Tap, tap…

Tap, Tap…Is this thing on?

I was doing research on habits and I gained inspiration to start writing daily. Before you unsubscribe, I don’t think I’ll be posting daily, just writing daily.

James Clear runs a fantastic website on habits and behavior change. I came across a post of his regarding the Seinfeld principle, named after the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

The basic idea is that Seinfeld practices his comedy every day by writing jokes. He keeps an enormous calendar on his wall and marks a red “X” for every day that he writes jokes. Quality doesn’t matter, it’s simply the act of writing the jokes that is important.

After a short time, Seinfeld strings together 7 or 8 days in a row and there’s momentum to keep going. He’s now motivated to see how long can he keep the chain going. There’s lots of science behind this habit change method and there are many helpful apps to get you started. One of my favorite, chains.cc, is below.

I’ll be doing more writing on habit creation and behavior. There are lots of exciting things happening in this area. For now, I’m over my goal of 100 words a day, so more to come…


Reading Update – Q1

My writing is suffering this year. I started 2014 with the goal to become a better writer, but for that to be realized one has to WRITE more. That’s the key!

My blog is an outlet for my writing. It’s where I can share a great book or article I have read. Or even a half baked thought. But lately, it’s been gathering dust.

So I am dusting off the shelf and sharing one area where I have outpaced a goal I set – reading. My goal: to read 24 books in 2014, and over the last 3 months, I have read 11 – 83% ahead of goal!

Below is what I’ve read (listed in the order read) and some of the key takeaways for me:

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind – Jocelyn K. Glei (Editor)

This is a collection of essays from highly effective people. I picked up a few tips and it was a quick and easy read. One tip I really like is keeping a notebook by your nightstand. Instead of first reaching for your phone, reach for the notebook and write anything. It can be a dream, an idea you had…the important key is to write.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams

One of my favorites so far. Scott Adams shares many of his life failures and shows us how to get the most from a failure. He’s also super process oriented, which surprised me. We often confuse outcome and process. Was failure the result of an unfortunate outcome from a solid process, or a flawed process? Conversely, was your success a lucky outcome from a terrible process? The difference is important. I sent out a chapter of this book to my entire team as required reading.

Choose Yourself! – James Altucher

In a similar vein as Scott Adams, James is no stranger to failure – making millions of dollars and then losing all his wealth a couple of times over. He discusses a daily system that he follows to help keep him creative. The book has a self-help feel to it, but it is worth the read.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos and was an early investor in the company. He writes about Zappos’ values and what makes the company unique – purpose comes first. There are many great stories in this book, but only company policy that is fabulous – Zappos offers new hires $2k to quit after a few weeks on the job. The company figures that if you are there just for the money, you’ll take the offer. They want employees that are aligned with the company’s purpose.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish

This book could also be titled “How to Talk So Humans Will Listen…” The authors teach that empathy is an important skill to have to connect with children. Think about how often you tell your kids, “how could you feel tired?” or “how could you be hungry?” In some sense, when we make these statements we are teaching our kids to deny their feelings. A better approach is empathy – to try and understand what your child is feeling.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work – Timothy Keller

I am using this book to lead a group at our church on the topic of work and faith. Scriptures depict God as a gardener and Jesus as a carpenter, yet many of us feel like manual work is demeaning. Keller shows us how every good endeavor is service to God. He also encourages us to find work that is in line with our unique gifts and personality, rather than work that will maximize our income.

Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t – Kevin Maney

For anyone connected to product development or for those running a business, this is a must read. Maney gives us an excellent framework (high vs low fidelity, high vs low convenience) to evaluate product positioning. There are many examples of products finding their way into the “fidelity belly” (not really loved or convenient). The most successful products are either loved or needed – it is a mirage to think that your product can be both.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers – Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is one of the founders of the world class venture capital firm, Andreesen Horowitz. He shares with us wisdom he has accumulated over his years as the CEO of several technology based startups. I was most surprised by how process oriented is he was. A couple of examples – first, he didn’t feel like his product managers were meeting his expectations. Realizing he hadn’t properly trained them, he wrote a fabulous product management guide, Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager. Second story, Horowitz is a big believer in the 1-on-1 meeting between manager and employee. He had some employees that were not consistently having 1-on-1s or others that were not doing a good job. Again, he created training materials to help facilitate these meetings. If you to know how the 1-on-1 should be done, read this.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is the definitive quote from the best book I have read so far this year. Most people focus on what they do or even how they do it, with giving little thought to the WHY. Starting with WHY gives clarity to all actions. This has great application for individuals, but also for companies. If you only read one book off this list, please start with why.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail – Clayton M. Christensen

While in between books, I decided to re-read Christensen’s seminal work around innovation. In an established business, resources are focused on executing the existing business model. Focus is on optimization rather than discover of new opportunities. Christensen’s solution is to have groups focused on new opportunities separated from the established enterprise. Everyone in business should read this.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Nudge dives deeply into the field of choice architecture. If you are designing the layout of a form (for example), what should the default be? How many choices should there be? In the school lunchroom, should the veggies or dessert come first? Anyone involved in design, (at work, at home or anywhere else), should read this book.

First movers advantage – Chutes and Ladders

I’ve always been fascinated by probability – the idea that if you understand how a system works, you can understand how likely a given outcome is. For example, since I know that there are 13 clubs in a deck of 52 cards, I know that I have a 1/4 chance of pulling a club at random.

This love of probability led me to purse a masters in statistics and it’s why I started my career as an actuary. But, it’s not outcomes that I am interested in, it’s the system that created the outcome. I am convinced that “systems thinking” is a skill that is crucial to be successful. That would make for a great blog post! For now I will just geek out on stats.

I was playing Chutes and Ladders with my oldest daughter when I decided I would try and understand the system of Chutes and Ladders and the probabilities associated with the game. You remember playing Chutes and Ladders right? Picture below:


It was during a particularly long game of C&L that I decided I would code the game into excel and run thousands of simulations to understand the distribution of results (ok, someone please send me an official geek card). The screenshot above is what the board looks like in excel. I was interested in answering the following questions:

  1. How many spins should a game take, on average (a reasonable question when you are in the middle of a twenty minute game of C&L)
  2. What’s the shortest number of spins that could win a game?
  3. How do the dynamics of #1 and #2 change if you add players?
  4. Most importantly: what advantage is there for going first – my daughter always goes first. Surely that counts for something, right?

For #1 and #3, the graph below shows the averages


For #2, the minimum number of spins is 7.

For #4, in a 4 player game player #1 is almost 8% more likely to win than player 4.

Maybe someone else can take up the mantel here and tell me the probability of winning, without hitting a chute or ladder.

In addition to answering some geeky stat questions, I also wanted to show my daughter that you can feed the computer some instructions (code) and have it do all sorts of magical things. She was interested, but mainly wanted to make sure that she wins the game.

Like I said above, I’m sure there is some deep meaning in this exercise – for me it was a fun exercise. I wanted to get the blog post out there – the deep meaning can come later.

p.s. if you are interested in seeing the excel file, drop me a line and I can send it over

Goals are for losers

In a study of organizational change, researchers divided the efforts into three groups based on out come: most successful (top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third).

The chart below shows that the top third and the bottom third set goals with similar frequency.


A typical goal would be to increase revenue by 10%. Setting goals doesn’t distinguish successful change efforts from unsuccessful ones.

The next chart shows why goals as we traditionally think of them are for losers.


The successful change efforts that had goals that were based on behaviors. Another way of saying this, is a goal that focuses on behavior is better than an outcome based goal.

If your goal is to lose 10lbs, instead set a process based goal to go to the gym 3 times a week.

This info comes from Switch. I’ve written another blog post that outlines the framework. I’m doing a deeper dive and hope to have more to share soon.

Below is the passage I have referenced (p. 62-63)

In a pioneering study of organizational change, described in the book The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal, researchers divided the change efforts they’d studied into three groups: the most successful (the top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third). They found that, across the spectrum, almost everyone set goals: 89% of the top third and 86% of the bottom third. A typical goal might be to improve inventory turns by 50%. But more successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals: 89% of the top third vs only 33% of the bottom third. For instance, a behavioral goal might be that project teams would meet once a week and each team would include at least on representative of every functional area. Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch. To create a movement, you’ve got to be specific and concrete.

Success at Work, Failure at Home from a16z partner

A friend sent me the post referred to in the title. I have since read and forwarded this to about eight people.

Scott Weiss, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz (a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm), discuses his failings at home, despite being successful with his startup IronPort (sold to Cisco in 2007 for over $800MM).

I’m glad to see successful individuals like Scott write about the importance of home. Work and home are a subset of life. What good is done by focusing on work at the detriment of home?

I see and hear about men and women who are willing to take courageous risks at work, but are unwilling to take on the hard work of knowing and loving a spouse, children, or others in their lives (I am guilty here too!). I hope you too are encouraged by Scott Weiss to see work as important part of life, but not the purpose of your life.

Below is Scott’s excellent post.


Success at Work, Failure at Home

One of the differences between being a CEO and a venture capitalist is that I obviously meet with many more CEOs now than I did then. As such, it has become more apparent that many of my struggles as a CEO are surprisingly common. One observation that stands out, probably because it is rarely discussed, is how many founder/CEOs have relationship struggles with their significant others and families. For me, the brightest years at IronPort were without a doubt the darkest years at home. While I was focused, motivating, articulate, and decisive at work, I was inconsiderate, preoccupied, self-centered, and lazy at home.

Now, having worked through that time with my family, I’m in a much better place to reflect on what happened, how I could have handled things differently, and offer some advice to other founders who may be caught up in a similar dynamic.

As a first time founder/CEO, I really had no idea what I was doing. Sure, I had gone to business school, worked at plenty of large companies and even other successful startups, but nothing prepared me for the incredible stress and overwhelming life focus of actually running a startup.

I did my best to move up the learning curve: I surrounded myself with great mentors, board members, coaches, and, most importantly, the challenging, wicked smart executive team members that worked with me everyday. We definitely made lots of mistakes, but we did many things right and IronPort grew to be a very large and successful company over the seven years before we ultimately sold to Cisco in 2007. All that said, I believe I could have been a much more effective leader if I had leaned in at home. As my relationship with my family deteriorated, so did my concentration at work as I was constantly trying to manage it in fits and starts. Here are some details of my personal struggle:

Part of the magic of a startup is the fear of death. You have only so much money in the bank, and if you don’t get to the right milestone before you run out, then you’re dead—company goes under, it’s over. There’s a way to cheat death when you are not going to make it—you sound the alarm and force everyone to code through the night and/or weekend. This is stereotypically the life one signs up for at an early stage tech startup. Get in early, kill yourself with a team making something great, and get a meaningful product out before you run out of money. And hopefully, make it up to that hardworking team with stock options later.

I didn’t code, but as the CEO, I felt it necessary to be there physically with the engineering team. I would sit through architecture discussions, product reviews, and wireframe layouts. Sometimes, I would just get everyone lunch or dinner. When we started pulling consistent coding weekends, we brought in the entire management team to serve the engineers: We brought them food, washed their cars, got oil changes, took in their dry cleaning, and arranged for childcare for their kids in the office. Lead by example, lead from the front, was the CEO approach I convinced myself was necessary.

Now contrast this with my home life.

One of the stated values at IronPort was “work/life balance,” but I clearly wasn’t living it. I was rarely home. And when I was home, well, let’s just say I wasn’t particularly helpful or cheery. My perspective at the time was: I’m killing myself at work, so when I get home, I just want to kick back with a cocktail and watch some TV. All I do is talk to people all day long and so at home, I’d really prefer not to talk much, just relax.

This posture was, of course, completely opposite to how my wife felt. After having left her VP role in a successful startup, she was now home speaking in monosyllabic words to kids all day and was starving for adult conversation when I got in the door. And that part about sitting on my ass in front of the TV with a cocktail? This ran counter to all of her efforts to teach the kids about pitching in as a family. The message of everyone helping to cook, clean, and be responsible for the household fell completely flat when daddy wouldn’t so much as take out the trash or change a light bulb. Nope, I was far too important for that and suggested she should hire someone to keep the house clean or even cook, if that was “stressing her out”.

Ugh. I was completely missing the point and talking past her… I was setting such a great example at work, but such a terrible one at home where I often acted like a self-important asshole.

As IronPort grew, I was constantly on the road with customers, press, analysts, and of course, recruiting and energizing employees. We ultimately did over 60% of our revenue outside of the U.S., and we all felt it very important to support all of our disparate offices from Europe to Asia to South America. There were times in a given month when I was gone 50-75% of the days. Even when I was home, I was usually in this brutal state of sleep deprivation and recovery from adjusting to yet another time zone. While I was gone, 100% of the daily burden fell on my spouse, usually resulting in a solid week of arguments upon my return. I started referring to the week after a long trip as “re-entry”, like John Glenn’s Friendship Seven fireball.

After years of working full-time with our first child, and part-time after our second, my Harvard MBA wife, who had had an amazing career in her own right, “decided” to become a full-time mom and take care of our children shortly after our third was born. I say “decided” because at the time, it was clear to both of us that I wasn’t willingly scrubbing in as a 50/50 partner at home. She endured the rocky years while I was running IronPort, but insisted that when it was over, we were going to re-evaluate and recalibrate.

I took about 18 months off in between IronPort and joining Andreessen Horowitz. During that time, I was packing lunches, driving carpools, and making dinners, and began doing my real part in the family. With the help of my wife and other role-model dads, I essentially got re-programmed and it has continued to work for us even though I’m working full-time again. Now one might say that being a partner at a VC firm, even a hard working one, isn’t the same as being a founder/CEO of a startup… I’ll admit that’s true. However, now that I’m on the other side, I believe that I could have coached my former CEO self to success as well. Here are the most critical things I needed to change:

Disconnect to Connect. Although it’s easy for me to see it now, at the time I clearly thought what I was doing at work was far more important and urgent than what was going on at home. It sounds weird now, but this required a real mindset change for me. My wife dropped a bunch of hints (e.g. “How did I suddenly land in a 1950’s relationship?!”), but I was undeterred in the thick of it. The shock of almost losing the relationship made me pay more attention, but I was only going through the motions with my mind still firmly attached to the business. I believe the change in attitude came from truly connecting and tuning in at home. This required disconnecting from work (e.g. turning off the computer and phone), and completely focusing all of my attention on the details of the home. Cooking a great meal. Helping with a science project. Discussing the future with my partner. I was often rightly accused of being physically present without being mentally present. If you find yourself sneaking into the bathroom to complete emails, then you’re certainly not in the moment… Getting some time physically out of the Silicon Valley pressure cooker was also helpful in changing my perspective.

Participate. It’s just not possible to be a real partner if you aren’t materially participating. I believe even the busiest CEOs must drive a carpool, pack a lunch, help with homework, make a breakfast or dinner, and consistently attend school events. Being involved every week is the only way to stay connected at home, and it cannot be outsourced. No matter how exhausted I am from traveling, I push myself to “not be lazy” at home—it’s just too important. When you are involved, there is a natural cadence to planning the week together and communication improves dramatically.

Communicate. Multiple, daily phone and text check-ins are the norm now, but not then. When I was traveling at IronPort, I would sometimes go for days without communicating at all. Now that I am completely tuned in to the weekly family schedule, we plan and calendar family meals (perhaps the single most important thing we do), pickups and drop-offs, and make adjustments on the fly. E.g. Did some time suddenly free up so I can complete an errand? Can I pick something up on the way home? Etc. My norm is to check in between meetings, but if I’m the “parent on duty”—i.e., if my wife is out of town—then I will start a meeting with, “You’ll have to excuse me, but I’m the parent in town so I need to keep my phone handy in case of an issue.” Communication was by far my biggest area for improvement.

Planning and Priorities. My wife and I have a weekly date night. My son and I are in a fantasy football league together. I cook with my daughters. Most times these have become immovable appointments on my calendar. There is a phrase—“truth in calendaring”—if something is important, then you must carve out time in your life to do it. When my calendar reflects that I can’t do a meeting on Wednesday and Friday mornings before 9am, because I cook breakfast and drive a carpool, then it’s amazing how meetings just don’t get scheduled. If at all possible, living physically close to the office is also a huge help to juggling the priorities. It means that I can cut out for a family dinner and then go back to the office or have a late meeting afterwards.

In retrospect, I believe that I could convince the hardest working CEOs that having some real life balance by investing in your important relationships will make you a better CEO. When you are out of balance, it affects your stress, judgment, and ultimately becomes another destabilizer just when you need to be the most put together. I also believe this change is actually a much better example of leadership than the one I was exuding. When a leader shows the way toward getting things done and balancing their life, it sets a much better example for everyone else in the company who struggle with it too.

2013 Reading List

I was fortunate to read some great books in 2013. From time to time, I am asked what I’ve been reading. For those of you that are interested (and for my sake!) below is a list of the books I read in 2013.

Mostly everything was business focused. In 2014, I’d like to expand my non-fiction and read more – a lot more. My blogging hero, Shane Parrish, has read 16 books in December alone! (note: please check out Shane’s blog!)

I was able to make it through 18 this year (with read a few of those on the list twice). In 2014, I have the goal of reading 26 books – 1 every 2 weeks.

Thanks for checking out my blog in 2013. Happy New Year!


Books listed in the order read.

1. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others – Daniel Pink

2. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World – Tina Seelig

3. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works – Roger Martin and AG Lafley

4. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Timothy Keller

5. Shepherding a Child’s Heart – Tedd Tripp

6. Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy – Joan Magretta

7. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation – Tim Brown

8. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

9. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? – Seth Godin

10. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries

11. The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development – Jeffrey Liker and Gary L. Convis

12. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy – Dev Patnaik

13. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen

14. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – Malcolm Gladwell

15. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – Brad Stone

16. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All – Tom Kelley and David Kelley

17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip and Dan Heath

18. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip and Dan Heath

Pretending to be someone I’m not

A few Saturdays ago I spent three hours helping my first grader with her math homework. It was a frustrating for both of us. The concepts weren’t making sense to her. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t focus. It probably didn’t help that I was trying work while she completed her homework (my attention was divided).

That night, I thought about my failings as a parent and how I wished the afternoon had gone better. I started to think through alternatives to help her learn and keep me from becoming impatient. How might I make learning fun for her and focus my attention on teaching her?

The idea I settled on was to pretend to be someone else – to role play.

The next day (Sunday) I told my daughter that I had hired a private tutor. “He has extensive mathematical training AND he is British. Mr. Shepard, the patient, British math tutor.”

source: newsone.com

I set up a flip chart and we started working away on concepts (doubles, making ten, adding by 8, and so on). I used my best British accent and was very patient. I tried to think “what would Mr. Shepard do?” (by the way, I just invented Mr. Shepard that day). Mr. Shepard thought of lots of fun examples and was complimentary

My daughter loved this time and it was a blast for me too. She learned the concepts and finished her homework quicker than the previous day. Mr. Shepard has not visited since, but I’m sure he will come again when the time is right.

This exercise got me thinking about the value of role playing – pretending to be someone else is a great way to gain empathy and take a stand. You may be wrong in how you are approaching the role, but there is no middle ground.

Imagine that you and a colleague are working on a presentation for your CFO. What if one of you pretends to be the CFO? Mannerisms and all – really get into her head. What questions would she have? What other information would she want to see on slide 4? What parts would she like, what would she not like?

This is an exercise in empathy – by role playing you are consciously stepping out of your shoes and into your CFO’s shoes. Also, you are taking a leap. You have seen your CFO in action, but thinking like she thinks takes inference. These leaps lead to insights – seeing the world from a different perspective.

source: d.school

source: d.school

But what if you are wrong? What if you completely misunderstand how your CFO thinks and you bomb the presentation? This is great!

Imagine the next time you are preparing for a presentation? You’ll remember how the last stand that you took needs to be adjusted. If you had not role played, if you had not taken a stand, what would you have really learned from the meeting about your CFO?

Empathy is a continual learning process. Attempt, fail, adjust, attempt again, fail again, adjust again, etc.

So the next time you need some inspiration, patience, or want to approach a problem the way and expert would, just play pretend and gain instant empathy!