Monday, November 29, 2010

Five Reasons to Take All of Your Vacation This Year

A bonus Monday post for you! I rarely re-run content, but I think this topic is so important that it's worth re-running this post from last year.


You still have vacation days to take. For some of you this might be just a couple of days – for others it might be weeks. But there are only four weeks left in 2010 and time is running out.

According to a recent Rasmussen report, only 46% of workers plan to take all of their vacation this year. That means that 54% of employees are leaving vacation days unused. Are you one of them? If so, here are five great reasons why you should take all your vacation:

1. You earned it. It’s a benefit. It’s worth money. You might be surprised that last year Expedia estimated there would be 436 million unused vacation days in 2009 and valued that at $63.33 billion. (I’ll do the math for you – that’s at an hourly rate of $18. Your vacation days may be worth far more than that.)

2. It won’t change your annual appraisal. I have news for you – most management teams complete their performance discussions before the holidays (because they plan to be on vacation). Unless you are in sales and need to make quota for the quarter, or you discover a technology that solves world hunger, chances are your bottom line won’t change because you took some time off over the holidays.

3. Your boss won’t notice. The truth is, unless you’ve specifically been asked to provide coverage, no one will notice. And consider this – if you are the only one working, then you’re also the only one to blame when something goes wrong. You might be a martyr, but you won’t be a hero.

4. It costs the company money. If you happen to work in a company that still allows vacation days to be carried over from one year to the next, this costs the company money. Whatever days you defer have to be carried as a liability, and when you do “cash them in” they will cost more than they do today.

5. You need a break. If you can’t take a sabbatical, at least take your vacation!

Oh – and when you do take that break, resist the urge to spend all day on your laptop, your blackberry, your cell phone… you get the idea.

So what do you say? Are you planning to take all your vacation this year? If not, why not?

Photo by Harry Yudenfriend

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where Social Media and Business Intersect

This week's edition of When Fridays Were Fridays is being posted early, due to the holiday. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

A recent article by Drew Neisser titled Why IBM Could be Bigger Than Facebook in Social Media got my attention. It wasn’t the fact that Neisser mentioned IBM and Facebook in the same sentence that got me, nor the fact that IBM recently announced the IBM Customer Experience Suite.

It was the quote from Jeffrey Schick, IBM's VP of Social Software, that got my attention. Schick told Neisser, "At IBM 15 years ago, we had a way to look up people to create a globally connected enterprise. Today we have approximately 500,000 people within IBM and we do about 6 million look ups a day on pages that look strikingly similar to other social network profile pages with features like blogging and photo posting."

This is not the first time IBM was using a tool internally long before the rest of the world – e-mail, instant messaging, and intranet technologies were all used internally within IBM long before they were even given names. They arose out of the necessity to be connected. They were – and are – the basis for what we now call social media tools.

So, is IBM likely to compete with Facebook in the social media market?

I’ve written in the past about the need for large corporations to leverage social media as a marketing tool – to listen and respond to their clients – but I don’t see IBM providing the technology for end-user/consumer social media. IBM’s strength lies within the enterprise. Providing the tools to keep large global companies and their employees connected – within the walls of the company – is where IBM is likely to excel in this market.

For such a venture to be successful it would need to have the same components of a Facebook – the ability to selectively connect, to share information, to respond/comment on information, and to be able to integrate with other company data and systems. I am describing an intra-company Facebook.

Such a system would need to be highly scalable. The concept of groups would be key – with the ability to create sub-groups within groups, and groups that bring other groups together. Most of all, such a system would need to be secure.

I think we have just begun to scratch the surface of intra-company social media technology tools, and are likely to see an explosion in this area over the next decade. What do you think?

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Not to Price an e-book

Pricing is an inaccurate science, but necessary for businesses that deal with products and services. In setting a price, businesses need to look at what they are trying to accomplish. Maximizing volume? Maximizing revenue?

For many businesses, the real goal is to maximize profit, and that means walking a fine line between volume and price. If you set the price too low, you leave money on the table. If you set the price too high, volumes suffer and overall revenues go down.

Prices also need to consider the cost of goods that go into making the product – the higher the cost to build the product, the higher the price.

Pricing is not an exact science, but it’s not rocket science.

Nowhere is the market more confused over pricing models than in the book industry today. Disruptive technologies – e-books, mobile devices, internet distribution – are all contributing to massive change in the media world that appears to be confusing book publishers and causing irrational e-book pricing.

In the old days (by that I mean just a few years ago) hardcover books were released first and were priced higher than the trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks that came later. It made sense. The hardcover books were more expensive to produce, and those who wanted the book fresh out of the gate were the consumers who were willing to pay more.

Enter the e-book.

The cost to produce an e-book version of an existing book is close to nothing. E-books can’t be placed on a bookshelf, and can’t be sold at a yard sale, yet some publishers seem to believe that the price for an e-book should be more than the paperback version.

Here’s one example; at the time of writing this article, Harlan Coben’s Caught, published by Penguin Publishing, is available on Amazon in paperback format for $9.99, yet the Kindle version is priced at $14.99.

All of the Amazon Kindle bestsellers are priced at $9.99 or below, except for those on the list that are not yet released in paperback. Some e-books are priced considerably lower. Consider Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life, which has been in the top ten Kindle bestsellers in recent weeks. The Kindle version of her book is priced at $2.99, a price point that surely contributed to the book’s success.

Author J.A. Konrath routinely prices e-books at $2.99. He has written extensively about his success on Amazon with his e-books (having sold more than 100,000 e-books), and has clearly demonstrated with his pricing strategy that e-books can and should be priced lower than print books.

While $2.99 may not be a magic number (many e-books have been sold at the $9.99 price point), the market dynamics have clearly shown that e-books should be priced lower than print books.

What’s your take? What should the price of an e-book be?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Technology Love Affair

The winner from last week's contest is: Jen Daiker!  Congratulations Jen! I will be e-mailing you to get your mailing address. Now for this week's column:

When asked recently how she liked her new iPad, a friend e-mailed back, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE it!” Yes, she used the word “love” and yes, she used all caps.

Likewise, over the past few days I have found myself telling just about everyone I know that I love my new phone – referring to my Motorola Droid X. I took my time deciding which smart phone to buy, but now that I have one I can’t imagine how I lived without it. I am marveling at the fact that I can hold a state-of-the-art computer in my hand.

Is it really possible to love technology?

We all know that every time we hear that ringtone, or that “you’ve got mail” ping, we get pleasure from a rush of dopamine to the brain, as described in this NY Times article. Technology has gotten very affordable, which allows us to collect more and more sleek devices that stimulate us. But is our love affair with technology just about that brain signal?

This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen in love with a computer. I felt the same euphoria when I first got my first home personal computer in 1984, and again a few years ago when I purchased my first MacBook. I admit that I am a bit of a geek, but there’s something about the object itself that just has the ability to turn me on.

It’s about the look and feel of a device, how intelligent it is, and what it’s capable of accomplishing. It’s about what I can do with it, and how it challenges me to master it. It’s also about flexibility and accessibility.

My Droid gives new meaning to the term “on demand”. It allows me on-demand access to information and people, and it allows me to be available on-demand.

But there’s a downside.

Yes, I can choose to be connected, I can choose to be reachable, and I can choose to be super-responsive. And now I am expected to be connected, reachable, and super-responsive.

Yes, it’s great when you can work from home, but not so great when the boundaries between work and home become unclear. It’s great when you can take that call while you’re at your daughter’s soccer practice, but not so great when you miss her score that goal because you were too focused on the call. It’s terrific to be able to check your e-mail while waiting for a table, but not so great when that e-mail checking interferes with dinner.

And so, we walk a fine line where that technology love affair can just as quickly become a love-hate relationship.

What’s your relationship with technology like? Are you loving the technology in your life?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cracked Ceilings or Broken Doors? (and a Contest)

It’s time for another contest! Please be sure to read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.

Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to WinDuring this week of the mid-term elections, it seems appropriate to talk about politics, specifically – women in politics.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to attend a seminar at Columbia University, where journalist and former CNN host Campbell Brown interviewed Anne E. Kornblut, Columbia alum, fellow journalist, and author of Notes From the Cracked Ceiling, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win.

In Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Kornblut recounts her days on the road covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bid for the Presidential office with amazing clarity and insight. Kornblut neither places blame, nor apologizes for the politicians, journalists, and political advisors that played a part in the process, yet simultaneously demands accountability from all of them. She tells the story of a woman who was thought to be the frontrunner and virtual incumbent, making the choice to run on a platform of toughness and readiness, while her Democratic opponent chose to run on a platform of change, embracing his feminine side and playing the race card.

Kornblut tells the story of a campaign that assumed it had the Democratic female vote, yet lost women voters in droves to Obama. Younger women failed to recognize the significance of a woman becoming President, having grown up to believe they could do anything and believing that a female President was no big deal. Clinton also faced difficulty with professional educated women – women who should have been viewing her as one of them – having lost their support during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I found myself feeling guilty as I read the book, identifying with that latter group that Kornblut described. The fact that Hillary – a woman of considerable resources – stood by her husband when so many women are literally stuck in abusive relationships due to a lack of resources, never sat right with me. And I ask myself… is it right to judge a candidate based on that one decision? While I never had the opportunity to vote for Hillary for President (as a registered Independent, I was not eligible to vote in the primary), I never supported her as a candidate for Senator in New York (my home state). Isn’t my unwillingness to support Hillary because of that incident as bad as a lack of support due to her hairstyle, or her choice of pantsuit, or the simple fact that she is a woman?

In contrast to Hillary’s Democratic campaign, which may have over-thought the role gender would play in the election, the Republican campaign under-thought it, assuming that women would cross party lines to vote for a female candidate, and neglecting to adequately assess women’s reactions to Palin.

At the Columbia event Kornblut used the word “ferocious” to describe the reactions we have to female political candidates. We either love them or we hate them. The truth is gender plays a much stronger role in politics in the United States that most of us would like to admit.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the challenges women face in advancing to the highest ranks in politics bear an uncanny resemblance to the challenges women face in securing the top positions in Corporate America. Women need to be tough, but not too tough. They need to be attractive, but not too attractive. They can’t be too feminine, or too masculine. They should either be childless, or have children who are grown. They should either be single, or have a spouse who has achieved success in his own right. And, Kornblut noted, “It helps if they have overcome adversity by battling cancer.” In short, it’s a tall order that describes virtually no one.

In my opinion, the one quality that we should look for in our female politicians is competence. Earlier in the year I was optimistic that we may see a few strong intelligent women cross over from the business world into politics, but with the losses Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman suffered in California this week, my optimism has been dampened.

What I know for sure is that women are unlikely to break these barriers in politics or in large corporations, until both men and women are willing to embrace the fact that they should be there.


The contest!

This week, I am giving away a copy of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, signed by the author, Anne Kornblut.

To enter you must be either a follower or a subscriber to this blog. You can click on the “follow” button to become a follower (if you aren’t already) or use the “subscribe to” buttons to subscribe via an RSS feed or for e-mail subscription. (Note that I do not know who subscribes via RSS, so if you tell me you subscribe I’ll believe you.) Then, leave a comment on this blog responding to this week’s post.

All comments submitted by Thursday, November 11th at 5pm will be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced along with next week’s column on Friday, November 12th.