January 30, 2012
Last year, a conference attendee asked Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos) what he'd do differently, if he knew then what he knows now. "Build culture from Day One," was his thoughtful and profound reply. Not technology, partners, product lines, marketing - culture building!
In his book, Delivering Happiness, he described several ways he and his team cobbled together a customer-obsessed culture ... including offering new-hires thousands of dollars to quit at the end of the customer-mania training program. But his point: You need to build culture starting the minute you create a company, organization, group or even project team. The longer you wait, the harder it is to build.
Here's my fave definition of culture: How Things Are Done Around Here. Culture building is a conversation about values, led or allowed by leaders, that creates a group-intuition. When the culture is strong, everyone knows what 'the right thing to do' actually is. And they proactively do it all the time from hiring to product/process design to conflict management. This is the only way you can scale your success into greatness. PS - when culture is weak, the default behavior is 'what does this mean to me?', which results in silo building or selfish actions.
I am CEO of a startup, Net Minds. We came together as a founding team last year, and currently we are hiring two developers to work for us (in Los Angeles). We are building a market place platform for creative ideas and the talent that works on them. (PS - if you know any brilliant people, please send me a note at: tims at netminds dot com or here.)
Prior to hiring our first person, though, we've contemplated culture. What is "The Net Minds Way?" and in this case, "Who is a Net Mind?" I've read often that when you are a startup, your first employees become the framework of your culture, thousands of hires later. So these first picks are highly important!
While working at Yahoo, I spent a lot of time with Libby Sartain our Chief People Officer. She ran HR at Southwest Airlines, and built a great culture there. She explained to me that step one was to define the quintessential Yahoo's common attributes (The were: Fast, Fun, Friendly, Easy To Work With, Human) and let that be the guide to hiring along with technical proficiency and background. Using these attributes, the first interview is all about this question: "Does she fit? Is she a native Yahoo?"
Apply this thinking to your next hire. Even if your organization is established, it's not too late to identify your-way and the DNA of your-best-talent. The exercise will help others come into the fold, and might identify some changes you need to make in the lineup. Immediately, you'll notice that the process empowers everyone on the team. Often, when you define the values of your culture, and the ingredients of the perfect team member, you'll realize how worthy and special your mission is.
January 20, 2012
Today I have a speaking engagement for UMEC in Phoenix. It's a return engagement for a group of great people that support my work and practice what I preach as leaders. There is nothing more important today than this talk - and the takeaway value it should deliver to the audience.
In our culture, we have one area of over-confidence that holds us back: The Myopia Of Can-Juggle. We think we can do several things at once well. But the reality is that we can't. If I get sucked into Tweeting, checking FB, working on Net Minds, selling the next gig or just grazing on my Inbox, there's a chance when it's Go-Time later today, I'll only be half strength. It's called dillution.
Every one of you have Go-Times in your life. Presentations, project meeting, creative sessions, coding assignments on deadline, etc. They are challenging, high-stakes and require you to be 100% on. So why do you try and juggle the Big-Thing with all the Little-Things? You may say, "I have a primary focus and secondary ones to keep things interesting."
That sounds good in principle, but in reality, you'll spend too much time buffering on the not-so-important stuff that doesn't stress you out than the preparation you must execute to tackle today's big challenge. I've done this before, and paid the price later on stage. No more.
Today, my tweets are pre-programmed and you won't see me on FB. I'm not answering my iPhone because it will be on silent, squirreled away in my bag. I've delegated everything, including decision-making, to my manager and the founding team at my company. I'll review all my notes from this and my previous talk at UMEC. I'll rehearse (mentally and then in a green room) my remarks, especially the one-of-a-kind ones I've created for them. I'll re-read a little from a book I bought for UMEC to read later, a highly relevant book on the future of their business by Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind).
My next non-gig thought patterns will start when I'm in the taxi on the way to the airport. And the world will go on without me. Dr. Stephen Covey Sr. once said that if you don't do the work, all of the hard work, you'll know it deep inside at the moment of truth - and it will be a drag on you. When I hit the stage this afternoon, I'll be light as a feather, with my whole mind centered on what's important. Please try this approach for your next Go-Time and report the results in comments!
January 10, 2012
The above image is taken from a great infographic on Techcrunch.
It's message is simple: The more you sit, the worse you'll feel. Recent studies suggest that of all of our bad contemporary habits, sitting all day is a killer. With the rise of the information age, more of us earn a living sitting down, working on computers. Our parents were more likely to sit less than a quarter as much as us and their parents more even less sedentary.
So why isn't this post titled, "Cube Farms Are The New Coal Mines" ???
Because sitting all day is your choice, not your fate. You can beat this disease risk by tweaking the way you work. It's my 2012 resolution to sit at least fifty percent less than I did last year. That's just as good as kicking my weekly french fries or losing ten pounds! Here are several ways you can sit less and live longer:
1. Stand Up While Working On Computers. There are several great standing desks, including hydrolic ones where you can sit (during meetings with others) or stand. My old boss at Yahoo, Anil, had his desk permanently setup where he stood while he worked. He had a tall stool for those times he needed to take a load off. He also had a foot rest, as this is the proper way to work on computers while standing. If you can't do any of this, yet work on a laptop, occassionally pull it out of your docking station or off your desk and work on a bar counter or some other standing friendly surface.
2. Talk Daily Walking Breaks. Walking is great exercise, and according to many doctors, a great prescription for too much sitting. Each day I carve out 20-30 minutes for 'walk-time' either outside or on a treadmill at my gym. When walking outside, I frequently conduct my daily (no-paperwork or web access required) phone calls. It's made a huge difference both in terms of my health and my mood state when I was finished.
3. Convert Work Into Walking. Conduct phone calls or meetings standing up and/or walking around. (You'll have shorter ones as a result!) Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Get up out of your chair to ask a quick question of a colleague, instead of sending an email 200 feet.
Change your habits, and beyond health, you'll be better at work. To be creative and confident, the formula for excellence, you need to feel good. Sitting all day drains your energy, creates distracting physical pain and reduces your endurance. And it's your choice. You quit smoking, and don't miss the smoking breaks - you won't miss sitting either!
January 04, 2012
Here's a six pack of 2011 releases that represent the year's best business books:
The Master Switch: The Rise And Fall Of Information Empires by Timothy Wu.
This read is gripping as a biz-book like The Social Network was interesting as a movie. Wu chronicles the rise of AT&T, it's demise, then later monopolies leading up to Google. Very provocative, and good food for our understanding of how things work in the free market now - and into the future.
This new book helps unlock the secrets to true innovation: Fast prototyping, testing and scaling and close monitoring of feedback. His examples of how little bets create big ideas range from comedian Chris Rock to Google to Pixar. This is a think-piece book, that you'll put to work immediately on your own business, product or project at work.
In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy
Most books on Google are either premature or outside-looking-in, and so far, I avoided them. In this case, Levy's work appealed to me, as he's been covering them for Wired since 2004 and has insider status with their culture. This is an entertaining, useful and enlightening read about the formation of Google's culture, assets and evolving mission.
This is, hands down, the best business book for leaders I've read since Good To Great a decade ago. Will no-doubt be my top pick for 2011. It's that valuable. Whether you are a startup or working inside a big company, Eric and his Lean Startup Practices will make you a rock star. Learn how to master the MVP, innovate in Small Batches and ask the Five Whys when things go wrong. Those who read this book will have a business advantage over those that don't. And the book is a really good read, too.
To improve your professional performance, you need to first leverage your brain. Medina offers simple, but highly effective ways to improve your creativity, memory and emotional intelligence. Some ideas you already know about ('get enough sleep') but others are novel (repeat to remember). There are a slew of brain science books you can read, but this one was written to be easily understood and acted upon.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
What do you get when you combine intensely private person who's changed our life with one of the greatest biographers of our time? The book, Steve Jobs, which is storming the best seller lists and dribbling out provocative pieces of Jobsian thinking daily via the press.
This is one of those books you really need to read to be in the know. It's likely that we'll discuss Jobs for years to come in a lot of areas: CEOs, design, innovation, management style, history, etc. This book is likely the best money you'll invest this year. Just think, $20 in Apple stock a decade ago is worth...NOTE: Read this book on your iPad if you can, it will be a special experience for you.