The Blog Revelations and Observations

Should we actively go for failure?

There’s a lot of talk about failure these days.

It’s such a strange word because no one actually wants to fail. I just experienced it this weekend. I found a new group of guys to play soccer, and man they were on a totally different level. I couldn’t keep up. Not only that, I let down my team when we lost because of a few plays I missed. I haven’t had that feeling since grade school – going home knowing I lost it for the team. It was so humbling.

But… the captain was able to show me a lot of what I was doing wrong and how to improve it.

There’s a lot of talk about failing in company culture these days. The only cultures that can sustain it are the ones that make it safe, share stories about failure and sometimes even “incentivize” it by creating funds for it in the form of hackathons or 20% time to innovate. Most importantly, they learn.

But here’s another way to think of it…

Elon Musk started his rocket company with a belief that they are very likely to fail, and yet, they did it anyway. Why? Because they’re inspired, and he said that even if they fail it will still move the industry forward.

Here’s a great test for if something is still worth it, even at the risk of failure.

1. If you know it will fail, is it still worth the journey?
2. If you know it will be 3x the amount of work you think it will be, is it still worth it?

If you say yes to these, it won’t matter if the (project, venture, product, company) fails. And you’ll most likely have a great story.

Don’t outsource your culture to HR.

Many CEO’s think that culture is HR’s responsibility. But the best leaders realize that they ARE the chief culture officers. 

Culture is people, and the best people can take on market changes, competition and shifts in product.

Steve Jobs called Apple (the company) his best invention.

Here’s the bottomline:

HR’s main job is to manage risk when it comes to personnel.  And culture work is about taking risks when it comes to empowering your people.

As a leader, is this really something you want to completely delegate and wash your hands from it?

Your people are not loyal.

Navy Seals are the best bed makers you’ll meet. They learn how to make beds to perfection as part of their training.  If it’s not perfect, then they have to do it over.   

But sometimes they will have do it over again, even if it is perfect. This drove some recruits mad – to the point that they quit. While those who stayed on, did as they were told. Even though it made no sense.  What better way to test true loyalty than to see if someone will follow command, even if it’s completely irrational.

And that’s the distinction.

If your people are truly loyal, they’ll do what you say, even if it doesn’t make sense.  But unless you’re in the Seals, it’s likely that your people won’t do this. They have agency. They have choice of where to work. If what you’re asking them to do makes no sense, then it will frustrate them and they’ll leave.

So perhaps the best thing you can do is drop that word, loyalty. And instead go for engagement. Share the why, allow people to push back. Or go even further – have them write up their job descriptions and their progression plans.

Number 1 rule is to co-create.

If you’re alone, and stressed out, you’re doing it wrong.

We Buy and Sell Time.

What business are you really in?

For Zappos, it’s:  “A a customer service company, that happens to sell shoes.”

Other businesses would come to visit our headquarters, hear that phrase and then have an epiphany…

“Oh! I’m in the business of making restaurant owners’ lives easier. I just happen to repair refrigerators.”

For Zappos Insights, we created a experiential belief changing company that happened to sell corporate training.

The more I do culture work, the more I realize that I (and many others) are in the business of buying and selling time.

Think about it…

Cars save you time in traveling. Netflix saved you time in going to the DVD store. Restaurants save you the time of making food, and Chipotle even saves you the prep time so you can eat immediately.

As technology advances, it saves us more and more time.  And advances in medicine and health give us more time on this planet.

This how businesses SELL time.

The same goes for culture work. Yes, it’s about vision, values, communication, leadership… but at the end of the day, all those things simply clear space to do what people are born to do.  Does anyone really want to have meetings, draft reports or work through obstacles?  No, we want to perform our unique talents.

Great culture clears the space and time to do so.

Here’s how, in three steps:

1. Clearing out the time wasters

This can be distractions, inefficient processes, and even certain people who need to leave.

2. Focusing on the core

With all that new time back, it can be easy to fill it back up with new distractions or shiny objects. Getting clear on vision and values is key to stay focused on the core people and core offers.

3. Gaining Leverage

Hiring more people means you are buying time.  More people means you can leverage whatever you’re doing, and servee more clients/customers. You can also off-load more and more that you don’t want to do.  The most efficient leaders are simply having fun everyday because they are master delegators.

This is (above) is businesses BUY time.

So ask yourself:

  1. How does my business save time or create time for people?
  2. What can I stop doing to create more time for myself?

PS – I love saving time with Get Magic (virtual assistants)

3 Conditions for Disruption

3 Conditions for Disruption

These are the conditions for disruption, and I’ll use Uber as the example.

A market is ripe for disruption when:

1. Existing solutions are far below satisfaction

And yet users tolerate existing offers because there is no alternative. Taxis are stereotypically old, smelly cars, with gruff drivers, and high friction payment systems that leave people itching to get out of them. Enter Uber… In dating, people literally say, “I hate this app” but continue to use it for lack of alternatives.

2. System Capacity is massively under-utilized

The basic exchange system of buyers/sellers, creators/consumers is completely inefficient. Before Uber, there were many cars going unused, and many riders who could use a ride, but didn’t want to deal with the hassle of calling a cab, and waiting for an unclear period of time for it to arrive. And there remains a massive number of people who want to take people out, and who want to be taken out.

3. Lack of Transparency, Progress and Control

Trust is created when we feel like we have the real information (e.g. driver reviews), a sense of progress (we see where the car is on the map), and a sense of control (we can cancel the ride if we want). In dating apps there is no accountability, little progress when it feels like there’s only swiping and texting. And very few controls to create and choose experiences.

Next I’ll describe how markets are disrupted.

It’s not the software

You’ve probably heard this one…

The story about the company that was so excited to bring in the new intranet software so they could finally get everyone on the same page, share knowledge, stay up to date and unify the company, and then… no one used it.

Something happened when we started using the word “Human Capital.” It used to be called “Personnel” – as in real people. But companies got so big that people became numbers. We then start to track them, count them and trade them like they’re any other resource. Just one of several cogs in the machine.

People are emotional, irrational, passionate and full of surprises.

Some will read that and be terrified by that statement.

Others will know that this is the source of innovation, fun and ingenuity that make work exciting and that enable us to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Now that more and more companies understand it’s all about the culture, along come all the people who think software can run the show. Graphs, numbers, input/output, dashboards….

“Ahh, I finally have the feeling that I’m in control of the people situation!”

Guess again.

To be fair, some visual tracking can be very helpful. Especially with simple elegant systems like NPS. But anything more than that comes with a few issues:

1. Survey fatigue

2. Nothing actually happening with the results of said surveys

3. The feeling that people are getting dehumanized

I saw a meme on Facebook that read, “Do you ever notice your successful friends are never posting inspirational quotes?”

In that spirit, have you ever noticed that the really successful cultures aren’t using complex systems to track how happy their people are?  When you’re clear on vision and values, and get the right people on board, people can create their own happiness.

Let’s get back to the basics.

In the spirit of the Mr. Rogers documentary that just came out:

“Life is simple and deep.

But we make it complex and shallow.”

-Fred Rogers

The culture of a great podcast

“The Medium is the Message.” – Marshall McLuhan.

Rogan has guests from the cultural zeitgeist, and he discusses current issues so the audience feels like they’re being educated (much the way people would get their news from the Daily show).

But I find his use of the medium the most compelling reason. Here are the factors:

1. LONG SHOWS
In the first episode I ever listened to, I heard Joe say, “This is it people, there’s no editing.” And I was pissed! I thought – Do me the favor. Edit this to the best parts so I can listen in 20 minutes. But now if it’s a good episode I’ll listen to the whole 3 hours. It feels like eavesdropping on a great conversation, as opposed to a lot of sound bites.

2. IN-PERSON
In comparison, Skype/phone podcasts feel really distant, especially if people have bad mics (or no mics).

3. STRONG ENVIRONMENT
Guests don’t go to a room, they got to Joe’s Disneyland – They see the archery range, the float tank, pool table, gym. You’re entering his world, and the guests have a great sense of wonder and respect going into it.

3. PREP TIME WITH GUESTS
While it’s not actual preparation, Joe spends time with them beforehand, talking or playing. So there’s a warm up (which all great athletes do). By the time they’re talking, they’re in the groove, unlike most podcasts, which start cold.

4. COMEDY AND IMPROV
He’s a great comedian, so he can make fun of anything. And he’s also conversing with the principles of improv – he listens really well and can riff on what anyone is saying. So there’s a flow to it. I feel ruined for other podcasts because they feel so rough in comparison. (Here is my own foray into standup comedy)

5. HAVING A LISTENER
This is a bit strange, but in the personal development space, programs like Landmark actually have people whose role it is just to listen. They’re holding space for a larger conversation. The producer “Young Jamie” on Joe’s show listens and brings in relevant information. It gives the show a 3D feeling whereas a two-person show feels flatter (think about it from a sheer physics stand point – It takes 3 points to create a stable plane whereas two points are inherently unstable).

I would recommend checking out the episodes with Jesse Itzler, and Steven Tyler.

One other show that does it well is “Anna Fariss is Unqualified” for many of the same reasons. Check out the episodes with Bert Kreisher and Mayim Bialik.

What are you leaving on the table?

I walked away from what I thought was the best meeting ever…

“Yes, we got everything we asked for!” I said.

We had just walked out of a meeting with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and he gave us all the resources we asked for to launch a new project.

My colleague said, “That’s not good.”

“What?! Why?”

“He didn’t say no to anything. What other support could we have asked for that we didn’t think of?”

Ohhh….

Such an interesting concept.

You don’t know that you’ve asked for too much until someone says “No.”

Many friends and colleagues have offered to help me. I rarely ask for it, but when I do, I get a Yes.

So now I’m wondering: What else is possible?  What am I leaving on the table?

What could you be asking for?
It’s amazing how often the response will be a simple, “Yes.”

Have you hired a ghost?

Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, helped me see the power of a good listener, who has the ability to influence conversation without even saying anything. He said, “You can tell who has that kind of power because if they look at their watch then the whole room.”  Their presence holds the space of the conversation.

Sometimes that’s a real person… The worldwide training company, Landmark Education, has someone listening to the leader just to hold space for the conversation.  I myself was the listener in the room when Dave recorded his audiobook. And I have noticed that the best podcasts seem to have a producer there in the room.

The eerie part, is you don’t even need a real person. Think that’s weird?

At Amazon.com they keep a chair open at meetings to represent the customer’s voice. How cool and weird is that?!  It’s like a ghost is there.

It seems like Walt Disney is still there when you hear the stories behind the scenes in Disney management and training. And if you can wrap your mind around this: Steve Jobs’ biographer said those close to him still speak of him in the present tense… What?!

And it hit me… Without getting into the beliefs, the world’s most well-known person may be the ghost of Jesus.

Let’s stick with the living ones, at least for now…

Do you notice who are the powerful listeners at your company?
What are they listening for?
What space are they holding?