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Ryan’s Journal: Losing The Forest For The Trees

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/arturtula/15564944217/I was having a conversation this week about Silicon Valley companies. Some of them are doing amazing things.

When I was job hunting I would look at several and imagine myself there changing the world.

There were several though that also had great funding, great people, but I could not understand for the life of me what they did. They had a great list of customers, but I could not understand the value they brought.

There are two possible solutions to that conundrum.

One, I am just not savvy enough to understand (a very real possibility).

Two, they were full of hype and energy, but not substance. I can imagine that both statements are true when you look at the vast array of companies in the valley.

With that said, have we lost the forest for the trees? Have some companies been so hyped that people continue to pour money into them hoping for a huge payday that may never come to fruition?

Uber is in the news for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad. I recently read an article that Uber and Google are working on flying cars. While the concept of flying cars seems cool… I guess, I am more concerned with the participating companies.

Google provides value, products and that elusive quality, profit. They are well established, have multiple streams of income and could fail at this endeavor and live another day. It’s exciting to see them using their money for grand ideas, but it won’t decimate them either.

Uber provides value and services, but zero profit.

In fact, if Uber was run like a traditional company or household, they would have never even gone to market.

They operate more like a country that can print its own money. They take on debt, lose billions every year, yet keep on trucking.

Venture capital and perhaps greed are what allow this to occur. If they fail at the flying car concept what does it mean for the rest of the business?

I know there are very smart folks who are there and who are invested. I often wonder what their long game is. Do they believe they will become profitable at some point if they hang on long enough?

Another thing to consider is the economy. We have easy money right now with very low rates of interest.

For an investor it makes more sense to go with a high risk investment versus storing it in savings, because they essentially lose money due to inflation.

When the markets tighten does that mean Uber cannot seek out another round of funding?

My point is this.

Have we lost sight of the incremental steps it takes for us to achieve greatness by thinking we can accelerate the whole process with enough capital or am I the Luddite here?

I am a believer that debt can be good when there is a viable business model. I am less impressed though when a company has never turned a profit and had no projections to do so at any point soon, but can be valued so highly. What makes Uber so unique?

I say we need to keep dreaming the big dreams, but also look at the foundation.

Is it built on sand or rock?

Image credit: Artur (RUS) Potosi

Ryan’s Journal: A Culture Of Compassion

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/leighblackall/18728658808/This month is Go Grey month.

It’s a month designed to bring awareness to brain cancer and the horrible effects it wreaks on both patients and their families.

I thought it important to bring up, because I have a friend who’s daughter is terminal. Yet, while fighting brain cancer she is a light to those around her.

You may ask yourself, how is that related to culture? Under normal circumstances I would agree I don’t see the connection either, but I believe there is one in this case.

My friend has instilled a culture of compassion into her life and that of her little girl.

She posts constant updates on non-profits that support cancer research, updates on other child warriors fighting the good fight, and also shares messages of hope.

This may be deeper than culture, it’s character and it has the power to transform institutions and people.

I watch her and feel both a deep sadness but also respect for what she is going through and accomplishing.

I am a parent myself and I feel blessed daily that my girls are healthy and safe. I am not sure I would have the strength that this friend has shown under the same circumstances.

How can character change an institution?

There are numerous examples of one person transforming a company. Steve Jobs, when he returned to Apple, always comes to mind.

And there are cases where the leadership transformed something for the worse — Yahoo?

Character has the ability to almost be self sustaining. It burns bright and true regardless of circumstances.

How do we harness that in a culture? The first step would be, do you have a good character. In the age where there is no right or wrong it can be tough to determine, but, as a rule, I believe if you are taking the time to honor your fellow man and putting them first, you’re on the right path.

So this month I ask that you take time to examine your character, look to serve others, and learn.

Just like my friend who gives her all, we have a choice every day to make it a great day or not.

Image credit: Leigh Blackall

Ryan’s Journal: How To Establish Culture With Asymmetrical Information

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecorey/14292160302/Public image for both companies and people has always been important and even more so with the availability of information at our disposal. But even with these tools we are still dealing with asymmetrical information when making decisions and establishing culture.

I spoke to a friend over dinner the other night who travels overseas for work quite a bit. As a result he is not up to speed on current US events and was unaware of the string of crisis that have impacted Uber.

He was shocked to learn that they were involved in lawsuits, scandals and more. It was actually a bit like hearing it for the first time myself as I had a chance to see his emotions as he learned the news.

His opinion of Uber was shaped on asymmetrical information.

I had mentioned in a previous post that some local companies that tout their high employee reviews are not as shiny from the inside. Again, asymmetrical information.

The director of the FBI has been fired, we as the public are dealing with asymmetrical information for the reasons behind it.

I state all of this to say that we must constantly strive to learn, ingest and understand as much as we can when making decisions about the companies we deal with and people we hire.

I recently took part in a process where a new employee was terminated. It was unfortunate but they were not a good fit for the role, exaggerated a bit during the interview process and then didn’t make up for it after being hired.

This person is someone that I wouldn’t mind being friends with, but they were not suited for the role they were in. The hire was a result of asymmetrical information.

I have looked back on my own life at times when I made foolish mistakes due to my lack of information. Rash decisions that cost me time and money. How do we learn from them?

Here are a few ways I have dealt with this moving forward.

  • Have trusted friends or mentors to bounce ideas off of.
  • Take a day or two when making big decisions.
  • Try to remove emotion from the decisions to ensure you’re not swayed.

These all may be basic (I am not as lofty as I would like), but they can make an impact for the positive.

Image credit: Steve Corey

Ryan’s Journal: How Do You Set A Standard?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/11371243606/

I recently switched jobs to a company that is smaller than my last but where I have the ability to truly achieve success or crash and burn. It’s slightly terrifying but I try to follow Richard Branson’s example of just saying yes to things first and then figuring it out as I go along.

One thing I realized after taking the role is I am the one that must set the cultural standard. It’s not that the company doesn’t have one, but most of the employees are remote and we rarely see each other.

As a result there is not really a zeitgeist in the office that tends to guide everyone’s actions. It took me a couple of weeks to reach this conclusion, but once I did I sought out some resources on how to set a standard.

I was not blessed with an iron will. For me I must work every day at maintaining discipline and work ethic. It’s not a battle, but it’s something I am very much aware of and I take steps to ensure I set myself up for success.

One way I do this is through emulation of others. I realize this may not be groundbreaking but I think it’s important to remember.

When I was growing up I would see people at the top of their game or profession and a lot of times not think about the work it took to get there. As I have matured I realize it takes great effort to achieve success and we must make it a priority. There are several people I follow on LinkedIn that hold influence. I try to emulate what they have done to form my own identity and culture.

I have also sought out mentors throughout my career. Some of these are formal, but some are not. I reach out to them for specific needs or learning opportunities.

What do you use for guidance when setting a culture? Is it a company, ideal or person?

I believe all can benefit when creating an identity, as long as we are choosing the right example to emulate.  

Image credit: Ron Mader

Ryan’s Journal: Thoughts About Tanium

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

A few days ago Miki sent me an article about Tanium giving prospective customers a look into their client hospital’s live network, but without permission or protecting the identity of the hospital completely.

I wrote her back today as follows.

I had not seen this on my own, but I have been reading about the company for a few days now.

Coming from the medtech industry and security specifically I will say this.

The fact that he and his company used live hospital data without their consent will be a deathblow to them.

Hospitals take this very seriously because they are the ones who are held responsible by the Office for Civil Rights under Health and Human Services.

The hospital will be shown to have a vulnerability and will be forced to pay fines, lose out on government funds and potentially face sanctions. 

As a result the rest of the healthcare industry will treat Tanium like a pariah because they will not want to face repercussions.

Regardless of the industry it’s shocking to see how folks think it’s ok to manipulate or abuse customer relationships for their own profit, it always ends badly.  

Miki responded.

Sadly, I think they will find a way to smooth it over. Google, Facebook, etc sell customer data all the time. It’s how so many make their money and no one seems to care.

I know HIPPA is supposed to prevent this stuff, but I’m sure companies are getting around that, too, they just haven’t been caught, yet.

That’s the key, not being caught.

Every company that is caught, or just challenged, cries that they take their customer’s privacy seriously or that that’s not what their culture stands for, etc.

But only when they are caught.
I sincerely hope you are correct and that Tanium takes a major blow and, more importantly, that the CEO is forced out, but I’m not holding my breath. I guess I’ve finally gotten pretty cynical about this stuff.

So now I’m trying to decide if Miki’s cynicism is warranted or if I’m right and the publicized results of Tanium’s actions will have the effect they should.

I’ll keep you informed as there are more developments.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ryan’s Journal: Culture Wars At Fox

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

http://www.politicususa.com/2015/12/28/fox-news-literally-dying-age-younger-viewers-refuse-watch-fox.html

I grew up watching Fox News. I am reformed now, but there was a time when I thought the stances that were represented on that network aligned with my own belief system.

I remember a segment that they would do called “Culture Wars.” In the piece they would discuss an instance where conservative values were being infringed upon by the liberal left.

An example might be a town that once had a community nativity scene that the courts ruled was unlawful. Fox News would hype this up and explain how there was a war on Christmas and on conservatives.

Fast forward 15 years and it has become apparent that there is a culture war within the ranks of Fox News. Just this week Fox fired one of their top on air personalities, Bill O’Reily. He has been a presence on the network for years and continued to bring in top ratings for his time slot.

It has come to light that O’Reily and Fox paid more than $13 Million to several women to settle alleged sexual harassment charges.

As of right now I am not sure if the allegations are true or not but I will say this, the appearance of impropriety looms large.

Fox has been in the spotlight recently for sexually harassing women that worked there and promoting a culture of sexism. Most networks place attractive people on air, but even the most casual observer can see there is a certain level of skin on Fox News that is not present on other networks.

Before any of the charges came out I was actually amazed that they were so blatant with the way they sexualized the women on the shows as it seemed to detract from the story the women were presenting.

When we look at the specific case of Bill O’Reily I try to look at it from the context of the network as a whole. As a pivotal member of the organization he had a hand in setting the tone for the culture.

As the charges of sexism came to light for the network I thought it only a matter of time until specific charges were leveled at some of the men on air.

I have never worked at a TV network, but I find it hard to imagine that people didn’t talk.

Women who were put in uncomfortable situations would have surly spoken to their coworkers.

Men would have overheard things in locker rooms and elsewhere. The on air talent had to be acutely aware of the sexually charged atmosphere that was prevalent.

Why did it take this long for it to all come out? I guess an easy answer could be money.

In O’Reily’s case he gave money to women so they wouldn’t talk. In the case of on air talent being sexually harassed it may have been money and credibility.

As a man I cannot completely relate, but I have had female coworkers tell me that it’s tough to tell someone you felt harassed for fear that you will be labeled in a negative way.

If we trace it back to adolescence I am sure we all have memories of girls and guys who were put in compromising positions, but didn’t speak out for fear of being ostracized from the group.

Perhaps that is at work at Fox News as well.

My point to all of this is simple. O’Reily benefited from the loose culture of the network. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, he benefited from the fact that he kept silent about the mistreatment around him.

If we take it all the way and he is guilty of misconduct, he benefited from the belief that he would be protected as all of the other aggressors had been.

As a society what must we do to change this error? One way I see it is we must enable people to speak out without fear. That is much easier said than done.

We must also attach shame to actions that take advantage of others. We have gotten to a place where we are uncomfortable confronting others, but in this case we must.

I no longer watch Fox News, but the few times I see it in passing I think about the culture wars within. Ideally they would become transparent and learn from this. I have been alive for longer than two days though and strongly doubt that will be the outcome.

My lesson I have learned is I must be the change, I cannot wait on others to lead it.

Image credit: Politics USA

Ryan’s Journal: Musings on A Tough Week For PR

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tofu_mugwump/25716292035/

This past week we had one bad press event after another and all from different sectors. Let’s review what has transpired so far: Pepsi decided to release an ad that equated the giving of a Pepsi to a police officer as the answer to the protests that have occurred.

It was looked, at the very least, tone deaf, but was also offensive to many who felt Pepsi was attempting to capitalize on societal events that have true impacts.

Our President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, somehow thought it was a clever idea to bring up Hitler as an example of how he was better than the current Syrian regime. If you missed it he essentially said that Hitler never gassed his own people, unlike what Assad has done in Syria.

A basic history lesson will show that Hitler may not have used gas attacks in a combat role but he gassed millions of innocent Jews in death camps throughout Europe. Not exactly a bastion of humanity there.

The event, however, that caught many by surprise was the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it was determined that they needed his seat for an employee.

This man was already seated and refused to leave, since he was a doctor and had appointments he needed to make. When he refused to leave, the police were called and he was dragged off screaming. To make matters odder he somehow got back on the plane, bloodied and rambling.

That event was terrible, but then the CEO of United decided to double down and call the man belligerent. Since then the CEO has issued several apologies, but the damage has been done.

What do these three events have in common? I would argue that in each of these cases the leadership of the company, who typically maintains the cultural norms, has failed.

Let’s dive in and see how this could have been prevented to learn from them in the future.

Pepsi had grand ambitions to have a meaningful conversation around current events and sell their product. One critical flaw here, they utilized their in-house marketing team.

They were operating in an echo chamber with no one to tell them to stop and think for a moment. This is something I personally must do in my own life. I must seek out feedback on a continuous basis to determine if I am on the right path.

My goal for this post is not to get political, but we can look at the Sean Spicer event as a leadership problem. He was hired by Donald Trump, who already had an idea of what Sean was like. Since taking the role Sean Spicer has been in hot water several times, this being the latest in a string of gaffs.

This man is essentially the voice of our President, twitter aside. The culture of the White House has enabled him to act recklessly and uncouthly. Similar to the idea that brilliant jerks are ok, we have a similar issue at stake here.

My take-away from this is to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners. Would what you are saying be divisive to your listeners or just plain wrong?

Finally, we have the United Airlines debacle.

Now the event itself was a shock but we need to look at the response since it came to light.

The CEO started by stating the man was belligerent and the CEO supported his employee’s decisions.

I get it, you want to reassure your workforce that you have their back, but in this case the CEO was also viewing this from a legal standpoint.

There is a law that allows you to forcibly remove a passenger if he is belligerent. The CEO labeled that passenger in such a way to protect himself legally. But we all saw the video and beyond refusing to leave the man really wasn’t much of a threat.

To me, this response is indicative of both pride and attempting to cover up rather than solve. That CEO has surrounded himself with folks that are unwilling or unable to push back and offer insight.

I have done that in my own life as well and so must always reach out to those that share different opinions than I or different beliefs, so I can continue to learn.

Image credit: Topher McCulloch

Ryan’s Journal: Interview With Amy Blankson

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness, 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Age.

Happiness may be the root of everything we seek out in life.

We want to be happy in our family, our job and any other aspect of our lives. In fact the US Declaration of Independence states that, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights when declaring independence from Great Britain.

Happiness probably means a lot of things to a lot of people — to me it means satisfaction. 

However rates of depression, divorce and suicide are all on the rise. I am sure we can all think of someone in our own life that takes antidepressants to help them cope with their days.

This is all happening in the backdrop of some of the highest rates of wealth, longer life spans and access to greater technology than any generation before. Why is this?

Amy Blankson seeks to answer this question and others in her new book.

A little backdrop on Amy; she is passionate, kind and curious. If you google her you will find that she has a well regarded Ted talk, is an alum of both Harvard and Yale, and runs a company with her brother studying the topics raised in this book.

I had the opportunity to interview her for this post and it was a real pleasure speaking with her. Our conversation ranged from what her influences are to parenting tips in the modern age. We share some things in common; she has three daughters as I will soon, she resides in Texas near my family, and she continues to ask ‘why’ everyday.

The book begins with three burning questions in the digital era, where are we heading? Would we be better without tech? What will happiness look like?

Now, before you think this book is something that advocates that you forsake all worldly goods and begin churning butter in the countryside, it’s not that at all.

Amy recognizes that for many of us we are the first generation to transcend two eras. The analog, with house phones and encyclopedias, to the digital age, where we have a phone in our pocket that can access every book ever written in the history of the world.

We are all different ages but we can all look at the moment when technology enabled us to have every answer at our fingertips, but also the ability to never truly break away.

Amy addresses the fact that work days seem to never end, with email always a buzz away. High school friends who you probably have nothing in common with are still keeping you up to date with the latest post.

But at the same time the person you share your bed with may be further away as you are both absorbed in your own screens.

These are scenarios that we all have to deal with on a daily basis and need to learn how to manage them.

This book is not another lifestyle book that promises to change your life in 30 days or your money back.

What Amy has accomplished is doing all the homework for you. She utilized hundreds of apps, used numerous wearables and tried all sorts of methods to figure out the best way to manage all the tech that we are surrounded with.

She provides very practical steps on how to declutter our lives in simple ways. For example, do you have a pile of old laptops and cords lying around somewhere in your house? Mine are about three feet away from me, the laptops will never be used but I have old pics that I want. My solution is to just store them and have them take up space. Amy’s solution is to take those laptops in, retrieve the data and purge the hardware. This is a simple process and it clears your life. 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the technology that is surrounding you? In the spirit of transparency, I am in my early 30’s, I work for a technology company and I feel overwhelmed. I feel that I must read every day to keep up with what is new. This is not age specific, it affects all of us. Amy addresses this and clarifies how we can manage our time.

This book is more than a simple help, it’s like you are listening to your friend that you trust. Amy is kind, thoughtful and funny both in her writing and in person. On a personal note I learned a lot from my brief conversation with Amy. She is a mother of three daughters and it was great to glean some wisdom from her experiences raising them.

I walked into this book with no previous knowledge of Amy and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. She does a great job of showcasing practical steps, analyzes the topics from the standpoint of a social scientist and maintains the curiosity of the eternally inquisitive. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has thought that there must be a better way to live this life. 

I asked Amy what her one takeaway would be from someone who reads her book.

She said it would be that our life is our own and we can make our choices. We are in control and we should not let technology dictate or overwhelm us.

This book is for the young professional, the parent or the student who would like to set a firm foundation moving forward.

Amy’s book will go on sale April 11th, you can pre-order or find it at your local retailer.

Image credit: Amazon

Ryan’s Journal: How To Measure Culture

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/beantin/8976529844/

I am in sales and as a result I have a ton of metrics that I must account for. How many calls did I do? What is my conversion rate? Are you having a prospecting or velocity issue with closing deals? Is your sales funnel robust enough? 

I think you get the idea. These and many other metrics are all important as they can lead to a greater success as you iterate.

By most accounts sales is easy to measure the successes and failures. It’s like sports, who has the most points at the end of the game?

Culture though can be a bit tougher to measure. It’s not a tangible good and as I consider the subject I wonder how can we best measure it?

It’s pretty easy to see the extremes of company cultures and see if they are positive or negative.

Uber had been in the news a lot lately, even their president stepped down after saying they did not align with his values.

On the other hand Google landed the top spot again by glassdoor.com with their annual best places to work.

With a little thought you can see one culture is more negative and the other is pretty positive.

Those are fairly easy examples, but what about all the thousands of other companies in small towns and cities? How do we know if they are indeed a positive place to be and what metrics should we use to measure?

I worked for one company that ranked as a top workplace in the local metro area. This was touted by its recruiters and quite frankly was a selling point for me when I came on board. I had had a terrible experience in a previous company and I was ready for a change!

However, after some time of working at my new place we were given the opportunity to participate in the annual survey that would measure top workplaces.

This poll was, in reality, mandatory and we had to provide so much demographic data that it was very easy to determine who had filled out what survey.

The result was we all wrote very positive reviews and then we were voted top workplace again. I believe the total is four years in a row at this point.

I bring this up as an example of how one metric, annual best workplace surveys, could be wildly skewed and may not be the best metric to utilize.

Where else should we turn to measure? Pay could be a factor of course. Tenure and turnover are factors too.

I had a teacher in college tell me to always ask my interviewer what the turnover for employees under two years was. He felt this was a good measure of the health of the company and the role I was pursuing.

I still ask that question and have found that when turnover is high, culture is low.

At this point I don’t have a silver bullet and will do more research to see if there is a magic quadrant we should be seeking.

I’ll update you next week on whether someone a whole lot smarter than me already did the tough work, or if I stumbled onto a way to start a company measuring culture that is the new hot thing in town.

Image credit: James Royal-Lawson

Ryan’s Journal: International Women’s Day

Friday, March 17th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ufv/33321834446/Folks. I am about a week behind on recognizing International Women’s Day, but wanted to speak about it today.

There is always an element of folks out there who cry that we are dividing each other more by recognizing every different group of people, but I disagree.

At this point we have roughly 7 billion people in the world and they are each unique. That’s pretty cool if you ask me and I find that recognizing the differences that make us unique can be a unifier.

One reason I want to address this holiday is because I have been personally affected in a profound way by strong female leaders, both in life and work.

These women were mothers, wives, bosses, employees and, in some cases, warriors. I call that out because throughout history there was not always the option for women to follow their own path — it was chosen for them.

I am the father of two beautiful girls, they are identical twins and they light up my life. My wife and I are blessed (and challenged) by them daily. In June I get to experience it again with the addition of our third girl.

If I am being completely transparent, I was never a feminist. I didn’t think men were the superior sex, but I didn’t think the status quo was an issue either. While having girls has helped to change my thinking, the journey began many years ago.

I served five years as a United States Marine and enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of something greater. Now, the Marine Corps has around 200,000 active Marines and about 7% who are female. It’s a male dominated world where recent news has uncovered that misogyny is alive and well unfortunately. I don’t bring this up to shame the institution but to call out the opportunity for improvement.

Within this environment though I had the pleasure to serve under a female Marine officer by the name of Meredith Brown. At the time she was a Major and retired as a Lt. Col.

She was a no-nonsense person who expected results and demanded excellence. I recall how I used to write reports for her and she would pull out a red pen and begin striking things out. As she did that though, she took the time to show why the corrections needed to be made and expected that I wouldn’t repeat the errors.

Now you may be thinking, this lady sounds rough! I will tell you though, she knew what she was doing. I was a young man who needed guidance and she also saw something in me that perhaps I didn’t see myself. As a Marine she was tough but also fair to a fault. She was the first strong woman in my professional career and I valued our time greatly. We still speak to this day and she continues to give sound advice.

How does this fit into culture? Because as a society we have determined that sex, color, background, race or other factors that could be discriminated against are not how we should be judged.

We have deemed actions to be our judgment. Does this always happen? Absolutely not, but we strive for it.

If I had been an older man in a different Marine Corps, I would have never had the opportunity for a female Marine to lead me. I would have operated in a bubble and be unable to see another point of view without great difficulty.

So next time we have a day that celebrates a unique quality about a specific group of people I suggest we take the time to embrace it.

See something from a different perspective, walk in another person’s shoes, so to speak, and learn.

Culture is continuous.

Image credit: University of the Fraser Valley

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