Matt Gornick

Why meetings fail and how to change that

Posted in Work by mgornick on May 16, 2009

I recently attended several meeting which, in hindsight, turned out to be completely pointless.  Oddly enough, we have meetings to fulfill a particular goal (e.g. inform others, brainstorm, follow-up on pending tasks) but when meetings occur just because their is nothing else to do, everything gets lost in translation.

I see one huge reason that meetings fail: lack of strict agenda.  From this there are two things that could occur:

1. There is absolutely no agenda at all, or

2. There is an agenda but it is not strictly adhered to

The first bad, but the second is worse.  May people lack agendas in their meetings because they don’t think ahead or they do not think that it will drastically improve the quality of their meeting.  Unfortunately, it is even worse when people think that their agenda is solid and perfect.  This gives people the false sense of hope that their meeting will in turn be successful and productive even though the opposite is usually true.

So how do you fix dysfunctional meetings?  There have been books written on this topic and a laundry list of remedies that people prescribe, but their are two fundamental laws that should be followed:

1. Create an agenda.  This includes:

  • creating a document that outlines the date/time/duration this meeting will occur
  • key bullet points that need to be addressed (limit to ~2 or 3 per hour)
  • sub-bullet points that are more specific and granular
  • try to separate the document so notes can be taken on the paper (if necessary)

2. Follow that agenda.  This includes:

  • Having the person in charge (usually the one who created the agenda in the first place) keep the group from digressing.  This is critical!  Many meetings start with a goal to inform the team of everyone’s progress only to find that one person spoke and then started a debate about new features, previous meetings/engagements, and highly granular topics.
  • Sometimes the agenda creator is shy or timid and thus feels bad if they need to cut a topic off or move onto other items.  I would recommend trying a timer or something to the effect of, “We’re going to go around the table and give about 5 minutes per person to fill everyone in on what action items they’ve completed. Go!”  This gives each person a clear understanding that they need to fit possibly months of work into a 5 minute summary so they need to be concise and cogent.  Once you allow for unlimited time to be spent talking and digressing, the meeting will in fact fail.

This summer, I’ll be following my own advise when setting up meetings with OrangeQC.  We’ll be following a mix of Agile and Extreme Programming methodologies in order to get things done.  I’ll keep you in the loop as to the successes and failures of my future meetings.

Apple and Competing with Piracy as a Startup

Posted in Work by mgornick on May 2, 2009

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2009/04/30/pirates-go-for-their-next-target-apple.aspx

I read the recent article by The Motley Foot on “Pirates Go for Their
Next Target: Apple” and started to think how to apply their strategy
can be applied to startups. To summarize, the article describes how
piracy is a problem in industries such as music, movies, software, and
hardware. The music and movie industries have taken the stance of
suing everyone and everything they can. Software developers (such as
game makers and Microsoft) try to add more complex copy protection and
varieties of product registration. Oddly enough Apple is quite
different by selling software without protection as well as building
hardware that takes years of expertise to design. Because of this, I
see many different avenues for startups to apply these tactics to
their own brand (slighted to B2B software startups, but they should
apply across the board).

1. “Hard to copy”: Pirates had an immensely difficult time replicating
the latest iPod Shuffle because “[the] basic components, like
resistors and capacitors, are too tiny to even identify.” [1] As a
startup, if you’re building software to run locally on a computer
their is little one can do to protect your software. The solution
(and buzz word) is cloud computing. Amazon, Microsoft, Google all
have their own cloud resources for people to use. Running your
startup on the cloud or integrating a critical component with cloud
resources is immensely beneficial. People can’t pirate something they
can’t install (most of the time).

2. “Be Open”: Apple touched on these ideas with no protection on their
OS X packages and much of their consumer software. I would venture a
guess that they are hoping people will pirate it so people are more
inclined to purchase higher end Macs. They opened up their software
so it can become viral and ubiquitous. Startups should take the same
route. Twitter is famous for providing an open API and toolset for
developers and look where they’ve gone. Now everyone on different
platforms, devices, etc. are all using Twitter. Startups should try
to build there idea as open as possible. B2B startups should
definitely take this route as products like Salesforce.com, SAP, and
Quickbooks can always bring in feeds of data that can be of use to
them. If you allow companies to utilize the data in a way you never
thought possible, then you will have created a long-term customer (and
beta tester for new features).

3. “Customer Service”: In a B2B startups, your customers are directly
paying you for the service you provide. It is easy to see the
connection between exceptional customer service, support, and
assistance and how likely these customers will stay with your product.
(Especially in a startup) if a customer requests a feature, small
change, etc. we need to give it to them. If the feature pertains to
the industry you’re marketing then it will be immensely useful to more
of your customers that haven’t thought of it yet. For example,
building small features (possibly for a fee) for some customer and
providing them to other customers down the line. Your startup looks
like it is in tune with their customer industry and fast-paced;
whereas, you literally learned of the idea from your users. Also,
most companies fail miserably at customer service. If you can provide
an easy way to talk to a person, you’d be surprised how customers
respond.

The basic principles that Apple uses to compete with piracy, startups
should use as a template to attract more customers and keep their
competition at bay!

OrangeQC Office Space

Posted in Personal, Work by mgornick on April 26, 2009

http://mattgornick.posterous.com/orangeqc-office-space

This weekend a bunch of us cleaned up the office space at Research Park.  That basically involved taking down all of the cubicles as they were blocking communication and innovation.

Once we setup the space with all of our stuff, I’ll post more pictures.

80+ Hour Week and lack there of…

Posted in Personal, Work by mgornick on July 6, 2008

I recently read a post [linked below] that discussed “How to work 80+ Hour Week.” Not only would I highly recommend read the post but also brush up on the “Cliffs Notes” version of the “4 Hour Work Week.” Essentially, the book describes ways to optimize your time, produce a business with reoccurring revenues, and outsourcing various parts of your life.  Some parts I agree with, but most are too fanciful and idealistic.  As alluded to in the linked post, you need to do what you love.  If you love sleeping late and not working, then maybe starting up the next YouTube or Facebook isn’t for you.  I guess it all depends on one’s definition of success.

I am from the breed that believes that the quality of work outweighs the quantity of work (speaking specifically to hours).  I would rather spend 1 hour coding, designing, etc. then 5 hours producing something subpar.  This belief comes with a catch and that is to put quality work into those 5 hours, 40 hours, 80+ hour weeks.  Yes, it seems impossible at times and immensely difficult.  Physically there is no way to maintain “optimal quality of work” for prolonged periods of time just as a runner cannot run a 2 mile at a speed of a 100m sprinter.  The goal is to get the very most out of yourself when you are working.  When you begin to slip, one need to be cognizant enough to refocus their efforts and continue on.

The emphasis on quality of work is important.  Through my experience in New York, people put in ridiculous amounts of hours into there work (100+ hour work weeks aren’t all that rare).  Some do it out of necessity; others out of the shear lack of putting in quality time to work and running through the motions of the day.  I easily put in 80 hours of work into my internship (and I don’t get paid for working past 40 hours per week).  When I am slowing down or realize that I’m not producing quality work, I know its time for me to take a small break.  I’ve made a list of things I do in order to help refocus my attention and get back to performing quality work:

1. Simply get up, walk around, talk to people/teammates/fellow interns.  As simple as this sounds, the small change in environment helps clear your mind.  

2. Get physical!  Go to the gym for an hour, run, swim, play a game of basketball.  I’ve been going to the gym during lunch to get a good workout in and once I return to my desk I’m clear headed and ready to start.  Sometimes getting your body moving and exercising is the best cure to focusing on work.

3. Take 10 minutes to grab some food/drink.  Many people will swear by the craze of “Energy Drinks,” but if you care about your health and possibly dying of a heart attack at 25 (lol), I would recommend eating fresh fruits or having a smoothie/tea.  Natural food/drinks are not only much healthier but also contain natural sugar/caffeine to get you through the day.  If you’re used to drinking energy drinks, the slight amount of a boost you’ll receive from eating healthy will be pretty insignificant.  Try to ween yourself off of them and make healthier food choices.  It will pay off in the end when you are eating healthy, feeling better, and are more productive throughout your day.

Alluding to the second part of the title: “… and lack there of.”  All too often do I see people that work a lot less, produce less meaningful work, and are perfectly fine going through the motions of their current job.  I don’t think that working 80+ hours a week is for everyone.  Like I’ve said before, “It depends on your personal definition of success.”  To be perfectly honest, it is okay to work 40 hours per week (or even less) if you can survive and do what you truly love.  That style of living is more inline with the 4 Hour Work Week.  I can’t imagine my life without something on my list of “Things To Do”.  It keeps me occupied and always awaiting the next project.  

Take away point: Focus on quality rather than quantity of work.  Once you have quality, you can find ways to keep your endurance up and maintain better work habits.

Reference: 

http://jtame05.wordpress.com/2008/07/02/how-to-work-80-hour-weeks/

How to be Successful: Timeliness

Posted in Personal, School, Uncategorized, Work by mgornick on July 6, 2008

“If you are on time, you are late!”

This seemingly contradictory yet true quote still resonates with me to this day.  I first heard it during my freshman year of high school and only until recently do I see its impact on pursuing success.  

First, what is being “on time.” If you are in high school/college, its the simple act of arriving 1 microsecond prior to the lecturer uttering their first words of the class.  As much as people in this age group (myself included) will tend to disagree with this definition, we all know it to be true and live by it as we prioritize our lives.  This leads me back to the point that you are either one of two things: early or late.  I’ve found that being “on time” doesn’t cut it anymore.

I’ve listed the consequences of being “on time” to a business meeting:

1. I am not prepared.  If I sit down as people are talking, I’ve missed any handouts, preliminary conversation, and the chance to organize my notes and thoughts.  This is detrimental to myself as I will not get the most out of the meeting or be able to contribute my ideas.

2. I will delay the meeting. Because most people will wait until everyone is situated, I will have essentially wasted other people’s time.  Others will be waiting for me to “catch up” to what everyone was doing earlier.  In general, people don’t like their time to be wasted!

3. I will not be in control. This is probably the most detrimental to one’s success.  If I show up “on time”/late, I obviously didn’t schedule my day, prioritize, or manage my tasks well enough.  Although this is sometimes unavoidable, it hurts to lack control over a situation.

This leads me to a story of a friend of the family that was interviewing for a job.  She’s worked in various fields throughout her life, has a presentable resumé, and landed an onsite interview with a nearby company.  She *assumed* she knew where the location was and how to get there.  When the day came for her interview, she arrived “on time”; literally walked in the door at 8:30 am for an 8:30 am interview.  Do you think she was ecstatic that she made it in time?  Of course not.  The secretary told her that if she couldn’t make the effort to arrive early for an interview then she obviously didn’t care enough about the job.  The secretary was right! If you show up late for an interview, you might not be dependable with a project or task that needs to get done.  Being “on time” is being “late”.

Lets take my story from this summer’s internship.  We [the intern class] were told to meet at a particular location at 8 am.  What time do you think most people got there?  If you guessed between 6:30 am and 7:00 am, you’d be correct.  Especially if you are not familiar with the area, you should give yourself enough time to find the location and travel there if you’re lost.  If time permits, you should try to visit the site a day in advance to judge the time it will take to get there.  A point I will leave you with: what if you were the only person to show up at exactly 8:00 am?  How would you feel?  I suspect that it will coincide with the 3 points I listed for being “on time”.

I’ve found that being punctual and organizing my time has helped me take proper steps to success.  Refer back to my post on JP Morgan to help prioritize your schedule and maintain timeliness.

Intern Guide to Success in Manhattan: Housing

Posted in Personal, Work by mgornick on June 22, 2008

If you are an intern in Manhattan, finding a place to live for the summer can be a daunting task.  You want time to be successful, spend time with friends, explore the city, and of course live in a somewhat decent apartment.  I firmly believe that the environment that you live in contributes to your lifestyle and success.  If you live in a complete dump, that is the way your life will turn.  If you live in a clean and functional apartment, you will be that much better off.

The old adage, “The early bird gets the worm,” applies here.  Obviously, your first step is to actually know if you’ll be working in Manhattan/New York City area.  In line with that, you should *speak* to your employer on the telephone and ask for any resources for finding a place to live this summer.  A lot of firms have recommended living areas or prearranged housing for those that act early.  If your employer doesn’t have any valuable information, start looking at the near by universities and educational housing services.  For example, search for *university* on Google Maps for NYC you’ll receive various locations of local universities, small and large, that can help you with your housing decisions.  Do some research of the top 10 university housing options you can find and call their summer housing department.  Most of the time, they can provide you with critical application deadlines, information about other housing options, and guide you through the application process.

If you missed the cutoff for the applications for the university housing options, you’ll need to do a little more work.  Look into EHS (http://www.studenthousing.org/) because they have housing options open relatively late in the semester and can place you on a waiting list to get into the apartment of your choice.  You can browse Craigslist of something similar but odds are you will be spending too much.  You’ll need to consider living in a different burrow of NY or moving far north in Manhattan.  At this crossroad, start to look at your commute time and cost of transportation.  I know a quite of few interns that live in several cities in New Jersey or Brooklyn Heights and commute to work.  This is completely acceptable especially if the living conditions in your northern Manhattan options are unfavorable.  Living outside of Manhattan can be a good thing if you are down to the last minute.

The key to remember is that 1) time is of the essence and 2) you need to find a decent place.  There are plenty of apartments that are more spacious, less expensive, and will still be relatively close to your work in other parts of the city/surrounding areas.  Don’t be afraid to ask around or talk to your recruiter for questions about the area or apartment you’re looking at.  Working in Manhattan is stressful enough, you deserve at least a chance to live in a relaxed environment.

Intern Lifestyle in Manhattan

Posted in Health, Personal, Uncategorized, Work by mgornick on June 16, 2008

I haven’t wrote in a while, but I’ve been adjusting to the Manhattan lifestyle.  Since I’ve only been here a few weeks, I thought I would post an update as to my current lifestyle for success.

Work: I’m early to bed and early to rise.  Before I got to sleep, I create my list of things to do for the next day and review them when I wake up.  I find that this greatly helps me focus on what I need to accomplish for the day.  I arrive at work early and stay late (10-11 hours of work per day).  I love the project(s) that I’m working on so I have no problem putting in the time.

Health: Before I start work, I go to the gym for an hour and then prepare for work.  I’m starting to prepare a healthy breakfast and lunch the night before so that I can just fill my gym bag and leave in the morning.  I’ve been eating pretty healthy and going to the gym 5 days a week with a various mix of cardio, strength, and supplemental workouts (e.g. rock climbing).  

Financial: It is obvious that Manhattan is extraordinary expensive!  I found that purchasing food via freshdirect.com was actually cheaper and more convenient that going to a grocery store in Manhattan.  So far, I received my first order from Fresh Direct and I’m very satisfied.  I can fill out my order the night before and have the groceries delivered to my apartment the next day.  I find that it should save me countless hours each week due to traveling and comparison shopping.  Also, cooking my own food and bringing my own lunch has enabled me to save money that would otherwise go toward restaurants.  I’ve noticed the average price for a meal to be around $10; so by purchasing my food and preparing it myself, I can save a good deal of money this summer.

I am planning on writing an “Intern Guide to Manhattan” post that will give specifics on how interns can be successful and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in Manhattan.