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.

Guide to the Real Silicon Valley

Steve Blank, our UC Berkeley professor, wrote an awesome “Guide to the Real Silicon Valley”. I recommend it to everyone who is planning to visit and even to those already living in The Bay. I’m quoting an excerpt here:

For the ultimate startup experience: talk yourself into carrying someone’s bags as they give a pitch to a VC. Be a fly on the wall and soak it in.

If you’re trying to get a real feel of the culture: apply and interview for jobs in three Silicon Valley companies even if you don’t want any of them. The interview will teach your more about Silicon Valley company culture and the valley than any tour.

Meet some locals in tech: attend at least three tech-oriented Meetups or Plancast events in the Valley or San Francisco (Meetup is a deep list. Search for “startup” meetup’s in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Clara.)

Go to the best events: Check out the meetups from iOS Developers and Hackers and Founders and 106Miles and Ideakick and Startup Grind. Catch a monthly hackathon. Subscribe to StartupDigest Silicon Valley edition before you visit.

Cowork with a startup: Find a real 3–10 person startup, working from a small crammed co-working space and sit with them for an afternoon. Offer to code for free. San Francisco has many co-working spaces (shared offices for startups). They’re great to get a feel of what it’s like to start when there’s just a few founders and you don’t have your own garage. Visit Founders Den, Sandbox Suites, Citizenspace, pariSoma Innovation, the Hub,NextSpace, RocketSpace, Startup House, The Hatchery, PeopleBrowsrDolores Labs and DogPatch Labs. Check out here for more SF sites

See where hackers hang out: Driving down the valley see Studio G in Redwood City, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, the Plug & Play Tech Centerin Sunnyvale, Semantic Seed in San Jose. Check out this site for the latest updates on co-working spaces.

Rub shoulders with the makers: Head to an event at Blackbox.vc or Galvanize. See if there’s a Startup Weekend or SVForum event going on in the Bay Area. I’m serious — talk yourself into a job.

How Can a Startup with 5M Users Fail

This an article to forward to all those who share a simplistic philosophies of “Build It and They Will Come” or “Money does not matter, only great product and getting a lot of users matter”.

This Startup Had Over 5 Million Users And A Great Product. Then It Folded.” on Fast Company:

Consider Springpad, a startup founded in 2008 and once considered an Evernote rival. That wasn’t enough. The company failed to develop a monetization strategy–and despite their best efforts (and rumored acquisitions by Amazon and Google), things just didn’t turn around in time.

“We built a heck of a product. But we didn’t build the business.”

“We ran out of money, that’s basically the end of the story. It was a timing problem.”

Technology to make us read faster

If you missed the buzz about Spritz startup this week, let me tell you about it. The guys behind it developed an interesting technology that might help us all read faster without an extra effort. Key idea is to eliminate the unnecessary eye movement my properly positioning words.  Unfortunately, there is nothing to download so far, but I think  a lot of cool apps will be developed soon.

spritz_devices

Update 2014.03.26: 

Squirt.io – browser application.

Here is how it works:
Continue reading

Memrise: learning languages mnemonically using spaced repetition

You might remember my recent post about “Moonwalking with Einstein” book about memory and mnemonics.

What you probably did not know though is that one of the characters, winner of multiple memory championships, Ed Cooke, launched his own web startup Memrise.com

I first read about it in The Guardian article “How I learned a language in 22 hours” by the book author, Joshua Foer. Although, the title is somewhat misleading, the approach is very interesting. So, what is so special about Memrise? They have an interesting learning model. Primarily, the focus is on languages, but there is a whole range of secondary courses, ranging from “How to say I love you in 100 languages” to HTML5.

memrise

The first principle: spaced repetition. The words you are asked to remember are spaced in time in a precise manner with intervals calculated based on your past performance. By the way, the same principle is employed by simple app Anki which I once briefly mentioned in my post about GMAT.

The second principle: mnemonic. You are usually shown a picture or an idea that helps you remember a given word using associations. These so-called mems are added by members of community in the best crowd-sourcing traditions. The most voted-up are displayed.

And of course, they also use gamification, who does not?

Overall, it appears to be an interesting tool. However, it remains to be seen whether it is really a good idea to invest one’s time in it without a firm intention to actually learn a language. But learning to read a Chinese menu sounds like a fun thing to try anyway, all serious goals aside.

By the way, Memrise is also discussed on Quora which I recently wrote about.