“Powerful” notes

I highly recommend “Powerful” by Patty McCord as a very worthwhile read for anyone in leadership. Here are my notes from the book:

Leadership

  • Be ready at any moment to cast aside your plans, admit mistakes, and embrace a new course.
  • People have power; Don’t take it away. A companies job isn’t to empower people; it’s to remind people that they walk in the door with power and to create the conditions for them to exercise it.
  • The Netflix culture wasn’t built by developing an elaborate new system for managing people; we did the opposite. We kept stripping away policies and procedures.
  • Most companies are clinging to the established command-and-control system of top-down decision making which is in enormously costly, time-consuming, and generally unproductive.
  • This older approach to leadership clings to false assumptions about human beings: that most people must be incentivized in order to really throw them selves into work, and that they need to be told what to do.

Management

  • I’m going to challenge all of the basic premises of management today: that is about building loyalty and retention and career progression and implementing structures to ensure employee engagement and happiness. None of that is true. None of this is the job of management.
  • A business leaders job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That is it. That is the job of management.
  • If I could pick one course to teach everybody in the company, whether they’re in management or not, it would be on the fundamentals of how the business works and serving customers.

Transparency

  • We wanted all of our people to challenge us, and one another, vigorously.
  • We wanted them to speak up about ideas and problems; to freely pushback, in front of one another and in front of us.
  • We didn’t want anyone, at any level, keeping vital insights and concerns to themselves.
  • We (as an executive team) made ourselves accessible, and we encouraged questions.
  • We engaged in open, intense debate and made sure all of our managers knew we wanted them to do the same.
  • If people have a problem with an employee or with the way another department was doing something, they were expected to talk about it openly with that person, ideally face-to-face.
  • It was unacceptable to talk about people behind their back’s or to come to then to complain about a colleague.

Communication

  • We communicated honestly and continuously about challenges the company was facing and how we were going to tackle them.
  • People need to see the view from the C suite in order to feel truly connected to the problem-solving that must be done at all levels and on all teams.
  • If you stop any employee, at any level of the company, in the break room or the elevator and ask what are the five most important things the company is working on for the next six months, that person should be able to tell you, rapid fire, one, two, three, four, five, ideally using the same words you’ve used in your communications and in the same order.

Performance

  • We wanted everyone to understand the change would be a constant and we would make whatever changes of plan, and of personnel, we thought necessary to forge a head at high-speed
  • We wanted people to embrace the need for change and be thrilled to drive it.
  • We wanted people to feel excited to come to work each day, not despite the challenges but because of them.
  • It’s not cruel to tell people the truth respectfully and honestly.
  • The most important thing about giving feedback is that it must be about behavior, it also must be actionable.
  • Proactively letting people go was one of the hardest, probably the single hardest, component of the Netflix culture for managers to become comfortable with. But most of them did.

Behaviors

  • We did away with virtually all policies and procedures. We didn’t do it in one fell swoop. We did experimentally, step-by-step, over the course of years.
  • As we stripped away bureaucracy, we coached all of our people, at all levels and on all teams, to be disciplined about a fundamental set of behaviors.
  • It isn’t a matter of simply professing a set of values and operating principles. It’s a matter of identifying the behaviors that you would like to see become consistent practices and then instilling the discipline of actually doing them.
  • We fully and consistently communicated to everyone at Netflix the behaviors we expected them to be disciplined about and that started with the executive team and every manager.
  • We experimented with every way we could think of to liberate teams from unnecessary rules and approvals.

Culture

  • The company was like a sports team, not a family.
  • Creating a culture is an evolutionary process. Think of it as an experimental journey of discovery.
  • The best thing you can do for employees is hire only high performers to work alongside them. it’s a perk far better than Foos ball or free sushi or even a big signing bonus or the holy Grail of stock options. Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well understood deliverables: that’s the powerful combination.
  • When we were interviewing people, we told them straight out that we were not a career management company, that we believed people’s careers were theirs to manage, and that while there might be lots of opportunities for them to advance at the company, we wouldn’t be designing opportunities for them.

Teams

  • Great teams are made when every single member knows where they’re going and will do anything to get there.
  • Great teams are not created with incentives, procedures, and perks.
  • Great teams are created by 1) hiring talented people 2) who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge, and then 3) communicating to then, clearly and continuously, about what the challenge is.
  • There is no better reward for team members than making a significant contribution towards meeting a challenge.
  • Great teams are made when things are hard.

Hiring

  • You’ve got to hire now the team you wish to have in the future.
  • finding the right people is not primarily about “culture fit”. People can have all sorts of different personalities and be great fit for the job you need done.
  • When you hire someone and it turns out that they can’t do the job, the problem is with the hiring process, not the individual.
  • I decided to throw out the traditional recruiting practice and create a headhunting firm with in the company.
  • We focused on finding the best creative talent with the skills to execute, and then giving those creators the freedom to realize that vision.
  • We developed “new employee college”. For one whole day each quarter every head of every department would make an hour long presentation on the important issues and developments in their part of the business to an audience of our new hires.
  • At Netflix we had three fundamental tenants to our talent management philosophy. First, the responsibility for hiring great people. Second, for every job we try to hire a person who would be a great fit, not just adequate. Finally, we would be willing to say goodbye to even very good people if their skills no longer matched the work we needed done.
  • If you focus intently on hiring the best people you can find and pay top dollar, you will almost always find that they make a much more in business growth than the difference in compensation.

Caution: Work fills the space you give it

For most of my career I’ve prided myself on being able to restrict my work schedule to just 40 hour per week. Most of my career I’ve been able to stick to this. I even co-wrote a blog post about it at one point.

I took this past Monday off to have an extended weekend with my family. When Monday came, instead of enjoying time with my family, I was stressing about all of the stuff that was likely piling up at work.

Upon reflection, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been consistently working too many hours each week and that it’s probably not long-term healthy for myself or my family. After coming to this realization, I started taking some steps to help me get back to a more manageable work schedule, which include:

  • Removing the Slack app from my phone – My principle for some time has been to only have the app on my phone when I travel for work, and yet somehow the app found it’s way back to my phone and I found myself checking in during non-work hours.
  • Establishing a clear work schedule – I’ll try and start consistently each day at 8am and wrap up at 5pm (with a 1 hour break for lunch).
  • Stop working weekends – Unless there is a fire (which there rarely is) I’m going to try and avoid working on my weekends.
  • I blocked off two days as no meeting days – I blocked off Wednesday and Friday on my calendar as days where I can just catch up on work without having any meetings to break up my day.
  • Meeting audit – I realized that I’ve been over-committing myself to too many regularly scheduled meetings. I’m going to be scaling back the number of meetings that I attend each week.
  • Backing out of design discussions – For now (while I’m the acting Manage Group lead) I will be staying out of most design discussions and leaving them in the capable hands of our Manage Group designers.

The thing is, none of this happened suddenly. It just sort of crept up on me slowly. With time, I just stopped regulating each of these areas and eventually it added up.

I share this openly here for three reasons:

  1. To call myself out.
  2. To support anyone else who notices similar patterns in their own work routines and wants to take steps to correct them.
  3. To remind my future self that without self-regulation, work fills the space you give it.

COMMENTS

I don’t do comments on this site, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at its@davemart.in.

Tiny House Inspiration

Over the years I’ve collected the following list of tiny houses that inspire me – in no particular order:

Photo by Mariko Reed – Topanga Cabin
Photo by Shigeo Ogawa – Near House
Photo by Sol Haus Design – Vina’s Tiny House
Photo by Beppe Giardino – Tre Livelli
Photo by Tiny Home Builders – Tiny Studio
Photo by David Patterson – Vail Treehouse
Photo via Foster Huntington – The Cinder Cone
Photos via Carla Rodriguez – Beacon Cabin
Photo via Getaway House, Inc. – Clara
Photo by Tiny Living Homes – Tiny Living
Photo by Dan Hoffman – Nest
Photo via Greenleaf Tiny Homes – Kootenay
Photos by Garett and Carrie Buell – Alpha

Coach Bill Campbell

I never met Bill Campbell. To be honest, I had never even heard about him until I heard Eric Schmidt speak his praises on the the Tim Ferris Podcast.

I picked up a copy of Trillion Dollar Coach and I’m so very glad I did. This book is easily in the top 5 books I’ve ever read. It’s right up there with Creativity Inc.

I don’t share book reports very often. Probably only 1 out of every 100-150 books I read. But this is one book that I felt compelled to share.

I’ll do my best to theme selected highlights vs. presenting things linearly.

Great coaches:

  • Listen intently.
  • Look for patterns.
  • Assess strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask questions instead of offering advice.
  • Hold a mirror up so we can see our blind spots.
  • Hold us accountable for working through our sore spots.
  • Take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments.
  • Notice body language and side conversations in addition to listening.
  • Act as a sounding board.
  • Relate stories that help us gain perspective, draw insight, or make a decision without telling us what to do.
  • Keep opinions about product and strategy to themselves.
  • Make sure the team is communicating.
  • Bring disagreements and tensions to the surface.
  • Connect the dots with various stakeholders behind the scenes so that when big decisions come up everyone is on board—whether they agree or not.
  • Don’t voice opinions about which way a decision should go—Just push for the decisions be made.
  • Listen, observe, and feel the communication gaps between people.
  • Lie awake at night thinking about how to make us better.

On coaching

  • The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team.
  • I’ve come to believe that coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams.
  • It’s up to all of us to coach our employees, our colleagues, and even sometimes our bosses.
  • Mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
  • Purpose, pride, ambition, love, family, money, attention, power, meaning, and ego are all primary motivations to consider when coaching someone else.
  • It’s often the highest performing people who feel the most alone.

Excellence in teams comes from

  • Psychological safety
  • Clear goals
  • Meaningful roles
  • Reliable teammates
  • Confidence that the teams mission will make a difference

On trust

  • Perhaps the most important currency in relationship—friendship, romantic, familial, or professional—is trust.
  • Trust means people feel safe to be vulnerable.
  • Trust means loyalty.
  • Trust means integrity.

Wisdom for leaders

  • Leaders lead. You can’t have 1 foot in and 1 foot out. If you aren’t fully committed then the people around you won’t be either.
  • In business there is growing evidence that compassion is a key factor to success.
  • Go to extraordinary lengths to build safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into each team you lead.
  • Create a climate of communication, respect, feedback, and trust.
  • Listen. Pay attention. This is what great managers do.
  • Managers authority emerges only as the manager establishes credibility with subordinates, peers, and superiors.
  • Your title makes you a manager. You’re people make you a leader.
  • “Get the one on one right” and “get the staff meeting right” were top on Bill’s list of the most important management principles.
  • Failure to make a decision can be as damaging as a wrong decision.
  • Never put up with people who cross ethical lines: Lying, lapses of integrity or ethics, harassing or mistreating colleagues.
  • Letting people go is a failure of management, not one of any of the people who are being let go.
  • It’s a manager’s job to push this team to be more courageous.
  • Don’t just be a dictator assigning tasks, pair people up!

On Teams

  • Coaching is the best way to mold effective people into powerful teams.
  • Start treating teams, not individuals, as the fundamental building block of the organization.
  • Teams need to act as communities, integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what’s best for the company.
  • When internal conflict arises the trick is to corral rivals into a community and get them aligned, marching toward a common goal.
  • When team members can’t break the tie themselves, it falls on you to make that decision.
  • When faced with an issue, his first question wasn’t about the issue itself, it was about the team tasked with tackling the issue. Get the team right and you’ll get the issue right.

On meetings

  • He’d start by asking what people did for the weekend.
  • Before decisions were made everyone weighed in, regardless of whether the issue touched on their functional area or not.
  • Bill would often meet with multiple people before an important meeting to find out what they were thinking. This gave members of the team the chance to come into the room prepared to talk about their point of view.
  • When labelled a debate rather than a disagreement, participants are more likely to share information.
  • Having a well-run process to get to a decision is just as important as the decision itself, because it gives the team confidence and keeps everyone moving.

On 1:1’s

  • Bill would always start with a hug.
  • Next he’d ask about your personal life, family, and non-work stuff.
  • Bill would write five words on a white board indicating the topics to discuss that day. The words might be about a person, a product, an operational issue, a prospective customer, or an upcoming meeting.
  • Bill took great care in preparing for one-on-one meetings.
  • Bill typically discussed performance, peer relationships, teams, and innovation.
  • Deliver tough messages with respect, warmth, and candor.

Coach Campbell

  • Was tremendously respected and loved.
  • Lit up the room whenever he walked in.
  • Was a straight shooter.
  • Was a hugger.
  • Was generous.
  • Like to help people.
  • Cursed like a sailor.
  • Treated everyone with respect.
  • Believed in diversity on teams.
  • Preferred operating behind the scenes.
  • Saw through the title to who a person was.
  • Always strived for a politics-free environment.
  • Always gave you a call back when you left voicemail.
  • Demanded commitment, passion, and loyalty.
  • Cared about his people fiercely and genuinely.
  • Was always there for you when you needed him, no matter what.
  • Had a way of making you feel better, even if he was sharing bad news.
  • Is sorely missed by many.

As I said, I never met Coach Bill Campbell, but after reading this book I wish I had.

Comments

I don’t do comments on this site, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at its@davemart.in.

Japan, April 2019

Two weeks ago I travelled to Japan for the first time. I was there for 7 days. It was everything that I had hoped for. Below I’ll share a few select memories.

Shibuya Crossing

So crazy…

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower & Museum

Akira in the Streets

Vending Machines

Capsule Hotel

First Meal

Cherry Blossoms

Hie Shrine

Pachinko

Shopping

Good Food

Toilets 😳

Kamakura

TeamLab Borderless

Buildings

Meiji Shrine

Street Ads

This ad/song played literally every 120 seconds on the streets of Shibuya where I stayed.

Ueno

Ueno Zoo

Principles, People, Product, Profit

What do you value most in your business, or in the company you work for?

My priorities are clear:

1) Principles
2) People
3) Product
4) Profit

In that order… every time.

1. Principles

These are the foundation. Principles can be hard to define, but once you have them, they can serve as guard rails for future decisions. Here are the principles I’ve defined for Howdy (My little side project):

  • Intentionally Tiny
  • Embrace constraints
  • Reduce complexity
  • Stay focused
  • Stay independent
  • Forever frugal
  • Remarkably original
  • Minimal feature-set
  • Simple tech
  • Gut driven data informed
  • Give way more than you get
  • Default free
  • Promotes itself

2. People

A close second after principles is people. This can be customers, employees, freelancers, partners. Basically anyone you associate with.

3. Product

Third comes your products and services. This is the value you bring to the world. It’s your unique way of solving problems and making other peoples lives a little bit better each day.

4. Profit

Profits come last. Not because profit is least important, it’s clearly important, but in a well run company profits come as the direct result of nailing your first 3 priorities.

Hold strong to your priorities

It can be tempting at times to make exceptions, especially when things get tough. But changing your priorities tends to be one-way street. Once you’ve given yourself permission to value profit over product, people, or principles it’s a very slippery slope. It’s very hard to come back from.

Can you run a successful profit first business? I guess that depends on your definition of “success”. It’s certainly possible, but it’s certain to come at a cost.

The Resistance is Real

Today marks 12 full months that I’ve been working on a side project called Howdy.

Howdy Homepage

In that time I’ve:

  • Re-written the code base 4 times (Laravel, Vanilla JS, React, then back to Vanilla JS).
  • Started working with a partner, then broke it off.
  • Seriously considered stopping and working on other side projects at least half a dozen times.
  • Taken 2 month-long sabbaticals where I didn’t work on the project at all.

I’m happy with the tech stack that I have now and the project is probably 90% complete, but I’m finding it extremely hard to finish.

The resistance

In The War of Art and Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about “The Resistance” that keeps us from doing our work.

If you’re a maker and you’ve yet to read these two books, do yourself a favor and buy them today.

It get’s worse the closer you are to completion

Pressfield says:

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows that we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.

My brain is literally trying to convince me to quit and to start working on “this other exciting new project”.

The ever so quiet whispers in my head are saying:

  • A year! Why haven’t you shipped yet? What a failure. Save your dignity. Just call it a wraps.
  • This is boring. Just shelve this project and move on to something fun & exciting.
  • No one will actually use this.
  • Will designers really find this useful?
  • What if you launch and no one finds it valuable?
  • This niche isn’t big enough. You should change the target to developers? Marketers? Sales?
  • Stay safe. Make it as generic of an offering as possible. That way anyone can use it.

And even though I know that these are all fabricated to get me to stop, the temptation to actually stop is legit.

I am very tempted to stop.

It get’s worse the more important it is to us

Pressfield says:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we’ll feel towards pursuing it.

As tempting as it is to call it quits, I honestly think my heart will break if I don’t finish this project. I can think back to so many moments where I still had optimism, hope, and excitement for this project. Where did all of that excitement go? Where is the hope now? How can I get it back?

Side projects are bloody hard

Massive props to anyone who is able to launch a side project and stick with it for a year or more.

Optimism, hope, and excitement be damned…

I’m not giving up on this one.

The resistance is real, but so is my aspiration to have dogged determination!

I will launch this project. 🤘

Wish me luck.

Ways for Designers to Learn JavaScript

If you’re a designer who’s wanted to learn JS, but has yet to make the commitment, here are a few handy resources to get you started:

Free

Paid

Wes Bos is having a Black Friday sale right now with 50% off all of his courses. If you’re in the market for something a bit more advanced, I’d highly recommend:

Intentionally Tiny Side Projects

For the longest time now I’ve been fond of indie businesses.

Most of my friends don’t even know this, but the first real company that I ever started on my own was called SimpleStartup.

It was a web app written in PHP that helped single person companies create a website, charge money for their services, and track finances:

It took me about a decade to realize that I don’t really want to be a start up founder. Up until that point, quitting my job, and launching a startup had always been in the back of my mind. It was an obsession that plagued me.

Continue reading Intentionally Tiny Side Projects

I No Longer Want to Start a Startup

We all know the “Silicon Valley” siren call:

IF:

  • you quit your job, and start a company, AND
  • you raise money (early & often), AND
  • you prioritize the growth of your company over everything else in your life, AND
  • you can hang onto the reins for 5-12 years…

THEN:

  • you’ll be rewarded with a Scrooge McDuck sized money vault, AND
  • you’ll ultimately live a fulfilled, happy life!

I used to sip this Kool-aid…

Continue reading I No Longer Want to Start a Startup