Facebook to buy virtual reality firm Oculus VR for $2 billion

Facebook is getting into the virtual reality business.

The social networking giant announced plans Tuesday to buy virtual reality firm Oculus VR for $2 billion, its latest high-profile acquisition.

Oculus makes the Oculus Rift headset, which covers your eyes and immerses you in a virtual environment that responds to your head movements.

The Rift has demoed at tech industry events to rave reviews, though it isn’t yet available to consumers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declined to comment on when that might happen. Developers interested in building software for the device can purchase it for $350, and the company has received more than 75,000 orders so far.

The news follows Facebook’s purchases of mobile messaging service WhatsApp last month for $19 billion, and mobile photo app Instagram two years ago for $1 billion.

“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Zuckerberg said. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

As a company that makes its own hardware, Oculus is very different from Facebook’s previous acquisitions. But Zuckerberg said Facebook isn’t “going to try to make a profit off the devices long term.”

Facebook plans to help Oculus develop first as a platform for immersive gaming, before expanding into other fields like education and live media.

Oculus, Zuckerberg said, fits into Facebook’s long-term goals of “building the knowledge economy” and “connecting everyone.”

Punch a shark with the Oculus Rift

The focus for now is simply investing in the product; in the long term, Zuckerberg said the technology offered a variety of profit-making opportunities in “software and services.” He suggested that users might buy virtual goods or become targets for advertising.

Oculus has come a long way in a short period of time, having resorted to raising money on crowd-funding site Kickstarter just two years ago.

“At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook,” Oculus said in a blog post.

“But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.”

Oculus will likely face competition in virtual reality from Microsoft, which is rumored to be working on the technology, and Sony, which last week rolled out “Project Morpheus,” a VR system that will pair with the PlayStation 4 gaming console.

In a conference call with analysts Tuesday afternoon, Zuckerberg was dismissive of these efforts, saying Oculus is “years ahead” of its competition. Facebook and Oculus share a vision of taking virtual reality beyond gaming “to make it more of a ubiquitous computing platform,” he added.

Oculus will maintain its headquarters in Irvine, Calif., and will continue to operate independently, Zuckerberg said, citing the partnership with Instagram as a model.

The transaction includes $400 million in cash and $1.6 billion worth of Facebook stock. Investors weren’t impressed by the deal, sending Facebook (FBFortune 500) shares down 0.8% in after-hours trading.

Although the deal comes on the heels of Facebook’s blockbuster WhatsApp buy, Zuckerberg said investors shouldn’t expect Facebook to make big acquisitions like this frequently, calling them “rare” opportunities.

“The theory for WhatsApp… is that they’re on a path to have a billion people using their product in the near future, and there just are not that many services in the world that can reach a billion people,” he said. “Similarly, with Oculus, there are not that many companies that are building core technology that can be the next major computing platform.”

All the Major Companies Worth Less Than WhatsApp

Today, Facebook announced the acquisition of WhatsApp, the largest acquisition of any venture backed company in history. Started in 2009, the Company only raised $8 million and today is used by 450 million users globally across their mobile devices per month. Another remarkable stat is that – it only has 50 employees and never embraced the advertising model, only recently starting a $0.99/a year subscription model. Being a Facebook shareholder, only time will tell if this acquisition ends up being a smart move for them.

But, here’s a list of companies that have been around for a lot longer than WhatsApp and as of today are worth a lot less. Interestingly enough, all of these companies listed below have tangible goods – things you can touch and feel with solid profitability. WhatsApp on the other hand has a massive user base. Only time will tell what is important.

Congrats WhatsApp on a great exit. You’ve officially made history today and are an inspiration to many entrepreneurs.

Activison-Blizzard – $13.9B
Alcoa – $12.2B
American Airlines – $12.3B
Akamai – $10.9B
AmerisourceBergen – $15.9
Blackstone Group – $17.8B
Campbell Soup – $13.6
Chesapeake Energy – $17.2B
Chipotle – $17.1B
Citrix Systems – $10.7B
Coach – $13.5B
Consolidated Edison (ConEd) – $16.2B
Discovery Communicatons – $19.1B
Dr. Pepper Snapple Group – $10.2B
Expedia -$10.2B
The Gap – $19B
Fidelity – $15.8B
Harley-Davidson – $14.1B
Hertz – $11.5B
Icahn Enterprises -$13.1B
The J.M. Smucker Company – $10B
Kohl’s – $11.1B
Kroger – $19.4
Loews – $17B
Macy’s – $19.6B
Marriott International – $15.4B
Mattel – $12B
MGM Resorts – $12.7
Monster Beverage – $12B
Moody’s – $17.08B
News Corp – $10.27B
Nielsen – $17.6B
Nordstrom – $11.4B
Progressive – $14.3B
Ralph Lauren – $14.2B
Red Hat – $11.1B
Royal Caribbean Cruises – $11.4B
Ryanair – $15.5B
Sherwin-Williams – $19.4B
Southwest Airlines – $14.7B
Starwood Hotels & Resorts – $14.9B
Symantec – $14.4B
TD Ameritrade – $18.4B
The Carlyle Group – $11.1B
Tiffany & Co. – $11.4B
Tyson Foods – $13.1B
Under Armour – $11.4B
Whole Foods Market – $19.3B
Workday – $17B
Xerox – $13.2B

And to make this story even sweeter. One of the co-founders, who is now a billionaire with the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook, didn’t get hired by Twitter or Facebook in 2009. Now how’s that for a happy ending?

When Your Boss is Afraid of You

I was talking about branding (business branding, personal branding and their not-always-comfortable intersection) at a Marketing conference. When I came down the steps from the stage after my talk, a young woman was waiting for me.

“I loved your speech!” she said. “You gave me hope.”

“Why do you need hope?” I asked her. “What’s going on that seems hopeless?”

“My job,” she said. “It’s a mess. Do you have a minute to talk, by chance?”

“I have thirteen minutes,” I said. “I have to moderate a panel on the other side of this hotel eighteen minutes from now, and it takes five minutes to get there.”

“We could walk and talk, if that’s okay,” she said.

“What’s your name?” I asked her as we started walking. We’ll call her Annie.

“So, what’s up?” I asked.

“I’m in a terrible spot,” said Annie. “I started a new job sixteen months ago, and for the first year it was a dream job. About four months ago things started to get really bad. I can’t do anything right, in my VP’s eyes. He’s the person who hired me! He was so encouraging at first, and now it seems like I’m always in the doghouse with him.”

“Is the company doing well?” I asked.

“Really well,” she said. “Last year was our second-best year ever, and this year is on track to hit that or beat it. But my boss is so critical, I almost can’t stand it.”

“But — his Marketing programs are working, right?” I asked.

“Well — it’s not really his programs that are working,” said Annie. “It’s the new stuff we’re doing, the social media and outreach stuff that the company never did before last year.

My title is Social Media Coordinator. Everything I came to do, I’ve been able to do, and the results have been really encouraging. But now I feel like the biggest loser on the planet.”

“Run it down,” I said.

“At first it was a perfect match. He’s an old-school statesman type, and I’m twenty-eight and in need of a lot of mentoring.

But lately I can’t do anything right. He picks and picks at me about tiny things. I’ve lost pretty much all my mojo. Sometimes I cry on the way home from work, I hate my job so much.”

“What’s happened since you started working there?” I asked her. “Has your job description changed?”

“He hired me to look after our social media programs,” said Annie, “but I do a lot more than that, now. Most of the marketing team is really nice, but they know about things like trade shows and conferences. For instance, we have a booth at this conference, but I’m the only person in the department who’s come to any of the sessions.

We could all go to the sessions for free! There aren’t any customers coming to our booth when the sessions are running, but the Marketing people sit in the booth and talk to each other. It’s not like any Marketing team I’ve ever seen before.”

“Where’s your boss, the VP?” I asked. “Is he here, too?”

“No,” she said. “He stayed back in the office. He says he’s too old to deal with crowds. He doesn’t like networking. When I first took the job, I asked my boss why we didn’t have any kind of client newsletter. Liz, our company is 45 years old and they’ve never had a newsletter. My boss said ‘CAN-SPAM.'”

“The law against spam?” I asked her. “That seems like a pretty trivial obstacle.”

“It is,” she said. “If you keep a good list, you have no problems with CAN-SPAM. But my boss didn’t know that. He comes from a different generation. He wasn’t curious about it. It’s like he stopped trying new things many years ago, and is just going through the motions now.”

“He’s an older guy – older that me?” I asked her.

“He’s way older than you, and his viewpoint is even way older than he is,” said Annie. “I told him to come with me and hear you speak, and he said ‘I’m supposed to listen to an HR person tell me about Marketing?'”

“Ha!” I laughed. “That’s pretty good.”

“It’s really good he didn’t come see you,” she said. “You have purple cowboy boots on. His head would have exploded. Also, you sang opera during your talk.”

“That was ‘La Traviata,’ I said. “Opera is traditional! You can’t get more traditional than that.”

“My boss wouldn’t think so,” she said.

“Annie,” I said, “one more thing. Tell me about the CEO.”

“We have a fairly new CEO who started three years ago with the company,” she said. “The Board brought him in when our old CEO retired. I never met the old CEO, but the new one is amazing. I love his passion and his vision, and he’s making it happen.”

“How old is he?” I asked her.

“About forty, I guess,” she said. “He loves our online business, like I do. He loves social media and he loves building community. He speaks at a lot of conferences, too.”

“Does your VP go see your CEO when he speaks in public?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Annie. “There’s one other VP who’s awesome, and that’s our Sales VP. He’s in his sixties I would say, but he’s as out-of-the-box as you can get. He asked me to speak to the sales team at his upcoming sales retreat. I’m so excited! I’ve never made a big presentation before.”

We were halfway through the hotel lobby. I stopped in my tracks. “Annie,” I said, “you were in the company a year ago, when the last sales retreat happened. Did your boss, the VP of Marketing, speak to the sales team there?”

“No, I’m sure he didn’t,” said Annie. “When the Sales VP asked me to come and speak at the retreat, he said ‘It’s so terrific to finally have a Marketing person who can speak Sales.'”

“Well that’s it, then!” I said. “There’s your problem right there. You’ve got a go-go new CEO who loves social media. Your VP hires a young, seemingly harmless social media coordinator – that’s you — and you grow outside your little box too quickly. He’s freaking out. Your boss is afraid of you!”

“Oh, that’s silly,” said Annie, blushing like a tomato. “My boss is the VP of Marketing. I’m six years out of college.”

“I’m not saying your VP thinks you’ll take his job, although stranger things have happened,” I explained. “Apart from launching that html newsletter, what else have you done?”

“I started an online forum that is super-popular,” said Annie. “Not too much else – I updated our prospect database and created a set of tools for our salespeople to teach our customers about our online support.”

“Were you part of that online support project, too?” I asked her. “I was the Marketing liaison for that project, but I didn’t do a ton. I just kept people posted on what was happening.”

“So you have friends all over the company,” I offered.

“I do,” she said. “Once in a while, the CEO calls me to ask my advice. I never tell my boss about that, but I think the CEO tells him. I kind of see what you mean, now. My boss doesn’t like the attention I’m getting.”

“The man heard the term CAN-SPAM and used it as an excuse not to launch an email newsletter, probably for years!” I said. “He had the rest of the leaders snowed. He brought you in to solve a problem — his boss was on his back about being so behind the times with the Marketing programs. You’ve got a Marketing team that doesn’t talk to Sales and doesn’t network. You come in, shake everything up and have the VP of Sales as your biggest fan. Your manager is a fearful guy, and right now you look to him like his biggest problem.”

“What can I do?” she asked me. “I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to have enemies. My boss was so nice to me at first – you should have seen him. Now I can’t do anything right. He’s on my case every minute.”

“I would start a stealth job search, just to see what’s out there,” I said. “Things can change fast. Your fearful VP isn’t reacting to his paranoia by changing anything he’s doing, but by trying to squash your creativity and tamp down your flame. He could get fired any time. My suggestion is to start a stealth job search so that no matter what happens, you’ll be ready for action.”

“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells all day long,” said Annie.

She looked like she was about to cry.

“Look, my little sister,” I said, “what you’re going through is hard, but it’s great training. Everyone you run into or work with in your career will not love your brand of music. Some will, and some won’t.”

“That’s my favorite part of your speech!” she said. “You said ‘If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you.’ I love that! I want to put the poster on my cubicle wall.”

“You can download that badge at our site,” I said. “Annie, don’t walk on eggshells anymore. Remember what your mom used to tell you about those Daddy Long Legs bugs when you were little? They’re more scared of you than you are of them.”

“But when my manager picks at me….” Annie continued, “what do I do?”

“You smile and say ‘Oh wow, thanks Frank, I’ll take a look at that,” I said. “Smile, keep your chin up, and stop pretending that Frank is your mentor. He’s not. Maybe he was for a very short time, but right now, he could be learning from you if he weren’t so fearful and hostile.”

“Liz,” said Annie, “my boss’s name is actually Frank. That’s really weird.”

“I want you to stop trying so hard to please Frank,” I said. We had reached my conference hall. “Please yourself, Annie. Find your voice. Get your resume together, get it out there and see what happens. You might get a killer offer at another great place. The whole Frank impasse may clear up. When you get some altitude on your situation and take control of it, amazing things happen.”

“I’m still turning it over in my head,” said Annie. “Frank scared of me – a twenty-eight-year-old bumbling her way along?”

“Bumbling and trying new stuff all the time and making things happen,” I said. “Speaking to the Sales team as the first Marketing person ever to have that honor. Getting calls from the CEO when he needs advice. Yeah, you’re a real bumbler, Annie.”

“You’re the best!” said Annie, and gave me a little hug.

“Keep me posted!” I called over my shoulder as I stepped into the next conference room for my panel.

“And here’s our moderator,” said the session emcee as he walked over.

“Liz,” he said, “a lot of people want to hear about fear in the workplace. Do you think we can insert a question into the panel to touch on that?”

“I think that’s a brilliant idea,” I said.

Our company is called Human Workplace. Our mission is to reinvent work for people.

Our 12-week virtual coaching groups teach people how to brand themselves, how to choose a career direction and build a job-search strategy, and how to avoid the Black Hole and get great jobs with people who deserve you.

The 12-week virtual coaching group Put a Human Voice in Your Resume teaches you how to bring your power and personality across in your resume.

Join us!

Want to see what a Human-Voiced Resume looks like? Here’s one!

If you don’t want to write your own Human-Voiced Resume, we can write one for you.Here’s how.

Our CEO, Liz Ryan, is a former Fortune 500 HR vice president and the world’s most widely-read career and workplace columnist. Liz writes for Business Week, Yahoo!, the Huffington Post, Denver Post, Harvard Business Review, Kiplinger’s Finance and a bunch of other publications and shares career and workplace advice on CNN, NPR and BBC Radio. Liz draws the images in her columns, too.

Our 12-week virtual coaching group HR with a Human Voice has just launched and is open for registration. That’s our course for HR folks who are building their own Human Workplaces!

If the Human Workplace mission to humanize work resonates with you, here’s how you can get involved:

JOIN our LinkedIn group.

JOIN Human Workplace as aFriend (for free) to get our newsletter and free downloads every month.

JOIN us as an Individual Member ($99/year or $10/month) and use our library of articles, podcasts, E-Books and webinars on job-search, branding, Pain Letters, Human-Voiced Resumes, LinkedIn, networking and tons more!

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Follow us here on Linkedin (Click on the word FOLLOW at the top of this article)!

Follow on Twitter: @humanworkplace

SHARE our posts with your friends.

BRING Human Workplace into your workplace by becoming an Employer Member.

TAKE a 12-week virtual coaching group with us, like Reinvention Roadmap, Put a Human Voice in Your Resume, Breaking into the Hidden Job Market, Job Search after Fifty or Grow Your Thought Leadership Flame! Here is a sample lesson from our 12-week virtual coaching group Reinvention Roadmap!

Have our CEO, Liz Ryan, deliver a webinar or a live speaking event for your group at work, your university or your association. Reach us here!LISTEN to Liz’s podcasts here!

Our 12-week virtual coaching group HR with a Human Voicedebuts this month! In that group, HR professionals will learn how to create their own Human Workplaces.

Our new Toolkit: When the Headhunter Calls includes everything you need to find recruiters, reach out to them and work with them throughout your job search. Check it out!

If you want to send Liz a LinkedIn invitation, please do! Use this email address:liz@humanworkplace.com. Thanks!



Don’t Be Abused By Your Bad Boss

NOTE: This is a book excerpt with minor edits from 

Got A Bad Boss? Work That Boss To Get What You Want At Work by Dr. Noelle Nelson.


You have a Bad Boss – a boss who makes your daily eight-plus hours an exercise in abject misery; mind-bending soul-searing abuse that you endure day after day.

Make no mistake. It is abuse. An ugly word we usually associate with bad marriages or domestic violence. But abusers are common in the workplace also, most often in the person of a Bad Boss.

The similarities between domestic and workplace abuse are striking:

  • The abuser dominates the relationship
  • The abused is afraid to do or say anything against the abuse for fear of reprisals
  • The abused doesn’t have the skills to better his or her position in the relationship, and feels condemned to put up with the abuse
  • The abused doesn’t have the financial means or other resources to leave the relationship
  • The abused is demoralized and resigned, endures the onslaught of cruel words and erratic behavior, and just hopes to survive another day.

Sound familiar?

Those who don’t know better, say, “So leave, already.” Right! If only you could. But good jobs are scarce these days, job security is a joke, competition for good jobs is stiffer than ever, outsourcing is increasingly common and good pay hard to come by. Yet you and your family must be fed, clothed, and housed, and too often, even if you do find another job with decent pay, you’ve simply traded one variety of Bad Boss for another. Oh joy.

It’s time to turn the tables on a Bad Boss so he or she begins to behave the way you want them to–so you get more of what you want out of your job and career. And it doesn’t matter if your boss is a raging Egomaniac, a tyrannical Finger Pointer, an hysterical Screamer/Irrational Boss, or any other of the Bad Boss types, they all can be worked to your advantage.

As a clinical psychologist and trial consultant, I know how critical a good relationship in the workplace is to your success. I’ve seen firsthand how people unknowingly, tragically, let Bad Bosses ruin their careers because they just didn’t know how to work that boss-employee relationship. I’ve helped client after client turn a lousy relationship with a Bad Boss into a success story. Your Bad Boss isn’t going to wake up one day, smell the coffee and suddenly transform into the boss of your dreams. It’s up to you to transform your relationship with your boss.

You don’t need defensive maneuvers, as in “How do I survive my tyrannical boss?” You need attack strategies as in “How do I get promotions, raises, whatever I want and need from my expletive-deleted boss?! The most effective strategy is to learn how to work your Bad Boss.

How To Prepare Yourself For A Background Check

If you are looking for a job, you definitely are not alone. Though the economy has certainly been improving and there are more jobs out there, you can be quite certain that employers are going to keep up with background checks. Each year, the use of background checks is becoming more and more popular as employers are seeing what benefits they bring. In fact, if anything, background checks will start becoming more prominent and more focused as time goes on. Because of this, if you are looking for a job, you definitely need to prepare yourself for a background check. Order Your Reports One of the first things you will want to do as you start your job search is to order a copy of major reports. Some of the things you will want to look at include your credit report, your criminal records, and even your DMV report. Why are all of these things important? Because you can be certain that employers are going to be looking at these reports as well. When it comes to things like your credit report, a company may or may not, depending on where you live, use the information to make a hiring decision. Other records, however, can be used. Make sure that all of the information found on these reports is accurate. If not, get it changed as quickly as possible. Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts Another thing that you should be sure you should do is to clean up your digital footprint. Many employers will do an internet search on potential candidates and if they find your Spring Break 2011 pictures on your Facebook page, they may get the wrong idea about who you are as a person. You should also run a Google search on yourself to see what comes up. If there is anything negative, you can work to take the steps to rectify it before you are judged by a potential employer. Read The Fine Print On All Applications It is more common than not for job seekers to sign their applications without reading the fine print that often accompanies the applications. There is likely very important information in that print that you will need to read in order to know what your information will be used for. You also may be signing permission for the company in question to do something that you are not aware they are doing. Once you read the fine print, make sure that you ask any questions you may have in order to avoid confusion. As you can see, these are just a few of the many things that you can do in order to prepare for a background check. You may also want to consider things like talking to your references in order to find out what they may say to your potential employer or even conducting a background check on yourself. You can generally do that for an inexpensive price and you will get all of the same information that an employer will get. This way, you can be fully prepared for what lies ahead when it comes to your job search.

Salary Requirements: What to Say

Providing salary requirements is a troubling part of the interview process for many job seekers. They don’t want to:

A) Price themselves out of the job.

B) Come in too low and leave money on the table.

The solution? Offer a range.

First, Have a ‘Walk-Away’ Rate

Everyone needs to have a clear number in their mind. That number is the lowest possible amount you’d take to do the job. By that I mean, you’d accept and not be looking for a higher paying job, or have to take another part-time job to cover the bills. Your walk-away rate is what you need to live and be able to do the job without resentment. This varies for everyone.

Second, Have an ‘Ideal’ Rate

This is what you’d love to earn. It’s what you think you are worth and want to make for the services you’ll be providing. It should be based on salary research to ensure you aren’t pricing yourself out of the market (you can do that at Salary.com, Payscale.com, and Glassdoor.com to name a few).

Next, Present the Range & Explain the Variation

Share with the employer you are looking to make between __ and __. Now, this range will be pretty wide, so you should immediately follow-up with something like this: “The reason the range is so broad is, for me, no two jobs are the same. Money isn’t my only criteria for work. The benefits and opportunities for growing my skills are equally important in my mind. So, I’m willing to be flexible in my salary, depending upon the position.”

Can’t Give a Range? Be Conservative

If you can’t give a range and have to provide a single salary, choose the middle of your range, maybe even a little bit lower. You’d rather be lower than their target rate than over it.

Afraid They’ll Low-Ball You? Of Course They Will!

The most common question I get when I share the strategy above is,

“But J.T., won’t they automatically assume they can give me the walk-away rate?”

No doubt, some companies will low-ball you. But remember, you don’t have to accept it. Unless they were adamant that this was not negotiable, you could ask for more money.

Yes, You Can Negotiate. Here’s Why…

If you knock the interview process out of the park and eventually get selected as their first choice for the job, you will be at a competitive advantage. They went through all the time and trouble to screen and interview other candidates. Hiring is at time-consuming and expensive process. The idea of not getting their first pick for the job because of pay is not what they want. They don’t want to have to go back to the hiring process again – they want you!

Now, that doesn’t mean you can ask for a 50% pay increase, but it should give you the confidence to speak up and ask for more if you need it.

This is What You Would Say:

“Thank you for choosing me for this role. I am very excited about joining your team. That being said, this is really hard for me, but I wanted to call you personally and share a challenge. While I could accept the job at this rate, it’s on the low side of my income needs. I was really hoping for ____. This higher rate would ensure I could do this job without any concerns of covering my expenses. Additionally, if you could compensate me at that level I would make 100% certain that you felt you were getting every penny’s worth. Would that be possible?”

Now, they may not say “yes,” but at least they know you are looking to make more. You may even be able to negotiate for some other perks in exchange of the pay increase, like working from home one day/week to save money on your commute, or more vacation time. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Three Examples of Success:

  1. One professional got a $5,000 increase in base pay. The HR manager was so impressed with her confidence in asking for more money, she said, “It’s good to see you know what you are worth.”
  2. One client didn’t get a pay increase, but did get permission to bring her dog to the office.
  3. Another convinced them to agree to a 6-month review to discuss a raise instead of waiting for a full year.

Don’t let salary discussions intimidate you. Identify your range, wow them in the interview, and then politely ask for more if you need to. You are a business-of-one. Building your skills in salary negotiation are vital to your professional success.

How Great Leaders Communicate

You’ve just been promoted into one of your organization’s Big Jobs. Now you’ve got an impressive office, a hefty budget and vast expectations about how you will lead dozens or even thousands of people. Can you stick with the leadership style that brought you this far? Or do you need to recalibrate your approach, starting with the way you communicate?

Some fascinating rethinking is under way on exactly that topic. Scholars such as Harvard Business School’s Boris Groysberg argue that effective leadership no longer revolves around brilliant speeches and heroic exhortations. (We can call that the Fidel Castro approach – and it doesn’t work especially well in either government or mainstream business.) Instead, Groysberg and co-author Michael Slind argue in their 2012 book “Talk Inc.” that the higher you go in an organization, the more you must engage other people in conversations, rather than trying to shout them into submission.

I’m in favor of traveling 70% of the way down that road with Groysberg and Slind, without becoming so chatty that you lose the ability to stretch people’s horizons. Over the past 25 years, as a business-book author and writer for the likes of Forbes, Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal, I’ve seen a lot of corporate leaders in action. Here are seven ways that the best leaders increase their effectiveness by the ways they communicate.

1. Bring the vision to life. Anyone can write a mission statement, full of lofty words that sound good. But you aren’t communicating that vision unless you repeatedly signal how those values translate into concrete actions. What people learn from your routine decision-making matters far more than what you pack into your speeches.

A case in point: Jeff Bezos’s insistence that Amazon.com is “the most customer-centric company in the world.” Nice slogan. What does it really mean? Hang around the Amazon CEO for a while, and you will notice that he vetoes sassy ads that mock customers. He insists that mid-level meetings include one person serving solely as the customer advocate – with the power to veto actions that undermine customers’ interests. And when Amazon reorganizes departments, which it does fairly often, each regrouping is justified as a way of serving the customer better.

In the same spirit, bring your bedrock values into the daily workplace. Salute other people’s actions that reinforce what you prize. Call out conduct that doesn’t. And infuse these principles into other people’s thought patterns by referencing key values as decisions are being made.

2. Ask smart questions. In his new book, “To Sell Is Human,” best-selling author Daniel H. Pink cites studies showing that when you want to persuade someone, questions can be more powerful than statements. The reason: you engage another person’s heart and mind more strongly. You get him or her thinking about the ideal answer – and then all the steps necessary to get there. By being less dogmatic, you let people on your team build game plans that they believe in, rather than trapping them in a helpless state until you issue your next command.

While developing my most recent book, “The Rare Find,” I was impressed with the way that David Evans, the former head of the computer science department at the University of Utah, got great work out of his graduate students by asking simple but profound questions that pointed the way to revolutionary advances. He inspired the engineers who later built Pixar, Adobe and Netscape. Often that could be done simply by pointing at a big goal on the horizon and saying: “How would you get there?”

3. Take time to read the room. Once you’re in senior leadership, you will meet a lot of outsiders that you hardly know … but whose support or forbearance is crucial to your company’s success. Do 90% of the talking, and it’s tempting to think that you carried the day with Washington regulators, Chinese suppliers, that big customer in Dallas or the investigative reporter from New York. Guess what? If you don’t know what the other party really wanted, all that bluster was in vain.

Take a tip from Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman, early in her career, when she was building eBay into a global e-commerce powerhouse. Some of her most important meetings were with eBay’s Power Sellers. These merchants booked huge amounts of business on the site, yet for a time they felt the company didn’t understand their frustrations with fees and service issues. Every few months, she would visit Power Sellers on their turf, looking for ways to fix their problems or at least offer sympathy. Her keen ear helped eBay stay ahead of its competitors.

Don’t fall prey to the belief that careful listening is only for the little people in the room. When you listen carefully, you win people’s trust – and that’s crucial to everything else you want to accomplish. There’s a maxim in the public speaking business: “The more your audience talks, the more they think they have learned from you.” Use that sly insight to your advantage.

4. Create a climate where things get done. In any organization, there’s a huge gap between projects that are headed to the finish line, right now — and ones that live indefinitely in limbo, hardly moving forward. Which do you prefer? If you’re looking for results, make sure your employees and front-line managers are repeatedly aware of your top priorities. Help set interim mileposts. Get roadblocks out of the way. Walk through the areas where specific tasks are being done. Even a 10-minute visit by the boss conveys the clear and uplifting message: “This is important.”

Be mindful of how many “top priorities” your organization can handle successfully. Better to win two big campaigns a year than to stumble in the midst of 20. I’ve seen ambitious but unfocused organizations end up with overcrowded agendas that create internal strife — with the unpleasant consequences of missed deadlines, constant changes of directions and ugly battles for resources and recognition. The higher up you go in an organization, the more important it is for you to communicate key goals with clarity and brevity.

Tim Boyle, the CEO of Columbia Sportswear, is remarkably good at peeling away the clutter. I’ve chatted with him since 2005, and he keeps his business centered on three simple concepts: innovation, enhanced design and compelling marketing. Zoom in on each idea, and details abound. He’s a remarkably hard-working and well-read boss. Those core concepts, however, help ensure that Columbia’s 4,000 employees are pulling in the right direction.

5. Use stories to get your points across. When you’re at the top of an organization, you can seem pretty distant from the people on the front lines. Now you’re in a job where it may be impossible to schedule enough face time with everyone you’d like to influence. One of your best ways to compensate: sharing teaching anecdotes, so that even people who hardly know you will still feel they know your human, authentic side.

Nobody does this better than Warren Buffett, the 82-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. His conglomerate has $143 billion in annual revenue, with interests that range from insurance to energy, furniture and chocolate. But when you read Buffett’sannual letters to shareholders, his dry wit and wise-uncle judgment come through on every page. Countless investors and managers who have never met him still feel that they know him – and like him.

You don’t need to be nearly as polished as Buffett to succeed in this domain. Just think how you would explain your week’s battles and goals to a neighbor, a spouse or a college roommate, and you’ll find the right tone.

6. Be mindful of what you don’t know. If your subordinates are any good at all, you often won’t know the fine-grain details as well as they do. Expect to be learning constantly on the job. Find ways that your in-house experts can quietly bring you up to speed on emerging issues that are catching your eye. You’ve got vital strengths that other people don’t, particularly in terms of experience, broad perspectives and judgment. As you work toward important decisions, make sure your remarks and conversations are opening the way for other people to keep augmenting your knowledge base.

Two of the most skillful learners I ever encountered are Sheryl Sandberg (the chief operating officer of Facebook), and Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of RJR Nabisco and then IBM. I traveled with Gerstner during his RJR era as part of a Wall Street Journal front-page profile. He was still mastering the company’s endless product line, but he got up to speed shrewdly, calling some meetings on a supermarket floor so he could walk the aisles as people talked, looking around to see whose brands dominated each category.

7. Make people feel they work for a winner. Can you single-handedly improve your organization’s morale – in ways that genuinely translate into better performance and innovation? That’s one of the great mysteries of leadership. Some executives try smothering their employees in perks. Others praise good work, hoping that it will lead to greater doings in the future. Still others scold slackers and kick out the weakest performers, believing that some situations call for toughness.

Any of those approaches can work; yet I’ve seen executives try all three and still come up short. A memorable insight here came from John Young, who was CEO of Hewlett Packard for many years during its prime. We chatted after his retirement, and he contended that what shapes morale the most is employees’ conviction that they are working for the best company in their field. Earn that honor, he said, and you gain a level of employee commitment that cash and perks alone can’t buy.

All the other six techniques in this article point toward this final priority. If you’re conveying a clear vision, asking good questions, setting the right priorities and so on, you’re creating that winners’ aura that is the ultimate reward for great leadership communication.

The Secret To Getting Ahead At Work

Effect Noun: change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause. Verb: cause (something) to happen; bring about. No matter what your job role is, everybody wants to take effect; you want to stand apart from the crowd and it’s all a matter of knowing how to do so. Believe it all not, sales plays a massive part in everybody’s work role – whether you like it all not. In the past, the word ‘sales’ had some bad connotations, not anymore – it is a skill, just like any other, that has to be honed and perfected, and it can help you progress in any job role. If you’re interested in getting ahead at work, read on. Kate Ramsey, Northern Sales Director form Pareto discusses the basic sales steps to help you take effect in your job. 1. It’s All About Body Language More often associated with a date rather than sales, body language is something we as humans read naturally, but often aren’t aware of. Have you ever wondered why you’re wary around somebody who has their arms folded tight or skeptical when somebody is rolling their eyes? It’s because your sixth sense is reading the signals from the other person; telling you that they’re closed towards your suggestion or disbelieving of what you are saying. In a past life, we used such skills to protect us from harm, however now we use these signals in social interactions, such as sales. If you can read the body language of your colleagues or a client this is going to help you build relationships, make better judgement and ultimately get what you want. 2. Ask And You Shall Receive This is one of the best tools a sales professional possess, the power to ask the right questions. That’s right – you don’t have to know all the right answers, you just have to ask the right questions. It may sound simple but it’s no easy feat, it takes years of practice and requires exceptional control of skill number one, body language. You have to know when you are able to ask the questions, and when it’s a no go. Ultimately, if you ask your work mates, boss, or clients the right questions you will eventually have all the right answers. This skill requires subtly and a keen listening ear; listen to what people are saying and your intuition and curiosity will do the rest – ask open ended questions to learn more and gain a real understanding of the situation. Asking the right questions will make you wise, and wise people take effect within any office. 3. It’s Not What You Said, It’s The Way You Said It A trick often missed by the untrained sales professional, and something most people don’t take in to consideration when talking. However, the way you articulate yourself, including your tone of voice can make the difference between making a friend or creating a foe. Who’d have thought it could be that dramatic? Imagine a colleague asks you a question in a soft, neutral tone and you respond (with the completely normal answer) by shouting it at them. They’re not going to appreciate this, and will probably feel you’re slightly insane. The trick here is to mirror the tone of voice of the individual you are speaking with. If they’re loud, be loud – if they’re whispering, whisper back. It will show that you are on their level, and make them pay attention to what you have to say. 4. It’s All About… Attitude Positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, mind over matter, positive mental attitude! There are possibly a thousand clichés that you could throw in to the mix here, but they are all relative. In sales, it is always about your attitude – transfer this in to your everyday job role, whether that be sales, engineering or IT, if you act positively you will achieve the outcome you desire. This concept can often be difficult for some people to grasp, as we all have our bad days, but it’s taking that negative energy, turning it in to something positive and making the most of it. Positivity brings out the best in you and those around you, thus allowing you to take effect!

Big data is a bubble? Don’t tell that to these guys

There has been some talk lately that big data is a bubble — that it has been overhyped, oversold and over-invested. I don’t think that’s the case, but don’t take my word for it. Come to Structure: Europe in London next month  (Sept. 18 and 19) and ask some guys who know data stone-cold what they think.

We have two panels that feature, quite frankly, some of smartest data thinkers and technologists that I’ve met in the past year. More importantly, they’re guys who have built some flat-out impressive systems, done some amazing analysis and built really effective predictive models at major businesses and government agencies. That’s critical: these are people who understand what’s possible with big data technologies, but also how to actually get them working to improve the bottom line.

Who’ll be there?

Raymie Stata, the former Yahoo CTO responsible for bringing Hadoop into the company and nurturing its expansion within the business. Stata has a long history in the search-engine world, and is now founder and CEO of a Hadoop startup called Altiscale.

stata yahoo

Stata (front, leaning back) at a Yahoo hack day in 2007. Source: Yodel Anecdotal

Adam Fuchs

Adam Fuchs

Adam Fuchs, the co-founder and CTO of Sqrrl, which sells a commercial version of the Hadoop-based Accumulo database. Accumulo is now an open source project, but Fuchs helped build it while working for the National Security Agency, where it’s the primary datastore and analysis engine for the god-knows-how-much data the agency is collecting.

Bhaskar Gosh, LinkedIn’s senior director of data engineering, who is overseeing some of the biggest infrastructural changes in the company’s history. LinkedIn is transitioning from essentially an online résumé repository into a major social network and media entity, and the databases and infrastructural tools Ghosh’s team is building are helping to enable that evolution.

Bhaskar Ghosh LinkedIn Structure Data 2013

Bhaskar Ghosh at Structure: Data 2013. Source: Albert Chau itsmebert.com

John Foreman, the chief data scientist at MailChimp, who has almost singlehandedly taught the email-management service how to make the best-possible use of all the data it’s collecting. Internally, MailChimp has used machine learning to automate processes such as detecting spammers among its clientele. Externally, it’s now providing users deeper insights into their subscribers’ interests and behavior, and even giving them tools to do their own analysis.

John Foreman, at MailChimp HQ. Source: Derrick Harris

John Foreman, at MailChimp HQ. Source: Derrick Harris

Sam Hamilton, vice president of data technology at PayPal, a company that knows a thing or two about using big data. Hamilton is responsible for the systems that run PayPal’s data science efforts, which are centered around finding out who the people paying with PayPal are and what they’re interested in. PayPal and parent company eBay (Hamilton was previously CTO at eBay site Shopping.com) run expansive big data environments.

Former PayPal data scientist Mok Oh talking customer intelligence. Source: Derrick Harris

Former PayPal data scientist Mok Oh talking customer intelligence. Source: Derrick Harris

Ron Bodkin, founder and CEO of big data consultancy Think Big Analytics, whose client base includes companies such as NASDAQ, Johnson & Johnson and NetApp. Think Big’s customers often deploy more down-to-earth and traditional big data environments, if there is such a thing, but Bodkin has also served as vice president of engineering at Quantcast, which is one of the most-demanding Hadoop users around.

Structure Data 2013 OMX Group Ron Bodkin Think Big Analytics

Ron Bodkin at Structure: Data 2013. Source: Albert Chau itsmebert.com

And those are just the panels. I’ll also be doing a chat with Microsoft’s cloud CTO Dave Campbell (whowas a guest on our Structure Show podcast recently), and we’ll have speakers from CERN and the European Space Agency talking about building systems that can handle the incredible volumes of data they’re generating. Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers Partner Michael Abbott (former vice president of engineering at Twitter) and North Bridge Venture Partners Partner Jonathan Heiliger (former vice president of engineering at Facebook) will be speaking about the types of new applications we’ll see thanks to the parallel convergence of big data and cloud computing technologies.

My hope is that Structure: Europe attendees won’t just hear that big data is great. That’s bubble talk. My hope is they’ll hear what’s possible and, better yet, how to actually do it.


Why you should ignore startup failure stats

Thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide share the dream of founding a startup. However, some publications “pour cold water” on the ambitions of future founders.

For example, a recent article publicized the low success rates of startups participating in the excellent Y Combinator program. Aspiring startup founders may be intimidated by such publications and forgo their dreams.

In some cases, that would be a real shame.

Surely, many college grads have excellent reasons to seek careers at Apple or Amazon instead of establishing their own ventures; similarly, many business school graduates are incentivized to join top consulting firms. However, the chances of getting admitted are low: in 2011, only 0.35% of Google applicants were hired.

Here are five reasons that, for some people, giving up on the dream of entrepreneurship too soon may be a mistake. The alternatives to startups may be pretty risky, too, but many people are not aware of that; furthermore, real startup risks could be much lower than the common perception.

  1. Risks associated with large corporations

The high risk of startup failure may imply that it is better to start a career with a large, established organization. But is it?
Recently, the corporate world has changed significantly. It now presents previously unknown risks. Various industries (e.g. newspapers) are in severe crisis. The investment banking industry, once the employer of thousands of fresh MBAs, has lost key players and expects massive layoffs.

In many industries, the comfort, stability, and perks of a lifelong career with the same employer are much less common.
Large organizations may have thousands of employees, but they have only a few management-level executives and a few dozen VPs. What are the real chances of starting a career at a large organization and climbing up the corporate ladder to get a VP or C-Suite position that promises great compensation, equity options, and a golden parachute? What are the real odds of not being stuck in the dreaded mid-management tier?

  1. Risks associated with college degrees

It has been common belief that – unless you are a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg — a college education is essential to a successful career.

However, college education has recently created a serious problem for young undergrads: student loan debt. Many view this issue as the next potential time bomb. The media tells horror stories about students whose college debt became a real and frightening burden.

It’s not that quality education is less important than before. However, we must acknowledge the risk of student loans. Therefore, for some youngsters just out of high school, it may make sense instead to establish a startup (as Richard Branson suggests) while taking free online classes.

  1. Sometimes, startup “failure” is anything but failure

Calling every startup that didn’t make an eight-digit exit or an IPO a “failure” is simply wrong.
First, many ventures build products that provide value to customers while creating jobs and growth opportunities for employees.

Second, the experience of running a small business is a lesson that no university or seminar could ever teach. For some, the costs of running a “failed” startup for a couple of years are actually a good investment – a kind of tuition that yields benefits later on.

Third, not attempting to pursue one’s dream may be very frustrating. Moreover, those who never try will never fail. Those who never fail find it difficult to cope with challenging situations outside of their comfort zone when these eventually arise. A failure today may teach a person to cope more successfully with similar situations in the future.

  1. From the ashes of unsuccessful ventures rise new, high-potential promises

Being part of a startup may lead to new opportunities. For example, consider the story of Modu. It was founded in 2007 by Dov Moran, a serial entrepreneur, and aimed to become a major player in the mobile phone industry. Unfortunately for Modu, Apple’s iPhone and the smartphone revolution brought an end to this dream.

However, many ex-Modu employees and executives are now involved in a new generation of promising startups.
Being part of a failed venture may not only be educational, but it can also increase the chances of success in future endeavors. Research shows that past success as an entrepreneur increases the chances of success in future ventures, which is no surprise. However, data also shows that entrepreneurs who have failed in the past have higher chances of success than first-time entrepreneurs.

  1. It is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds

Are you interested in new ventures but still risk averse? Maybe haven’t yet found a great idea for your own venture, or you want a taste of the “young startup” atmosphere before committing to it?

If so, it might make sense to join an early-stage startup run by other founders (e.g., a venture that has just raised seed financing). Jared Hecht is a good example of a startup founder who started this way. He joined Tumblr after graduating from Columbia and later on founded GroupMe (which was acquired by Skype in 2011).

Not everyone can enjoy the best of both worlds. But for many, it is a good way to gain invaluable experience.