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Golden Oldies: Vested Self-interest In Action

Monday, December 12th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

To truly understand this post, you need to click the link and read the original explanation of VSI. VSI isn’t particularly original, but it is rarely called that — people prefer nicer or more professional sounding euphemisms. And that’s OK; I just prefer to opt for clarity and simplicity — which is why I’m considered too blunt.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

vsi-successTuesday I shared my version of VSI, the main ingredient in motivational sauce, and today I want to tell you a story about how it works.

Earlier this year I was working with a client, Jim, on various management approaches, such as offering good feedback and open sharing of all information, i.e., not dribbling it out over multiple requests, that he wanted to integrate into the company culture. During the conversation he asked me “What can I do to open the minds of some of my managers?”

Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do to force a person to change the way they think, but there is much you can do to encourage it. I honestly believe that the fastest, as well as the most potent, way to encourage change is good old VSI.

I used to believe that people had to perceive the need for change before they could change, but based on experience I’ve found that if they see benefits to themselves from doing things differently they will start moving in that direction and the results can be almost surreal.

Jim had a manager who was known for making his people come to him constantly to get the information necessary to do the work they were assigned. His attitude/actions resulted in higher-than-normal turnover in his group, but he insisted that he wasn’t doing anything and people could get the information at any time, so there was no correlation.

Using VSI, Jim and I worked out a two-prong approach to change his behavior.

  • 20% of his annual bonus was tied to reducing his group’s turnover by 30% (which would bring it in line with the company as a whole); and
  • Jim started doing to the manager as he did to his group by forcing him to come and ask and then dribbling out the information he needed to meet his targets.

Part of the manager’s reaction was straightforward—he grumbled a bit about the retention bonus. But the surreal part was in his reaction to the information plug—nothing, not a word or an action to acknowledge what was going on.

However, he must have noticed, because within days of it starting he was giving more complete information to his people.

Not all at once and not very graciously, but he loosened his hold on the information flow, so did Jim. If the manager backtracked Jim tightened up and the manager learned that to get he had to give.

At first, his people were cautious, not really trusting the new openness, but after about a month the results started and after six weeks they took off like a rocket—productivity and retention zoomed north, while grumbling and discontent headed south and on into oblivion.

But the surreal part is that, in spite of his people commenting publicly on how differently he was handling assignments, meetings, etc., to this day the manager claims that nothing changed and certainly not him.

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

Entrepreneurs: Words of Encouragement

Thursday, August 11th, 2016


I only have time for a quick note before my plane lands, but I wanted to share two quotes that have helped me keep going in rough times.

The first is something we all know from our own experience, but it always helps to hear it from “names” who have already pushed through and succeeded.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe. — Sumner Redstone

The second is something that every entrepreneur will swear to, although it would be nice to have summer vacation as we did while actually in school.

There is no education like adversity. –Benjamin Disraeli

Judging from these words of wisdom, I will be phenomenally well educated by the time Quarrio is a huge success.

Plane’s landing; back to work.

Golden Oldies: Do You See the Hole or the Whole?

Monday, December 14th, 2015

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time. Read other Golden Oldies here


When you evaluate a task or project to you see the whole or the hole?

Most people are adept at seeing the hole, i.e., what needs to be added in order to succeed. What’s missing can include scope, skills, resources, etc.

Unlike donuts, holes don’t enhance your projects. Being sure the hole is filled is important, but it’s also difficult to fill it if you don’t also see the whole.

The whole is the overview of how that particular project fits into the larger picture. Understanding that helps you to identify and address the entire hole, so you don’t end up having to go back and fix the part of the hole you missed or, worse, move on leaving an unnoticeable hole that turns into a sinkhole down the road.

Seeing the whole means taking time to understand not just your own position/area, but the functions of those around you and how they all interact, your company’s competitors and trends in your market.

More work? Yes.

A pain in the wazoo? Yes.

The benefits to you, your team and your company? Priceless.

 image credit: sxc.hu

Entrepreneurs: Pay Attention — Or Not

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Have you ever considered that the comments and musings of so-called influencers and thought leaders carry more weight than they should.

Insider anecdotes from tech often show just how wrong those at the top can be.

Steve Jobs didn’t believe anyone would buy big phones.

Or the mindset of Jim Clark, as revealed by Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing, a book about the tech industry in the late ’90s.

“At the end of The New New Thing, Jim Clark, who has made a fortune out of the internet bubble, says he’s getting out because he’s scared. Why’s he scared? Kleiner Perkins, the VC firm, has given $25 million to this startup called Google, which he thinks is outrageous. Why would anyone give $25 million to Google? A search engine is just a commodity, everybody knows that, it’s a silly name.”

There are always experts who will tell you why whatever won’t work.

I’m not recommending that you just ignore or dismiss them.

What I am saying is that you need to take everything with a grain of skepticism and not buy it because of who says it.

Flickr image credit: MSLGROUP Global

Ducks in a Row: An (Almost) Foolproof Formula for Success

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015


Is there an eternal answer to the eternal question of ‘what should be learned/done to make oneself promotable’?


The answer was recently expounded upon by Xin Li, a Staff Software Engineer At Google, in response to a question posed on Quora.

I work at Google Mountain View.  Here, if your base salary is around 200K, you are most likely a Staff Software Engineer.  The defining characteristics at that level are:

  1. Go beyond being a technical expert to also being a domain expert.  You need to know what should be done, rather than just how things can be done.
  2. Be an owner.  The buck stops with you.  If something goes wrong with your part of the product, it’s ultimately your responsibility, even if the mistake wasn’t made by you.
  3. Work for your people, rather than have your people work for you.  That is be the one to volunteer to take on the tasks others don’t want to do.  Your job is to make your people look good.  Give them the opportunity to grow professionally, and support them where they need it, and clear obstacles for them, so they can be at their best.
  4. Be a leader and a consensus driver.  Real world problems don’t have cookie cutter solutions, and not everyone will agree on what the right solution is. You need to have a vision, work across teams, and bring people together, resolve differences.
  5. And of course you still need technical chops.  You need to be good at technical system design.  Be able to create an architecture that is as complicated as it needs to be, but no more, and no less.  It needs to serve the requirements of today, while robust enough to be extensible a few years down the road.

If you want to get to this salary level as a software engineer, I think the requirements are fairly similar everywhere.  As you can see, these requirements have less to do with any particular language you may or may not choose.  Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.

Xin Li’s response specifically addressed a software career path, but is universally applicable.

“Focus on delivering value for your employer, and the rest will follow.”

That’s as close to a guaranteed formula to drive success in any career that I’ve ever seen.

Best of all, it’s never too late to start.

Flickr image credit: Chad Sparkes

If the Shoe Fits: Understanding the Gender Fuss

Friday, July 31st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThis post is for all the male founders out there who don’t understand the fuss about diversity, especially gender diversity.

After all, why bother finding female talent when it’s so much easier to find male talent?

What difference does it really make? (click “Resources”)

Venture-backed companies with females as founders or executives are more likely to go public, turn a profit or be sold at a steep price (source: DowJones)

Globally, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and return on equity. (source: DowJones)

Download the Report

The difference is money, stupid; it’s the money.

Hat tip to KG for sending me the link.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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

Ducks in a Row: Living Your Own Life

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015


Do you find today’s world a bit strange?

I do. Not because of the technology or breakthroughs, but because so many people are trying so hard to live someone else’s life or spending incredible amounts of energy trying to force others to live their way.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t; it’s their choice and doesn’t require my approval or opinion — unless they are trying to cram something down my throat that chokes me.

I neither need nor want the safe, curated world described yesterday.

I’ve screwed up many times in the course of my life; three had disastrous, long-range consequences, yet without them I wouldn’t be me — and I like me.

I realize that there are probably many versions of me that I would like; each a result of choosing a different fork in my path.

What I wouldn’t like would be to live with the desire to be someone else.

We look at public personas with no knowledge or understanding of what went into creating each one or even if they are real.

The dichotomy between the inauthenticity of craving or controlling someone else’s life and the talk of living an authentic life is often hard to swallow.

Geno Auriemma, Coach of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team summed it up very well in an interview.

“I’ve always been fascinated by people who care so much about what other people are and what they do in their personal lives,” he told a news conference. “Like, how small-minded do you have to be to care that much about what other people are doing? Life is hard enough as it is, trying to live your own life.”

No matter how wealthy there is someone with more money; no matter how beautiful or handsome there is someone who is better looking; no matter how brilliant there is someone who is smarter or just better uses what they have.

So, whether at work or personally, be proud to be you. No matter who you are or what you do you have a spark that no one else has.

Image credit: Frank Vassen

Ducks in a Row: Are You Privileged?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015


If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.

When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.

“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”

I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.

Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.

Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.

Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.

And therein lies the true problem.

Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.

Image credit: Dagny Mol

The Value of Validation

Monday, April 6th, 2015


Do you like hearing “you did good” or the appropriate equivalent when you accomplish something, whether large or small?

It’s safe to say that 99.9% of us do.

It’s called validation and it’s what takes our accomplishments out of our heads and gives them objective, real-world presence.

We measure our success based on our accomplishments, so outside validation has always been important.

Validation used to come came from our family, friends, bosses, colleagues — people we knew and who knew us.

Now people crave and seek validation from strangers they have never met and probably never will.

Society seems to have decided that recognition and approval from thousands via virtual communities and soulless apps have more value than the same from flesh and blood people.

Personally, I find it very weird, but I guess it’s just one more thing that makes me a digital dinosaur.

Image credit: DonkeyHotey 

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