others languish at the conference table, deciding only that decisions on item after item be postponed until later discussions off line. Often, internal meetings feel so unproductive, or uninteresting, that employees have to divert their attention to other things, just to stay awake.

I once saw a post on Facebook from one of Tribe’s clients, a lone female manager in a sea of white middle-aged males. She posted: “I’m sitting in a room full of guys all wearing cashmere V-neck sweaters.” Two seconds later, another of our clients sitting in the same meeting posted, “Hey! I’m one of those guys wearing a V-neck sweater!”

What do your meetings say about your internal culture? Is your company meeting style more Wall Street Journal, USA Today or Fast Company? Take this quick quiz to see:

1. When do meetings at your company generally begin?

A)    Punctually at the appointed time

B)   We start pretty much on time, but there may be a few late arrivals

C)   We never start on time

2. During meetings at our company:

A)    We move through a prepared agenda

B)   We don’t really need an agenda because we know what the meetings about

C)   A meeting called for one reason might morph into other discussions

3. At our company, meetings are generally led:

A)    By the most senior person in the room

B)   By the person who called the meeting

C)   We all sort of do it as a team discussion

4. For big meetings with people from other companies, we generally wear:

A)    Business suits

B)   Business casual

C)   T-shirts and flip flops

5. The first few minutes of our meetings are generally spent:

A)    We get right down to business and start with the first item on the agenda

B)   Thanking everyone for being there and making any necessary introductions

C)   Some miscellaneous chit chat and joking around

6. We hold our meetings:

A) In a conference room we reserve ahead of time

B) Maybe in someone’s office or else in whatever room is big enough and empty

C) Standing up, to keep them from going too long

7. The most offensive thing I can imagine someone doing in one of our meetings is:
A)    Belching

B)   Telling an off-color joke

C)   Sexting

Legend:

Wall Street Journal – If you answered mostly A’s, your company has more of a Wall Street Journal style. Your culture is all business, prizes efficiency, respects hierarchy and operates according to established protocol. Your employees probably don’t share a lot of warm and fuzzy personal details.

USA Today – If you answered mostly B’s, your company has more of a USA Today style. Your culture is productive but also fairly relaxed, prizes practicality, values both business results and the people who create those results. Your employees probably work hard, but at a comfortable pace.

Fast Company – If you answered mostly Cs, your company has more of a Fast Company style. Your culture is casual, and values creativity and innovation more than processes and systems. The pace at your company may at times feel ridiculously fast. Your employees probably feel quite free to express their own individuality at work.