I just read the iTunes chapter of Steve Job’s bio last weekend and it just completely full of business lessons. Here are some I observed:
Background: Consumers wanted to download songs into their computer, into their iPods, and there was no easy way. Buying CDs offline and then ripping them into the computer was a bit too inconvenient. So consumers used to download using file sharing networks. Piracy. Apple solved this grave problem for the music industry, by creating a way for people to download songs legally from their computer and pay for them. iTunes store was the solution.
Apple solved this problem in a way that kept the consumer in mind. Consumers could buy individual tracks from the album (and were not forced to buy the whole album). Completely untraditional.
Sony was in a much better position to do exactly what Apple did, probably better. But organizational mis-alignment was a huge handicap for them. (Music and tech departments could not work together to come up with something that worked for both). Organizational mis-alignment can make you lose on huge opportunities.
The pitch that Steve made when revealing the product was 1) High quality music 2) A way to try songs before you buy 3) Good karma (no stealing). Steve talked about ‘Karma’. A sales pitch that directly hits the soul. Wow !
The end-to-end integration between iTunes, iMac and iTunes was completely seamless from day 1. That says something. When you launch a product, make a compelling story. Think through the experience.
A Million songs sold in 6 days. Obviously huge success, but it also tells that Apple’s infrastructure could scale to support that kind of traction in the first week itself. When going live and trying to make it big, keep high standards for your platform infrastructure.
Microsoft and Sony tried replicating the same model with their devices, clouds, but Apple kept launching newer & better versions of the iPod. It was very hard for the competitors to grab a significant market share. Lesson: For product companies – the speed of innovation and delivery is the ultimate competitive advantage.
Would like to hear your thoughts on these / any other observations you made on iTunes.
There is a particular mistake, I made a lot when I started to get into leadership roles. I think that growing up process was very much like teenage, where a kid suddenly realizes that he/ she is not a kid anymore and then thinks that he is probably smarter than his parents / seniors.
He begins to disrespect them. Don’t do this as a budding leader. Don’t disrespect your seniors / leadership.
You may end up burning bridges. You may end up disappointing people a lot. (PS: I did this and I regret it).
Even if you think that you are actually smarter, find out ways of keeping your calm. Try to find out the reasons why your seniors / leaders may be doing certain things a particular way. Is there a background to what they are saying ? Why are they the specific questions they are asking ? Is there a reason why they behave certain in front of others ?
Try to understand them better. That would grow you as a leader. You may not copy them, but you would have learnt more about leadership.
I am talking about companies that are anything bigger than slightly mature start-ups. Companies who have figured out the product/market fit & are in the Customer Creation/ Company building phase (Refer here and here).
Here are a few questions to ask:
Does you have organization have SMART Goals ?
Do you have goals for your business units based on the overall organization goals ?
Are these aligned with business strategy ?
Do you then have goals for each function within the business unit ?
Do these goals then percolate down to each employee / manager ?
Is there anyone working in your organization whose SMART goals are not defined or are not aligned to the organization / business unit / function goals ?
You got to have SMART(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) goals defined from top to the very bottom.
This is a time taking exercise. Its painful & it does not end with just defining goals. You have to track and meet those goals.
But if you want to make your company go where you want to take it – you GOT to do this. The only thing I will advise if you want to save a bit of time is to identify your core & to focus more on the core. For example, risk management for a financial company, engineering team / practices for a technology company etc.
Doing something, taking steps and spending time and money without having a clear aim is going to serve you nothing but a false feeling of progress.
This is something I have been telling myself and have learnt recently.
I think more than knowing when you should speak up and how you should articulate, whats important is to understand when you should NOT say anything. When you should just be a listener, observer.
There are plenty of instances where I thought, I had something I could share. A piece of advice, some feedback, my personal opinion / comment etc. But I stayed quiet and that was much better for all the parties involved.
When you are trying to build a relationship with and the other person ( your boss / colleague / a potential friend client ) is basking in his own glory. Let him enjoy. Don’t bring him down. (Feel free to share a positive comment, but keep your negative feedback / comments inside you)
The other person is un-necessarily blaming someone to feel good about himself . Stay quiet. Providing feedback is important but with the right timing.
When you think an idea is very sub-optimal but the other department / team (which you do not directly control) is going ahead with it. You know there is a big political scene out there and a sub-optimal decision has been taken. Try sharing your feedback with individuals if you really need to but don’t speak up publicly. Stay out of politics un-less you are the boss.
When you think someone is insulting you in front of a lot of people. Its not necessary for you to retaliate then and there. Stay cool. In the worst case,walk out of the conversation grace fully if you need to, but not retaliating with a bullet in front a big group would definitely help.
These are only a few examples, but in general – I have realized that staying quiet is more important a skill than many other rock star competencies one may have.
When I started my own career in Management I practically had no formal / in-formal training about the role. Also, I struggled to find books, other educational material which was relevant to my role especially in the IT industry.
This is the first book which focuses on new and aspiring managers in India in the knowledge industry. I was one of the reviewers and thoroughly enjoyed reading and reviewing the book.
First of all, apologize for the long hibernation. Have no solid excuse for the long absence apart from the lame reason of having ‘a busy personal situation’ 😉 . Now getting back to the topic; I have been thinking about it for quite sometime. This post is for managers who want to find potential superstars ( within the team or from outside) as well as for employees who want to become superstars.
I have worked with and seen a lot of people. A lot of people grow like anything. A lot of people who do not grow in spite of being extremely capable. A lot of people being stuck where they are in spite of having a rock solid ownership.
And so far the following is what I have come to realize.
First and foremost – Ownership. I could not find a better word which covers a lot of aspects like commitment, going beyond the areas of your direct responsibility just because you feel that a particular project/product/ is ‘owned’ by you. In a nutshell – this is something that makes an individual act like his employer is a company owned/run by him. Like his company is his very own venture. Like every penny spent by the company is going from his own pocket. Like every un-happy employee in his team is a potential attrition risk for his company and he should do something to fix that.
Values: (Sigh!) Another big fuzzy umbrella term ! This is something that makes an employee honest. That makes him a good person in general. That makes him respect his colleagues. That makes him loyal to his employer. Mostly importantly – that makes him value collective good more than individual good.
Core Competencies / Capability: This is the most obvious one. But the most obvious things are the hardest to understand. There are many scenarios in which individuals put their heart and soul into areas which are not their core job responsibilities and do really well in those areas. But unless he/she is really solid in the core competencies of the job, its very hard for him/her to be called a superstar. Its hard to realize what wonders one could do if he /she gets the basics right.
This is no wisdom guide but just my own personal opinion.Please do share your thoughts in the comments section.
I always keep talking about this with my friends. About how I deal with the world and keep what assumptions in mind and how it has helped me avoid surprises.
There are two ways to look at the world (2 extremes) : 1) Assume everyone is innately good, everyone will give you expected results / deliveries in time. 2) Assume everyone is an innately lazy, poor memory fool (including yourself).
Of course these 2 are extremes and none of them is work-able in a practical world. But you need to know which one are you more bent towards. This also depends on what you can handle and what you cant.
I am one of those who hate unpleasant surprises which are caused by people around you. Either because they were lazy or they missed out certain things or because they were not diligent enough. I can’t tell you how much I hate such surprises. I am sure many of you would share similar emotions.
But there is a twist in this story. Sometimes, I myself catch the disease of laziness, lack of diligence or by missing out certain things and end up creating an un-pleasant surprise for my peers and myself. And I hate this the most! And I am sure many of you have a similar story.
Okay…? So you realize that all of us are innate lazy fools.
Ok understood; how do you get stuff done then ? How do you still acheive your goals ?
And I am here to talk about a working style that will get you the best results in most of the real world situations. There is only 1 mantra – When you get a failure / surprise, which you would really hate getting again, don’t think its the people who are at fault or somebody is memory is poor. You should think its the process which is at fault and not people. Something must have gone wrong in the process.
So how can I fix the process ?
KRAs (Incentives and Disincentives)
This one is the most powerful for long term fixes and more strategic tasks and deliverables.
Identify what exactly is critical for your business and create appropriate KRAs for different members of your organization.
Create incentives and disincentives both against the above defined KRAs.
Now be very careful with the incentives / disincentives. You might have to setup different ones for different roles or different individuals based on their needs, aspirations.
Example – lets say you want your team members to contribute towards hiring. Create a KRA in their appraisal process for contributions towards hiring and setup incentives for their contributions towards it.
This is most effective in case of short term tasks / goals where high quality needs to be ensured.
I know it would take a lot of your cycles, but there is no other option. If high quality is critical for you and you don’t want to take a change, then you MUST NOT SKIP REVIEWS. Be very diligent about them.
Also, to save time for repetitive tasks – create best practice guidelines. So that people can go through the guidelines and fix things before they approach you for a review.
Example – a client sales pitch or a hiring pitch to your prospect employees. Setup a formal review everything thats critical to your business. Code reviews, design reviews are more formalized in today’s world but there are other subtle things which can make a big impact to your business but you have not reviewed or done quality control for it.
This is very well understood and practiced as well. But whats not understood is that the reminders are not only for others. You should setup reminders for yourself for anything thats critical.
You can setup calendar meetings for important items to remind you.
You can setup mobile alarms / email reminders.
You can ask your colleagues to remind you. Its not bad to ask your colleagues to remind you for things that are of utmost importance.
Setup reminders to remind other people. This is extremely effective. Give it a shot.
Ownership with the right people
You might realize that many times that the people you are working with do not have the right expertise. And your colleagues who does have that expertise is busy to take your task up.
In such a case – let the other not-so-expert guy take up the task but make the expert guy the “owner”. So that the expert can make sure that the right thing gets delivered through reviews, brainstorms and other quality control techniques.
This is extremely effective but needs the expert’s band-width. You need to do your job to get him to “own” the task. This would not be too hard in most of the scenarios.
Sharing success & failures in a public forum.
This is effective too. Most of us have a desire for fame and respect. This would utilize that part of psychology.
Sharing success in people motivates people like anything
Sharing a failure in public can be powerful but risky at the same time. You need to know how exactly this has to be done. This can either motivate or demotivate people by a big degree. So be careful, share the failure but be positive in your tone. Your purpose to share the mistake is to share what you have learnt from it and not to defame your employee. Again, very powerful but risky at the same time. Be careful with this atom bomb.
Last but not the least, tools can ease your problems to a great extent. Task management tools are already available in the market. So this one is very well identified. If you are not using one of these – I guess you need to adopt of lot of such productivity tools to make your operations, deliveries smoother.
Tools can be for anything – tracking anything (ideas,tasks, meetings etc), reviewing anything (docs, code, design etc), automating anything(like calculations, resume selections etc), sharing anything ( mind maps, docs etc)
But they have an overhead. You need to housekeep them. So pick and choose the right ones which give you the convenience and the keep the overhead to the minimum.
While the above things are good. You should keep in mind that overdoing any of the above can affect your relationships with people, especially if they are not mature enough to keep business goals above their personal egos. This is a big down-side of using this working style. So you need to learn to present your ideas, your reminders in a positive way so that they express the positive intention behind it. The intention is NOT to call someone a fool. The intention is to understand that we are humans and not the best possible machines. Machines, tools, processes can help us deliver the best.
The other down side of using this approach is that it would eat up a lot of your cycles.So be ready for it and try things out; see if they work for you.
I would like to call myself a bit of ”behavior, psychology Analyst”. I love studying my own and my peers’ behavior in tough situations. There are certain things I think I have learned after making a 100 mistakes. Would like to share some of those here.
Following are the kind of mistakes that I have myself made and learned from them:
Not spending enough time thinking, reviewing, brainstorming on what should be done to make things better. Instead working all day, all night just to get things done. They call it the difference between leadership and management. Leadership is about doing the right things and management is doing things the right way. As you can see, leadership is what usually makes a big difference in what we can achieve. We all tend to get busy into the tasks at hand. You must understand that these tasks will never finish and they should not stop you from taking time to “think”.You can’t imagine what wonders you can do by taking a 30 minute break, thinking about what is happening and how you can innovate to find simple solutions to tough looking problems. For this to work, you need to believe that there is EXISTS a solution which make the current situation untangle. Keep doing this exercise every single day. Think about whats happening and see how you can make it better. I have personally achieved a lot by following this practice religiously.
Taking so much on your own self that you end up working through many weekends and yet fail to finish off all the work. As a result, failing to meet expectations and this goes into a vicious loop. You need to realize that you can scale to only a limited extent un-less you start delegating, unless you get a team for you, un-less you start devoting more time thinking about bigger problems rather than small but important looking tactical tasks. This also means that you should know your limit beyond which you can certainly explore but do not want to make a commitment to other stakeholders. I have seen myself, many friends, colleagues of mine getting into this trap.
Get frustrated when your peers, other stake-holders do not give their 100% and letting the situation get to your mind. Learn to smile :). Learn to smile when things don’t happen they way you wanted them to happen. A member of another team is not meeting his commitments, someone from your team is making funny excuses and not finishing his task in time or with the right quality; don’t get bogged down. Relax. This project might be really close to your heart, but others do not really feel for it so much. That is all okay. You must know that there are only a few at the top and many many at the bottom. There is a reason why there a few at the top. Learn to handle your frustration if you want to become a great leader. You need to stay objective and motivated no matter what, only then you can give your best.
Getting biased in your decision making, especially for the current project, task at hand. This is the worst consequence of #3. Never let this happen. If you think you are not feeling good, take a break and delay the decision by a bit.
Writing emotional emails, replying to negative looking emails with an emotional state of mind. Emotional, blaming emails are killers. They can trigger a really bad situation. They have the power to upset anyone and everyone and the worst part is that they are “written communication” so they can become of a piece of evidence against your bad temperament, also emails never seem to work in rectifying such situations. To fix a messed up situation, talk over phone, talk face to face. NEVER use emotional, angry emails. If email is the only option, then be 100% OBJECTIVE, the emotional quotient of your email should be zero. Very bland, black and white.
Expressing your discontent to your team members in a way which can bring everyone’s morale down. If you are in a resource crunch situation, then the worst thing you can do is demotivate your team members. Instead of working through the weekends, they ll end up leaving at 5pm on a weekday where as you would be burning your midnight oil every week day as well as weekends. Your team members are your most valuable asset. Keep them super-motivated. Talk positive. Tell them how this project is going to help your team the most.
Creating negative images of colleagues you cant get away from. I think this is kind of self-implicit. If you create a negative image, it would become hard for you to deal with them in your future engagements. This would limit your own capability.
Not paying enough attention to your health. You know what I am talking about. Skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, eating too much junk. This way, you would not be able to scale for a long time. May be a month ( or more, less depending on ur stamina) and your health is down and your productivity is gone. Do you want your health getting in the way of your success? Take good care of yourself.