Founders have a new, or should I say, back to the future, attitude regarding the success of their companies.
It can be summed up in one word: revenue.
While there are great examples and plenty of advice on generating revenue, as opposed to just growing users, I think these four lessons that Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, the eleventh hire at Salesforce.Com and its first CMO, learned from Marc Benioff are worth keeping front and center in your mind (details are at the link.).
Pitching is Listening.
Run towards big ideas, not away.
Never lose sight of your first principles.
Tear Up the Master Plan.
Based on my experience, founders, especially younger founders, will have the most trouble with the first and the third in the list.
Pitching is Listening: whether driven by passion, nervousness or fear, most founders want to push their vision, their product, their ideas to potential customers.
Marc is always testing his ideas, testing his strategy, testing his vision. Marc is always in a mindset to listen, to observe, to understand, and it’s this discipline that allows him to always be in touch with the marketplace. It’s easy for people in his position to get disconnected and fall prey to myopic thinking.
Never lose sight of your first principles: it takes thought and a solid knowledge of oneself to identify core principles. Unfortunately, taking the time and spending the energy on such an ostensibly esoteric goal seems to happen less and less these days.
Try searching “invest in yourself” and you’ll find that most talk about adding skills, exploring/developing your creativity and maximizing physical and mental health.
That’s all good, but if you truly want to invest in yourself then set aside time to know yourself, i.e., your values and basic principles; the intangibles that make you you.
It’s amazing to me, but looking back at 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.
A couple of years ago I cited research that showed how the vagus nerve connects your brain to your heart and that, like muscles, it needs exercise to stay strong; screen time weakens that connection. I also predicted that the research would fall on deaf ears if it fell at all. Sometimes I hate when I’m right, so here it is again. Read it carefully, share it with all your friends and then plan your own vagus exercise routine.
New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.
It’s not just a case of being distracted.
Your vagus nerve connects your brain to your heart and how you handle your social connections affects the vagal tone, which, like muscle tone, can improve with exercise and that, in turn, increases the capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.
In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.
Do I think this research will actually make a difference in people’s actions?
Even if the information becomes widespread I don’t think people would give up the instant gratification of being mentioned or conquer their FOMO and focus instead on quality face time.
It doesn’t seem a big deal right now, but look into the future at a world that doesn’t just lack connection and empathy, but is filled with people who aren’t even capable of it.
“Pancake people – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button”.
Psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the upcoming book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, recommends retraining your brain.
“Our brains are equipped to deal with the world the way it was many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Back then the amount of information that was coming at us was much less and it came at us much more slowly.”
“I deleted my Facebook account completely. I found it was just overwhelming me. I’m only on Twitter, I’m on SalesforceOne, which is my internal one for work, I’m on email, and that’s it. And I’m limited to that. I’m trying not to take on more stuff. I was with a friend this weekend, he’s got his Twitter, his Facebook, he has his Snapchat, he’s got all these – too much.”
Of course, part of the overload is work-related, but it’s amazing how much is pure trivia driven by FoMO and/or the need to impress by sounding knowledgeable about a twist in Game of Thrones.
You are the only person who can evaluate just how necessary your various information streams are sooner rather than later.
Because even the smallest stream adds to the river in which it is oh, so easy to drown.
Then you need gather your courage, follow Benioff’s lead and shut down the unnecessary streams.
If you’re old enough, like me, you remember when open offices for knowledge workers/professionals, i.e., cubicles, happened.
I dodged that bullet in 1980 when my company moved into new space and I got a private office, but only because of my hearing.
In those days, recruiters spent the day on the phone and, even with an amplifier, I needed quiet to hear my clients and candidates.
Everybody complained; nobody liked the bullpen/open office concept. It did not increase productivity.
Originally, the idea that noise equals energy was sold by restaurant designers.
Trendy places started using smaller tables and packing them more closely together. They eliminated sound absorbing items, such as carpeting, and adding more hard surfaces and louder music, which forced customers to talk louder, thus upping the decibel level even more.
The myth that eliminating walls boosted collaboration and creativity was sold by consultants, architects and office designers and eagerly bought into by management, primarily because it saved money — it’s a lot cheaper to build out no-wall office space.
And it became almost holy writ when discussing Millennials.
More than half of the employees complained about noise. The researchers found that Millennials were especially likely to voice concern about rising decibels, and to wear headphones to drown out the sound or leave their desks in search of quieter corners. Among the supervisors, 69 percent reported that their spaces had been laid out with noise reduction in mind; 64 percent had engineered the workplace to mute noise intruding from outside of the office, too.
After all, meaning is not made of lone facts, lone people, or lone disciplines, nor is it found in the valuing of the objective over the subjective. Rather, meaning comes by way of knitting together a bigger picture, filled with color and texture, and meant to be felt and understood. We most fully understand what we can internalize—that which becomes part of us. The importance of specializing can’t be discarded, but working only within one discipline and strictly adhering to its rules is likely only to generate one kind of work, one kind of result. (…)
Deep time is like deep water: We are constantly brought back to the surface, pulled by the wants and needs of the moment. But like exercising any sort of muscle, the more we access deep time, the more easily accessible it becomes, and the more likely we are to engage in long-term thinking. The more we embrace long-term thinking, the more ethical our decision-making becomes.
Her concept of deep time connected in my mind to HBS’ Jim Heskett’s discussion of deep thinking years ago — especially the comments. (Both are well worth reading.)
Do you notice the connection?
Both embrace silence sans distractions.
What happens when you shut off and shut out the noise of the modern world?
First comes fear; fear of the unknown that is yourself.
The fear fades as self-knowledge grows.
As it fades you see a spark; a spark that grows until it is a steady fire fueled by your own creativity.
A fire that warms you and from which you draw inspiration and ideas.
And, over the course of your life’s short version of deep time, wisdom.
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
Startup life, especially for founders, is notoriously fast-paced, with thinking time devoted to product development, funding, growth, funding, user acquisition, funding, hiring, funding, etc.
Add to that the need/desire to interact with family and friends, compulsion to keep up with social media and daily chores, such as eating, sleeping, bathing, etc. and many will say that carving out time for quiet reflection is a nonstarter.
That said, no thinking entrepreneur questions the enormous value of attending Steve Blanks annual Lean LaunchPad class — since it offers far more than any accelerator.
It’s the difference between buying fish and learning to fish — the latter provides a lifetime of value, while the former is short-lived.
Blank and his cohorts added a week to the course this year and the reason is of paramount importance — even to those not in the startup world.
This year we made a small but substantive addition to way we teach the class, adding a week for reflection. The results have made the class massively better. (…)
We realized that we had been so focused in packing content and work into the class, we failed to give the students time to step back and think about what they actually learned.
So this year we made a change. We turned the next to last week of the class into a reflection week. Our goal—to have the students extract the insights and meaning from the work they had done in the previous seven weeks.
Reflection — (in this context) a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration
Back in 2011William W. George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, found that making time for self-reflection was critical for anyone aspiring to a leadership role.
Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, “Why do I want to lead?” and “What’s the purpose of my leadership?”
The kind of thinking/reflecting recommended by both Blank and George can’t be done while scanning email, texting, listening to music or any of the myriad of distractions that constantly bombard you.
You need to set aside the time, turn off your devices and give yourself time to reflect and even do some deep thinking.
A growing body of neuroscience research has begun to reveal the exact ways in which information age technologies cut against the natural grain of the human mind. Our understanding of all kinds of information is shaped by our physical interaction with that information. Move from paper to screen, and your brain loses valuable “topographical” markers for memory and insight.
Although screens have their strengths in presenting information — they are, for example, good at encouraging browsing — they are lousy at helping us absorb, process, and retain information from a focused source. And good old handwriting, though far slower for most of us than typing, better deepens conceptual understanding versus taking notes on a computer — even when the computer user works without any internet or social media distractions.
In short, when you want to improve how well you remember, understand, and make sense of crucial information about your organization, sometimes it’s best to put down the tablet and pick up a pencil.
The work described was done by the Drucker Institute and is easy to try with your people.
The great news if you want to try unplugging is that the basic techniques are simple and free. Here’s an Un/Workshop-style exercise you can try on your own time, with your own team, in just a half-hour: Including yourself, get six or more of your colleagues together. Divide yourselves into two or more small groups. Give each group one piece of paper with a single question printed on it: Who is our customer?
Depending how young your team is you may incur some minor costs — like the need to shop for paper and pencils and possibly explain how to use them.