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

By | Building a Company, Culture, Professional Development | No Comments

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.

Sharpening Your Axe

By | Culture, Free Career Advice, Professional Development | No Comments

Following the “Invest in Your Development” session held earlier today, Sri sent me a thoughtful anecdote that highlights our flawed thought process around professional development.  You may have heard it before, but it’s worth repeating…

A man was walking in a forest one day, and he met a woodcutter.  It was a hot day, and he sat down to rest.  He began talking with the woodcutter about the weather and such.  After a lengthy conversation, he asked, “Mr. Woodcutter, you’ve been making little progress on chopping down that tree the last half hour.  Perhaps your axe is too blunt.  Why don’t you sharpen it?”

“That’s the truth! This axe has not been sharpened for a long while now; I could make far better progress with a sharp axe,” said the woodcutter.

“Then why not take some time to sharpen it now?” asked the man.

“I don’t really have time for that, you know.  Do you see all these trees I’ve got to chop down?  I can’t stop to sharpen my axe now,” replied the woodcutter.

I’m sure each of us, to varying extents, can identify with the woodcutter.  We know that we need to invest in our professional development, but adding development activities on top of our current workload just seems impossible.

Often to outsiders, like the man, it is obvious that making time for development now will pay dividends in the future. The real challenge is convincing yourself that no matter many trees you need to chop down today, there is always value in taking time to invest in yourself. So make the time and go sharpen your axe.

Work Life Balance

By | Culture, Free Career Advice, Workplace | No Comments

Is there a term uttered through the halls and across cube walls of offices more frequently than “work life balance?” Since the term was coined in the late 1970s, it has become an increasingly hotter topic and an industry of its own.  A quick search on Amazon turns up 5,625 results – just in the “books” category. Try Googling the term, and you’ll get a staggering 5,050,000 results. There’s even a nice, long article about it on Wikipedia.

So what to do? You can try addressing it with the help of books, DVDs, blogs, self-help videos, career counseling, day planners & software, picketing outside your employer’s offices, or hypnosis.  OK, so maybe the last two are a bit extreme, but there are legitimate ways to address developing a better balance in your own life.

Often times, people try to tackle the problem by first fixing their time management issues.  This is what has driven the success of things like the national bestseller “Getting Things Done” and FranklinCovey stores.  In fact, just yesterday I received an email from a friend touting “an incredible tool that makes Outlook much easier to use” when trying to get organize your life.  (By the way, the tool is called Xobni – inbox spelled backwards.  You might want to check it out.

Although time management can be useful – obviously productivity and efficiency are important – this can cause you to miss the bigger picture.

Galyna’s and Lacey’s TMD session on this topic a few weeks ago got me thinking and reminded me of several concepts that I’ve found helpful over the past 10 years or so of my career.  Keep in mind, I say these things have been “helpful,” but don’t mistake this with meaning that I’ve solved the problem.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

Of all the reading I’ve done, the work of Stephen Covey has had the longest-lasting impact on my thinking around this.  His most popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, includes some fundamental concepts that I believe you must tackle before you can get your life “balanced.”

Although it may sound and feel a bit corny, spending some time thinking about and crafting a personal mission statement and explicitly identifying your “roles” can be very helpful and act as a guide.  In fact, it can go a long way in reducing the strain and stress in your life.

You can do this by asking yourself some “big questions” such as:

  • What’s most important?
  • What gives my life meaning?
  • What do I want to be and to do in my life?
  • What are the most important relationships in my life?
  • What are the contributions I’d like to make?
  • What principles do I hold as critical and non-negotiable?
  • How do I want my family, co-workers, etc. to think of me?

Answers to these questions will help identify both your mission and roles.

I won’t bother you with attempting to articulate my personal mission statement, but let’s talk a bit about roles.

For example, my roles include husband, father, CEO at DAXKO, friend, Christian, TechBirmingham board member, runner, etc. (there are dozens more…)

Obviously, of these roles, there are a wide range of levels of importance to me.  For example, I’m not going to put the same effort and focus on my “runner” role as I do on  my “father” role.  But that doesn’t mean I should completely ignore it either.

I think one of the biggest mistakes someone can make related to finding balance is to believe all the roles they want to have or are expected to have can be separated and compartmentalized.  I’m a “worker” between 8am – 5pm, a “spouse” between 5:30pm – 8:00pm, a “friend” on Saturdays, a “church member” on Sundays from 9am- noon, etc.  Life’s simply not that clean.  Trying to keep it all separate just causes stress.

To quote Ghandhi, “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department.  Life is one invisible whole.”

The more passionate and engaged you are in some of these roles, the harder it will become to compartmentalize them.  They will simply become intertwined throughout your life.  I find this to be very true in a number of roles in my life – including my work here.

“Balance isn’t either/or; it’s and.” ~ Stephen Covey

Since I can’t do these concepts justice in this brief blog posting, I suggest buying or borrowing a copy of 7 Habits – I think we may even have an audio copy of it and/or his follow-up book, First Things First, in the Learning Center.

Good luck in figuring out this balance in your life.  It’s not easy, but It is a challenge worth taking on.