Thursday, December 27, 2012

2+10, 12 Big Learnings of 2012

Wow! 2012 was an amazing year, and now that the world is not coming to an end (I guess the Mayans didn’t have BigData) I am super excited to see what 2013 has in store. I personally grew with great strides in 2012 for a couple of reasons. One of the major reasons was what we call co-leadership, where two people actually share the entire responsibility (100% overlap) of a role. For most of 2012 I was a co-CTO with Bob Williams. Together we were responsible for moving the software engineering organization forward. While Bob and I taught each other plenty, the most beneficial part of a co-lead was the speed at which you could learn. As a solo leader most people mentally debate the micro decisions constantly and continuously. This mental debating can be exhausting, especially in organizations which treat mistakes with fierce retribution. With a co-lead, which has complete context and responsibility the micro debates turn into split second conversations and results at a multiplying rate. If you have never tried co-leadership its worth the adventure. Its a bit scary at first but I would be willing to bet your rate of growth and content will skyrocket! :D

I had many, many great learnings this year, 12 of which I would like to share. I have broken them up into 2, and then another 10. The 2 are just so global that they need to be separated, and although I thought I already knew the 2, they have become so apparently clear, absolute and challenging that they must be given the most attention.

1. It’s all about people – Being a guy big on culture I knew people were big in the overall success equation, but I still under estimated this. Choosing the correct people, getting them to work together, getting them aligned, keeping them motivated and getting them happy is a tough, tough job. A CEO recently commented to me “I don’t want to be in the human scale business”. It doesn’t matter, if you are a solo consultant or a leader of thousands… We are all in the human scale business! Get used to it and get good at it.

2. Communication is everything  – Like #1 we have always known that communication was both important and hard. We even made it one of our core values and created a committee to help us get better at it. Yet when faced with the question on annual reviews of what the company could do better, communication came up almost every time. I have always said that 95% of all problems stem from some communication challenge… this number might actually be closer to 99%.

The rest of these, while still great learnings, are not as profound as the first two… but are still very interesting.

1. Listen, listen, listen – My company’s President (Doug Ross) has a saying “listen for two minutes, before saying anything”. Dale Carnegie said “I had him thinking of me as a good conversationalist when, in reality, I had been merely a good listener”.  I was coached from a team member that if I could listen a little more and approach discussions from a common ground I would find a lot success. He’s right!

2. The small things are the big things – I had the pleasure of working with Josh Dykstra (his new book) this year. Josh kept saying “the small things are the big things”, I’m not sure I understood it at the time. The saying resonated with me and throughout the year I kept seeing the truth in this statement. When I think about this culture thing, it’s all about doing all the small things right.

3. Apple is better – At least for now Apple has the best and most integrated platform. I’ve resisted for a long time and I have been very comfortable working in the non-Mac world. My Android crapped-out on me mid year and with no good alternative on the market at the time I got an iPhone. I have since purchased an iPad mini and 13’ MacBook Pro with retina display and I couldn’t be happier!

4. Promote failure – The world has changed, the speed of innovation is moving so that traditional education simply cannot keep up. The best way to maintain pace with this speed of innovation is to allow people to fail quickly and openly. When I look back on this year, our biggest challenges came from being afraid to fail, and some of our best improvements came from a quick failure.

5. Everything is in a cycle – There is no such thing as maintaining, continuous or a constant, everything is in a cycle. Even if things don’t change, even if people get more and more, and even when things are managed to the highest tolerance, things are forced into a cycle. It is best to understand these cycles and wait for the upward momentum for change.

6. Make people happy – While this might seem like an insurmountable task it’s actually not that hard to make most professionals happy. For the most part it’s a simple three-part equation: (aligned+growing+listened = happy)

1)     Make sure people are generally aligned; are they mostly doing something they want to be doing?
2)     Make sure people are always growing. Even when things are really, really hard, if people feel like     they are growing (learning) things are usually OK. But when things are hard and there is no growth… things just suck!
3)     Listened to, people need to feel like someone is listening.  

Do these three things and most people will be generally happy! :D

7. You can’t please everyone – Now that we have over 200 people, the one thing I know for sure is that you can't please everyone. Once you hit a certain mass there will always be someone that thinks what was implemented was the complete worst thing. I finally admitted this after reading this article on the iPhone 5 where people were unhappy about the iPhone5 being too light and too thin.   

8. Grow the right way – Ever since I graduated from college I always believed in the hockey stick growth model. The VCs love seeing this in a business model. After reading Jim Collins, Great by Choice, I realized this is completely wrong, at least for building a company that will last. And guess what... its all about the people! When you grow too fast, you can’t maintain the people. You can only grow as fast as you can to find and keep the right people.

9. Stuck in the 10% – This year I have had the fortune of working with some very, very talented people…  over 200 of them. There were times when we would read the entire group through just the loudest 10%, where the overall group’s direction was much different. There’s a huge human tendency to just focus on what’s wrong, instead of what’s right. I saw this same insight in people’s work, we would spend extraordinary amount of time trying to get to perfect.

10. Reaction – This last one might be a lesson as opposed to learning, in that I understand it, but at least in myself I have not had much success correcting or dealing with it. In most cases when you are simply reacting to something you tend to not do your best. Another quote from Jim Collins, “great leaders don’t merely react; they create”.

There were plenty more, but these 12 came with the best reflection.  I am taking these reflections to build upon and make an even better 2013!!!

So I ask you...  in 2013 will you grow at the safe speed of solo? Or are you brave enough to grow 10x faster at the speed of having a “co”?  :D