Designing for the Extremes

Having worked in Customer Support for some time now, I’ve become quite obsessed with customer experience.

I’m the nerd that notices bugs in software I use on a daily basis. I also make a mental note of both confusing and delightful user interfaces. I get frustrated when buttons I expect to do one thing do something different entirely.

I pay attention to these things because they matter…a lot. As we’ve talked about before, there are far too many options available for customers to choose from. If your product experience sucks, it’s really easy to find a replacement. Boom – you’ve lost a user forever.

On the flip side, I also think there are a ton of quick wins that instantly upgrade the experience and win over customers with little time investment. The language you use in copy, the way in which you highlight key actions within your product, the accessibility of your contact options – they all play a huge role in delighting the people that pay your bills.

On a recent episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast, I was re-introduced to a thought exercise from Brian Chesky of Airbnb – designing for the extremes.

Continue reading “Designing for the Extremes”

How to Effectively Delegate and Avoid Stealing Success From Your Teammates

Time for a scary admission: I can be a bit of a control freak.

For the longest time, if I was asked about my biggest weakness, I would say just that – I have a hard time letting go of control especially if we’re talking about managing a project or a complicated task. I was the kid in school that preferred to work by himself rather than in a group (yeah…that kid). I knew I would do the project correctly. Someone else? They might screw it up.

As a result, I’d pile on tasks even if I was overwhelmed. If I took it on, I knew it would get done. That was all that mattered! If I did hand something off, I’d be sure to provide step-by-step instructions on how to get it to the finish line.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve been steadily trying to get over this fear of letting go especially after I read Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I’ve gotten better at handing over tasks and allowing others to run with ideas. Still, it’s an area that I’m constantly trying to work on – how to delegate effectively and allow others to crush projects on their own, without my needless meddling.

This concept of effective delegation popped up again recently as I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits (Put First Things First) spoke to this idea of delegating ideas. It broke down two types of delegation – Gofer and Stewardship – and described how the former steals success from teammates while the latter empowers them.

Let’s dive in.

Continue reading “How to Effectively Delegate and Avoid Stealing Success From Your Teammates”

Juggling Roles

Over the past few weeks, one idea has surfaced again and again through podcasts, books, and articles I’ve read:

Multi-tasking (or having multiple priorities) is the key to failure. To succeed, you must identify one thing that takes precedence and accept mediocrity at everything else, so the prevailing wisdom goes.

This message has come up several times over the past few weeks from reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller to a discussion with Angel List founder Naval Ravikant on the Spartan Up! podcast to an interview I listened to with Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism. I think it’s worth separating out what I see as two different types of multi-tasking:
  1. Trying to do two different tasks at the same moment in time (like trying to watch TV and also listen to your friend tell a story).
  2. The multi-tasking we all do on a daily basis as we juggle the various roles we all play (team member, writer, husband, mother, father, etc).
It’s well documented that the former variation doesn’t work. You’ll get a much better return on investment by single-tasking – devoting all of your energy to one task at a time. Read Deep Work if you’re not convinced. The second variation – juggling the many roles we all play on a daily basis – is where I tend to disagree with the prevailing wisdom. Continue reading “Juggling Roles”

Humility and Curiosity

Over the past five months, my wife and I have been adjusting to our roles as new parents. It’s a stressful gig! There are endless amounts of diapers, sleepless nights, and fits of crying for no apparent reason. Of course, there are also moments that make it all worthwhile – the smiles and giggles that now fill my phone.

Parenting comes with an immense amount of responsibility. Not only are you charged with providing for this little human, you’re supposed to raise him into a respectable adult. The pressure!

There are countless online articles listing out values we should instill on the younger generation for a better tomorrow. I know because I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading about them. Even before he was born, my wife and I were pouring over a list of 30 rules we wanted our son to adopt; maxims like: “In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.” and  “If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.”

I recently finished reading Factfulness, an insightful book about why the world is in a better place than it might appear. I have a lot of highlights from the book, but one in particular stood out as I had this idea of raising a respectable little human running through my head.

Most important of all, we should be teaching our children humility and curiosity.

Continue reading “Humility and Curiosity”

How (and Why) Do You Protect an Idea?

In the 19th century, Francis Cabot Lowell stole an idea. More importantly, he stole an idea from Britain and brought it back to the United States, largely transforming the American economy.

The target of Lowell’s espionage wasn’t exactly sexy, but it was effective nonetheless.

In 1784, Edmund Cartwright, an English inventor, pioneered the mechanical loom. For many years prior to his invention, looms (a tool for weaving fabric) were powered manually. The invention led to a drastic increase in output and productivity.

As a result, Britain’s textile industry boomed, and they fought hard to protect the source of their dominance. It was illegal to sell power looms to manufacturers outside of Britain and textile workers weren’t allowed to emigrate to other countries for fear that they would spill design secrets. British customs officers even searched visitors as they left the country.

Enter Francis Cabot Lowell.

As author Matt Ridley describes in The Rational Optimist, Lowell made a trip to Britain and visited a number of mills around the country. During his stay, he memorized the details of the power loom and brought them back to the United States. When he returned, he had a mechanic and inventor turn his memories into a close replica.

Idea stolen.

Continue reading “How (and Why) Do You Protect an Idea?”

Do Hard Things With Good People (and Other Life Maxims I’ve Borrowed)

“Pet a cat when you encounter one” isn’t likely to be found on your typical list of rules for life. It was, however, in Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

The natural evolution of reading someone else’s “rules for life” is thinking about your own rules. This mental exercise was prompted even further by reading Nate Green’s “10 Short Sentences I Use To (Basically) Run My Entire Life.”

I’m certainly not self-aggrandizing enough to suggest that I can come up with my own “rules for life.” I don’t believe I’ve experienced enough to come up with my own unique maxims. However, I have developed a habit of stealing from smart people.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 maxims I’ve borrowed from other people and adopted as “rules” of sorts for running my life. They’re like guiding principles that I reflect back on often. Hopefully, they help you in some way. If you ignore the rest, follow rule #10.

Continue reading “Do Hard Things With Good People (and Other Life Maxims I’ve Borrowed)”

Why You Should Be Obsessed With the Frontline of Your Business

A week ago, I called 10 different contractors trying to find someone to do a bit of work. Zero answered. I left five voicemails and didn’t receive a single call back.

Recently, my wife and I walked into a restaurant in downtown Denver to get some food. We stood by the host stand for five minutes while waiters walked by and bartenders served drinks. Not a single person said anything so we walked out.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a utility company trying to set up a new service. They said someone would need to come out to finalize the installation. “Sounds good – how can I set that up?” I asked. They responded that someone would eventually reach out to me. No estimated time frame. No estimated installation date. No contact information I could use to get in touch with the installation team.

In each case, I’m trying to give someone money, but my experience as a customer makes it far less likely that I’m going to do so. I’m definitely not going to recommend them to a friend.

These experiences reinforce a simple idea – the bar for customer experience in business is low.

Continue reading “Why You Should Be Obsessed With the Frontline of Your Business”

The 3 Foundational Roles of Successful Leaders

In Good Boss, Bad Boss, I came across this definition of what it means to be a leader:

A boss’s job is “to eliminate people’s excuses for failure.”

The author, Robert Sutton, went on to distinguish two aspects of a leader. The first aspect is to manage and oversee performance meaning are you doing everything possible so your people can do great work? The second aspect involves humanity. Are you helping your people “experience dignity and pride” in their work?

If you Google “definition of leadership,” you’ll get over 500 million results, each highlighting a different aspect of what it means to be a leader. Some keep it short and sweet in a single sentence. Others list out 10 commandments leaders should follow.

I believe the true definition of leadership is a personal one, and it’s unique to each individual person.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the same conversation with multiple people. In those conversations, I defined the three characteristics I believe make up a good leader so I wanted to share them here.

My personal definition of leadership is that it involves three pieces:

  1. Setting the vision for where your team is headed.
  2. Providing actionable feedback to help them get there.
  3. Developing your people by connecting them with opportunities for growth.

Continue reading “The 3 Foundational Roles of Successful Leaders”

The Toxic Tandem in Leadership

“Followers look a the leader; the opposite does not happen as regularly or intensely.”

The above is from Good Boss, Bad Boss. It’s a quote by anthropologists that study group dynamics among chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons. These species are unique in that they have a set power structure. They have alpha males and leaders among their ranks.

Anthropologists studying these groups noticed something unique:

Studies of baboon troops show that a typical member glances at the alpha male every twenty or thirty seconds.

Followers revere the leader of their group, assembling cues on how they should think, feel, and act. Psychologist Susan Fiske elaborates on why this might be the case:

In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.

This makes sense. If someone has even a small stake in your future, it’s in your best interest to understand how they think and respond in specific situations.

This wouldn’t be a problem if leaders were always conscious it was happening and acted accordingly. But, that’s not always the case. There’s plenty of evidence that power warps the awareness, thoughts, and attitudes of those that have it*.

The overarching themes are laid out in Good Boss, Bad Boss. Leaders tend to:

  1. become more focused on their own needs and wants
  2. become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions
  3. act as if written and unwritten rules others are expected to follow don’t apply to them

The “toxic tandem” is this: Leaders are under intense scrutiny from those around them yet their position often results in self-serving behavior.

Continue reading “The Toxic Tandem in Leadership”

2017 Retrospective

The new year provides a natural self-reflection point. It’s an opportunity to review the past year, identify what went well and what didn’t go so well, then lay out plans to make the upcoming year even better.

This kind of self-reflection is a skill just like riding a bike. The more you practice the skill, the better you get at being honest with yourself and identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Each year, I set aside some time to reflect back on the previous year and set some personal areas I want to focus on. You can read my 2015 retrospective here and my 2016 one here. I borrowed this tactic from Nate Green. If you would like some loose guidelines about how you can write your own retrospective, I would suggest reading his post here.

Continue reading “2017 Retrospective”