Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Some Advice from Jeff Bezos

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jeff bezos

Jason Fried over at the popular Signal v. Noise blog has a fantastic post about Jeff Bezos stopping by the Basecamp offices to talk product strategy with the Basecamp team. The floor was opened up to a 45-minute Q&A session, in which Bezos shared an interesting opinion:

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

I’m no Jeff Bezos, but I have been noticing the same thing.

The world is not black and white, and there are very few absolutes, especially in discussions about complex systems or proposals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea, strongly held, that eventually withers away into a new idea in the face of new evidence or more nuanced information. This is why I’ve learned to become a big fan of brainstorming and ideation meetings: even if you reject 80% of what comes up during these discussions, the other 20% modifies (often dramatically) the opinions you held before the meeting began.

When I meet someone who holds stringently to an idea and is not willing to consider other points of view, I see someone who’s only interested in one narrative. The truth, while interesting, represents a cost that will somehow be unaffordable to his or her personal bias or ideology.

To me, growing personally and professionally means understanding that absolute views aren’t ideal, and opening your mind to perspectives that you might not consider agreeable. I see this phenom a lot in politics or the fitness world, where polemics are the norm: people clinging to one side of the debate or the other, like a tribal chant, 100% unwilling to consider, even for one second, information or discussion coming from “outside” their camp.

Fantastic, thought-provoking advice from Bezos.

Malcolm Gladwell on Criticism

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Here’s author Malcolm Gladwell on the concept of criticism, and how entering a critical dialog with someone doesn’t have to equate to taking a shot at them or their work literally. Good stuff, and while it’s a solid theory most people understand, it’s much harder to put into practice. It requires a good deal of mindfulness and an understanding of our own intent.

This is excerpted from this excellent Brain Pickings post, in which Gladwell talks not only about criticism, but also tolerance and the idea of changing your mind. You really shouldn’t miss it.

The Danger of the Half Step

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Earlier this week, I shared a post on our Facebook page about an article called The 30 second habit with a lifelong impact. It’s a great piece, and you should read it.

This made me think about some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. The kind of advice that makes you go, “Huh, okay” when you first hear it, but years later, after it has marinated in some experience and successes and failures, dawns on you that for the first time, you actually get it. Isn’t this the nature of all real advice?

It was given to me by a mentor, and he’s probably reading this blog right now. The advice is simple. Ready?

Never take a half step.

That’s it. Don’t take a half step. Either take a full step, or don’t take the step.


Casual Friday: Link Pack

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linksHonestly, I save pages all the time to Pinboard (if you collect pages/links for future reference, let me be the first to say this is worth a one-time fee of $10.37), and it’s been quite some time since I’ve emptied my queue. I’ve scoured the entire internet to bring these to you, which is no small feat. You’re welcome.

Anton Checkov on the 8 qualities of cultured people.

I want this hole to another universe for my son’s bedroom wall.

Steve Jobs’s most inspiring quotes.

Nike has fired its FuelBand team and seems set to exit the wearables market. This is interesting to me for two reasons: (1) the FuelBand was widely met with good reviews, and (2) Tim Cook wears a FuelBand. And he’s on the Nike board. My wildly-speculative guess is that Nike knows something we don’t about, um, a disruption in the wearables space. Just a hunch.

The Crossroads of Should and Must: easily the best thing you’ll read all weekend. I mean it.

6 must-read book recommendations from our favorite leaders. Looking for a good book to read, one that comes recommended from someone you respect? Your search is over. (I’ve read Julien Smith’s The Flinch, and it’s one of the ONLY books about self-improvement that has stuck with me. I literally think about it weekly. Oh, and it’s free, too.)

Interesting: Sherpa pay on Mt. Everest is $2k-$4K per season, compared to a median income of $540. It’s a good (but obviously insanely dangerous) gig to have, and their lives are insured up to $23K. Talk about endeavoring risk for reward.

Honestly — no kidding here — I love dodgeball. Yes, I know that’a a terribly awkward sentence for a 45-year-old to write. Nevertheless, it’s too bad the game has been demonized to the point of extinction.

I’ve wondered this myself: why is national anthem singing so much better in hockey than other sports?

Have a good weekend, everyone.

The Art of Possibility

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I was at a client recently. I was hunkered down in their conference room trying to knock out a few emails in between meetings. I noticed a sign that caught my attention.

The sign read 10 Rules for Meetings and was clearly posted as some guiding principles for those who use the room. It included a few goodies like (in no particular order):

  1. Give everyone a chance to speak before speaking again

  2. Assign action items and timeframes

  3. Finish on time

  4. Have a clear purpose and agenda for the meeting

While these are great reminders of what makes an effective and productive meeting, there was one that grabbed my attention:


I stopped to ponder the value of that statement.  How many times do we all sit in meetings that get de-railed by what “can’t” be done when trying to solve a problem?  I have been in meetings where one problem has turned into an immeasurable list of the things we can’t do. Roadblock after roadblock. We spent so much time talking about what we can’t do that we forgot what the problem was.

I completely understand how those conversations happen, but they can totally hijack a meeting, stifle creativity, demoralize the team, and leave everyone feeling defeated.  The true genius is within those folks who are not saddled by what cannot be done, but challenged by the possibilities of what can.  They are POSSIBILITARIANS, and they tend to open doors for all of us.  Remind yourself of the jobs created by folks like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and thousands like them who decided to chase what is possible rather than focus on what they can’t do.

For a few fleeting moments, this one simple rule opened a world of opportunity for me.  It reminded me that I am more valuable to my company, and my peers, and my clients when I chase what is possible and focus on “getting things done.” Sometimes I ruffle feathers. Sometimes I say the wrong thing. Or sometimes my good intentions are labelled as “we can’t do that.” And sometimes I stumble on an idea that makes a positive impact on a wide audience.

With thanks to my customer and a simple little sign in their conference room, I am reminded that the chase for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is far better than sitting alone justifying that I “can’t” find it because it doesn’t exist.

Seize the day!  Chase the moment!  Be a POSSIBILITARIAN!  You have it in you!

Be Wary of the Bucket of Crabs

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Joe Rogan is easily my favorite podcaster, and he’s what I’m listening to 90% of my time in the car. Recently, while interviewing bowhunting athlete Cameron Hanes, mentioned that life is like a bucket of crabs. Here’s what that means: in a bucket of crabs, when one figures out how to climb up and escape the bucket, what do the others do?

They pull him back down.

Joe offhandedly said, “That’s pretty much what’s wrong with the world in a nutshell. We’re a bucket of crabs.”

I’ve thought the same thing, crab metaphor aside.

This is especially true on the internet, where everyone seems to be hardwired to criticize and find fault – the bucket of crabs model seems to be the standard operating procedure. It goes:

Don’t be inspired, be insecure.

Don’t celebrate someone else’s success, be envious.

Don’t learn, but instead cling more fiercely to your own confirmation bias.

Don’t escape. Stay and suffer the collective fate.

It’s a toxic pattern that comes down to self-awareness. I don’t think people consciously understand what they’re doing, but nonetheless their behavior is viral, as it’s easier for everyone to displace their own insecurities and worries by rooting for the failure of others. I see it in fitness, careers, even kids’ sports. Self-awareness is hard work and a constant vigil. Jumping into the middle of the zeitgeist and rooting for the one successful guy to take a fall, or to mock his new product or service? Well heck, that’s easy. After all, you didn’t quite get that startup off the ground, so that dude certainly can’t, right?

Or at least so says your ego.

We’re in a bucket of crabs.

Maybe we should learn a thing or two from the one who escapes.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

What Not Giving Up Really Looks Like

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Leadership and business literature is rife with dictums and volumes about not giving up. The sentiment was even on a now-ancient Successories poster that said:

Go over, go under, go around, or go through. But never give up.

Here, the message is brute force, as if you’re a Navy SEAL who’s going to achieve his mission or die trying. Failure is not an option!

Nice sentiment, and probably motivational for bristling alpha types, but not altogether realistic. In fact, an acumen dressed with too much bravado leads to problems in the long run. Problems that make “not giving up” very difficult due to a variety of consequences that befalls such behavior.

Instead, perseverance is the root of not giving up, but nowhere does it connote not failing.


You Can’t Empower People By Decree

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Great mini-lesson from Jason Fried over at 37signals, which he gleaned from the book Turn the Ship Around:

David Marquet, the author and nuclear sub captain, says you can’t empower people by decree. While you might be able to ask someone to make a decision for themselves, that’s not true empowerment (or true leadership). Why? Because you’re still making the decision to ask them to make the decision. That means they can’t move, or think, or act without you. The way to empower people is by creating an environment where they naturally start making decisions for themselves. That’s true empowerment. Leaving space, creating trust, and having the full faith that someone else will rise to the challenge themselves.

Couldn’t be more true if it wanted to.


An Open Letter to Jim Sinegal, Costco CEO

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Usually open letters are scathing public admonishments of a policy or some other corporate decision. Not this one. Chris Horst wrote Jim Sinegal and Craig Jelinek (CEO and President, respectively) a different kind of open letter.

For his entire life, Matthew has been classified and known by his “special needs”. Since the day he began at Costco, however, his coworkers and customers have valued him because of his unique strengths. There are many companies which “succeed” at the expense of their workers. I am a firsthand witness to a counterintuitive company: Costco succeeds through the flourishing of its employees.

Matthew worked for years in the Costco parking lot (bearing the wind, rain, cold and snow), taking pride when it was free of carts. And, true to the rumors (that Costco promotes from within), he eventually was given the opportunity to work in the warehouse as a cashier’s assistant, supporting customers as they check-out. He absolutely loves his job…and his customers absolutely love him.

You have to read the whole thing.

The Upside of…Um, Making People Angry

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Tim Ferriss, writing for The New York Observer, talks about why pissing people off is both inevitable and necessary:

Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs. This is fine—if you are willing to take the heat.

There are good reasons to be willing, even eager.

In  a culture where everyone is an armchair critic, and no matter what you do will bring trolls and naysayers out of the woodwork, it’s important to remember that if we truly want to be successful, there is no such thing as being universally liked.

Read Ferriss’ whole post here. Highly recommended.