Why values? because otherwise, it’s all about money

“Values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot.” – Eric Ries

This was Eric Ries’ response earlier this month, when I asked him if he had any thoughts about company values. I love the mental picture this creates; of a team with one foot planted so solidly in their values that they can use that as an anchor when making a decision about where to go next when they realize that customers don’t love their product, or when their business model isn’t working.

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Agile & Lean Self Development at Quantified Self Conference 2011

Today Dale Larson and I will be giving an Ignite! talk and workshop about Agile/Lean Self Development at the Quantified Self Conference.

The idea of Quantified Self is that you take ongoing measurements about things that you’re interested in knowing more about, and changing, like sleep, diet, exercise, and mood (aka self-tracking). Software developers are notoriously interested in improving and optimizing things (not just code!), and many QS’ers seem to have a background in computing.

I’ve spoken before (at SxSW 2011 with Dinah Sanders) about Agile Self Development. We’re excited about repurposing the vast, rich body of tools and methods called Agile Software Development, and using it to help people improve themselves. At SxSW, we had a lively chat with a few hundred attendees about how to get the most out of the conference. Out of that experience, Scott Pierce (who attended the talk), started an Agile Self Development group in Birmingham that hosts a daily standup, and has made tremendous progress in moving toward goals.

Recently we attended Eric Ries’ second Startup Lessons Learned Conference, which focuses on the concept of the Lean Startup. A Lean Startup is an organization that is optimized for creating the most validated customer learning in the shortest amount of time. It’s a new-ish concept, only a few years old, but it’s gathering steam quickly in the startup world. They use the mandate: “Build, Measure, Learn”. They start by assuming that you don’t know anything until you get out of the building and come into contact with real customers, and the most learning comes when you put product in their hands. Releasing an early beta in weeks is better than building a product in “stealth mode” for years before unleashing a well-polished, ready-to-scale flop.

We are hoping that the QS community will find the tools in Agile Software Development and Lean Startup communities to be useful in conducting experiments and creating change; we think that it’s a great place to borrow from. Some useful concepts from this body of knowledge are:

We are curious to hear if anyone is already using Agile or Lean Startup methodologies in their Quantified Self projects. Please find us at the conference, or send us a tweet! @marcyswenson @dalelarson

Postscript: looks like Thomas Christiansen is using Agile and QS on a project related to allergies; more info at <a href="MyMee.

6 Steps for using Agile Self Development

Agile Self-Development is a lightweight methodology for personal development that is a reaction against all-or-nothing goals and resolutions. It lets geeks repurpose Agile tools and methodologies with which they may already be familiar.

Dinah Sanders wrote a lovely Agile Self-Development Manifesto that really resonates with me:

  • Increasing individual flow using whatever works over adherence to a system
  • Quality of life over quantity of achievement
  • Simplicity over complexity
  • Responding to change over following a script

BSP: Dinah Sanders and I are hosting a core conversation about Agile Self Development at SXSW, on Saturday, March 12th, at 11am in room Rio Grande B at the Marriott Courtyard, 300 East 4th Street (half a block from the northwest door to the convention center).

When I start working with a new coaching client, they often arrive with a massive list of everything that they want to accomplish in their work and their life. Desires are limitless! This situation reminds me of a CEO who is hungry for every single feature in a software product to be implemented immediately. So how to begin? Here is what we do next:

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7 Principles of Startup Happiness (v 0.1)

We’re seeing a new type of entrepreneur starting companies lately; they are approaching their company culture with almost as much passion as the business idea itself, with the goal of creating the type of organization that they will be most happy being a part of.

Over the past several months, I’ve been working with my colleague and fellow business coach Dale Larson to try to describe this phenomenon. We’ve tested it out with a variety of entrepreneurs, VCs and journalists in meetings and at parties, and heard lots of yes. Here is our first formal presentation of these ideas.

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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.
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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…

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Wisdom Traditions in the Workplace?

I (foolishly) missed the Wisdom 2.0 conference in SF in May (next one is Feb ’11), but I watched some of the videos with fascination here. I think the explosion in current neuroscience research is going to show that the ability to sink into a state of focused attention (aka “flow”) at work yields great results, and meditation might be one of the vehicles that helps get people there. Tonight there was a meetup of a handful of the Wisdom 2.0 folks at Samovar in SF, so I set out into the fog…

Soren Gordhamer (@soreng) from the Fetzer Institute led the conversation, and it was a lively mix of people from Fetzer, the SF Zen Center (@latrippi), SFSU (@jonathanrood), CIIS, and a handful of independent folks that did everything from ethics consulting (@k8ethics) to programming.  Fetzer’s stated mission is “to help bring the power of love, forgiveness, and compassion to the center of community life” and the Wisdom 2.0 conference brings together technology leaders and people from wisdom traditions, to explore the intersection of the two.

Tonight’s conversation was about how wisdom and mindfulness can play a role in the business world, and how the avalanche of ever-changing technology causing endless distractions can coexist with practices like mindfulness meditation.

People were interested in research on how mindfulness/wisdom practices could be put to good use in the workplace, both by individuals, and by organizations, and in what ways those might be measurable.  In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the coaching profession 20-30 years ago – even though it was producing results that people felt good about, it wasn’t being measured in terms of ROI. Now there have been numerous studies on the ROI of coaching, it’s a provable win, and as a result, over 70% of the fortune 500 utilizes coaching for top performers. Will mindfulness follow the same path, initial brought in my early adopters who “know” it’s the right thing, but eventually the topic of whitepapers and research that prove its ROI to the skeptical COO’s who have to justify spending money on company-wide programs?

Another interesting topic was: do we introduce mindfulness practice into the workplace with a sort of “melting pot of wisdom traditions” background, including contemplative practices in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhist, Sufism, etc, or do we go the “vanilla” route of just saying it’s useful, and quoting all of the neuroscience literature, and leave the roots of these traditions behind in the workplace? When we brought yoga teachers to Critical Path in 1998 (before it was a must-have at tech startups), we screened for teachers who were less likely to talk about “exploring spirituality through yoga” and more likely to talk about “stretching your body to feel great,” and it worked just fine. A big victory was getting the folks from BizDev to come to the classes with the Development team. Some of us went on to explore the spiritual side of yoga once they got the moves down; I trained as a yoga teacher in 2002.

Finally, we talked about the ever-increasing level of interruption caused by Twitter, FB, mobile phones, and all of the other electronics that are becoming de rigeur (and I admit I took two phonecalls during the meetup, just to offer an example of the always-connected life). We wondered if Fetzer could play a role in aggregating the current studies about neuroscience and how brains, productivity, and happiness are affected by varying levels of connectedness. I’d like to see this done without making value judgements (at least not initially) about what level of connectedness is “best”, but rather how they generate differing abilities to focus, and to be proactive vs. reactive (or whatever else they are causing our brains to do).

All in all, a super-interesting evening. Looking forward to the next meetup at the end of August. Thanks to Fetzer Institute for buying us tea and snackies, and hosting a great conversation!