Quote from a talk by Herschel Walker at Copart’s annual Global Leadership conference
“To get there you have to work
To stay there you still have to work”
In early March 2012, I decided to write at least one blog post per day for the whole month. How did I do? 29 posts in 31 days. I should acknowledge that I cheated a bit :), by blogging two posts in a day, but scheduling them to be published in different days.
My learning from the month long exercise?
Let’s see, how long I can keep it up.
And no.. this is not an April fools joke :).
In the fortune magazine, there is a section (and for the life of me.. I cannot seem to find it online and I just cleared my dining table of all the back issues of the magazine 🙁 ) on how business leaders see trends in real life and than make judgements on where the economy is headed. For example, if someone sees a starbucks they visit regularly become more busier than normal, that person judges that the economy is doing well.
I judge good talent (think sysadmin, dba, programmer, application engineer etc) in a somewhat similar fashion. I should note that this system is not perfect, but it seems to have worked out more than not for me so far. I judge their talent based on what browser and how they use it.
Ever see a person who has multiple browsers (not tabs) open and is doing a specialized task in each one of them? Their home screen is usually set to a specialized search engine (blekko, duckduckgo, wolframalpha) and they have add-ons that block ads and show them a variety of information of the site they visit. These are usually the best folks to have on your team. These are the folks that you want your systems designed by.
This group tends to either use firefox or chrome. Has Google as their home-page and know how to use multiple tabs. Yeah.. sorry, I a browser discriminator :). Since there can only be a few rock stars in the world, you should consider yourselves lucky if most of the members in your team belong to this group.
Ever see someone, whose homepage looks like Google but is not.. And has a bunch of “toolbars” that take up 1/3rd of the screen. And has popups showing up randomly? Yep.. these are the folks you don’t want touching your code. Even with a 10 foot pole.. no sir.. Having these folks move to firefox and/or chrome doesn’t help the situation either :).
Just read a really nice article on the Harvard Business Review by Walter Isaacson on leadership lessons of Steve Jobs at http://hbr.org/2012/04/the-real-leadership-lessons-of-steve-jobs/ar/pr . There were a lot of points that Walter makes in the article, but the one that resonated a lot with me was the need to “Stay Hungy.. Stay Foolish“. This is similar to having a “hacker mentality”, which I believe is one of the key ingredient for a person to be successful (professionally and personally).
Being a hacker means..
Innovation doesn’t come out of love, but from hate
Brian Brushwood, quoting Penn and Teller in the 327th episode of TWIT (~1:21 hour timeframe). He goes on to say how, if you love something, you can only create a pale imitation of it (say a show or piece of art). But if you hate something, you create something that is better than the object you hate.
Nope… I am not too late to get on the “cloud” bandwagon :). I started writing this post in Dec 2009 and here’s a screenshot of my drafts to prove it
And I have finally decided that it is time to complete the post and publish it.
I change laptops every 6 months or so and a lot of my friends ask me how I manage to swap them so quickly and yet stay productive. I am sure a lot of you can relate to this. It usually take a month or so to get your workstation to a “state” that you feel comfortable with and are productive. Here are the tricks/tools I use to make the switching of a laptop/desktop to be a no-brainer activity. And I utilize the “cloud” heavily for this.
I adhere to a couple of simple rules to make sure I can be productive anywhere, even in situations, where I don’t have my workstation with me.
With these principles in mind, here are the services I use..
ON-LINE STORAGE :
ONLINE PRESENCE :
One of the virtues of a high performance team is that they take the time to fix “problems” and allocate energy to improving themselves. And we also know that most of the people we speak with say “they are overloaded” and cannot complete their day job itself. Forgot about spending that extra time to fix “problem”. So how does one develop a team that can not only do their day job but continue to improvise? Here is a game plan, I developed over the last few years that I have been managing people. It is data driven, and while it is not perfect, it helps out :). And the only tool I use is a simple spreadsheet.
STEP 1 : The beginning
Evaluate (make a list of) the services being offered by the team. You need to have an good understanding of what your team is providing to your customers. This will not only help you understand what is critical, but also provides insight into services you can cut (not your core competency). This is how stage 1 looks like in the spreadsheet.
STEP 2 : Identify the SME
Now that you know what services are being offered by the team, identify a SME (Subject Matter Expert) for each service. This is the guy/gal that knows this area in an out. If you don’t have a SME, take a resource that you know has the potential and make them the SME. Once I identify the SME, I make it very clear to them that they own that particular area and the entire team depends on them for support. This helps in creating ownership and professional pride. At this stage the spreadsheet looks like this
STEP 3 : Backup
Things get interesting from here. You know what you are offering and you have a SME for each of those offerings. If you get to this stage, you are probably already better than 50% of the workforce (note : This is my personal statistic :).. ). At this point, I speak with the SME and give them a simple task.
With the backups in place, my team is probably better than 75% of the workforce. Not only do we have a SME, but we have a backup to them. I think it is futile to have the backup resource know everything about a particular service offerings. There are always going to be SMEs and no matter how hard you try there will be some knowledge that is never going to get transferred (willingly or unwillingly). That’s the reason, I concentrate on the most common activities. The spreadsheet keeps evolving :).
STEP 4 : Nirvana (Backup to the Backup)
This is where you start to become a high performance team. Have the SME and the backup identify another resource in the team to be added to their “group”. If the SME has documented the top 3 activities and trained his backup by now, I ask him/her to document the next 3 activities and train both the backup resources. At this stage, you will start to notice something amazing
If you have come to this stage, consider yourself a hero :). As the Marines say, you have joined the ranks of “The Few and the Proud” 🙂 . By now the spreadsheet gets pretty colorful.
Based on the size of your team, you can continue to add backups to the SME. I try to get to a state where the entire team can do 70% of the activities and we need a SME for only 30% of the activities. Why this 70/30 ratio? Because I think that is an easily achievable (but not something most of the teams do) target and anything over that is counterproductive. i.e. you are trying to get the SME spend so much time to share the last 30% percent that they might not have time for the original reason for setting up the backups (i.e. to give time to the SMEs to improve the services).
Any suggestions on improving this?
Eric Reis‘ defintion of a startup
A human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty
In other words, you don’t really need to work at a startup or out of a garage to be an entrepreneur. You can do the same thing in a typical corporate setting.
BTW.. check out this very cool conversation between Leo Laporte and Eric at
A couple of weekends ago, I had to buy some tablets for work. So I stopped by the trusty neighborhood microcenter and told the salesguy that I wanted to buy 3 iPads. The guy says “hmm.. I don’t know if I can do that, you see, we restrict each household to one iPad because there is so much demand”. I think.. fair enough and go on to tell him that I actually need to purchase a total of 9 tablets. 3 iPads and 6 Android tablets. Assuming that he will understand I am not your typical household, but a business. He goes into the “back room” to confirm with his supervisor and comes back saying.. a policy is a policy, we cannot do it. At this point, I am a bit ticked off.. I mean, don’t these guys want to actually sell these devices. I am on my way out to find another store and see a “manager” walking the aisles. I stop him and explain the situation, assuming he would be smarter and have the authority to “break” policy. Again no luck.. the guy kept repeating,”it is our policy to restrict each household to one iPad!!!”. Totally missing the point that I want to buy 6 more Android tablets too!!
I go to the competition across the road, TigerDirect and tell the first sales person that I need to buy a total of 9 tablets, 3 of them being iPads. The guy says “hmm.. we restrict iPads to one per household, but let me check with my manager”. The manager stops by assesses, the situation and “breaks” the policy and approves the purchase. I walk out with 9 tablets under my arms and making TigerDirect a couple hundred dollars richer (hopefully!! 🙂 )
Same policy in two different stores, but the fact that the manager in TigerDirect was able to asses the situation and go against the policy was a win-win situation for both the customer and his company.
Morale of the story? Hire good people and give them the authority to make decisions. Good things will follow :).
You know, you are working at a cool company, when one of your favorite podcast mentions it in the show :). Check out the September 19th episode of Tech News Today and Tom speaks about how Gogo is going to improve the speed of in-flight Internet access by 4 times.
BTW.. if you want to work at a company that is changing the industry (of in-flight access and entertainment).. we are hiring :).