Your inability to stop us from sucking is a failure of leadership.
Gilfoyle (of course) to Richard Hendricks.
Your inability to stop us from sucking is a failure of leadership.
Gilfoyle (of course) to Richard Hendricks.
Unable to make GALA 2018 in Boston? Feeling the #FOMO for #GalaBoston18?
Let me quote Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson recent book:
Virtually any product or service in the world can be replaced by a substitute.
Take away your iPhone, and you will spend more time on your computer. Take away Renato’s car, and he’ll substitute it by taking the bus. Take away Tucker’s coffee, and he’ll substitute it with a sharp knife in your throat. All of these changes would suck horribly, but we would survive.
(Except perhaps the despicable person who took away Tucker’s coffee.)
This may be a controversial statement, and Renato may disagree (and potentially given the above, Tucker may violently do so), but in this case, a substitute for GALA attendance, to tide you over to next year, could be their book, The General Theory of the Translation Company.
For anyone getting started in the industry, this book highlights the oddities that you wouldn’t expect, while giving a solid primer on how translation companies work. For someone who has spent their career in the industry, it gives a coherent structure for understanding experiences and shaping conversations around them. And it probably will make you think about a few things you’ve taken for granted.
1. On what translation companies do:
“LSPs [language service providers] do not provide translation; they provide vendor management, project management, and sales.”
This is one of those obvious things that people outside the industry don’t realize. But it’s fundamental to the way the industry operates – with translation largely outsourced, but the core functions they list kept in-house.
2. On the eternal battle between project management and sales:
“The project management function is the single most important part of the entire language services provider.”
“The language services industry is a very small industry with a high degree of emphasis on brand equity. Your salespersons are your primary brand equity ambassadors. They have the power to greatly influence your reputation within the industry for better or for worse.”
Renato started out in sales. Tucker in project management. So, it’s not surprising their description of each is heroic. Yet…I can’t disagree with either. Without strong project management (which extends beyond the production side to client intake and program management), the best sales person will churn through clients. The best way to grow a business is though keeping your current clients coming back. But the second best way to grow is to have strong sales people getting your company well-positioned as each new deal comes into focus. And that skill is often rare.
3. On skepticism of the the promises of automation:
“A fully automated process has long been the sought after Holy Grail of the industry.”
“Taking advantage of the technology that is available today, a single project manager can efficiently handle the work that would have taken 10 project managers as recently as a decade ago.”
The diagram below comes from their book as well – and it illustrates neatly the difference good project management software can make. Instead of project managers serving as email traffic cops, they monitor for the exceptions – which are what take up most of the time. And the exceptions are also what make the “fully automated process” this mystical faraway goal that always seems on the horizon. Current technology can makes things much easier most of the time, but people still need to deal with the exceptions which happen every day.
4. On the exit plans of translation company CEOs:
“We haven’t seen it yet but one day we would love to see an honest company unveil their new corporate mission statement that is just a bunch of green dollar signs followed by smiley face emojis. Or perhaps a Vision Statement that includes the CEO’s dream of one day owning a vacation home in Malta.”
Rory Cowan described much the same thing in his SlatorCon 2017 New York presentation explaining that many top execs just want “to exit and sip Mai Tais on the beach.”
Renato and Tucker made it very clear that there was a lot of dynamism:
What happens when the language services industry is squeezed? Well, mostly the same thing. People get laid off. People look for new jobs. People dream of going into business for themselves. But because of the very low barrier to entry in the industry, those people who are contemplating starting their own business actually have the power to do so.”
And yet, they describe a fundamental weakness:
Very few people actually know anything about the language services industry except for those of us in it…
There is a Catch-22 at play here. Nobody reports on the industry because it is not well understood and it is not well understood because nobody has taken the time to report on it. What this means is that the only people who are reporting on it are those from the industry, since they are the only ones who understand it properly. This can be problematic for two reasons…
Industry insiders are often reluctant to be critical of other players in the industry, for fear of rocking the boat too much… [which leads to] a deficit of any meaningful or actionable new information or insight into the language services industry…
You would be hard pressed to get too many industry insiders to admit it in mixed company, but this lack of outside analysis is a serious threat. The resulting groupthink compromises the credibility of the industry and serves to limit both the amount and quality of information available on the industry even further.
The dynamism is what leads to so many small companies that do well enough to create exits for their founders. And it leads to a lot of dynamic individuals driving the industry. But the lack of outside understanding and analysis – evident in many of the Silicon Valley tech startups that seem focused on theoretical problems divorced from the reality of the industry – leads to a kind of stagnation. Ideas that would probably work, but failed miserably are often passed on for years longer because the industry is insular.
I appreciate that through Nimzdi, their consulting company, Renato and Tucker are trying to address this issue. I especially commend their Nimzdi 100 for not just providing a handy list that was sort-able and easy to find, how they accounted for things such as “language services business units inside larger corporations,” but most of all for how accessible they made their data – with their raw data able to be downloaded by other analysts.
In the past year, between Slator, Nimdzi, and even a subreddit dedicated to the translation business, the translation industry is beginning to open up it’s information more to outsiders. Which – as Renato and Tucker say – is to the good.
So, what are the 5 top things that people learned from GALA this year?
[Seinfeld] had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself… a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
It works because it isn’t the one-shot pushes that get us where we want to go, it is the consistent daily action that builds extraordinary outcomes.
I’ll credit the author of the Lifehacker piece, Gina Trapani – she cites as her source the developer Brad Isaac – who sources Jerry Seinfeld. This is as well-sourced as a Michael Wolff story, but the truism at the heart is probably just as valid.
I just bought a 2018 wall calendar myself and am tracking my number one daily goal on it.
Seinfeld has a great quote in a 2012 New York Times article explaining an ex post facto justification for this method:
If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it…I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, ‘Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already?’ The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.
The things that matter, that will change your life, you need to do every day. EVERY day. And that is how you will become the best. Because…it’s the only way.
Kevin Systrom, one of the co-founders of Instagram, ended his NPR “How I Built This” with an interesting theory about life and success:
I have this thesis that the world runs on luck. The question is what you do with it.
Everyone gets lucky for some amount in their life. And the question is, are you alert enough to know you’re being lucky or you’re becoming lucky?
Are you talented enough to take that advantage and run with it? And do you have enough grit, enough resilience, to stay with it when it gets hard?
Because everyone gets lucky in minimal ways every week. You find a dollar on the ground, you get a break at work to work on a cool project, or you meet someone really interesting. The difference between people who succeed in the long-run and people who don’t is that optimism that you got lucky and now it’s yours to make awesome.
Kenny Rogers had a similar insight on a different level of success:
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last writes:
Marine leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
Leaders don’t cut the line waiting for the elevator. They don’t threaten their employees. They don’t claim all credit, as if they made themselves successful with hard work.
Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they’re bossy. They realize that leadership, like success, is a privilege, which comes with responsibilities.
But, a shrewd leader realizes:
The point is, invest in your team. They will provide you with better ROI than any other investment. And without them, there is no company.
As someone launching a new venture (or reinventing an established one), you are signing up for long days, sleepless nights, and maybe some missed birthday parties. You will hire people who need to believe in you and your idea enough to be willing to make the same sacrifices. To do all this, you have to be crazy enough to think you will succeed, but sane enough to make it happen. This requires commitment, tenacity, and most of all, single-mindedness. When Israeli tank commanders head into combat, they don’t yell “Charge!” Rather, they rally their troops by shouting “Ah’cha’rye,” which translates from Hebrew as “Follow me.” Anyone
Eric Schmidt and Rosenberg, Jonathan in How Google Works (Kindle Locations 837-842). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
My favorite slide from my GlobalLink NEXT presentation:
It has also now sparked a serious consideration for a career change. I want to be a cyborg anthropologist!
But really…from Amber Case’s TED talk, which is from 2010, but more prescient today than it seemed then:
[The planet Earth] has its own external prosthetic devices, and these devices are helping us all to communicate and interact with each other. But when you actually visualize it, all the connections that we’re doing right now — [the main image on this post is] the mapping of the Internet — it doesn’t look technological. It actually looks very organic. This is the first time in the entire history of humanity that we’ve connected in this way. And it’s not that machines are taking over.It’s that they’re helping us to be more human, helping us to connect with each other.
The most successful technology gets out of the way and helps us live our lives. And really, it ends up being more human than technology, because we’re co-creating each other all the time. And so this is the important point that I like to study: that things are beautiful, that it’s still a human connection — it’s just done in a different way. We’re just increasing our humanness and our ability to connect with each other, regardless of geography. So that’s why I study cyborg anthropology.
To me, this is exactly what I aspire to – to work with a team of dedicated folks to make something that helps customers accomplish something more easily and efficiently, and that in the end, allows them to be more human. Something that helps them cull the data they have into the data they need. Something that gives them the freedom to exercise their own human judgment.
But data isn’t enough.
At the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas last week, Steven Levitt shared an insight especially directed to the crowd of 15,000 business analysts and data junkies at the conference:
You need to ask the right question. Bumbling around in data doesn’t lead to answers. You need insight.
I wrote it down – because it called to mind something that had just struck me in a podcast:
In mathematics, someone instinctively believes something, and then they set about to prove it or disprove it. But the mathematics they use to prove the theorem – that isn’t the mental process they use to generate the theorem in the first place.
This causes people to think there might be a process for doing this stuff, that if followed, must work every time.
The thesis in both cases is that data is essential – but it’s not enough. It’s not what leads to insight and innovation. In each case, what leads us there is human imagination and judgment. This is a timely message as more and more of our largest companies focus on machine learning and data harvesting, and as the consequences of that begin to come home. Cathy O’Neil wrote about the dangers of big data and algorithms last year:
The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Kindle Locations 95-99). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.
The conclusion is inescapable. Data isn’t enough. Just like machine learning isn’t enough. And technology isn’t enough. All of these things are tools. We can become Luddites, trying to ignore the data economy around us, unable to figure out how to use Apple ear pods, or…we can use our uniquely human moral imagination, quoting Cathy O’Neil again:
Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead. Sometimes that will mean putting fairness ahead of profit.
As my father used to say: Water seeks its own level. I never knew what that meant as kid, but what I’ve learned as an adult is that it means if you do the right thing, over a long period, build love and trust with enough people and help make them successful, then you’ll be OK…maybe even better than OK.
Phil Shawe on ethics and karma.
Especially in an age with politics and current events as dark as ours has gotten, as corruption is rewarded and an obstinate refusal to negotiate results in windfall power, it’s important to realize that what you do matters over a long enough time horizon. To act honorably, and to realize that in the end, to quote clergyman Theodore Parker:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice…