Urgency vs. Panic in Bike Racing and Software Licensing

July 17th, 2009

At the beginning of this year Brad Feld posted a terrific piece on the Difference Between Panic and Urgency.  The concept- that urgency is the steady, relentless pursuit of a goal while panic is overwhelming fear that causes irrational behavior- has been stuck in my head ever since and has begun to influence how I look at a number of situations.  Here are a couple:

#1 Bicycle Racing.  I race bicycles in my spare time.  I entered a race recently that I thought I could win if everything went well.  It didn’t and I had a mechanical problem that caused me to stop my bike while the other 35 people in my race kept on going.

I checked out my bike methodically and quickly, then hopped back on and tried to catch up by riding a little faster than the group.  I knew that if I went all out I might catch up, but would probably run out of gas before the end of the race and finish poorly.

I didn’t catch everyone, but managed to pass a bunch of people and finish ninth.  I would have liked to finish higher, but I was proud of myself for riding steady, smart and salvaging a result from a bad situation instead of surging forward and then blowing up before the finish.

#2 Software Licensing.  I work with a lot of software companies that sell products in negotiated transactions- i.e. ones where I get involved to help work through agreements.  Deadlines are always tight and sales personnel are under constant pressure to close deals.

The salespeople that impress me most in this environment are the ones who view each transaction as essential and work hard to keep things moving quickly, but without creating a fire drill every time or sacrificing terms in order to close a deal by X date.

The people who view each deal as urgent, but not panic-inducing seem to do the best job of conveying their company’s requirements to a customer and working through the deal terms most expeditiously.  I model this behavior in every transaction I do, working through it steadily and with a sense of purpose to reach the best result in the fastest possible time frame.

As I said, the urgency vs. panic idea has been in my head all year.  It’s a great way to think about how to reach goals.

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Keeping Things all in Context

July 10th, 2009

[Note: I have taken about a 5 month hiatus from this blog and am suitably refreshed and ready to get back in the habit.  This is a copy of a newsletter I sent recently.  I hope you enjoy it.]

I worked through a complex contract recently where the other side had heavily revised my client’s standard form agreement. A number of terms were extremely important, and others less so.

I got to one paragraph about shipping requirements and rolled my eyes slightly when I saw that the other side had changed our “FOB origin” term to “FOB customer’s facility”, meaning that my client would be on the hook for lost property until the goods reached the customer’s facility.

The same day, I found the amazing photo below on the Web, courtesy of Clay Shirky‘s Twitter page.


It was a timely visual reminder that much as we might like to take things like shipping for granted, we can’t always count on them.

With that in mind, I looked at the full context of the agreement:

*Do we have insurance to cover these kinds of losses? Yes- good.

*Does the agreement have “time of the essence” language, liquidated damages clauses or other penalties that could apply here? No- terrific.

Knowing that, we determined that this point was not likely to have major repercussions and we could focus on other terms in the deal.

The lesson? Context matters, and little points can turn into big ones if we don’t look at everything together. Great photos help.

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How to Read a License Agreement

December 2nd, 2008

I read a lot of license agreements.  A few of them are concise and simple to figure out, but most are far too long and confusing.

It is not effective to read the agreements straight through from start to finish.  My eyes usually start to glaze over after about page 3, and after page 6 almost anything else within reach seems more interesting than the line I am on at the time.

A better way to read is to take it apart into sections.  Figure out the important points you need to know and go find those first, then go back and see how all the other words come together around the important elements.

I made a checklist to help me do this well.  When I get a new agreement I print out the checklist, then comb the agreement looking for all of these parts.  With that basic information in hand I can go back to the whole thing and pay attention to all the picky details.  As a bonus, once I force myself to find and write down the key terms I tend to understand them much more deeply.

Note that my checklist has lots of extra blank lines.  It is a work in progress and should ideally be modified every time to cover the special attributes of each deal.  Try it out and let me know what other essential terms should be included as “standard”.

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Licensing Basics Primer on Gigaom

June 2nd, 2008

Gigaom.com published a piece I wrote over the weekend on ten key terms to know in a license agreement.  As the comments point out, these ten scratch the surface of everything there  is to understand about licensing, but I hope it is helpful.  Take a look at let me know what you think.

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