Failing Fast Is Not Just For Startups – It’s For Relationships Too

As loathe as I am to admit it, your hero (in the event you are joining us here for the first time, that would be yours truly) makes the occasional mistake.  Right now you are thinking my first mistake is that I wrote this just after Halloween and not on April Fools Day.  However, I can assure you that despite a reputation in my field for both relative infallibility and rampaging masculinity, only the latter is truly a constant.   

Before I get to my point here, let’s have a heart to heart in the way that only two loose associates on the internet can have with each other.

  1. Have you ever dated someone who was clearly toxic to you but that you stayed with for some reason, hoping things would get better even when your friends and family warned you that perhaps nearly getting into a fistfight with a patron at a coffee shop over who was dating you and throwing a dictionary at your head over a balcony was not a good sign of your relationship prospects?  I mean, just as an example.  That could be anybody.
  2. Have you ever avoided having a difficult conversation with a higher-up because you were worried about what the impact of that conversation would be?
  3. You have a handsome and rugged leader who is 230 lbs of ripped muscle – we’ll call him, um, Justus – and don’t want to make waves at work, but you know that you will need to talk to him about wearing his sexy muscle T-shirts into the office because while it’s excellent for team morale it’s a disaster for your marriage.
  4. For those of you who are leaders – have you ever put off having a difficult conversation about someone’s lackluster performance because “I want to give them a bit of grace, this can happen to anyone” or “I just want to hit this release and *then* we can talk about it” or any other number of excuses?  And they are excuses.  Let’s get real.

 

Me neither.  But for those of you that might have done this once or twice (looks back and forth shiftily), I wanted to talk a little bit about Lean principles can save you a lot of time and headache.  To be fair, I’m not really the guy to be talking about this – or maybe I am (DUN DUN DUNNNNNN!) because for a guy that is all about Lean, failing fast, Building, Measuring, and Learning, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve realized I have done a poor job of Learning when it comes to the above.  It’s actually my worst quality.  Now fortunately I’ve got a zillllllion great qualities to make up for this, my humility being the foremost, but this article isn’t about how awesome I am, but how *awesome* you will be for implementing the advice I am failing to implement myself.  Trust me!

One of the central tenets of Lean is the elimination of waste.  So for all of you proponents of Lean Startup, Lean Management, and Lean Muscle like yours truly…when you put off that critical and difficult discussion with a fellow manager who isn’t doing their job properly, with the employee who has been dogging it enough to affect the remainder of their team – you aren’t being Lean.

This sort of thing is terrible, wasteful and it’s all for the same reasons that some startups linger without being released (without ever being released!!) for years (for years!!!) – it’s fear.  Fear that something adverse will happen, fear of destroying a relationship, fear of change, fear of whatever.  Your fear is bull.  You need to kill it.  Or at least you need to work past it.    Your fear is costing your company money.  One day it might even cost you the company itself.

This is where failing fast comes in.  In Startup terms, this means you run an experiment quickly to determine whether the direction you’re taking is worthwhile and you avoid wasting your valuable money and time.  In working with people, it means that it is critical that you fail fast with people so you can succeed with the *right* people as quickly as possible.  Otherwise – again – you’re wasting your valuable money and time.  

To give you an example from my enterprise days, interviews used to happen with an in-person that involved three high-level people including myself.  This was a 90 minute interview that cost roughly $500-$600 per interview depending on the blended rate.  In the interest of fairness all questions needed to be asked even if it was clear after the first 3 minutes that the candidate was not a fit.  After a couple of these failures there was also some pressure to hire because there was a realistic staffing need.  As I didn’t want to hire substandard people for a critical project,  I instituted a simple technical phone screen of 8 fairly basic questions that could be run through in about 5 minutes of time by 1-2 people.  If you passed that interview, you made it onto the next one.  Now, a failed interview didn’t cost $600 to run, it cost $5-10.  That is a savings of more than 98% per interview.  Now multiply it by the 55 interviews we ran to find the 3 candidates we needed and the cost difference here would have been:

$600*55 = $33,000

$10*55 + $600*10 (the number of people that passed the screen) = $550 + $6000 = $6550.

That’s right, just instituting a phone screen for government RFPs saved the government roughly twenty-five thousand dollars on one set of interviews.  Wow, that reads pretty bad-ass now, if I’m perfectly honest.   Might be throwing that one in my profile.

This also goes for poor performers in your organization, or poor management you see in your organization.  When it’s not working, you need to either pivot or throw it away and that unfortunately goes for the people you lead as well.  I have watched poor leaders end up destroying a team because of their fear of confrontation, just as I’ve watched non-productive or even caustic employees slowly kill an energetic and disciplined team when no one acted to stop them.

Unfortunately when it comes to this, the personal side of Lean – I am awwwwwful at it. I’m not going to spin this as some garbage like, “Oh, I’m just too nice.  I want to extend grace”, or something else.  I mean, I’ve got a cold reptilian heart that despises other human beings!!  Why else would I be in the technology field?  

Artist's rendition of the author's right ventricle
Artist’s rendition of the author’s right ventricle

No, this is simply because as much as I will eventually go through confrontation if I have to, I hate it.   But in that avoidance I know that I – and others like me – in the interest of giving people opportunities that they shouldn’t have had, have cost organizations money and more importantly have cost other people time.   I’ve always eventually come around.  But I am open to saying to a wider audience that perhaps I’ve previously come around too late.

 

I’m well aware that there’s a grand dichotomy between a guy who is all about wanting to move fast and eliminate waste with a hardened and sharp-edged uncaring mind, and yet dragging on or delaying difficult conversations to the end of the next millennium.  But that’s the beauty (to bring it annoyingly back to this topic) of Lean – there’s never an end to the Learning, or the Building, or the Measuring.  And now that I’ve Learnt, it’s time to Build and Measure once again!!  Hopefully the benefit of my taking so long to finally Learn is that you, dear reader, can skip that step and go right to the Building and Measuring part yourself.  

Next time: I might reveal a secret about myself that almost no one reading this knows. No, not the gigantic Transformers collection.  The other one!  

Advice From My Father – To *You* – On Father’s Day

[above: artist’s rendition of author’s father]

My father is a great, great man.  Now, almost everyone says that about their fathers, but keep in mind that, frankly, anyone who shares DNA with yours truly is guaranteed to be a genetic mastodon.   Luckily, through what I am about to share with you, this Father’s Day you can have the treasured gift of pretending that he is also *your* father, which more importantly lets you pretend that you and *I* are related.  If that’s too overwhelming for you to accept here, feel free to contact me and I can give you my Paypal details for payment before you read on.

In addition to being a very high-level professional, my father was an amazing and involved parent who fostered my love of technology at an early age *and* taught me a lot about leadership, both in how he led our family and how he led his staff at the office (he was in a leadership role pretty much from the 1st year of his career until the day he retired).   Generally I agree with Clarence Kelland’s statement of “My father didn’t tell me how to live, he only lived and let me watch him do it”, except of course that this post is actually regarding my father, well, telling me how to live!

This is an excerpt from a letter I received from him on my 21st birthday.  This advice went a long way into shaping the person I am today and is almost completely applicable to anyone, with the exception of “Know that I and your Mom will always love you and that we will always be here for you – no matter what” – you’ll have to ask him that one personally.  If reading this benefits you half as much as it has me in the years since I’ve read it, I think you’ll be pretty happy with where you are heading.

I know that parents are biased in favor of their children – so it should be, otherwise we wouldn’t be parents – but I know in my heart that you are genuinely one of the best. Certainly you are that for me. You are a special guy – and a special son. All of these things make me proud of you. And I would like you to know that.

So today on your 21st birthday I would like to share with you some of the things that I think you
should hold on to on your journey through the many other milestones still to come in your life:

Never forget your friends – they are one of the mainstays in life. Always remember and appreciate those who have helped you.

When you have the chance, help them back.

Do your best to bear up under the obstacles and losses that will confront you on the way to where you want to be – they are a part of everybody’s life.

Risk making a mistake from time to time and never look back. A mistake is never a failure. It is an opportunity to begin anew, with learning that we didn’t have before.

Overcome the bitterness that tries hard to accompany defeat and find in times of disappointment, the beauty of tomorrow.

Be a victor over anger.

Smile even when tears would try to wipe you out.

Learn to hate hate and to love love.

Go on even when it would seem good to die.

Look up with unquenchable faith in yourself and in that which you want to be.

Pursue your dreams and make them happen, because that is what the world is made of.

Know that I and your Mom will always love you and that we will always be here for you – no matter what.

And there are several things that I want to wish you – not only for your 21st birthday, but for the whole of your life:

I wish you happiness in whatever you do

I wish you good health

I wish you a mate some day whose love will match your own

I wish you the joys of a family and the memories of good times with your children

I wish you the knowledge of being a good father

I wish you continued friendships that are tried and true

I wish you all the success that I think you very much deserve

I wish you the ability to see yourself as I believe many others around you see you – then you will indeed know what a fine person you are

I wish you love

I wish that the important dreams you have for yourself will come true

I wish you God’s blessing

P.S. I wish for you also the discipline to GO TO CLASS, PICK YOUR CLEAN CLOTHES UP OFF THE FLOOR, BRUSH YOUR TEETH, AND BUY THE BAG-LADY OR THE GUY ON THE STREET A SANDWICH OR A CUP OF COFFEE INSTEAD OF GIVING HIM MONEY THAT HE WILL JUST SPEND ON BOOZE!

With Love,

Dad”

What the Life of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes can teach budding entrepreneurs

For those of you not in the know on hot topic current events, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes passed away today.  Who is that?  Only one of the most inspirational professional wrestlers that ever lived.  What’s that?  You never watched professional wrestling?  Well, then I suggest unfriending me on LinkedIn, unsubscribing from my blog, and untattooing my photograph from your lower back because everyone knows that one’s level of professional success is directly correlated to one’s level of wrestling fandom.     

Anyway, now that we’ve culled all the never-gonna-be’s from the readership as of that sentence, I’m going to request that you load up the below video and play it as background music for both reading this article and the next time you have an intimate encounter.

“Ammmmmmeeerrrrrrrrricaaaan….Dreaaaaaaaam”.  

Perfect.  So if there are still people reading who weren’t familiar with Dusty previously you might be thinking that this man does not look like the prototypical professional wrestler, muscles rippling and gleaming in the sunshine.  Dusty spent maybe one or two of his 30 years in the industry looking remotely like an athlete and the rest…well, looking like Dusty.  Those who aren’t as familiar with pro wrestling might be surprised to find out that Dusty is considered one of very few absolute *legends* in the field of sports entertainment.  Many people view him as a genius, a mentor, an incredible person.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship?  Everything.

Dusty became successful in an industry where by all rights he probably shouldn’t have succeeded.  He had the wrong body type.  He wasn’t an athlete.  He had a small lisp when he talked.  At one point in his career, in addition to all of the above he wore a headband and tight shorts with polka dots on them.  Yet through all of this he was *still* one of the most popular wrestlers, known the world over.

There are 6 things that Dusty did – arguably better than anyone else before or since – that are directly responsible for his success, and I can guarantee you that if you can be even *half* as good as Dusty was at them, you either:

  1. will be tremendously successful at your venture
  2. you won’t even care about being successful at your venture, because you’ll still be phenomenally personally successful

Learn how to make people care about what you’re saying.

In wrestling, a “promo” is when someone is talking into the mic to the audience.  The point of the promo is very simple is much like any other public speaking endavour minus the fact that in this case you’re half naked and in an arena full of thousands of screaming people: get people invested.  The best “promos” are the ones that get the audience to want to spend their money to see a wrestler take on another wrestler.  You could argue in fact that these are the only promos that count.

For any professional, the ability to get people to “buy in” is particularly important.   For someone at a startup, your pitch is essentially that promo.  In both cases, you are trying to convince someone to spend their money on you – in the former to a wrestling arena, and the latter hopefully in a business arena.  Professional tip: for those of you who think there’s a crossover, an investor who says they are paying money to see you wrestle in a Speedo is likely not the kind of investor you want bankrolling your company.
Now, Dusty…Dusty is considered the greatest “promo man” of all time.  Yes, all time.  He had the ability in 3 minutes or less to get you to feel like he was on your side, that his wrestling match at the arena tomorrow night in some way represented your struggle, that he was wrestling for you personally.  The ability to get someone on your side in under 5 minutes is one of the most valuable skills you can ever cultivate.  I’m not saying that you should stand in front of your mirror and start yelling about “Hard Times”, far fr…oh who I am kidding, I *totally* am!!  You should be practicing how to get people invested in you every single day.  The ability to tell compelling stories is the ability to get married, land wonderful opportunities, score great investors, and make friends.

Have excitement about everything you do.

 

No human being on the planet possessed more unbridled enthusiasm for anything he or she was doing than Dusty Rhodes about *everything*.   While this was evident in his wrestling days, it became even more prominent after he retired and became a color commentator.  Dusty, even when completely unintelligible (and trust me, this happened often in his days talking through the matches) was so giddy about everything going on that he simply pulled you into being engaged with him whether you wanted to be or not.  People slamming cookie sheets on each other’s heads?  Dusty was there laughing uncontrollably for 20 minutes.  A brawl goes into the men’s bathroom and a woman comes out for no reason?  Dusty thinks it’s the most amazing thing to have ever happened in the sport’s history.  Dusty made you feel like *everything* was the best thing he had witnessed to date in his life and you *knew* just by listening to the man talk that he was just incredibly happy to be there.  He even managed to convey this attitude when he was dressing in polka dots and filming vignettes about fixing people’s plumbing!  I can safely say that although I generally have the enthusiasm and verve of one thousand blazing suns, that if you stripped me down to polka-dot briefs and told me to dance like a monkey, my first reaction might not be “thrilled to be here” as much as it would be none of your business, jack.  The point is that when you are incredibly happy to be somewhere, people not only know it but anyone that isn’t a complete sociopath *also* gets a little bit happier.

This is an important quality to cultivate, particularly as a leader and even moreso as a entrepeneur.  The road you walk down as either is not always lined with suitcases full of money and rainbows full of happiness – there are times when things will be difficult.  But someone who has a spirit of fun, enjoyment, and joy about them is far more likely to engage and galvanize the people working with them than someone who is simply dour and bummed out all day long.  Now, I know some of you are probably reading this and saying, “Oh Justice, if only I was like you and could work for a hot startup with equally hot people in it, but my job is terrible” – well then quit your job and find someone you legitimately like doing.  You have one life.  Don’t waste it doing something that saps your will to live.  But that’s another article for another time.  This is about Dusty Rhodes!

 

Love people.  ggggh.

 

I have to confess that as a man who possesses a cold, reptilian heart and generally only likes attractive people – so you can assume if you are connected to me on LinkedIn, I probably consider you one of them – that this is much easier for me to say than actually do.  Thankfully in this rare case I am actually not the person I’m recommending you emulate!

One thing that’s notable about Dusty in his field is that very very few people have anything bad to say about him personally, and he has very little bad to say about anyone personally as well.  In professional wrestling, an alpha male sport if there ever was one, this is almost unheard of.  But there’s no shortage of people who praise Dusty for being a mentor, a role model, an inspiration, or just wonderful to be around.  Those accolades were floating around well before his passing, so they aren’t just sound bites people threw together to sound like they cared about the deceased.

I’m not an authority on Dusty’s life so I can’t say this with 100% certainty, but from my own personal experiences watching people I admire I can say that you are not likely to have that sort of glowing reception unless you truly enjoy and take joy in other people regardless of who they are and the circumstances they found themselves in. It’s worth consideration that:

  1. Every successful venture I’ve witnessed or been a part of has had at least one successful “super-connector”
  2. Every “super-connector” that I have known has possessed the above love and warmth for people
  3. given Dusty was essentially the “super-connector” of professional wrestling I think it’s a safe assumption that he also possessed these qualities

Of course, as you can imagine, all of this pales in comparison to my *favorite* quality:

Charisma will take you everywhere.

Watch this video:

 

Note that at around 2:45 the crowd is screaming.  Dusty puts up his hand and the crowd immediately silences itself.  That’s called having power over an audience.

Dusty knew how to tell a good joke, but more importantly he knew how to tell a good story.  You would be *amazed* at how forgiving people are if you can do the above; you can effectively do no wrong.  Likewise, believe it or not, a large part of my choosing the opportunities I have involve answering yes to:

“Are they funny?”

“Do I like being around them?”

And if I’ve applied that criteria to potential consulting gigs,  I’ve applied it *even more* stringently when it comes to choosing people as partners.  And you should too.  You should endeavour to be:

* around people who other people like to be around

* to *become* a person who other people like to be around

You’ll go further that way.  Trust me.  To use a dated reference, the real world isn’t “House”.

 

Know that you’re great.

 

Let’s be real.  Dusty knew he was awesome.  Read this tribute and you’ll see what I mean.  You should know that too.  The only thing worse than arrogance is false humility.  This isn’t to say you should be arrogant, but you should be confident in yourself and you should be willing to say “Hey, I’m pretty awesome” from time to time.   Maybe you don’t say it to your wife, your parents your friends, people at the grocery store, the dude who was spotting you at the gym, the dog that ran up at the office to sniff you, and the people who are running away from you and telling them they don’t want to hear about your special qualities anymore or they’re calling the police.  That’s cool.  It’s a free country, if you want to live your life being afraid, that’s your business!  But at the very least, you should be saying it to yourself.

This also doesn’t mean that you’re greater than everyone else.  Other people are great too.  But so are you.  And if you want to be a leader, or a visionary, you should remember that.

Finally and most importantly…

Always, always be a leader.  Never, never be a walk behinder.

“When you’re a walk behinder…when you walk behind and you’re not a leader, the view never changes, baby. The view never changes, baby. The view never changes.”

Amen to that.

RIP Dusty.

Advice From A Great Man To The Occasionally Insecure

As much as I wanted to bring you the exciting conclusion to our saga on feedback today, sometimes my philanthropy gets in the way.

A friend of mine on Facebook (who I’ll leave anonymous) wrote:

What strategies do you use for learning about your craft from people who are better at it than you… without getting depressed about how much better at it they are than you?”

Now, as a reader of this blog you are obviously at the top of your chosen field, so your first reply to this person would be “You’re friends with Justice Gray on Facebook!?!?  Can you introduce me?”   First of all, don’t get that excited – being my Facebook friend is basically like reading these entries, only with several more photos of rare Transformers and discussions of limited edition breakfast cereal.  Second, this isn’t all about you!  Someone is hurting here, remember?

Getting back to Anonymous Warrior’s statement here, let’s split this into two parts:

  1. “What strategies do you use for learning about your craft from people who are better at it than you”
  2. “…without getting depressed about how much better at it they are than you?”

Here’s my first and most important piece of advice: the former is a great question, and the latter is a *terrible* one.  Most of you can stop reading here.  Feel free to contact me for my life coaching rates.

Next piece of advice: learning from other people is awesome.  Learning should be inspiring, engaging, and moving. If you are sitting in a bathtub eating a mixture of cookie batter and your tears after learning from someone, I am very confident that you are doing the learning thing wrong.

He looks happy, but he's dead inside.  Trust me.
He looks happy, but he’s dead inside. Trust me.

Here’s a question: when you get depressed about how much better someone is at something than you are…who does it help?  It doesn’t help you get better at *anything* (except maybe weeping quietly).  It doesn’t help the person who is better at that something.

And if that person is actually taking their valuable time to teach you, I might even argue that it’s a disservice to that person and the time they have spent.  You’re rewarding their efforts with what…angst?!  Reward them by showing up, by being grateful, and – while I don’t want to sound too Vancouver pet psychic here – by enjoying the journey.

I don’t want to give you the whole “blah blah just be yourself” trust exercise BS you’ll see when people want to encourage the mediocre.  Maybe who you are *is* terrible!  Maybe you’re a walking failure!  Maybe you shouldn’t be happy with who you are!  I doubt it.  For one thing, you’re reading this article, which is already the hallmark of successful people!

But if you are unhappy with who you are, be unhappy because you know you can do better than who you are right now, not because you want to be like someone else.  Don’t make your goal to be the next Steve Jobs/Dwayne Johnson/Justice Gray.  Keep a poster of them under your bed to keep you feeling safe and loved at night, sure.  But make your goals bigger than trying to be like someone else.  That’s the problem with this question – it still makes your end goal being like someone else.

Be a better you instead.  It’s a greater goal.

(Unless you could be me.  But you can’t.  So being you is still pretty good.)     

Feedback Like A Startup – Part 2 of a Series Within A Series

When we last left our series we had talked about:

  • seeking feedback often so that you could both improve your organization *and* annoyingly co-opt Japanese phrases into your everyday vernacular
  • celebrating people who give you the courage and commitment to give you that feedback

 

Today, as promised, we’re going to talk about emotionally preparing yourself for feedback by breaking the news to you swiftly.

1) What you want to hear and what you need to hear are often two different things.

It’s nice to pretend that everyone you ask for feedback is simply going to say, “My, Justice, you look strapping and handsome today, but you do every day A HA HA HA HA would you like to join me for a spot of tea?” but the reality is that many times feedback will make you cringe.  When pre-public release feedback on a particular section of inContract’s “For Consultants” section indicated one of the pages was confusing and needed a radical overhaul, there was a part of us that honestly winced at having to rework it.  However, without that feedback we would have launched something that didn’t have as pleasing a user experience.  If the feedback is true and actionable, then it’s less painful to hear it and take action on it than it is to never know it’s a problem.

Likewise, for your organization if someone provides you with feedback that something could be operating better (or even worse, is broken) it’s not going to feel awesome.  If you’re an old hand to successful leadership I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  If you’re new to the leadership thing, I’m warning you about this in advance because I have met an alarming number of “leaders” in enterprise who, once receiving feedback, have no idea how to emotionally deal with feedback in a proper way and sometimes lash out at the people giving feedback.  (this isn’t even with me being the one offering it, as obviously I’m smooth like a predatory bird when it comes to delivering tactful feedback).  You want to avoid this at all costs.

Artist's interpretation of yours truly
Artist’s interpretation of yours truly

 

Now, if someone *is* giving you feedback that’s personal, that’s different.  Let’s say for example that someone comes to their anonymous leader in private and says, “Justice, your rippling muscles are a distraction to all of the staff here, not to mention a threat to the sanctity of their marriages”.  Now, said leaders reactions can range from:

  • This feedback is ridiculous, and so are you – YOU’RRRRRRRE FIRRRRRRED!!” as I…ahem, the supervisor flexes their massive pipes at them on their way out the door.  This is a bit too aggressive.  Sexy, to be sure, but too aggressive.
  • Leader asks what they feel they could do to improve the situation, perhaps offering to stop wearing the jean jacket with the cut-off sleeves to meetings as a first step.  A good intermediate.
  • Leader asks to table the conversation so he/she can appropriately think about next steps.  See the next point below for how long you should give.

Be prepared to act swiftly and personally on feedback.

Once feedback has been given to you, my rule of thumb is:

  • feedback should be acknowledged (and restated back to the deliverer) by the end of the conversation immediately if it has been delivered personally (face to face, voice to voice)
  • no less than 24 business hours to acknowledge it if it was received through an impersonal medium like E-mail, text, or strippogram
  • no less than 48 business hours to communicate some initial actions on it (even if that action is “no action”…see below)
  • always record your understanding in writing and make sure the other party agrees that you understand them appropriately.  You don’t know how many times I’ve had to resolve a dispute between two parties where it was clear that either the two parties had completely misunderstood each other or one party was pretending to give feedback that they never actually had given (“Hi, Justice, how was your day, that cut-off jean jacket is looking impressive, please don’t hurt me” is not “I already warned Justice that his steroid abuse is out of control ”).  The important thing here is simply that both of you clearly understand each other.

Remember, It’s often hard for people to offer feedback in the first place, and they are spending their valuable time and energy to give you that feedback.  Respect that time and energy by promptly letting them know you’ve heard them and they will give you a lot of respect in return. Trust a guy who has gotten a *lot* of feedback from the teams and organizations he has led: I didn’t come up with these rules arbitrarily, I endured a lot of pain to figure them out.

If you get feedback that is actionable, you need to take action.  This sounds obvious, right?  Sure, but if you are part of a large organization it is easy for the feedback to be offered and then lost to some “political process”.  Even if you have to take small steps in the immediate while your larger steps have to take place later, it’s critical that the people who gave you that feedback can see that you are taking that feedback and actually doing something about it.

What happens if the feedback is for several levels above yours?  I have bad and controversial news for you: if you are in a leadership position and your team gives you feedback, you have a responsibility to take the feedback you are given and become its champion.  Really?  *Really*.  We’ll be discussing how to do this as effectively as everyone’s favorite bastion of integrity, courage, and humility another time, but I want to plant that seed of brilliance before we get to that.

Next time: nothing to do with that.  Instead – remember “when not to take action”?  I’ll tell you all about it.  Get the fire-retardant gear ready!

Feedback Like A Startup – Part 1 of a series within a series

Lean!

Kaizen!

Continuous Improvement!!

Buzzword Buzzword!!

If you’ve been screaming these words at yourself in the mirror every morning and whispering them to yourself in your bed as you go to sleep, yet wondering why your enterprise organization is no better at the art of feedback than yesterday…well, let’s be realistic, if you’re doing things like this you’re probably not going to be helped by this article either.  Look!  I just demonstrated honest and open feedback right there, which guarantees that this is an article written by a genius.  

I also am no stranger to receiving feedback myself, like:

  • when my friend Gary informed me in 7th Grade that I actually *didn’t* look cool when wearing my jean jacket and sunglasses indoors for 30 days in a row
  • just yesterday when I had my wife proofread an E-mail I was about to send and informed me “this sounds like it was written by a sanctimonious jerk and not the hero of millions of people that you are” (the astute among you might’ve figured out that she doesn’t have time to proofread *these* articles)
  • when my business partner Matt Corstorphine informed me last week that I actually *didn’t* look cool when wearing my jean jacket and sunglasses indoors for 30 days in a row.

As the above no doubt demonstrates, being a startup or being part of one does not magically guarantee that you will suddenly become very good at getting feedback *or* acting on it.  What I *can* magically guarantee is that some of you reading this article likely stopped at the headline, thinking

Wow.  A startup.  If only I could join a startup.  That’s the ticket.  Iterative feedback.  If only I ran a 3 person organization out of someone’s garage instead of (pick one):

 

  • an enterprise organization full of thousands of people
  • a team of 80 reports
  • a 3 person organization out of someone’s garage

 

  • dancing on top of this speaker at the nightclub,

 

then I could experience the magic of those startup hippies receiving and acting on feedback every single moment of the day.

 

Well, if that dream speaks to you, then hold someone’s hand and chant “kum ba yah”, my friend, because I’m about to reveal to you:

  • the art of getting useful feedback often and how to do it without people trying to throw you out of a window
  • who the MVPs of your organization are when it comes to feedback, regardless of your size
  • what to do with feedback when you get it, including being emotionally prepared for it (what?)
  • the TRUE SECRET behind feedback (related, when you should never, ever, *EVER* ask for it)

 

At least I will when this 2-3 part series concludes, because there’s *no way* you’re going to read a 17 page essay in one shot!  I mean, who comes here to read lengthy treatises anyway, right?  So with that out of the way:

  1. Seek feedback *often*.

While you shouldn’t be harassing people for feedback, you should be looking to get feedback at very regular intervals.  When I say regular intervals I don’t mean to daily levels, as:

  • most people can’t give you quality feedback on a daily basis
  • most people don’t *want* to give you feedback on a daily basis
  • you won’t want to *get* feedback on a daily basis.

I have to put this disclaimer in because I have seen too many organizations who have taken my advice on getting feedback and suddenly started trying to get feedback *all the time*.  In the event you haven’t angered everyone on staff with this, you’re locked into a cycle of thrashing based on feedback versus ever moving forward with a solid direction.

If you are still determined to get daily feedback despite my advice to the contrary, the best way to do so would be to have a daily meeting time-boxed to 3 minutes with about 6 people (30 seconds each).  However, in a lot of large organizations that don’t force much time accountability, your “3 minute stand up” meeting easily turns into 60 minutes without someone ruthlessly moderating, particularly if you have people in that meeting who like to talk or people who simply like to meet all day because, well, that’s what they do.  We’ve all met them, particularly if we’ve ever consulted for large enterprise organizations.

I’ve had the most success in larger organizations when the feedback touchpoint is weekly.  This gives you enough time for people to really think about their feedback and also allows you to have a slightly longer meeting if necessary.

Some of you “Lean Startup” people are likely choking at the advice to even regularly schedule this meeting as “you should get the feedback only when you’ve built and measured!!  Then the learning can commence!  TOYOOOOOTA”   Easy there.   If you are part of a large enterprise organization that doesn’t attempt to book its higher level people into 4h worth of meetings a day, by all means, you don’t need to adhere to a set feedback schedule.  However many times you will find that unlimited flexibility isn’t there for your participants.  While scheduling *another* meeting to react to a meeting seems counter-productive this is often the only way to guarantee someone’s time.

  1.  Exalt and raise up people who are willing to offer you candid and tactful feedback.

You cannot teach someone how to care.  We’ll come back to this one later as this deserves its own article.  But keep that in mind.

People who volunteer their feedback are immensely valuable.  Ideally your team is full of people who give feedback openly and fearlessly, but many people either

  1. don’t care enough to give feedback
  2. aren’t knowledge enough to give feedback
  3. are frightened about giving feedback.  You might scoff at this but in my history with consulting/team building, I’ve heard many people through many orgs say the “I can’t lose this job, I’ve got [a house payment | 7 children | a Rottweiller with very expensive tastes] so I can’t risk offering feedback”.   The fear is real.   Whether you want someone riddled with this kind of fear to be part of your team at all is another article in itself, but this legitimately holds some people back from making change.
  4. would rather just quit rather than offer feedback.  Seriously.  There are people out there who are so discussion/conflict-averse they would sooner leave the job than give feedback at all.

From the startup perspective, I can tell you that without the feedback our team received during private beta, you would have seen a radically different inContract than the one currently servicing high-performing freelance management consultants and the companies that want to hire them.  As it is, we recognize that users who volunteer great feedback after release are those who truly care about our product, and thus have given them elevated user accesses / previews to new features before anyone else (I might have spoiled the surprise here for some of our users, but we’ll live).  Likewise, in your organization, someone who is giving you feedback is someone who cares.  That’s not something you can get a certification in.  You either do care or you don’t.  People who give you that should be treated like gold.  They are taking part of their time to invest themselves and their thought process into your organization.   If you don’t believe me because you think I’m too good looking to be trusted with any advice for your monolith corporation, then

  1. I respect your judgement immensely and am flattered by it
  2. go read Seth Godin talk about the same thing

 

The important thing about elevating these people is that you are also able to trust their feedback more readily when the feedback is positive.   If the person is giving critical thought to what can be improved, then they’ve also given critical thought to what is already working.  This gets overlooked because many managers in the corporate world would prefer to surround themselves with people who just agree with everything they say and pretend that they are receiving “feedback”.  That’s actually called an echo chamber.  And the tough part about being in an echo chamber is that the echo drowns out the actual message that is coming from outside.


Next:
How to *hear* feedback like a startup does, and better yet, how to *action* feedback like a startup does!  Featuring how to emotionally prepare yourself for feedback.  What?!  Yup.

Welcome To The Future, Part One Of An Infinite Series: Introducing inContract

Show of hands – who would like to make $300/hr doing executive consulting in Boston?

Perhaps that’s too far east and you’d be content with completely reinventing health care in Honolulu, Hawaii?

Or – you’ve got a role that needs a top-level management consultant like the ones above, and you are ready to enter a world where you can find someone of this level without having to screen, pre-screen, and *re*-screen applicants.  And without paying an agency.  And for free.  (For free?)  And possibly find an applicant who uses better grammar than *this* paragraph!

These are just ridiculous fantasies, right?

Good news: today those ridiculous fantasies can become your reality, because inContract is now live.

If you’re a talented freelance management consultant or a company that has been in need of one, you’ve felt the pain, and you’ve felt the difficulty of matching truly talented people to truly deserving roles.  So did we.  In particular, so did our CEO Kurt Wilkinson.   If you’ve seen his inContract profile, you can probably understand why so many companies have looked to him to help point them to qualified people.  Kurt had been almost buried alive by requests for referrals of fellow management consultants from the companies that desperately needed them, or even other freelancers that were looking for people to help them out on a project!

inContract is our solution to this problem – a professional network for pre-screened freelance management consultants and the companies interested in hiring them.

From our handsome “About Us” page:

“this is where we see the biggest gap in the freelance market. We are not the creators of the talent marketplace concept, but the large freelance markets that exist today are saturated with technical talent of varying quality, not pre-vetted management consulting talent. Our focus for inContract is quality over quantity, focused specifically on management consulting.”

I know, I know – you didn’t come here to read regurgitated yet excellent and well-crafted website copy that you can read anytime; you’re here for the insider perspective from one of inContract’s founders!  All right then, leave this between you and I: inContract is where the world-changers meet the world-changing.

Companies tell us that hiring good people is hard.  We agree.  We want to make it easier, and we want you to find great people.   Unbelievable, unforgettable people.

Consultants tell us that they want to spend more time actually doing the things they do best, without having to sift through 100+ “management consulting” results of which only one or two are even *relevant* to the talents they have.  We agree.  You’re very good at making companies more effective and efficient – why shouldn’t finding your next role be just as swift and productive as you are?

“This sounds amazing, and it’s free?  What’s the catch?  There has to be one, right?”  Well, the bad news (if you can call it that) is that inContract is focused exclusively on the management consulting industry *and* we pre-screen to ensure the quality of the marketplace, so it’s obviously not for everyone.  On the other hand, the fantastic news is that if you are a consultant or company that is part of that industry, then we are definitely for you, as you can say goodbye to having to sit down for several hours going through either unqualified applicants or irrelevant roles.   If we weren’t very confident of that, we wouldn’t have bothered building it for you.   And now it’s yours!

“Wait, you said part 1…what’s part 2?”

*laughs* Oh…if only I could *tell* you that without giving it away…trust me.  Have I steered you wrong thus far?

10 Minute Toughness – Buy This Book Or Risk Being Pelted With Garbage

TL;DR version

Buy this book, burn every other book you own, and replace them with copies of this book. BOOM, DONE.

Slightly more detailed version:

If you don’t own “10 Minute Toughness” by Jason Selk, go to Amazon now and buy the book.  If you’re making some excuse like “I need the audio book” or “I can’t read” then give me your phone number and I will *call you and read it to you in person*. “But Justice, I’ve got another 20 books in my queue” – SPOILER WARNING, Mr. Strong eats a lot of eggs and rescues the steamroller.   The rest of the series will be there when you get back, trust a guy who’s been there.

I just saved you twenty minutes
I just saved you twenty minutes

Your hero is all about systems.  This is because I am what professionals term THE MAN.  You should also be all about systems in your life because you’d *also* be the man.  Or the lady.  Or whatever.  So I *know* that I told you that this book would give you a stupidly easy system for your core ideals, your short-term and long-term goals, and your accountability to yourself you’d be all over it right?  Right.  And this, my friends, is that book.  It will change your life if you let it.

There are only about 5-10 touchpoints that I can truly say where my life truly changed forever.  Reading this book was one of them.    It is by far and away the 2nd best book I’ve ever read.   It will also be in the top 5 books that you ever read, and I can say this with complete confidence because you can’t risk the physical ramifications of this *not* being in your top 5 (see title, above).

Those who are reading this right now are either not at all surprised (or possibly, very surprised) that I’ve often been approached to mentor people towards being successful professionals.  While there’s all sorts of things you can do in my profession to develop future leaders (particularly in the technical arena), my first action is to give that person a copy of this book and have them do everything that this book says – highlight reels, success logs, etc.  Once they have done this, without fail it is like a light suddenly comes on and they are a different person.  Stronger.  Faster.  Hotter!  More alive.  If you’re astute you’ve noticed I just gave you a guide to mentoring people without charging you my normal hundreds of dollars an hour.  Okay, maybe it gets a little more in-depth than that afterwards but you can’t ask for a greater starting point.  Here are some of the anecdotes from people I’ve given this book to:

 

This literally changed everything for me”

“I could have saved myself the hundreds of dollars on personal coaching and just bought this book instead”

“You’re a beautiful and handsome husband but I really need you to take out the composting”  

You’re likely reading this because you’ve got some big dreams, some fantastic goals and you want to achieve them.  This book helps put practical steps in front of you to realize those dreams and take small steps every day towards the bigger picture.

It’s that last sentence that makes this book absolutely ideal for anyone in that elite group of people wanting to automate as much as possible so that you can focus on destroying every obstacle in your path. 10 Minute Toughness takes this to the next logical extension and automates goal-setting, visualization, into a process that takes literally about 10 minutes a day if that.   It’s basically a system to live your life and succeed.

From my own standpoint the book has completely re-sorted the way I approached everything.  I hate books with fluff and this book has none.  Every anecdote serves a purpose and every page has practicality.  After getting through the book I had developed three scripts: physical, professional, and personal.   These highlight reels are living – they change as I change.  As I accrue new successes they go in the highlight reel.  Statements that either I’ve used to describe myself or others have used to describe me that I like go into the personal or identity statements.  And I go through these reels *every single day*.  Call me a smelly new age hippie if you like but call me a *successful* smelly new age hippie!  Remember that I buy my own coffee nowadays padre!

Imagine thinking the same thought every day for years.   Now imagine that thought giving you energy at the times you don’t have it, turning you “on” when you aren’t, getting you out of bed when you want to sleep.  Imagine being reminded of every single significant success your life has ever had *every day*.  Who *wouldn’t* want that?

At a certain point, the whole centering breath – personal statement – highlight reel – identity statement – centering breath becomes *automatic*.    I’ve got these things so tied into me that I can hear specific pieces of music and get energized (what do you think I’m listening to while I write this? ;) )  I’m telling you, *this book is the way*.  But enough of that, I’m not telling you everything about this book because Jason Selk deserves all of your money.   I’ll make you a lifetime guarantee –

I’m so confident in this book’s quality that I guarantee that if you read this book and don’t get any benefit out of it I will never speak to you again, simply out of spite.

Some of you are still squeamish about the fact that the book is written from an athlete’s perspective.   Don’t worry about it.   You’re an athlete in the sport of *life*.  Get out there and compete by getting the advice of one of the best coaches around, one that changed my life and so many others.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  – 1 Corinthians 9:24

Time to get running.

 

How to Get Your Enterprise Running Like A Startup, Even If It Isn’t: An Exciting Prelude

If you have ever sat at your desk in your office or cubicle and thought any of the following thoughts:

“I wish our operation could be better, but we’re just too big”

“I wish our operation could be faster, but we’re just too big”

“I wish I could be an exotic dancer, but I’m just too big”

Well then congratulations, because this weekly series of posts is for you!  Yes, even the third one.   By the end of this series we’ll have talked about that too.  Really?  Really.  Would a guy you’ve probably just met on the Internet lie to you?  Never.

There are a lot of you out there reading this who work for a monolithic enterprise where release dates of products, systems, and functionality are actually measured in years rather than months or weeks, the earliest your next significant piece of work will see the light of day is 2016(!!) and you now figure your doctor will be delivering your grandchild prior to your company next delivering a successful release.   If reading this hits a painful nerve I want to give you some assurance:

  • it isn’t hopeless
  • your hero has been there.
  • I might know how to make it better.

That’s a bold claim, but tell me if this career journey doesn’t scream “credibility”:

  • start your career at a startup doing “development”, some marketing diagrams, some fetching of coffee, some washing of cars and occasionally coding
  • move over to the enterprise noting what worked well at your previous organizations, implement those changes, work your way up to masterminding the construction, release, and team leadership of multi-million dollar projects
  • leave those behind and join a startup again, doing some marketing diagrams, fetch your own coffee, wash your own car, occasionally code.  This time, however, call yourself a Chief Technical Officer.

I want to spare you that journey and give you everything that has made me successful at the organizations I’ve been and avoid the pitfalls that I’ve encountered or the mistakes that I’ve…*ahem* the lessons I’ve learned that obviously had *nothing* to do with me or my decisions whatsoever. This is my article, I can say what I like!!

Now, this preamble to a prelude out of the way, we should get some stuff out of the way first that *might* blow your mind:

1) Not every startup is an oasis of productivity.

While not listed on my LinkedIn profile (because these clients would obviously prefer to remain confidential), I have consulted for startups who are still struggling to get a release out the door even after months or even years of development.  I actually had a discussion with one notable Vancouver startup that will remain anonymous – we’ll get into them later in this series – that was still nowhere near a stable release despite running with a large team (I consider “large” to be anything beyond 5 people) for nearly half a year.  Unless you are building a functional space shuttle made entirely of chocolate and gold, 6 months is forever if you are dealing with a large team.

Obviously seven years well spent
Obviously seven years well spent

I find that people in enterprise often misconstrue “startup” to be at default some magical place where everything is fast-paced, highly productive, we all wear leather jackets with the words “Black Ops” emblazoned on the back and the day after a product is discussed, a fully featured application is out the door.  Not quite.  Don’t worry though – if you are the kind of person who thought this or assumes that “Agile” means “Let’s all hold each other while we burn our documentation and just…talk about stuff”

  1. I’m not going to hold it against you
  2. You sound like the kind of hippie that I’d love to consult for, please give me a shout so we can discuss rates

The reality, however, is that most of you have all seen what an *efficient* startup runs like, because at the time of this writing the preview for “Fast and the Furious 7” has aired and I want to assure you that minus the cars flying through skyscraper windows, this is pretty much how pineappl operates *every day*, give or take a broken window or two.

More importantly for you startup boys out there who are reading this and thinking “Hurr Hurr Hurr, I’m so glad I don’t slave for the *man* in the <air quotes>government</air quotes>”,

2) Not every enterprise is some lumbering beast that never gets anything done

Having had the experience of being *very* involved in the running of show at one of my more notable clients for several years, there were definitely significant periods where we not only significantly outperformed every other department with a fraction of the people in a fraction of the time, we had people from startups themselves who were amazed at “how fast you guys are…easily ten times as fast as we were at [X]”  You would be shocked sometimes at how fast an enterprise can actually be and over the course of this series I’m going to share with you the things that made my teams sleek like panthers – most of the time.  (Except at pineappl, where we are of course perpetually jungle cats, but enough about the hottest group of C-level officers in the world today, there will be time to discuss that later).

Artist's representation of the pineappl founding team, yours truly furthest on the left
Artist’s representation of the pineappl founding team, yours truly second to the left

 

3) Productivity is productivity and many things that are ideal situations in a startup can be replicated anywhere, regardless of the size of the enterprise or even the *type* of the enterprise.

 

BOO YAH.  This is what we want to be talking about in this series.

While I’d *love* to tell you that everything I have touched turned to productivity gold, the truth is that every organization I’ve been part of (save *possibly* pineappl, but I’m a realist and am certain we’ll hit that), whether startup or $20M enterprise project, has had times of ferocious productivity and also times where we ran much slower than we needed to, either because we made a choice that wasn’t great or we drifted too far away from the ideals that made us fast and lean in the first place.

Lastly:

You will not and cannot do this alone unless your “organization” is a team of one.

But, I will show you how to make sure you’re not.

“But Justice, I’m just a developer/admin assistant/car washer/exotic dancer, I can’t make those changes”

Good news, buckaroo.  I started there too.  And in the case of large enterprise, let’s not pretend that *anyone* ever gets a magic autonomy wand, starts waving it, and changes happen.  Every major decision I ever made in a large enterprise had to still go through an approval chain of C-level responsibilities, but trust a guy who has been there, the more credibility you build up, the more relative autonomy you get.  And the more you’re able to introduce what I’m sharing with you here, the more credibility you’ll have.  For example, just telling your co-workers and superiors that “I read an article by Justice Gray today” is a great way to start.  Trust an expert.

Some things you can look forward to in the coming weeks unless I decide to take a page out of the enterprise playbook and stretch this series out over the next decade:

  • How to Hire Like A Startup
  • How to Structure Teams
  • How to Meet Like A Startup
  • How to Work Like You’re At A Startup
  • Leading Like A Startup
  • Whatever Else I Feel Like About Being At A Startup, Baby

Next time: absolutely nothing to do with this series at all.  Well, unless you count a book that will most assuredly change your life and make you the baddest man/woman/force of nature/all of the above on the entire planet after reading it.  It might help.

The Staycation Of A Champion – A Prelude

This is actually Waikiki, but trust me after we're done this will feel just as good
This is actually Waikiki, but trust me after we’re done you won’t notice the difference

Next week your best friend forever is going on a week’s vacation from everything.

Unfortunately after reading that sentence most of you likely threw your IPad on the floor, woke your spouse or pet and told them to put on their clothes and get out of the house because your world was over.  For any of you who are left here, please let those other sensitive people know that my blogging is not included in that vacation.  It especially isn’t included after reading the VanCity Buzz’ description of a staycation, which lost me at the second paragraph where they asked:

“When was the last time you flew a kite?”

Yes, according to Van City Buzz flying a kite is almost the number one thing to do when you’re hanging out in Vancouver.    *Sure*.    To be fair, the author of this article might be under the age of 7, I don’t know.  But I *do* know that if you are looking for staycation expertise, your first stop should not be the aforementioned article from the “Van City Buzz”, obviously a coded reference for getting high.  In fact, if you think about it… “flying a kite”, “going to Steveston”, “have you been to the wind turbine”, “summer is coming”??  All subtle nods to an altered state of consciousness.  Almost too subtle to be seen.  However anyone trained in critical literary analysis like yours truly can agree that “What’s a Vancouverite to do?” actually means “I’ve got a dealer at Hastings and Main”.  It’s all in the tone.

Now, for those of you who’d like to remain drug-free for a potential staycation (or vacation) in Vancouver, luckily you have someone who is uniquely qualified to guide you and that someone

a) knows Vancouver better than you know yourself

b) is on a vacation next week where he is not going anywhere *other* than Vancouver

c) in a triumphant example of synergy in literature, will be tying into the “What A Real Man Eats” that we promised last post *and* simultaneously tying into this post as well.

But for now, get some rest and prepare for the most exhausting staycation you’ve ever seen!!

NextDidn’t I just tell you two sentences ago?!