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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

work-lifeIt is a hard balance that many of us need to struggle with. Working in a start-up and having a good family life seem to be poles apart. One of my favorite business school professors, Steve Blank published this piece today on VentureBeat. The permalink seems to be broken so I am repeating some of the key points that Steve mentioned.

This is what he writes –

My wife and I agreed to a few rules upfront and made up the rest as went along. We agreed I was still going to do startups, and probably more than most spouses she knew what that meant.  To her credit she also understood that meant that child raising wasn’t going to be a 50/50 split; I simply wasn’t going to be home at 5 pm every night.

In hindsight this list looks pretty organized but in reality we made it up as we went along, accompanied with all the husband and wife struggles of being married and trying to raise a family in Silicon Valley.  Here are the some of the rules that evolved that seemed to work for our family.

  • We would have a family dinner at home most nights of the week.  Regardless of what I was doing I had to be home by 7pm.  (My kids still remember mom secretly feeding them when they were hungry at 5pm, but eating again with dad at 7pm.)  But we would use dinnertime to talk about what they did at school, have family meetings etc.
  • Put the kids to bed. Since I was already home for dinner it was fun to help give them their baths, read them stories and put them to bed.  I never understood how important the continuity of time between dinner through bedtime was until my kids mentioned it as teenagers.
  • Act and be engaged. My kids and wife had better antenna than I thought.  If I was home but my head was elsewhere and not mentally engaged they would call me on it.  So I figured out how to spit the flow of the day in half.  I would work 10 hours a day in the office, come home and then…
  • Back to work after the kids were in bed. What my kids never saw is that as soon as they were in bed I was back on the computer and back at work for another 4 or 5 hours until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Weekends were with and for my kids. There was always some adventure on the weekends. I think we must have gone to the zoo, beach, museum, picnic, amusement, etc. a 100 times.
  • Half a day work on Saturday.  While weekends were for my kids I did go to work on Saturday morning.  But my kids would come with me.  This had two unexpected consequences; my kids still remember that work was very cool.  They liked going in with me and they said it helped them understand what dad did at “work.”  Second, it set a cultural norm at my startups, first at Supermac as the VP of Marketing, then at Rocket Science as the CEO and at E.piphany as President. (Most Silicon Valley startups have great policies for having your dog at work but not your kids.)
  • Long vacations. We would take at least a 3-week vacation every summer.  Since my wife and I liked to hike we’d explore national parks around the U.S. (Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine.) When the kids got older our adventures took us to Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa and Europe. The trips gave them a sense that the rest of the country and the world was not Silicon Valley and that their lives were not the norm.
  • Never miss an event. As my kids got older there were class plays, soccer games, piano and dance performances, birthdays, etc.  I never missed one if I was in town, sometimes even if it was in the middle of the day. (And I made sure I was in town for the major events.)
  • Engage your spouse. I asked my wife to read and critique every major presentation and document I wrote. Everything she touched was much better for it.  What my investors never knew is that they were getting two of us for the price of one.  (And one of us actually went to business school.)  It helped her understand what I was working on and what I was trying to accomplish.
  • Have a Date-Night. We tried hard to set aside one evening a week when just the two of us went out to dinner and/or a movie.
  • Get your spouse help. Early on in our marriage we didn’t have much money but we invested in childcare to help my wife.  While it didn’t make up for my absences it offloaded a lot.
  • Traditions matter. Holidays, religious and secular, weekly and yearly, were important to us.  The kids looked forward to them and we made them special.
  • Travel only if it needed me. As an executive it was easy to think I had to get on a plane for every deal. But after I had kids I definitely thought long and hard before I would jump on a plane.  When I ran Rocket Science our corporate partners were in Japan (Sega), Germany (Bertelsmann) and Italy (Mondadori) and some travel was unavoidable.  But I probably traveled 20% of what I did when I was single.
  • Document every step. Like most dads I took thousands of photos.  But I also filmed the girls once a week on the same couch, sitting in the same spot, for a few minutes – for 16 years.  When my oldest graduated high school I gave her a time-lapse movie of her life.

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Nipun wrote about what makes TED talks tick. What is it about these talks that makes all of them resonate so deeply? What makes them so consistently good?

tedcommandments

  1. Thou shalt not simply trot out thy usual shtick
  2. Thou shalt dream a great dream, or show forth a wondrous new thing, or share something thou hast never shared before
  3. Thou shalt reveal thy curiosity and thy passion
  4. Thou shalt tell a story
  5. Thou shalt freely comment on the utterances of other speakers for the sake of blessed connection and exquisite controversy
  6. Thou shalt not flaunt thine Ego. Be thou vulnerable. Speak of thy failure as well as thy success.
  7. Thou shalt not sell from the stage: neither thy company, thy goods, thy writings, nor thy desparate need for funding; lest thou be cast aside into outer darkness.
  8. Thou shalt remember all the while: laughter is good.
  9. Thou shalt not read thy speech.
  10. Thou shalt not steal the time of them that follow thee.

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mark_zuckerberg_ceo_facebookI loved this short story about Mark Zuckerberg and how to “start” communities. [Taken from “What would Google do?”]

The scene was the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum International Media Council in Davos, Switzerland, as the head of a powerful news organization begged young Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for his secret. Please, the publisher beseeched him, how can my publication start a community like yours? We should own a community, shouldn’t we? Tell us how.

Zuckerberg, 22 at the time, is a geek of few words. Some assume his laconicism is a sign of arrogance – that and his habit of wearing sandals at big business conferences. But it’s not. He’s shy. He’s direct. He’s a geek, and this is how geeks are. Better get used to it. When the geeks take over the world-and they will-a few blunt words and then a silent stare will become a societal norm. But Zuckerberg is brilliant and accomplished, and so his few words are worth waiting for.

After this publishing titan pleaded for advice about how to build his own community, Zuckerberg’s reply was, in full: “You can’t.”

Full stop. Hard stare.

He later offered more advice. He told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

What is an elegant organization? I would tell my perspective in a post later.

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What a moment for America! Obama is the 44th president of the USA. A great inaugural speech by Obama which touches everyone on this planet.

obama_hopeOne of the readers of Andrew Sullivan’s blog writes about the difficulty that the comedians have in mocking Obama. Interesting read particularly this line – “Obama has the realness that comes from the hard psychological work that it takes to really get to know yourself and come out on the other side unafraid of whatever might come your way. “

But what Obama seems to have is the ability not to appear as if he is acting, faking it.  That is why comedians were able to mock Clinton’s lower lip biting and other such gestures meant to show how much he cared. Why do comedians have such a hard time mocking Obama?  Some say it is because he is black, and they don’t want to be seen as racist; no, that’s not it.  They mock Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton all the time.

They can’t mock Obama because he is not a faker, not a schmoozer,  not a dolt, not a skirt-chaser, not a charlatan, etc. etc.  Obama has the realness that comes from the hard psychological work that it takes to really get to know yourself and come out on the other side unafraid of whatever might come your way.  That is decidedly not funny.

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Gandhian Mindset

What constitutes Gandhian Mindset. I found these words and had to capture them in a brief post. These summarize Gandhian Mindset very well –

  • Keen observation
  • Selflessness
  • Patient Determination
  • In-Sync Emotions
  • Critical Thinking
  • Decisive Persistence

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This is an interesting short-story that gives a perspective for entrepreneurs’ risk taking abilities. 

A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, “You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice – we win – or we perish!

They won. [From Napolean Hill’s classic book]

The Man Who Burnt Bridges

 

Exceptional leaders (from the book “WHAT MAKES jack welch JACK WELCH”) had experienced exceptional personal growth in the following five critical areas:

  1. Appetite to lead

  2. Character

  3. The confidence to seek challenges

  4. Ability to engage and inspire others

  5. and most importantly CONFRONT RISK.

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True NorthI interviewed Bill George, author of best-seller books “Authentic Leadership” and “True North”. Bill is not just a great author and a leader himself, he is a wonderful coach and a teacher too. Here are the excerpts of this brief interview –

Hitesh: What is “True North” and how does it apply in the context of a business student or a budding entrepreneur who is just starting on a leadership journey?

Bill George: “True North” refers to the deeply held beliefs, values and passions. It is how you see yourself as a human being at a fundamental level. As a business student, it is easy to get lured to the seductions of the job search. It is easy to follow the herd and live the expectations of someone else. At this stage it becomes all the more important for you to discover your real self and find your sweet spot.

The book “True North” provides a framework because that allows you to create your own direction. Instead of other cook-books on leadership that provide the “10 qualities that make a great leader”, “True North” provides an individual approach and a framework with exercises. YOU have to figure out yourself your own values and point of differentiation.

Hitesh: How does one “frame” or “reframe” one’s life story? Is framing not by definition twisting the truth and thus not authentic? How can you have flexible leadership styles and still be authentic? Please help explain these contradictions.

Bill George: Good questions and I wrestle with these myself all the time. If you start taking these recommendations from the book to an extreme, that could be a problem.

We all see this world through a certain lens. e.g. If one grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and later on got exposed to multi-religious or atheist view points, then that opens up the mind at a much deeper level. Oprah Winfrey came to a realization at the age of 36 that she is not a “bad girl” as she always viewed herself as. She reframed her childhood abuse experiences by tracing her actions there and came out a much stronger person.

The flexibility referred in the book is the tradeoffs in your values that sometimes you have to make. These are tough decision moments where you have to make decisions like layoffs and sometimes have to reprioritize your values. The leadership “style” is a different thing than your authentic self. e.g. If the situation demands quick decisions then a consensus leadership style will not fit and you will have to adapt.

Hitesh: Any words of wisdom for the younger budding leaders?

Bill George: Get into the game. Do not watch it from the sidelines. Don’t hold back. Take the risk of failing to learn a lot.

[Please note that Bill’s comments are not verbatim and are based on the notes that I took. This was not a recorded interview]

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I read Randy Komisar’s “The Monk and the Riddle“. I just could not stop when I started reading it. By the time I finished reading it, the clock struck 4 AM. I think it was a night well spent.

Randy Komisar is a Venture Capitalist with Kleiner Perkins. This book tells Randy’s evolution (thus the word Monkey in this post’s title) and search for his passion. Autobiographies are generally boring but Randy does a great job by weaving his life nuggets with a great story of an entrepreneur, Lenny.

“We will put the Fun back in FUNerals”, says Lenny. He is trying to sell an internet business called funerals.com to Randy. This story is set in year 2000, when the whole world was going online – from pets and groceries to well funerals and caskets. I could relate to this story since a number of my friends were pitching get-rich-quick-internet-business-plans those days (and with Web 2.0 they are doing it all over again).

Lenny is a vulnerable soul like many of us who go through life in two phases. In the first phase we do what we HAVE to do so that in the second phase we can do what we LOVE to do. Randy’s point is to start doing what we LOVE to do NOW. He asks us to not live a life plan which is always deferred till we pay our dues. How practical is it?

Randy does a good job explaining the importance of following our passion, but he lacks concrete steps and examples to find out what that passion is. That search for passion is a very individual matter and requires a lot of personal effort. Bill George’s “True North” does a great job providing a framework to search for that passion. “True North” picks up where “The Monk and the Riddle” ends.

This book is a must read for anybody who thinks business is all about the bottom-line and chasing money. It will convince you to look at business and your professional life through a new lens.

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Gates and Jobs shared a stage and it was quite a show (better than a Bollywood thriller).

One thing that is quickly evident from this – Jobs comes across as a person who still has a lot to prove while Gates looks deeply satisfied like a Sadhu. While Gates looks like entering Sanyas , Jobs is still in the prime of his Grahastha Ashram. Again, there are a number of personal reasons (I won’t go there – Read iCon) that one could highlight why Jobs is still so thirsty. 

Jobs’ thirst is doing a lot of good for customers. Jobs has this beautiful left-brain-right-brain conflict going on that creates these stellar products. Go Jobs Go!

Another thing that came out from this was something that Jobs joked about: both of them being dinosaurs in this new Googly age. These guys will not be extinct anytime soon but their era is not what will define the next 20 years. iPhone is great but is that all? Surface Computing might not be the next killer device. This “Post-PC devices” era might not be dominated by Google either. Where is that next Google, Microsoft and Apple?

I think this picture says it all –

Gates & Jobs

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Here is the third post in my series of sketches. The first one was the view from my patio and the second one was Baby Hanuman. This one is a flower vase that I sketched just before it was broken by accident. It was good that I captured it in some form before we lost it.

I really like this quote about giving – “Smell remains on the hands of someone who gives a rose”. It is in line with what Karma Kitchen is doing in Berkeley. I will write a separate detailed post about Karma Kitchen. I went there with my family last Saturday. It was an amazing experience and a great feast. The check total at the end of a tasty meal was $0.00. Amazing, isn’t it?

Flowers

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Here is the next sketch that I tried. This is the second one in my series of posted sketches – first one was a view from my patio. This one is a Baby Hauman sketch based on Indian animation film Hanuman. Pardon some of the shade which is because of scanner issues. More sketches to follow.

Baby Hanuman Sketch

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I recently started sketching again (after 18 years). It had been a great experience.

Here is one of the first sketches that I came up with. It is a view from the patio of my townhouse in the University Village. I know it is far from perfect. It is a beginning (restart actually). I will post more of these sketches to show my evolution as a sketcher. I will appreciate any feedback from pros on blogosphere.

The View From Up Here

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HAPPINESS – It is the single most important goal of human life. All our actions could be traced to “seeking happiness”. While happiness is so important and sought after, it is not properly understood. There is a huge element of subjectivity involved and that makes it hard to define, measure, monitor and fix.

 Frontal LobeUncertain Future: Our brains have a number of issues that make it hard for us to predict “what would make us happy”. The most significant shortcoming is the lack of details in our imagination. When we think about a future event we tend to just imagine a few important aspects of it. Our brain misses on a number of details.

What differentiates human beings from other animals – our ability to imagine and “plan” for future. This long-term thinking is also responsible for our misery. Our super ancestors’ brains did not have a faculty to “worry” about future. Just like cows, cats and dogs they just had sufficient brain power to handle the immediate future. Our frontal-lobe in the brain is responsible for future long-term thinking and it was developed in the middle of our evolution cycle. This lobe is a part of brain which is non-essential for the basic functions of human body. We would still live if we don’t have this worrisome frontal lobe with our brain.

Unclear Past: Second shortcoming for our brain is related to our past memories. Contrary to common belief our brain is actually not a good storage device. The way it stores past events is by leaving out a lot of details and compressing what it stores. The problem that it manifests itself in is the fact that we are not able to do a good job of “looking back” and deciding what makes us happy. E.g. the only thing our brain might remember about our family reunion is the great panaromic view from the hotel balcony. It does not remember the details of pickerings with our cousins. Because of this we make irrational decision of going to our reunion every year.

What To Do?

Two things one could do to work around these limitations –

  1. Consciously try to “Be Happy NOW”, instead of putting it off for a future event, sale or possession – enjoy the moment.
  2. Talk to somebody who “IS” in that situation before making these decisions. That is the best proxy for finding our future happiness. This way we do not rely completely on our own faulty imagination. E.g. if you are thinking of moving to Raleigh from San Francisco for your next job – talk to somebody who has done it and is currently in North Carolina.

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We make so many decisions everyday, ranging from as simple as which brand of coffee to drink to as significant decisions as whether to use nuclear weapons against Japan.

How do we make these decisions? What is our personal compass that we use to navigate through this web of decisions? And, Is that compass directing us to our best estimate of “happiness” in future?

Harmony

Happiness is so subjective and all of us have so different definitions. This subjectivity and variety in how we interpret our own compass of happiness results in this magnificent variety of life experiences that we go through. It results in so many different life stories.

What is important in all these journeys is the “seeking” part of happiness. We strive to be happy and thus we do all those things that we “think” will make us happy.

Three important decisions that one makes in one’s life are –

  1. Place where we live our lives
  2. People we choose to spend our lives with
  3. Work that we choose to do

In the last couple of decades the possibilities in these choices have exploded exponentially. In this global world the way we decide where and how to live our lives is very different than how it used to be. A number of us end up being nomads or “global citizens” as we call ourselves. The happiness comes from the eclectic experiences that one gets by moving to different locations, meeting different people and doing different things.

The HARMONY that we can build around our three choices is important. The dissonance that arises is responsible for unhappiness.

Just follow the high-level personal compass instead of going into the detailed analysis and planning for future. There are so many variables anyway on your way – focus on the most important ones.

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When we ask this question about “How green is this purchase of mine?” – Remember this –

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.

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Popular Belief: Discipline hinders creativity.
Reverse: Discipline fosters creativity.

The most prevalent way to depict creativity is Einstein’s photo with his shabby hairstyle and chaotic looks. Creativity does not always come packaged as this confused picture. The other well-behaved gentleman shown above is C.V. Raman – another physics Nobel Prize winner. It is a different face of creativity than what is popular. Raman was a disciplined scientist who performed ground breaking research while still receiving a gold-medal in college [Einstein got into repeated trouble at school].

Quantity of ideas is very important for creativity. Discipline provides a platform to create an “idea factory”. Discipline helps create a fine-tuned operational process to generate a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas are always better than the few ideas that shabby zealots find themselves boxed in because of their inflexible mindset.

Being chaotic has suddenly become hip. It is the current fad in the enterprise. We have gone too far when it comes to creating an “informal” culture. Being informal does not mean being dirty and messy.

A number of chaotic-creative-people never get to implement their creative ideas because they are not focused. They do not have a goal in mind when they start with their creative process. Disciplined thinking requires you to clearly state your goal in mind before you start any creative endeavor. With structured thinking you start on a stated goal, identify a compelling motive and follow a disciplined approach to finding creatively disciplined ideas.

Another related popular notion is that a shabby work environment is a sign of creativity. A clean environment is much more helpful when it comes to creating good ideas. A dirty environment breeds dirty ideas. A messy environment creates stress and stress in turn kills creative juices. A clean environment on the other hand lets you focus on the creative task at hand.

In conclusion, do not get rid of the basic discipline which is required in the creative process. Do not create unnecessary chaos just hoping that creativity is directly linked to dirty desks and lunatic looks. Discipline is a virtue – embrace it when you embark on your next creative endeavor. And, please get a decent haircut.

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