The other day I had a very good debate with a friend on the differences between project management and product management.
It was really educational for us both. It has helped me to evolve my perspective on the value and application of project and product management.
The 5 key attributes of our debate are:
Product management is focused on the project while project management is focused on the timeline. Winner: Product Management.
Product management is concerned about the what and the why, while project management is worried about the when and by whom. Winner: Product Managment.
Product management thinks about how the product is perceived by the customer while project management is concerned about how a project looks to management. Winner: Product Management
Product management helps to refine a product though the effective use of evolution and revolution of ideas, while project management helps to set expectations and to put something in the customers hands. winner: tie.
Product management tends to get sidetracked on the “what if…" while project management limits time, keeps things within budgets and restricts scope creep. winner: project management.
When the dust settled, it came down to the core fact that for a company, team or individual to be successful, it is more important to have good product management than it is to have good project management.
Overall, I’ve recommitted to the fact we need more effective product management no matter how small or large the organization is. Product management is simply more concerned about the customer than is project management.
For me that’s what the whole debate was really about; customer value.
By definition entrepreneurs undertake to build whatever they are building at considerable risk to themselves. They do what humans are not naturally evolved to do, which is break free from the pack to try something different—something that might not work and may leave them exposed and on the edge, away from the apparent safety and security of the pack.
Mostly entrepreneurs take these risks not because they have to put food on the table, but because they are driven to and because they sense opportunity. When you break away from the pack a lot of your support mechanisms fall away. There is no hiding, no camouflage, there is only truth.
The truth scares people, but it turns out that the truth is at the heart of every opportunity that is realised. Once you’ve gone deep enough to really understand the problems you are trying to solve and once you have found a way to ask and answer the right questions with honesty you are that much closer to realising the potential of the opportunity before you.
I was working with a group of clients recently and we came to some hard conclusions together about the direction their startup was headed and the story they were telling. To their enormous credit they immediately embraced the pivot, understanding that their business would be stronger for it in the long run.
The paradox of course is that it’s even harder to be honest with yourself when you are out there on the edge, exposed and vulnerable, but going to where the pack fears going is where the opportunity lies.
- a fantastic definition of a startup and the paradox of the startup mindset shared from the story of telling.
People in the US blame immigrants all the time for stealing jobs. In Georgia, they started cracking down on farmers who hired illegal immigrants to pick blueberries — and the farmers ended up losing 75% of their production. It turns out no one else felt like doing manual labor out in brutal heat…
In a lot of ways the term “vision” is highly overused. When company leaders talk about the grand company vision the common response from employees is an eye-role. When sales people talk about the company vision with customers those customers nod politely and then simply tune out. The reason is simple, nobody believes in it.
Look back 30 years ago and you will find countless examples of companies crafting long winded jargon filled epistles called vision documents. These vision documents had very little relevance or truth about who they are as a group and less to do with where they are going as a company.
About a 20 years ago the vision statement became a popular alternative to the vision document. It was in most accounts just a shorter version of the vision document. Filled with meaningless buzzwords like; enterprise class, thought leader and best of breed. A quick google search will find hundreds of vision statement creators that would fill in random buzzwords into a generic template that would end up reading and sounding just like the real thing.
Now comes the post-dot-com era of the last 10 years and the elevator pitch replaces the vision statement. The point of the elevator pitch is to sell who you are as a company in 2 minutes or less. The time it takes to travel up a few floors. The brevity of the elevator pitch is really quite smart but the problem with an elevator pitch is people try to stuff their entire company history into 2 minutes or less. To much information is crammed into the pitch, leaving their audience lost and confused. The result is people fail to take them seriously.
Today it’s vogue to have a brand story. The goal is to take a vision statement that is told in an elevator pitch format and add in an “emotional twist”. However many brand stories come across as cheesy and weak. And people looses interest and fail to take them seriously.
Now here is the kicker, I actually believe that a brand story is a incredibly useful tool. A elevator pitch is the right amount of time and the right format to tell a company’s market position. A vision statement is a great way to say where a company is heading. And truthfully a vision document can be the best business plan crafted.
The eye-roles, polite nods from customers and disinterested employees are all reactions from people who don’t believe it. They don’t believe in the vision or in you, it’s because YOU don’t believe in your vision. Your lack of conviction is replaced with extraneous content, buzzwords and filler sentences.
But when you believe in your vision, truly have conviction and faith in a different and yes better future something incredible happens — people will follow, they will share your vision, and they will believe in you.
Look back further in history and you find visions told clearly and briefly that have changed the world; President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech, and yes even the constitution is a vision that millions have and still believe in.
The reason that these visions resinate with us is because the authors and speakers behind them believe deeply in them.
Most of us will never have a seat at the statesman table, but we do have a seat at our company or teams table. And there it’s not just okay to have a grand vision for the team but it is welcomed. It’s a true exercise of faith in the talents and skills of those who you work with.
When you believe deeply in your own vision and most importantly you believe in your people — that vision can be told briefly, clearly and confidently. And people will follow.
1. They speak plainly and simply so people can understand.
This was the most common skill that these leaders look to improve. Communication skills are highly malleable. For many leaders, improvement is less about learning new skills than about using the skills they already had more often and with more people. (When we talk to groups of leaders and ask, “Who here communicates too much?” we see very few hands rise.) We have also found that when struggling leaders spend time improving presentation skills, the effort can produce an immediately payoff.
2. They make an effort to share what they know.
Poor leaders tend to be stingy with information and know-how. By sharing their knowledge more frequently and teaching people what they know how to do they can simultaneously impress and develop their direct reports.
3. They encourage others to do more and to be better.
Some leaders believe that if they minimize challenges to their team and expect less of their people, subordinates will see them as better leaders. This is wrong! Fewer challenges is the opposite of what a work group or organization needs. When leaders challenge their direct reports to do more and be better they thought they could be, the leaders are actually perceived to be better themselves.
4. They developed a broader perspective.
It’s easy for leaders to become preoccupied with work demands and internal politics and become oblivious to what’s happening in the outside world. Getting leaders to stop and look at the bigger picture can help them see potential problems sooner and focus more on strategic and less on tactical issues. This leads to constructive change and innovation.
5. They recognized they’re role models and needed to set a good example.
It frequently happens that leaders unintentionally (or unknowingly) ask others to do things they don’t do themselves. This never works. Many of our 71 leaders were surprised to discover that they were perceived as hypocritical. They learned to walk their talk (or at least to “stumble the mumble”).
6. They champion their team.
Many of our 71 leaders were also surprised to learn that their teams considered them to be the “Abominable NO man (or woman).” When they shifted from discouraging new proposals to encouraging and supporting innovative ideas and thinking, positive changes occurred.
7. They recognize when change is needed.
More generally, our successful leaders were those who learned to willingly support and embrace change, and encourage others to do so, as well. How? Essentially, by becoming more proactive — that is, by doing a better job of spotting new trends, opportunities, and potential problems early.
8. They inspire and motivate others.
Practically all of the actions we’ve already mentioned create a more inspirational environment. In addition, there were two notable things these leaders did to inspire others. First, they did a better job keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives. Second, they made a special effort to stay in touch with the concerns and problems of their teams. When a leader is the last to know that an employee is having difficulties, others interpret that as a lack of concern. Providing support and assistance to an employee in difficult circumstances not only helps that employee, but also reassures others they can expect to receive the same treatment.
9. They encourage cooperation rather than competition.
Many leaders come out of school believing that work is a zero-sum game that creates winners and losers, and so they compete, in an effort to get ahead. Battles are costly and consume a great deal of resources. In the long run, internal competition causes every participant to lose. When leaders look for ways to encourage cooperation and generate common goals, they become more successful.
I read this at the end of a HBR (@HarvardBiz) article today.
"In the spirit of collaboration and improvement we would like to invite anyone to help advance this thinking, by challenging our results to date, making suggestions to improve the methodology, or adding to the data set with data of their own. We think that over time the data set itself can become a valuable public source of inspiration and evidence for agents of change…"
“Don’t think you are going to win in business with a better product, more capital, or a bigger team. You can’t just throw resources at a market and expect to win. The winner in a market most often has the best strategy and exectutes it well.”—Fred (via brycedotvc)
Since Arrested Development is back, I thought I’d resurrect Gob Bluth’s answer when he was told he needed a “business model” — he quickly figured out that he was missing one so he asked Starla, the Bluth company secretary, if she would be his business model.
He then brought her to board meetings so nobody could accuse him of not having a business model.
I guess this is the ultimate definition of implementing a business model when you’re not clear on strategy!
I found myself in violent agreement with Fred’s blog post(s).
Put simply — you need enough users in a segment who care about what your doing to dictate investing further in the product or in sales and marketing resources.
If you solve a deep problem for a niche user group but not enough users have the problem you won’t achieve product / market fit.
Or if you solve a problem for a big segment but your solution isn’t significantly better than alternatives — you won’t have a fast-growing, successful business. I often call this “going a mile wide and an inch deep.”
The answer to either problem may mean simply refining your product to solve deeper problems or expanding the product scope to meet a larger group of customers’ needs.
Product / market fit is everything.
I see many companies these days that just race to raise capital. They see capital raising as the success validator. Sometimes they rush to raise cash because they don’t have a well articulated product / market fit and they think having more money will help them have more time to prove the business.
I know what is going through their collective heads, “The more money I have, the more time I have to figure things out.”
On the other hand, sometimes, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Raise yours wisely. Spend it wisely. Figure out the appropriate time to step on the gas with more funds. There is no right answer.
I know that the acronyms or business sayings change over time. But the search for product / market fit has been around in various form for a long time.
A. CROSSING THE CHASM
In the 90’s, we all talked about “Crossing the Chasm" in which Geoffrey Moore encouraged us to think about solving really deep problems in a particular customer set and then using that satisfied customer set to move on to tangental markets.
The idea of “going deep” with customers has always shaped how I think. Shallow and superficial and racing from segment to segment in search of some take up has never been a strong strategic plan for me.
B. INNOVATOR’S DILEMMA
Second, I was then influenced greatly by Clayton Christensen’s work, “The Innovator’s Dilemma" in which he argued that "disruptive technology" came from companies who offered products that were significantly cheaper and less functional that the existing market and ended up capturing the needs of customers who previously couldn’t buy products due to price / complexity.
He calls this competing with “non consumption.”
It was the most profound business strategy book I had read and greatly influenced how I thought about company building and certainly how I think about investing.
But when you create a product for a large segment of users who previously couldn’t afford products due to price or complexity and if that product can work at “Internet scale,” you have the chance to do something truly amazing.
With 30 million registered users on a global basis. 65 million monthly actives. 2.5 billion monthly page views.
All totally free. It has become the largest art community on the web with huge pockets of global users who never had a website in which to express themselves amongst peers and also find ways to monetize their talents on a global basis.
C. LEAN START-UP MOVEMENT
And finally there is the most modern spin on these concepts by two individuals who have built tech start-ups and have done an excellent job at describing the process. In Steve’s case, it is “going in search of a business model.”
And Steve’s desciple (or as Steve will tell you, “He’s way past me now!” is Eric Ries who wrote the must own, “The Lean Start-up.”)
I think all of these great works (all must reads) scratch at the same thing — the search to solve a real problem a market has by creating features that add compelling value to your customer such that they will do what customers hate to do — change behaviors (i.e. use your product).
If you don’t want to click through to the link, I’ll tell you the answer — if you’re in a competitive market and you aim to solve problems assume you’ll have strong competitors so if you need to aim for 10 times as much innovation to end up being three times as good as the market and you need to be three times as good as the market for rapid adoption. But if you have time later — please watch video with Bill. He’s awesome to learn from.
3. Business Model
Fred’s third argument is that you need to be careful not to try and scale up your operations (sales staff, marketing, etc.) until you feel clearly you’ve achieved product / market fit.
One of the things I have observed over the years is that a hard charging sales oriented founder/CEO can often hide the defects in a product.
Because the founder is so capable of convincing the market to adopt/purchase the product, the company can get revenue traction with a product that is not really right.
And that can hide all sorts of problems.
That’s Sofa King true.
The Need for Strategy
It’s something I worry about with companies.
Are we winning because we create compelling marketing materials and have hard-driving sales people that get customers buying product or are we solving a deep-seated customer need?
If it’s the former, your company will definitely start to top out at some point.
It’s why I never get too excited about sales unless I can scratch the surface of the elusive “why.”
Why are they buying from us?
What are their alternatives?
What problem are we solving?
How will it benefit them financially (more sales, fewer errors, reduced customer churn, etc.)?
How will it save them time /drive productivity?
If you’re not solving a deep seated problem you’ll become “shelfware" and won’t have a repeatable, scalable business.
So that’s why I believe companies need a well articulated strategy. Not a mission statement, mumbo gumbo bullshity, groupthink happy clappy statement to be published on your website.
But a clear, crisp articulation of:
What problem are you solving for today’s users of your product? (Really. Why did they buy? No spin.)
What in your product is truly differentiated in the market to solve this problem? (Where do you believe you are strong against the competition in functionality or delivery? Note: This is not a statement about strengths / weaknesses in marketing. It is about product.)
Where do you think your customers’ needs will evolve to based on your world view of changes in the marketplace in the next two to three years? (i.e. changes in computing devices, regulations, end user adoption of technologies such as wearable computers, watching online video, whatever.)
Based on the problems you are solving in today’s customer base, your unique skills in solving these problems and where you see the market going, the big question becomes …
In which direction should your company evolve?
Admitting that you will have limited resources and strong competition both in today’s market and in the markets you want to enter is the right start of the conversation.
You need to pick wisely because whatever you do, you must do better than other people staring at the same information as you. (Also known as your competitors or future competitors)
I work with many companies.
In some — like Maker Studios — we have a very clear and shared purpose for what makes us unique, why we are growing so rapidly and where we think the market is heading (and thus how we must evolve). The team has stated it and has built metrics around key goals for future success.
At other companies, we have very strong revenue growth and an intuition on why we’re doing well but a less well articulated case for why people love us today, where we stand relative to alternative options and where we want to evolve as we perceive our customers requirements will evolve.
What I can tell you is this.
I don’t work with a single team that isn’t trying to pull together a stronger case for our strategy.
In the early days of the company, it’s ok to launch a product that you believe will solve a customer problem with a strong intuition about where the value will lie. That can be your “going in strategy” but you know it will need to evolve.
And as you know, the initial product strategies are like war plans, “they never survive first impact with real customers.”
That’s when you learn. That’s when you must reflect on how your customers are using your product. That’s where you must cull or refine features people aren’t using. That’s where you need to separate out your market spin from your internal reality of how customers are (or are not) using your product.
It’s why in early-stage teams I personally invest in strong teams not in strong product strategy.
I sometimes see VCs debate ad finitum about a company’s strategy. They think they know “here’s how your product will be adopted, blah, blah, blah.”
I don’t mind having the debate but a VC who thinks early on that he/she REALLY knows what is going to happen in the market his fooling him/herself. Markets decide. We simply have a ring-side seat and hopefully make our next moves based on market signals.
From customer feedback, you need to define your company’s strategy.
When you know the value of what you provide to a constituency (either your end users or somebody who will pay to interact with your end users) then you can begin to define a strong business model.
This post originally appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal as part of their Accelerators Program in answer to the question “When and how should you wind down a failing business.”
Some entrepreneurs and investors subscribe to the creed “failure is not an option.” I’m not one of them.
I strongly believe that there are times you should call it quits on a business. Not everything works. And — even after trying incredibly hard, and for a long period of time — failure is sometimes the best option. An entrepreneur shouldn’t view their entrepreneur arc as being linked to a single company, and having a lifetime perspective around entrepreneurship helps put the notion of failure into perspective. Rather than prognosticate, let me give you an example.
My friend Mark’s first company was successfully acquired. After being an executive for several years at the acquirer, Mark decided to start a new company. I was the seed investor, excited to work with my friend again on his new company.
Over three years, this new company raised a total of $10 million from me and several other investors over several rounds. The first few years were exciting as Mark launched a product, scaled the company up to about 40 people, and tried to build a business. But after two years we realized that we weren’t really making any progress — there was a lot of activity but it wasn’t translating into revenue growth.
In year three we tried a completely different approach to the same market with a new product. Mark scaled the business back to a dozen people in an effort to restart the business. Over the course of the year we tried different things, but continued to have very little success.
By the end of the year there was $1 million left. Mark cut the company back again — this time to a half dozen people. He started thinking about how to restart for a third time on the remaining $1 million.
Mark had never failed at anything in his life up to this point. He was proud of this, and the idea that he couldn’t at least make his investors’ money back was devastating to him. But he was stuck and started exploring creating an entirely different business, in a completely different market, with the $1 million he had left.
Mark was newly married and was working 20 hours a day. We were talking at the end of the day during the middle of the week and he was so tense, I thought his brain might explode. I told him that as his largest investor and board member, I wanted him to turn off his cell phone, take his wife out to dinner, have a bottle of wine, and talk about whether it made any sense to spend the next year of his life trying to restart the business with the remaining $1 million.
After resisting turning his phone off, I insisted. I told him that I gave him permission to decide that it wasn’t worth the next year of his life at this point and that as his largest investor it was perfectly ok to shut the business down and declare it a failure. I then said I was hanging up the phone and would talk to him in the morning. Click.
He called me back early the next morning. He was calm. He started by saying thanks for giving him permission to consider shutting down the company. This had never occurred to him as an option. During dinner, he realized he needed a break as he was exhausted. He wasn’t coming up with anything to do to reinvent the business and was just desperate to figure out a way to pay his investors back.
By morning, he realized it was time to shut things down, return whatever money was left, and take six months off to recover from the previous three years while he thought about what to do next.
We gracefully wound the company down and returned five cents on the dollar to the investors. Mark took six months off. He then spent six months exploring a new business, which ended up being extraordinarily successful. And he’s now very happily married.
Failure is sometimes the best option if you view the process of entrepreneurship as a lifelong journey.
There are a lot of founder stories. Many are sensationalistic, focusing on super-human efforts and events that are directed by providence. Some true, many not. But what most all founder stories fail to do is drive to the heart of why founding and then building something that revolutionizes the way things around us work, matters.
I have a number of people who I look up to within the business community and one of them is Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter. Not necessarily from his accomplishments, however impressive that they are, but more because of how he slows down to ask really interesting questions.
Slow down and take the time to listen to his founder story. It will change the way you ask questions and maybe it will change the way you think a little.
My first blog post is still one of my most honest and heartfelt.
Much has happened from when I posted this almost two years ago, but the truth of the story has stood the test of time.
I have been thinking about simple things, simple ideas, and why my last startup failed.
I am a software engineer by trade. I have been trained to scrutinize the details. It is within the shadows of details that bugs hide. Engineers like myself are very good at finding and fixing bugs.
We get great satisfaction when we fix something and that is why many engineers make the entrepreneurial jump. It is also why many of us fail. We tend to fixate on the problem and overlook something very important - value.
I founded a company. I assembled a great team of people. We built cool tools. Our code base was awesome. The math was wicked smart (and patentable). VC were performing due diligence, the final step before investing. We had paying customers and more in the pipe. I had some whales in my sights that would catapulted us to sustainable profitability. We where in the middle of a growing market. Then the economic downturn of 2008 hit.
The crash forced our clients to ask what they could do without, investors pulled out of deals and I lost traction. Business no longer needed help fixing business bugs, they needed to survive.
I found myself in the wrong business at the wrong time. I was selling cool tech when I should have been selling value.
I had the chance to talk with a Disney exec and asked him what his division sold. He said “Disney sells a dream”. That value pitch clearly describes the Disney brand.
Marketing experts argue that a company brand has nothing to do with the product. I agree. People remember the brand and not necessary products. We as customers want something out of the deal. We want value even if that value is a dream.
Maybe that is why I have come to love a restricted business space. A short sales cycle. A clean and basic website. A simple business model. Value can’t hide when things are simple.
I was part of a @CNN roundtable discussion about adults with autism and succeeding in the workforce this last week. This is CNN’s summary of that event.
(CNN) — We hear a lot about children with autism. But adults on the spectrum face their own set of challenges. One of the big ones? Finding and getting a job that fits their unique talents and temperaments.
Have you found it important to speak out publicly on workplace issues?
Wellman: Yes, I feel that it has been very important to speak up. People can make harsh and often incorrect judgments about those on the autistic spectrum. If we, who understand the challenges of those living on the spectrum, don’t speak up now, then the day may come where we want to, but can’t.
This was originally posted on esquire. I didn’t want to loose the list so I am reposting it here as a keepsake.
by Kareem Abdul-Jabar
When I was thirty, I was living my dream. I’d already accomplished most of what I’d set out to achieve professionally: leading scorer in the NBA, leading rebounder, leading blocker, Most Valuable Player, All-Star. But success can be as blinding as Bill Walton’s finger in the eye when battling for a rebound. I made mistakes. Plenty of them. In fact, sometimes I wish I could climb into a time machine and go back to shake some sense into that thirty-year-old me. If I could, here’s the advice I would give him:
1. Be more outgoing.
My shyness and introversion from those days still haunt me. Fans felt offended, reporters insulted. That was never my intention. When you’re on the public stage every day of your life, people think that you crave attention. For me, it was the opposite. I loved to play basketball, and was tremendously gratified that so many fans appreciated my game. But when I was off the court, I felt uncomfortable with attention. I rarely partied or attended celebrity bashes. On the flights to games, I read history books. Basically, I was a secret nerd who just happened to also be good at basketball. Interacting with a lot of people was like taking someone deathly afraid of heights and dangling him over the balcony at the top of the Empire State Building. If I could, I’d tell that nerdy Kareem to suck it up, put down that book you’re using as a shield, and, in the immortal words of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (to prove my nerd cred), “Engage!”
2. Ask about family history.
I wish I’d sat my parents down and asked them a lot more questions about our family history. I always thought there would be time and I kept putting it off because, at thirty, I was too involved in my own life to care that much about the past. I was so focused on making my parents proud of me that I didn’t ask them some of the basic questions, like how they met, what their first date was like, and so forth. I wish that I had.
3. Become financially literate.
“Dude, where’s my money?” is the rallying cry of many ex-athletes who wonder what happened to all the big bucks they earned. Some suffer from unwise investments or crazy spending, and others from not paying close attention. I was part of the didn’t-pay-attention group. I chose my financial manager, who I later discovered had no financial training, because a number of other athletes I knew were using him. That’s typical athlete mentality in that we’re used to trusting each other as a team, so we extend that trust to those associated with teammates. Consequently, I neglected to investigate his background or what qualified him to be a financial manager. He placed us in some real estate investments that went belly up and I came close to losing some serious coin. Hey, Kareem at 30: learn about finances and stay on top of where your money is at all times. As the saying goes, “Trust, but verify.”
4. Play the piano.
I took lessons as a kid but, like a lot of kids, didn’t stick with them. Maybe I felt too much pressure. After all, my father had gone to the Julliard School of Music and regularly jammed with some great jazz musicians. Looking back, I think playing piano would have given me a closer connection with my dad as well as given me another artistic outlet to better express myself. In 2002, I finally started to play and got pretty good at it. Not good enough that at parties people would chant for me to play “Piano Man,” but good enough that I could read music and feel closer to my dad.
5. Learn French.
My grandparents were from Trinidad where, though it was an English-speaking country, the school system was started by the French. Whenever my grandparents wanted to say something they didn’t want me to know, they’d speak French. The language seemed so sophisticated and mysterious. Plus, you earn extra James Bond points when you can order in French in a French restaurant.
6. Get handy.
I always wanted to be one of those guys who, whenever something doesn’t work, straps on a tool belt and says, “I’ll fix it.” I like the Walden-esque idea of complete self-reliance. Build my own house, clean out the carburetors, find out what carburetors are. Recently my washing machine broke and flooded my entire downstairs. I was forced to stand idly by waiting for a plumber to arrive while water rose around my ankles because I didn’t know how to shut off the water. That’s the kind of experience that makes you have your testosterone levels checked.
7. Be patient.
Impatience is the official language of youth. When you’re young, you want to rush to the next thing before you even know where you are. I always think of the joke in Colors that the wiser and older cop (Robert Duvall) tells his impatient rookie partner (Sean Penn). I’m paraphrasing, but it goes something like: “There’s two bulls standing on top of a mountain. The younger one says to the older one: ‘Hey pop, let’s say we run down there and screw one of them cows.’ The older one says: ‘No son. Let’s walk down and screw ‘em all.’” Now, to counter the profane with the profound, one of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.” I think the key to seeing the target no one else can see is in being patient, waiting for it to appear so you can do the right thing, not just the expedient thing. Learning to wait is one of my greatest accomplishments as I’ve gotten older.
8. Listen more than talk.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
9. Career is never as important as family.
The better you are at your job, the more you’re rewarded, financially and spiritually, by doing it. You know how to solve problems for which you receive praise and money. Home life is more chaotic. Solving problems is less prescriptive and no one’s applauding or throwing money if you do it right. That’s why so many young professionals spend more time at work with the excuse, “I’m sacrificing for my family.” Bullshit. Learn to embrace the chaos of family life and enjoy the small victories. This hit me one night after we’d won an especially emotional game against the Celtics. I’d left the stadium listening to thousands of strangers chanting “Kareem! Kareem!” I felt flush with the sense of accomplishment, for me, for the Lakers, and for the fans. But when I stepped into my home and my son said, “Daddy!” the victory, the chanting, the league standings, all faded into a distant memory.
10. Being right is not always the right thing to be.
Kareem, my man, learn to step away. You think being honest immunizes you from the consequences of what you say. Remember Paul Simon’s lyrics, “There’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” So maybe it’s not that important to win an argument, even if you “know” you’re right. Sometimes it’s more important to try a little tenderness.
11. Cook more.
After I got divorced I missed home cooked meals and the only person I had to rely on was the guy in the mirror. Plus, I found it impressed women if you could cook a good meal. Once, very shortly after I started cooking for myself, I had a first date with a woman I really wanted to make a good impression on. Of course, I could have done the usual celebrity thing: fancy restaurant, signing autographs, wait-staff fawning. But I wanted this to be special, so I decided to cook for her, everything from soup to dessert. Some women get a little freaked seeing a 7’2” black man with a carving knife and butcher’s apron, but she appreciated the effort. Which was good because the soup was a little salty, the steak a little overcooked, and the flan a little watery…
12. When choosing someone to date, compassion is better than passion.
I’m not saying she shouldn’t be passionate. That’s a given. But look for signs that she shows genuine compassion toward others. That will keep you interested in her a lot longer.
13. Do one thing every day that helps someone else.
This isn’t about charity, this is about helping one individual you know by name. Maybe it means calling your parents, helping a buddy move, or lending a favorite jazz album to Chocolate Fingers McGee.
14. Do more for the community.
This is about charity, extended to people close by whose names you don’t know. You can always do more.
15. Do one thing every day that you look forward to doing.
It’s easy to get caught up in the enormous responsibilities of daily life. The To Do List can swallow your day. So, I’d insist to my younger self to make sure he has one thing on that list that he looks forward to doing.
16. Don’t be so quick to judge.
It’s human nature to instantly judge others. It goes back to our ancient life-or-death need to decide whether to fight or flee. But in their haste to size others up, people are often wrong—especially a thirty-year-old sports star with hordes of folks coming at him every day. We miss out on knowing some exceptional people by doing that, as I’m sure I did. I think the biggest irony of this advice is that it’s coming from someone who’s black, stratospherically tall, and an athlete: the trifecta of being pre-judged. And I have a lifetime of hurtful comments to prove it. Yet, that didn’t stop me from doing the same thing to others. You have to weigh the glee of satisfaction you get from arrogantly rejecting people with the inevitable sadness of regret you’ll eventually feel for having been such a dick. A friend of mine told me he routinely attends all of his high school reunions so he can apologize to every person he mistreated back then. He’s now on his fortieth reunion and still apologizing.
17. When breaking up with a woman, you can’t always remain friends.
I have managed to stay friends with many of the women I have dated because I truly liked and respected them. But sometimes emotions run too deep and efforts to remain friends, while that might help you feel better, actually might make the other person feel worse. Take the hit and let it go.
18. Watch more TV.
Yeah, you heard right, Little Kareem. It’s great that you always have your nose in history books. That’s made you more knowledgeable about your past and it has put the present in context. But pop culture is history in the making and watching some of the popular shows of each era reveals a lot about the average person, while history books often dwell on the powerful people.
19. Do more yoga.
Yes, K, I know you do yoga already. That’s why you’ve been able to play so long without major injuries. But doing more isn’t just for the physical benefits, it’s for the mental benefits that will come in handy in the years ahead, when your house burns down, your jazz collection perishes, and you lose to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in your final season.
20. Everything doesn’t have to be fixed.
Relax, K-Man. Some stuff can be fixed, some stuff can’t be. Deciding which is which is part of maturing.
This is a blog post from Nathan Marz, who if you are not familiar with Nathan Marz, he was a key architect at twitter. He helped shepherd twitter through some of their most aggressive growth. His perspective of software engineering is spot on. The point that there is much more to software engineering than just making computers do stuff couldn’t be better said.
His core premise is that software engineering is best done when bounded to knowns. Smart software is built for uncertainty within those bounds.
It’s the same reason that I am always saying to my team; make it work, make it right, then make it fast.
The edges of what is known is fluid and malleable until you know how the software works. And it needs to work not how customers say it works or should work, but how it is actually used in the wild.
Once it works, minimize dependencies, complex code or other extraneous stuff that distracts away from the core thing that is working. Finally, if needed, make it fast.
I would highly recommend taking the time to read Nathan’s post this weekend.
Last January after a fresh snowstorm, my 9-year-old son asked me to help him build a snowman. I told him that I would be out to help shortly.
A couple of minutes later he came running back yelling, “Dad, it’s melting!”
That got my attention. It was sub-30 outside, so how could a snowman be melting?
I followed him as he ran down the hall to his bedroom. In the middle of his room was a 4-foot tall snowman, melting away.
While I removed the snowman and cleaned the remaining slush and mud, I asked him why he did it. He said, in a very matter-of-fact-tone, “It’s cold outside.”
My son has Asperger’s syndrome. For him, building a snowman in his bedroom because it was cold outside was a logical solution to a problem.
Because of my son, “Aspies” hold a special place in my heart. So whenever I hear someone in my industry talk about hiring an Aspie, I cringe just a little. Because in technology, saying you’ve hired an Aspie is like code to say that you’ve hired a machine.
It’s true that there are a lot of benefits in hiring someone with Asperger’s. Research from Harvard Business School shows the strengths of people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism make them especially well-suited for software development and testing. They have the ability to focus for extended periods. They have very good memories and are often highly intelligent. Their strong analytical skills make them talented at technology work.
But there is a lot more to Aspies than their focus, intelligence and determination. Aspies are human. Like anyone else, they have their highs and lows, and their good and bad days.
As a manager, you should understand how to handle the unique opportunities and challenges that come with hiring an Aspie. Here are six things you should know:
1. Aspies are autistic
Asperger’s syndrome is a high-functioning variant of autism. People with Asperger’s are often exceptionally intelligent and verbally gifted, but they also can be socially awkward. They can react to stress differently and at times more emotionally than others not on the autism spectrum.
Many people with Asperger’s are challenged by large crowds, looking people in the eye and reading common social queues. When talking with an Aspie, don’t get offended if they look around or focus on an object in the room instead of looking directly at you. This is a coping skill that most Aspies develop over time. Listen to their words instead of focusing on their body language.
2. Aspies are intelligent — and independent
Aspies will question authority. They will never accept “no” for an answer without being told the reason for it. They almost never accept a fact simply because of who it comes from. They will only accept it as fact if the logic proves out.
For this reason, many inexperienced managers shy away from working with an Aspie. Don’t. You just need to be prepared to justify your decisions when they’ll have a direct impact on your Aspie employee.
3. Aspies think differently
Aspies frequently talk at length about small details instead of being brief and to the point. The reason is simple: It’s how they see the world. They hold complex mental models that include all those small interlocking details. To them, overlooking the details is ignoring part of the solution.
Be patient with them. It’s an Aspie’s way of getting it.
I have seen Aspies start reprogramming software in their head well before they get back to their desks and write the first line of code. Aspie testers will instantly see what is wrong with the software because it no longer fits their model.
All this “rewiring” has wonderfully positive results.
4. Aspies feel deeply
It’s easy to think that Aspies are less empathetic because of how they can act. They’re not. When people are unsure how to respond to a stressful or unfamiliar situation, we can act in strange ways. This goes for Aspies, too.
One the most challenging things for any autistic individual to deal with is the cacophony of emotions that can be triggered by seemingly mundane events. For example, the cancellation of a project may be a relief to most of your team, while an Aspie may see it as people not appreciating their hard work or allowing them to finish the job.
Be patient. Pull them aside beforehand to explain the situation and ask them for their feedback and insight. It will give them a chance to process the idea.
5. Aspies talk differently
In the most simple of terms: Aspies are blunt to a fault.
Aspies are known for being direct, speaking their mind and being honest and determined. Just be aware that an Aspie is interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation, preferring to avoid “small talk,” trivial statements and superficial conversation.
Aspies are not trying to be rude.
6. Aspies are successful
There is good reason that Asperger’s is called the successful disorder. Their focus and dedication leads many Aspies to great heights. I doubt you could find an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a few Aspie behaviors.
Asperger’s comes with challenges along with the great opportunities. Don’t shy away from Aspies because they have different mannerisms or behaviors. Be aware of them and understand how to respond to them. If you do, you will see Aspies as the invaluable people they are and afford them the respect they deserve.
Culture is a hot topic for many companies. Start ups talk about establishing a great culture. Candidates are looking for the right cultural fit in a prospective company and vice versa. Successful companies attribute culture as the secret to their success. Failing companies talk about changing their culture as part of a turn around plan. Then there are the clichés that companies have “a world class culture” or they have “an agile culture”. But what does it all really mean? What is culture?
One thing is for sure, culture is one of the most powerful forces in business. A company culture sets the tone and direction for the organization. The way the culture goes so do the goods and services. How the goods and services go, so does the market.
In many ways a company culture is a living thing. It fights for its very survival. A company that’s struggling for its existence or is seeking a new product-market fit can be seen as having a startup culture or startup mindset. A culture that is well established and deeply entrenched is fighting to live by leveraging managers who are afraid to try new things. Employees like those at yahoo are fighting against change in leadership and changes in policy to maintain a established culture while leadership is trying to shift a culture to be more open and communicative.
Many companies like Apple, Disney, Instagram and Twitter have a culture that is for the most part in harmony with their markets and enjoy the success that comes from a mutually beneficial relationship.
So where does culture start and where does it end? In my experience culture begins at the top. The example, words used and priorities set by executive leadership is where culture is nourished but it is the rank and file, the individual contributors who are the ones that are growing the culture.
The national culture is influenced by Hollywood and the images of culture that they sell. Yet it is the moviegoers who translate what they see into our national conscious and collective culture. In much the same way businesses are using marking to influence their customers to create and foster a consumer culture.
When a competitor is able to sway away customers from an incumbent it is more that they are swaying customers cultural perspective away from their rival. The products that delight them are more in line with the cultural expectation than by the common definition of “product-market-fit”.
Successful startups are actually recognizing a cultural shift and apply the right culture-product-fit to draw in customers. When the culture-product-fit is right, the market shift can be incredibly fast.
For example consider how fast Instagram was adopted. In just 90 days they went from zero to over one million users and then sold to Facebook in just 551 days. The share-alike culture and personal nature of pictures simply resonated with the culture.
Some of the most powerful features of twitter, such as the @name, hash tags and re-tweeting came not from product mangers imaginations but from watching how their community was using the app. The community grew the features but the company had a culture that was in line with the community culture to help make it happen.
So for corporate and business leaders the most powerful act is one where you act in accordance with the culture and in the direction you want your organization to grow. Align your behavior with the right consumer-cultural-fit and your business will find its natural home. It is your responsibility to find a home of growth or not.
Last month Bryce Roberts (@bryce) hosted a symposium with Vinod Khosla (@vkhosla) at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City to talk about venture capital and the startup community. Bryce and Vinod didn’t have a set agenda for the discussion, but throughout the conversation a common theme was woven; “Diversity allows people to do unreasonable things.”
Comparing the startup communities of Salt Lake City to the San Francisco bay area, Vinod pointed out that the rich cultural heritage of the Valley has given it a distinct advantage. People from many different backgrounds condensed in to one place as Vinod said, “Encourages’ ideas that are counter to the conventional wisdom. Idea’s that are rooted in the status quo are questioned.” By creating an environment where people ask why thing are done the way they are, new and novel ideas take root. Ideas that can change the world.
As an example Vinod highlighted Jack Dorsey (@jack) the CEO of Square who set out to redefine how money is transacted. “Square is just 2 years old and is processing 1% of the US GDP.” said Vinod. “It was by questioning the conventional wisdom of how people manage credit card and cash transactions that has allowed Square and Jack to reach such levels of success.”
Although many startup areas like Boston and New York are rich educational and cultural centers, they suffer from what Vinod described as “A mono culture”. A culture that fosters the status quo.
To be a successful startup, if you are in the bay or outside Vinod gave this advice; “To be a successful startup, the company needs to take advantage of whatever cultural diversity exists around them. Foster people who are willing to question how and why things are done the way they are.” He said, ”It is difficult to manage people who question the status quo but it is those people that see things as they can become and not just how they are. It is important to dig into the questions they ask and seek out the insights that come from their perspectives.”
"Too many forces are at play to keep you from changing." Vinod said. "It is through encouragement, experimentation and failure that a startup can find vision." "Without experiments and failure you will never do anything interesting."
Vinod ended by saying, “If you are going to be successful better make it worthwhile.”
Note: @marksbirch; I would agree to a point. Having lived in SFO and spent a lot of time in NYC both are very rich cultural centers. SLC stands out as the mono-culutre that Vinod described. However I believe that Vinod point was that the mix of cultural background and technology focus that the Bay has is a unique mix for startups. The NYC startup community is clearly second only to SFO in my opinion.
Last week I had lunch with a friend who wanted to talk about his business idea and specifically how he could avoid some of the problems and mistakes that I have made. That conversation has had me thinking about what makes for a good idea.
Good ideas are like magnets, they draw people in. But they also draw in extra details that are of no value. It is very easy to clutter an idea with too many points of view, non-supporting details or distracting issues that add no value. In short it is easy to clutter and idea and hard stay on message.
Focusing an idea is a lot like focusing a camera. It is easy to point-and-shoot but the background can end up with extra “stuff” that draws the viewers attention away from the subject. Think of that family vacation picture from Disneyland, where everyone is huddled in a group smiling, but up in the top left corner is a mother angrily pulling a crying child by the arm. Years later it is still that angry mother and crying child that people notice and not the family. Ideas are the same. It is important to blur out things that don’t matter but are part of the scene and avoid the distractions that can wonder in. Keep focus on the idea and it will stand by itself.
There are some in business and life who follow the dogma that ideas should be kept “close to the vest”. In other words, ideas should be shared sparingly or not at all. I would say that these people are missing the point of a good idea. There are few secret and dangerous ideas in this world. A good idea has a way of transforming to be great idea when shared. The more you talk about them the more stronger the roots become and the more the idea will grow.
I talk with a lot of entrepreneurs, like my friend, who have an idea but are unwilling to talk openly about them. Fear of idea-theft is what most blame but I think it has more to do with the fact that idea isn’t really good, yet. If ideas, from a product feature, to a company to a life plan isn’t shared it will never take root and grow. And if and idea doesn’t grow it will never reach its potential.
I understand that many people who have an idea put a lot of who they are on the line are afraid of the idea being challenged because in that light they will be challenged as well. For that very reason ideas should be shared. People are way more accepting and open to helping out. They will even help point out flaws because people generally want others to be a success.
BTW, My friend James, has a good idea that I hope becomes a great product one day.
A new market entrant. A competitor that gets a bunch of great press. A peer that just raised a ton of money. The external environment presents myriad distractions that can cause founders and their teams to “freak out” and deviate from their established game plans. And in my experience, when plans…
1. Develop hypotheses 2. Test these hypotheses and collect data 3. Interpret and analyze the data and adjust the hypotheses 4. Retest the hypotheses and collect data 5. Establish the base case plan in the wake of the new data 6. Create KPIs in order to be able to measure success versus plan 7. Execute the plan 8. Collect data throughout the plan horizon 9. Evaluate data relative to KPIs and develop new hypotheses 10. Return to Step rinse and repeat.
I enjoyed camping as a kid. Our family owned a small hunting cabin located in Goshute Mountains of north eastern Nevada. Every spring after the snow and the mud season, sometime around May, we would make the 350 mile pilgrimage out to the cabin to spend a week or two in the middle of nowhere.
There was open land for miles in every direction. Our only neighbors where the native deer, rabbits and the Wile E. Coyote wondering across the ridge above the cabin. The closest town, and only phone, was 40 miles of dirt roads south on the Goshute Indian Reservation. Our cabin looked like something out of an old western movie in the day and a bad 1980’s slasher movie at night.
The area was popular with gold prospectors in the 1840s. That made for plenty of old abandoned mine shafts. Back when I was a kids, both kids and parents where more… ah, more stupid, than they are today. My brothers and I would go spelunking down shafts and tunnels with nothing more than a baseball hat and an old flash light for gear. I want to say that we would only venture just into the mouth of those tunnels, but the bats lived much further back. Far back. Far enough that the light from the tunnel opening would speck out leaving us in pitch black.
(Yes, I said bats. I would take a glass jar and carefully and slowly move one up around a sleeping bat, hanging from the roof of the cave, then give the jar a slight shake and a quick slam and spin of the lid, and catch the rabid creatures! Like I said, stupid kid. But the “Rabid Bats” post is for another day, if ever.)
The Goshute Mountains being an old prospector area made it only natural that I learned how to pan for gold. (Panning for gold is a bit safer then hunting for bats in 140 year old mine shafts.) The tools for panning for gold are simple; a pan, water and a touch stone and dirt or sand. The best source is sand from an old dry river bed.
To pan for gold, I first take a handful or two of sand from the river bed and put it into my pan. Next, I would use the water from the river (or from a canteen if the river is dry) and slowly start to spin the water around. Let the sand shift and move. As the water washes around the sand the sand will begin to separate and sort itself out. The heaver rocks and pebbles on the bottom the lighter dirt and debris on top. When the debris begins to move freely with the spinning water, tilt the pan so that the water spills over the edge of the pan with every rotation. Keep the rotation of the water constant and let the water do its work to wash off the lighter debris and sand from the heaver metals below. About 90% of all the sand will eventually wash away leaving what could be gold behind.
Now I say gold, but it is always hard to tell. There are a lot of other heavy metals; lead, copper, onyx and just bits of scrap metal mixed in with the glittery stuff. To know if it really is gold in that their pan requires a bit of science and chemistry.
I would take some of the sand and rub it over a touchstone. Using a testing needle I would scrape the stone. A testing needle is make up of a specific gold purity, like 14K. After scraping the stone with a needle a small line of gold will remain on the stone. Now, I would drop a bit of acid on the stone. (Acid is much safer than catching bats in old mind shafts.) The acid will eat away anything that is not a heavy medal. If you are really lucky you will see spots left by the sand that look similar to the scrape left by the needle. So after all that work the touchstone may have proven that it is a place worthy of continued panning if not then you simply move on and try again.
This last week I was in a meeting where someone used the phrase “a touchstone market” in a context that made me think about the whole panning for gold thing as a kid. That phrase; “a touchstone market” has a unique sense of truth and understanding for me. It brought into focus the problem at hand along with a sense of nostalgia for panning a market for gold. The fact is business is just another form of prospecting. I sometimes forget that 90% of the crap on top is junk and debris. But if I am really lucky some gold may live just under the surface. If not then it is time to move on. A touchstone market is a great way to tell.
"A lot of people may agree with me that developers are perceived as grumpy, but ask “so what?”. Grumpiness doesn’t inherently prevent us from doing our jobs. Some may even argue that the best developers have earned the right to be grumpy. I think there are countless reasons that being grumpy is a problem…"
At the airport in London this morning just before getting on my flight back, I read John Batelle’s epic complaint about his usability problems with Apple software. That got me thinking about my 30 years of experience with a wide variety of software systems. And there seems to be an ironclad…
This is a must weekend read.
“Taking an old feature that did not get widely adopted out for the sake of simplicity is something that very few companies manage to do.”