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.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is yet another mind-expanding book:

“About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry.

About 3.8. billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology.

About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.

Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago. The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago. The Scientific Revolution, which got under way only 500 years ago, may well end history and start something completely different. This book tells the story of how these three revolutions have affected humans and their fellow organisms.”

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.”

Chaos Monkeys

Enjoying reading Antonio‘s Chaos Monkeys now. The book is a rather honest account of launching and working at tech startups in the Valley.

Here is a quote on math behind Facebook growth, for example:

“The reality is that Facebook has been so successful, it’s actually running out of humans on the planet. Ponder the numbers: there are about three billion people on the Internet, where the latter is broadly defined as any sort of networked data, texts, browser, social media, whatever. Of these people, six hundred million are Chinese, and therefore effectively unreachable by Facebook. In Russia, thanks to Vkontakte and other copycat social networks, Facebook’s share of the country’s ninety million Internet users is also small, though it may yet win that fight.

That leaves about 2.35 billion people ripe for the Facebook plucking. While Facebook seems ubiquitous to the plugged-in, chattering classes, its usage is not universal among even entrenched Internet users. In the United States, for example, by far the company’s most established and sticky market, only three-quarters of Internet users are actively on FB. That ratio of FB to Internet user is worse in other countries, so even full FB saturation in a given market doesn’t imply total Facebook adoption. Let’s (very) optimistically assume full US-level penetration for any market. Without China and Russia, and taking a 25 percent haircut of people who’ll never join or stay (as is the case in the United States), that leaves around 1.8 billion potential Facebook users globally. That’s it. In the first quarter of 2015, Facebook announced it had 1.44 billion users. Based on its public 2014 numbers, FB is growing at around 13 percent a year, and that pace is slowing. Even assuming it maintains that growth into 2016, that means it’s got one year of user growth left in it, and then that’s it: Facebook has run out of humans on the Internet.

The company can solve this by either making more humans (hard even for Facebook), or connecting what humans there are left on the planet. This is why Internet.org exists, a vaguely public-spirited, and somewhat controversial, campaign by Facebook to wire all of India with free Internet, with regions like Brazil and Africa soon to follow. In early 2014 Facebook acquired a British aerospace firm, Ascenta, which specialized in solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles. Facebook plans on flying a Wi-Fi-enabled air force of such craft over the developing world, giving them Internet. Just picture ultralight carbon-fiber aircraft buzzing over African savannas constantly, while locals check their Facebook feeds as they watch over their herds.”

Waking Up by Sam Harris, my notes

I just wanted to share some excerpts from Waking Up by Sam Harris that I listened to a couple of months ago. It is a great book that covers so many topics: mindfulness, meditation, neuroscience, cognition, emotions and others. It is worth reading in its entirety and I am personally planning to re-read it. So here are some notes:

“Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.”

“There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.”

“My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.”

“How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages—but a growing body of scientific research now bears it out.”

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“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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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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Happiest Countries According to Studies

There are a lot of different approaches to measure happiness levels in a given country and, of course, they are all imperfect. These two recent studies seem interesting though: According to the latest Gallup, these are the happiest countries:

% Thriving in 3+ Elements of Well-being

  1. Panama 61
  2. Costa Rica 44
  3. Denmark 40
  4. Austria 39
  5. Brazil 39
  6. Uruguay 37
  7. El Salvador 37
  8. Sweden 36
  9. Guatemala 34
  10. Canada 34

And these lists are by the UC Berkeley professors, teaching “Science of Happiness” EdX MOOC:

Subjective Happiness

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Croatia
  3. Chile
  4. Malaysia
  5. Colombia

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