Why Am I Doing This?

By | Building a Company, Culture, Free Career Advice | No Comments

Do you ever wonder if you’re doing the right things? By “right” I don’t mean the morally acceptable things. (Hopefully you are doing that…) Instead, I mean the things you should be doing that truly allow you to accomplish what’s most important, to reach your goals, and to contribute to the success of the company and our customers.

There are so many distractions coming at us everyday that make it hard to focus on what’s most important (for example, email). The more variety you have as part of your “job description,” the more accurate this probably is. Also, delegation and saying ‘no’ are two relatively difficult skills to master.

During a discussion a few months ago with a DAXKO board member, he was asking me about where I spend my time, hours I work, etc. I wasn’t sure why he was asking other than out of curiosity and to learn more about me and DAXKO. However, it got me thinking. Am I spending my time on the right things?

I later asked him for his read on my answers. As an objective outsider, what did he think? Instead of directly answering, he gave a bit of advice, which I think is worth sharing.

When he was a division president leading a team of thousands, he would ask himself “Why am I doing this?” with every task and project he found in front of him. If it was not something he should be doing, he would either delegate it or “kill it.”

As we grow and diversify as an organization, our individual roles and responsibilities are likely to become more complex as well. Ensuring we focus on the “right things” will be critical to our continued success and operational effectiveness. You may find that asking yourself this question is helpful. I have. In fact, I have a constant reminder posted on my desk.

This will mean some things simply don’t get done (or don’t get done by YOU or don’t get done immediately), and that’s alright provided they are lower priority than other items. Of course, this means you’ll need to be clear in communicating with others why that is.  You don’t want to simply ignore things and set the wrong expectations with your fellow teammates.

I encourage you to give this thought. Although somewhat uncomfortable at first, mastering this skill will allow us all to move a lot faster and more effectively.

A Bit of Advice and a Challenge

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On the heels of Jonathan’s post from last week, I have a suggestion on where you can spend some of the time you might regain under his TV-reduction plan.  I like to call it “think time”…

How do you establish yourself as a true expert and eventually a thought leader in your area?  How do you become the person others seek out for advice?  How do you gain the reputation of being the go-to person when big opportunities and challenges come available?  How do you prepare yourself for the next step in your career?

You have to have your mind “in” the game and “on” the game for more than just the time it takes to complete your tasks and responsibilities.  You also need to dedicate time when you are free of the distractions of “doing” and are able to focus on improving and innovating.

What was the last book you read (or listened to) that was related to your career?  Maybe it was a book on a company that has a known expertise in your area of responsibility – whether it be sales, customer service, software engineering, or product management.  It could have been a book on leadership or strategy.  Or maybe one on innovation.

OK, so how long has it been since you read that book?  Longer than 3 months ago?  Then, in my opinion, you’re not doing enough.

How often are you consistently checking out blogs, webcasts, magazines, trade journals, or articles posted in the Learning Center?  Never?  Rarely?  Every few weeks?  You guessed it…again, that’s not enough.

Working hard, although extremely important in reaching success, is simply not enough.  If you are not consistently conducting your own “think time,” you are cheating yourself, your career, and your potential.

You’d be surprised at how rewarding the time can be, and yes, you do have the time.  Whether it is a 30-minute block after your morning run, an audio book during your daily commute, at night when the kids are all asleep, during lunch a couple times a week, or maybe even in place of American Idol and The Bachelor, you can make the time if it is truly important to you.

For best results, I suggest mixing up the sources between short reads (blogs, magazines, etc.) and longer ones (full books).  Only reading brief articles doesn’t allow you to fully dig into a topic, and sticking to books only doesn’t allow you to cover a wide enough breadth of topics.

One other suggestion…take notes!  When you’re doing your reading, I suggest carrying a notebook with you.  I particularly encourage you to get a notebook specifically dedicated to your “think time.”  I find it much better when I can go back to one source for all my current “thoughts.”  Also, mark-up your books – underline, highlight, dog-ear pages.  If it’s a good read, you’ll want to revisit it from time to time.

Regardless of whether you take Jonathan’s advice and trash all your TVs, you can carve out your own “think time.”  Trust me.  It will pay big dividends.  I challenge you to give it a try.

(For the record, I will not be getting rid of my TVs.  Then again, I am well below the 142 hours per month average, so I don’t feel too guilty.)

Bill & Dave

By | Culture, Professional Development, Technology | One Comment

No, I’m not talking about me and my buddy Bill, but instead a biography by Micheal S. Malone titled, Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company.

This biography of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of HP, might not be among your first choices when perusing the shelves of our learning center. At over 400 pages of fairly small type, this is a pretty heavy read, and although it can get a bit dry in its detailed history of the exciting world of oscillators and instrumentation, it really is a compelling story.

I read this book back in the summer. I chose it based on my general interest in learning more about how Bill and Dave created and ran such a great, sustainable business and because I assumed insights from HP’s history may provide helpful guidance as we grow and diversify our business. This book delivered on both fronts. In fact, you could say it delivered on three major fronts in all, since it was a nice mix of company history, technology/innovation, and business strategy.

A couple quotes from Hewlett and Packard stood out to me as we determine our Next Next Thing:

“Never try to take a fortified hill, especially if the army on top is bigger than your own.”

“To challenge an industry standard, it is not good enough to be just as good – you have to be much better.”

A few of the more interesting facts, stories, and coincidences throughout the book:

  • Bill and Dave happened to meet in 1930 on the Stanford practice field during tryouts for the football team (Bill didn’t make the team, but Dave went on to be a star of the team, as well as a standout in track and basketball as well. Dave eventually gave up most sports to focus on his academics.)
  • Their mentor, Fred Terman (whose father invented the IQ test), suffered from tuberculosis. He moved to Stanford University to work as a professor because the cold, wet weather at MIT in Boston made his TB worse. If it weren’t for the weather advantage in Palo Alto, the three men would have never met. Together they were instrumental in turning Stanford University from a party school for rich kids into one of the world’s preeminent institutions.
  • They gave a new meaning to being a responsible corporate citizen. Bill left HP for a few years to serve as an officer in the US Army during World War II; Dave served as US Deputy Secretary of Defense; both gave considerable money to their alma mater; and through the Packard Foundation, Dave turned the Monterey Bay Aquarium into one of the top marine research institutes in the world.
  • HP is credited with several innovations beyond their technology products. (But speaking of technology, Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, is often credited with inventing the modern day personal computer while working at HP before venturing out with Steve Jobs.) HP was the original business in the Stanford Industrial Park (the first research park of its kind, now emulated around the world at places like the Research Triangle in NC). Through a significant focus on a unique company culture, known as The HP Way, they pioneered concepts such as flex time and 10% innovation time. In fact, they are even credited with founding what is now known as the Silicon Valley. The garage where they worked during the early years of HP on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto is designated with a historic marker that reads, “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley.”
  • We take the calculator for granted, but it was big business in the middle part of the twentieth century. In fact, the HP-35 and HP-65 are in the Smithsonian based on their contribution to computing and business. Also, as legend has it, in order to fund the initial startup of Apple, Jobs’ sold his van and Wozniak (co-founder) sold his prized possession, an HP-65 calculator (which retailed for $695 at the time).
  • Amazingly, Packard and Hewlett remained responsible for the day-to-day operations of HP from 1939 at its founding until 1977 when it was making $1.4 billion in revenue (when $1 billion actually meant something…) and 35,000 employees.

If any of the above catches your attention, you might want to check out this book, regardless of how thick it looks…


The Game-Changer

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I’ve read a handful (maybe armful is a bit more accurate) of interesting books the past few months. With this last batch, I was explicitly seeking books that would provide insights into how other companies – both inside technology and other industries – go about evolving over time and finding their “Next Next Thing.”

The books have been relatively broad in nature. Some focused on how certain companies innovate at the project level and others how they invented completely new industries. Some were a compilation of research done on several companies, others were written from the perspective of a single firm, and still others were written from a biographical perspective on the founders or leaders of the organization.

Below I provide a summary, interesting highlights, and innovative concepts I pulled from one of these books. This will either save you the time from reading the book by giving you a CliffsNotes version of sorts or will entice you to pick up a copy and read it yourself. I recommend the latter, since it’s unlikely I’ll do the author justice. If this book doesn’t interest you, find one that does. Continued and aggressive learning is key to your own professional development.

The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation

It was written by AG Lafley (CEO of Procter & Gamble) and Ram Charan (consultant to CEOs at GE, DuPont, Nokia, and others, as well as author of Dave W’s favorite book “Execution”).

Key observations I gathered from this book:

  • P&G is a huge company. They boast 23 products that each generate $1 billion or more in annual revenue and 18 more with sales between $500 million and $1 billion. However, even with this enormous size and diversification, they remain amazingly connected as an organization. Chapter 9 (“Innovation Is a Team Sport: Courageous and Connected Culture”) does a good job of describing and illustrating this. An excerpt from Ch. 9 follows…

“It is a proven human phenomenon, from Edison’s New Jersey lab to SAMSUNG’s innovation center, that when you have a clear goal and you put together a team (ideally six to ten people) with the right blend of intellectual diversity and real expertise for an extended period, you create conditions that can lead to breakthrough ideas. Given the right social processes, such as trust, time, deep concentration, and total immersion in a well-defined problem, finding the right insights becomes likelier. This is something that can be done, improved, done again, and improved again. It is replicable.”

When AG took over as CEO, he established a goal that half of new product innovations would come from outside P&G. They have since exceeded that goal. Their ability to lose the ego-drenched “not invented here” mentality has allowed them to maintain impressive growth. At over $80 billion in total revenue, increasing just 5% a year is the equivalent of adding a product like Tide or a market like China every year. When we talk about things getting more challenging as we grow, can you imagine this?

  • “We put the consumer at the center of everything we do. Three billion times a day, P&G brands touch the lives of people around the world.” For us, every day we “touch” over 10,000 users, enable 7,000 program registrations, and check-in 30,000 members. Let’s be sure we keep our customers at the center of everything we do as well. We’re pretty good at this already. How can we be better? (if you have ideas, add a comment below…)
  • Even companies as big as P&G practice “selective plagiarism.” In fact, there is an entire section in the book about how they have “borrowed” the brainstorming techniques of IDEO and tweaked them for their own use – something we’ve done as well.
  • A good quote/excerpt that stood out to me: “As the great economist Joseph Schumpeter put it, companies that resist change are ‘standing on ground that is crumbling beneath their feet.’ That has always been true; what is different [today] is that the ground is shifting faster than ever.”

The Game-Changer references other companies beyond Procter & Gamble as well. However, you might be surprised at how innovative P&G is both from a product perspective and from a company culture perspective. You may naturally think of Google, Apple, and others first when it comes to innovation and company culture, but some “old timers” have really figured out how to evolve and stay competitive. P&G appears to be one of those.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 rating. I’d recommend it for anyone interested at looking at problems in new ways, as well as those interested in simply increasing their general business acumen.