Category: leadership

living 2015 like a BOSS

“… Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
(Matthew 17:20 NIV Bible)

lion-roar

Every year I use the month of January as an opportunity to reflect on my upcoming year and how I would like to focus my attention. I find this more effective than setting arbitrary resolutions that I am not truly committed to follow through with. This year, a series of events and circumstances has crystallized for me what my key theme for 2015 should be.

The colloquial phrase ‘like a BOSS’ is the easiest way for me to summarize the theme because it captures the posture with which I am looking at this year.

The combination of two things in my current reality have made me realize that my only way to come out of this year where I want to will be by exercising a level of boldness that is usually outside of my comfort zone.

The first is that I am experiencing a very high level of constraints on my resources. Money is tight. Time is limited.

Despite these constraints, the second thing is that my vision is bigger than it has been since my mid-20s. I have a very clear picture of what I want spiritually, relationally, physically, professionally and financially.

It’s a big picture.

And the only way to bridge the gap between my resources and what needs to happen will be through a strategic use of leverage – squeeze a lot out of a little.

I will seek out and take advantage of opportunities that are as efficient as possible, while maintaining my integrity and commitment to serving others.

So what does ‘like a BOSS’ look like?

  • It’s being honest with someone even when it’s uncomfortable
  • It’s finding a way to get things done regardless of the obstacles
  • It’s dreaming big and taking massive action to make those dreams happen
  • It’s shrugging of negative comments from those who don’t get it while loving them just the same
  • It’s not being afraid to fail because I know I can get right back up again
  • It’s believing in others long enough for them to see the giant within

It’s helping regular people do great things.

I don’t listen to Katy Perry but 2015 will hear me roar.

Madiba

I remember in my second year of high school in Botswana, we had a history teacher named Mr. Wilson who was determined to help us gain an appreciation for the importance of understanding the past and its impact on the present.  He didn’t want us to just memorize the information for the purpose of passing the tests – he wanted us to care about the content and make it our own.

One of the ways in which he achieved this goal with me was a series he took us through about three historical figures: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.  With each of the figures, he took us through their background, how they rose up in leadership of a movement, the sacrifices they had to make and ultimately, how they changed the world.

I remember reflecting on how interconnected these three historical figures experiences were with each other.  Martin Luther King Jr. was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s ‘non-violent’ approach to protest and the earlier part of Mandela’s leadership applied the same principles.  Prior to his civil rights work in India, Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa where he developed many of his political views and methods fighting injustices in Mandela’s native land.

All three challenged a ‘status quo’ that at the time seemed insurmountable and ultimately triumphed, not because of their wealth or military power – but because of their strength of conviction which caused a movement of people to rise up that eventually could not be ignored.

Nelson Mandela PosterIn 1989, when we studied these figures, two of them were already dead and the one who was living was still serving an unjust lifetime imprisonment sentence. We did not even know what Nelson Mandela looked like because all the photos released of him at the time were pre-prison.

Our visual image of him was the young man in his 40s with a part in his hair that we saw on all the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ posters.  So we studied him like a ‘past’ figure because we did not know if he would ever be released.

So I remember very vividly the following year when it was announced that he would be released.  Our school came to a standstill as everybody let it sink in – that day no class really studied – we just rejoiced.

And then on the day that he was released, we spent several hours watching a television shot of a gate as we waited for him to emerge.  There were several delays and it only built the anticipation of who he would be after all these years.

Was he a frail old man and a shadow of his former self?

Had he lost his regal stature and magnetic draw because of the unmentionable horrors of imprisonment?

Would he be bitter and seek revenge on his now vanquished tormentors?

Thankfully, the answer to those questions was no, no and absolutely not.  He emerged and lived an amazing ‘second chapter’ to his life that most people could not manage in a single life.  From uniting a country that was on the brink of civil war, to bringing Africa its first World Cup, his imprint has resonated throughout the world over the past two decades.

nelson-jacketEven within my family his impact has been tremendous.  I think this post by my sister this morning gives a very good summary of the breadth of his reach.  I love the picture that she used in her post because I am so thankful that our visual image of him today is that imprint that she used when she designed the jacket – rather than the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ posters we grew up with.

 

 

letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).

reflecting on the passing of Steve Jobs

So much has been written over the past day and a half about the legacy of Steve Jobs’ life and the more I read, the more it is impressed on me how much he had an impact directly on my life and my love of technology.  From the first computer I ever used (Apple IIe) to my current obsession with Android, Jobs had a direct hand in creating the world that made these things possible.

It has been often quoted throughout the day, but until I read the whole text, I did not understand the depth of insight that his speech at Stanford’ commencement really had.  I had not read it until today and I am very thankful to Trent at The Simple Dollar for posting this.  I will do the same because I do not have any words of my own to encapsulate the breadth of emotions I have had throughout the day – and I want you to be inspired.

Please take the 5 minutes or so to read the entire speech.  The quotes you have been reading all day will become even more poignant.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

 

a surprisingly effective message delivered in three minutes

I had an opportunity this weekend to practice the simple rules of creating a ‘sticky message’ (‘Made to Stick’ by Chip & Dan Heath) and the principle of ‘intrinsic motivation’ (‘Drive’ by Dan Pink).  The results were quite surprising.

I was asked to do a short three minute talk to a group of young people, ranging from ages 5 to 18, about any topic that I thought would be relevant to them.  This is a practice done at my church every week early in the service.  Because I volunteer on most Friday nights with a group that mentors young men, the expectation was that I had something of value to share to young people.

My original inclination was to give admonitions like the dangers of non-stop texting, or the perils of not listening to your parents, or maybe a little something about how your eyes will fall out if you watch too much TV! – the usual kind of thing young people are used to hearing about I guess.  But then I rethought my approach and realized that the majority of speeches they hear use a ‘carrot and stick’ approach which tries to teach them something by highlighting negative consequences.  My experience is that the best way to motivate a teenager to do something is to tell them it is not good for them!

So I took a different approach and tried to examine what type of message would focus on their internal motivations and play upon ideas that they already accepted as true.  Since most youth are pretty self-absorbed, I picked the topic of ‘unique purpose’ – the idea that everybody has a unique purpose which they alone are designed to fulfill.

My challenge with this message was it is somewhat abstract to talk to young people about ‘purpose’ so I needed a way to make the message more ‘sticky’.  In come the SUCCESS factors from ‘Made to Stick’ (I used five of the six):

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional

To make the message SIMPLE, I focused on the core idea of being ‘good’ at something.  I asked them to all raise their hands if they were good at something.

To make it CONCRETE and EMOTIONAL, I asked them to close their eyes and imagine themselves doing that thing that they were good at.  I let this sink in for a moment so that by seeing themselves doing the thing they were good at, they could physically feel that sense of mastery and satisfaction that comes from excelling at an ability.

Next, I asked them to turn to the person next to them and tell them what they were good at and listen to what that person was good at.  This made the experience CREDIBLE because they had now not only visualized, but they had also verbalized what they were good at.  They ‘owned’ the information since everybody is their own best ‘witness’.

Then came the UNEXPECTED.  I asked them all to raise their hands if they had told a person next to them that they were good at something and the person was good at the same thing.  Out of about 60 youth, only about one or two raised their hands.  The reason this was unexpected is that usually when a speaker asks them to raise their hands, the objective is to get as many people to raise their hands as possible.  In this instance, I wanted as few hands as possible.

I could see the wheels turning.

To help them put it all together, I verbalized what they were thinking, “Not that many huh?”

I told them that what the exercise meant was:

  1. We are all good at SOMETHING
  2. Different people are good at DIFFERENT things

Therefore, their focus should not be so much on what other people are doing (external motivation) but rather what they (internal motivation) are specifically good at and how they can be the very best at that thing (mastery).  This was a simple way of saying that everybody has a unique purpose which can only be fulfilled by them.

I left them with the thought that they should think of their lives as a puzzle that only they can solve … so their life should be a constant process of discovering the mysteries of that puzzle as they develop their gifts.

The reason I say the results were surprising is that after this very brief talk I had countless parents come up to me and tell me how inspiring the message had been to them.  Without really meaning to, by making the message so accessible, I had made the message stick with a larger audience than I had originally intended!

are you making your messages effective by making them ‘sticky’?

[Modified from a post I did on my internal blog at work on 5/4/2010.]

I recently read ‘Made to Stick‘ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath which examines the elements that make some ideas stick in our minds for ages, while others die off almost as soon as we are exposed to them.  The premise of the book is that making an idea ‘sticky’ requires the use of one or more of the following six factors:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotion
  6. Stories

Two of these factors resonated with me:

Simplicity
The authors talk about what they call ‘The Curse of Knowledge’, when a speaker knows infinitely more about his topic than his audience and therefore forgets that his audience doesn’t have the same level of understanding.  This causes a disconnect between his message and the audience because his assumptions are wrong.  As a business analyst, I often catch myself doing this when dealing with the business and I have to force myself to step back and get back into their shoes and simplify what I am saying.

Simplifying without ‘dumbing down’ though – that’s the trick.  And we do so by knowing and exploiting the ‘core’ of our idea.

Unexpectedness
Ideas exist in a large marketplace of other ideas competing for the attention of your audience and one of the ways in which you can make your idea stick is by going against the grain of people’s expectations.  The authors tell the story of a flight attendant who makes the following safety announcement at the beginning of a flight:

If I could get your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.

And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removeable window exits, and two aft exit doors. The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle.

Made ya look!

When was the last time you actually paid attention to what the flight attendant was saying at the beginning of the flight?  I bet you would have paid attention in this instance!  So the flight attendant was successful in capturing the passengers’ attention because she moved away from the normal script (while still keeping all the key safety information) and injecting humor.

There isn’t an obvious opportunity to be unexpected at the moment, but I will be looking out for it.

Applying to Work
For my day job, I work in Banking IT.  Banking is inherently an industry of ideas – we don’t make any widgets.  A stock is an idea, a derivative is an abstraction … and so on and so on.

Outside of the hardware component, IT is primarily a profession of ideas.

So at work I deal with ideas about ideas and abstractions.  So to be trully successful, I really need to be more sticky!

How about you?