Five for Friday: AI + Musk, Employee Productivity, Human Curiosity + More


Yea, well, it’s more than five for sure this week, and just like Blockchain, I’m auguring in on AI plus a few other topics, but here goes …

If you’ve never checked out Wait but Why, you should. Tim Urban does a great job of going deep on every topic he touches, and he does a good job at it.  This week I thought I’d share his dive into the AI Revolution as a primer for a few other articles that follow.  So, the first few in this list are Elon Musk related … apparently he thinks that one of the biggest threats to humanity is AI.  He recently told America’s governors that we need to regulate AI before it is too late.  Maybe he had read this piece about how AI is inventing languages humans can’t understand (obviously it’s not that linear or simple, but it’s somewhat funny, and the guy is wicked smaht), but to quote him “Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” he said. “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”  As Wired rightly points out, we need to worry about first things first with AI before we worry about the killer robots.  The flip side of this one is Parc CEO’s Tolga Kurtoglu’s belief that humans and AI will work together in almost every job.

Don’t take this as meaning it’s time to break out your Ouija boards and Tarot cards, but the U.S. Military believes that people have a sixth sense.  At least, that’s how they view the phenomena of premonition and intuition, which they spent four years and close to $4M researching.  While I’m not trying to comment on the cost of the research, it’s interesting to see the U.S. Military trying to understand these phenomena to the end of accelerate the spread of them throughout the military institution.  And incredulity aside, the article from Time is actually pretty interesting for the applications the military is looking at for this research.

Interested in how the next financial crisis may unfold?  Jim Mooney from Baustop Group says it is tied to two things: leverage and volatility.

So, there are two interesting articles this week that are related about how people do (or don’t do) the work they do: first, from Fast Company, is this piece about how our employee’s lack of productivity might be on us as managers/companies (hint: task switching), and then this piece from HuffPost about the potential big miss of coworking.

A quick side trip back to last week’s delve into digital: small nations and islands are winning the digital revolution race.

MIT is now offering a master’s program that doesn’t even require a high school degree.  How?  By letting students take rigorous courses online for credit and then, if they perform well on exams, place into master’s degree programs on campus.

The long read (from Longreads) this week is our last topic: human curiosity.  In an interview this week, astrophysicist Mario Livio is asked about what he discovered on his journey to understand what makes humans curious.  If you’ve got the time, it’s is in my opinion worth it, given the range of topics.

Two TED talks for you this week: first, from psychologist Adam Alter on why our screens are making us less happy and what to do about it, and second, this time from Tricia Wang, the human insights missing from big data, a talk in which she demystifies big data and identifies the pitfalls the lead big companies to make massive mistakes based on data.

Five for Friday: Machine Learning, Cybersecurity Skill Gap, Snap Maps + more


First this week is an excellent look “under the hood” of machine learning from OReilly.  While I’ve written on this topic before, OReilly does well exploring some options around reference architecture.  Oh, and there’s this article about AI taking over transcription.  I’m unusually excited about that future.

There’s a trend out there I’ve mentioned before around “the death of staffing agencies” that hasn’t seen the traction/evolution that was predicted in 2016, however there is another trend that might actually help speed that up – the gig economy, in that as entrepreneurs/digitally innovative firms latch on to that notion, we’ll see more companies like Konsus come about.  Buying by work product created has been around for a little bit, but how Konsus does it is what’s interesting.

Speaking of digital firms and a topic from last week, Venture Beat has a good read this week on how digital organizations are facing a severe cybersecurity skill gap.

I think it’s expected that there’d be a follow on article about Amazon this week after last week’s Whole Foods announcement.  This one is a little different though, looking at the monopoly that is Amazon.  Oh, and fun fact, the Whole Foods purchase in effect paid for itself with the surge in Amazon’s stock price after it was announced.  I wonder how many people on Wall Street are longing for the days when PE ratios made sense.

Just to comment in passing, Snap launched Snap Maps this week.  Not a lot of detail that I want to dig into, just to note it and the fact that yet another company that doesn’t do mapping is getting into mapping and all the metadata that comes with … geolocation/geofencing seems to still be a thing.  There’s also this mega road trip across Europe if you’re open to some travel this summer/fall.  Oh, and Kalanicky resigned, which shouldn’t shock anyone given Holder’s report.

For your longer read this week, check out this from McKinsey about how cities can benefit from the future of mobility.

Last this week, check out this TED talk from Stanley McChrystal about how to build sense of purpose across people of many ages and skill sets.

Five for Friday: Wannacry, Attrition, Amazon + more

A photo by Kristopher Allison.

It’s been a few weeks since the WannaCry incident, and while that attack was shut down in a very novel way, it brought to the forefront again how adept hackers are becoming at leveraging our human weaknesses to penetrate networks en masse.  Two articles for you to consider as you start your week in this area: one from Business Insider where a malware researcher talks about the latest evolution in ransomeware, and then this article from strategy+business on how to resist future attacks.

Why do people choose to quit their jobs?  Well, Inc. thinks there’s one sentence that sums up the entire reason.  Then there’s the recent outcome of the culture investigation at Uber, a culture for which Bloomberg posits we’re all to blame.

Good news coming down from the Supreme Court when it comes to Patent Trolls, and the direct results could be a big win for innovation.  And speaking of innovation, how did America become so against it?

Here’s a question to consider: are you even aware of how Amazon is eating the world?  Yes?  No?  Maybe?  Zack Kanter has his own views on it and it makes for an interesting read.  Hint: you know that looming apocalypse in the world of retail and commercial real estate?  Yup, you can than Bezos for that. Especially with this news … every commerical real estate entity just woke up to a very bad morning.

Last is a great piece from The New Yorker, titled “How to Call B.S. on Big Data: A Practical Guide.  It’s short and to the point, and more of a general-life approach to data than anything technical, but I like it because it reminds us that any data can be manipulated to tell a story.  And yes, even machines can be racist – remember Tay?

I’ve recommended Tim Ferriss’s podcasts before, and this week he has a new TED talk where he discusses why we should define our fears instead of goals – check it out.

How Do We Build High-Performance Teams?


True teams are a rare thing; what we typically view as a team is usually a group of (sometimes) highly functioning individuals who end up being successful more due to their own individual abilities than anything the group sets out to do.   With that, however, success takes more time and greater effort.  Most people avoid building true teams because of the perceived work up front that creates efficiency/success in the long term.

In creating any team, there is intentionality to it as you have to have trust, a comfort with conflict, true commitment, accountability and ownership across the team, while maintaining a focus on results.  As well, to be a team, you must have a common purpose, clear roles, accepted leadership, effective processes, and transparent relationships.

Qualities of an effective team leader include:

  • They appreciate the collective intelligence of the team
  • They believe in the power of diversity among team members
  • They see team leadership as a role by which to serve the team, not a position to be served
  • They see power as something to be released and shared rather than something to hold and control
  • They understand that teams are for achieving a team purpose

As well, a leader must have clear and quantifiable goals that fit into larger mission/vision/values to rally around.  The reality is that we don’t form teams, we build them, and have to have the patience to allow the organic nature of team growth to occur.  As leaders, we have to have clarity around what we are trying to build and be clear about our collaboration efforts in order to get the results we desire.  With that, it doesn’t work for the leader to be the only one who understands what an effective team looks like, the team does as well, and the definition of what is effective may vary by team and company.  There are some fundamentals, however:

  • Team development is a process, not an event
  • Development must be a felt need of the team
  • Use the work of the team to build the team
  • There are no shortcuts to team effectiveness
  • Willingness supersedes skill when it comes to collaboration
  • We must have shared goals that are aligned across the team
  • Include everyone on the specific team in the planning process – don’t alienate by exclusion
  • Review the past objectively and learn from it
  • Force assumptions out of the room
  • Be intentional in your meetings and treat time together as a precious commodity
  • Effective teams will understand the big picture, has common goals, functions as a unit (and has each other’s back)

If you’ve not ever heard of him, Patrick Lencioni has written a great collection of books around how to build highly effective organizations and teams.  They’re written in fable form, and simple to read.  According to Lencioni, “a cohesive team trusts one another, engages in constructive conflict, commits to group decisions and holds one another accountable.”  Conflict is an integral part of any team’s interaction, but it never gets personal and issues are never left unresolved.  To this end, you must address the five dysfunctions of any team, as they make a truly functional leadership team impossible.

  • The absence of trust results from a fear of being vulnerable with team members and prevents the building of trust within the team.
  • The fear of conflict results from a desire to preserve artificial harmony which stifles the occurrence of productive, ideological conflict.
  • A lack of commitment results from the lack of clarity or buy-in preventing team members from making decisions to which they will stick.
  • Avoidance of accountability stems from the need to avoid interpersonal discomfort which prevents team members from holding one another accountable for their behaviors and performance.
  • Finally, inattention to results comes when the pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

While they suffer from varying degrees of the five dysfunctions within the site and the leadership team and at different levels with different individuals, all five are present and impede the ability to build a cohesive leadership team.

Once an effective leadership team has been built, you can create organizational clarity.  Healthy organizations clarify topics such as values, strategies, goals and roles & responsibilities.  By making the fundamental values of the organization very clear to everyone in it, by actions as well as words, we join people together.  As well they need to over-communicate organizational clarity so that they align our employees with said clarity through repetition and comprehensive communication of all aspects of the fundamental values of the organization.  Every individual in the organization should be able to communicate their fundamental values of the organization from their first day with the group and then be constantly reminded of them.  This also means that those fundamental values must be simple and absorbable.  The team also shouldn’t hesitate to ask a member to leave if they don’t fit those values.  As well, whenever the leadership team meet, the outcome of every meeting should result in information that needs to be communicated out to the team within a set timeframe, with a specific deadline so that people don’t feel as though they are the last to know or learn of something in an inefficient manner (which leaves the message open to interpretation).  Finally, they need to reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.  Organizations sustain their health by establishing simple structures around the way they make decisions, evaluate job candidates, manage performance, reward and fire employees.  They need to stress how individuals will fit with our values as a part of the interviewing process and then reiterate those values through onboarding and with a regular rhythm for the team.

In tandem with the above, leaders need to assess which of the five temptations of a leader they, themselves suffer from.  The first temptation, which is the hardest for a leader to fix, is becoming more interested in protecting your career status than making sure your team attains results.  One suffers this malaise if one thinks the proudest day of your life was the day you were chosen for a high position, not a day when you actually accomplished something.  Great leaders should be driven by their need to achieve, not by ego. Leaders who have fallen prey to this temptation focus on enjoying the fruits of rank, work fewer hours, and worry less about the company’s performance than about their personal level of comfort.  To avoid the temptation of self-preservation, adhere to the most important principle governing every executive: the desire to produce results. Unfortunately, many leaders put the most dangerous of the temptations ahead of this goal and yield to the desire to protect the status of their careers. The danger is that after you arrive at the top, you may focus primarily on preserving your status. You are vulnerable to making decisions to protect your reputation or to avoiding making decisions that might hurt it. You may also reward the people who make your ego feel better, rather than those who contribute to the company’s bottom-line results. If you want to show that you should be the leader, don’t give in. Make results the most important measure of personal success. Don’t hold the success of the company as a hostage to your own ego.  Focus on results by publicly committing to measurable results and evaluate your success based on these results alone.

The second temptation is the desire to be popular with the people who report directly to you, rather than holding them accountable for their assignments. You need to tell people what you expect, remind them of those expectations, and make the consequences of not meeting those expectations clear.  Avoid the desire to be popular. Many leaders fail because they don’t hold the people who are directly reporting to them accountable for delivery on their commitments, which is the basis for achieving results. Leaders succumb to this temptation because it is lonely at the top. Leaders spend time with few people except those who report to them directly (their “reports”), who are often the same age and earn about the same amount of money as they do. Thus, leaders commonly become friends with their reports and they share their feelings about any employee problems and concerns. When it comes time to criticize their reports and hold them accountable, many leaders are reluctant. They don’t give as much attention to their performance reviews as to those of lower level managers, and they don’t give good constructive or negative feedback. They are too concerned with being friends. Seek your reports’ long-term respect, rather than their affection. Don’t see them as a support group, but as high-level employees who have to deliver what you expect.  Hold people accountable by confronting direct reports immediately about behavior and performance and clarify expectations up front to make confronting direct reports easier.  Frankly, an employee should never be surprised by their performance review nor if they are put on a performance management program because their manager or leader will have over-communicated around expectations and delivery.

The third temptation is being so concerned that all of one’s decisions are correct that one is unwilling to make decisions with limited information. You want to be absolutely sure, to achieve certainty, even at the risk of clarity and action. If you don’t make decisions, you can’t hold people accountable, because you haven’t been clear about what you want. Thus, you must make decisions about your business group’s goals and the responsibilities of people in the team to meet those goals, even if you don’t have all the information you need. As in the military, it’s better to make any decision than to make no decision. One’s job as a leader is to come up with answers.  Don’t worry about being wrong. Become comfortable making tough decisions with limited information, because people need that clear direction to move forward. Be willing to make mistakes when faced with uncertainty.  Be very clear about what you want, rather than being afraid to be wrong. Achieving certainty is impossible, because the world abounds with uncertainty and imperfect information.  Many leaders who feel a need for precision may postpone decisions or fail to let people know exactly what they are supposed to deliver. People will not just figure out the right answers as they go along, so the likelihood of good results is limited. Strive to achieve clarity, rather than accuracy. It is better to take decisive action than wait for additional information. One of a leader’s responsibilities is to risk being wrong so one needs to welcome conflict and challenge.  It’s not only leaders that prefer harmony to conflict and obedience to insubordination, but the consequences for leaders that get carried away by these desires can be dire.  Provide clarity by setting public deadlines for making key decisions and practice making decisions without complete information around less risky issues.

The fourth temptation is the desire for harmony. Although people naturally want harmony, it can undermine good decision making, because you can close yourself off to other ideas that might lead to discord. By contrast, you should have the full benefit of everyone’s ideas to make good decisions.  When you seek harmony rather than being open to productive conflict and opposing ideas, you can lose credibility. People may find you inconsistent and unfair, because they aren’t sure how serious you are when you issue an instruction since you’ve never pressured them in the past. Perhaps you have tried too hard to be nice to get people to like you. No one likes conflict, but in the process of avoiding it, you can cut off good ideas and opinions, and keep people from gaining clarity about their tasks. This can deprive you of information you need to make decisions.  Avoid developing such a strong desire for harmony that it prevents one from getting the information you need to be clear. This quest for harmony can interfere with achieving clarity, because you may be shutting down people who might express divergent opinions or ideas. Many leaders do this because they like to see people agree and get along, rather than have disagreements and conflicts. It is in your best interests to get different views and opinions out in the open so you can make good decisions and consider all the available knowledge.  Establish productive conflict by drawing out differing opinions and perspectives from staff members and engage in and allow passionate discussions about key issues.

The fifth temptation is invulnerability, or being afraid to trust others (coming back to one of the foundations of the five dysfunctions). To get others to trust you, you have to trust them, which means being willing to be vulnerable. Many people don’t do this because they are afraid of getting burned. But even if you do get burned at times, it’s not fatal. You should trust people to have healthy, productive conflict.  Establish productive conflict by drawing out differing opinions and perspectives from staff members and engage in and allow passionate discussions about key issues.  To avoid invulnerability, put aside the desire to appear invulnerable. Many leaders mistakenly think they will have less credibility if they show that their ideas can be challenged. But a free exchange of ideas is far more productive; people say what they think and you get better input. Encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego. If you show you trust people, they will return that trust with both respect and honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable, too.  Build trust by acknowledge your own weaknesses and mistakes and allowing direct reports to see your human side.

From a people management standpoint, Lencioni has three very basic suggestions for getting better results and performance out of the team:  make things measureable, provide accountability and know your people.  While these would appear to be something we already do, we in fact for the most part do not.  In describing them, it will become obvious that we don’t.  The three signs break into components of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement.

Anonymity: People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.  This is the squishiest of the three in that it requires each people manager to take a vested interest in getting to know their people in-depth.

Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.

Immeasurement: Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

Lencioni states that “management is like a ministry. You can help your employees feel good about themselves and the work they do. See that they feel important and know that they are contributing.  Give them some tangible means for marking their own progress. If you do these things, you will have an immeasurably profound positive impact on your employees’ lives. They will feel better about themselves, which will make everyone around them feel better. To create this happy, productive environment just treat the people who work for you like human beings. It’s really that simple.”  I underline tangible twice because while at Microsoft we have the tangible system of commitments by which individuals can measure themselves year on year, we don’t necessarily identify daily/weekly/monthly tangible measures by which they can do the same – most organizations and corporations don’t.  Additionally it is important that we find ways to tie the relevance of each individual’s role to someone else in the team so that their only accountability isn’t to their manager.  This allows them to see their relevance in repeatable and measurable ways.  This is where, more than anywhere else, a lack of buy in and participation by a people manager should lead to a transition for that individual to an IC role.

The last area where they should focus is in tearing down the silos that exist between both feature teams and along functional lines.  Silos are common and almost natural to organizations. They are also deadly.  Silos emerge when leaders fail to establish the right context to unify their organizations. Team building exercises and open discussions lay the foundations for eliminating silos, but they are not enough.  By approaching singular themes or rallying cries as though the team were in crisis, silos are torn down as people focus on the rallying cry as opposed to their function or team.  The thematic goal (the single, temporary, and qualitative rallying cry shared by all members of the team) is used to frame all major discussions and decisions during this time period. Our goal must be unified, but distinct from our overall operational goals. It should be a qualitative call to action expressed with active verbs. We need to communicate this goal and the interim stepping stones so clearly that our employees know how their individual actions contribute to achieving this milestone together.  All of this ties back to creating our own story and changing our myths to suit the needs of the business.

There are two other areas where Lencioni focuses, one being how we serve our customers and another how we hire the right people or, with existing teams, retain the right people.  I’ll skip the “getting naked” portion of service (as he puts it) and focus instead on how we hire or retain the right people.

When we’re looking for people to join our teams, there is any number of technical skills that we tend to vet for, no matter what industry.  What we run into at times, though, is a lack of understanding about what we need to screen for from a behavioral standpoint.   Lencioni believes, and I agree, that we should be looking for people who are hungry, humble, and smart.  What does that mean?

We’re looking for people who are hungry so that when the crunch time comes, they don’t check out and leave it up to their colleagues to get the job done.  While we have a commitment to them to ensure work/life balance, we need to know that they have the drive to get the job done when it comes down to it.

Humility is all about ego, or the desire for a lack of one.  Some might debate with me on this point, stating that people what are further along in their career are likely going to have more of an ego because of their success.  That’s crap.  We always want people who speak more of “we” than “me.”  We especially need those who lead us to be focused on the team and what the team has accomplished, not their own accomplishments.

Last is smart, but not the smart you’re thinking.  We want people who are emotionally intelligent, or people smart, so that they have the empathy necessary to be a part of a highly effective team.  When we lack emotional intelligence, we have a tendency to run rough shod over others or miss the social cues that might help us find success easier in an organization and know who is willing to partner with us to solve a problem.

Now, at any given time, a person is going a have a gap in one of these areas, if not more.  For those who have gaps in multiple areas, that’s a tough one to resolve, and typically you’ll end up coaching them out of your company if you stay true to the mantra of hungry, humble, and smart. Why is that, you might ask, and simply put, as a highly effective leader, you have a commitment to your people to help them grow, and intentionality around that in any of these areas can be a challenge to receive, to focus on multiple areas at once will likely be overwhelming.  Again, though, as leaders, we have to, as it is our commitment to our teams and, most importantly, to the individuals who work for us.

Well, that’s enough of a “book report” for the week.  I hope you’ve found it all useful, and next week I’ll get back to my usual format of tech/business trends.  Until then, be well!

Oh wait, a TED talk for you … well, this week, this talk from Tim Leberecht seems relevant.  In it, he talks about his belief that in the face of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need a new for radical humanism in the workplace so that we focus on authenticity and questions instead of efficiency and answers.

Uber’s Driverless Cars go live, Apples, Apples everywhere, Revisiting Gartner’s Top Ten for 2016 + more


As we get close to Q4 in 2016 and the release of Gartner’s Top Ten Tech Trends for 2017, I thought it’d be good to take a look back at what they predicted for 2016  to refresh our memories plus share a few articles from the world this week.  First, the news:

Uber is now letting riders experience their autonomous cars in Pittsburg.  This article highlights what the experience is like – while the writer felt safe for most of his drive, he was glad he could override the technology a couple of times as well.  It’s pretty cool to see the technology being leveraged, including LiDar on every vehicle.

The income and poverty report for 2015 came out this week, and good news: we’re as rich as we were in 1998.  Aside from the cheeky and insightful analysis from the New Yorker, there is good news in the report, although tempered.  I’ve not had a chance to finish it yet, but you can find the entire thing here if you’d like to dig in.

I, apparently, need to get a job with Wells Fargo … well, no, I don’t because I missed the window to cash in on a $124M bonus package for defrauding customers, costing the company a nearly $200m fine.

Microsoft beat Facebook in, of all places, Github with open source code submissions.  Why is that a big deal?  Well, this is the company that, under Gates and Ballmer, tried their hardest convince CIOs that open source was rife with issues.  Well, under Nadella that has changed.

There are two articles worth a look this week from HBR: to succeed in tech, women need more visibility and how cybersecurity is every executive’s job.  Definitely take the time to read the first article, as it points to an ongoing epidemic of sorts for tech companies: the highest-profile losses in tech are those at the senior level. Women at these levels “often are less satisfied with their careers, perceive that they are unlikely to advance at their current organizations, or believe they must change jobs in order to reach the next level.”

A round up of some Apple articles for the week: first, I’ve downloaded iOS 10 and between the price of the 7 for lack of innovation and some of the “features” of that new OS, it might be enough to push me off the platform, but at least I was able to get it to install.  Next, apparently the “boys” of 1 Infinite Loop are rethinking autonomous cars.  I used quotes there because then there’s this piece on leaked emails that shows how Apple is still a sexist and toxic workplace for women.  There are a few others, including how Apple will leverage ear buds to make Siri smarter, that the age of Apple is over, and what’s next for Apple now that smartphone sales continue to decline, much less stratechery’s look at beyond the iPhone.  But I feel like I buried the lead there – Cook may be much admired, but there’s critical work to be done at Apple to get rid of the “bro” culture that we thought was only an epidemic as Unicorns.

There’s a good piece this week about the state of computer science education in the United States.  While it’s important to look at how primary education is filling the pipeline of secondary education in computer science (and, thereby, industry), we also need to face the reality that we’re moving towards a degree-less future in development in part and figure out how to enable future success without straddling another generation with unnecessary debt.

Tesla and Elon Musk have been in the news of late (what with the acquisition of Solar City).  Curious about the future of the company?  Check it out here.  Hint: we’re back to autonomous cars.

For those afraid of AI, Venture Beat has an opinion piece this week about how it can actually save us from future stock market failures.

Now for Gartner:

Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with the potential for significant impact on the organization. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to the business, end users or IT, the need for a major investment, or the risk of being late to adopt. These technologies impact the organization’s long-term plans, programs and initiatives.

The top 10 strategic technology trends for 2016 are the device mesh, ambient user experience, 3D printing materials (hmmm), information of everything, advanced machine learning, autonomous agents and things, adaptive security architecture, advances system architecture, mesh app and service architecture, and IoT platforms

 The Device Mesh

The device mesh refers to an expanding set of endpoints people use to access applications and information or interact with people, social communities, governments and businesses. The device mesh includes mobile devices, wearable, consumer and home electronic devices, automotive devices and environmental devices — such as sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT).

While devices are increasingly connected to back-end systems through various networks, they have often operated in isolation from one another. As the device mesh evolves, we expect connection models to expand and greater cooperative interaction between devices to emerge.

 Ambient User Experience

The device mesh creates the foundation for a new continuous and ambient user experience. Immersive environments delivering augmented and virtual reality hold significant potential but are only one aspect of the experience. The ambient user experience preserves continuity across boundaries of device mesh, time and space. The experience seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environment as the user moves from one place to another.

 3D Printing Materials

Advances in 3D printing have already enabled 3D printing to use a wide range of materials, including advanced nickel alloys, carbon fiber, glass, conductive ink, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biological materials. These innovations are driving user demand, as the practical applications for 3D printers expand to more sectors, including aerospace, medical, automotive, energy and the military. The growing range of 3D-printable materials will drive a compound annual growth rate of 64.1 percent for enterprise 3D-printer shipments through 2019. These advances will necessitate a rethinking of assembly line and supply chain processes to exploit 3D printing.

 Information of Everything

Everything in the digital mesh produces, uses and transmits information. This information goes beyond textual, audio and video information to include sensory and contextual information. Information of everything addresses this influx with strategies and technologies to link data from all these different data sources. Information has always existed everywhere but has often been isolated, incomplete, unavailable or unintelligible. Advances in semantic tools such as graph databases as well as other emerging data classification and information analysis techniques will bring meaning to the often chaotic deluge of information.

 Advanced Machine Learning

In advanced machine learning, deep neural nets (DNNs) move beyond classic computing and information management to create systems that can autonomously learn to perceive the world, on their own. The explosion of data sources and complexity of information makes manual classification and analysis infeasible and uneconomic. DNNs automate these tasks and make it possible to address key challenges related to the information of everything trend.

DNNs (an advanced form of machine learning particularly applicable to large, complex datasets) is what makes smart machines appear “intelligent.” DNNs enable hardware- or software-based machines to learn for themselves all the features in their environment, from the finest details to broad sweeping abstract classes of content. This area is evolving quickly, and organizations must assess how they can apply these technologies to gain competitive advantage.

 Autonomous Agents and Things

Machine learning gives rise to a spectrum of smart machine implementations — including robots, autonomous vehicles, virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and smart advisors — that act in an autonomous (or at least semiautonomous) manner. While advances in physical smart machines such as robots get a great deal of attention, the software-based smart machines have a more near-term and broader impact. VPAs such as Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri are becoming smarter and are precursors to autonomous agents. The emerging notion of assistance feeds into the ambient user experience in which an autonomous agent becomes the main user interface. Instead of interacting with menus, forms and buttons on a smartphone, the user speaks to an app, which is really an intelligent agent.

 Adaptive Security Architecture

The complexities of digital business and the algorithmic economy combined with an emerging “hacker industry” significantly increase the threat surface for an organization. Relying on perimeter defense and rule-based security is inadequate, especially as organizations exploit more cloud-based services and open APIs for customers and partners to integrate with their systems. IT leaders must focus on detecting and responding to threats, as well as more traditional blocking and other measures to prevent attacks. Application self-protection, as well as user and entity behavior analytics, will help fulfill the adaptive security architecture.

 Advanced System Architecture

The digital mesh and smart machines require intense computing architecture demands to make them viable for organizations. Providing this required boost are high-powered and ultraefficient neuromorphic architectures. Fueled by field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) as an underlining technology for neuromorphic architectures, there are significant gains to this architecture, such as being able to run at speeds of greater than a teraflop with high-energy efficiency.

 Mesh App and Service Architecture

Monolithic, linear application designs (e.g., the three-tier architecture) are giving way to a more loosely coupled integrative approach: the apps and services architecture. Enabled by software-defined application services, this new approach enables Web-scale performance, flexibility and agility. Microservice architecture is an emerging pattern for building distributed applications that support agile delivery and scalable deployment, both on-premises and in the cloud. Containers are emerging as a critical technology for enabling agile development and microservice architectures. Bringing mobile and IoT elements into the app and service architecture creates a comprehensive model to address back-end cloud scalability and front-end device mesh experiences. Application teams must create new modern architectures to deliver agile, flexible and dynamic cloud-based applications with agile, flexible and dynamic user experiences that span the digital mesh.

 Internet of Things Platforms

IoT platforms complement the mesh app and service architecture. The management, security, integration and other technologies and standards of the IoT platform are the base set of capabilities for building, managing and securing elements in the IoT. IoT platforms constitute the work IT does behind the scenes from an architectural and a technology standpoint to make the IoT a reality. The IoT is an integral part of the digital mesh and ambient user experience and the emerging and dynamic world of IoT platforms is what makes them possible.

I was in the midst of a conversation with a colleague yesterday when we both noticed an ant on the wall next to us.  We both watched it for a few moments before I “helped” it to the ground so it could get where it was going faster.  It reminded me of this TED talk by Deborah Gordon where she explores how ant life provides a useful model for learning about many other topics, including disease, technology, and the human brain.

Math is Racist, The End of the Bossless Workplace?, The Robot Economy + more

A photo by Steven Wei.

There are a trio of interesting articles to challenge ourselves with first this week: first from Cathy O’Neil via CNN (and other sources) about how math is racist and algorithms and big data are helping to perpetuate the poverty gap.  From targeted advertising and insurance to education and policing, O’Neil looks at how algorithms and big data are targeting the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality in her new book “Weapons of Math Destruction.”  Second up is one where researchers found that when artificial intelligence judges a beauty contest, white people win.  The why and the how behind racial preference is being programmed in to the AI platforms is what’s interesting.  Those first articles and the thought process that follows then brings into question the last, or at least, the real impact that artificial intelligence has on customer service – there is a great deal of potential, for sure, but companies have to be wary that their AI doesn’t then created a different, biased experience based on race and gender.

Vanity Fair this week has an exclusive look at how the Theranos house of cards came tumbling down.  It’s a story of silos and secrecy, among other things, and how silos and secrecy got in the way of any defense Theranos and Holmes, the founder, could mount.

Speaking of broken cultures, Inc. has an article this week about startup culture being broken and what to do about it now.

While there is some question as to the all-powerful nature of the mighty Blockchain, this article from Bloomberg unpacks what magical properties it might have.

With the Rio Olympics having come to a close, we get to the real question of the day: if we were to hold the Olympics of Programming today, which country would win and what would the US’s medal ranking be?  You’re likely not surprised to discover it isn’t even close to the top ten.  Not that it needs reinforcement, but we need to add coding to the curriculum earlier in the US.

While Uber is dominant by a wide margin in the US market, there are others out there seeing success in Europe and elsewhere, like Gett, an Israeli ride sharing company that looks to strengthen its hold on Europe and slowly make its way into the US.

As we awake to news of an earthquake off the shores of North Korea, it might bring to mind “the big one” we all fear – most people think of the San Andreas fault or if you’re from the Midwest, like me, the New Madrid fault line.  The New Yorker has an article on another: the Cascadia subduction.  It’s a really well written piece with a good look at the science and impact of that big one.

Many of us have heard about the “great experiment” at companies like Medium, Zappos, and GitHub in holocracy, where an organization is completely flat and there are no leaders.  There are champions and detractors alike, and one of those champions was Chris Wanstrath of GitHub, which started as a bossless culture in 2008 but who two years ago gathered the employees of his software startup to inform them they were all getting bosses.  That said, GitHub still pushes the traditional structure and is experimenting as they can and holocracy at Zappos has for all intents and purposes failed – just ask those leaving the company.  The obvious bigger question lies around how big is too big for a completely flat structure and when do the benefits get outweighed by the faults?

Popular Science does a great job profiling Chris White, the man who lit the dark web, this week, and how data mining is helping cops bust open online human trafficking.  On the subject of online predators, if you’re a parent (or not), take the time to read this article about the subject from the Washington Post.

There’s a pair of articles this week from Bloomberg about the state of the world economy this week: first, how manufacturing and now services are signaling fractures in the US economy and then how Saudi Arabia is on a cost-cutting spree looking to cut $20 billion in projects this year due to slow economic growth and low oil prices.

John Kotter’s name comes up frequently in the world of business and with good reason given his impact on how we run organizations and get organizations to change.  Organizational change management can be a tough nut to crack even when you have intent about it (and organizations fail to change when they ignore it), and this week strategy+business asked Kotter what his required reading was when it comes to change, and the list is short but insightful.  Also from s+b this week is this article on fostering online trust.

Well, the unthinkable has come to pass: the FCC has abandoned the set top box in favor of apps.  It’s not a surprising shift, just surprising that a government entity is an early adopter of sorts.  This shift should be a boon for consumers and cable providers alike.  Time will tell.

So, headphone jacks.  That seems to be the big news everyone is taking away from the Apple event Wednesday and with good reason.  While there are proponents and detractors, one of the bigger complaints is how one can’t charge their phone while using corded headphones.  Maybe Apple is becoming a company focused solely on increasing revenue and not innovation anymore, but recall that when the original iPod came out it didn’t work with most headphone because the jack was set so deeply in the device.  That changed, and it’s likely that wireless charging is what we can expect with the iPhone 8.

Ransomware continues to be an epidemic, but enSilo has a plan that should eliminate 70% of those attacks – learn more from Fortune.

There’s an interesting article from Fast Company about how Microsoft is trying to find and hire autisctic coders.

Last this week is an opinion piece this week outlining how the robot overlords aren’t, in fact, bearing down on us nor will the implementation of robots lead to mass unemployment as some naysayers have claimed.  While an opinion, there is plenty of data to back it up through the article.  Thea reality is that the robots are coming and we need to start planning and training our workforces now to avoid the feared obsolescence of the future.  Along with that, The Guardian explores how our three life stages will not survive much longer.

Speaking of progress, the politics around any progress brings about risk in many ways and on many levels.  Instead of avoiding that risk, however, journalist Jonathan Tepperman says we might even want to think riskier. He traveled the world to ask global leaders how they’re tackling hard problems — and unearthed surprisingly hopeful stories that he’s distilled into three tools for problem-solving featured in this TED talk.

“Active” listening, the”Hidden Curriculum” of Work, the Lost Infrastructure of Social Media + more


We’ve all heard that as leaders and managers, we have to focus on active listening when we interact with our people.  In the past, that’s been defined as not talking as others speak while making empathetic noises that convey understanding and then synthesizing what was said and repeating it back.  I’ve done this many times, and have always felt like that made me good at listening.  Lately, though, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about their personal mission statements, about what drives them and helping them connect that back to the core values and strategy of their company.  I find myself coming out of these conversations invigorated, even inspired by the dialogue and while I did follow that pattern I laid out above, I also did a few things differently, naturally, that are emphasized in this article from HBR on what great listeners actually do.  I found myself asking questions to promote discovery (these were, after all, self-discovery conversations), found myself naturally building the other individual’s confidence and self-esteem because the entire focus was to focus on things they loved to do and how it tied back to their job, I did find myself making suggestions and synthesizing our conversation to allow for a different understanding of the problem we were solving, and I made plenty of suggestions.  Then I had another conversation where I just engaged in classis active listening this week and it seemed almost fake to me, too canned.  Take a moment and read the article and then think about some of the most exciting conversations you’ve had of late.  I think you’ll find that your best conversations have been the ones when you’ve challenged the speaker as you’ve listened.

Would a week have passed without Uber being in the news?  This week, though, it’s for their autonomous car fleet that just debuted in Pittsburg.  Now, they are “supervised” by humans, and they are just in test phase, but they are out there.  Along with that is a great thought piece about we are shifting from a driver to a car culture and the impact of that on Uber and others.

Speaking of autonomous cars, Ford this week stated that they would have such cars ready to go to market in 2021 for automated ride-sharing companies.  They’ll be shipped without steering wheels or pedals (an upgrade to the Johnny Cab in Total Recall) and in this interview, Forbes digs in to how the head of autonomous vehicles at Ford plans to get that done.

An odd thing has been happening on Wall Street – as I’ve noted before, there’s been a drive to hire data scientists, but at Goldman Sachs, their technology division is made up of over 11,000 people, or as they brag, more engineers than Facebook.  It makes since, then, that Goldman would not just sponsor but also host All Star Code this summer on premise.  While the leaders at Goldman haven’t done a whole lot to improve the company’s reputation in the past decade, the people of Goldman are passionate about their communities (part of GS’s core values) and that’s evident in programs they support like ASC.

We’ve all heard stories of the dark net and Silk Road and the various nefarious transactions going on there, but have you heard the story of the dirty cops who tried to take advantage of it themselves?  Ars technica unpacks not just what they stole but also how they got caught.

Inc. this week has a great article on the history and evolution of Craigslist and how Craig Newmark, it’s founder, realized he sucked as a manager.

Strategy+business this week digs into the hidden curriculum of work – all those things that we have to learn/do in order to navigate our places of work that are outside of the job we were hired for, beyond the job description our people applied to.  As leaders, it’s incumbent on us to help our people understand that aspect, from the social and political environment to understanding (sometimes blindly) what is expected for one to advance in the organization.

Gartner has an interesting article this week where they state that 70% of enterprise file synchronizing and sharing companies will be gone by 2018.  Part of that makes sense as smaller companies who provide this service are absorbed by bigger firms.  Part of it will be due to innovation in the space.

For those of you who’ve felt that the past few summer blockbusters you’ve seen was written either a cat on a computer keyboard or AI, you’ll be interested to know the cats are still writing their magnum opus, AI has written its first screenplay.

Scientific American asked some of our leading thinkers about the future of humanity.  One of my favorite Q & As was Q: Will we ever figure out what dark matter is?  A:  Whether we can determine what dark matter is depends on what it turns out to be.

Alex Danco has the first two parts of how we make paradigm shifts in our world posted through Medium – it’s an interesting journey so far.  Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Last this week is another piece  from Medium about the lost infrastructure of social media – it’s a good look at then versus now and how what happened back then could be brought back to bear in the here and now.

TED has a blog post that can describe much better than I the importance of the talk this week – read it here and then watch for yourself.

Ag Unicorns, Leadership Perils for Subject Matter Experts, A Deficit of Leadership + more


While there’s an abundance of articles out there about any numbers of startups in a multitude of verticals, but we don’t often hear much about the agricultural space.  Since 2008, however, a lot of acquisitions have been taking place, with the “Big Six” ag companies spending upwards of $31B in the past eight years.  What there investing in skews towards digital ag, with the hopes that new technology will allow farmers to make better decisions real-time and tie them to their providers data platform.  That all makes sense, as using data to drive decisions is why big data is and will continue to be dominant, but what makes it hard for big Ag companies is that many times they have to sell to farmers who are using aging infrastructure and technology.  The key challenge? Finding ways to enable farmers to both better leverage their existing equipment while building platforms that takes some of the burden off their shoulders.

There are many chat platforms out there today that one wouldn’t think the sale of Yahoo’s properties to Verizon would have chat users concerned, but apparently the messenger platform is used by more than just consumers; apparently the world of crude oil trading depends on it for both gossip and contracts.

If you’ve never heard of until this last week when Wal-Mart announced they’d pay $3.3B for the company, I’m not surprised.  I’d only heard about it because of this guy who put up $18k to “win” a stake in the company.  Well, he’s now $20M richer for his investment, and L2 has a hilarious analysis/analogy that outlines why Wal-Mart would spend so much for a company that, well, has produced so little.

So Uber made some headlines last week, and there’s also some fallout from the Didi deal already: it may line the company up for anti-trust scrutiny.  Also, Quartz asked the question that no one else has: with Uber on an unending ascent and investors clamoring to get in, what does it look like to short it?

Many times we see subject matters experts thrust into leadership positions with little forethought or training.  I think the typical thought process is that if an individual is thriving at the work they are doing, they would be the best person to lead and mentor others because they could then pass that knowledge on.  strategy+business tackles this topic this week, with the three perils SMEs face when they lead: the ability to break free of their comfort zone and then “helicopter,” the ability to “code switch” (or avoid reverting to jargon), and the need to “lead up” to a boss or other person up the hierarchy who may have little expertise with a very specific and technical problem.  We work with seasoned practitioners every day who are likely challenged by these very pitfalls and it provides us with the opportunity to serve them through mentoring.

HBR has two head’s up articles for us this week: the first is about “smart drugs” and how they’re likely going to start showing up in our organizations.  The second, how our diversity programs may be helping out women but not minorities (or vice versa).

We often talk about how the developing world depends not on a PC but their mobile devices for internet access, a variety of transactions, and social connectedness, but we don’t have to look at South Africa or India to see this at play, we can look in our own back yard.  Today, Latino families in the U.S. are much more likely to have a mobile device versus a PC at home.  To me, that means we need to stop catering to a declining population and start pushing more towards a mobile versus desktop interface even in the developer world if we want to win at digital.

Remember Gopher protocol?   Here’s a great article about the rise and fall of it.

It’s funny that this summer has seen many naysayers about Augmented Reality and then Pokemon Go happened.  People didn’t need a headset of any kind, and it’s been almost addictive to its users along with leading some players to interesting scenarios.  What’s next?  Well, it may lead to a change in our zoning laws and even, maybe, selling the “digital rights” to your own home.   Here’s also a great look at how AR can speed up construction projects.

Not to debunk a good thing, but for all the hype we’ve been hearing about 5G, here’s a good reality check for what it will take to make it happen.  Hint: we’re gonna need a whole lot of investment in infrastructure.

There are a lot of naysayers out there who say that Apple has lost its former glory, that the company will never have another iPhone.  Well, yes, of course they won’t.  The iPhone was what is considered innovation on par with the Internet or man flying, the horseless carriage.  It only makes sense that a company would get one of those, not a slew.  Instead of looking for the next iPhone, Apple is in it for the long game, and that game is looking pretty good.

For those who wondered what happened to Here, one of the remnants of Nokia after the sale of its mobile device IP to Microsoft (which has been completely written off at this point), they’re out looking for investment after being bought by a consortium of German auto makers.  Now, this may seem like an odd non-sequitur, however if you look at who the buyers were versus who once owned the mapping technology, and the trend in the industry for who is purchasing mapping entities as a whole (outside of Google, ESRI, Digital Globe and the other big names), more and more of these acquisitions are by either automakers or those who depend on routing (like Uber and their continued purchases).  I’m well removed from this world at this point, but it’ll be interesting to see how the metadata these companies collect are then translated to effective autonomous routing (the backbone of autonomous cars).  Better said, it’s not really about the maps anymore.

I’ll end this week pointing to this excellent piece by Jon Lonsdale about the deficit of leadership we face today, and that while we may have many people who are good managers, maybe even good leaders, there is a lack of great leaders in Silicon Valley.  That’s not just an epidemic there, however – it’s hard to find truly transformational leaders this day and it has me curious as to why.

The barrage of today’s work place has led people to become more and more miserable and disengaged at work.  In this talk by Yves Morieux, Morieux discusses six rules to simplify work.

$1B for a box of razors, Where Machines Could Replace Humans, Why Toxic Leaders Get Promoted + more

EnF7DhHROS8OMEp2pCkx_Dufer food overhead hig res

When I first heard of Dollar Shave Club, it was through the same medium as most everyone else – some pretty funny Super Bowl commercials and the media following that.  I thought it looked like a fun and irreverent company, but didn’t subscribe myself until we analyzed it in B school and several guys in my class said they were subscribers and raved about it.  Now it seems that shipping a box of razors every months or so (plus some other items) turns out to be worth $1 billion, or so the offer from Unilever would have us believe.  Pando lays out what entrepreneurs should learn from this acquisition (hit or miss on the article – they’ve started locking their content) while Streatechery speaks to how the $1B price is low compared to the price of Gillette and how it is negatively disrupting the vertical.

Business Insider has once again brought us their “THE SILICON VALLEY 100: The most amazing and inspiring people in tech right now.”  While there are many names you’ll recognize on this list, there are quite a few that you may not, and for me it’s a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s driving innovation in Silicon Valley.

Ever wonder that the best TED talks ever were?  Well, according to Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, these are it.

strategy+business has a trio of good articles this week: What Consumers Most Want from Health Insurers’ Technology, an interview with Greg Beck (Silicon Valley’s Farsighted Banker), and Five Behaviors That Can Create an Innovation Culture.  In that last one, they include , building collaboration across your ecosystem, measuring and motivating your intrapreneurs, emphasize speed and agility, think like a venture capitalist, and balance operational excellence with innovation.

If you found the first strategy+business article interesting, go over and check out what STAT has to say about how ‘digitizing you and me’ could revolutionize medicine.

Bloomberg lays out for us this week something that many may not have noticed: oil isn’t looking to be the future for Big Oil.  They took a look at Royal Dutch Shell to explain why.

If we take a look at the global stage right now, it’s incredible to see how “truth” is being undermined by opinion and fact is falling by the wayside.  The Guardian has supposed that technology is the culprit.  TO me, technology has certainly made it more difficult for public and private leaders to lead and focus on the broader problems facing us.

McKinsey has a great article on how and where machines will replace humans in the near term, and it’s not where you might think.  Automation isn’t set to eliminate any job completely in the next decade, according to McKinsey, however automation will affect portions of all jobs.  In my mind, that’s a good thing, as greater efficiency through automation leads to other advances that will redefine the jobs of the “robot economy.”  While the full results of their study won’t be out until early 2017, McKinsey gives us a glimpse of what they’ve discovered and breaks it out into three main categories: those that are highly susceptible, less susceptible, and least susceptible to automation.  It’s a really fascinating read, and a hat tip goes to Mike for sharing it with me.

Along with the McKinsey piece is this one from Xerox on 19 jobs for ‘bots (and why that’s not such a bad thing).

O’Reilly has a thought provoking piece this week on how decentralization might just give us the reboot we need to reopen the web and accelerate innovation.

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Microsoft with the announcement of the LinkedIn acquisition.  With that acquisition, you may be wondering what the email, data, and privacy implications may be.  Techcrunch has taken a swing at answering those for us.  Also interesting is how Satya may have just fixed Microsoft’s biggest problem.

While I don’t have anything on Google or Apple to share this week, there were a couple of share-worthy items on Facebook, including its inability to increase diversity, again (and how they blame schools for it) and what Facebook will look like in 2026.

In my hours behind a windshield this week I got a chance to catch up on some of Tim Ferriss’s recent podcast and one of them was his interview with Chris Young, the brain behind ChefSteps.  He is obsessively focused on how to bring science into the kitchen and has had a pretty amazing journey. happened to interview him this week as well, it’s worth a read, and the Ferriss podcast is long but a good one.

As a good friend of mine always tells me, great leaders listen twice as much as they speak.  Here’s an article from HBR that speaks to what great listeners actually do.   Oh, and if you want to pick up a book on the subject, check out The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.

Last this week from The Military Leader is an article on why toxic leaders keep getting promoted.  While not meant for a civilian audience, it reinforces what we already know – toxic leaders advance because we focus too much on what they accomplish, not how they accomplish it.  They may get the mission done, but the trail of destruction they leave in their wake is rarely noticed by their superiors but deeply felt by their peers and subordinates.  The parallels to our lives as leaders is clear – many of us get mired in reacting to the world around us, where the truly successful leaders initiate change in their organizations.  Our task-saturated culture keeps us from finding the cognitive space we need to create long- or even mid-range plans.  That’s the challenge for all of us: finding the space we need to grow into better leaders, and defending that space once we find it.

And on that note, I’d like to leave you this week with this talk by Drew Dudley on everyday leadership.  In it, Dudley asks us to celebrate leadership as the daily act of improving each other’s lives.


Wooden On Leadership


As I am on vacation this Friday and next, I’ll be recycling some materials that I think are good to revisit, this week starting with Wooden’s On Leadership.

Wooden’s philosophy and approach to leading both in basketball and life has caused me to pause in my own approach and take stock in how I lead others.  At first, I didn’t think that I would enjoy the text that much simply because I’ve never been that interested in sports unless I’m playing them and that happens rarely (classical singing is athletic enough as is raising two girls under six).  After reading, however, I’d gladly recommend it to any leader or potential leader I know.  To be honest, I felt that just the materials regarding the pyramid of success were “good enough” in my mind for a book, but they certainly weren’t good enough for Wooden which is both an illustration of how committed a leader Wooden was and how thorough a resource this text is.  To me, while Wooden’s foundation is strong, I also believe that trust is essential at that base level in an organization.  I would also add healthy conflict with intent and purpose (strive for what Lincoln achieved in his cabinet), accountability and a results focus to the pyramid in addition to what Wooden highlights.

The Pyramids or Success

While I note above some additional areas that I would add to the bottom layer of the pyramid in an organization, I think that Wooden is spot on with the other components of his foundation.

  • Industriousness: In my own career I’ve many time seen not only the impact of hard work on the organization but also on the individual.  While the entire pyramid results in competitive greatness, this is one of the hardest to realize not because it is difficult to work hard, but because of the difficulty around working in balance, a concept still evolving in my own mind.  Wooden later in the book speaks of how he only has a total of 2 hours a day through the course of the season – that seems more reasonable “long-term” (i.e. only over four years) than the 5 – 6 days a week we’re now working, 10 – 15 hours a day.  When you are working, yes you have to work hard, however as a leader you also have to set the right pace and tone for your organization and remind people to find balance when work pulls it out of whack or to be intentional in how you balance so it is net in balance.
  • Friendship:  I find that I treat friends at work similar to how I treat friends in the rest of my life as many of us do, and while the foundation (mutual respect, esteem, and camaraderie) do create essential “infrastructure,” the tendency is to reveal too much, be too casual or informal in work.  There may be a coworker or two with whom you long-term develop that relationship, but the reality is that if you lead or intend to lead an organization, there is a degree of distance that must be built into your friendships.
  • Loyalty:  Loyalty to yourself in this day and age is something that seems the inverse of what organizations demand.  By that I mean that companies today tend to want you to be assimilated into their culture and to be loyal first to the company and then to all other parts of your life.  I agree with Wooden that first you must be loyal to yourself – not selfish, but loyal to the standards and ideals in which you believe.  In looking for an organization to work in or lead, the first thing one should do is evaluate the mission, vision and values of the organization to see if they align with your own.  If leading an organization, the hard call to make is if and more likely when to change those fundamental aspects so that either they are in alignment with your leadership or you are in alignment with them.
  • Cooperation:  This is the area of the foundation that I think tells more of one’s leadership potential and capacity than any other – many times, people who are viewed as “leaders” are simply strong individuals with a unique vision but lack the ability to hear the voices of others.  To this end, a leader needs to be able to not only actively listen what others are saying when possible (and it should most often be possible), but also encourage healthy conflict and debate within his or her organization so as to make sure every voice is heard.  The concern needs to be, as Wooden puts it, for what’s right, not who’s right.
  • Enthusiasm:  Enthusiasm in my view is one of the key defining differences between a job and a career or avocation.  When you do something because you have to it’s an onerous task.  When you do something because you are passionate about it, engaged, involved and committed, it becomes not only an inspiration to yourself but others as well.


The Pyramid’s Second Tier

  • Self-control: One key to lead a team with consistency is through self-control, but not just in the way you interact work with others, but in every aspect of your life.  I’ve observed that strong leaders lead by example, and part of that example is by how they treat their physical self.  While it is augmented in Colorado because of how outdoors and health focused the populace is, wherever I go and interact with other leaders, the majority of people are very fit – it’s simply a part of their nature.
  • Alertness: While good to strive for, I think that we have to be careful on how hard we push for alertness, at least in the context of how Wooden describes it.  I definitely agree that observing, absorbing and learning from the world around you is a critical component of a leader or team’s make up, pushing yourself to an extreme in this area can be harmful given that in a sense it could result in a degree of sensory overload – best to build up this competency over time.  In a sense, I equate the risk here with being a performer who is “on” all the time or an extrovert who is never allowed to have any down time – just like any muscle, ability and strength has to be added incrementally over time.
  • Initiative: To me, this is also known as failing fast – in essence, lean forward, get things done so that in the end if we are going to fail, we fail faster so that we can learn from the experience and move on to the next possibility.  As Wooden notes, a strong leader can’t be afraid of mistakes nor can he or she be hesitant, indecisive or vacillate.  An approach of failing fast makes sure that when we make mistakes, we make mistakes of commission, not omission
  • Intentness: Acting with determination and purpose is core to any leader and organization.  If you look at what Patrick Lencioni with The Table Group has written with regards to the need for every employee to identify how what they do is relevant and has an impact, taking it to the next level speaks to intentness.  Once you figure out what makes you relevant in your organization, you can then act with intent in whatever you do.  For me personally, this means continuing to refine what I excel at and making a conscious choice of that which I am not only going to focus on but also those areas where I am going to push/force growth within myself.

The Heart of the Pyramid

  • Condition: Physical conditioning is an essential aspect of being a leader, but conditioning also applies to mental and moral strength but also emotional and relational conditioning.  This is perhaps one of the hardest components of the pyramid to master simply because of the commitment and intent it takes to accomplish, especially with the personal histories that are in conflict with these very requirements of a leader.
  • Skill:  The individual and the team need to be well-rounded and know and be able to execute on all facets of their job, not just one that they excel at.  I know many developers who are great at hacking together code but create code that is very buggy.  Because they are able to create solutions to complex problems, we frequently ignore that the code often takes many hours after the initial development phase to work out all of the bugs, which typically falls on the shoulders of another member of the team (to clean up the mess) after the “hero of the moment” goes off and works on the next shiny problem.  To truly excel, however, that individual should be looking at their own code and not only cleaning up after the fact but learning to balance the skill set so that while they may be great at one thing, they are good at all things required of their job and if they aren’t, they push themselves to get there.  For leaders this means continuous learning and improvement, with a desire to identify all of the blind spots within their personality and fill them in and then communicates and enacts it throughout their organization, including putting the mechanisms in place to enable and ensure this is the case.
  • Team Spirit:  There are many cheesy sayings around this point, my favorite being “there is no I in team … but there is meat.”  That said, and as much as our current organizational culture may ridicule and push back on this concept given how our society is now driving the individual over the organization, it is still a fundamental truth.  Teamwork is critical and essential to any organization, but what does it mean?  It is an eagerness to sacrifice personal interest for the glory of all (a different intent than willingness) and to that end the individual must be enthusiastic in their desire to put the needs of the organization ahead of their own personal agenda.  The crazy part of this sacrifice is that when you have a group of individuals who truly function as a team, they realize personal success as the team or organization is successful, and many times are viewed as “mystical” given their working methods and what they are able to accomplish.  People try to make their success be based on something very complex or some unknown or some political connection but in the end it comes down to the simple act of self-sacrifice and commitment to the team with an eagerness and joy in the approach.


Getting to the Top

  • Poise: I really appreciate how Wooden has ordered the layers of the pyramid because not only are the lower layers essential for the upper ones, they also lead to competence and enable those layers above them.  Case in point is poise.  If you excel at the base and middle tiers of the pyramid, poise becomes a simple trait to embody.  Without them, and without the maturity that they bring about, it is difficult (if not impossible) to achieve and maintain.  The ability to be true to oneself and not get thrown off is a tough one in today’s business climate because of how often organizations and industries change.  No one thought five years ago that Apple would be the most valuable company on the planet, nor that the iPhone would be such a disruptor of the technology sector (especially given the abject failure of Apple’s previous forays into the area, the Newton and the Rokr).  That, however, is a testament to the volatility of capitalism and how quickly industry to turn to a different direction.  Having the wherewithal to be true to yourself when all others are blaming or scapegoating you in bad situations and worse.  Poise is, as so aptly stated, being able to meet with both triumph and disaster and treating both the same.  The outside world doesn’t throw you, doesn’t cause you to second guess or question your own choices nor get panicked when the unexpected happens.
  • Confidence: Confidence, to me, is quiet and quieting (just as poise).  It is a belief in yourself that is unassailable, however at the same time it can’t be false or out of place.  Confidence builds on a constant need for growth and learning, being intent, taking initiative, being alert and other parts of the pyramid.  However, the risk we run is one of false or fake confidence or arrogance.  That is what makes confidence quiet and quieting – the individual who has to proclaim to the world what they know isn’t confident but arrogant and the individual who puts on airs of false confidence isn’t a leader but is a fool.
  • Competitive greatness:  “A real love for the hard battle, knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.”  What more does one need to say than that?

Good Values Attract Good People

This point is where leading by example comes to the front – if you don’t lead by setting the example of the values you desire and tolerate values that you don’t, you simply won’t attract the talent that will unify your organization and help you realize success long term.  Values always have to come first, and with good reason.  Without the right value system at the core of an organization, hardcore resisters are bred, born and hired and a culture of blame evolves.  Accountability isn’t reasonable if you don’t have good values at the core of your business and they must come first.  Character is innate, rarely something that you can coach or help an individual to adjust, adapt or realize and it starts with the little things, the attention to small details and one should never value the one who will do anything to win, at any cost.  However a part of good character in a leader is realizing that sometimes people simply make mistakes – the tough call is determining if it was truly a mistake or a part of character.


Use the Most Powerful Four-Letter Word

It’s refreshing to see a leadership system that not only views itself as a variation on parenting but also at its core has is based on love.  Having love in your heart for all people in your life and in your organization radically shifts your outlook and approach with those individuals.  It also impacts how they perceive you as approaching someone with an attitude of agape love is something that anyone can perceive and will find hard to resist.  However, even though Christ loved all of those around him and treated them as such, he still asked hard questions and had great expectations for all people.  Part in how you get your employees to engage is by knowing them, by making them feel valued through your intention and how interact with them.  At a certain point, however, an organization will grow too large to feasibly know every employee that works for you and while you still strive for this ideal, approaching people from a position of love results in a completely different experience than any other.  This doesn’t mean, however, that you like everyone with which you work or don’t hold people accountable, nor that you are any less demanding in your expectations – it has to do with the quality of your relationships with the people around you.  However, even with this love and the charity in your heart that comes with it, there is a need to keep yourself apart from your team and employees.  This doesn’t mean being aloof or doing it for its own sake, but in essence is for the sake of objectivity.  With all of this, you have to know when it is time to be flexible and when it is time to be firm – never be flexible on those rules or expectations that speak to your core values or philosophy, but remain soft hearted in everything else.

Call Yourself a Teacher

There’s a great quote out there from the CEO of a local company who, when asked why he doesn’t have his title on his business card he replies with “because every day this job is different and the title doesn’t matter – today, I’m the janitor” or something along those lines.  I think that many times we can get caught up in titles and status that is conveyed by them.  That, however is just a part of Wooden’s intent in in calling yourself a teacher and not really an explicit one at that – in fact he states that you should put teacher on your business card.  His view is that you should first and foremost always view and call yourself (at least internally) a teacher.  But why?

Viewing yourself as a teacher shifts your approach and view of the world and those around you drastically.  Not only do you attempt to perceive more and find six different way to explain a concept or hold a conversation, but also how to enable those under you to perform at their very best – not THE best, but THEIR best.  In that process, you must also know how to teach and be teachable.  Part of teaching, however, is patience, which for many is a talent that must be developed and learn to differentiate between simply telling someone how to do something and teaching them how to do it.  You also have to get used to wearing many different hats through the course of the day and be able to move adeptly between them.  Don’t fall into the trap of presuming that your professional competency equates to an ability to teach, nor into the belief that your answers are always right as that will lead you to stop asking questions.  Back to the poem I quoted in class, I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day, I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way.  The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear, fine counsel is confusing but example is always clear.

Emotion is Your Enemy

There is a clear difference between emotionalism and intensity – intensity leads to consistency whereas emotionalism derails it.  When you let emotion take over the conversation or interaction, even if for show (which calls into question honesty) or an intentional purpose, it not only takes the focus away from the content of the situation but calls into question your maturity as a leader and derails your (and others) ability to do your best.  Emotionalism also throws a leader off track in having consistently maximum performance – having intensity with emotional discipline, on the contrary, allows you to stay on track and on target, allowing you to bring intense calmness and reason to any situation.

It Takes Ten Hands to Score a Basket

Ten hands to score a basket is about understanding the big picture and realizing that when the team wins, you win … and the team winning can lead to you winning much bigger than you ever could on your own.  You continue to push the team to grow by sharing information, ideas and more across the board.  This also means to recognize the players who don’t have their hands on the ball during the game and the members of the team who never even touch the ball.  In other words, recognize the assist as at least as valuable to the success as the hero of the moment.  In fact, if you’ve built a team based on a value set that vectors towards this, the people on your team who are the “star performers” likely will be of a character where they would rather see those given the assist recognized in public while you make the time to congratulate and validate them in private (because positive validation is part and parcel of “good parenting”).

Little Things Make Big Things Happen

Focusing and perfecting the details are critical to seeing broader success.  In part this is because it allows you to enjoy small successes upon which you can build, but also it keeps the trivial from derailing your success.  We frequently set the big, hairy audacious goals (as we should) without a clear path on how we get there, or what the intermediate steps are.  Other times, we continuously shift our focus on the newest bright, shiny object to hover in our periphery.  The reality is that while you need to set those distant goals, by focusing your attention and intent on the trivial or smaller steps, it will both lead you to those goals and allow you incremental successes to track and leverage to motivate your team.  It’s certainly not about being a perfectionist, but about doing your best in any given moment while not allowing the quest for perfection to pull you out of balance.  In the end, it is the accumulation of many different little things that get you from here to there – focusing on those will help you organization get from point A to point B no matter what shrapnel may be flying from the sides.

Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

Time management is a constant struggle for any leader and one which I’ve faced personally and am currently coaching another leader on to help resolve the lack of balance in his schedule.  The catch, however, is that time is something that is completely in your control and one just has to learn to not only get the most value out of every minute in a given day but also make sure your day doesn’t dissolve into nothing being accomplished because you’ve committed to too many things.  Along with that, while a failure to prepare destines for failure, you always have to remember that there is only so much of you that you can give before you burn out and at the same time can’t make up for a lack of effort today by giving more effort tomorrow.  An effective (although tedious) way to gain control back over your schedule is to divide your week out by a percent of time to spend spread across the total hours you typically work.  This does two things: it sets stated limits to the number of hours you work in a week and how many hours you can spend working on any given thing.  Then you have to have the discipline to punt things to the next week or to someone else when they don’t fit into that structure.

The Carrot is Mightier than the Stick

This, more than any other portion of the book, is one that I want to incorporate immediately into my parenting at home.  I frequently find myself both limiting options and using a stick more often than a carrot – in part because the carrot my daughter prefers is more like carrot cake – we’ve gotten into a habit where rewards are equated with food and not necessarily food that is healthy.  I’ve in the past tried to “establish boundaries” for my oldest daughter as so much of the literature calls for and yet the idea of making firm suggestions is much more appealing because it then gives you flexibility and also empowers your child to make their own decisions while you teach them through discussion and allow them to fail from time to time.  At work, this is equally as applicable, and we should leverage rewards systems that make sense versus ones that are arbitrary or not aligned with the effort or focus.

As a leader, you also have to vary wary of how you use both criticism and praise – you don’t want hollow praise to be part of your vocabulary, or praise for praise sake and you want to make sure that if all possible you criticize in private and at all times attempt to be positive in your criticism.  How is that accomplished?  By using a positive performance by an individual or a team and relating that praise to an area that needs improvement.  There’s also a theory in performance management that states that you should have people work on the things they excel at and reassign the things they don’t to people who are passionate about them, therefore setting them up for success.  While I see the intent behind that and to some degree agree with it, I believe it has more to do with the role they excel at, not the specific items of work.  If someone is better with tactical planning and action, don’t stick them with strategic unless they desire to grow in that area.  I also believe that only the leader should give criticism.  Too often you see colleagues who are either trying to be helpful or spiteful who tear others down without a plan or the authority to create one on how to build them back up.  Leaders don’t tear down (except in specific circumstances like hardcore resisters) and all of the criticism they offer is both aligned with the organization’s needs and the individual or teams ability.

Make Greatness Attainable by all

Making greatness attainable by all means that you identify what greatness is in every role and then enable each individual to attain it for their specific role, in the end creating a “great” organization through empowering individuals to be their best.  That, however, is the measure – doing the job to your very best, and then sticking to that being what is best in that moment for that individual.  You have to instill the belief that there is an opportunity for greatness in any and every job.  Greatness can be a supporting role, as noted before – it doesn’t mean that you are the star or the hero.  As the leader, you have to encourage ambition and make it clear that any advancement is dependent on the mastery of current roles and assignments.

Seek Significant Change

As a leader, you need to look for the excuses that are keeping you from success; doing so may be incredibly challenging as those excuses at times can be so ingrained you won’t realize them for what they are.  To that end, look for yes men who will say no; individuals who are there for the success of the organization but are willing to ask hard questions when they need to be asked.  This doesn’t mean asking questions for the sake of questioning, but to make sure that nothing is left unexamined.  Encourage a culture that doesn’t say no but
instead asks how.  As a leader, you have to be an excellent active listener to both empower the culture and make sure you fully understand the points and positions of those around you.  Most people think that by its very nature that conflict is negative, but in reality conflict can be positive, as long as it doesn’t get personal and isn’t for the sake of being a contrarian.  In all of that, be wary of being satisfied with the work delivered, for satisfaction can lead to failure.

Don’t Look at the Scoreboard

Once goals are set, focus on the near term steps that it takes to achieve them.  Forget about the future – the future and the bright and shiny can make you lose your focus on what lies right in front of you.  As you work against those incremental steps you must also hold your competitors with the respect that should be accorded to them.  To do otherwise leave you vulnerable.

Adversity is Your Asset

When I was living in Kitty Hawk, NC after I graduated from college and had my first “real” job (as a real estate agent), I faced a lot of financial adversity and had no support whatsoever – that adversity was due to irresponsible decisions that I (and many others) had made in college around credit cards and debt.  Even in the face of that, however I always believed that God wouldn’t put any challenge in from of me that I wasn’t strong enough to conquer – I viewed it all as a test and as a challenge for me to overcome.  And overcome is exactly what I did, taking the lessons I could learn away from it and carrying them with to today.  In that vein, while fate may throw a wrench in our lives from time to time, we can’t control that – we can’t control others or what may happen in the world as we can only control ourselves.  How do we control ourselves, though?  We can control how we react to those situations and respond to it; if we can’t we can push ourselves to grow in that area and build that skillset.  You have to live with the circumstances dealt and make the best of them.  At the same time, never give your word unless you intend to keep it, as not only are you as good as your word, by setting expectations and committing to actions you can’t realize, you are setting yourself up for a swift kick in the pants by fate.  Failure, though, is never the fault of fate – it is the individual leader who determines how to deal with adversity and whether to view it with the right attitude and spirit and turn that adversity into advantage and success.

And now for something completely different: a buddy of mine is on the TED landing page once again and it’s a fascinating talk.  Balise Aguera y Arcas is one of the smartest people I know and he always gives engaging and evocative talks.  In this TED talk, he shows how neural nets that are trained to recognize images can be run in reverse to create them.  As Blaise says, “Perception and creativity are very intimately connected.  Any creature, any being that is able to do perceptual acts is also able to create.”