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Posted on: Sunday, August 28, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Working With Honest Wonderment.

Tribal Leadership By Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright is an insight into some of the best cultures out there and how these cultures are formed over time.

It is also a study of evolution of the mind of a typical tribal leader and the transformation a product or a project into a cause or a calling.

The book breaks any culture into fundamentally five stages:

Stage #1: Undermining: The behavior often seen in street gangs where the members of the team are united by a negative thought (usually, "Life sucks") and are in alienated relationships with everyone outside of the team to an extent where they even see the rest of the world as opposition or competition. Inter team competition for power also exists within the team.

Stage #2: Apathetic Victim: After outgrowing stage one, the team starts seeing that life in general does not suck. The focus in this stage slowly moves from "Life sucks" to "my life sucks" resulting in a realization that things can be improved with time and effort. People in this stage often continue to see their own team and the world as competition.

Stage #3: Usually happens when a person fights the phase of getting bullied by his boss and masters a skill thereby becoming productive. In this stage as the person becomes effective he shifts from "my life sucks" to "I'm great (and they are not)" approach of thinking. If you find yourself taking credit for your teams work or bossing people around, or even "pushing" or bullying them to get more work done out of them you are in this stage. If you find yourself criticizing your team members you are in this stage. You are still competing with people in your team and see them as a threat to your progress and growth.

Stage #4: Is a stage of Tribal Pride and happens when you've played the stage 3 game for a long time, have won and have had a series of epiphanies which have given you the realization that stage three doesn't scale. You've also realized that the unrelenting quest of power and competition is holding you back from making a larger impact or spreading your cause. In this stage your focus slowly shifts from "I'm great" to "we're great". Your teams are self sufficient and information is flowing smoothly within your team. You are no longer competing with your own team and have moved to competing with other organizations.

Stage #5: Is a point of time in your life where you finally get over the concept of competing with others and bump into innocent wonderment. When a medicine company stops competing with other medicine companies and starts competing with diseases. A stage where the entire company is driven by a cause that is larger than life. In this stage your focus slowly shits from "we're great" to "life is great!". You work because you experience the wonderment of a baby.

The division of organizations today more or less looks like this:

What the book does not explicitly state but makes very evident if you read between the lines is that all of your work life is a journey from "life sucks" to "life is great". What is rather tragic if you notice the graph above, is that most organizations and leaders are stuck in the "I'm great" stage. Only about 2% of the organizations and individuals manage to experience true wonderment of a toddler or a baby.

The biggest barrier to reaching wonderment is getting stuck at stage 3 where you are constantly busy portraying how amazing you are. Managers controlling who sends out emails and to whom, leaders hording information because they believe information is power, team leads constantly criticizing their own teams and teams constantly stepping on each others toes for their next promotion.

Stage 3 is important because it makes your stronger, but once you have lived it, your goal should be to grow out of it and move on to stage 4 and eventually to stage 5 where you experience true wonderment in work. A stage where are making a dent in your universe and the universe of people around you.

Which stage of leadership do you stand in?

Before you answer that question however, keep in mind that one of the most prominent features of stage 3 leaders is that they think of themselves as being on stage 4.

Go get the book (or download the free Audio book) and do yourself a favor by reading it. You might find yourself nodding your head in approval. You might even find yourself thinking about the times when you were fighting for growth and power. You might find yourself reflecting on how stupid you were. That or you might have to stand face to face with your deepest insecurities and admit you are a level 3 leader. Either ways, it is time for some serious soul searching if you want to eventually want to live the life of honest wonderment.

posted on Sunday, August 28, 2011 8:42:17 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, August 21, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

An Itch Of Shipping Happiness.

The book, Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO, Tony Shieh is moving on more fronts than one for anyone who has ever tried to work on building a team, a product, a business or an organization. The book is an insight into Tony's mind and his core values which continue to drive Zappos towards success.

But what is even more fascinating about the book is the openness with which it addresses and describes the fears of the early entrepreneurs or anyone who has ever tried to walk a different path.

Tony tells the tale of his quitting Oracle to chase a dream of starting his own organization. The story is fascinating because it provides a chilling account of the brutal reality of walking a different path and at the same time reassuring because of the way it ends. Tony tells the story with a remarkable blend of facts and emotions:

As it turned out, the adventure we were waiting for to happen to us didn't end up happening on its own. We ended up sitting around in our apartment, occasionally doing some Web design work, and going out every once in a while to try to drum up some more sales.

By the end of the first week, it dawned on me that neither of us was actually passionate about doing Web design work. We loved  the idea of owning and running our own business, but the reality ended up being a lot less fun than the fantasy.

My parents were not exactly thrilled that I’d quit my job at Oracle without a real plan for what to do next. When I told my dad that Sanjay and I were planning on running a Web design business, he told me that it didn’t really sound like that could ever become a big-enough business to be meaningful.  And now, one week into it, both Sanjay and I were starting to wonder if we’d made the right decision to leave Oracle. The next few weeks were tough and somewhat depressing. We started to spend most of our time just surfing the Web to combat the boredom and to keep ourselves entertained.

Watching Sanjay go into the coat closet to nap there in the middle of the day was only sort of funny the first time. We were starting to get a bit stir-crazy.

Luckily, we both had enough savings from the jobs we had in college that we didn’t need to worry about whether we would be able to pay the rent for the rest of the year. We didn’t know what we wanted to do, but we had learned what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to work for Oracle. We didn’t want to do any more Web design work. We didn’t want to make any more sales calls. And we didn’t want to be bored out of our minds. So we spent our days and nights trying to figure out the next great Internet business idea, but we really couldn’t come up with anything that sounded good.

One weekend, out of sheer boredom, we decided to do some computer programming to test out an idea for something we initially called the Internet Link Exchange (ILE), which we eventually renamed to just LinkExchange.

What Tony and Sanjay had stumbled upon out of sheer boredom, would later be acquired by Microsoft for 265 million dollars. On one hand the book describes the Zappos values and culture and on the other it also has stories which form  a constant roller costar ride of up's and down's in Tony's life where on multiple occasions Zappos was inches away from getting wound down because of lack of finances. From overcoming his fears of failure to selling his assets to keep Zappos afloat, the book is not just an insight into Tony's mind but and insight into why entrepreneurs and developers build organizations and products.

More often than not, artists and builders don't work on building stuff just for the profits associated with building stuff. They build stuff because they have an unstoppable itch that they have to scratch. The itch of delivering happiness.

posted on Sunday, August 21, 2011 8:59:15 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, August 14, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Everything Television Is About.

The television teaches you stereotypes of fun. The television teaches you that entertainment is junk that gets thrown at you by media companies which you learn how to enjoy over time.

Television teaches you to pick from a couple of hundred channels and then just hope that your channel is playing something you are truly interested in. If not, television teaches you to settle for what you get.

Television is junk food for your mind.

Television is about learning to enjoy wandering generality instead aiming for of a meaningful specific.

Go on. Keep the batteries just twenty seconds away from immediate reach and tweak your brain to seek other constructive meaningful forms of entertainment.


Because Television, quiet literally, is one of the biggest metaphors out there today that actually represents "the box" and your job is to think outside it.

posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 7:36:36 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, August 7, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Surviving As A Guerilla Entrepreneur - Part 2.

With iPhone, blackberry, android and phone 7 one dollar applications are changing the way businesses did business.

It is easier than ever to be a guerilla business. You are suddenly depending on low costs and high volumes to keep you going.

In this market, what happens when we download your four dollar application (a little over a cup of coffee) and run into trouble.

When we walk into a coffee joint, pay four dollars for a cup of coffee and end up not liking it, we twitch our eye brows and forget the bad experience with a couple of passing comments.

But what happens when as users, we expect you to support us for a product that is priced at the range of a cup of coffee and doesn't do what we expected it to do?

This is when deep down inside, we really don't expect you to wow us with quick responses. But then this is also your chance to do just that. After all even the best coffee shops are the ones that listen.

If you are going to be the next software development coffee shop around the block, be the one with a friendly guy who greets you with a smile and listens when you don't like his (or her) coffee.

We've come full circle and the rules of making your customers happy have not changed all that much.

Are you building the next one dollar application? That is no excuse for lousy customer support. There was never a reason to not listen, even when all you were running was a coffee shop around the block.

We are calling your bluff.

Now go, surprise us.

posted on Sunday, August 7, 2011 8:11:36 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, July 31, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Encouraging Your Engineers To Drive Innovation

Who's driving the innovation in your organization? How many products or projects are on the ideas of individual engineers?

I'm not talking about allowing programmers to introduce minor features in the product. I am talking about full blown products here which take sizable time and organizational support to build. Engineers building full blown applications like teams of artists painting amazing pictures based on their own visualization.

There are two benefits to letting your programmers drive innovation in your organization.

  1. They have built in bullshit busters in their heads and can sense what will sell and what wont.
  2. They tend to be much more intrinsically motivated when they are working on their own ideas.

Go jot down the list of products that your organization is offering. How many of these product ideas came from "management" Vs. how many of them emerged out of "engineering" teams?

If you are wondering why your engineers aren't creating products that kick some serious butt, or why your products miss that final "wow factor" your answer might lie in the fact that your engineers aren't intrinsically motivated.

When you see engineers as cogs who build ideas that others think of and occasionally make a few changes here and there, that is exactly how your engineers work.

When you see engineers as artists, they will paint awesome pictures that make a dent in the universe.

What do you see your engineers as?

Just a little something to think about.

posted on Sunday, July 31, 2011 9:46:21 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

This Team Almost Failed Me But That Is Okay.

After countless days of slogging J's team ships the build. In a few minutes of sending the email out they receive this response from their manager:

"The release notes had lots of typos. I had to fix those before sending the build out to the client. We need to be careful about running a spell-check before sending out project documentation."

When your team slogs for days shipping a build and all you can see are typos in the release notes you my friend are acting like a fully qualified asshole.

Here's a free advice if you want to get better at working with geeks: Open Microsoft word, fix the damn typos, don't bitch about them, thank the team for their hard work and move on.

Most managers cannot resist the temptation of whining about small mistakes which they can easily fix themselves in no time.

Reasons why most managers say they "have to" whine:

  1. People need to know about these mistakes so that they don't make them the next time.
  2. People need to be trained so that they don't always depend on the manager to do last minute fixes.

Reasons why most managers really whine:

  1. Managers are inherently good at advertising work. That is a huge part of what they do for a living. When it's their own work, expect the advertisement to be louder than ever.
  2. Most managers have a complex about not being productive enough OR not contributing enough. "I was able to find an issue and fix it! MYSELF! I finally showed those pesky developers that even I can contribute!" – this opportunity is often too tempting for most managers to let go.

Success breeds success and while it is OK to point out mistakes objectively, when you give out the vibe that says "you have failed me but that’s okay, I fixed it anyway" on every small mistake your team makes, you are diminishing their chances of success in the long run.

Acknowledge success, stop discouraging people by focusing on their mistakes and start motivating them by focusing on their success.  Even if you had to fix their mistakes or provide cover fire to a team worthy of it, in most cases, they really don’t need to know about it. So stop bitching and do a little bit of clean up yourself.

Just saying.

posted on Sunday, July 24, 2011 8:21:09 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, July 17, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Be Honest About Your Reasons For Interviewing.

"I am looking forward to join a Multinational with a larger employee strength and more structured process".

When 'R' says this in an interview, she hasn't even bothered to glean through our website to know that we don't believe in large teams and our process is lighter than most BDUF shops.

That makes our organization a misfit for her.

Since interview is a two way process where candidates should reject the organizations that don't fit their needs, would she like to end the interview immediately and reject our organization?

When asked this question, she reacts as if we just dropped a dead rat on the table and asked her to clean up the stinking carcass. Clearly, the interview isn't going well for her.

After some more probing a switch turns somewhere and she flips into a totally honest mode.

You can feel it. She stops lying and getting stuck. Now she describes her real reason for looking for a job.

A higher paycheck.

During the course of the interview we figure out that she is in fact underpaid and her reasons for an expectation for a higher salary are absolutely valid.

I am guessing that what had happened here was that she was 'mentored' and told to stay away from mentioning salary as a reason for quitting because that is a cliché.

When interviewing the only two rules that often work are honesty and openness.

In situations like the one 'R' was in, staying away from Cliché's is also a cliché.

If you genuinely believe that you are underpaid and if that is your sole reason for changing jobs, having the ability to stand up for it with honesty and openness doesn't make you sound bad. Lying or trying to make up reasons does.

When you are honest and open, you showcase yourself in an as-is condition.

If you can carry your true self without being ashamed or trying to hide who you are and what moves you, your chances of getting selected in a mature organization are that much higher. If you get rejected for who you are or something that you truly believe in, your chances of finding another organization where your core values are aligned with the organization's core values are that much higher.

Don't bitch in an interview. Don't whine. Don't cry. Don't keep constantly complaining.

At the same time If you are genuinely underpaid and you truly and deeply believe that you deserve a respectable salary, don't try to sugar coat the situation with random made up reasons for quitting which people tell you will 'sound good' during an interview.

Salary being the only reason for leaving is a scar on your face, but then depending on how you carry yourself, scars can also look good.

posted on Sunday, July 17, 2011 7:26:33 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, July 10, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Friendly Discussions Or Drunk Messages.

The nitpicking saga between J (real name withheld for obvious reasons) and his team lead had been on for months. Every small mistake J was making was being highlighted and all his contribution were not even being discussed.

J had been working late nights for a few weeks at his workplace.  On the last week of his project J having nothing on his plate decides to call it an early day and heads home at around 8:00 in evening.

The next day his technical lead escalates the issue of J not being proactive about his work. Leaving early when you are on a critical project is unacceptable.

Unable to understand what is going on, J tries to patch things up by having an open candid conversation with his team lead who isn't in office for the entire day.

At around 10:00 in the evening J sees his lead on IM and summons up enough courage to send him a message asking him if he was mad at J and if there is anything J could do to improve a sour professional relationship between them.

And the response from his team lead?

It goes like this: "Are you sending this message on a high? Are you drunk!?"

As J narrates this incident to me over a casual conversation some highlights emerge:

  1. In J's organization open candid one on one conversations are so rare and unheard of that nobody believes that is what you are trying to do even if you start an open conversation with your manager.
  2. In J's organization cases of IM flames by drunk employees to their managers are so common that most team leads see precisely that even when you are trying to have a perfectly healthy discussion that can bridge gaps.

Makes you wonder if the cases of drunk IM flaming that J's organization is so concerned about are really cases of drunk IM flaming or  just perfectly sane employees trying to summon up enough courage to have perfectly sane conversations over IM?

Wow! Talk about invisible gorillas!

posted on Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:20:38 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]