3 Surprising Leadership Lessons from a Navy Captain

I made the decision to join the military because of an idealized notion of what life in the military would be like. Before I shipped off to Navy Officer Candidate’s School, I’d thought a career as a Naval Officer would be like something from Crimson Tide or Top Gun. The reality of life on a ship and at sea turned out to be far more pedestrian.

One bright spot was what I learned from my Captain by observing how he dealt with his crew and, more specifically, how he dealt with me. Looking back at my previous life before I’d joined the service, I realize I would have been a much more effective leader if I’d learned these lessons of exercising empathy and care then.

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Failure & Cake: A Guide to Spotify’s Psychology of Success

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Nobody enjoys failing. It’s never really what you set out to do.

At Spotify, failure is cause for celebration, because it’s seen as an opportunity for growth. Jonas Aman, who is part of Spotify’s People Operations team, told us that instead of treating setbacks like speed bumps you rumble over in the course of running a business, they “celebrates thing that don’t work. It’s about the effort, not the result.”

Sometimes, failure calls for cake.

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Cells, Pods, and Squads: The Future of Organizations is Small

Think small and you will achieve big things. That’s the Yoda-esque, counterintuitive philosophy that nets Finnish game company Supercell revenues of millions of dollars a day.

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So really, how do you build a billion-dollar business by thinking small?

One key is the company’s supercell organizational model. Autonomous teams, or “cells,” of four to six people position the company to be nimble and innovative. Similar modules — call them squads, pods, cells, startups within startups — are the basic components in many other nimble, growing companies, including Spotify and Automattic. The future, as Dave Gray argues in The Connected Company, is podular.

Still, small groups of people do not necessarily make a thriving business, as the fate of many a fledgling startup warns. What is it about the cells and pods model that presents not just a viable alternative but the future of designing how we work together?

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Why Poor Leaders Are Valuable

Thomas Edison famously replied when asked whether his repeated failures (ten thousand plus) at creating a working light bulb frustrated him: “No, I just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When someone demonstrates poor leadership, he or she is showing you one way not to make your light bulb.

My father gave me similar advice while I was attending Navy Officer Candidate School after I had complained about some of the leadership traits of my peers and senior candidates in charge of us:

Correct in yourself what you do not like in others.

This single phrase helped me see people’s weaknesses or inabilities not as a chance to point out their blemishes but to look inward and see what I could change about myself.

When people miss this lesson, it’s a wasted opportunity. You may never be able to change the person above you, but you do have the power to create a better work environment for those under you.

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How to Get More Out of Your Team Without Being a Micromanaging Jerk

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(Part 1 of 2 in a guest post series on setting up successful systems.)

Anthony Gatto is one of the greatest jugglers ever. He has over twelve world records to his name.  Throw him four, five or six balls, and he’ll keep juggling away, no problem. Give him a seventh, and he’ll struggle to keep juggling for ten minutes. Throw an eighth ball into the mix, and he’ll barely last a full minute.

No matter how sublime a juggler’s skills, give him too much to handle and he’ll mess up. Push a juggler too far, and he’ll never be totally Russian — juggler slang for doing a dropless show.

As a boss or manager, you can’t do it all. You must clear your plate to keep growing. So you hire and delegate only to see tasks come back late, incomplete, or low-quality. When that happens, you’ve either got to redo it yourself or submit shoddy work to your clients. Doing either hurts. You wonder if everything would be better if you handled it all yourself, and then you’re back at not being able to juggle it all.

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5 Startup Founders on How to Find Success

When I interviewed my favorite founders for my book, Startup Series, to gain better insight into their road to success, I got some honest, inspiring, and even harsh answers.

Speaking with the founders of reddit, Indiegogo, AngelList, and Kissmetrics, just to name a few, about their biggest accomplishments and hardest lessons has been eye-opening. What’s been most surprising and reassuring is that these founders are just like us. Hard work and heartache got them to where they are today — and the journey for the rest of us will not be much different.

From hundreds of answers, here are my five favorite tips from founders that will inspire and guide you along your own entrepreneurial path.

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A Winning Formula for Building Successful Teams

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You need great teams in order to build great products. The way senior software engineer Rich Paret creates such teams at the Twitter-acquired Crashlytics — which provides mobile crash reporting — is to “hire for the culture you have, and the culture you want to have.”

The company culture at Crashlytics isn’t a collection of perks or a bunch of abstract values. It’s how people get stuff done together. When we visited Rich at Twitter Boston this past May, he emphasized how it’s the quality of a team’s communication that determines its outcomes.

How does a project become late?” he asked. As our minds ran through various scenarios and the complexities of managing a team, he broke our pondering pause with his simple answer — “Day by day.” Just as you can build meaningful progress day by day, you can also increasingly get off track to the point of failure. Communication losses accumulate, a slow but steady snowball, as the days roll by, when you’re not careful.

Consider the distribution and flow of information within a company. Too often knowledge is guarded amongst the people at the top, or cooped up in people’s heads, or trapped in silos. What happens then? As Rich puts it, islands of information” emerge. When different people know different pieces of information, it becomes progressively harder to reach across the waters just to know where the puzzle pieces are, let alone put the puzzle together.

One approach to avoiding islands and fostering a bridging, communicative culture is to hire smart and work smart. When you align people and process, you ultimately create strong values, culture, and behaviors.  Here’s a look at Rich’s formula for building awesome teams and in doing so, awesome company culture:

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Don’t Copy and Paste Your Customer Support

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Have you ever had no idea what you were doing, so you just copied people around you?  It’s how I learned a lot of things — how to ski, fill out important government forms, drink tequila. On the other hand, it’s a terrible way to learn to drive, manage your health, date other human beings — and learn customer service.

Like many people at startups, I felt like I was new at everything. So I’d let my past experiences at the receiving end of customer service inform the way I did my job. I took cues from all the interactions I’ve had with call center operators, bank tellers, airline employees, cable company employees, and insurance people — pretty much everyone’s least favorite human interactions of all time. It was like copying all the answers from the kid next to you in class, even though you know he’s getting them all wrong.

So why did I do this? With no prior experience in customer service, I felt safer copying others and sometimes found myself slipping into a weird robotic customer service mode without even realizing it.

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Stop Fooling Yourself by Changing Your Mind

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Here’s a way to arrive at what you believe: first, decide that you believe something. Then, throw your very best arguments against it until you believe something else. Repeat as many times as possible.

Most people do this in some capacity, probably subconsciously and very quickly, but I recommend doing it consciously, slowly, and deliberately. You may be surprised by what you find.

Now, no blog post by a (former) physicist is complete without a Feynman quote, so let his words enlighten us here:

  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
  • “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
  • “I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong.”

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The Win-Win Secret to Earning Recurring Revenue with Your Side Project

When his post on how iDoneThis reached $1,000 in recurring revenue struck a chord with readers, Walter thought it would be enlightening to talk with other entrepreneurs about their own such journeys. One of the most interesting stories he heard was from Adam Rotman, creator of Share As ImageYou can watch Walter’s full interview with Adam here, and today we offer some key takeaways from their conversation.

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