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If The Shoe Fits: Glassdoor’s Most Loved CEOs

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe last thing you need today is yet another autopsy of Travis Kalanick. If you indulge in any form of media you know TK isn’t the first to founder to go down in flames (and he won’t be the last)for creating a rotten culture.

A larger question is where was the adult oversight that kept other young founders from similar shenanigans?

Steve Jobs didn’t want to create a Windows-compatible version of the iPod or an app store for the iPhone; it was his lieutenants who pushed him to do it. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were guided by strong, experienced and extremely sober operators — Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, respectively. Mr. Kalanick, meanwhile, was allowed to operate more or less solo, to micromanage a company that grew to enormous scale, and was left alone even when the firm’s problems became plain to see.

In its fifth year, Facebook had net income of $200 million in 2009 on revenue of $777 million; in its seventh year Uber lost $3 billion.

So instead, I thought I’d point you to a Glassdoor’s 2017 list of best CEOs as rated by their employees, so you could find positive role models.

In the large company category the top slot went to Benno Dorer, CEO of The Clorox Company.

“Excellent communication on vision, strategy, and where we are going. Constant access to leadership through round tables and other company events that allow all employees to feel like they are part of our decision making and strategy.”

In the small/medium category it’s Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social.

There are many reasons why Sprout Social is an amazing place to work. Some of the pros include sensible managers that really care about you and your goals, and help you grow and advance your career. The company culture is inclusive, open and friendly. I have honestly not seen this many talented and hardworking people together prior to working here. Both individual and team initiatives are highlighted and praised often, communication is very transparent and you feel like your voice is heard.

Notice that the employee comments all focus on similar things.

They are what people of all ages want from their bosses.

Founders/bosses set the tone and values.

They shouldn’t be surprised when the people they hire have similar views.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

Friday, June 16th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe following post is reprinted in full with Wally’s blessings. I e-met Wally when we both blogged for b5 Media — I think. It’s so long ago I’m not sure, but over the years I’ve read and appreciated Wally for both his insights and independence from accepted leadership-speak. I highly recommend adding his blog to your reading list.

Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

If you need someone to blame this on, it might as well be Rene Descartes. The 23-year-old Descartes was serving in the army when was visited in a dream by the Spirit of Truth who told him that “Conquest of nature is to come through number and measure.”

Numbers were power. That effect was amplified during the Industrial Revolution. That’s when the engineers took charge, measuring and calculating. Soon, Frederick Taylor and the efficiency experts showed up with their stopwatches and clipboards. Now we’re in the Digital Age, where computers spit out numbers by the mountain load.

Today, companies trumpet the claim that they’re “data-driven.” The Economist proclaims that “data is the new oil.” If there is a golden calf to worship today, it’s probably digitized.

We love numbers so much that we don’t think about where they come from or how we’re using them. We can summon them from our vast databases, manipulate them, and turn them into equations that give us “answers. It makes us feel like we’re in control. We’re not, really. We’re only in control of the data.

The map is not the territory and data is not reality

Data is not reality. At best, data can only represent reality. Reality is complex and messy and we can use data to simplify parts of it so we can understand it better. To do that we must leave out part of reality, assign numbers to things that aren’t inherently quantifiable, and approximate relationships with equations.

If, after all that, we treat data like reality we commit what Alfred North Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” We get lost in the wonder of our calculations and think we’re describing the elephant, when we’ve only got hold of one leg.

It’s a good idea to apply George Box’s observation about models to our data. All are flawed, but some are useful.

Quantitative data is not objective

No matter what you or your boss thinks, quantitative data is no more objective than qualitative data. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided what would be counted and tracked and what would not. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided how and how often data would be gathered and how it would be presented.

That’s obvious when you talk about qualitative data. We usually get qualitative data in the form of a story. This happened when we observed it this way. With quantitative data, the questions, assumptions, and decisions that lie behind the data are usually behind the curtain and invisible to the people who receive and use the data.

Dig into the history of things to find out why you use certain measures and not others, how the raw data is gathered and manipulated, and why it is presented in the way that it is.

Quantitative data is not enough

Quantitative data is important, it’s just not enough for a successful business or a satisfying life. The most important things in life and business can’t be counted or calculated. Relationships drive much that happens in business. More than half a century ago, Mason Haire demonstrated that emotions influence buying decisions of all kinds. Knowledge workers trade in conversations and tacit knowledge.

There’s one more thing about quantitative data. It’s easy for us to manipulate and “understand” quickly, so we’re likely to pay attention to what we can count and ignore what we can’t. That’s part of the reason why the long term is often sacrificed to the short term and why numerical accounting data gets more attention than “soft” human stuff. As one friend of mine said years ago, “When the pressure’s on to make the numbers, people almost always take a hit.”

Bottom Line

Quantitative data is important. You can’t run a successful operation today without paying attention to it. Remember that quantitative data is always a flawed representation of reality. Look behind the curtain to discover the whys and hows behind the data. Remember that human choices drive quantitative data as much as qualitative data. And, please, remember that the most important things in life and business cannot be force-fit into a dataset.

Copyright © 2017 Wally Bock, All rights reserved.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Your Survival vs. Their Hyperbole

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe words and images people share through social media have enormous spin.

This is especially true in the startup world where image is everything and perception is key to the next round of funding or investment.

The purpose is to tell the world how world-changing the tech, amazing the team, great the opportunity and how perfectly they are executing.

In other words, they are ‘crushing their goals’, ‘wowing the world’ and ‘killing it’.

Not only that, they are doing it with nary a bump or pothole along the way.

(If you believe that I have a great deal on a lovely orange bridge that would look great in your backyard after you IPO.)

Lee Hower, Co-founder & Partner of NextView Ventures and former entrepreneur at LinkedIn and PayPal, wrote a very needed commentary regarding the hyperbole that irrigates the startup ecosystem.

As he says, “not everybody is killing it and certainly not all the time.”

If anything, the constant social media barrage claiming to be ‘killing it’ is increasing denial, making it harder to admit the challenges, let alone actual problems, and further limiting entrepreneurs ability to talk about it.

Two years ago I wrote about the high incidence of depression and suicide among entrepreneurs and it hasn’t improved.

Entrepreneurs who go public do so after the fact offering useful insights on how they overcame. While this is valuable, it can make it even more difficult for those in the throes, with no one to talk to.

Entrepreneurship is a double-edged sword; while it can be enormously rewarding, it can also destroy and even kill you — or all of the above.

There are two important take-aways in all this.

  1. Don’t believe everything you see/hear about how others are doing.
  2. Never forget that your pursuits won’t thrive unless you survive.

Ttake care of yourself.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: No Such Thing As “Self-Made”

Friday, May 26th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI get so tired of people being labeled “self-made,” whether by the media, their circle or themselves.

There is no such thing.

I can hear your thoughts across the miles. “Who is she to say there’s no such thing as self-made. Just because she didn’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t.”

I agree, I’m nobody, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is a well-known somebody and he says the same thing.

I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want. You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me ‘the Austrian Oak.’ You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self‑made man.

It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us. (…)  And I have to say that it is important to acknowledge that, because people make it always sound that you did all this yourself.

I didn’t. I did it with a lot of help.

Yes, I was determined. Yes, I never listened to the naysayers. Yes, I had a great vision. Yes, I had the fire in the belly and all of those things, but I didn’t do it without the help.

Here’s the full video in case you think I made it up.

Now stand in front of the mirror and say three times, “I am not self-made.” Repeat twice daily until you believe it.

And if that isn’t enough, add the words whispered in the ear of conquering Roman generals as their chariots paraded through the streets, “You are not infallible; you are not a god.”

Image credit: HikingArtist; video credit: UHmultimedia

If The Shoe Fits: Yea vs. Nay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBill “Badger Bill” Whyte, founder of W.S. Badger, with $16 million in revenue and 100 employees, is an excellent role model for any entrepreneur who wants to grow and run a successful, socially responsible business that treats its people fairly. His thoughts on the subject are succinct and simple.

“You can be financially successful and be a big jerk, or you can be financially successful and be a contributor to making the world better. I know which way I’d like Badger to move.”

Other great founder role models include Anand Sanwal of CB Insights and Marc Benioff of Salesforce, among many others.

However, if you are looking instead for a role model that represents the worst of Silicon Valley look no further than Evan Spiegel.

Spiegel’s boundless arrogance was on full show in the company’s first earnings call with analysts.

During the event, many analysts’ questions about the company were dismissed by Mr. Spiegel. None of the executives made a particularly impassioned case for why the business would be a success over the long term.

But what else would you expect from founders who already dumped much of their stock?

Spiegel, his co-founder Bobby Murphy and Snap’s largest venture investor, Benchmark, sold significant amounts of their stock when the company went public

Along with the current $2.2 billion loss is the whistleblower lawsuit claiming the pre-IPO metrics were inflated.

Malcolm Berko provided the best comment I’ve seen regarding all those who ignored the warnings in the prospectus, bought the stock, and are complaining.

When greed succeeds, everyone smiles. When greed fails, everyone wails.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Tech And Responsibility

Friday, May 12th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAlthough I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.

KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.

The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.

First, a quick story.

Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school.  Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.

It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.

People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.

Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.

How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?

Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.

Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.

Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.

Are they truly amoral?

Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?

What am I missing?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Expediency Is The New Core Value

Friday, May 5th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is much talk these days about ‘values’ and how companies need to base their cultures on them.

Many say that “cultural fit” is used to discriminate against older candidates, people of color, and women.

And that’s likely true if the company doesn’t included diversity and meritocracy as an integral part of their core values.

One recently added core value that isn’t talked about is expediency.

Here’s a great example from Facebook.

On May First, Facebook was accused of sharing information on how/when to reach “emotionally “insecure” and vulnerable teens on its network.” Naturally, the company denied doing it, but just the fact that they can should be very disturbing.

Even if Facebook hasn’t allowed advertisers to target young people based on their emotions, its sharing of related research highlights the kind of data the company collects about its nearly 2 billion users.

Also on May first Facebook announced a new effort to fight fake news — definitely expedient considering how angry people are — better late than never.

Facebook has appointed a veteran from The New York Times to lead its news products division, which is responsible for stopping the spread of fake news and helping publishers make money.

Making money is the number one priority — no matter how often a company says otherwise.

That’s what underlies expediency.

And I doubt it will change any time soon.

Image credit: QuotesEverlasting

If The Shoe Fits: Today’s CEO Cowboys

Friday, April 28th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2009 I wrote Leaders Should NOT Be Cowboys. While the advice was accurate at the time, it made the basic assumption that founders were adults.

I suppose it was naïve to assume that anybody starting a company, let alone being handed millions of dollars to do it, would have a certain level of mental and emotional maturity — or at least know when to shut up.

But the world has changed drastically.

It’s now a world where nothing is private and letting it all hang out has been take to extremes; where sharing all aspects of your life is expected and the resulting personally identifiable data packaged and sold; where sex/sexism in one form or another is prevalent; where anybody can freely and anonymously critique/shame/bully/insult whomever they please; where frat boy culture/attitude/thinking is the new norm, where etc., etc., etc.

Doubt me?

Take a look at Uber, Thinx, Tanium, or the US president; the list goes on even when the actions are well camouflaged, as they are at Google and Facebook.

These new CEOs aren’t necessarily cowboys in the previous sense.

They have moved past that and are more aligned with the back end of their horses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Founder Love Is Blind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 1405 Chaucer enlightened us that “love is blind” and it’s been proven through both scientific and anecdotal evidence ever since.

In past centuries this referred to romantic partners and kids, but, as with most things, that, too, has changed in the Twenty-first Century.

Now researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have gone a step further.

(From the abstract) Here we tested the hypothesis that entrepreneurs’ emotional experience and brain responses toward their own firm resemble those of parents toward their own children.

Surprise, surprise — the results show that they are the same.

Anyone who has been around entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, won’t be surprised.

In my experience the more life experience founders have the more open they are to hearing critism about their startup baby.

However, that statement comes with a caveat.

It’s not just age or experiences that makes the difference, but the kind of experience — specifically raising kids.

Travis Kalanick may be 40, but he hasn’t been responsible for the shaping of a successful human being.

Mark Zukerberg may be raising kids, but they aren’t old enough to know how they’ll turn out, let alone what they will do along the way.

Just as parents believe their kid wouldn’t bully/drink/drug/cheat/steal, founders notoriously won’t listen to criticism of their vision/business model/culture/management.

Some, not all — obviously — but the number seems to be growing

It will be interesting to see if young, data enamored entrepreneurs will embrace this research.

Those whose kids are in their teens or older don’t need data, they have, or are getting, experience.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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