Hardest Things in Programming

When, while the lovely valley teems with vapor around me, and the meridian sun strikes the upper surface of the impenetrable foliage of my trees, and but a few stray gleams steal into the inner sanctuary, I throw myself down among the tall grass by the trickling stream; and, as I lie close to the earth, a thousand unknown plants are noticed by me: when I hear the buzz of the little world among the stalks, and grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image, and the breath of that universal love which bears and sustains us, as it floats around us in an eternity of bliss; and then, my friend, when darkness overspreads my eyes, and heaven and earth seem to dwell in my soul and absorb its power, like the form of a beloved mistress, then I often think with longing, Oh, would I could describe these conceptions, could impress upon paper all that is living so full and warm within me, that it might be the mirror of my soul, as my soul is the mirror of the infinite God!

O my friend — but it is too much for my strength — I sink under the weight of the splendor of these visions! A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine.

I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence, that I neglect my talents. I should be incapable of drawing a single stroke at the present moment; and yet I feel that I never was a greater artist than now.

When, while the lovely valley teems with vapor around me, and the meridian sun strikes the upper surface of the impenetrable foliage of my trees, and but a few stray gleams steal into the inner sanctuary, I throw myself down among the tall grass by the trickling stream; and, as I lie close to the earth, a thousand unknown plants are noticed by me: when I hear the buzz of the little world among the stalks, and grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image, and the breath of that universal love which bears and sustains us, as it floats around us in an eternity of bliss; and then, my friend, when darkness overspreads my eyes, and heaven and earth seem to dwell in my soul and absorb its power, like the form of a beloved mistress, then I often think with longing, Oh, would I could describe these conceptions, could impress upon paper all that is living so full and warm within me.
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Women in Business

Katherine Graham, CEO Washington Post

Graham’s rise to publishing leadership was something “thrust upon” her. Following her husband’s death from suicide depression, Katherine had chosen to fill her husband’s shoes as the Post’s publisher.

Katherine had no idea of the greatness ahead of her but as stated in her autobiography “Personal History”, “What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the edge”. That courage led her to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Katherine’s success can be summed up by her words, “To love what you do and feel that it matters—how could anything be more fun?”

Ruth Handler, Founder of Mattel & Barbie Creator

California female entrepreneur, Ruth Handler transformed her belief of girls playing with paper dolls, to dolls with breasts being vital to the child’s self-esteem. That belief led to the icon everyone knows as Barbie. From a garage in 1945, Mattel grew to become a Fortune 500 company. Ruth’s understanding of self-image continued later in life when she developed the “Nearly Me” breast prosthesis following a mastectomy. Disliked by feminists, Handler’s ability to stick to her vision shows the trait required by all small business owners.

Mary Kay Ash, Founder Mary Kay Cosmetics

Probably one of the most significant impressions left upon women’s opportunities to succeed in business was from the positive and giving attitude of Mary Kay Ash. Mary Kay entered the world of selling for a company called Stanley Home Products.

Throughout her career, she won numerous awards and upon retirement decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge and build her “dream business”. And what a business it was, Mary Kay Cosmetics has gone on to change the lives of millions. Success did not come easy to Mary Kay, her husband died one month before the company launch but her philosophy endured, “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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Diversity in the Workplace

Don’t talk about someone’s differences, right? Not necessarily. There are healthy discussions to be had when the issue of diversity is addressed with sensitivity. You can use respectful conversations to better understand your employees and to acknowledge their values.

Here are some success stories about diversity in the workplace — with one not-so-successful tale.

Diwali Observance

Mala Subramaniam was coaching the development director of a nursing home who said she wanted to give Christmas gifts to the doctors there, many of whom are of Indian descent. Subramaniam suggested gifts for their upcoming Diwali holiday. The development director took her advice.”When she walked in with the gifts, the physicians were knocked off their feet. They were so surprised that someone would take the time to find out about their holiday,” said Subramaniam, president of MKT insite, a New Jersey-based company that teaches multicultural issues to businesses.The development director has now turned the practice into a tradition, according to Subramaniam.

Subramaniam, who is of Indian descent, was working with an American Web designer who wanted to take videos of her for a project. She kept putting him off without explaining that she had a religious holiday coming up. Finally, he asked her if it was because of the holiday.”That meant so much to me that he took the time to know about my culture. Today, businesses are so diverse,” says Subramaniam. “If you mention something that is important to them, that means so much.”

Diversity-Sensitivity Workshop

While Bruce Hurwitz was working at a Bronx nursing home, he participated in a diversity-sensitivity workshop. The facilitator called on participants to weigh in on the statement: “Race matters in interpersonal relations.” Hurwitz alone said race mattered, and the other 24 participants were floored. One co-worker was indignant — her father was African-American and her mother was Hispanic.Hurwitz, today president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing in New York, told his co-workers: “If race doesn’t matter, then race means nothing; there is no Asian history, there is no Hispanic history, there is no African-American history, there is no Muslim history, and none of you has any special culture. If you were to say that about me, I’d be highly offended and consider you to be anti-Semitic.”Within minutes, everyone except for the one co-worker came to his way of thinking.

Days later, the co-worker told Hurwitz she hoped that he didn’t think she was an anti-Semite.”I laughed and assured her that the thought had never entered my mind. I then guessed that the reason why she had taken her stand was that she had been brought up by her parents to believe that race does not matter because they had been the victims of racism and bigotry, because they had married outside of their respective races,” he says. “She confirmed my guess. She then said she was never even able to discuss race because for her, the discussion itself reinforced racism and bigotry. It was a revealing example of how parents impact their children.”

Workplace Respect

Laura Hertzog was leading a workshop on respect in the workplace when she discussed different cultures’ expectations about personal space. A Southern European employee noted that he and his co-workers had worked together for some time and he regularly hugged and kissed them, which in his culture, was not a problem. A Northern European woman piped up and said that, actually, she was uncomfortable when he did that.”Conversations are better when the co-workers have been working together for a while. They were friends. The guy wasn’t embarrassed because she wasn’t hostile. They were each coming to the table assuming that everybody had good will,” says Hertzog, director of Human Capital Development Programs at Cornell University’s ILR School. “She had never told him that, and it opened the door for her.”

Empathy in Action

In another example, Hertzog was working at a bank as the director of global diversity. She asked a senior officer why he had no disabled employees. He said: “I tend to hire former athletes. They have the characteristics I like…tough, goal setting, they work through pain.”Hertzog asked him to think about going through the day in New York City paralyzed from the waist down and dealing with the challenges of just getting to work. “He called his recruiter and told him to make more of an effort to do outreach,” says Hertzog.

But attempts at conversations about diversity can fall flat. Hertzog’s parents are Jewish and she is biracial. When she was right out of college, she had an employer who would always ask her about black/Jewish relations. “It poisoned my feelings about that employer,” Hertzog said. “Don’t use employees as an encyclopedia for their group. They notice when you ask weird questions.”

business, planning, people and teamwork concept - group of smiling businesspeople meeting on presentation in office

Plan Your Business

I believe stories can contain as much or more truth than pure “facts.” Think of the power of the phrases sour grapes, crying wolf, or the emperor’s new clothes. Don’t they tell us something instantly, regardless of historical fact, because we understand the story? My favorite part of an investment pitch or an elevator speech is where the entrepreneur talks about how some ideal customer has a problem and this new business solves it.

Suspend your image of a business plan as a document, for a while, and think of it as a collection of all your stories, combined with concrete specifics or goals that aim to make those stories come true. Essentially, your strategy is the story of you and your business. It tells how and why you started and what you do well. It’s what you like to do. It’s the story of why your customers need what you sell, how they find you and how you give them what they want. It’s the story of how you focus in on the most important parts of the business.

As you imagine what those stories are, break them down into meaningful, trackable parts. Set tasks associated with those stories, assign tasks to people and give them dates. Think about your long-term objectives story. Are you looking for wealth and fame, or to do what you like? What does success look like to you? Is it getting financed and making millions, or taking off at 4 p.m. to coach your kids’ soccer team?

Your marketing strategy also is a collection of stories. Invent a fictional character as your ideal customer, flesh out the character with age, relationships, job, family, media preferences, transportation patterns, likes and dislikes. Then figure out what story to tell that person, and where to tell it so he or she will see it.

Market numbers can also be easier to imagine as stories rather than just numbers. Which of these statements resonates more with you: “There’s a potential market of 120 million units,” or “this belongs in every household in this country”?

The numbers associated with your sales forecast, expense budget and cashflow can also be told as stories. Essentially, they are predicting the future — telling you a story of what can happen, based on logical assumptions. The numbers make the stories real, and the stories make the numbers real.

When putting these stories together, don’t sweat the format, especially if you don’t need to create a formal document to show people. Leave them on your computer and refer back to it regularly. Track your progress, review the plan compared to actual results and make regular corrections.

Afterthought: It’s been almost six years now since I wrote Let Your Business Plan Tell Your Story in this same space, this column. In the years since then I’ve grown more convinced than ever about the importance of the story as the essential building blocks of business planning. And I’ve grown less convinced about the importance of wordy and often superfluous elements like mission and vision statements.

Team Of Business People Working Together On A Laptop

Develop Your Startup Idea

Multiple generations, from traditionalists to baby boomers to gen Xers, bring a variety of knowledge, skills, and perspectives into the workplace. The millennial generation has jumped into the mix, providing great potential upside for middle market firms who know how to bring generations together toward a common goal. But if you don’t have a blueprint for getting these different age groups to understand, respect, and trust each other, your middle market firm might not withstand the productivity drain that results from such discord. Here are some things to consider.

  • The foundation for creating synergy between the millennial generation and older employees starts with team building. “People want to grow, people want to be listened to, and people want to feel they are important,” notes Kerry Henderson of business communications firm Gibbs & Soell in a recent article on engaging different generations in the workplace. Anne Houlihan, founder of consulting firm Elevated Leadership International, further underlines the value of team building in order to get employees to buy in to a collaborative learning environment where people of different backgrounds can all contribute their specific strengths. “Realize that each generation brings wonderful strengths to the workplace,” Houlihan explains. “While focusing on our own individual strengths is certainly important, imagine how much more effective everyone on your team could be if [they] learned from the strengths of others as well. Publicly acknowledge what each generation’s strengths are and encourage everyone to share their viewpoints and values with the group.”
  • Team-building exercises can expose assumed stereotypes. In a phone interview with the NCMM, Houlihan talked about some of the common obstacles she encounters at client firms. “Many veterans have a hard time respecting employees who have been on the job only a few years and who they perceive to be unwilling to put in as much effort. On the flip side, many younger employees believe that veterans are averse to technological advances that bring efficiency and are generally stuck in outdated ways of thinking and operating.” You must create an informed respect between the different generations that allows them to better communicate, share ideas, and help one another.
  • Management must take additional action besides team building. Houlihan holds weekly meetings with department leaders to reinforce the idea that employees must stay connected so that they trust each other enough to be able to ask for help and tap into each other’s strengths. “I want my department heads fully on board with that vision,” she says. “I know that, for larger firms than mine that have more departments, this can be a bit more difficult. But for a middle market firm to reach its full potential, it has to be done.”
  • Form diverse committees. Just as important as management getting together is the idea that firms should develop a committee comprised of employees from each generation. The goal here is to allow for frank observations and questions in a private setting so as to better understand the viewpoints of employees from different generations and how these manifest themselves in the daily actions of employees. These meetings can be casual at times, but when there’s a need for it, members can hash out specific situations involving employee friction. This will help committee members understand different generational perspectives on a topic, and each member can then go back and provide insight to others within his or her own peer group, all for the benefit of the firm.

Rest During Working Hours

There’s this powerful myth that exists in the working world: the more you work and less you rest, the more you will get done. It turns out that our bodies and our brains don’t quite work that way. What’s surprising is that the opposite is in fact true.

If you rest more and work less, you’ll be more productive, healthy, and creative. Not to mention, one author believes more rest can positively impact climate change and gender equality — I’ll elaborate on all of that below. We gave this a try at Buffer in the summer. Our Customer Advocacy team switched over to summer hours, didn’t work Friday afternoons, and instead were encouraged to go outside, spend time with family, or read.

Let’s look at the benefits of rest, how our summer hours went at Buffer, and what other companies do to encourage rest for their employees.


I came across this incredible book recently called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung Kim. Fascinating title because I can bet that most of us would love to get more done and work less.

In this book, the author looked at the lives of scientists and writers and found people who were incredibly productive but only worked four or five hours a day. Instead of looking into how they worked, he took another route and dug into how they rested during the 20 hours of the day when they weren’t working.

What he found was slightly counterintuitive, which explains why it isn’t something we all do. He found that the best type of rest for restoring energy is active rest. Examples of active rest are exercise, walks, or engaging hobbies. That’s not to say that you can never lie in bed to rest again, it’s just that this active rest is going to deliver the greatest benefits. Let’s dive into a few of those benefits that are particularly powerful and influential in our work lives, plus a few that affect the world on a global scale.

Rest makes you more productive

Overwork, Soojung Kim writes, is “something that can be sustained for periods of a few weeks, but after that you start creating more problems than you solve.” In the same article, he also outlines how no matter what kind of work you are doing, if you are human, overwork will negatively impact productivity.

Instead of overworking yourself, he recommends something like going for a walk. The positive effect that a 20-minute walk in your day can have on your brain is astounding. As soon as you start exercising, endorphins are released, as well as a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). The BDNF protects and repairs your memory neurons as you exercise. This is why we feel so at ease after exercising and why our memories are so clear.


Marketing Ideas

Getting the word out about your business is one way to make sure it succeeds. Indeed, many aspects of your business may depend on it. And what better way than to come up with some free marketing ideas to attract new customers.

Overall, small business marketing can mean many different things: from advertising and public relations to promotions and sales. In other words, marketing is a process in which your business is introduced and promoted to potential customers. Sounds good, right?

But there are so many marketing ideas for small business these days—with many varying costs and associated expenses. The cost of traditional advertising—whether a Facebook ad or direct-mail campaign—could put you in the red, for example.

But not all marketing tactics break the bank. So if your marketing budget is slim or non-existent, be sure to check out the below list of free marketing ideas—or at least inexpensive marketing ideas for small business—that can help you spread the good word about your business.

Develop a customer referral program.

It’s often overlooked, but word-of-mouth marketing for small business is a super-powerful way to market your business. There’s a reason why word of mouth is number one on our list of free marketing ideas. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.

One way to boost your word-of-mouth marketing is by introducing a customer referral program. Try offering your existing customers something—a free sample product, complimentary service, discounts, or some other low-cost reward—for referring new customers. Having your customers tell their friends and family about your business can be incredibly valuable. Plus, a customer referral reward can help you show some customer appreciation to existing customers, as well.

Send out a customer satisfaction survey.

A customer satisfaction survey is not only a great way to learn about your customer base, but it’s also a great way for customers to remember you exist. Surveys have taken their rightful place as number two on our list of free marketing ideas.

Consider it like rogue email marketing—though this can also be done totally analog in your storefront or on the street. Customers will appreciate that you asked for their opinion and they’ll feel invested in the results of the survey, which will translate into better loyalty over time. You might learn a thing or two about how your business might improve along the way. Win-win.

Tell a story with data or milestones.

This might be one of our favorite free marketing ideas for small business.

Crunch the numbers on your business and see if any significant story comes through the data—maybe you’ve done business with over 1,000 clients in your area, or perhaps you provide your service at a percentage higher than industry standards.

Publish the results online or put a sign out in front of your store. People respond well to numbers—they’re an easily digestible data point. For example, “The community loves us” will be outperformed by “Over 2,500 satisfied customers in our area!” every time.

Conversely, say an academic study is done revolving around your industry. Use it to relate to the utility of your business by publishing it online and highlighting the most important parts.