Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Weekend Networking

Way back when formal networking events were just getting started here in Israel, and I was a lowly technical writer, I attended an event of the Israel Technical Writers' Association. I remember a bit of tension there, where we were talking about business objectives and why we needed to boost membership, and at one point, Mark Levinson, the head of the organization at the time said "There's nothing wrong with just wanting to make friends." The tension disappeared.

I do a lot of networking. I recently identified networking as one of my most leveraged activities, in terms of the long-term results I get in my life. It also turns out that one of my long-term (and short-term) goals is to have lots of friends, so that's not a surprise, but even if taken just in business terms, networking is up there near the top. It's not surprising. Business is about people. Getting anything done is about people. Knowing, helping, and having good relations with people is how things work. I think of networking as the oil that keeps the machinery of the world going.

I do so much networking that this blog is almost all about networking.

So if I tell you that I went to the best networking event of my life last weekend, you know it was something special.

I spent my weekend at the Kellogg Connect International EMBA event in Eilat. This was a weekend event at a nice hotel, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to wear the hot-shot pose all weekend long and "do the networking thing". To my complete delight, the event was totally casual, the people were warm and caring, and no poses were attempted.

We are talking about some of the most successful business people in Israel, and a few very successful ones from Europe and Canada here. The Kellogg International Executive MBA is the top ranked program in the world. We could easily have pulled out poses -- we've got lots of them. It just didn't happen.

The weekend started off with the obligatory fascinating lecture on Thursday night, but from there on in, it was all leisure. Boat rides, water sports, lots of eating, a fair amount of drinking, and just the right balance of organized activities versus free time. Unlike most networking events, there was no need to "work the room" since we spent a whole weekend together, and there was a natural flow of people and a natural flow of conversation.

OK, so some of our conversation might seem a little weird to normal people. When we talked about movies, we talked about box office numbers and marketing campaigns, and when we talked about restaurants we talked about the challenges of the food business. For us that was the most interesting and comfortable way to address those topics. YMMV.

The bottom line, as with any networking event, was the people. I could talk about how they were all top executives and smart people and how we all made concrete business connections, because all of that's true, but it would be missing the point.

You know, most of us have limited vacation time without the kids and limited vacation funds. You don't normally take a day off from work, ditch the kids for the weekend, and spend time in a resort town with a bunch of strangers.

I can't express in words how easygoing, open, fun, and caring each and every person was on that weekend. There wasn't a moment I felt out of place -- it was just a great weekend with people I was happy to spend my vacation with. Not a shark in the bunch. I don't even think the scuba divers saw a shark the whole time.

Note: This is an exclusive annual or semi-annual event only for EMBA Kellogg or Kellogg IEMBA graduates. It's a great model to copy if you have the right kind of group, but I can't get you an invite. Unless you become my boyfriend, and I do have an opening for that position at this time. If you are a Kellogg EMBA grad, feel free to contact me and we'll get you on the mailing list for the next event in March.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Genius of Farmville

I feel kind of stupid, blogging about Farmville. It's not like you don't know, I mean, it's all over my Facebook profile. I'd like to say that I am doing it for the kids, but I think we all know that it's like watching SpongeBob. It might start by being something you do with the kids, but not really. You know you really wanted to do it yourself.

As the Farmville craze started, I knew this was something I needed to stay away from. People were posting their achievements on Farmville on their FB profiles in the middle of the day. My thoughts were, "Ok, you are playing this game. We all play games at work sometimes, but don't you have the common sense not to post your achievements where your workmates can see them?" Or, "Great, you play a game, but don't you want to keep it a secret."

This is part of the genius of Farmville and its genre of games. Your friends get benefits when you publish your achievements. So you are a good citizen and you publish. So far so good.

Actually, I did protest when my kids asked me to join, but I didn't protest too much. And of course, once I had joined, I had to be "better" at it than the kids. And of course, I had to get "better" status than my friends, either. I couldn't be stuck down at level 5 when I have friends at level 35. Level 35, man, I don't want to think about the time invested to get to that level. (I gotta find some way to do that, I can't have people being "better" than I am...)

Of all the online games I see my kids playing, though, I have to admit that Farmville is one of the better ones, really. You plant different crops. Different crops have different costs and different payoffs and different ripening times. I found some nice spreadsheets online that someone had done with all the ROIs for all the crops. I showed them to the kids, and we actually have discussions about what is the most worthwhile thing to do with the space.

Eventually, you figure out that the percentage of profit doesn't matter, because money stops being an issue, and the actual scarcity is space on your farm and time that you have to invest on the crop. The spreadsheets can also help you calculate that, because they tell you how much space your crops take up. You can also have trees and animals on that same space. Different animals have different yields and take up different amount of space... you get the idea. It's actually not bad, if you are going to waste your time on something. Which, apparently, I am.

The other thing that I find useful as a learning exercise is the whole thing about how you handle your money. Generally speaking, you only get more money by investing it. The bank doesn't give you interest. These days, that's a fine lesson for my kids -- invest the money because it's useless just sitting there. Despite that, my daughter would rather have lots of money spare in the bank. She has a kind of a fear of spending it. So that's another thing that we can talk about and get some insight.

The second interesting thing is how I am behaving with money at the higher levels of the game, when I really have more money than it is possible to invest (because land becomes a scarcity, so you can't invest any more). I've found my spending habits interesting to observe. Even when I think I want to save for the big thing, I figure, eh, it doesn't matter, I am going to earn more (true on the game, less true in life). When I have nothing I want to buy, I probably fool around and go shopping anyway, because, whatever, it's fun, you know. In this particular case, it's not real money, but it is real time. It's also just interesting to observe myself when it's not real money and say, OK, I get how easy it is to just buy stuff because the money is in your pocket. So that's been a good exercise in awareness for me.

The best thing for me about Farmville is that there is only so much you can play it. Crops take hours or days to mature, so I make sure to plant things that take a couple of days to grow, so I won't spend all my time on the stupid game. Lord knows I'm capable of it, so I like that built-in protection of having to wait. The kids, meanwhile, have installed a bunch of other games to fill up their time, but they're kids, and it's their job to play games. I think I know myself well enough to stay away from the temptation to try the next new thing.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Because I Need the Eggs

Today's post isn't about community or networking, but it's a good story anyway.

I needed some eggs, but mostly, I thought it was a good way to get out of the house and do something mildly interesting with my son, so we walked about 10 minutes across the fields to the place with the "fresh eggs" sign out. Although I definitely live in suburbia, there are still some fields left. And although I usually get free range eggs, I figured we'd learn something (like why I usually get free range eggs.)

"Do you want to go see the henhouse?" I asked Tevel when we got there. We don't actually have appropriate vocabulary for the hangar-like buildings that now pass as henhouses.

"I don't care," he said.

As we approached the hangar, the, um, farmer (more lack of vocabulary) approached us and explained that we can't actually see anything, because it's a controlled environment, and the wall flaps are now down because the air conditioner is working.

Farmer Eitan gave us a fantastic explanation of how it works, too. You see, the food is all weighed so they know how much comes in, and around 2 in the afternoon they start to collect the eggs. There's no way to know what hen is laying which egg, or if one of them isn't. They just live in the hangar for 2 years, getting their food and laying their eggs, and then they are sent off to become shnitzel.

He used to sell the guano to the farmers in the area, but now they won't pay for it. They prefer to use chemicals because they are just mixed in the irrigation system, so it's much more consistent and easier to distribute. He's grateful that the farmer on the neighboring land is willing to take the guano for free. That farmer, he said, gets a better yield than the other guys, but he doesn't turn over crops as quickly . He also makes more money by putting the crops in a refrigeration system and selling them when the prices go up, while the other farmers are in a hurry to sell since they have payments to make on loans and land, etc. The neighboring farmer has more invested, gets his fertilizer for free, and takes his time to get better crops and a better price, and is doing very well financially compared to the other guys who are just scraping by. The guano parable, in and of itself, is a telling story about farming and business in general.

"How many chickens are there?" I asked.


Ninety thousand. If you saw this place, you would never guess he could fit that many hens in those two buildings. They are big buildings, but still. Ninety Thousand. "They're bigger in America," says Tevel.

We got our tray of eggs and started back home to make egg salad for tomorrow's pot luck.

"What did you think," I asked Tevel.

"I dunno."

I dunno either.

Reference for the title of today's post, from Woody Allen's Annie Hall: It was great seeing Annie again and I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her and I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken,' and uh, the doctor says, 'well why don't you turn him in?' And the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but uh, I guess we keep going through it...because...most of us need the eggs.