Tony Schwartz, “Transforming the Way We Work,” HBR
Investing in your employees’ happiness feeds the company’s bottom line. What do you do in your workplace to engage and satisfy employees?
Tony Schwartz, “Transforming the Way We Work,” HBR
Investing in your employees’ happiness feeds the company’s bottom line. What do you do in your workplace to engage and satisfy employees?
James Chin is a professional poker player living in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas.
As a professional poker player, creating and maintaining flow is of great importance. It’s often the difference between a winning hand and losing your shirt.
What is flow? To me, it’s the feeling of being perfectly adapted to my environment. My working environment is the poker table. Here’s how I do it.
Genuine study of craft. Every situation I encounter at the poker table, I’ve thought through before in my head.
Reading poker books, watching poker videos, analyzing hands away from the table, and playing many hands while at the table with a deliberate thought process give me confidence that I know what the correct play is.
From genuine study comes genuine confidence.
Structure. I make sure that I practice good bankroll management — only playing a certain level of stakes if I have a minimum number of buyins for that stakes such that risk of total ruin is vanishingly small — so that the costs of my poker decisions aren’t so high that they cause me to make risk-averse and sub-optimal plays rather than the plays I know are correct for the situation.
Creating flow feels relatively simple once I have the correct form down and the freedom from fear to use that form.
Mantra. Maintaining flow is still another matter. Poker is similar to life in that even if I make the correct decision, at times, the result will still be negative due to factors outside of my control.
At times like these, it’s easy to slip into a sub-optimal thought process where I dwell on what could have been instead of staying present in the moment and continuing to make the best decision for hands I’m currently involved in.
What helps in these instances is having a mantra that centers me back on the action. It may sound silly, but one mantra that’s been effective for me is a lyric from the film Before Sunset: “Let me sing you a waltz.”
Whenever I think about that scene and that song, I’m immediately flooded with a sense of calm. And just through the swingy nature of the song, I internalize the feeling that swings (in life, in poker) are natural and not something to dwell on.
How do you create and maintain flow?
Study the structure of your field and practice so that you’re confident you know the fundamentals intimately, make sure the cost of failure isn’t so high that it inhibits you from aiming for the lines, and be present, even in the face of difficulty.
This is how I do it for poker. How do you do it?
Check out the beautiful infographic below on our how brains adapt to multi-tasking.
New reports find that high-multi-taskers are “lousy at everything required for multi-tasking.”
Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus—these are work. Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.
Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.
There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (via @the99percent)
You can’t measure creative labor. (But we’ll help you record it!)
The wonder of Silicon Valley has been its rich history of producing incredibly capital efficient companies operating at massive scale. No doubt part of that achievement lies in the capital efficiency of software engineering itself where technology gives incredible leverage to create and disrupt established industries. Nevertheless, as a company scales, individual engineers need to work together in concert which results in the industry-agnostic problem of people management.
Unique from other industries, Silicon Valley’s natural inclination is not simply to find a solution to people management, it’s to create a scalable management model. Of course, technology is the natural place to turn.
During Google’s growth stage, Larry Schwimmer, an early software engineer, stumbled upon a solution deceptively simple, but one that persists to this day at Google and has spread throughout the Valley. In his system called Snippets, employees receive a weekly email asking them to write down what they did last week and what they plan to do in the upcoming week. Replies get compiled in a public space and distributed automatically the following day by email.
A number of the top Silicon Valley startups have similar processes. At Facebook, they have a system called Colbert where weekly check-ins are logged. Square employees, for example, send weekly reports directly to the COO Keith Rabois. The elite engineering shop Palantir requires a weekly email to managers detailing what got done last week and what’s planned for the upcoming week.
The Snippets process at any scale is a compelling productivity solution, and companies of all sizes have adopted it — some, like SV Angel, rich in Google DNA, do daily snippets. The process forces employees to reflect and to jot out a forward-looking plan for getting stuff done, all while requiring a minimal disruption in the employee’s actual work.
Setting aside time on a daily or weekly basis to reflect on the day is a powerful productivity hack. In The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer showed the counterintuitive conclusion that progress toward a meaningful goal is the #1 motivator for employees at work, not financial motivation or downward pressure. Professor Amabile prescribes 5 minutes per day of reflection, religiously protected by bosses, centered around the progress and the setbacks of the day. Simply put, employees connected to their work and its progress are happier and more productive.
On the flip side, Snippets works because it has a minimal disruption in employee flow because it works asynchronously and without facetime. It allows for a maker schedule — large blocks of time dedicated to concentrated progress on work — rather than breaking up an engineer’s day into a manager’s schedule to suit a manager’s need to manage. At Palantir, they do email snippets because they have a very strong culture against meetings. In addition, email as an interface avoids the issues with, for instance, CRMs, where employees spend valuable time logging into a system and entering highly structured information or they don’t use it at all.
Google turned periodic email updates as a process into a scalable management solution, leveraging technology, through automation, data storage and data retrieval. An individual’s Snippets are transparent across the organization and are linked to an individual’s internal resume in its MOMA system which connects individual employees to the work of team members and others within the company. It can kill political squabbles, the core problem of people management, by providing a record of what’s been done.
Put differently, Snippets is a management process that scales because transparency means that individual engineers can manage themselves and individual engineers can manage each other without having to go through a middleman. It’s the disruptive power of peer-to-peer for management centered around atomic units of work.
Silicon Valley’s focus of work around the work itself is still an ongoing competitive advantage. Compare it to the East Coast and you’ll see a stark contrast in the importance of dress and facetime at the office. Being work-centric means focusing manically on how to formulate process to eliminate all the cruft. Most engineers at Google, Zynga, Palantir, Square, etc. do often end up finding the process of Snippets and OKRs to be annoying and unnecessary — at the same time, many of them admit that they were their most productive when they closely tracked their Snippets and OKRs (objectives and key results) and that much of the autonomy and freedom that’s characteristic of top software engineering shops in the Valley could be attributed to Snippets doing its work of people management secretly, in silence.
I’m often surprised by how often I meet VCs/investors who seem to express interest in hearing my personal story of how I ended up going from being a math nerd to working as a big firm corporate lawyer to running a startup. I remember telling Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures something self-deprecating — like, “Oh it’s boring” — in an attempt to move the conversation away from questions I imagined he was asking merely as a courtesy, but in that moment and moments like it, I forget — I am a young guy living the dream.
I’m reminded of Randy Pausch’s lecture on achieving your childhood dreams and enabling the childhood dreams of others as two of the best things in life.
My dad is a math professor. He loves to do math, but he also drips with pride at his students’ accomplishments. I found out that he recently offered his own summer salary to support his graduate student. VCs exist to make money, but they share a similar, important institutional role — to put capital in the pockets of the next generation of entrepreneurs. One generation enabling the childhood dreams of the next is the process of technological and intellectual advancement.
To be able to relate to a professor, no doubt you have to show resourcefulness and tenacity in problem solving. My dad refused to give partial credit to students who left his exams early. He taught me that if I finished an exam early, I should do the entire exam again on the back of the test without looking at my work. If a student had shown up before at office hours, she’d get the benefit of the doubt.
But most important of all, I think — be pure of heart. For example, there’s no worse student than the one who asks, “Is this going to be on the exam?” Intrinsic motivation manifests an effervescence that’s a gravitational force to investors, potential hires, and customers and users. It makes it easy to speak freely and connect with others with an open heart, and it transforms a pitch into the most natural thing in the world.
Wanting to report what you’ve gotten done is a perfectly natural inclination. Before today, we had a rudimentary CSV export file and the option to copy and paste, but no doubt, iDoneThis users deserve better.
Click and drag on the calendar to highlight multiple days’ worth of accomplishments. Where the yellow circle is in the image above, you’ll see 3 icons. Plain text, PDF, and email.
The plain text export will make it much easier to copy and paste your dones, the PDF button will give you a nice report of what you’ve gotten done, and the email icon will let you send off your accomplishments to anyone you choose.
Every company needs to re-invent it self regularly. Without guiding principles that are more than financially motivated, they will struggle with the transformation to capture new value.
- Rashik Parmar
We took time to catch up with Rashik Parmar, the President of IBM’s Academy of Technology. From across the pond, he shares with us his greatest Done from 2011, his work process, and the future of review processes in large corporations.
Rashik, tell us about yourself in three sentences. What do you do and why do you do it? What do you love about your job?
I have worked for IBM for 28 years and am currently the President IBM Academy of Technology. My passion is applying technology to solve real world problems. In my current role, I lead over 5,000 people around the world and hopefully inspire a wide range of new technology solutions.
Tell us about PBCs at IBM. What are they, what purpose do they serve? Where do you think the annual review process in large corporations is headed? Will they ever die out?
We call them Personal Business Commitments. I think everyone needs a personal set of values and goals that are meaningful and motivational. Some of the goals need to align with the corporation - otherwise you need a new job! I think that corporations that live by a set of values and have clear goals that are social, economic and environmental will succeed. IBM is in a good place here. The Smarter Planet Agenda along with the values provide an enduring foundation.
Every company needs to re-invent itself regularly. Without guiding principles that are more than financially motivated, they will struggle with the transformation to capture new value.
Routine is important for a technical person such as yourself. Tell us, what’s the first thing that you do when you arrive at the office? Before you leave?
I maintain various lists which track the next action against all the “open projects”. I skim through those and decide what I want to get done today. I pick a realistic set, so that I can overachieve. I then go through my mail (very quickly as per GTD) and see if anything else needs to be added to the list. Finally, I review my diary and get to work.
You’ve been an active user of ours for a while now. How and why do you use iDoneThis?
It is great to spend a few minutes to reflect on what I have achieved, and it is fantastic to have one place to document that. Then, on a quarterly basis, I review what I to have hoped to achieved and re-plan my long term goals. I am a strong believer/user of the GTD method from David Allen.
What was your greatest accomplishment, or “done” if you will, from 2011? What are your goals for 2012 and how will you accomplish them?
Tough question! For 2011, my greatest Done was defining 5 models for how technology can and is disrupting industries and using these as an innovation technique with clients.
For 2012, I want to bring the vision for the Academy to life. To accomplish this, I’m developing a complex programme of work based on some specific themes including: Technology, Client Innovation, Affiliate Engagement, IBM Brand/Strategic Alignment, Geographic Alignment.
Maybe we’ll visit you in the UK someday. Just in case, how do you take your coffee?
I prefer black coffee - at most a couple of times a day. I also like “fruity teas” - the flavours help to calm the stresses of daily challenges.
“Getting up every morning and looking into the mirror, asking myself: ‘Do I like what I am doing?” After every full day, I do the same in the evening. Whilst I write my next day’s to do list, I reflect on my achievements. And by doing this, I also try to listen as good as I can how much fun and fulfillment I have gotten. If there are too many days in a row that I can’t answer with a loud ‘Yes’, something is up – I am not happy. And I aim to change things around sharply. Very sharply sometimes.”
- Steve Jobs
(Thanks to our blog reader, M. Kelley, who shared this excellent quote with us!)
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out the plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.”
- Victor Hugo
“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
– Bruce Lee
“Schedule your time well. When I know what I am doing from hour to hour I get more done. Write it all in the day’s calendar, what you want to accomplish and in what time frame.”
- Gwyneth Paltrow
Dictionary Evangelist and founder of Wordnik.com, Erin McKean spreads the good word about words. Former editor in chief for American Dictionaries at Oxford University Press and editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2E, Erin also shared her quest to redefine the dictionary itself in a 2007 TED talk.
That redefined dictionary is Wordnik.com. Erin explains, “What we’re really trying to do is map the whole language. We really want to transform the way people relate to meaning. We want to give you a 360-degree view of what that word does.”
We spoke with Erin about her passion-driven career and running a start-up. Plus, we get her expert opinion on iDoneThis’s name.
Your career has clearly been shaped by your passion for words and lexicography. What motivated you to actually work within these fields?
It just felt like a really compelling thing to do. The funny thing is, my hobby is sewing but I have absolutely no desire to do it professionally in any way. I just want to sew for myself. I think that’s probably the difference — how compelled you feel to share what you like with other people.
Did you already have a clear idea of what you wanted to build with Wordnik or was the result more organic?
A little bit of both, because at the beginning we weren’t sure that making this map was going to be even possible given how big English is. But we knew that making a dictionary was not going to be enough.
So Wordnik captures how language evolves with technology.
Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. Because the map that we make changes as people use it. You look up something that we’ve never seen before — we add that to the map, even if there’s no data there. It’s like we pencil it in waiting for the meaning to arrive.
Lexicographers are always playing catch-up. We’re always chasing the language. We don’t produce the language, we report the language so we’re always a step behind, but I’m hoping to make that a baby-step behind and not like a seven-league-boot-step behind.
How has working on Wordnik been different than working on a print dictionary?
I love working with software engineers. The ingenuity and the pride they have in making the impossible possible, not just barreling through but doing it as elegantly as possible.
I’m envious in a way, because their words actually make things. So I’ve been trying to pick up a little bit of coding as well because that seems to me like the ultimate interesting words.
Right, because coding is a language too.
Yeah! And it’s much more regular. It has to be a certain shape. It’s like Shakespearean plays. It has to be in iambic pentameter or else it’s not Shakespearean.
Have your work habits changed since becoming a founder of a start-up?
When I first started working on dictionaries, the joke was that every day was like Sesame Street, like today is sponsored by the letter P. You’d spend a lot of time on one letter. But now as a founder, my job is mostly to do whatever needs most doing that day.
You’ve also found time to write a novel.
I’m kind of an accidental novelist. Before I worked on The Secret Life of Dresses, I really didn’t ever intend to write one. Or if I did, it was going to be science fiction and full of angry robots. But I’m really happy that I did and it was a really tremendous experience, kind of like running a marathon.
I’m trying to get deep into another one. I’m trying to set aside time for writing. It used to be that I could fit in writing into the empty spaces of the day, but startups don’t really leave that much time. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of a zero sum game.
How does iDoneThis fit into that schedule?
It’s nice to have iDoneThis which is so relatively unstructured that I can put down anything. It’s much more reporty. Even though I love some to-do list programs, by the time I check the little tick-box, the task has changed so much that it bears very little resemblance to what I originally said needed to be done. So what I’m checking off doesn’t feel like the real thing.
I tend to be really playful with it. I’m really writing to myself. So instead of writing “answered e-mail”, I tend to write things like “email email email email email email” to kind convey how much email I was actually answering.
I make sure that I record things that wouldn’t normally be in my to-do list, like if I get a funny text from my son who’s 11, or if I have a particularly good run that day I try and note it down, ‘cause I don’t want to have a separate program where I’m like, here are nice things that my child did and here’s my workout log.
As someone whose work focuses on words and language, what do you think about the name of iDoneThis?
Oh, I actually like iDoneThis as the name for the product! I think it’s very lighthearted and “iDidThis” sounds — it’s just not as fun. For some reason “done” sounds more complete. Like you could do something and have it still not be done. And even something that you “did” could still not be done. But when you’ve done something, it is over. I think it’s memorable and that’s an important point.
We host our blog on Tumblr, and it’s our third-largest source of social media traffic after Twitter and Facebook. I asked my friends at Fitocracy for their stats (their blog is on Tumblr, too) and they reported that Tumblr was fourth after Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, and it’s high-volume traffic as Fitocracy is doing several million pageviews monthly. For both of us, it’s in the top 10 of all sources of referral traffic.
With Tumblr, we’re talking about an enormous community — one of the largest on the Internet (rank 24 in the US according to Alexa). Using Tumblr, we not only get a publishing platform, with it comes a huge source of persistent, repeatable traffic and signups for free.
That’s why Paul Stamatiou’s recent post, Startups: Don’t Host Your Blog on Tumblr, came off as missing the boat on what’s really important in a company blog. It took a tech-centric approach (uptime, technical substitutes) to a question that’s really about user/customer acquisition and engagement. Simply put, not hosting something, whether it be a company blog or a tumblelog, on Tumblr amounts to nothing more than a missed opportunity to reach internet scale.
In elementary school, I never showed my work on homework. I tried to impress the teacher by going straight to the right answer. On occasion — it’s embarrassing — I’d even erase my work and write the answer on top.
When I got to college, the math problems were harder. I showed my work for my own benefit, because it helped me organize and analyze my thoughts. I wasn’t always getting right answers these days. Showing my work helped me find where I went wrong and learn from my mistakes.
In law school, I learned that there are no right or wrong answers, argumentation is all there is. To make an argument is to show your work and the logical chain you followed to reach your conclusion.
The federal judge I worked for after law school taught me the importance of process and giving the litigants their day in court. Law gets its legitimacy from reason, not from right and wrong answers. Showing your work is the court’s work.
As a startup guy, I show my work for all of the reasons above and because it represents the opportunity to show the world who we are in what we get done.
We recently were lucky enough to Skype with Jennifer Yen, Founder of pūr~lisse, a line of skin products for sensitive skin. We love Jennifer for her feisty spirit. Not only is she a female entrepreneur, but she also used to be a Power Ranger! Check out our interview of her below as she shares her story and stress tips.
Jennifer, you have such an amazing story! You followed your heart to LA to be an actress for Power Rangers. Tell us how you went from Power Ranger to Entrepreneur.
It was a long time coming! My family moved to Alabama from Taiwan when I was five and opened a restaurant, so entrepreneurship and hard work was natural to me. I always wanted to be an actress, so when I moved to LA, my parents told me, “If you want something, you focus and you work for it.”
I loved acting — but it was not glamorous. Ultimately, the heavy makeup gave me terrible acne and tolled my self-confidence. Looking to fix my own problem, I turned to my grandmother’s time-tested skin remedies. This is how pūr~lisse came to be.
Sometimes it seems that acting is a required skillset for entrepreneurs. Did your career in acting prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Yes, it prepared me to take rejection. I had more rejections than successes in acting. This is the same for business. It taught me to not take things personally.
Jennifer, we know that it can’t be easy. What are the greatest challenges that you face as a female entrepreneur?
It’s no secret that business is a male-dominated industry. But as a woman in the 21st century, it’s your responsibility to not see a glass ceiling. It’s what you say in substance and the context in which you deliver your message that gives you credibility. Yet, I have a distinct advantage as a woman in the beauty industry. But as my mom says, “You can’t eat your looks. A pretty face won’t feed you.”
Tell us, what role does iDoneThis play in your daily life?
I love iDoneThis because it’s very simple and straight forward. Even if it’s one sentence, it can trigger a memory. If I don’t write that down, ten out of ten times, I won’t remember what I did today. When it comes to more in-depth journaling, I write in Word documents. I keep my emotions there.
Stress can be extremely detrimental to your health and appearance. How do you manage stress with your busy lifestyle?
Oh God. I believe in a really healthy diet. I live it. I only eat fish, no meat. Most of my diet is plant-based. I surround myself with good, humorous friends. I try to do some sort of exercise or stretching everyday, like yoga. I also like walks in nature, massages and meditation.
Every milestone is an opportunity to attract attention to your startup because you have a piece of “news” — a new piece of noteworthy information that no one else but you has.
When you have something to announce, conventional wisdom says to go to the press and blogs with your story because they (1) have distribution and (2) are expert in crafting a story. In the past, we’ve offered nuggets of news to journalists as exclusives, and we’ve gotten written up by Betabeat and The Next Web this way.
However, we’ve recently experimented with writing our own story on our own blog, telling a narrative that’s personal and shows how we work behind the scenes, harnessing the power of social news for distribution — and that has resulted in our all-time one-day high for traffic and 1,000+ signups, more than double the signups resulting from our press piece. Through that experience, we’ve learned the importance of writing your own story and turning transparency and narrative into a competitive advantage.
The Old Way
Here’s the short email I sent to Courtney Boyd Myers at The Next Web when we passed 200,000 daily dones. She had written about us once before, and we had a great experience with that early press coverage.
Hey Courtney, we’ve crossed a significant milestone here at iDoneThis and I wanted to give you an exclusive on it because you kicked things off for us with your article back in January.
Our users have gotten 200,000 things done using iDoneThis.
I’d love to talk with you about what people have gotten done. One person used iDoneThis to finish his Ph.D. My co-founder used iDoneThis to go from the couch to finishing Tough Mudder. Another guy even used iDoneThis to propose to his girlfriend.
Let me know if you’re interested in writing about us!
She agreed and asked me some questions, and a few days later, we had a story: iDoneThis announces its first milestone: 200,000 completed tasks.
We got 400+ signups from the article, some traffic, social media buzz, and pats on the back from friends.
Writing Our Own Story
When we hit 500,000 daily dones, we decided to do something a little different. In addition to getting press coverage about how we hit 500,000 daily dones, we wrote our own story on our blog that gave a behind-the-scenes look on the year leading up to hitting our big milestone.
The Next Web story got around 1,000 people to click through, producing over 400 signups. Our blog post got 3,000+ people to click through, resulting in just over 1,000 signups.
Lacking a distribution network for our post, we turned to Hacker News. Social news sites like Hacker News are a democratic force, giving everyone an equal say, 1 upvote, in determining the placement of an article.
That’s not to say that social news is a meritocracy. Most people I know who have turned getting to the top of HN into a repeatable process use an email list to request upvotes whenever they post a piece in order to get the requisite momentum to reach the top. Nevertheless, HN is still one person, one vote, instead of one person positioned as a gatekeeper, as in the press. Plus, quality is a big determinant in an article’s staying power once it’s placed near the top of the main page.
Press is obviously press-centric, curated by editors, whereas social news is centered around the individual reader. When you get written up in the press, you build a relationship with the press — for instance, getting to know the journalist who wrote about you — and you’re more likely to get written up by that journalist and publication again.
When you write your own story, you build a relationship with the readers themselves. They follow you on Twitter and “like” you on Facebook, creating subscriptions, essentially. Through these channels, you can reach them again, leveraging your HN email list into a Twitter and Facebook following or, put differently, your own distribution network.
Both create a repeatable process for driving traffic to your site, but the latter is more reliable and the content it demands is more personal and, I think, compelling. Ultimately, “news” most often refers to funding announcements, new feature releases and the like — not, for instance, a description about the clever way that you solved an interesting problem. Writing your own story is your opportunity to establish your MVP (Minimum Viable Personality), show the world who you are, and make that your competitive advantage.