Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Past is Prologue



A little under four years go, I wrote a post that started this blog.  I had just quit my job at Microsoft.  I had done so because I wasn't satisfied with work there and I  knew there was something better out there for me.  I started on a journey to find that something.  Along the way, I got derailed.  I decided to stop the journey and take on a corporate job.  It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.  But perhaps more important, I knew I was not ready to strike out on my own.  I am not sure I had developed the right skills yet or had the right experience.  I did not have an idea I loved nor was I actually in the right state of mind to go do something on my own.

Today, history repeats itself; I resigned from my current job.  The same story played itself out.  I found that I had stopped growing in meaningful ways.  To be fair, up until now, I have had phenomenal growth at my current job.  I have risen quickly up the ranks of the staff and had significant, meaningful impact and influence at my company.  I was involved at the  highest levels of the organization and was called upon for the most important of projects.  I really don't think I could have had better opportunities anywhere else.  But there comes a point when you know there is not much  more for you to achieve and I had reached that point.  I know there is something better out there for me.

I can't tell you how both nervous and excited I am.  The last time I was here, I think in my heart I knew I would eventually just find another job.  This time around, that is just not the plan.  My wife and I have talked a lot about what we are going to do for the next year and we are both comfortable with the risk and sacrifice we have to do to make this work.  While we have prepared for this day for a long time, nothing can actually make you ready for the moment the day arrives when you cut the cord and you go off on your own.   I'm nervous but its a strange kind of nervous.  I'm not nervous things will go horribly wrong.  I'm well protected against that.  I'm just nervous about the unknown.  There is so much to this I just have no clue about.   I know I'm going to get tripped up along the way but it is also kind of exciting.  For too long, I have not been out of my comfort zone.  It's been too easy to go to work and do my job.  There is no chance that this endeavor is going to be easy and I really like that.

Do I think I may eventually go back to corporate America?  Perhaps.  But you shouldn't live a life of regret.  If I never really try to do something on my own, there will always be that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Working Inside Apple - A Big Secret?

 



How come there is no book that describes what Apple's organizational structure looks like or how decisions are actually made?  There is a brief Fortune Article on the subject, but there is no full fledged book like there is for other tech giants.

One of the reasons I know I should be in executive management is because I love studying organization structure and how that can completely change the culture and success of a company.   I am particularly interested in Apple because it seems extremely unique.  Steve Jobs is at the center of it all.  By all accounts, every major decision is run through him.  This seems almost impossible at an organization the size of Apple but yet the story is consistent.  It also seems that they don't align themselves in traditional business units.  The Fortune article explains that only the CFO has a PNL and that nobody acts as a General Manager.

As a organizational structure geek, I'm fascinated to see how Apple is able to maintain this.  Lots of big companies give lip service to trying and run themselves like a startup but I think so few succeed.  Apple may be one example of a big company that was able to keep some of its small company roots.  At the very least, they found some way to keep one man at the center of it for so long.  I someday want to start and run my own tech company so would love to get some insight on how Apple has made this possible.

Given the number of people who have worked at Apple and have left, and the fact that the culture is so unique there, I'm actually very surprised nobody has taken the time to write a book.  I'm sure it would be very successful.  Can this just be another example of the people fearing the wrath of Jobs for divulging too many Apple secrets?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Most Important Thing

 



If I can give you one bit of advice for you to be successful in life it is this.  Learn to prioritize.  Burn this statement in you head.  Think about it every time you have to decide what to do next.  Prioritization.  it is just one simple word and yet so few people or organizations do it well.

I have seen so many projects, products, and companies fail for the simple inability to know what is truly important and make sure that it gets done and it gets done well.  Most people tackle hard problems with a shotgun approach.  It is the simplest way to try to solve a problem but it is always the wrong way.  Rather than take the time to do some thinking upfront or to take a risk that the wrong thing will get done, organizations try to "minimize" their risk by dividing their resources and tackling the problem from several different angles.  Of course, very few organizations have the resources to be able to do multiple things well.  So rather than do one thing really well, they do ten things really poorly.

The reason most people can't prioritize is because humans hate to be the bad guy.  Setting priorities means telling someone "no" or that what they want is going to have to wait.  Everyone thinks their problem is the most important.  Of course, there can only be one problem that is really the most important so the vast majority of people are going to be disappointed.

Further, it also means knowing who you are.  This implies knowing who you are not.  Believe it or not, most companies are unable to answer this question.  Companies want to be everything to all people.  However, taking this approach means you are nothing to no one.  If you know who you are this makes knowing what you should do pretty easy and the priorities just line up.

So if you find yourself with too much to do and yet you are not accomplishing very much, prioritize your work.  Give everything a numbered priority.  There are no ties.  Understand what is important and then start from the top.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why I Drive a Crappy Car



For someone who makes and has as much money as I do, I drive a very modest car.   I have been asked before why I don't get a better, newer car.  There are times I have thought about it but in the end I can never bring myself to spend money on a new car.  I'll explain why.

I bought the car new in 2002.  It was a beautiful Honda Accord.  I "splurged" a little bit by getting the V6 engine.  It was my first new car; I had an even older, used, Honda Accord before this one.  It was my first major purchase after college and I had never had anything so nice so I treated the car with kid gloves.  I washed it regularly, maintained it to spec, and just kept it in really good condition.  I could not have been happier.

The problem is, the high of buying a new car wears off quickly.  Humans quickly adapt to stimuli.  After the first few months of having the car, it was just a car.  It became the means by which I got from A to B.  I still took good care of it.  I was still happy to have it when I compared it to the P.O.S I had before.  But the same initial delight that came with the new car smell was gone.

Like anything in life, the new car could not keep me at a sustained level of happiness.  This is often called hedonic adptation.  People get used to good things (for that matter they get used to bad things too but that isn't the topic for today).  This is why lottery winners are often no happier several months after winning the lottery than they were before winning.  The initial euphoria of winning the lottery makes them ecstatic.  But people have a natural level of happiness that is specific to them, and they soon return to it almost no matter what.   So in my case, I spent $20,000 for a quick shot of happiness but it wore off as I continued with my life.

I am not trying to say I should not have bought the car.  I needed it and am happy I got it.  However, given the problem of hedonic adaption, my decision not to buy a new car should be a little more clear.  A "better" car would probably cost me in the neighborhood of $40K to $50K, more if I really wanted to splurge.   It is something I can easily afford but to what purpose?  I'm not unhappy with my car.  While a new car would be better, it would only bring me incremental happiness.   Is this bump in happiness for a few months worth delaying my retirement by a year or two?  No, it isn't.

This is not to say I will not someday buy a new, more expensive car.   Someday, my current car will not meet my needs and I will want to look for something new.  But I will not buy it just to satisfy some desire for "newness".   Everyone should think about this when spending any amount of money they consider to be significant.  Study after study shows that the pleasure received in buying things almost never reaches the level expected by the purchaser a few months, sometimes days, after purchase.

 

 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Management is Not for Everyone



I have to give a lot of career advice to people.  One of the most common conversations I have to have is if someone should pursue a career in management.  I normally try to steer people away from this path because it really is not for everyone.  Before you actually get in management, it seems like a no-brainer.  It is more money, less work, and all you have to do is tell people what to do all day.  When you actually get there, you realize that this is simply not the case.

I think the best way to illustrate my point is to talk about last week.

I ran in a marathon on Sunday.  This was no ordinary marathon.  This was the LA marathon of 2011, a marathon run in some of the most miserable conditions.  I had not properly trained for it. I was injured toward the end and had to compress some of my training.  Given these things, I really should not have gone to work the next day as my legs were barely functioning but I had no choice.  I was traveling Tuesday through Thursday for work which meant that I had to get some things done in the office before that.  You might think I could just go in for a few hours, take care of those things, and then go home.  But I had to be in the office early for some meetings and I ended up staying later than everyone else trying to tie up some loose ends.

The next day, I was up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to NYC.  You might think I wouldn't have to worry about anything going on in the office, but unfortunately that is not the case.  We have recently lost a few employees and this forces me to have to take care of a lot of different things.  Both before and after I got off the plane, I was in constant e-mail contact.

Nothing really slowed down for me over the next few days despite being out of office. On Thursday, my plane took off late and did not arrive back home until after 11:00 p.m.  I should have taken Friday off.  But there was no way I could.  I had several candidate interviews to take care of as well as some pressing HR employee issues.  You compound this with the fact that I was supposed to take the next Monday and Tuesday off and you can see that it was important for me to get into the office.

To top it all off, I am about to head into work.   What?  I thought you said you were going to take Monday and Tuesday off?  You are right, I was going to, but I now cannot.  It turns out there is a very important, time-sensitive project my CEO wants me to undertake.  Time is really of the essence here so I have no real choice in terms of cutting my time off short.  This despite the fact that my wife has already scheduled the time off and will now be staying at home without me.

The point of all of this is not that I am complaining.  This is the life that I have chosen because the trade off is right for me;  I do not mind comprimising my own personal life to achieve more at work.  The point is that this trade off is not for everyone.  Management, when done right, puts more responsibilities on your sholders, not less.  You become responsible for everyone underneath you.  Their problems become your problems.  If you are not prepared to take on more responsibilities, and therefore have less choices, than management may not be right for you.   This is not to say that management sucks or is hard.  For some people like myself, the choice is the right one because it plays to my strengths.  For others, not so much.

As for the other perks of management?  Highly overrated.  I have been a manager where I actually make less money than some of my employees.  It happens more often than you think.  As for getting to tell people to do what you tell them to do?  Yeah, you may tell them to do something.  But you are definitely going to run into employees who either are incapable or just refuse to do what you ask of them.  The answer is rarely, if ever, so simple as to just get rid of them.

So think long and hard about if you want to get into management.  Know why you want to do it.  Don't let more money and to be "the boss" be the reason.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Not to Get a Promotion at Work



I recently got a promotion at work.  I was going to write an article on how I did it and what you could do at work to get a promotion.  But I thought about it and realized that that would probably be a pretty boring topic so I decided to write about something different.  I am going to write about the things people can do to ensure they will not get promoted.  Perhaps you don't want to get promoted because you are pretty happy doing what you are doing now.  Perhaps you like making less money.  Or perhaps you want to get a promotion but are doing these things and don't even realize it.  Whatever the case may be, I decided to tell you all the things you can do to ensure you stay right where you are.

1.  Don't let anyone know you would like a promotion

Sounds pretty basic huh?  But it is the #1 thing you can do to be sure you never ever get promoted.  I have gotten several promotions in my life . I have asked for every single one.  I know, you want your employer to fall all over themselves and give you the promotion you deserve.  It is so obvious to yourself that you should get a promotion, why isn't it obvious to your boss?  Believe me, it isn't.  Here is one little secret.  Promotions don't often mean you are going to do anything different than what you currently do.  Promotions are give to the stars at work.  If you are a star, you most likely have already picked up the extra work you will have to do when you get a promotion (see #4 below). Why should an employer give you more money and a title bump when you will likely do the same amount of work you have always done?  It may be the "right" thing to do but your job has an incentive to not give you a raise or a promotion.  If they don't know you are unhappy, they won't do anything to fix it.

2.  Let your work suffer because you are not getting a promotion

Your boss wants to give a promotion to someone who does excellent work and who is mature.   Letting your work suffer in some sort of protests because a promotion is not coming or is taking longer than you want is sending the exact wrong message at the most crucial time.  A very common attitude with people who are disgruntled after not getting a promotion is to show them "just how important I really am" by not dong the great work that you think should give you a promotion.  Doing this doesn't prove anything and pretty much will put you in the doghouse with your boss.

3.  Dress provocatively/sloppily

You need to be taken seriously at work.  One of the ways to ensure that will never be taken seriously at work is dressing too provocatively or dressing down.  You want the higher position?  Start looking like you already have it.  It may not seem fair, how you look does not generally affect your work performance, but whoever said life was fair?

4.  Keep doing your job

Here is one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about promotions.  Just because you do your current job great does not mean you should get a promotion.  Do you honestly think that writing great code is at all close to being able to manage people?  Completely different skill set.  So if you want to be sure to never get a promotion, just keep doing your job and never reach beyond that.  Don't show any initiative to take on things that are outside your job description.   Do not volunteer to do extra work.  Just keep kicking butt at whatever it is you are supposed to do and you will stay right there.

5.  Don't tell other people about the work that you do

Nobody is going to be a bigger promoter of you than you.  It is important that you let others know of the good work that you do.  This is not to say that you should constantly sing your own praises; nobody likes a braggart.  But you also should not quietly go about doing your job.  The thing is your boss, even if she works with you closely, does not know the full extent of everything that you do.   Your promotion is going to have to be justified by more than just your boss.  It makes your boss' job much easier if he and others can easily recite your accomplishments.  If you are not interested in a promotion, then just keep your accomplishments to yourself.

6.  Do what you are told

Huh?  How the heck can doing what you are told be a bad thing?  The problem is if you ONLY do the things that are being asked of you.  Part of being in management is dealing with ambiguity.  You can't be told what to do in certain circumstances because there is no plan to get there.  If there was a ready-made road map for the business to follow everybody would follow it and there wouldn't be any winners.  So one of the things you are going to have to deal with is not being given explicit instructions on what to do.  If you have never shown the ability or inclination to reach beyond the instructions of your boss, your boss won't be able to trust you with the things that are the most important; these are the things that she can't describe in exacting detail.  So if you want to stay at your current level, juts keep doing what you are told.  Better yet, when given an assignment that you can't figure out, just complain about it.   I guarantee you, you will look like you can't get to the next level.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interview Advice - Don't Tell Uncomfortable Stories



I once was in an interview where the potential employee started to tell me a story that made me extremely uncomfortable.  I usually try to engage in a little bit of light conversation when I start an interview to make the candidate at ease.  I normally introduce myself so the candidate has a sense of who I am and the conversation can happen naturally.  When I told this particular candidate about where I had worked in the past, he started on a tirade about why he hated my old company.  This was not a passing comment that he made.  He proceeded to go on for about five minutes about why the place I worked at was pure evil.  He was very adamant about the whole situation an it made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable throughout the whole thing.  Needless to say I did not give him a hire.  Till this day, it is still a story that we talk about when we talk about odd things that happen in interviews.

So here is some really simple advice for people who are about to interview.  You want to be thoughtful and engaging.  You definitely want to be remembered.  You just want to be remembered for the right reason.  Tell a unique story.  Throw in some humor if you can.  But under no circumstance should you make the interviewer become uncomfortable.  That means you should not do the following:

  • rant on about why you hate your current job

  • tell a personally embarrassing story like how drunk you got this one time

  • go into a tirade about how underpaid you have been in the past

  • how cute you think your interviewer is

  • why you hate something about your interviewer


The saddest thing about this list?  I actually know of or have been part of instances like this.  So please, stay on topic.  Be professional.  Even if the place you are going to go to is extremely casual and fun, that does not mean you should feel free to talk about anything I have mentioned.

Do any of you have examples of when you have been uncomfortable because of something someone said during an interview?