First, read this.

Second, I need to point out that this story is not true.  Do you hear me, internet?  NOT TRUE.  The Daily Currant is like The Onion, a satirical newspaper that pokes fun at things.

Third, even though it isn’t true, it is entirely believable, which is why so many people passed it around as true.  Partially because we’re happy to think that Bush just isn’t terribly bright, but more because the UI for voting is terrible.  Really, really terrible.

And it isn’t like we don’t know how to make good UI.  Collectively, we’ve created Facebook and Twitter and Mint and thousands of examples of truly unique interfaces that enable people to make incredibly complicated and detailed decisions.  In voting, you’re just picking one thing from a list of things.  A series of dropdowns would be better than what we have now in most voting markets.

The real fun of this story, though, is not in thinking about what better UI might look like, but rather the forces that are driving design in the world.  Overwhelmingly, design innovation comes from the private sector, the need to drive people to a decision point in an ever-increasing way.  The race to conversion, because it is the clearest metric that predicts revenue, means that companies are constantly recruiting for a combination of designers and data scientists to run every possible variation, chasing improvements as small as 0.1%.

Non-profits and the public sector just don’t have the same use for such small differences and as a consequence, we miss out on the big differences.  Voting software is built primarily by engineers concerned with security and redundancy, and because there is no concept of conversion, it could be the world’s most frustrating experience.  After all, as long as people persevere and vote for someone (regardless of whether it is who they intended to vote for), nothing changes.

It is, in a sense, the problem we have with any captive audience: as long as people don’t have a choice other than participate or don’t participate, and incremental participation isn’t considered as a success metric, then nothing changes.  Particularly because this is not software that is built in the public sphere, so things like Code For America have an uphill battle to get involved.

So what do we do about it?  For one, we need to employ some of the data science I talked about earlier.  Unless we test whether people are actually able to vote for the candidates they intended to, we have no way of knowing whether a UI is appropriate.  Indeed, intention congruence should be the new primary metric for judging voting software, followed closely by a subjective measure of the quality of the experience.  After all, if people don’t feel like voting was a good experience, then they won’t do it again.  Year-over-year participation, for example, should be considered.

And then, quite simply, we need designers who treat this problem like a commercial one.  Given the metrics, they need to design against them and have the opportunity to A/B test and refine in waves.  In a commercial atmosphere, this is standard fare, but in the public sphere, it is far less common.

I leave you with this thought experiment: how much is a vote worth?  That is, a single voter who is able to vote for the candidates of their choice effectively – how much should we as a country pay for that?  Let’s pretend you said it was worth a $1 to get an incremental voter through the experience.  ~126 million people voted in the 2012 presidential election.  That 0.1% change I mentioned early?  Its worth $126,000 each e

Double bottom line is a relatively silly name for a simple concept: businesses can be about more than just profit.  Double bottom line usually means “profit and social good” and triple bottom line usually means “profit and social good and environmental sustainability”.  God knows what a quadruple bottom line would be, since environmental sustainability seems to fall under social good.  Really, double is the sweet spot: profit and “not sucking”.

Despite the name, the concept is fairly important.  Most folks aren’t aware that CEOs have a fiduciary duty: one of which is that they are legally obligated to maximize profit for their shareholders (and can actually be sued for not doing so).  By formally introducing a second bottom line and writing it into the company mission, they are then allowed to use that second bottom line as a justification for taking actions that aren’t explicitly profit-oriented.  Which, in turn, prevents them from being sued for not doing terrible things in the name of profit.  Pretty nifty.

So explaining this over dinner to a friend, I used the restaurant we were sitting in as an example.  It might be more profitable, I posited, to swap out our green salad for some fries and if this restaurant was publicly traded, shareholders could conceivably try to force that that move.  If it was a double bottom line restaurant, however, the manager could argue that it would make people fat and that would be a legitimate defense.

Which got me thinking: what if more restaurants, private or public, were double bottom line?  That is, what if they were concerned with reducing the calorie count of the food that they served?  Large chains already are, because in NYC and some other markets, they are required to put the calories on the menu.  But when I go to any of New York City’s wonderful restaurants, there is literally no reason for them to pay attention to my health – taste/value ratio is literally the only bottom line.

The idea behind double bottom line is not only that it protects companies who choose to pursue “not sucking” but that it sets another goal for employees to strive for and in turn differentiates that company.  It is the most authentic form of marketing: saying something and doing it.  We all want to be healthier – is it really impossible to compete as a restaurant willing to help us do it?  For those that say yes, consider that twenty years ago, there were almost no double bottom line companies.  And now Tom’s Shoes.  Chobani.  Seventh Generation.  Warby Parker.  Ben & Jerry’s.  Patagonia.  It is a very long list.

Restaurateurs – you need to step up your game.

Recently, after giving a flurry of talks and press interviews, I started talking to colleagues from a variety of fields about the process of speaking and the somewhat bizarre rituals that occur in order to create good events.  Almost everyone I talked to had some funny story about speaking, and the humor was often generated by unexpected deviations from the community norms around talks.

Which made me realize that there were community norms, but like most norms, they were encoded and passive and rarely discussed.  Which naturally made me want to discuss them.  So now, settle back and enjoy a few definitions, a brief rant, and the occasionally lame joke.

Now that you know why I’m writing this post, let’s get to the what of the matter.

Invited talks are exactly what they sound like: an inviter (usually an individual, though often acting on behalf of a group as an organizer, curator, or editor) and an invitee (presumably an expert in the field).  The inviter generally sends the invitee a personal note or gives them a call, asks if they’d like to talk at a particular event, and relays details about the event.  The implicit assumption is that the invitee is doing the inviter (or at least the inviter’s organization) a favor by appearing; travel costs are often covered and if they aren’t, the invitee is at least wined and dined.  The invitee is free to talk about whatever they want and they submit nothing in advance.

This usually works out well because the community is self-policing.  If the invitee was a bad speaker or prone to giving inappropriate talks, they wouldn’t get invited to give them again – interests are aligned because presumably the invitee wants to be heard in the world and so is motivated to present such that people will continue to listen.  And because they are invited by an individual, there is also a smaller social effect at work, such that the invitee doesn’t want to disappoint the inviter, who puts some of their reputation as an editor/curator/whatever on the line in having issued the invitation.  A bad talk is bad for all and so there is a strong aligned pressures for everyone involved.

But invited talks do have a significant downside: they favor the established over the undiscovered.  You’ll rarely see a grad student give an invited talk, for example, unless they have a particularly notable career already.  Inviters tend to work with known quantities, often those they have personal ties with, and this can lead to a cyclical series of invitations that means you hear the same ten people speak most of the time.  It also means that hot topics tend to rise to the top because of a recency effect: the inviters often heard the invitee speak recently, which makes them top-of-mind for inviting.

Submitted talks aren’t new, but they are become more common in some arenas.  Basically, they’re the opposite of an invited talk: people are asked to submit proposals or videos or some sort of evidence of what a talk is going to be about to the inviters, and then the inviters select from that pool.  Usually this submission process is open to almost everyone, although there may be explicit or implicit requirements.

Originally, these were most common in very large academic conferences, where there were main invited talks, but plenty of smaller sessions that were filled in with people presenting papers, often in a panel format.  And by people, I generally mean grad students – they didn’t get travel money, they have no reputation, they’re just hoping to get noticed.  It isn’t quite vanity press, in that many more submit than get picked; it is more like trying to walk-on to a sports team – you only really show up if you think you’ve got a reasonable chance of being picked.

Recently, however, this format has expanded beyond second-tier academic slots.  With the rise of social media and the increasing ease of collecting electronic video, many venues, including TED and Ignite, have increasingly been at least partially filled with submitted talks.  The 2013 TED has promised that over half their speakers will come from a “worldwide talent search”, in which people submit applications and give a demo talk.

There is an argument to be made that the submitted talk is actually a form of egalitarianism.  Yes, not everyone always has the ability to submit, but it is certainly more broad reaching than the invited talk and it does help promote new voices.  In theory, the best of the best can rise to the top, even if they’ve never been seen before or don’t have the same stodgy track record that others may insistent upon.

But a major drawback is that because most submitted talks are still curated, the inviters actually not have significantly more control than with invited talks.  Not only are they taking a pass at initial submissions, but they continue that editorial power down the line; the presumption is that there are always more people who submitted than were selected, so if your talk doesn’t fall into the desired shape, you can be replaced.  Unlike the invited talk, where oversight is actively discouraged and inviters would have difficulty pulling back from someone once they have been invited and announced, submitted talks give inviters the ability to meddle in the content of the talk itself.

And why not?  After all, it is the inviters conference and can’t they damn well do what they please?  Depends on your goal for talks.  The trouble is that a format that appears more egalitarian (submitted talks) can actually be significantly less so because of the ability of the inviters to control content.  Just as tenure exists in academia to make sure that controversial research still gets done and controversial classes still get taught, there is a very real danger that the curation of submitted talks can actually stifle the very voices that the format originally encouraged.

Perhaps more passively (and more importantly), submitted talks also privilege a certain kind of speaker: one with time on their hands.

Preparing a submission, a video, and trying out adds to the already onerous process of doing a talk, which is particularly difficult if you’re not simply sitting on your duff and are actually trying to do things in the world.  In academia, the active researcher always has things happening in their lab and simply may not have time to go search for speaking opportunities and submit themselves to them – that is an inhibiting pressure in a world of competing pressures.  And outside of academia, people who are actively directing projects meant to help and change and create face the same pressures: they may simply be too busy to submit a talk that, if they were invited, they could find the time to give.

This is the true loss of submitted talks for me.  As someone who has never looked for the opportunity to speak, I treasure the process of spreading a particular message but would much rather be building than looking for someplace to talk about what I’m building. We can avoid the censorship issue by simply insuring that submitted speakers are allowed to speak freely on the topic of their choice, but it is difficult to get around the sheer inhibiting pressure that is the act of submission.  Any college admissions officer will tell you that inviting minority students to attend guarantees you higher admission from that pool that asking them to submit themselves, and such invitations have had a significant impact on the face of college enrollment.

Submitted talks make life easy for inviters, but I doubt highly that is the explanation for their rise.  Its us, the masses, the people who dream of one day being on the TED stage.  It fuels reality TV and game shows and the idea that we can be famous, if only just for a moment.

The problem is, fame should actually be earned – it should be a mark of respect for genuine achievements.  And in our clamor to have the chance at the TED stage, we’ve forgotten that what made TED so unique was the ability to see truly insightful talks by people who had put years into gaining the expertise that made their short talks such a mind blast of knowledge.  The reason we loved TED talks was because they were drinking straight from the geek tap.  And ultimately, submitted talks will water that down, because you will lose out on those geeks who you have to ask to come out of the lab or their non-profit or the boardroom long enough to talk to us about something they are truly expert about.

Let us do our job, as inviters and audiences, and not just pander to the need for instant fame.  Go find the speakers too busy doing awesomeness to submit an application and make them talk, for all our sakes.

Imagine people as a two by two matrix (which is pretty much how I see the world).  On one  axis is competence (genius, idiot) and the other is personality (awesome, asshole).

The genius/awesome quadrant is easy to make intros for: they bring value to almost every situation and they make you laugh while they do it.  Since we all want to be this person, we all want to meet/work/spend time with this person, and the real problem is not overwhelming them with connections.

The idiot/asshole is also easy to deal with: you work with them only when you are forced to, spend no social currency helping them, and hope they don’t give you cooties.  If you’re particularly awesome, you can try to help them anyway; if you choose to do so, please do it by keeping them away from me.

The real issue is the other two quadrants, the mixes.  I know a lot of genius/assholes and they often end up in engineering or academia, where you don’t actually need many introductions, so they are slightly less of a problem for me.  When they do need something, you generally rely more on evaluating what they need than them.  For example, if they need an intro to a business person, you generally try to find the most tolerant business person you know and make sure you are around when they meet to smooth over the bumps.

Which leaves the awesome/idiot and this is the quadrant that has been stumping me lately.  They are nice people and so I do genuinely want to help them, but what do we do with people who simply don’t have the skills to manage the things they want intro’s for?

For example, I consistently have a few people who ask me for introductions to job leads that they just aren’t qualified for, and there is nothing more frustrating and conflicting.  On the one hand, you want them to get a good job where they learn something and can meaningfully contribute to society in someplace that makes them feel happy and healthy.  On the other hand, if they can’t do the job, they can’t do the job, and there is nothing worse for your credibility than trying to push the agenda of someone who just isn’t good enough to be able to run with that ball.

This may just be an offshoot of the global conversation people have been having about a generation that they feel is lacking in practical skills.  I’m with Jon Stewart in that I think the young people of today are actually fairly amazing in their ability to accomplish a variety of things, with some shiny standouts, and so I don’t have a particularly pessimistic view of the young.  But I’m still stuck on trying to figure out what we do with the people who aren’t standouts.

For introductions, at least, there is a standard formula: explain why the introduction isn’t the right one, offer to make the introduction you think is the right one, consistent positive feedback about being awesome (ignoring idiot, since that is something that can generally be changed).  And those are all important steps: too often, I think people just throw awesome/idiots to the wolves, which sets them up not only for an unpleasant, demoralizing interview, but also wastes the time of your contact, who now shares your conflict about what to do with them.

The bottom line is that we have to stop being afraid to tell people that they aren’t ready for an opportunity.  Sink or swim is great when you’re on Survivor, but genuine advisors should be taking into account the global well-being of the purpose and their long-term development, which means helping them understand their limits and find a place to grow beyond them.  Scaffolding FTW.

It is no secret that I love the active advisor role: my LinkedIn is rife with them (and let’s just appreciate that we no longer say “my resume”).  What is perhaps less evident is exactly how difficult being an active advisor is.  Not because of the time demands (although it can be demanding) but because in order to be an active advisor, you need active advisees.  And that can be a truly hard lesson for a founder to learn.

Most founders are self-starters; they wouldn’t have formed a company otherwise.  At the very least, they are capable of doing a great many things on their own, and I truly believe that most of them take specific pleasure from doing so.  The trouble is that makes them prone to a Rambo mentality, a one-man-army approach that means taking on more than you actually need to.  Sometimes, the burdens get to feeling good.

As an advisor, that’s hard to watch.  In an ideal world, you want them to realize “this is something someone else could do better” and almost immediately outsource it to the correct person.  From that view, the best founders are the ones who realize the specific function of each person in their team, including advisors.

Different advisors are good for different things, but overwhelmingly I think they have two strengths: the ability to impart mental paradigm shifting information in short bursts and the ability to connect above and around problems.

By the first, I mean simply that a good advisor can entirely change the way you view your approach over the course of a meal or a drink.  It is something you find in good college professors as well, that mind-blowing moment where they totally shift your worldview.  Taking advantage of that means introducing your advisor to whatever team member needs a paradigm shift and letting them have it.  Too often, the advisor meetings are just with founders: don’t make that mistake.  Introduce your advisor to the team and give them the chance to ask the questions they need answers to.

The second is far more standard.  Most advisors have a varied network, in part because they have also had to solve the same problems that founders have and thus have developed the networks that allow for those solutions.  Need to hire an engineer?  Call your advisors.  Need a lawyer?  Call your advisors.  Trying to get a bizdev meeting?  Call your advisors.  If it involves needing something that you don’t have and requires more than a day to get, your advisors can probably get it more quickly for you.

And here’s the key: your advisors want to help you.  That’s the whole reason they are your advisors!  Nobody signs up to be any kind of active advisor unless they really do want to be a part of making your company better.  By letting them do that, you’re not only making your life easier, you’re making them happy.  I’m always reminded of The Offspring lyrics: Now I know I’m being used. That’s okay, man, ’cause I like the abuse.

People love a certain kind of disaster preparation.  After Hurricane Irene’s lackluster rains last year and today’s Hurricane Sandy prep, New Yorkers are now well familiar with mayoral press conferences and impressive lines at the Trader Joe’s.  Twitter is abuzz with witty puns and prayers for safety (and the safety of satellite dishes, so that they can still see The Walking Dead).  Everyone is just a little bit jazzed, even if they’re evacuating.

We’re fascinated by a certain kind of pseudo-disaster for the same reason we like watching scary movies: it is a safe kind of fear.  Hurricane Sandy has already killed 65 people to date in the Carribean, but we can likely assume that the New York death toll will be essentially nil; even if someone does die, it will almost certainly be less than the loss-of-life suffered in the average heat wave.  So for most New Yorkers, we’re “in danger” but not in any way that is, practically speaking, dangerous.

But the trick is that our brain doesn’t fully believe the difference.  We still get a spike of generalized arousal, which makes us more alert and focused, so that we get the benefits of preparing for fight-or-flight but without actually having to run or fight anyone.

In other words, a hurricane is a scary movie but you get to actually be in the movie.  There are practical things you get to do (like food shopping); it engages in your brain, you can plan, you can execute.  And in doing so, you come into contact with other engaged people: you make friends in the supermarket line, schedule impromptu parties of neighbors for spontaneous hurricane parties, hop on social networks to exchange plans and jokes and tips.  So we’re aroused, we’ve got a place to channel it, and we get to do it while being around other people.  That’s a brain cocktail for happiness.

Until Day 2.  Arousal is long gone; your brain isn’t stupid, it has figured out that you aren’t actually in any danger, and now it goes back to sleep.  And its an even deeper sleep, because now its recovering from yesterday’s burst of activity.  You’ve got no practical things that need doing, having battened the hatches and filled the fridge.  And you already saw everybody yesterday and they are sick of playing board games with you.

And that’s par for the course.  For psychologists, there are two major components to happiness: satisfaction (the long term experience of happiness) and delight (the momentary experience of happiness).  Delight, what you feel on Hurricane Day 1, is intense and important, but it comes at a significant cost: by sharply elevating our brain chemistry and our expectations, we experience a bit of a gulf when it is gone.  With enough satisfaction, we can mitigate this by using our long-term base level to bring us back up, but there will still be a little dip.

So live large, New York, on the first day of Hurricane Sandy.  Because tomorrow, it will be raining, with no schools and possibly no subways, and you may all be just a little dreary.  Celebrate – and don’t party so hard that a few more board games don’t sound good for tomorrow.

There has been a lot of chatter in the press recently about intelligence augmentation, which can mean a variety of things but always gets instantiated for me mostly clear in the “software” of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  The basic idea is that “always on” forms of computing (like Google Glasses) will fill in the gaps of intelligence by either proactively or retroactively providing information.

Put another way: you’re sitting at dinner with me, we start talking about The Beatles but can’t remember when they were formed, Google Glasses says “1960, asshole” and presto…our intelligence was augmented.

I’ve raised issues about Google Glasses before, but it is a little harder to know in advance the effect of this kind of change.  For example, we know that resolving ambiguity tends to make us happy – our brain gives us a little extra love when we solve a puzzle or see the pattern in something that seemed random.  But we don’t know what happens if someone gives us the answer: does that provide the same rush of pleasure?  Does Google Glasses filling in The Beatles answer count for as much as noodling on it for a few minutes and figuring it out ourselves?

It may not matter in the sense that, like cell phones, the technology will almost certainly find widespread adoption.  But knowing in advance the potential psychological implications of intelligence augmentation may prove key in helping with a smooth transition.

The calculator gives us a good example from history.  I remember even up until high school the degree to which some teachers felt like using a calculator was intellectually lazy, and banned or discouraged them.  More recently, however, most the math teachers I know don’t give calculator use a second thought; the emphasis is on the concepts and application of math, not its mechanics.

As Howard Rheingold and others have pointed out, technology often evolves to help us become smarter as a mass humanity (the printing press, for example).  What is different about Google Glasses is that we are now moving into areas of technology that interact with brain processes that are much more core to our own human evolution: information recall, perception, and choice.  Whereas the printing press and calculator have no doubt made us able to do more, they did not change the fundamentals of how we think, just what we do with our thinking time.

In the end, this may just be me wanting to start a lab at the intersection of psychology and technology to start experimenting with the future of these things.  But the next time you can’t remember something, think about what it would be like if you just instantly “knew” – you never had the frustration or the process of finding out.  Net good?  Net bad?  Net different?

I like introducing people.  Whether it is romantic matchmaking or a great bizdev partnership or finding the right person to fill a job, there is a certain rush you feel when you connect the dots in just that certain way and it all fits together.*

The side effect is that I spend a lot of time talking to people about what they want to do in life, since that forms the basis of figuring out a good pairing for them.  And this has a notable downside: I hear the phrase “be my own boss” far, far too often.  It sets my teeth on edge and the word “entitled” flashes from the sky like a lightning bolt.  If my blood were not bossed around by physics, it would instantly boil.

The response comes at a fairly predictable juncture, where people start talking about why they left what they were doing and what they are looking to do next.  It is especially prevalent among people who are thinking about going into startups, without really having any idea what one is.  They are often the same people that think “more freedom” means “more options” and I suspect them of having bad musical taste as well.

Put simply: you are never your own boss.  You could make an argument about how you always have a choice and you really never have to do anything, but back here in reality, most people need a steady source of income, which means a job, which means a boss.

Now, you may want your boss to be your customer, and that is certainly something entrepreneurship brings.  But if you couldn’t learn to please your boss at your previous job, chances are you’re going to both chafe and be bad at pleasing customers as well.  An orientation towards fulfilling needs is a stable, portable characteristic: quitting your job and starting a startup isn’t going to make you magically care about meeting the needs of others.

The important choice we do have is not whether or not to have a boss, but who (or what) our boss is going to be.  Because in the end, the ultimate boss is simply responsibility: whatever thing we need to do in order to fulfill our role in the machine.  Serving customers through entrepreneurship is still part of that machine and just like physics keeps my blood from boiling, the same rules apply no matter what the role.  Designers design, founders found, coders code, but it is always in service of an outcome.  So pick your outcome.

* As a complete side note, there is some great research that shows that we are evolutionarily wired to get a little burst of pleasure from resolving incongruity and ambiguity.  Which makes sense, in that the person who enjoys seeing the tiger in the trees is going to have an extra shot at running away.

Recently, a reporter was asking me about founders and failure. Is there anything I’ve noticed about how they handle it well or badly? Are there general trends that unite how founders psychologically treat failures?

My immediate reply was “Founder’s Disease”. Its a term I made up once in a conversation to describe the way that founders have trouble admitting bad news and it is best crystallized in the following example:

A founder I knew well and I were out to drinks with one of his best friends. Because I had a minor stake in the company, I happened to know that it was doing badly and was a month or so away from running out of money. Nevertheless, the founder has a smile on his face and when his best friend asked how the company was doing, he said “Everything’s great!”

Everything was not great. In startups, everything is often not great. And yet almost every founder you meet will tell you about the positive events: traction, press, funding, whatever is most likely to put a positive spin on their company. And that, right there, is Founder’s Disease.

It is totally understandable. Most founders are all-in on a startup and have both their own money (and often friend and family money) and their own reputation tied up completely in its success or failure.  Which makes saying “things are bad” take on the larger meaning of “I am in danger of losing my literal and figurative self-worth”.

And presentation of your startup as successful is also a key component of the business of startups.  Look at Mint, which turned its constant “look at all our users” message into a decent acquisition (5X), conveniently ignoring that only a tiny fraction ever came back again.  Both investment and acquisition depend on defining your metric for success and selling it, hard.

So then why is it a Disease?  Because it leads you to tell your best friend in a bar that everything is wonderful, when your world is crumbling around your ears.  Not only is this incredibly emotionally depleting, because now you’ve literally lied to all the people that would provide commiseration and emotional support, but it doesn’t make good business sense either.

If I’m your friend, and you say “X is not going well”, of course I’m going to think about whether there is anything I can do to help.  And maybe it is just some advice, but maybe it is introducing you to a reporter I know to get you some press traction or an investor who I think can help you with funding.  In trying to self-present as strong, we weaken our position.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, Dan Storms of Originate also sent me Jelly Bellys, but due to a mail miscalculation, I just got them.  Let the weight gain begin!

UPDATE: Julie Fredrickson of playAPI sent me 10lbs of Jelly Bellys!  My dream has been fulfilled.

I recently wrote about a CEO I advise who was having trouble reaching out to others to ask for things, because he felt like he was always taking and never giving.  That post was about the problem and some solutions to it; this post is more generally about how to give back.

The general premise is this: as the CEO, you want to set aside a specific hour sometime during the week to show appreciation for others.  I’m certainly not the most new age guy, so I don’t mean that in the fuzzy, meditative way.  I’m talking about actually doing things for other people and giving them the rewards that they find rewarding.

This hour should be sometime in the evening or morning, so that you aren’t being bothered by incoming email, etc.  And it should be relatively focused on people who have either done something directly for you that week or someone who has done something for you in the long term that you haven’t yet recognized.
And this hour should have a budget.  It depends on how well-funded your startup is, but $100 a week isn’t unreasonable; I guarantee that if done well, this will net your business more than $5K a year.

The seemingly easy part (the appreciation) isn’t as simple as it appears, in part because you want to tailor your rewards to the people themselves.  Some people like public recognition for being awesome on Twitter, others would prefer an endorsement on LinkedIn, others want to get some Jelly Belly’s in the mail (this is clearly my dream).

Think about past people you’ve worked with, family and friends who have been supportive, anyone who has ever done you a favor (and if you’re doing your job properly, you should have plenty of those).  Think about everything you know about them and what would make them feel happy, honored, and remembered.  It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive, and you can probably get through at least 6 in an hour.

I’ll close with one of my favorites: cowboy boots and Dave Clarke.  Dave is a hell of a guy; he was our first hire at Churnless, where we literally just sent him an @Churnless.com email address and said that he worked for us now.  He came onboard without having a clue what we were up to and who could possibly ask for more than that?  He does great work at the practice he founded (AuthenticMatters) and remains one of my favorite people in the world.

Now Dave lives in Philly, so he used to come up to the Churnless office every two weeks or so to work.  Slept on the couch, put in two good days, went home.  So one night, while he was out to a meeting, I stuck a pair of cowboy boots with a note expressing our gratitude for his badassery on the couch before I left.

It isn’t just leaving the gift that matters.  I wear cowboy boots every day, and Dave is a guy with a rustic edge (he’s from Virginia, listens to a lot of Drive By Truckers, and accepted a hatchet from me for his wedding present); giving him cowboy boots was a way of communicating how we felt.

And he felt good about them.  Still wears them when I see him.  And moreover, the next time I asked people in the office if they needed supplies, our lead engineer said “No supplies, but I want cowboy boots.”  Which he got, when he completed his first major product launch with us.

There is no substitute for appreciating people.  Set aside the time and budget and get it done.