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Ducks in a Row: Losing One’s Humanity

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


I’ve been writing a lot about Silicon Valley culture and, since I don’t live there any more, I usually cite/link to articles from those deep in the tech world who do or who write me directly.

Yesterday a question came in on my Quora feed that asked about the differences working in SV vs. the rest of the country.

If you ever wondered if media descriptions and commentary were hype, propaganda, sour grapes, ignorance or a combination thereof, then you really should take time to read the responses, especially Ken Miyamoto’s.

Miyamoto is a non-tech guy who, at the decrepit age of 39, moved to SV and ended up working for “one of the the most badass and innovative tech startups.”

We have this culture of brilliant kids that have a power that they can implement from a numbers perspective, but often (not always) fail miserably at implementing from personality perspective, yes, but even more so from a social perspective within the workplace and anything involved with that. (…)

There’s a clear disconnect, socially. I don’t know if it’s the generation. I don’t know if it’s the inability to balance responsibility of  power and position or ego or what have you. But there’s clearly a disconnect. (…)

The SV is an environment that is overly self-serving, self-rewarding, with little to no practiced responsibility of the social aspect of “the game.”

Beyond that, the SV proved too often be an overly analytical and knee jerk reactionary culture. Here you have young kids thrust into powerful (big or small) positions and, well, they act like young kids.

So to me, the Silicon Valley is a perfect storm of brilliance, power, new culture, money, money, money, and utter lack of social responsibility at times. (…)

That’s the major difference. Going from student to “rock star” so quickly. It leads to ego, blindness, paralysis of analysis, etc. And that culture is ever-spreading with Venture Capitalists young and old ready and willing to profit from it. 

Too many of the tech crowd have lost touch with the rest of society, don’t possess the skills to re-enter it and don’t see this as a problem, but the long-term result of losing touch with humanity is to eventually lose one’s own humanity.

(Funny how one’s mind works. I’m not sure why, but writing this reminded me of Isaac Asmiov’s Foundation series. In short, the series tells the story of mathematician Hari Seldon, who spends his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. It is disrupted by an outsider known as the Mule, who was not foreseen in Seldon’s plan, so there is no predicted way of defeating him. Although I can’t connect it directly to the current love of data analytics, I’m sure it does and highly recommend it to you.)

Flickr image credit: kristy

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Star Creation

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


Monday we considered the idea that a team can have too much talent, i.e., stars.

Bosses claim they hire stars because they are the rocket that drives a team further, faster.

I think many do it because they are lazy.

As Wally Bock puts it, “We live in a world of microwavable answers and quick fixes” — and bosses see stars as quick fixes.

Which, if you will excuse the bluntness, is really stupid for two reasons.

The so-called slow fix takes more effort, but provides far greater ROI.

And you, personally, do much better, and have more fun, with fewer regrets, building your own team of stars — usually the only things lacking in this approach are egos, prima donnas and drama.

A slightly offbeat story illustrates the kind of stars that can result­­­.

Faculty from Bard College coach a debate team from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup.

They recently beat the national and world champion Harvard team. They have also beaten the University of Vermont and West Point teams.

They are home-grown stars, since it’s doubtful that a world-class team of debaters were all incarcerated at the same facility.

The point of all this is that if you want to be known as a great boss, then be the coach who builds an extraordinary team, as opposed to being the one who hires shooting stars.

Flickr image credit: Michael Pollack

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12 Steps to Being a Better Boss

Monday, August 10th, 2015


As I said in June, Wally Bock is my hero.

The stuff he writes is loaded with common sense and practicality.

Best of all, his advice to bosses can be implemented at any level in an organization by individual bosses.

He’s also one heck of a writer, which, in my mind, moves him from gold to platinum.

I’ve added this post from last week to my collection of all-time favorites.

Minims for Bosses

Merriam Webster defines a “maxim” as “a well-known phrase that expresses a general truth about life or a rule about behavior.” Minims are different.

Minims aren’t well known. They don’t express a general rule about life. They’re not big important truths, just little things that will help you do a better job as a boss. Each minim is a one or two sentence distillation of a tip in my forthcoming ebook, Become a Better Boss One Tip at a Time. Here are a dozen.

  • The best way to “empower” competent and willing team members is to get out of their way.
  • Power isn’t something you bestow. It’s something you unleash.
  • Mistakes are the price you pay for better performance in the future.
  • Most performance issues are not self-healing. If you leave them alone, they will usually go from bad to worse.
  • Sugar-coating legitimate criticism robs it of nutritional value.
  • Creativity lives in those cracks in your schedule.
  • The example you set determines the behavior you get.
  • When you’re silent, you can listen and when you listen you can learn.
  • Distrust the abstract.
  • Most of your team members, most of the time, only need suggestions and informal direction.
  • If you mess up, fess up and fix it.
  • Great ideas are everywhere and the best way to find out if they work is to try them out.

As I said, clear, pithy, doable advice and, if you take a step back, solid common sense.

Of course, it only works if you’re willing to check your ego at the door and sit on your dignity.

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Success Sans Ego

Monday, June 29th, 2015


What is the secret to getting ahead?

According to Mike Curtis it’s pretty simple.

“Look for opportunities, and shed your ego.”

Curtis should know.

After high school, he was working in a coffee shop when a company called iAtlas Corporation opened across the street.

He pestered his way into an internship that included acting as receptionist and answering the phones.

When Alta Vista (the original search engine) acquired it he chose to move to California instead of starting college.

After a stint at AOL and another company he landed at Yahoo where he was lead engineer for Yahoo Mail, with a team of 200 and a 2-window office.

The reason he left offers yet more sage advice.

“Make sure that one day whatever company you join is working as hard for you as you are for it.”

He went from an executive position at Yahoo to Facebook’s bootcamp sitting next to interns and new grads, hence his advice to drop the ego.

Now he’s a VP at Airbnb.

Quite a career path for a guy who skipped college before it was fashionable and worked his way up.
Flickr image credit: Celine Nadeau

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If the Shoe Fits: the Cost of Distraction

Friday, March 20th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat happens when you create a fast growing business that has unicorn potential, but it doesn’t fit with your personal dream?

Do you pursue both?

That’s what Ben Nash did and almost destroyed PCS Wireless in the process.

Nash had always dreamed of being a real-estate mogul, while PCS Wireless bought, fixed and sold old cell phones.

Glamorous real estate or mundane phone reselling — which would you chase?

“I was running around the business world trying to find myself. I got distracted with ego and shiny things. I lost money in real estate, but losing money isn’t the problem. That’s a minor issue. I’ve always personally made money. The issue was my energy and focus was going to my other businesses and not to PCS.”

Nash didn’t get himself back on track, his team did.

About two years ago, the PCS executive team sat Nash down and gave him the “are we going to do this or not?” talk. (It’s “very important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” is how Nash describes his team.)

There are myriad distractions in life; everybody has them.

What’s important isn’t the distraction, but how you deal with it.

And how comfortable your team would be if it was necessary to sit you down for “the talk.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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A Response to Remember

Monday, February 23rd, 2015


Like most of you, I get a lot of email.

Maybe because I write not only this blog, but also creatively for clients, I tend to care about my responses.

The result is that every now and then I write something worth sharing beyond that email.

That’s what happened today.

A friend sent me an article.

My response was especially apropos considering the upcoming presidential election, which means months of being bombarded by candidates, talking heads, pundits, gurus, etc., on all forms of media.

That said, here is my self-described brilliant take on it.

Years ago there was one talking horse named Mr. Ed on TV. These days there are dozens of talking asses on all kinds of media.

Feel free to use it, although attribution is appreciated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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If the Shoe Fits: Be The Change…

Friday, February 6th, 2015

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

‘I have always felt that the fact that I’m a boss is just the way it happens to be, and the person who is my subordinate could be my boss in another universe. So I try to not have it be a social or class distinction and have it be just more a reporting and professional distinction.”Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounder/CEO/boss. Too many see their title/position, and the money that often goes with it, as something that sets them above others — better, smarter, better looking.

And they treat others accordingly.

Startup ego is out of control and those who write about it are mostly preaching to the choir.

What will change it is you.

You can change it by modeling Rothschild’s words in your own company.

By recognizing that anybody in any position can have good ideas.

By respecting all your people equally and listening to them,

By telling those who believe they are better that they aren’t.

By telling yourself, if necessary.

And by channeling Nike and just doing it.

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Ducks in a Row: Rigidity — Sources And Cures

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015


Is your boss rigid? Or maybe it’s your colleagues — or even you?

Rigid in action, thought or imagination?

Rigidity is a mental habit and, although often grounded in ego, often has as much to do with the corporate culture as with the individuals involved.

Openness is based on trust and if the people or the culture don’t foster trust then you should expect them to be ultra turf conscious, not interested in sharing, and prone to spending large amounts of energy fighting every new thing that comes along.

Twenty-somethings often regard rigidity as synonymous with age, but that’s a wildly inaccurate assumption and not born out by the facts.

While the age thing may play on the surface, it should be recognized that rigidity is present in all ages.

There are a lot of pretty rigid twenty- and thirty-somethings and no one in their right mind ever called a teenager flexible

If you have any doubts about this, try getting your twenty-something co-workers to approach a subject from any position other than the one they advocate.

Rigidity is not so much about doing it differently as it is about doing it ‘my/our way’ and that attitude has substantially worsened.

It seems that everybody has a group and while their group is OK, other groups, i.e., any that don’t agree with theirs, are rigid, inflexible and standing in the way of progress.

In many ways rigidity is a form myopia.

The cure is simple to state, but difficult to implement, because it requires truly honest self-appraisal, which is not something with which most people are comfortable.

The thing to remember is that there’s value to be found in most approaches and when that value is tweaked and/or merged with other methods the result is usually worth far more than the original.


For additional input and insights to being a boss, be sure to check out the March Leadership Development Carnival.

Flickr image credit: trombone65

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Entrepreneurs: a Tale of Two Billionaires

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/9229714799Chamath Palihapitiya grew up poor, became a billionaire, but found it wasn’t enough.

As a VC, he is building the kind of real legacy he wants by investing in companies like Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

Compare his attitude to billionaire Vinod Khosla, who blocked access to a previously public beach and now is ignoring a judge’s order to return public access.

Khosla’s actions even spurred passage of a new law that can use eminent domain to force a sale of the property.

Perhaps it’s time to follow an old Roman custom that was used to keep victorious generals’ egos in check; they were required to have a person in their victory chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

It’s definitely time to rewrite the adage, “money is root of all evil” to a more accurate “ego is the root of all evil.”

Flickr image credit: Jason Eppink

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Ducks in a Row: Empowerment Made Easy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


Want to empower your team (spouse, kids, friends, others)?

Try channeling billionaire Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce.com.

When someone shares a problem, skip the advice.

Ask leading questions instead.

The kinds that help the person think through the effects, reactions and repercussions of proposed actions/solutions.

Questions that don’t include what/why/when/how you would do whatever.

The secret isn’t the questions, it’s the fact that Benioff isn’t directing the answers, isn’t even interested in having an opinion and getting his way. He’s also not interested in solving the problem for his employee.

Leading questions sans ego help clarify both the question and the answer.

Amazing how empowering interaction with an authority figure can be when that person gets off their dignity and doesn’t need to vest their own ego in the solution.

Flickr image credit: Rich Anderson

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