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It is better
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John Sumser

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Name Change Game

(September 1, 2000) Here's our favorite new economy Christmas Carol.

All I want for Christmas is a new company name.
This old boring one don't feel the same.
Gimme a name with some grip
And a logo that flips
And I'll be back in the VC game

To say that logos and branding are substituting for real progress is to understate the severity of our rapidly evolving devotion to the inane. Icarian, kforce, spherion, vibratron, alexus, aquent, angami, and a cast of others have chosen to lead the industry with names and logos that obfuscate. (Obfuscate is a confusing sounding word that means confuse and muddy.) With seventeen variations on the Nike swoosh (hmm, a bent line indicates our deep commitment to flexibility), the march towards a single generic inane brand is tireless.

Fortunately, a new company has emerged to help the less affluent in our audience come up with their own 21st Century brand name and swoosh logo. eNormicon is the outgrowth of a growing backlash against the trend.

Here are some more links that show the depths of the backlash:

  • The anti-dot guerillas

  • Web Economy BS Generator: Implement viral infomediaries.

  • Swoosh No More: A plethora of swoosh-containing logos.

  • LogoHell: Add a millennium orbital crescent swish!

  • E-nough Already: The society for the preservation of the other 25 letters of the alphabet.

  • Mission Statement Generator: Dilbert BS generation.

  • Performance Review Generator: Get help with your next performance review.

  • Cluetrain: But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick...

  • The Buzz Saw: Vapid verbiage robs your life of a little bit of meaning.

  • The Name Game: [salon] Welcome to the vicious world of corporate name-creation.

    - John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


    (August 31, 2000) laid off 35% of its workforce. Our favorite ugly rumor source reports an ongoing stream of dot com disasters and downsizings. Although CDI reports that 1/3 of all US Companies have lost an employee to a dot com, it looks like the promised land isn't very stable.

    Do layoffs mean that our ongoing assertions about labor shortages are out of kilter?

    With over 7,000,000 businesses in the United States (and 30,000,000 around the world), it's not very surprising that some of them screw it up some of the time. Given human fallibility, it's surprising that more of them don't make mistakes more of the time. The labor shortage, we bet, is a predictor of more layoffs, not less.

    CDI (whose stock is discovering new lows) covers some of the issues in a new paper called "Me-commerce". Although we think that the company's willingness to substitute cleverness for substance is a large part of their stock problem (me-commerce, c'mon), there's an element of truth underlying their discoveries: Competition for workers shortens the distance between two jobs. As average tenure declines, management styles have to change. When they don't, companies fail.

    In a time of shortages, layoffs just may become more commonplace, not less.

    - John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


    (August 30, 2000) We're fond of saying that the best cure for a vision is 30 days in a sanitarium and measured doses of lithium. Overplayed to the max, the notion that organizational navigation is like being in a trance has had a good run. Vision, more often than not, is the largest single cause of entrepreneurial inflexibility. That's the disease that kills off businesses because the leader would rather be right than make payroll.

    It's with no small amount of surprise that, on our return to the Knowledge Universe website, we were extremely taken by both the company's vision and its progress towards it:

    Knowledge Universe (KU) believes that people and organizations have an almost unlimited power to improve themselves to realize their own potential. Changes in technology have increased the need for learning, but have also provided new ways to acquire it. In serving the needs of people in what is sometimes called the Knowledge Age, we believe we are addressing some of the major social and business challenges of the 21st century.
    • Physical labor is becoming relatively less important in the information economy, resulting in a growing disparity in wages paid to those with differing levels of education.
    • The population is aging in most countries of the developed world, and there will be fewer working-age people to support traditional retirement lifestyles. This means that retirees will need additional training to continue being productive throughout their lives.
    • Skills that used to serve a lifetime now become obsolete in a few years, and people of all ages will continually need to refine and expand their knowledge and skills.
    Knowledge Universe provides solutions to the growing number of businesses of all sizes that will devote significantly more resources to recruiting top-quality people, upgrading the quality of their workforces, and outsourcing many of their requirements. KU also prepares individuals to compete and succeed in the changing global workplace.
    As you'll undoubtedly remember, Knowledge Universe is a closely held corporation that drew its large initial investments from Michael Milken and Larry Ellison who still occupy influential roles on the Board Of Directors.

    Knowledge Universe is the face of the first really innovative competitor in our space. With an awe inspiring commitment to profitability and social change, the company is in the process of acquiring all of the bits and pieces required to deliver life cycle labor supplies. Not a database of aging names, but profitable engaging businesses that reach out and deliver real value to working people. A glance at the portfolio of Knowledge Universe Companies gives you a sense of the potential breadth and depth of a competitor in our arena. Knowledge Universe offers precision reach to "passive" candidates over the entire course of their career life-cycle (literally from cradle through retirement).

    According to their website,

    Knowledge Universe (KU) operates, incubates and invests in leading companies that enable the new economy and that build human capital by helping organizations and individuals to realize their full potential.
    Imagine that: a company devoted to the development of human capital, running at a profit, making solid acquisition choices, founded by giants and committed to a set of principles that guide decision making. It's a model to admire and copy.

    - John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

    Talent Labs II

    (August 29, 2000) Recently, we wrote a little bit about the Fast Company job fair alternative, Talent Labs. In a our sustained labor shortage, the essence of the Job Fair needs an overhaul. The more we consider the prospect of Talent Labs, the more excited we get about the prospects for change. The simple fact that someone is willing to invest capital, reputation and energy into a reinvention experiment is cause for applause.

    At its root, the traditional job fair creates an "us and them" marketplace with little visible room for the middle ground. On the whole, the assumption underlying traditional job fairs is that the carney mentality ("marks" strolling by booths) works for all participants. Although sophisticated job fair producers will assure you that the real business of a job fair is competitive intelligence (and therefore a third category of player), it's a well kept secret. Most carnival goers are oblivious to the deeper possibilities on the midway.

    For the most part, job fairs sell hope to candidates and recruiters. Recruiters pay with money and candidates pay with time. Everyone invests hope. In that way, job fairs are very similar to most job boards and free agent markets.

    To counter this underlying dynamic, Talent Labs is selling skills, interactions and possibilities to candidates and recruiters. Like many experiments, the underlying thesis is intuitive. Like many event development prospects, the process will be evolutionary. In its first iteration this fall, the event will be a pragmatic attempt to find out what works and what doesn't.

    You've got to envy Fast Company's position. Rather than having to push towards an IPO under the stringent scrutiny of investors, the operation is harvesting an audience they've built for adjacent reasons. That gives them an extraordinary edge in the process.

    Although we can rant for hours with cynicism about the Fast Company audience, the truth is that they all identify themselves as free agents or change agents. One of the magazine's constant themes is the development of "Me, Inc.". Focused on proactive and hard charging professionals and managers, the magazine provides hope and encouragement as a component of an annual subscription. This leaves them positioned to cover other things in the Talent Labs. It creates an environment for Silicon Valley Recruiters that is significantly higher quality than Craigslist (or its Boston equivalent). They appear to be able to execute the experiment profitably while learning how to improve the process over time.

    It's interesting, we think, to have a non-participant in our industry point out the fact that the local Recruiting market can be very nicely segmented along quality lines. From the way that most analysts cover the space, you'd have to think that one job board would dominate a region or industry segment. Really, we think that profitable candidate pools can be built in numbers that look more like 10,000. Talent Labs is trying to show that it can be done in lots of 2,000.

    - John Sumser

    Talent Labs

    (August 28, 2000) We're not big fans of companies that claim to revolutionize. It always turns out that they are effective to the precise extent that you see things their way. Being from earthquake country, we're leery of movements. While we'd love to find the next "pet rock", we have no illusions that products or services have a longer life-cycle than the next teen band.

    Normally, we like to see businesses that want to make customers happy. We get a comfortable feeling from offices located in working neighborhoods. We're reassured by an executive who wants to make his customers successful.

    That's not to say that experimentation or "out of the box" thinking isn't important. In today's employment environment, it takes a combination of pure devotion to customers and a willingness to take calibrated risks on their behalf. The question is, at the root, who owns the risk.

    Some things need a desperate fix and customers are excited about the prospect.

    If you haven't seen Fast Company magazine, it's probably because you haven't been in an airport, at a newsstand or in the reception area of most players in our industry. Founded by an ex Harvard Business Review managing editor, Fast Company is a highly influential business magazine targeted at new generation leaders and professionals. The goal of the operation is:

    to chronicle how changing companies create and compete, to highlight new business practices, and to showcase the teams and individuals who are inventing the future and reinventing business.
    As is the case with many 21st Century businesses, Fast Company is pushing the envelope that defines the boundary between journalists and the news. Not content to simply chronicle the changes in the marketplace, the firm is actively getting involved in the lives of its readers, their employers and the ways that they work together. One of the first targets of this juggernaut is the job fair.

    Built on the hard work of Paul Burrowes and the early team at Westech (now BrassRing), job fairs have traditionally been high-energy networking, intelligence gathering and job interview events designed to keep the candidates who attend them in the know. With a cattle-call feeling, the center of the game was always the vendor booths. On a heavy day, it was like walking down the old Las Vegas strip with hawkers at each booth trying to persuade passers-by to come visit.

    The Fast Company Alternative, Talent Labs, is designed to get all of the players into the center of the event. Conceptually, the recruiters' booths are at the fringes of the event while the "main court" is designed to create an environment in which a new form of peer-to-peer recruiting can emerge. The idea behind "Talent Labs" goes something like this:

    In a labor scarcity in which free-agent style mechanisms are becoming the dominant way that leaders and professionals acquire the next assignment, recruiting is a peer-to-peer transaction.

    For that reason, the events appear to make the interesting assumption that recruiters are also looking for their next gig. The goal of Talent Labs seems to be to create a momentary marketplace in which skills can be polished, connections can be made and deals can be initiated. That's why the attendee list includes CEOs, recruiters, vendors from our industry, Fast Company readers and job hunters. By experimenting with the traditional definitions of the job market (you know, it's no more than buyers, sellers and vendors), Talent Labs is all about finding the next level of effectiveness for Fast Company's range of customers.

    We think it's a lot more than a simple experiment and plan to be there. If you can squeeze it into your schedule, you ought to.

    We plan to fill you in further as the event approaches.

    - John Sumser

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