Sunday, June 22, 2008

Friend of Simplicity - Joel D Canfield

My 'Friend of Simplicity' interview today is with Joel D Canfield who lives in Roseville, a suburb of California’s capital, Sacramento, in the US.

Joel and I have things in common. We both work from home and our businesses partners are our wives Annie and Sue – we both appreciate how blessed we are for that. Joel and I share a passion for not over complicating things. We have a similar sense of humour that I'm delighted to say often comes through in our regular email exchanges.

TREVOR: Thanks Joel for agreeing to take part in this series of interviews. Can you give me a quick summary of your career to date?

JOEL: Thanks for having me!

I started working with computers about 25 years ago, doing database work and being the first digital coach I know of. When I discovered the internet I switched to web development. Over the past 10 years I worked at two small companies developing web-based automation and efficiency tools, which required extensive research since I was not only the coder, but also the business analyst on these projects.

I realized during that time that I was enjoying the problem-solving and research more than pounding code, and when the last company I worked at closed down (not my fault!) I began my focus on helping small businesses to resolve, or better still, avoid, the most common pitfalls that afflict so many of us.

TREVOR: I mentioned in the introduction working from home- what do you see as the advantages to this as opposed to ‘going to work’ and are there any disadvantages?

JOEL: I think best in an environment I can control. Working from home allows me to negotiate ‘quiet time’ where no one disturbs me. I put on my headphones, crank up the Mozart (or Dylan, or Stan Ridgway, or the Beatles . . . ) and pretend the world around me doesn’t exist. Since, as you mentioned, my business partner is my wife who knows me well, food and drink appear on my side table as needed without disrupting me, and distractions are headed off at the pass.

I’m also free to work odd hours. I have never worked best getting all my sleep in one fell swoop; to me, it feels the same as if you ate your entire daily intake of food at once. I tend to take long naps ‘round the clock, with a good five-hour chunk at night and shorter naps late morning and afternoon. If I wake up at 3 a.m. with an idea, I can be at my office in 30 seconds, executing it, instead of trying vainly to get back to sleep so I can ‘go to work’ at 8 a.m.

It also personalizes all my work effort, in my own mind. Every client, whether they arrive physically or not (most don’t) feels, to me, like a guest in my home. It helps keep the ‘warm and friendly’ in our business, better than a formal office environment could.

Also saves on gas.

The disadvantages are primarily controlling distractions, so that when you’re at work you’re really at work, and then quitting at the end of the day.

The first is less of a challenge for me since we work as a team, although two parents will never be equal to a single four-year-old, no matter how well-behaved she is. Fiona has learned, though, that when Mommy or Daddy is on the phone, she stands quietly in the office until we talk to her instead of interrupting. (She’s the youngest of seven, the culmination of 27 years of experience parenting. Don’t try this with your first child.)

The second is more difficult for us, because we do tend to work when we feel like it, and we both spend a certain amount of ‘play’ time at the computer, too. We’ve made it a habit to take an evening walk to get away from the office, and to schedule an evening or afternoon away from home at least once a month to have a healthy chunk of time where we’re disconnected from the office’s umbilical.

TREVOR: Who are you management heroes?

JOEL: First, my father, Wes Canfield. He had four teenagers at once, and despite the inevitable moments of tension, my brothers and sister and I each hold a picture in our minds of the greatest teacher and trainer and motivator we’ve ever known. He was powerfully opinionated, but knew that the only way to get anyone to do anything was to make them want to do it. He was universally respected where he worked, despite the fact that he was a ‘gringo’ managing three electronics assembly plants in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, just south of San Diego where spent most of my childhood.

My father set the bar pretty high, so while I’ve had some very good managers in my professional life, none quite achieve hero status (two, in fact, may have been the inspiration for Dogbert and the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert fame.)

I read lots of Tom Peters, and base my employee-cultivation training on Marcus Cunningham and Curt Coffman’s excellent “First, Break All The Rules.”

When I have employees of my own again, the two management examples I’d most like to emulate are Jesus of Nazareth, and George Martin, manager of the Beatles.

Without crossing over into a religious discussion, when I consider the infinite patience and understanding Jesus displayed in his dealings with twelve men who were, by their own admission incredibly difficult at times, I can’t help but examine my own patience. You cannot manage impatiently.

George Martin held the Beatles in awe; after 40 years he still shakes his head in wonderment when he’s noodling with their music on a mixing board. He nudged them into a path to greatness. They would have found it anyway, but it was better because he smoothed it as they walked it. He helped them become more of what they were, not something different. He knew his only possible success was to make them the very best they could be.

TREVOR: Tell me about your book on commonsense in business Joel and how can people get hold of it?

JOEL: Which one? ;)

My 110-page pocketbook 49 Commonsense Business Observations, is available from my website click here or directly from the publisher click here It’s also been reviewed around here somewhere; ah, here it is click here

Each page is a stand-alone observation which I hope makes readers stop and think about how they might apply it in business. (Seth Godin once wrote that he’s not really a guru, he’s just ‘a guy who notices things.’ I feel the same way, thus the ‘observations’ part of the title.)

The Commonsense Entrepreneur, which will run closer to 200 pages, will be available in July from the same sources. It follows the ‘Observations’ concept, being, not an exhaustive treatise on operating a business, but things I’ve noticed over the years which I think many small business operators and frontline managers have either never learned or had trained out of them by corporate thinking.

TREVOR: Why do people over-complicate management and business?

JOEL: I can’t trace the mess management and business are in back to their origins, so instead I’ll focus on what I see today.

I’ve seen a number of reasons people make it all more complicated than it really is. I divide them into two camps: bad intent and lack of confidence. I won’t waste time on those who complicate things in order to avoid responsibility, maintain perceived power, or hide incompetence.

There are far too many small business operators and frontline managers, though, who think someone else has the answers; that they’re not smart enough or don’t have the training to come up with solutions. Big business and big education have created a self-sustaining mystique around MBAs and the like. I’m not opposed to education and training, of course, but I believe that the person closest to the problem usually knows a commonsense solution. As I tell my clients, it’s not rocket surgery. (I know; I know; it’s a long story, but that’s what I say.)

Virtually all of my consulting, formal and informal, consists of asking folks questions. I’ll never know their business the way they do, so I have no hope of conjuring a solution out of a vacuum; I have to extract it from them. Which means, they generally have the answer already and just don’t realize it. Often, they have a solution, but don’t trust it because homegrown advice can’t be as good as an expert, right?

TREVOR: Have you visited England and if not do you have any plans to come over the pond?

JOEL: No and yes!

In early 2005 my wife Sue and I took our daughters Rachelle (17 years at the time) and Fiona (18 months at the time) to Ireland. We spent parts of January and February in County Kerry. Our hope was to visit friends in Scotland, England, and France—and then the dollar and the Euro had a falling out, and our car money vanished in a puff of currency exchange.

We’re considering right now how we could move Sue’s virtual office administration business and my web and consulting businesses to Killorglin in County Kerry. Once we do, and start making the odd trip to Stratford-On-Avon, those virtual drinks in Trevor’s Public House will take on a dangerous reality.

TREVOR: One of the things I always notice about you is your great sense of humour – do you think there is enough light relief in business generally?


Humour (thank you for spelling it correctly!) has so much value in business. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. It helps keep setbacks, ‘learning experiences’ (some call them ‘mistakes’), and loss, in perspective. It can defuse a tense conversation and make folks who feel like outsiders feel like insiders.

The balance, of course, is that it always has to be within the bounds of the golden rule. I don’t like derisive or sarcastic humour; I’d rather laugh with someone than at them.

Remind me to tell you about the time the Irish declared war on Iran . . .

TREVOR: Finally Joel thank you for your offer recently to buy everyone a ‘virtual drink’ in my ‘virtual simplicity pub’ … you made this offer at something like 2 am UK time so there were no take-ups! I look forward to the day when I can buy you a real English beer or vice versa!

JOEL: Shhh . . . don’t tell anyone, but my favourite pints have happened primarily at 2 a.m. We’ll keep you posted on this whole immi-/emigration thing, and then talk about that drink!


Anonymous said...

Small world...I grew up in Rancho Cordova California, about a 12-15 mile drive up Sunrise Blvd to least it was back in the day!

I found Joel's observation on home grown versus expert advise to be refreshingly candid and interesting. But when you think about it, validation or affirmation of a "home grown" idea makes sense and potentially save a remarkable amount of time and $$$$...critical to small and entrepreneurial "businesses" alike.

I also peeped Joel's website and found an interesting link to A "Personal MBA" site, These interviews are educational in more ways than one.

Thanks Joel and Trevor!

Anonymous said...

Excellent. I love the idea of having the freedom to work at home and do what you do best at times you do them best. I am up for the round of virtual drinks. trevor, you have some cool and interesting friends that are good representatives of the changing professional scene. Thanks.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dave and Rocky - your support is always appreciated. I'm sure Joel will be reponding in due course.

Joel D Canfield said...

Yes, Dave, Rancho Cordova is close enough that we spent our first night in this area in RC before moving into a little apartment on the north side of Roseville.

One of the things I love is the "I knew it!" look on a client's face when my 'professional' advice is exactly what they thought all along.

I first read about the Personal MBA from Seth Godin. Incredible resource for those who want to be self-taught or well-read when it comes to managing a business (or helping others to do so.)

Rocky, are you self-employed? I sensed a note of yearning in your comment that makes me suspect you might not be.

I'd say the next round is on me, eh?

JOHN O'LEARY said...

Wow, there's quite a Central Valley contingent here! (The closest I got was living in Venice CA for 5 years in the 70s.) Cool interview. You got my attention, Joel, with the George Martin acknowledgment. What recording synergy between GM & the Fab 4! (What business synergy between Eppy and the Fab 4! What songwriting synergy between Sir Paul & John!) George M was a true facilitator - and an exceedingly humble genius.

Anonymous said...

No, unfortunately I am not self employed. Maybe someday.

David Wike said...

Hi Joel,

Sorry to miss your interview but I have been in the south of France for three weeks doing some serious sampling of the local wines so that I can advise Trevor on stocking his virtual bar.

Great interview. I like the concept of being just a guy who notices things. I drive my wife up the wall (no we don’t work together) by constantly pointing out how shops, restaurants etc could improve by making a few simple changes that seem obvious to me. The reality is that common sense isn’t that common, although when you are very close to something it isn’t always easy to spot the problems.

I live relatively close to Trevor, so could join you for a real drink. But can I suggest somewhere other than Stratford? It’s too full of Americans!

Trevor Gay said...

Welcome back to civilisation David - glad you didn't cause any international incidents while in France :-)

Joel D Canfield said...

I had a great chat with a friend over a pint at the new local pizza place last night. They've done virtually no marketing whatsoever and after nearly a month open, it's still quite slow. We discussed what we'd do if we were the owner; what practical steps you could take to build business for a restaurant in a town already crowded with restaurants, and how to catch up when the marketing should have been started three months ago. Interesting exercise and challenge.

Even if we never get to share our thoughts with the owner (although we might) the thought exercise will probably have value when I catch someone a little earlier in the process. Just 'noticing things' is a great way to stock your arsenal of ideas.

Ah, I keep hearing about all the pesky Yanks in Stratford. When I'm on your side of the pond, I'll pretend to be Canadian until my Irish accent fills in. But I imagine we could find a pub somewhere other than Stratford, if we look hard enough . . .

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand how any place can be TOO full of Americans! That would be like saying "Oh let's don't go there, there's too much free beer and too many beautiful women..."


Trevor Gay said...

Mike - I'm definitely gonna hold you to that 'free beer' my friend! - start saving :-)

David Wike said...

Mike, I’m struggling with the concept of equating Americans, free beer and beautiful women! However, I did make a study of the latter while in France.

Trevor seems to be under the misguided opinion that the UK is more civilised than France. Civilisation means a two-hour lunch sitting in the sun by a harbour or under the shade of plane trees in a town square watching said ladies. It hasn’t stopped raining since we returned and its COLD! How can that be civilised?

Joel, when in France we always head to the restaurants that have lots of people (locals, not Americans) in them. At lunchtime we follow the business people. The locals always know the best places to eat. Maybe your pizza place should rent a crowd for couple of nights to give the place some atmosphere and convince passers-by that the food is good.

Isn’t it odd how people set up businesses where there is already plenty of competition and don’t see that it’ll be a problem unless they do a lot of promotion? As I said in my earlier comment, common sense isn’t so common.

By the way, when in France we try to avoid places with too many English people! Everyone is a tourist except us!!!

Trevor Gay said...

David - My whole argument about civilisation is based on the fact the French are just better than us at football!!... :-)

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