Change takes patience

I’ve said it before: it’s more powerful to be like water than fire. Amber Nasalund has written a piece on her outstanding “Brass Tack Thinking” blog I think describes some of the finer points of why this matters.

  • Change is incremental more than it is ever sweeping and broad. It happens in tiny pieces over time, in a non-linear way.
  • Resistance is only overcome over time, with consistent evidence, ongoing encouragement, and by presenting small, realistic steps that can be seen and felt in the short term even while working toward a long-term vision.
  • Culture, mindset, and attitudinal change is some of the hardest and potentially most frustrating work there is. It’s also some of the most rewarding.
  • Brute force doesn’t work. Even if you’re changing a process, the humans behind it have to do the work to make it happen. Humans are emotional creatures with egos, values, insecurities, irrational thought patterns, and pride. Those things shatter under the wrong kind of pressure. In short, you can only ever lead the horse.
  • There is a point where you have to let go and realize that now might not be the time. No one can tell you what that point is.

Leading with this lens requires character (which is hard) and a strong sense of self (also hard). It also requires the leader to take a long view of success. Most leaders aim to be in any role for a year or two at the most before moving on, which further complicates things.

Still, never giving up combined with genuine partnering (including listening when someone disagrees) across the business has been the secret to whatever success I’ve had to date.

Thanks to Amber for a great post.

Best career advice I ever got: be like water

Intuit can be a very intense (and rewarding) place to work. We have a strong company culture built on putting the customer at the center of everything we do and the pursuit of excellence proven by measurement. As a new employee, you will either love it and thrive or quit/get invited to leave very quickly. I knew I belonged here the minute I walked in the front door. Even still, long term success here can be elusive. I’ve been lucky enough to not only have some longevity here (seven years and counting), but to have helped usher in change along the way. This week I’ve mulled over what helped me get to the level of success I’ve had so far. Beyond the culture match, there is one piece of advice that stuck with me all these years that has really helped. That advice was to be like water.

Here’s what “be like water” means to me: instead of getting angry (I admit I sometimes do) and retaliatory about obstacles to change , be always thinking about the next avenue to take if the current one doesn’t pan out. Keep coming at the same goal gently, continuously until you achieve it. It’s not a very “western” way to approach change. Most people I know have taken the “fire” approach to change: get angry, try to force acceptance, argue, bully. The truth is, that approach often does work in the short term. I’ve never seen it work longer than a year or two. People figure out a way to respond in kind eventually, which ends all chance of change occurring, because it’s associated with the person who started all the drama.

Being like water means you never give up, never quit trying. It’s also one of the more powerful forces on earth. Fire scorches on a superficial level, but things grow back. On the other hand, over time water breaks down mountains and clears valleys. If long term change is your goal I encourage you to be like water. Go ahead, clear the valley.

The next frontier part II

Innovation adoption curve

Innovation adoption curve source: Wikipedia

As part of the “next frontier” of embracing the early majority on social media, there are some big questions leaders have to grapple with:

  • How do I encourage people across the business to include social solutions in their strategies?
  • How do I simultaneously cede control to the increasing numbers of people who want to engage in social channels and still guide the strategy?
  • How do I convince even the late majority and laggards that social solutions can improve the outcomes they’re seeking? More specifically, how do I do it without my ego getting in the way?
  • How do I balance time spent between executing strategies and educating?

I don’t know how I’m going to answer these questions yet, but one day soon I hopefully will. If you have any answers borne of experience, please comment.

The next frontier – part I

A new frontier in social marketingI’m biased and I admit it. In the past year or two, something wonderful (or terrible, depending on your point of view) has happened: lots of people are jumping on the “social” bandwagon. As someone who’s been in the trenches pioneering the work to shift a big company to approaching all aspects of our work in a way that incorporates help from our customers, I respect other pioneers more than newcomers. I just do. I suspect the other “first movers” from big companies feel the same way, although no one actually comes right out and says so.

Here’s why: people who were on the boat from the beginning have a shared experience. Without saying so, I know we’ve all faced the same skepticism, rolling eyes, and outright sneers from co-workers we respect and admire. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes with seeing new people understand and adopt new practices that embrace customers. We understand that the wins you have as an innovator may not be the ones you expected, but you celebrate them nonetheless.

A few personal stories on why relationships between pioneers matter so deeply:

When I first met Seth Greenberg four years ago, I suspect we both felt like two guppies in a pond full of goldfish. Both recent hires from internet backgrounds, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the smartest people we’d ever met. And they all thought in a really different way than we did – the consumer packaged goods way. (for those unfamiliar with that approach it’s traditional, disciplined, and steeped in decades of research and data) Our first meeting was at our then VP of Marketing’s staff meeting – he had asked me to present our work with the Inner Circle.  As I walked through the site, explaining how we partnered with customers to create our product, most of the room listened with varying degrees of interest. But not Seth. He lit up immediately, offering ideas of what we could do on the site to make it even more interactive. “Finally!” I remember thinking, “finally, someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

Around this same time two product managers whose opinions I still deeply respect to this day were telling me to, in effect, get a real job because nothing was ever going to come of this social stuff. But not Seth. And when it was time to leave product management for my next career move, our shared experience helped pave the way to a brand new opportunity working for Seth. (Which was transforming for both of us, I think)

Just as surely I knew “social” was the direction to go four years ago, I know the “early majority” jumping on board now is a necessary thing – the next frontier. How can we scale our efforts without their help? We can’t. And like Charlene Li states in her new book Open Leadership I need to find a way to enable even more adoption and still be a leader.

Next up: embracing the challenge of the unknown.

On Boldness

I’m not naturally a bold person, although reading that might surprise some people. This quote, often attributed to Goethe, has lived on my refrigerator for years. I credit it with keeping me focused on making the first step in the right direction. That focus enabled a series of career changes without letting my fear manage me (Marine biology teacher to web developer to product manager to marketer to corporate comms).

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Beyond skunkworks: going mainstream without selling out

In my last post I talked about the notion of starting your new, unproven projects in “skunkworks” mode to get them going without fear of the ongoing, unproductive dance of prioritization against proven mainstream efforts. After a year of being in skunkworks, it’s time to go mainstream. Why? Without further ado, I give you…

The top five reasons you know it’s time to move your skunkworks projects mainstream:

  1. You proved your case: When you launched your skunkworks project, you did it with concrete goals in mind, right? Once you start proving your case with indisputable data, things start to fall into line. The golden moment you realize you proved your case is one of the most satisfying work moments there is – because it means you were the oracle. And your life is about to get easier.
  2. You need the assets “the machine” provides: In order to flourish, your baby needs to grow. And the “core” business has incredible designers, programmers, and marketers who can help you do it.
  3. The resistance you faced initially is gone: See number one. Once you prove your case with some actual hard data, the resistance starts to fade, which means one of the reasons you avoided being part of the core process is fading too.
  4. If you want “social” to be part of the way you do business, it has to be part of the way you do business. Nothing says “I’ve arrived” better than walking through the front door.
  5. You’ll be GD-ed if you’re going to turn your baby over to some other corporate shumuck to takeover. If the business believes your project is worth growing someone is going to grow it. If you don’t someone else to be that person, you better step up. Trust me on this one.

The real cost of “skunkworks” operations

skunkworks operationsAnyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of “skunkworks” operations where you circumvent the huge overhead associated with a corporation’s established “processes” and make things happen behind the scenes, often by working directly with engineers and designers who are passionate about the same things you are. Lots of sites extol the virtues of the skunkworks operations as a great, if not the only way to make innovation happen at big companies. I am not here to argue with them.

There is, however, a cost no one tells you about going skunkworks: you will for sure piss some people off. And some of them will be pretty powerful. Ask yourself this question: what do powerful people do when they are pissed off at you? They tend to take a few well-timed, visible slugs at you, which can add up to some stress. That said here’s what I think the keys to succeeding are:

  1. Year one: Go skunkworks in your passion project. Expect to take some hits for doing it and don’t take it personally when they come. Be brutally honest with yourself about goals and metrics that the business will get excited about.
  2. Years two and beyond: Once you’ve tested your way into those metrics of success and enough of the right people in your business are interested and excited, it’s time to suck it up and go through the established processes.

Next up: why would you want to go through established processes if you’ve had success in the skunkworks arena?

Hate on me

Great post on Mashable from Tim Ferris today about the top 7 ways to deal with the “haters” when you’re creating something new.Without further adieu, they are:

  1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.
  2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.
  3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)
  4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)
  5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)
  6. “Living well is the best revenge.” (George Herbert)
  7. Keep calm and carry on.

This great list brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Guy Kawasaki from his well-known “Art of Innovation” presentation. I love it b/c it really frames what I consider to be the #1 challenge in a large corporation:

Don’t let the bozos grind you down. The bozos will tell a company that what it’s doing can’t be done, shouldn’t be done, and isn’t necessary. Some bozos are clearly losers–they’re the ones who are easy to ignore. The dangerous ones are rich, famous, and powerful–because they are so successful, innovators may think they are right. They’re not right; they’re just successful on the previous curve so they cannot comprehend, much less embrace, the next curve.

A big “thank you” to Tim and Guy for making thinking a little differently than colleagues seem okay. Even good. (And to Jill Scott for the incredible song that lead to the title of this blog post)

A final word on haters – and don’t watch this video if you are easily offended by the f-bomb or cursing of any kind (Mom, I’m talking to you) – Katt Williams’ take on why to learn to love the haters.

SPICY leaders

In her first blog post written for Ant’s Eye View, Kira Wampler (formerly of Intuit – I miss her already) writes about the qualities that make a great leader in the social space.

This was my favorite part of the post, the quality of being interested:

Interested: Are you naturally curious about the world around you, your customers’ lives and your products or services? Do you take a systematic approach for learning new “cultures” and new projects and, most importantly, then apply that learning to constantly improve on your teams and your work. And, my deep belief is that naturally interested people are naturally humble. We’re all learning our way here, and being humble goes a long way when operating in new cultures and partnering with internal teams. Speaking of…do you do more to recognize others than to gain recognition for yourself?

So well said, if for no other reason than the people most interested in life are the most interesting. Plus it’s hard to lead the way if you’re not interested in knowing where the path is leading or that there’s even a path in the first place.

Nice job Kira! Will you come back now?