Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times article in the technology sector titled : “Big Data trying to build better workers” - caught my eye, no doubt….Big data used internally to understand and improve the work force.
I totally agree with Google’s philosophy. I am deeply involved with helping individuals in large companies become more innovative and for helping those companies to become more innovative. Large companies are delivery-centric with huge top-down command and control, so we need to disrupt heavily, work through the stages of resistance and start the movement towards a culture of innovation. And yes, inspiration is critical. Often a forgotten art in the heavy battlegrounds of a big company, inspiration and happiness is the key to having a sustainable innovative culture, hence a highly productive culture.
Google states that its happiest employees are their most innovative employees (we totally agree on this point !), and these individuals by definition are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy. They view the importance of their ‘people-decisions’ equal to their ‘product-decisions’, focusing equally on people as they do to engineering.
A company is comprised of one element: the employees, the people-capital. I talk about this in the Ecosystem of Disruption. If this capital is motivated and inspired globally, the company succeeds. Some would say that Google is a new company and as such it’s easier to nurture these elements in a new culture. Well, as Google gets close to being 15 years old, I’m not sure it is considered a new company, rather one which the employees and new hires expect to remain highly open-minded and respect individual contribution and autonomy. Many companies, like Google, need to have practices in place to work on, perfect and focus on the critical asset of the company, the people and the autonomy of the people. Ultimately- their happiness. A paycheck does not assure happiness, it only holds the employee until such time that a better option is found. Innovative people can not be micro-managed. By definition, that halts innovation.
Big data is used to understand employees better and to focus on improving processes. To do so, a company needs to recognize that to improve the happiness- factor in a company, to create a sense of disruption and invite change, that this requires being open to change. Most large companies avoid change and disruption as they fear loss of control, which in turn they view as loss of revenue. The fact is that revenues always go up when the people are empowered and become innovative. The invitation is to break the old habits, and utilize the available information to understand and improve the ‘health’ of the happiness-ratio of the employees. I see hugely talented people who are exasperated and eventually shut down due to process and command-control processes. I invite big companies to shift the attention from procedures, blue-tape and arbitrary processes to the employees and tap into their most significant asset. Your employees, your people!
Having said that, I salute some of the outstanding executives in big companies whom I know who are breaking the mold and are actively bringing mindful-disruption to change the culture and create a vibrant culture of innovation. To my renegades: I salute you… Don’t stop disrupting , in order to innovate.
There has been much energy around Marissa Mayer’s (CEO Yahoo) decision to not allow Yahoo employees to work from home. First off, I applaud any CEO who takes a position. Whether I agree with a position or disagree, I love people who take a position. I think there is another reason that she may have made this statement. See ‘the real reason’ below.
What do I think?
Well, first off, the announcement was a bit harsh and should have been approached by first internally vetting the change, before making a mass declaration. Quite possibly there were those at Yahoo who have the option to work remotely, may have received the news in a memo and BAM! – have to change their lives to accommodate. So, firstly, when you are introducing such a change, best start the shift from within (slowly, gradually) rather than using media fanfare.
Secondly, while we can never be sure what her intent was, the tone implied that working from home was wrong and needed to be fixed. So, folks, let’s regroup here: When people are hired and we ‘allow’ them to work from home or remotely and when that continues for a while, it becomes a practice. To criticize anyone, we first need to look within to the executive layer and HR, before making the employee feel badly about their ‘choice’!
Today, we have plenty of platforms, encouraging and allowing virtual connection and collaboration. Our platform ProVokeLiVeNetWork, PLN was designed to allow collaboration remotely and effectively, bringing global teams together, So, I could say: “We have all the tools we need to collaborate so going to the office is no longer necessary”. But I would not be truthful. I believe we need to bring teams together and nurture active collaboration to innovate, BUT, that is not the entire story.
There is a chemistry and culture that is created by being in a physical environment together. Learning happens because you happen to speak to someone by the elevator , or because you met over lunch. The absence of such culture is frightening. The truth is that this culture CANNOT be made virtually to start off with . Think about Google. Think about the sensation and tingling of collaboration you have when you walk through the campus? Think about the inspiration? Can you really recreate a campus ‘virtually’??? Yes, we can create the campus, but not the culture.
Once the culture is built, and chemistry in place, then remote collaboration is easily possible and the right thing to do. More importantly, we need to bring global teams together who are by default remote.
The real reason in my opinion that Marissa made this statement is that she is desperate to build a culture. She inherited a fractured company, with weak to no identity, and in despair. Her only job I believe was at Google, so what she knows is how to build the culture when folks are at work (and not remote), like Google. Right or wrong, at least she is trying and not just collecting a fat paycheck and riding her golden handcuffs.
Let’s be honest, Yahoo is in trouble. They need to build its market position and do it quickly. Easier to do so by having people at work, constantly collaborating and building. I believe in the integrity of individuals, and I think folks work very hard at home. But there are distractions at home. Very few individuals have a totally separate offices at home, which means there are chunks of time that folks are disconnected from work and unreachable. As an ex and current CEO, it is a challenge to build and maintain a culture, doubly hard to do so if folks are not there in person. Once the culture is built and everyone is board, then consider allowing employees to work remotely. But until then, it remains a challenge.
Net-net her tactics and approach were wrong but there is a positive intent at play and not just her ego, unlike much of Silicon Valley behavior. It is far easier to criticize than to put ourselves in her shoes and her tasks. Would we have ‘really’ acted differently?
Short order, I think Marissa needs to surround herself with advisors to help her slow down her knee jerk reflexes and be more patient in bringing about change to Yahoo. She stands to build a legacy or just run a company. If the former is her goal, she needs to keep her passion and drive but do so ‘with’ the company and avoid public declarations!
Legacy: Perhaps the most important thing we leave behind. When I speak with the leaders of the Fortune Top 100 Companies, there is always a strong truth: The determined leaders, who are passionate about what they do, want to be remembered once they leave their post, for years and decades to come, for generations even. Yes, they are all extremely wealthy, but also wise enough to know that wealth alone does not leave a legacy. By “legacy,” I mean something worthwhile and meaningful to be remembered by. It is how we change things, influence people and leave our mark.
Bill Gates will always be remembered as the guy who brought the PC to our homes and changed the world. Moreover, through his extraordinary charitable foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he will ALWAYS be remembered for the work he and Melinda are doing in conquering global diseases, helping education, fighting poverty and more. It is the power of wanting the same meaningful legacy which I think has drawn the much older Warren Buffett to give away a large sum of his wealth to this foundation and others are joining. That is strong legacy. Oh, yes, Bill is one of the richest people alive, but that frankly is not his legacy. Being rich is not having a legacy.
Steve Jobs will be remembered for having taken risks and changing the world of technology many times! When we think of Steve, we don’t think of his net worth, rather his undying passion, walking on stages of the world, holding the next revolutionary thing he believed would change the world. He gave people hope for making the impossible possible and inspired people to believe in their dreams, no matter how far fetched. That is legacy.
And the list goes on. Legacy is left by the footprint we make and leave behind and how people remember us for the difference we’ve made in the world! How we influence those around us and bring about change through courage, belief and passion. This happens when we don’t give up, and are determined to leave our mark. Invariably, in the process mistakes are made. Some feel that dedicated a building is leaving a legacy. Is it? Not to me.
When I think of the St. Jude Foundation, helping cancer patients for the last many decades free of charge, and saving lives, I see Danny Thomas and his daughter Marlo. That is legacy. That is game changing. Jerry Lewis will always be remembered for what he has done and is doing for the MDA foundation – saving lives, advancing science and research.
And the many thousands of people who in their own way are choosing to make a statement, take risks, focus on something to leave behind which is impactful and game changing.
In the tech world, there is an opportunity to develop things that will always be remembered. I was fortunate enough to spend the first 12 years of my career at BBN Bolt Beranek and Newman. BBN thrived for 50 years until the late 1990’s. Many of today’s defining innovation and technologies, including the Internet (based on the ARPANET project BBN did for the military) changed the world to what it is today. Three MIT professors who were passionate about the art of the impossible, created a legacy which will never be forgotten. I was recently at one of the IIT campuses in Mumbai and a grad student in CS was delighted to know that I was from BBN. Clearly BBN is not around any longer, and he was a young student, but its legacy will live on. The footprint is huge!
Legacy is what many of the CEOs of the large companies want to leave behind. Perhaps the first step is thinking about the meaningful risk/bet you are going to take, thinking through the impact and the investment required. Just running high revenue companies does not create a legacy. As a leader whether your desire is to leave a legacy by virtue of your company, or your not-for-profit work, take the large bets, believe in the risk and cherish the reward, even if it takes a while to achieve. Be passionate! Leave your mark.
And everyone can leave a legacy…
For me, when I started my company ConnecTerra, I wanted to change the world of barcodes with RFID, allowing us to have immediate access to any/all information in real time. In 2001, no one believed we could do it, RFIDs were not commercially available and there was a huge amount of resistance. The chance of failure was huge. Five years later, over 1000 of the world’s largest companies not only believed that this was possible (and today over 3000 companies), are adopting the standards which we introduced. Today, when I see our technology in action, it feels awesome. With my book ProVoke, I hope my legacy will be to be remembered as the one who worked hard to bring disruption and innovation into large companies, and enable our enormous talent to be more innovative. And also, to focus on innovation on a global not local level. This is work in progress, but with every obstacle I meet around the world, my resolve is heightened to do more. Ways to go until I leave a footprint but delighted to be on the journey with a lot to do ahead.
I want to end this blog by remembering my dearest friend Dr. Barry Blumberg. Barry was Nobel Prize recipient for the Hepatitis B virus, ran the Cancer Chase Medical Center in Philadelphia, was the head of Oxford University, top scientist at NASA, and the head of the American Philosophical Society , and occupied the desk that Benjamin Franklin had sat in as the first President of the American Philosophical Society. Barry has left many legacies and footprints, that would fill many books. He saved millions of lives and much more. But as a mentor to myself and many, the biggest legacy was his diverse talent, his hunger for science and knowledge, his humility and his passion to make a difference. We lost Barry 2 years ago but his legacy will live forever. He died at the age of 85, while delivering a lecture at NASA , with a smile on his face and the same passion which he brought to the world for decades. To me, that is true definition of legacy.
Imagine a world, where not just a few but millions work towards leaving a legacy. Imagine the impossible becomes possible. Now imagine what you want your legacy to be and make it happen. What is your footprint?
This blog is dedicated to Dr. Barry Blumberg- an extraordinary human being who inspires me every day.
Folks, I am an angel investor in tech startups in the US (Silicon Valley, Seattle, San Diego, Utah and other cities), Europe and India as well as emerging markets. I have been eagerly investing in companies for the last 5 years. To date, in any of these cities/countries, I have ‘rarely’ had a woman investor in the investment forums globally. In fact most of the forums have a few women investors but typically they are not very involved. So, what gives?! Seriously , fellow female investors: Why are women not at the table in investing? Women are a massive ‘buying-power/force’ in the global economy, BUT, not at the investment table.
As a result, most angel groups are men, and VC firms are comprised of ‘male’ investors. More importantly, as over the years the number of women have not increased, the ‘male’ investing community globally has not learned how to work with women investors. When we look at investments, we form due diligence teams. I would love to have a few fellow women investors in these teams but it is extremely rare. And of course, when investments are made, board seats are allocated, which as a result of there not being enough women at the table, the boards are comprised of men. No surprise there! Hence, I am often a solo woman investor and the only woman on the due diligence team and on the board. To make matters worse (this really deserves a blog on its own), the bigger problem that we simply don’t have enough women as startup CEO’s or in startups, period! See the pattern. This is 2012, and I never thought I would be having this conversation.
As a result the environment is not terribly inviting and the pattern gets deeper. Hence I see where Dave McClure is coming from. Frankly, an unreal sight: An all male investment team, investing in an all male startup company…Where the hell has my gender disappeared to? We have enormous talent in women execs, technical and talent across the board. Women CFO’s are phenomenal and totally get finance but are not present at the investment scene. The fact that women are not at the table is not a matter of not having the talent (which women do), but a matter of choice and decision.
A huge contributing factor I have found is that startup investments are all about risk. Huge risk. You place a bet. With that comes uncertainty and the possibility of failure. Women often shy away from financial risk (even women with huge net worth) and the possibility of failure is not comfortable. Fear of failure is much more personal for women (as an investor or startup exec) than it is for men. I believe that this has been a stumbling block for women. Not a matter of intelligence, finances, or capability: A sheer matter of risk-tolerance!
There are some fantastic all female investment forums such as Golden Seeds, Seraph Capital Forum and others, who not only are mostly women investors but have great women participants and do invest quite a bit in women led companies. For me it is critical to change the playing field and integrate. Perhaps part of the problem is that we (women) try to hard to separate into groups. While we have female-centric investment forums, I don’t know of forums that are male-centric. I think that we (women) perhaps separate more than integrate, shy away from intimadation and need to hugely up our risk-tolerance ( if we are inclined to invest) and get in the game. As for barriers, our lack of participation has accentuated the barriers. I look forward for us to play harder and be more at the table. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Without a doubt people that are secure in their lives and positions, don’t need to intimidate, right? In working with great teams across the world, I run into this topic a lot. Power being obtained and maintained by intimidation. That is wrong and unnecessary. The strongest and most influential individuals don’t intimidate. Intimidation is a strong sign of weakness.
First of all, when it happens to you, remember this ‘laugh it off’! Don’t respond with withdrawal and silence.
Instead, if you think you are right , move forward head first.
And remember, it happens to all of us! Recently I had the experience that I needed to contact someone on the phone. Granted, we had yet not met, but in the few minutes which followed, this person attempted to be so intimidating that I had to discontinue the call! It was clear that he needed to prove that he was powerful and strong. Instead, he goes on my ‘never call this dude’ list!
Intimidation occurs when people are insecure or too much in awe of their position. Some of the most fascinating people I have met share a common characteristic: they are extremely humble and easy to talk to. Others are not as pleasant and especially in the tech industry, they often attempt to intimidate.
If you can avoid such people, that is great. Avoid them. If you need to interact with such people, then set the record straight from the start and don’t allow such behavior to continue.
How? Generally, if you are equally forceful, these folks back off and become nice. Sometimes depending on the circumstance you need to bring up the topic and explain that their behavior is counter-productive which can help as well.
And remember, sometimes people are not aware of how they come across, how their voice sounds on the phone or how their emails are interpreted. Sometimes, they simply are void of such skills or their title has clouded their behavior.
Having said that, time is a precious commodity. If someone reaches out to meet me, I will respond, but if the person has been unclear about the reason to meet, or it is the wrong meeting, I will politely turn down their approach. But there is always a polite way to do this. I have found that there is no reason to be impolite or rude. I am also aware that the person who does try and reach me, sometimes, had to muster a lot of courage to make the first attempt.
I have not found any reason to intimidate and no reason to use power as a weapon! Have you? I want to make sure you are armed with the ability to not be intimidated. There is a strong difference between being determined, focused and driven versus intimidating. Intimidation turns people off, reduces influence and is of no value. Instead folks, find people who enrich your lives, from whom you learn and can be inspired by. Have you ever seen someone who is intimidating and can inspire?