Simplify your To Do List (part 2)

Struggling with a 5-page To Do list? Wondering where to start? How to prioritize? The list often turns into a blur of competing priorities, and it’s overwhelming to look at it all at once. Here’s a trick: pick a theme for the week.

In my last post about To Do lists, I talked about how people get stuck looking at the same To Do items week after week, and how to fix that. This post focuses on how to make sense of the sheer volume of possible things to do as an entrepreneur.

Stacks of food, etc.
Continue reading “Simplify your To Do List (part 2)”

Want a great exit? Build a great culture.

Asked about the importance of culture in making an acquisition, he didn’t hesitate for a second. Guido Jouret, Cisco’s CTO of Emerging Technology, said “We pass on acquisitions if the culture isn’t right. If it isn’t right, nothing else matters.”

Jouret is responsible for incubating Cisco’s future billion-dollar businesses, so I asked him after he gave the keynote at last week’s Plug and Play Expo what he thought the critical qualities in a startup’s culture that he looked for in acquisition. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d rattle off four things instantly…

Continue reading “Want a great exit? Build a great culture.”

Applause for Twitter CEO Transition to Co-Founder

I was reading the TechCrunch article about the Twitter founder Evan Williams who stepped down as CEO this week, moving former COO Dick Costolo into the role of CEO. Evan Williams, a member of the founding team, played the role of CEO from 20 employees to 300, and 1.25 million Tweets per day to 90 million per day. Both of those are approximately 10x multiples. Evan has been CEO for two years, since Oct 2008.

Growing a company from 20 people to 300 means you’ve grown through the milestone of 100-120 employees. As a founder, this is right around the time that you you start to see people in the halls, and wonder if they work there, or are just visiting. Before that point, you likely recognize pretty much everyone. It also means that if you averaged out the hiring, a new person has been joining the Twitter team every other workday throughout those two years. That’s fast! Continue reading “Applause for Twitter CEO Transition to Co-Founder”

Simplify your ToDo list (part 1)

I’m mostly agnostic about how people track their To Do list, and I’ve seen nearly every system work and fail: walls full of post-its, whiteboards, online calendars, iPhone apps, GTD, handwritten paper lists, index cards, and Excel spreadsheets. In general, the system that works for people is the system they’re willing to commit to and use regularly, and nearly anything will work. For entrepreneurs who are having trouble juggling all of their responsibilities and commitments, I tend to track their major commitments week after week, so that we can notice patterns in what is getting done, and what isn’t.

In a typical week with no major emergencies, several of the items on the list will be finished, or at least be off to a good start. But, there are often a few items that linger on someone’s to do list for several weeks or even months. When that happens, the client and I do some detective work to figure out what’s going on. Continue reading “Simplify your ToDo list (part 1)”

Pivoting Toward Work You Love

I really enjoyed Tiny Buddha‘s latest post about her journey toward meaningful work. It’s about the paradox of wanting to find “the perfect job”, while being afraid that it might not be possible to get paid for doing what you love.

What struck me is the phrase “the perfect job”, and along with it, the idea that there is one ideal job for each person, and when you find it, you’re done. I think the truth is exactly the opposite; given the number of decades most people are going to spend working, replacing the “ideal job” with a series of well-considered experiments and pivots seems like it will serve most of us way better. It also takes the pressure off of getting it right the first time, and lets people notice what they love or don’t about a particular type of work. Continue reading “Pivoting Toward Work You Love”

Burning Man: Meaningless Debauchery or Entrepreneurs in Training?

This post is a bit of a diversion from the normal fare. I took a quick ramble out to Burning Man for my 12th visit (my first was in 1996). In previous years, I’ve gone in a custom boxvan tricked out to carry motorcycles, an Airstream, a 16-ft geodesic dome, and an 18-foot truck chock-full of projects and comforts; this was the most minimal ever: I slept in the rented SUV I came in, and brought only a cooler, a costume box, a kitchen box, a rug to set stuff on, and a great pal. We stayed from Monday am to Wednesday afternoon, long enough to ramble around a bit, interact with friends and fellow travelers, and then scoot back to Reno for a hot shower. Minimum viable Burning Man!

Pre-dawn Drive past Pyramid Lake

I am on several mailing lists where folks talk about Burning Man every year, and there is usually a lot of discussion from jaded Burners saying “it will never be as good as my first year/last year”, or “it’s just a huge wild party”, or “why don’t these people spend their time doing something useful?!?”  For the record, there is plenty of partying and debauchery during the event, and anyone who tells you different is LYING, or at best only selectively paying attention.

Burning Man used to be a rite of passage of sorts for Bay Area software developers; most of the engineers I worked with at Critical Path went every year back in 1997-2000. We actually delayed our initial product launch so that most of the engineering team could go – I convinced the CEO that it would be suicide to launch right before the core team left for a week (this was back in the pre-PlayaNet days when you were actually out of touch there, rather than checking your email on your iPhone from your camp). So, it has lots of history for me…

Continue reading “Burning Man: Meaningless Debauchery or Entrepreneurs in Training?”

Scoble on Happy Startups: No Assholes

I was at the Chomp Tastemakers party this week, and ended up chatting with @Scobleizer about Startup Happiness.  My question to him was: “What makes a happy startup?”  He didn’t even pause to take a breath before he answered emphatically “No assholes!”

Chatting with @Scobleizer at Crunch Tastemakers

Robert Scoble talks to founders and CEOs all the time, so he’s working from a huge set of sample data, in addition to his own personal experience. He explained that once you have even one asshole working at your company, it introduces politics in a way that wasn’t there previously. We didn’t drill down into the definition of asshole, but from my experience, an asshole is either someone who is more interested in their own personal success than in the success of the company and their colleagues, or someone who makes mean-spirited attacks on others, or both.

Assholes introduce the concept of “blame” at a company. If you know that you are in danger of being blamed for making a mistake, then it introduces a whole new level of anxiety into decisionmaking that is counterproductive. Of course you want people to make the best choices they can, and take the responsibility very seriously, but knowing that you can pitch an idea, and have it be wrong, or try doing something and fail, and still be accepted as a valued member of the team is one of the things that encourages the innovation and creativity that is the lifeblood of entrepreneurs and startups.

If all of the people on the team are focused on being succeeding *together*, then it matters a lot less who had the idea that worked, or that didn’t work. They have the shared belief that we’re all in this together, if we made a mistake, then we need to improve the process of making decisions, but not so-and-so is individually responsible, and therefore they’re a bad person.  An asshole has the belief that there is someone we can find to blame for this, and it’s worth spending the time and energy to do so. They are thinking about the team in a completely different way!  And they are interested in convincing other people that their belief is right…

Also, an asshole makes it dangerous to take responsibility for making a mistake. Here, I’ll lean on Agile software development as an example. Agile has the concept of weekly sprints, where a team bites off a chunk of work, mows through as much of it as they can, and then have an end-of-interaction review when it’s done. The end-of-iteration review is a chance to look at what went well, and what went wrong. It’s often a time when someone will step up and say “well, I thought that doing XYZ would work really well, but when we went to do it, it turned out to be not such a good idea after all. Next time I’d do it differently.”

Agile software development allows the team to discuss mistakes and learn from them. But if there is even *one* asshole who is part of an end-of-iteration review, then it’s no longer safe to admit you made a mistake, because you that the asshole on the team is either going to lambast you in the moment for doing it wrong, or stockpile the information to use against you and ding your credibility in a future meeting. What happy startups have is a culture of trying new things, assessing what worked and what didn’t, and making constant improvements. An asshole that’s lurking on your team is going to wrench that process so it’s less effective, or perhaps not even possible.

The best way to avoid this is to not hire assholes in the first place. Your hiring process should include ways to assess how an individual works on a team, how they think about decisions and mistakes, and interviews with people they’ve worked with. When I was at Critical Path, a crucial part of the late-stage hiring process was for me to take the candidate to a long dinner. I could tell fairly easily at the end of a few hours of social time what someone’s worldview was, and I wasn’t willing to hire someone who I didn’t trust deeply and enjoy on a personal as well as professional level. Life is too short to spend working with assholes!

We’re not all lucky enough to start from scratch building a team; sometimes we inherit the people we work with. But having zero tolerance for these behaviors on your team will go a long way toward making a great work environment.

In a perfect world, it would be easy to confront someone who is acting like an asshole, and change their behavior. In reality, some people are open to change, and will respond to a conversation with a manager, or work with a  coach, and some people are not interested in changing, and will need to be let go. A great leader is willing to invest the time and energy to find out which is which, and to fire an asshole who is unwilling to change. If you allow assholes to remain on your team without any intervention, you are risking the very culture of innovation and collaboration that you’ve worked hard to foster.

Many managers have an excruciatingly hard time confronting bad behavior. They hope that a problem will just go away on its own, or that other team members won’t notice, and won’t be affected by it. But the long-term ROI of having a team with no assholes is ridiculously high. The best and brightest people in our industry (like Robert Scoble!) have a very low tolerance for working with assholes. Your most valuable asset as a leader is a high-functioning team of A+ performers. If you spend the time and energy to insure that this behavior isn’t tolerated, then you have a much higher likelihood of building and keeping the A+ team that you’ll need to succeed.

Dry Erase Girl Demonstrates Why the Age of Open Leadership is Here

One of the news stories circulating on the Internet today is about a girl who quit her job as an executive assistant, and outed her boss as a sexist Farmville addict (story here). She now has a Facebook page that’s asking fans to nominate her to be a Playboy model, which makes me wonder if the story is a hoax, or if she’s just capitalizing on the viral nature of her whiteboard photo series and really did quit. (Update #1: My friend Andy points out that the FB page is created with an edited photo from the original site, so anyone could have created it. Update #2: AllThingsD says the entire stunt is a hoax).

The two primary things she “outs” about her manager is that he’s sexist (he calls her a HOPA, or “hot piece of ass” on the phone), and that he spends 19.7 hours per week on Farmville, in addition to time spent on Scottrade (4 hrs) and TechCrunch (5.3 hrs).  We don’t know that any of this is true; although the fact that she wrote it on a whiteboard and stood in the photos makes it *feel* far more credible.  We’re used to doubting words more than pictures.

Humor is one of the things that makes lots of stories enticing to circulate, but this has something else that makes it fascinating: a subordinate standing up to her boss in a very public way about his (alleged) bad behavior. She supposedly uses monitoring software that was already running on all the computers in the office to track his website use, and then email to insure that her story will arrive in everyone’s inbox before the boss had a chance to do anything about it. Kind of brilliant, if what you want to do is burn your boss and expose yourself as someone who puts your own interests above your company’s.

(warning: Mad Men spoiler ahead) Most companies would toss her resume as soon as they connected her with this stunt. And 60 years ago, this kind of thing would have seemed pretty much inconceivable. When Don Draper sleeps with his assistant on a recent episode of Mad Men, you never think for a second that she’ll write about that experience, photocopy it, and put it on everyone’s desk for them to read in the morning.

But nowadays, there may be companies that would consider her chutzpah and creativity to be an asset. Will someone end up hiring her *because* she created something viral? To me, her getting hired because of this seems more likely to happen now than it would have 10 years ago. Social media has made information sharing more free, and it may make the punishment for this type of sharing less harsh – the jury’s out. In fact, I notice that the comments on TheChive are trending generally in favor of her choice, with a smattering of further sexist comments, and a few negative ones (although one presumes that there are less leaders leaving comments than rank and file employees).

All this made me think of @CharleneLi‘s book “Open Leadership“. The thesis of the book is that information about your company, your employees, and your customers is going to continue to be more and more public, whether you’re excited about that, or not. The first chapter is called “Why Giving up Control is Inevitable”, and the first bullet point in the New Rules is “Respect that your customers and employees have power.”

I’m thinking that this exposes one of guiding principles that makes happy startups: their leaders behave with integrity, even when they think no one’s watching.  That doesn’t guarantee that leaders always do the right thing, or even that they never play Farmville. (Everyone likes to blow off steam, and maybe Farmville is the new golf?)

But the behavior of leaders is more important than ever, because in addition to the staff watching, there are more and more ways for people to share information widely and anonymously. Mark Twain said “Dance like nobody’s watching”, but I’d add to that “Lead like everyone’s watching”.