HBR on Corporate Culture Design

I had a chance to work for companies with very different corporate cultures. In my experience culture does not just happen. Instead, it should be deliberately designed and reinforced. So I found this Harvard Business Review article relevant and insightful:

Think carefully about each of these four elements:

  • Incentives are a basic element of doing good work. People should be paid fairly and competitively for their roles, and increases in compensation should be a predictable process. In addition to pay, the culture should work to reward results generated versus hours worked. Employees shouldn’t feel anxious about how visible they are in the office or on projects, and strict timekeeping can create a sense of mistrust between teams and management. Lastly, and this is something we care about a lot, good failure should not result in career suicide.
  • Context and rules will determine what rituals and processes allow people to do great work. If initiative is punished instead of rewarded, people will feel less compelled to push new ideas internally. The ability to make quick judgment calls and move decisions forward will outpace any lengthy or cumbersome internal approvals process. The same goes for autonomy and flexibility—do you trust your teams to lead while you get out of the way? Are teams allowed to participate in flexible work options that encourage their productivity? Your teams need the right tools and resources to do their job—are they spending more time fighting for what they need? If access to those resources is limited, individuals will be less inclined to take part in initiatives with so many blockers in front of them.
  • People are the core of a great organization and the processes and systems you use to hire, promote, and reward them can be both enablers and blockers. Bob Sutton’s famous “no asshole rule” is an important factor when hiring people for your company, especially if they’re “star performers”. Sutton believes that star performers who are demeaning can wreak havoc on organizations. You just can’t compromise your business on people like that.
  • Leadership has to play a role in the culture if the whole organization is to transform. And leading by example is a pivotal component of management enablers (and blockers: leadership can lead by poor example as well, of course). If leadership exhibits the behaviors expected of teams and individuals, then people in the organization will follow suit.

Superforecasting

Just finished reading “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” by Philip Tetlock. The book is similar to Nate Silver’s “The Signal and The Noise” in many ways.

I’d definitely recommend this one if you’re interested in the application of the scientific mindset to forecasting of future events.

Here is a quote to give you sense of what to expect:

“Suppose someone says, “Unfortunately, the popularity of soccer, the world’s favorite pastime, is starting to decline.” You suspect he is wrong. How do you question the claim?

Don’t even think of taking a personal shot like “You’re silly.” That only adds heat, not light. “I don’t think so” only expresses disagreement without delving into why you disagree. “What do you mean?” lowers the emotional temperature with a question but it’s much too vague. Zero in. You might say, “What do you mean by ‘pastime’?” or “What evidence is there that soccer’s popularity is declining? Over what time frame?” The answers to these precise questions won’t settle the matter, but they will reveal the thinking behind the conclusion so it can be probed and tested. Since Socrates, good teachers have practiced precision questioning, but still it’s often not used when it’s needed most.”

“How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt notes

How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt, despite being quite self-congratulatory and maybe even prone to confirmation bias, is full of inspirational ideas and bids of practical wisdom to learn from. I took a few (ok, quite a few) notes on smart creatives, decision making, hiring, innovation, strategy, career, management and even managing email.

On smart creatives:

“And who, exactly, is this smart creative? A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry, that means she is most likely a computer scientist, or at least understands the tenets and structure of the systems behind the magic you see on your screens every day. But in other industries she may be a doctor, designer, scientist, filmmaker, engineer, chef, or mathematician. She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes. She is analytically smart. She is comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions. She also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis. Let data decide, she believes, but don’t let it take over.

She is business smart. She sees a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three. She is competitive smart. Her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but it also includes a lot of work. She is driven to be great, and that doesn’t happen 9-to-5. She is user smart. No matter the industry, she understands her “get it right the next time around. She is self-directed creative. She doesn’t wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if she doesn’t agree with it. She takes action based on her own initiative, which is considerable.

She is open creative. She freely collaborates, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance. If she were into needlepoint, she would sew a pillow that said, “If I give you a penny, then you’re a penny richer and I’m a penny poorer, but if I give you an idea, then you will have a new idea but I’ll have it too.” Then she would figure out a way to make the pillow fly around the room and shoot lasers.

She is thorough creative. She is always on and can recite the details, not because she studies and memorizes, but because she knows them. They are her details. She is communicative creative. She is funny and expresses herself with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many.”

 

HIPPOs:

“Hippopotamuses are among the deadliest animals, faster than you think and capable of crushing (or biting in half) any enemy in their path. Hippos are dangerous in companies too, where they take the form of the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion. When it comes to the quality of decision-making, pay level is intrinsically irrelevant and experience is valuable only if it is used to frame a winning argument. Unfortunately, in most companies experience is the winning argument. We call these places “tenurocracies,” because power derives from tenure, not merit. It reminds us of our favorite quote from Jim Barksdale, erstwhile CEO of Netscape: “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

When you stop listening to the hippos, you start creating a meritocracy, which our colleague Shona Brown concisely describes as a place where “it is the quality of the idea that matters, not who suggests it.” Sounds easy, but of course it isn’t. Creating a meritocracy requires equal participation by both the hippo, who could rule the day by fiat, and the brave smart creative, who risks getting trampled as she stands up for quality and merit.”

 

On technical insights as a driver of innovation:

“Bet on technical insights, not market research. Product leaders create product plans, but those product plans often (usually!) lack the most important component: What is the technical insight upon which those new features, products, or platforms will be built? A technical insight is a new way of applying technology or design that either drives down the cost or increases the functions and usability of the product by a significant factor. The result is something that is better than the competition in a fundamental way. The improvement is often obvious; it doesn’t take a lot of marketing for customers to figure out that this product is different from everything else.

For example, at that time Google was experimenting in applying some of our expertise from online advertising to other advertising markets, including print, radio, and TV. These were clever efforts, supported by smart people, but they lacked that fundamental technical insight that would shift the cost-performance curve non-incrementally and provide significant differentiation. All three ultimately failed. And when we look back at other Google products that didn’t make it (iGoogle, Desktop, Notebook, Sidewiki, Knol, Health, even the popular Reader), they all either lacked underlying technical insights from the outset, or the insights upon which they were based became dated as the Internet evolved.”

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How to Start a Startup Stanford class materials

Free, open to everyone and highly educational Stanford class “How to Start a Startup” has just ended. But all the materials, including talks by star speakers, such as Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Ben Horowitz, Sam Altman, Brian Chesky and others are going to be available online. For quick reference, here is the complete collection of all course materials:

Lectures

Date Speaker Topic
9/23/14 Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator
Dustin Moskovitz, Cofounder, Facebook, Cofounder, Asana, Cofounder, Good Ventures
Welcome, and Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution Part I
Why to Start a Startup
9/25/14 Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution Part II
9/30/14 Paul Graham, Founder, Y Combinator Before the Startup
10/2/14 Adora Cheung, Founder, Homejoy Building Product, Talking to Users, and Growing
10/7/14 Peter Thiel, Founder, Paypal, Founder, Palantir, and Founder, Founders Fund Competition is For Losers

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Good vs Bad PM by Ben Horowitz

There was a mention in the “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” of “Good Product Manager – Bad Product Manager” document written by Ben Horowitz himself during his tenure as Opsware CEO. So I’ve decided to look it up. In my experience as a brand manager in consumer goods companies, characteristics and behaviors that make a good PM in tech are very consistent with those that make a good brand manager in CPG or even a general manager in general.

Here is the full version found on khoslaventures.com worth looking at:

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Self-reflective speech MBA exercise

MBA is not only about studying finance and accounting and solving cases, we also have multiple courses on leadership. One of them was focused on communication aspect. And as part of this course we had to deliver various two-minute speeches in front of the group of 10 people. Then, we received a feedback. Speeches were also recorded for later personal review.

Topic of each speech was different, but I found the first one the most interesting as it provoked certain self-reflection during preparation. So, I thought that you might want to try exercise by yourself. If you do not have a group of people to present in front of, just imagine an audience and record a video with a smartphone and watch it. The first topic was very simple: “Who am I?”

Also, we were given several hints or questions we might consider answering while preparing or delivering a speech:

  • What forces have shaped you, what real challenges have you faced? 
  • What do you care about in life?  
  • What’s an unexpected characteristic, or interest, or talent?  
  • Who is most important to you?  
  • Where are you vulnerable?  
  • What is a long-term aspiration you hold? 

And here is a couple of questions to ponder when watching your video:

  •  Articulate what stands out for you watching your “Who Am I?” video. What are you pleased with? What do you specifically want to improve?

So, this is it. Hope, you find it helpful.

For me personally the most interesting part was to see how differently other nine people approached the same exercise.

2 books about brain: What best neuroscientists can teach us about memory, creativity, society, productivity, work & leadership

Not a long time ago I wrote a post about My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. And during last couple of months I listened to and read 2 more: Brain Rules by John Medina and Your Brain at Work by David Rock. Unlike Jill, they don’t tell their own stories but try to give real life recommendations based on neuroscience research.

John focuses on general principles rules of brain functioning which he covers relatively briefly. David on the other hand provides more of a deep dive in various situations that we face daily, mostly at work but views them through the prism of our brain and its biochemistry. Social concepts, such as status, reward and others are explained through things like oxitocin, dopamin & epinephrin.

Those who find such topics interesting can find my notes below. Plus, a couple of great videos of authors’ talks and one fun Slideshare presentation.

1. Brain Rules by John Medina

I used the actual “brain rules” by John from his website as the basis for my notes and briefly tried to explain main idea of each one.

John Medina

EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.

John recommends various kind of physical activity, especially aerobic one, including long walks. He states that if participants of business meetings walked on treadmills with 1.8 mile/hr speed, they would come up with much more creative ideas, not to mention increased memory and overall well-being. By the way, John takes his own medicine. It took him 15 minutes to adapt to replying to emails while walking.

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