Monthly Archives: December 2009

Six Lawyer Lessons Learned

I once spent two weeks living inside an armoured vehicle with a guy who was destined to be a lifelong friend, despite the fact he later became a lawyer, much to my disgust.  The weeks we spent together were in 1989, and since then when we are in the same state, we catch up twice a year for lunch and a discussion that generally has the theme of the “whole universe is stupid except for us”.  You know the conversation…

Anyway, one of our lunch discussions recently could have been titled “Why don’t we teach people at business school about the law in real life?”  Now most Academics would of course say that we do.  I myself have suffered through hours of Contract, Law, Business Law and Company Law.  But that isn’t what I mean. Ian, my armoured vehicle friend, and now Barrister,  pointed out to me that about only 1% of legal disputes actually  end up in court.  Therefore the other 99% are getting resolved by effective negotiating.  And unfortunately negotiating with law firms doesn’t get taught in any MBA course in Australia. So here’s six pointers I have learnt along the way.

  1. Don’t get scared by nasty letters.  In fact, most of the time you can safely ignore them and the deadlines they contain, especially if they are arbitrary – eg “you have 7 days to respond”. When you ignore them, you will generally get a call a week later, asking what do you intend to do. This is a good time to say “what letter?”
  2. Conversely,  don’t send scary letters to people.   They are mostly a waste of time as anyone who has any decent commercial experience, is just going to ignore them anyway.  I prefer to sue as fast and as hard as I can.  It was once said to me “never threaten, just punch the opposition without warning as hard as you can in the back of the head”.
  3. Never offer any additional information to a lawyer you are not paying for.  It just creates more opportunities to get yourself in trouble.  I like “yes”, “no” and “maybe” as answers.
  4. Never assume that a Lawyer has common sense.  Lawyers have great knowledge of the law and see plenty of deals going bad, but their experience is vicarious, not first hand.
  5. If the other guy is the instigator of the action, make sure meetings are at a location of your choosing.  You want the other guy to be paying $300 an hour plus for his lawyer to travel about.  Funny how this can add up and change the negotiation.
  6. If you tell a law firm “sorry I didn’t read you letter, but since we don’t have a commercial relationship, I assumed it was just marketing shit from your firm” – it generally makes lawyers angry.  Guess how I know this?

Strange isn’t it.  We don’t actually teach in business school the skills that are used most of the time.

4 Keys to deploying Social Media

Last Thursday the Churchill Club ran event on using Social Media for Sponsorship and Fundraising. It was a great evening with perspectives coming from Peter Williams (CEO Deloitte Digital), Jeremy Kann (General Manager, Sales & Commercial at Australian Grand Prix Corporation) and Vicki Kyriakakas (Communications Manager at Environment Victoria).

It was quite a wide ranging discussion, but the was some points on deploying Social Media solutions that I had the urge to share.

Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc) was very much seen as an emergent area where the community will determine where the value is – not the so-called “experts”.   So contrary to the general wisdom, the best idea was to start a Social Media activity, then seek to understand it rather than the other way round. Planning means you lag behind, not surf the wave.

Pete Williams of Deloitte recommended a four step process.

1. Start
Just Do It!. Get something going today. The barriers to entry are minimal – most social media is free to start using and very simple to understand.

2. Learn
Experiment with Social Media. There is no right or wrong way of using things, its completely up to you.  But trap your learnings so you can craft your strategy.

3. Amplify
When you think you have nailed some value, let the rest of your community know. They will either agree with you and get on board, or you will need to keep experimenting.

4. Let it run itself
Don’t don’t direct it, let the community find the value. A community manager is a good idea, but it should be a loose role, not formal because the community needs to self organise to survive.

The key to longevity in your Social Media strategy is seeing it as something your community can derive value from, rather than simply a marketing tool.

I thought this was a fairly handy process to keep in mind.

3 keys to no bullshit plans

Pretty much on a  weekly basis I get sent ideas,  business plans and/or Information Memorandums for capital raising.  Everyone who sends me one, tends to think its an expertly crafted, zero risk proposal to achieve a massive return with a world changing idea. I don’t. So when a couple of weeks ago, Justin Brow asked me to speak to the mobile venture groups at MEGA, I decided to have a chat about the assertions that people make in their plans, and what I think of them.  When I go through someone’s documentation, I classify each statement into one of the three types of type of assertion it is. Facts & Inferences First up, can your assertion be checked and confirmed?    If not, its not a fact.  And even if it it is a fact, you’ve got to ask yourself;  is it specific, is it unemotional, is it logical and finally, is it relevant?  All too often a pretty graph or data can be sourced, but unfortunately just not be relevant.  I put the same test on any inferences made, plus they also need to be reasonable.  Anyone can create dumb inferences, for instance Bobby Henderson, famously & amusingly, inferred  in an open letter to the to Kansas School Board that Global Warming was in fact caused by the reduced number of pirates in the world since the 1800s. Assumptions Assumptions are always made in plans for new ventures, because that’s where the opportunity lies – in the unknowns.  Assumptions should always be clearly highlighted and then matched up to milestones that validate them.  Is there actually a market for the idea, or as Rob Ryan says – “will the dogs eat the dogfood?”  But just because there are highlighted assumptions in a plan, doesn’t mean they are reasonable.  Questions I may ask myself about assumptions include;  are they explicit or implicit, are they reasonable, and finally – how much effort and resources is required to turn these assumptions into facts?  I regularly find that assumptions can be validated with a quick Google search, and unsurprisingly,  lazy promoters of ideas don’t get investment (or a second chance). Weasel Words The final type of assertion I find in plans, and unfortunately the most common, are weasel words.  Weasel words are typically vague assumptions masquerading as facts.  Its like the egg that has been sucked empty by the weasel and still looks okay, despite the fact it being empty.  All to often I see examples like these:

  • “People say…” (Which people? How do they know?)
  • “Nobody else’s product is better than ours.” (What is the evidence of this?)
  • “Studies show…” (what studies?)
  • “The vast majority…” (All, almost all, more than half – how many?)

So when I’ve finished the first pass of the documentation – its covered with my pen notations.  A whole lot of Fs , As and Ws.  If the W count is too high I pretty much throw the proposal in the bin without responding. W also stands for “waste of time” !