On Time

Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit -- I'm LateThe flop sweat caught me off guard. Driving to a doctor’s appointment, I was running just a couple minutes late. Yet I was filled with panic and driving like a jerk, darting from lane to lane and cursing people for driving too slowly. This for an appointment I was paying for, and where I’d likely spend many minutes in the waiting room.

It happened the previous day as well. I arrived only three minutes late for a lunch with an old colleague. I found him searching his phone for a text or other sign from me. “You’re never late,” he told me, “I was getting worried.” Because I was three minutes late.

I go to great lengths to never be late. But I wasn’t always that way. A leadership mentor of mine once enlightened me: “timeliness is respect”. Especially as a leader. I’ve lived that way ever since.

Time is Money

I know many leaders who don’t see it this way. They are always late. Rushing into meetings, breathless, meekly apologizing and then asking “so where are we?” The answer is almost always: “waiting for you.”

They’ll be late to their own funeral.

One leader I know is so predictably late that others show up to meetings with them five or ten minutes late themselves. “[leader’s] always late, why be on time?” It’s even become a joke behind their back. “They’ll be late to their own funeral.”

These leaders feel that their time is money. And the higher up in the organization the more expensive the time. So they pack their time to the second, rushing about, flying into this meeting, hustling off to the next, scattering insincere apologies: “Gotta run…” But they are really bad at time management. They are five, ten, even twenty minutes late. All the time.

What they don’t see is that the time they are wasting is everyone else’s. That the ten (or hundreds of) people waiting for them are worth at least as much per hour as they are. From a simple economics perspective, being late is expensive.

Timeliness is Respect

Worse, all those people aren’t sitting there thinking “he’s so important, he must be really busy meeting with all kinds of important people, I’m so lucky to be getting even a few moments of his time!”

Nope. In reality, they are thinking “who is this pompous jerk who doesn’t even respect me enough to be on time?” The meeting is already off to a bad start, and the leader isn’t even in the room yet.

When the leader is late, everyone wonders if they should begin without them. If they do, they risk the very real chance that when the leader finally arrives, they will want the meeting to go in a different direction. With the leader frustrated that things went one way, and the rest of the room frustrated that they didn’t know better. And the meeting starts again, from the top.

The lateness multiplier

Whether it’s just the leader or a participant who is late, we’ve all been in a meeting when a latecomer demands “so where are we?” And, there you have it, a rehash of the last ten minutes, that takes five minutes. The lateness multiplier.

Whatever the effect of tardiness is to the meeting at hand, the overriding stench is a lack of respect. The person who is late clearly doesn’t respect the people waiting. The people waiting rapidly lose respect for the person who is late.

It’s a Sign

Shortly after I learned that Timeliness is Respect, I found ways to be on time. My amazing assistant, Jill, always scheduled meetings allowing for travel time. Even time to the next building, or a few floors away. She would even take into account the number of meetings in a row, and add restroom breaks into the travel time. We would push meetings back a half-hour to make sure that spill-over from one, with travel time to the next, would get me there on time. She’d pop into meetings, or even call my cell, to get me to end a meeting and move on to the next one.

But it wasn’t just Jill, I focus on it too. If I am the leader of a large meeting, I’ll get there ahead of time and wait down the hall, just so I can enter precisely on time. Not to make some form of dramatic entrance, but only to make the subtle point that everyone’s time is important. I’ll be on time, I expect you to be as well.

Timeliness forms a foundation of an organizational culture

And this timeliness passion spills over. If meetings, calls, and presentations are always on time, everyone begins to expect everything to be on time. Being late with a promised deliverable is not accepted. Failing to follow up with that email you promised yesterday is just not done.

Timeliness forms a foundation of an organizational culture that sets expectations that aren’t just goals, but promises. There is an implied contract that you’ll do your job, I’ll do mine, and we’ll all get things done. And that kind of leadership of expectations is set right at the top.

Leading on Time

Being on time is one of hundreds of small signals that leaders can send that build the tone and culture of an organization. We’ll discuss a lot of them here on Leading Smart. These small signs tell your team that they are important, and that you are a leader, a team member, and that you respect them. And you respect their time.

Buzzword Nonsense

We are on a delightful vacation in Hawaii and there is a corporate retreat also taking place at the hotel.


It has all the trappings of the typical boondoggle, with employees and their spouses being plied with ample food and drink. I’ve seen dozens of these, even been on a few. They are largely a waste of time and money, with just enough “business” being transacted to qualify for someone’s expense report.

Building Inspired Strategies

This one is not much different, except that it’s for Hilton Grand Vacations, a sister company for the hotel we’re staying in. This mostly means the entertainment and such are a little more over the top than usual. And the decorations are … well … special.

Scattered around are these massive (six feet across) lighted orbs with the logo for the event. Of course, someone at corporate thought this event needed a logo. Something to print on the polo shirts, the napkins, the banners, and of course, the lighted orbs.

And yes, this event needed a theme. This event’s theme is: Building Inspired Strategies.

Let’s take a moment to think about that theme. Hilton Grand Vacations is a timeshare vacation sales company. The attendees at “Leadership 18” are most likely the top executives and the sales leaders. If we’re being realistic, the only strategies they build are how to coax you out of your vacation dollar, and that doesn’t take a lot of inspiration.

Buzzword Game

No, I’m quite sure Building Inspired Strategies was just the result of spinning the magic buzzword wheel. Some event planner, maybe a hired consultant, or even someone in HR just made it up because it sounded good, or smart, or inoffensive. And the executive in charge of the retreat said, “sure, whatever, sounds great” without even a second thought.

Playing this kind of Buzzword Mad Libs is easy. You can do it too. This kind of nonsense is just three easy steps away:

  1. Action verb, the stronger the better. Defining, creating, building, crafting, realizing, forging, …
  2. Adjective, the more over-the-top the better: Unique, creative, inspired, proactive, world-class, …
  3. Noun, the more nebulous the better: Partnerships, results, solutions, strategies, foundations, …

And there you have it: your next meeting’s theme is Forging Proactive Solutions or Crafting Unique Partnerships. Regardless of what your company does, the person in charge will nod and say “Sure, sounds good, let’s go for it. Now, what’s the menu?”

Vision Matters

The tragedy is that visions, themes, and messages matter. I’m a firm believer in establishing a vision for a project, a company, and yes, even a corporate retreat. A good vision that truly defines what the objective is, that makes sense, that rings true, and that is consistently messaged can make a big difference.

A good vision that is consistently messaged can make a big difference.

The result of any effort with a good vision, mission, goals, and messaging is almost always better. Everyone, inside and out, benefits from knowing what they are doing and how they are getting there.

The problem with a half-baked vision is that it sends exactly the wrong signal. It doesn’t motivate people, it actually de-motivates them. They see this drivel and know the people in charge “phoned it in”. Rather than be insulted, or challenge it, or rise to the occasion of making this lame vision real, they simply accept it. It’s just more of the same — one more way in which the company is insincere. They add it to the reasons they already have to update their CV.

So, what would be a good vision for this retreat? I’m just spitballing here, but how about something that reflects the organization’s objectives. Maybe Record 2019 Sales, or Industry-leading Customer Satisfaction? Something tangible, measurable, attainable, yet still a stretch goal.

Visions and themes are crucial. You’ll find a lot about them here on Leading Smart. We’ll talk about how to build them, how to evaluate them, and how to make the most of them. In the meantime, I hope you’ll do better with your Buzzword Bingo than: Building Inspired Strategies.

Executive Overreach

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said that Bill didn’t need to resign because of the extramarital high jinx he had with Monica Lewinsky. That Monica was an adult at the time and made her own decision.

Whether you’re “I’m with Her” or “Lock Her Up” on the Hillary scale, she’s simply wrong here. And it has nothing to do with Monica’s age.

No one should be personally involved with someone who works for them. Even several levels down in the organization. Or rather: especially several levels down in the organization. Period.

This is not complex, the power dynamic, even among consenting adults, is too strong. It’s simply impossible to separate the many possible underlying motives, the implicit pressures, and the resultant head games. On all sides of the relationship.

I say this as someone who just this week celebrated 35 years of marriage to a wonderful woman I met at the office. She worked in a different department, the only common manager we had was two levels above me. Yet we still snuck around like teenagers in love so as not to create scandal at the office.

I’m not suggesting some sort of Billy Graham rule where men and women are never alone at the office. Or that we ignore the natural tendencies for people who work together to occasionally find love.

What I am saying is that, regardless of ages, regardless of intent, and regardless of the seeming completely conscious decision of both parties, relationships among people where one works for the other are wrong. Full stop.

I don’t know if Bill Clinton should have resigned. But what happened with Monica was wrong. Those rules in the HR Policy Manual of virtually every organization about that kind of behavior are spot on.

AI Insanity

There is a quote that is widely mis-attributed to Albert Einstein.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

While the origins of the quote are uncertain, the sentiment is clear: if you repeat the same actions, you’ll get the same results. Anyone with a scientific or empirical bent will surely agree with the premise, as will anyone who has played golf.

This comes to mind today on the heels of a story from Reuters that Amazon has scrapped a program intended to speed up the review of applications by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to the process. The program, it seems, was dutifully duplicating all the innate biases from the past.

We had two shifts of people working at scanners entering them into the applicant database.

I deeply sympathize with Amazon’s plight. When I was VP of Human Resources at Microsoft, the company’s applicant popularity was astounding. We were getting tens of thousands of résumés a month. We had two shifts of people working at scanners entering them into a database. We tried all manner of sorting, filters, and pattern recognition to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It didn’t work. We missed vast numbers of bright people (and wasted time on countless misses) because they chose not to use the current buzzwords. Or because their font choice was misread by the scanning software. Or we just weren’t looking for the right things. We still needed real humans to look them over, even if each review took mere seconds.

I fully understand the desire to use the latest technology to try to assist in battling the onslaught.

Amazon is like Microsoft at that time, among the hottest places to work, and I’m sure the are swamped with applications. I fully understand the desire to use the latest technology to try to assist in battling the onslaught. Had we had AI at the time, I would have tried it in a heartbeat.

But just like our filters and scanners, the AI tools have an inherent problem. They are “trained”, and the decisions about the training data set make all the difference in what choices the system makes. Like virtually every computer system AI systems are subject to the old adage: garbage-in leads to garbage-out .

From what we can tell, Amazon used a vast array of résumés and decisions from the past to teach the system to find the needles in their haystack. Here are all the applicants for this job, here’s the person we chose. I sympathize with this approach, they have an enormous data set to work from. The problem is, of course, it replicated their past behavior precisely.

The system showed inherent biases against women and other groups. It preferred male-dominated language, and expressed precisely what the company had presumably done in hiring over the years. And there’s the problem.

The better way to train the system would have been to use a pool of applications, and then manually coded them for the desired outcome, controlling carefully against bias. But this would have taken forever, required great manual effort, and resulted in a much smaller training data set. Unfortunately AI systems are at their best with very large training inputs. So they chose the more tractable path.

To their great credit, Amazon scrapped the system when they realized the issue. They deserve kudos for that decision, other firms might well have pressed on, hoping the results would improve with more data. Continuing to do the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. Amazon didn’t and that’s worth recognizing.

At the highest level, this points out the complexity of the diversity issue.

At the highest level, this points out the complexity of the diversity issue. Biases, either obvert or more subtle, are deeply ingrained in a company’s  culture. Correcting those takes explicit, conscious, and proactive behavior changes. Something no automated system is likely to be of much assistance with. I have many more ideas, thoughts, and comments on how to make these changes, but those will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate at least one company that is actively recognizing they have a hiring challenge. And is actively searching for ways to not repeat the past.

The Why Matters

When working with Brainpower workers, companies are finding out that the “why” matters. I noted it in the foundational explanation of The Brainpower Age, and more companies are feeling the effect.

Today’s New York Times writes about tech workers who want to know “What are we building this for?” Employees are asking more questions about not just what and how to build it, but why are we building this thing in the first place. And they aren’t being shy about objecting if they don’t agree with the end goal.

When you hire smart people, you get the whole person.

As they ask more employees to use their brains, companies are finding that asking them to only use part of their brain isn’t going to cut it. When you hire smart people, you get the whole person, and asking them to ignore issues they care about is unlikely to be successful. This is a trend that will likely only get more intense.

The nation’s political climate has already caused some firms to discover that employees don’t just bring their work lives to the office, they bring their entire lives. Google suffered a backlash when some employees and conservative groups felt the company was penalizing, even firing, them. Other firms, as the Times notes, are finding that employees want more information on the Why behind their projects. Sometimes the firms can’t, or won’t, offer a satisfactory reply. Some employees may leave, others may feel unmotivated and will work to less than their full potential.

Today’s rancorous political climate only means more of these kind of issues for team leaders.

Getting employees completely behind your project is the goal of most managers. And when everyone is rowing in the same direction, having both the hearts and minds of the employees fully engaged has remarkable effect. Just look at the amazing efforts during World War II when the country reached productivity levels previously unheard of. But alas, that was when we all seemed to agree that Nazis were evil.

Today’s rancorous political climate only means more of these kind of issues for team leaders. More and more employees, specifically those in high level brainpower jobs, will ask Why. And more and more companies will have to find a good answer to that question.

Where Have All The Scruples Gone?

Star Registry Web Site

On the way to the gym this morning I heard a radio ad that I’ve heard several times before. It’s from the International Star Registry. It’s a mind-boggling scam.

These people offer the chance to “name a star”, and tout it as a “great gift” — “a gift that will last a lifetime”. And, “your gift will be registered in book form in the US Copyright Office.” In some weird sort of way, it almost seems like a nice idea.

You can almost imagine taking your honey out to Lookout Point on a clear starry night, pointing up just to the right of the Big Dipper and saying, “Look, Dear, there’s the Candy Smith star. I had it named just for you.” And as you melt together into the evening, it all seems so perfect.

But it’s a complete lie. Take a quick look at the web site’s FAQ. Aside from several questions about how to order, there’s the real meat of the matter. Q: Am I buying the star? A: No. We do not own the star, so we cannot sell it to you.

More importantly: Q: Will the scientific community recognize my star name? A: No. We are a private company that provides Gift Packages. Astronomers will not recognize your name because your name is published only in our Star catalog. We periodically print a book called Your Place in the Cosmos © which lists the stars that we have named.

So let me see if I have this right. For my $59 – $159 I get a certificate from you that says you named some random star in my name. You will occasionally print out a list of these names and send it to the copyright office (as any author can). And that’s it. No one will recognize this name, and all I have to show for it is a credit card receipt and a piece of paper.

It begs an important question: how do these people sleep at night?

The International Star Registry sold something they don’t own, have no inventory of, have an unlimited supply of, and have essentially no cost-of-goods-sold. It’s raw profit. I could also print out a piece of paper that says “This star over here is the CLWill star”, send it in at essentially no cost to the US Copyright Office, and I’d have the exact same effect.

This is an incredibly inventive scam. But it begs an important question: how do these people sleep at night?

I can understand how some low life came up with this idea over a couple of beers. I can even understand that there are people in this world like this scammer who live for separating fools from their money. I don’t like that, but I realize they exist.

What I wonder about is all the other people in the organization. This can’t be a small endeavor. There are people answering the phone. People entering things into the database. People handling the accounting, payroll, taxes, etc. People developing the ads and the web site. There must be a dozen or more people involved in this scam.

It turns my stomach from 2,000 miles away

How do they all sleep? They all must know the ridiculousness of the deal. They must all start out chuckling at the people who order. But at some point it has to turn sickening. There just has to be silly levels of turnover as people tire of cheating their fellow man (or woman).

Then I wonder, what is this organizational culture like? Do people cheat and connive each other into promotions and raises? Do they stab each other in the back? If they scam strangers for a living, they must treat each other like crap.

On a personal level, can they really look themselves in the mirror every morning as they head off to work, and think this is really OK? Do they go to church and talk about “doing unto others”? What do they teach their children about work ethics? It turns my stomach from 2,000 miles away (they’re in Illinois), I can’t imagine being involved in such a thing.

And as I’m typing this blog entry, I got a new piece of spam from the “Heritage Registry of Who’s Who”. The exact same scam, in different clothes. Add in the incessant diet drug ads that proliferate this time of year, and the incredibly annoying ads for Enzyte, “for natural male enhancement” and you wonder, where have all the scruples gone?

A Real Resolution

Calendar from 12-31 to 1-1

People often make New Year’s Resolutions — personal goals to remake themselves. Most often these involve quitting smoking (as I did 30+ years ago) or losing weight (as I need to) or other self-improvement goals. But they almost never involve their work life. I’m here to beseech you otherwise.

This seems like the best possible time for me to stress the importance of taking stock of your work life and to prod you to fix what is broken. This is an exercise that most of us never do, and the arbitrary ticking of the calendar is as good a time as any to prompt you to do so.

Most of us who work in organizations recognize what is wrong: we roll our eyes as the same silly mistakes get made year in and year out, we chuckle knowingly at every Dilbert cartoon wondering how Scott Adams was in our last staff meeting, and we marvel that the same idiots continue to ply their trade without being called to account. Yet who is the bigger fool, those who continue the folly or those who participate time and again and expect a different outcome?

Who is the bigger fool, those who continue the folly or those who participate time and again and expect a different outcome?

I can’t begin to imagine what is wrong in your work situation, but unless you are very lucky, something is broken. Perhaps the problem is a lousy boss. Or a terrible co-worker. Or a failing project. Or just a job you hate. Now is a great time to deal with the problem.

Here are some suggestions on concrete actions you can take:

  • Speak up when someone behaves inappropriately
  • Personally take on a failing part of the project
  • Call attention to things that are broken
  • Challenge stupidity in all its forms
  • Never contribute less than your personal best
  • Get another job

These are hard. They take personal strength. Some require almost heroic effort. All require resolve (hence the term: resolution). But they can all make a distinct difference.

Life is too short to hate what you do, or to settle for second best. Take the opportunity of a new year to fix what’s broken in your world. Don’t let another year go by in a situation you will regret. What’s the point of quitting smoking if all it does is have you live longer in a job you hate?

Never Expect Change, You Won’t Be Disappointed

It’s an ancient theme of comedians, as old as comedy itself. It goes something like:

  • A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn’t.
  • A man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, and she does.

It’s told many different ways, but the essence is that many people have a very different expectations of change.

In the workplace, I have often encountered managers with unrealistic expectations of change. So often that I have developed a really simple rule of thumb with respect to change:

Never expect anyone to change, you will never be disappointed and you will be occasionally pleasantly surprised.

Rather hash, yes. But it has never failed me.

I have seen a hundred managers who overlook, or proactively ignore, repugnant behavior in employees. It seems they hope that some miracle, or a passing visit from Dr. Phil, will get the employee to see the error of their ways and make a wholesale change in their life. It doesn’t happen.

Now I’m not talking about people who won’t make a new pot of coffee when they drain the last cup, or who break wind in the elevator. I’m talking about more serious things. Like people who treat others like they are put on this earth for their convenience. Or can’t construct a sentence let alone a convincing argument. Or are so criminally disorganized that they can’t find anything on their haystack of a desk.

Expecting people to change their essence is just asking for a letdown.

No, these things are at the core of who these people are, and they simply can’t change them. Expecting people to change their essence is just asking for a letdown.

What’s worse is when people hire people with clear, fatal flaws and delude themselves into thinking they will fix them. “Not to worry, I’m a superhero manager, I can fix that.” Betcha can’t.

I ought to know. I did it myself… more than once.

In one case, I took a superstar individual contributor, a true unmitigated genius — one of the smartest two or three people I’ve ever met (and I’ve met some of the smartest people on the planet) — and promoted him to be a manager for me. He is really a special intellect, you see, so I was more than intrigued to see if I could get him to grow out of his quite abusive behavior of others, and his incredibly condescending tone, and his unrealistic expectation of others, and his subsurface misogeny, and … you get the idea.

As it turns out I couldn’t change him. He was a disaster. I narrowly avoided a lawsuit from an employee. With the advice and assistance of my HR person, I wrote a special note for his personnel file that read, in short: “This person should never be allowed to supervise others again”. [Note: He was recently mentioned in a national publication as a future CEO of a Fortune 500 company — but I digress…]

Fire them and move on.

The key point here is that I know of what I speak. There is a great deal you cannot change in people. Never expect them to change, and you won’t be disappointed. If you try once and there is no change, don’t keep beating your head against a wall. Fire them and move on.

In closing, I’m reminded of the great W. C. Fields when confronted by a woman who proclaimed “Sir, you are drunk!”. His response: “yes, madam, but you are ugly and in morning I shall be sober.” Some things just can’t be changed.

Greed by Any Other Name

Money Bundle

There is a great article in the Wall Street Journal today [Note: I believe this link is subscription-only].

The title of the article says it all: “When $70 Million is Not Enough”. It is about how a star at Goldman Sachs, aptly named Mark McGoldrick (nicknamed “Goldfinger”), quit because he felt his $70 Million in compensation in 2006 was inadequate.

I’m quite sure that the vast majority of the world is just flabbergasted by the hubris of Mr. McGoldrick. I’m sure the indignation is quite ripe. After all, even the biggest lottery winners don’t even dream of getting this much money over their lifetime, let alone as one year’s compensation. And they marvel at the fact that the island of Saint Kitts is overwhelmed by the damage done yesterday by Hurricane Dean, estimated to be over $50 Million — an amount Mr. McGoldrick could cover and still have tens of millions to spare.

But I’m not surprised. Because I’ve seen worse.

But I’m not surprised. Because I’ve seen worse.

Yes, really, I’ve seen worse. You see, I was in charge of compensation at Microsoft at the zenith of the dot-com boom. If you want to get a brain freeze, if you want to see warped values, and if you want to see upset people, you need to see extremely competitive people discuss their compensation.

I had senior people in my office griping about net worths in the magnitude of the GDPs of small countries. They pointed to others who they deemed less worthy, and complained that just being ahead of them was not enough. No, they needed to wipe the floors with them.

I had more than one executive who was on their way out the door demand, and get, millions in compensation — for what I was not sure. They stomped and moaned and complained like children until someone, anyone, would grant them what they wanted. And then they left.

I had one case where an executive threatened to start up a business that potentially would cause one small part of the company some grief. He made numerous vague, disguised threats until he was granted $30 Million in stock options. He promptly left, and started the business anyway. And now his biggest customer is Microsoft.

So, Mr. McGoldrick is disgusting, and clearly demonstrates that all that is wrong with Wall Street today. But he’s just an amateur. If he wants to really know how it’s done, perhaps he should drop me a line.

Visions of a License

Colorbyte Logo

I talk a great deal about visions. About how they should drive organizations, about what they should contain, and about the importance they have on the effectiveness of teams. I see many cases of strong, clear, focussed visions leading to great success.

And I see the opposite. I see organizations that either lack a vision, or that don’t measure operations against the vision on a regular basis. I have two examples right in front of me.

Both examples are from the software industry and both show how easy it is to get distracted from the main point of the company and off to “the plumbing”. It’s a tale of my trying, seemingly in vain, to simply purchase two different companies’ products.

Both examples show how easy it is to get distracted by “the plumbing”

I have had, since youth, a deep interest in photography. And I have owned, in recent years, a parade of better and better photo printers. When I decided to donate two of my older printers to my children’s school, I found that it was a case of “you can’t get there from here”.

You see, both printers were driven by software called a RIP (raster image processor). RIPs are sophisticated programs that control, to minute detail, the output of the printers. They insure that what you see on the screen, ends up on the printer. Sure, you can just press “print” from within your program, but for best results you use a RIP.

There are a number of these programs, and they are all absurdly expensive. The license for these two printers was several thousand dollars (ouch!). So when I decided to donate the printers, clearly I wanted to donate the RIP to drive them. I wouldn’t want the school to have to pay for them. So began my ordeal.

You see, the licensing is obtuse, and is controlled by a tiny (the size of about 6 dimes stacked up) device called a “dongle”. You need the dongle plugged into your computer to run the program. This is a silly form of copy protection. I emailed the company and explained what I wanted to do. It went south from there.

Colorbyte explained that would have to return the dongle (to Florida), pay hundreds of dollars, pay for shipping both ways, and so on. I pleaded for mercy, this was merely a donation, perhaps they would want a charitable write-off too? I exchanged 8 emails, and had five 20 minute phone calls with the sales manager. In the interim I lost, and later found the silly little dongle. I offered to handle the case in any number of ways. I even agreed eventually agreed to their terms, and they suddenly changed the terms.

Colorbyte set up so many hurdles they lost an upgrade sale

Eventually, I gave up. I convinced my local dealer to sell me the competing product at cost (and take a write-off for the balance). Colorbyte set up so many hurdles they lost an upgrade sale — and ongoing maintenance updates from the school, no doubt. And undoubtedly cost the company many times the profit they ever made on me just from the time the sales manager spent handling my case.

I’m not alone. Reading the support forums for their software, Colorbyte’s confusing and obtuse licensing, and this ridiculous little device, cost their customers hours of frustration. The dongle drives people nuts, and makes all the customers feel like criminals.

Colorbyte’s vision clearly wasn’t to create hurdles for their customers, it was surely to create the best RIP they could. But their tech support time, their sales time, and I’m sure their software development time, has been sapped by the silly paranoia about software theft. This clearly costs the company in the long run.

Adobe Logo

My other experience involves the venerable giant of the graphics software industry, Adobe. Makers of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a number of other high-end graphics arts tools, the company has been a software industry stalwart for decades. Simply put, if you are really concerned with the quality of your graphics, you use Adobe’s products.

But the company’s vision of creating the world’s best graphics software and serving the graphics professional, which has served them so well, clearly doesn’t extend down to the licensing department. Buying Adobe’s products has always been hard. And I have the wounds to prove it.

Adobe has always charged far above any comparable product for their software. And because they make the best products, people pay the price. But along with this premium strategy (high price, but you get what you pay for) should come good service, respect for your customer, and a certain amount of benefit-of-the-doubt thinking.

But, no. Adobe, you see, is paranoid too. Because their products are out of the reach of the non-professional, they get stolen. Probably a lot. So Adobe has complex licensing and authorization hoops to jump through when you buy their products. And their licensing people are ruthless, and treat every customer as a potential criminal.

Their licensing people are ruthless, and treat every customer as a potential criminal.

I’ve just hung up the phone from a 54 minute phone call with Adobe customer service. My seventh such phone call in the last month. All because I wanted to buy their latest upgrade.

But I made it hard, you see, because I recently switched from Windows to the Mac. This makes it a “cross-platform upgrade”. And apparently something really hard to do. I had to sign and fax in three different affidavits, certifying that I’m going to destroy the old versions. I had to pay for the new version in advance. And I apparently had to wait.

I placed the order and jumped through all my hoops, five weeks ago today. I still have nothing to show for it. In the meantime, I’ve called customer service seven times, each time having more hurdles tossed in front of me. All for this seemingly simple $399 purchase — a purchase every other company would let me do online and download the software immediately.

Each time I call customer service, I find that the purchase has been stopped on another bureaucrat’s desk. Each time, no one bothered to tell me. Each time, I had to call, wait on hold, wait while some poor sap in Bangalore looks up the information, only to find that somehow the purchase failed to meet some ridiculous test. Last Friday, after another hour of hoop jumping, “Jen” promised me it would be expedited, and shipped overnight. She promised to email me the status immediately. I never heard from her again.

Clearly, Adobe, like Colorbyte, has lost all profit from this sale.

Today, “Frank” spent 54 minutes looking up my order, and eventually gave me a tracking number for DHL. A number DHL says does not exist.

And amazingly, I just got a call from “Jen” at Adobe to tell me that the heavens have opened and the product has shipped. Ground, not overnight. I should see it in 7 – 10 business days. Almost seven weeks after this simple purchase was made.

Clearly, Adobe, like Colorbyte, has lost all profit from this sale. Even at the rates of customer service in India, the phone charges, overhead, and pay to “Frank” and “Jen” has to have made this sale a total loss for the company. And has left them with a thoroughly upset customer. And as the old adage goes, “a happy customer tells a friend, an unhappy customer tells everyone they know.”

Both of these companies forgot why they got into the business — to create great software.

In the end, Adobe has probably lost site of their vision, just because of all this paranoia. And all because people who wouldn’t buy the product in the first place are stealing it. There is no lost revenue here, the thieves never could afford it, and people who make their living with it happily pay for it. And perhaps, when they grow up and can afford it, since they’ve been using it, the thieves would buy it. But they have to jump through the hoops — maybe it’s easier to steal it.

Both of these companies forgot why they got into the business — to create great software. They let paranoia over come them, and let their lawyers or “compliance people” rule the day. They forgot customer service, and respect for their customer. They forgot their vision. And they are much the worse for it.