Category Archives: Business & Tech

Meet Marissa Mayer: Chief Progress Thwarter

This just in from Yahoo: CEO Marissa “My Baby is Easy” Mayer has pissed off working women for the second time – and managed to get under the skin of working parents, introverts, creative business types, hard-core software developers, and basically anyone who isn’t exactly like Marissa.

Her latest mandate puts the kibosh on work-at-home arrangements, requiring all employees to work full-time in the Yahoo offices. Her explanation for this nonsense is that flexible work arrangements inhibit innovation and that “face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture.” Pundits and academics everywhere are pointing to her attempt to mirror Google’s culture, including this New York Times quote from an analyst: “She brings all the Google lessons to the table, and Google is very focused on having your life revolve around their campus so you can spend a significantly larger chunk of time at work.”

Isn’t that FANTASTIC?! At a time when work/life balance is spinning off its axis, yet we have more tools than ever to recalibrate it, we’ve got this Woman in a Bubble with 17 Nannies telling people how, when, and where to work. First, women were up in arms over Marissa’s own virtually non-existent maternity leave. But despite the fact that family leave in the U.S. is sorely lacking in comparison to other countries, I was willing to give her some leeway. Regardless of how much parental leave is available, the amount of leave one takes is a personal choice. If Marissa loves her work and its intrinsic rewards make her a better mother, then far be it for me to judge. The question is whether she expects other women at Yahoo to make the same choice – and that is the core of the work/family debate, particularly for mothers. The beauty of where we’re at today isn’t whether it’s best for a woman to stay home versus work, or to take gobs of maternity leave versus just a few short weeks, but that she can choose. And that all of us, as women, support those individual choices. Bashing other women and insisting that our way is the right way isn’t really what sisterhood is all about. So long as Marissa’s on that bandwagon, I can overlook the maternity leave thing.

But that need to support individual choices is the foundation of why I cannot and will not accept this abolishment of the flexible working arrangements that allow so many parents to feel like they are – for the first time in history – given the resources to strike a balance between a fulfilling career and caring for their families. And it’s more than a working mom/dad thing. It’s also a work style thing. I agree with Marissa that face-to-face interaction is crucial to innovation; the “mindmelds” and “brain dumps” that occur throughout the day are critical in the product groups, where specs are written and features managed. Indeed, this is Marissa’s background, the hallmark of her days at Google – and she was exceptional at her job. But this new policy makes the assumption that everyone works as she does; and frankly, that everyone does the same job (or at least the job she deems most important). And THAT is a giant management misstep.

What about the employees who aren’t tasked with innovating? What about those who are executing on specs and strategy – the developers, designers, writers, marketers? Many of these people work best alone, away from the distractions of the office, in order to tap into their creativity, to access the all-important “flow” that allows them to produce. Clearly Marissa hasn’t read Susan Cain’s influential “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book features a case study of one notorious introvert who took full advantage of flexible working: Steve Wozniak. (Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Marissa? He’s kind of a big deal in the Valley.)

An effective manager understands that people work in different ways – and empowers their employees to work in a manner that garners optimal results. They trust their people and give them choices. This is why, during my time at Microsoft, flexible hours and telecommuting were customary. In fact, if you needed to hang your desk from the ceiling, plaster your office walls in aluminum foil, or communicate with colleagues via puppets (pinky swear – on all accounts) in order to produce, so be it. The proof in this pudding comes from one of my favorite former Microsoft execs, Brian Valentine, who led the Windows team in its heyday: “I make sure everyone on my team understands their role and that they have what they need to execute. Then I stay the hell out of the way.”

Let’s also not forget that Marissa’s sought-after innovation is what allowed a global, virtual workplace to emerge – it’s what gave rise to email, Skype, and Live Meeting. A move like hers flies in the face of what thousands of high-tech employees have bled, sweated, and teared to create. And while I understand that not everyone is productive while working from home, if you’ve got issues with people being distracted by Judge Judy and piles of laundry, you have a people problem, not a policy problem. Manage out the dead wood, Marissa – don’t assume they’ll shape up if you insist they work like you. (And P.S. – just because it’s a high-tech company doesn’t mean it’s Google. Best practices, yes. Copycat bullshit you think will automatically translate, no.)

I had high hopes for Marissa. Not only is she the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she’s the youngest female CEO, and a member of my generation. But her timebomb back to 1962 is an incredible slight to the women who blazed the trail before us, who in all honesty laid the groundwork that’s allowed Marissa to be where she is today. It’s not clear whether she’s unaware of or apathetic about these stalwart efforts – but either way, it’s a problem. So many of us Gen X women were hoping she’d serve as a beacon for progress, that she’d own all parts of herself – the masculine and feminine sides we’d peeked at and wanted more of: the math/science whiz, techie, cupcake baker, fashion fiend. That’s the example we want to set for future generations – of both women and men: that you can be anything and EVERYTHING you are. That you have choices and can decide what’s best for you.

With that in mind, we loved Marissa for her strength and independence, and hoped there was a nurturing, team-spirit side as well – the true definition of being a whole woman. Instead, she distanced herself from the pack and, through her actions (always louder than words), has seemingly shamed choices different from her own. That’s simply not sisterhood. It’s not even humankind.

And it’s nowhere near progress.

Things accomplished

  1. JAMBOX acquired (red, of course). Oh YES. That lovely little gem in the photo above is en route to my doorstep. I’ve had what I refer to as the Third Floor Issue for a while now – that is, the difficulty of listening to my tunes on the upper level of the casa (where I spend the bulk of my time). I love my trusty Geneva, but I don’t really like blasting it to levels that might disturb the neighbors, particularly in the summer months when my windows are open. And I can’t hear it at all if I’m in the master bathroom (where I also seem to spend an inordinate amount of time), what with the water and/or fan running. There’s also the issue of wanting to jam on the patio when I don’t feel like dealing with earphones. Alas – enter Yves Behar, who solves oh-so-many of my tech problems, and always with drool-inducing design at the helm. I’ve read rave reviews of this sucker and decided to go for it – apparently this tiny Bluetooth speaker busts out some serious volume (and also doubles as a speakerphone), and I love that I can easily tote it around with me. In the office, it’ll stream from my laptop; then I can take it into the bedroom, bathroom, or out to the patio and stream from my iPhone. It retails for $199, but I found it for $175 on Buy.com (no tax and $4.99 shipping). SCORE.
  2. 401(k) invested. In August 2008, I consolidated all my 401(k) accounts – which were scattered amongst three previous employers – into one Self-Employed 401(k). It was such a paperwork catastrophe in and of itself that I couldn’t deal with allocating it at that point. So I told Fidelity to talk to the hand, took off with three friends for a month at a beach house in Orient, and four weeks later, watched as the stock market melted before our very eyes. Even though I understand volatility and all that beeswax, I was secretly happy my moolah was still sitting in the cash reserves. But then…that’s where it sat for nearly three years. Until last week, when I finally got on the phone and engaged an advisor to help me put together an investment plan and allocate my account accordingly. A bit of a laborious undertaking. But still. Whew. Finally. Next up: the rewriting of my will, living will, and durable power of attorney. Talking about death should make for good times. (And P.S. Apparently June is National Make-a-Will month. A good reminder that we should all get on it if we haven’t. It appears to be fairly simple and inexpensive on LegalZoom. I know it seems totally illegit, but take it from the woman who divorced online! ;-))
  3. 85 Broads in action. I met with Jill, the co-chair of the local chapter of this network of fine, fabulous, enterprising ladies. Upon joining, the founder & CEO asked me to write for their Forbes blog, as well as lead one of their infamous Jam Sessions – both to share my story/journey and inspire others to follow their hearts (even if they first have to put it back together). So here goes nothin’ as far as The Leap is concerned – pitches are being drafted and an outline for the Jam Session is percolating in my ever-scheming-and-dreaming brain. I really hit it off with Jill – who’s also a Microsoft alum-turned-entrepreneur (as is her husband), and a born and bred New Yorker/Long Islander/Yankees fan! I’d forgotten how much I miss New Yawkers – those direct, candid, tell-it-to-your-face people who pepper every sentence with “fuck,” but would give you the shirt off their backs in a second. I’d already been harboring a hankering for an NYC jaunt – and my time with Jill only made me further yearn for an ASAP trek to the lustrous city. Gotham, take me away!
  4. Composting. I could no longer stand throwing food – scraps, coffee grounds, stuff that molds in the fridge (whoops) – and used paper towels into the trash. So I bought a BioBag bucket and the corresponding 3-gallon BioBags and stashed it under my kitchen sink. The whole lot – bag and all – is tossed straight into my townhouse community’s food/yard waste bin and I’d say I’ve cut my “regular” trash in half. And no, it’s not smelly! Miracles do occur…in the name of Mother Earth.

OfficePOD

Well, hell, this is just too cool. It’s like a fort for grown-ups!!

These are also pretty rad. I was initially considering that IQ alarm clock but seeing as how I can’t figure out the answer to the question on the clock in the photo *now* – after being awake for over nine hours – I imagine this thing would be nothing more than a morning wrist-slitter.

Also, does anyone else wonder if they’d get beamed up in this thing?!

This was not an accident

Dear Clients,

While I love you dearly and am eternally grateful for your business and partnership, I regret to inform you (for the 400th time) that I’m not interested in a full-time job at your company. While flattered, I repeat: I. Am. Not. Interested. In. A. Full. Time. Job. At. Your. Company.

Please stop asking me.

While it may seem puzzling to you – you who presumably enjoys the “security” of your job and the “benefits” you receive as a result of it and the “career path” a corporate job offers, I’m not self-employed by chance, but by choice. This is not a path I’m on because I was laid off during an economic downturn and needed something to do, it’s a path I chose because it’s what I was meant to do – and how I was meant to work. I, in fact, had a “secure” full-time position at a global consulting firm and paid $4,000 to get out of that contract in order to lead this life of what’s come to be known as “solopreneurship.” And though it may seem odd to those who take direction vs. make direction, there is indeed a strategy behind what got me here – and a strategy for where I’m headed.

I’ve endured a lot of pain and learned many lessons on the road to becoming an incorporated business in this country. And it’s actually quite an enormous responsibility to run an incorporated business in this USofA, what with the laws and taxes I have to comprehend and consistently uphold to keep Uncle Sam’s pesky finger out of my ass. Some people may come into this way of life by accident – but you sure as hell don’t continue it by accident or because it’s easy or because it’s any sort of free ride. You keep at it because you have a gift, a valuable and marketable talent, a keen business sense, a strong gut, a steel backbone, the ability to wear many very fashionable hats simultaneously, a fuckload of will, and a whopping dose of self-discipline that makes it worth every second.

That’s why I’m here.

That’s why I work the way I do.

That’s why I choose who I want to work for, what I want to work on, and when I want to work.

That’s the incredible payoff that comes with taking the risk I took five years ago – and continue to take every day. Because I’ve actually chosen freedom and flexibility over “security” and salary. And I cannot, will not, do not want to work any other way. So take your badge, your benefits, your paid vacation, your parking pass, your reviews and your rigmarole – and give them to someone who still believes they actually stand for something.

Thank you for your business. I really do mean that as I truly couldn’t be where I am without you. But please keep in mind that I do indeed like where I am.

Very sincerely yours,

NICO Inc.

Don’t miss your cherry moments

I just love my Sunday NYT – it’s a ritual I will probably never give up: the NYT, Irving Farm Sinful Delight coffee, and some fabulous-but-not-fussy homemade breakfast like pumpkin waffles or an egg white veggie frittata. It’s also especially nice to end/start the week with encouraging words of wisdom from execs profiled in the Sunday Business section, like these from former Microsoft CFO, Greg Maffei:

When I was about 8, we went to a restaurant with my parents, and the bartender said to me, “Would you like something to drink? How about a Shirley Temple?” And he put a cherry in it and he said, “Would you like another cherry?” And I was a little bashful and I thought, “I don’t want to take two.” Then I spent the entire dinner thinking, “Why didn’t I take that second cherry?”

And a lot of times in life you’re either bashful or something’s offered to you and you’re not certain and you look back and say: “Gosh, that was a great opportunity. What was I thinking?” It’s human nature to hold back sometimes, to observe, to not look like you’re sticking your neck out or taking a risk, or even asking for something or agreeing to take something that’s being presented to you. But you’ve got to seize the moment a lot of times. It’s another version of carpe diem. There have been one or two other times in my life when I thought: “That was a cherry moment. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I take the cherry?”

Blessed by the SYP Apple Santa

In five years of working for myself, not once has a client recognized or thanked me for my services at the holidays – and, frankly, rightly so as it’s my job to thank clients for their business. So imagine my surprise and delight today when I received not only a client’s holiday thank-you card, but a $150 Apple store gift card tucked inside. I never even received holiday recognition of this magnitude back when I was a full-time employee – of *any* company. I was so overwhelmed, I literally started to cry.

Working for oneself is sometimes a struggle – for a lot of reasons, one being that there’s rarely any feedback or expressed appreciation. While being a project worker brings a great deal of freedom and flexibility – which I LOVE…and having experienced that, I’d never work any other way – you sometimes feel like a commodity (or even a prostitute, in the worst client situations). And as much as I hate formal performance reviews because they’re for the most part tedious drivel and primarily for HR documentation, it reigns true that awards, promotions, and bonuses give you some idea that you’re appreciated and valued. I have to assume I’m doing good work when I a) get paid (and on time, at that), b) get hired by a client more than once, and/or c) receive word-of-mouth referrals.

So SYP, you might just be the most awesome client in the world. And MKR, I have YOU to thank for that. 🙂 My gratitude overfloweth.

P.S. Don’t miss the holiday video greeting SYP posted on their website…always a creative, inspiring endeavor every year.

P.P.S. Interestingly, this popped up while I was reading headlines on MSNBC after I published this post. That last section about us self-employed writers – that’s my world. And all those “many more skills in order to be successful”? Part of why – as rewarding as self-employment is – it is also so uncertain, terrifying, challenging, and tiring. Making a token of appreciation that much sweeter. 🙂

Hello, Santa???

I guess I have to upgrade to the iPhone 4 just to buy this delicious morsel:










Oh but wait! There’s an equally tasty 3G design to tide me over! (In red & black, no less.) I don’t even care that this shizz is Kate Spade, who normally super bugs.

Mr. Claus, I’ve been really, REALLY good this year. Pinky swear.