Community, Leadership

Remember to Change the World

Remember when you were in elementary school and wanted to be President, a firefighter, or in a similar public-serving profession? How good-willed, we were… So what changes as we get older? Or does it? I’m not talking about the effect of disappointed parents whose children did not become doctors or lawyers or scientists (though I am sure that this has an impact) – more so the result of the introspection one goes through thinking about one’s “purpose in life” (not to be confused with the question of the meaning of life).

Similar to the argument that Sir Ken Robinson gave with regard to creativity, this type of altruistic mentality seems to be pressured out of us as we get older. In our careers, it becomes all too easy to slip into the mindset of promotions, raises, and position as well as the power, prestige, or utility that comes with them. But these two goals need not be mutually exclusive, even (and I would argue especially) in a for-profit environment.

Consider the example of Apple (a previous employer of mine). Built very early into Apple’s OS were accessibility features that enabled individuals with special needs to use Apple products (later iOS, as well). These core features help break down societal barriers for certain individuals. Coca-Cola, a company that produces relatively simple products, completed a project in Dubai and in Pakistan and India focused on helping cultures and families connect. MasterCard (my current employer) leverages technology to open financial accessibility to those who previously had none or little, helping individuals and families do things that many (but not all) westerners take for granted. No doubt these projects and associated stories were beneficial to the core business of these organizations, as well.

All of these projects, technologies, and initiatives were not made in some corporate vacuum – they were done by individuals who realized that there were opportunities for corporate and social good. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but from time-to-time it is important to remember and imagine the possibility of doing more for the greater benefit. Ample opportunities exist to make lives and societies better, but success requires people with the will to pursue them. Be one of those people.

Standard
Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Building a Corporate Culture

IMG_1249MasterCard opened an office in Manhattan this year. It’s not a bad space for a reinventing tech company. Right now we are in a temporary space which offers terrific views of downtown and both sides of the island (see pictures courtesy of my iPhone). The office is software and “innovation” focused – the teams in this office are working on cutting edge and/or high priority products and platforms, identical in mission to the final office that is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

One of the neat things about helping open a new space is that I have the opportunity to help shape the culture of the office. It is a unique opportunity normally reserved for organization founders or early members/employees. It is slightly different from a startup in that we are not just creating something from scratch or from previous experiences – we are creating a branch of an existing corporate culture. So how have we begun to do this? Two simple changes have made a significant difference:

IMG_1273The permanent space is open desk style, but even our temporary space is more open and clustered. This has lead to more conversations among employees in the office, which has helped break down any barriers that may have existed between technology and product teams. Collaboration has greatly increased among employees, even for projects not included in core responsibilities.

The office dress code is startup casual, though we certainly have some stragglers from headquarters who work in dress pants. For the most part, casual dress has lead to a less stressful environment. My hypothesis is that employees are more efficient if they are as comfortable as possible in their work environment. Anecdotally, the results in the office seem to support this.

We are in phase one of this cultural transformation, and I will certainly be writing more about it as we continue to build this office. Any tips or tricks to building a great work culture? Tweet at me with #culture, and let me know!

Standard
Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

Standard
Leadership

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Let me begin by saying that I am thoroughly impressed by the way that Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace) wrote this book. The anecdotal nature of Creativity, Inc. makes the reading highly enjoyable, and even emotional. But really, should we expect anything less from a co-founder of Pixar?

The story takes us through the origins and evolution of what would we would come to know as Pixar, from Lucasfilm to the stewardship of Steve Jobs and finally to Disney (everything is now Disney, in case you didn’t know). What Ed does an especially terrific job of doing is highlighting the internal struggle of individual and collective leadership at the company, and allows us as readers to understand the dynamics between those involved. While there are some parts of the novel that are somewhat superfluous or repetitive (one of the lessons of the book is to have a respect for candor), I consider myself a more informed organization leader now that I have read this book. The biggest takeaway I have from the memoir is the importance of candor. It is true that candor can sometimes be personally hurtful in the short term, but for long term success it is absolutely vital.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in organizational creativity and leadership. Now enjoy one of the many Pixar Shorts.

Have you read the book, or have insights into creativity enablement? Tweet at me with #creative, and let me know!

Standard
Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Inverse(STEM) – What Happened to Well-Rounded?

For a few years now, some of the most notable technology executives have impressed upon today’s youth the importance of learning to code and the importance of STEM. Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon in 2013. When I served on the board of the University of Connecticut, we worked with our Governor to launch a new operational and capital investment initiative by the state called NextGen Connecticut. The focus of this initiative, as you can read about, was additional STEM faculty, facilities and programs. STEM initiatives, in general, are good for the long-term health of our businesses and society as long as they are not created through or with the debilitation of other initiatives. It is that last part I’m a little worried about.

Dave McClure and the 500 Startups team, who are doing tremendous work globally in entrepreneurship communities, focus on finding great companies that have three key team ingredients, succinctly called “H2D”: a hacker (software developer), a hustler (sales/business development), and a designer (product architect/humanist). This team formula can create fantastic results, as we’ve seen from many of their portfolio companies. Yet STEM only focuses on one or two of these three legs, those being hacker and (maybe) designer. Not even discussing the broader needs of society, have we become to narrowly focused on STEM while forgetting other important fields?

Fortunately, I have been able to become somewhat fluent in particular programming languages, enough to have a certain level of conversation with software developers. As a kid, I went to a computer science camp and learned some game design (yes, I was/am a nerd, let’s move on). Later, I took courses on Codecademy and I continue to work with many of our product groups at MasterCard who were building APIs. I never have any intention of being a developer, but a certain level of fluency has been useful. My job at Apple was sales and marketing focused, so that box has certainly been checked. You could say I have filled in two parts of Dave’s formula so far, which just leaves some design experience. I’ve been able to take on some prototyping projects, but I am sure I will lean on resources like GA to help fill the gap.

So while the President, industry leaders, and many individuals are correct in suggesting that individuals learn to code (or more specifically, gain some level of fluency in coding as one might learn a spoken language in school), it is also important that our leaders recognize, even from an economic development persecutive, the importance of other skills and fields.

Thoughts on educational investment for the next generation? Tweet at me with #edu, and let me know!

Standard
Community, Leadership

Stop What You’re Doing and Listen…

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 12.22.53 PM… to yourself. When was the last time you paused from your daily routine to do a little self-reflection? There has been a plethora of research done on the chemistry of creativity, and there are practical benefits to self-reflection. As a leader, your self-reflection can mean the difference between your team’s success and failure. These are a few steps I take when I consciously self-reflect, though each person’s experience is unique and you should identify your own process:

1. Get in a comfortable and relaxing environment. Concentration requires a particular type of environment, so make sure you’re in it before self-reflecting. It could be something as simple as a quiet room alone, or as complex as lying down in bed at precisely 11:15pm with your favorite song on.

2. Allow your mind to wander and allow issues to rise to the top. Remember all those times you tried to remember where you left your wallet or tried to remember if you actually locked your car on your way in to the store, only to remember later when you were doing something totally unrelated? In your relaxed state, let your mind bring the most pressing matters to you. Don’t force an issue that isn’t coming to you immediately.

3. Obtain clarity on an issue and ask focused questions. Once you begin to reflect on something in particular, ask pointed questions: “Why did they react that way? What information did we miss? What are possible next steps?” This is the core of your self-reflection. But you still have on more step to go.

4. Ask, “So What?” Now that you have the answers to these questions about a particular topic, what are you going to do about it? What actions do you need to take as a result of this realization? Write it down, and actually do something about it!

How has self-reflection helped you? Tweet at me with #reflect, and let me know!

Standard