The last few years at MIT has given me many opportunities to reflect on who I am and how I operate. As I finish MIT, I wanted to reflect back on my personal style. My personal style is the way I operate; the frameworks I use to guide my decision making and behavior; and my core beliefs.
I wrote this over the span of several months ~April-August 2013. Whenever I noticed something, I would jot it down and add it to my write up.
In many cases, what I have listed here are the defaults I subconsciously reach for. With effort, I can do something different, but it is not the default. Sometimes the norms of a situation calls for different response. Nevertheless, it's important to be aware of one's biases. In order to control something, you must first be aware of it. So by noticing what I default to, I can better adjust to the situation.
What I have listed here is always evolving. I have noticed some habits change over time, particularly as a result of education. For example, when I was a PM at Disney, I was focused on pushing the project through. In 14.72 at MIT, I learned that a better model for a PM is to be like a "cocktail host" connecting players together for them to talk, rather than trying to do everything ones self. At yahoo, the focus is more on getting stuff done.
In some senses, I think I am a mix between US and German styles. I was raised in the US, but my mom is German and I speak German. Germans pay attention to detail, while people in the US there is also pressure to get stuff done on time.
I think it is very important to work hard and do your best work on every project, every time. I take pride in what I do because I am passionate about doing my best job.
This is important, because it is temping to take shortcuts, go home early, just watch TV; but once you succumb to this, it's hard to break out of it. Humans care capable of working hard - not watching TV, etc. However, that's not as fun, so we naturally shy from it. You have to push yourself to counteract the desire to be lazy.
Intensity: No excuses
I'm intense. I can not stand people who are lackadaisical. If you have a deadline coming up, you should stay late till you get it done. If you don't have time for something; I'm sure you could rearrange your schedule. Instead of thinking of reasons why something won't work, think of ways to make something work! Excuses are much less helpful than results. I think I first learned this from Andy Wu, a former president at Baker. Plus, I've found that I'm far more productive when I keep up my energy level.
Don't Be Complacent
An anything goes attitude sunk the American automakers. They were content churning out mediocre crap, selling it at a discount, and moving on. This was a bit mistake, as highly motivated Asian automakers moved in to their territory. Now GM makes sure every model is a hit. They don't ship something and say meh; they make sure every single model launch hits it out of the park.
Use Every Minute
It is important to value each and every minute of the day. What is the most important thing I can do in this minute? Perhaps one shouldn't think that granular - perhaps hour blocks or 5 minute blocks are better to think about. But still - are you using your time in the best possible way? I remember this TV show from a while ago that recommended that you live every day like it was your last. I think that's a very short-signed strategy; you should play long term.
High Performance Culture
Often people just needs some pressure/motivation. A high performance culture establishes that pressure because everyone in the organization has the same goals. In addition, a high performance culture attracts other high performers. "A" players like to be with other "A" players.
I think this is easier to do if one has a goal in mind - if one is ambitious. That goal may change, but it's important to feel like you are going after goal. That goal may not even be well defined, but each person should try to improve their own situation. Without being able to envision a future for oneself, even subconsciously, it's hard to stay motivated. I don’t have a specific goal, but I do have a slightly subconscious image of what I want to achieve.
Think Critically/Intellectual Honesty
I think it's super important to think critically about everything. Part of that is intellectual honesty. It's important to only put your best work forward. It's important to vet what you write and only put forward what you believe at the time. For example, for my UAP project, I made sure I thought through everything to make sure I had gotten everything right, even though I thought I did.
Attention to Detail
I think I've always had an attention to detail. The details matter, so you need to think about them. For example, when I ran parties at Baker, I made sure the drinks table was always organized and clean. I think it's part of building a great experience for people.
Even so, at my Altman Vilandrie internship, I remember being so annoyed at the time with their level of detail and perfection that they brought to things. However, after that internship, I've since adopted many of those measures. Perhaps it was just frustrating because it was someone else's specific scheme.
Infer what is needed to know
It's not hard to predict what other people will do. Just put yourself in their shoes and ask what their incentives are. People are generally rational actors and will follow logic.
At work the other day, one of the older workers questioned why I was inferring what another product's PM was going to think - essentially why I was doing his job. I think it's important to see the big picture and design something. You can ask that PM what they want - and this is ideal if you have time, but you can probably predict it. You should still talk with them. If the other person disagrees, then I like to discuss it with them. Sometimes they may have some unique insight I don't; but I'm not afraid to involve myself in someone else's "work" - remember I think ending up with the best work is most important.
Read and Learn: Be Persistent
I really hate it when people claim that something is not their job or that they don't know how to do something. Well learn it!! If you are already truly too busy, I understand. At the very least, know where to look. This way you can call BS on the estimates other people give you. But otherwise, put the work in and get it done. Especially with initiatives such as edX, there are so many resources available to someone that there really should be no excuse. Just try to work on it and see how far you get. When you encounter a roadblock, try to get around it.
This doesn't have to be all on your own - asking for help is very much acceptable. This is one of the most important skills which I learned at MIT. In high school, I gave up too easily on math and physics homework. That approach didn't work in 8.01 - you had to actually learn the material to get by in the class. There was plenty of stuff I was bad at at MIT and thought I couldn't do. But I stuck to it and as a result I'm now much better at doing this sort of stuff because I pushed on. This is very much the culture at MIT - people don't spend much time complaining about their backgrounds; they push forward.
Even if something is not your fault, help solve it anyway. Everyone needs to be a team player to help move organizations towards their goals.
I think it's important to know all of the details of what you are trying to study or manage. By having all of these in your head, one can reason about things clearer and thus make better decisions. One should never be afraid to look into the details of how something works. If one is trying to find efficiencies, I think one should reach down into one's supply chain to try to find efficiencies. For example, at MIT, I advocated that we look inside the operations of our supplier, Bon Appetite, to find efficiencies, instead of taking the operations of the supplier as exogenous.
I think it's valuable to know a lot about a lot. This has allowed me to draw connections between things. Inter-disciplinary work is now considered important in academics. Similarly, it creates people with unique perspectives - this adds value in the marketplace.
I research things very carefully. For applying to college, I made a database of 151 possibilities. When buying a car, I carefully reviewed many available models. I want to understand all of the ramifications of a decision and make a fully informed one. This may just be a part of my natural curiosity and interest about how different things and different industries work. I also don't like to miss things. I don't want to just fall for standard biases.
Also, I like to try to work on problems where I think I can add strategic value. Is this something that I have a special talent towards helping to solve? This is where my time is best spent.
How I Think
I like to build things long-term. For example, I started my website back in 9th grade. I've built off the same code base. I like to keep that history there and build off of one effort. This has limitations in that I stick too much to things. For example, I should probably get a new Firefox profile, as the one I'm using is 230MB! I like that it remembers my URLs and I don't have to reinstall my add-ons.
Though my thinking is changing here. I am starting to realize that carrying all this history around, doesn't allow one to look forward. I'm starting to think being clean (readily encapsulated) is better than keeping a lot of history. For example, I recently reinstalled my Android. It now runs much faster, but it's annoying to have to reset up and configure each app. Cleanly encapsulated allows one to move quicker.
Knowing When to Fold
On the other side of sticking to something, is knowing when to fold. One has to be able to make a strategic decision to end a particular practice. Otherwise, the list of things you are working on would recurse indefinitely. It's important to know when to fold.
Finding a Way
I think one needs to be willing to find a way. This is a hallmark of entrepreneurs. They have to be persistent to always brainstorm and find a way around obstacles in their path. It means not saying no and not giving up.
My friends at FlightCar didn't give up when the airport tried to shut them down when they delivered cars to the airport parking lot, they quickly came up with a new plan to lease a lot a few miles away and hire a black car to bring people to the airport. They found a loophole and made use of it.
An extension of this, which I am getting more used to, is being scrappy. This means doing more with less. This means finding a way to do something, even if you don't have the full resources. For example, FlightCar didn't start with expensive market research - they rode the airport tram themselves to talk with car renters.
Even at big companies, this is important. Many of the successful companies, especially new Internet companies, like to move fast and try things. Often this means trying many things out at a low cost. There is no need to spend money if you don’t have to. This way you can spend money on lots of things.
Platform and Process
Building a Platform
I like to establish my personal "platform." Jeanne Ross of CISR liked to talk a lot about platforms in 15.571. A platform gives on a stable platform from which to work. I like to have all my stuff ready to go. For example, my computer. I want a good one that won't lag and get in my way. I spend the time at the start of the year to get everything set up - so that once classes start, I can be 100% dedicated to that. I don't want to be distracted by having to fix things. My platform has to be in place to perform. For example, I pay $10/month for Exchange email. I think I'm the only individual to pay for email, but I like something that just works without issue. In particular, my mail, calendar, and contacts sync between machines perfectly - no problems.
I try to establish the best ways to do things and then lock onto them as autopilot. For example, in Working Out a System, I established over time a way to take notes. This way I am not reinventing how I take and store notes every day.
This is not necessarily static; it changes over time. For example, I made small adjustments in notes taking over time. I have some changes listed in an update to Working out a System. http://wiki.theplaz.com/Working_out_a_System#Changes_Spring_2012 But often I hate to take the time to reset my platform. For example, I put off as long as possible reinstalling my phone because I knew it would be an hour or two of hassle to set everything back up.
Often, however, changes come during defined periods. If something changes in my life, for example, changing living spaces, this is an "unfreeze" where I do reevaluate and make major changes. For example, when I lived in Baker, I had a particular arrangement of clothes into my standard Baker dresser (called an "elephant"). But when I moved out of Baker, I had to set up a new system based on the closet space that I had.
Sometimes these changes are quite deliberate - I spend a lot of time thinking about how to re-do things. I go through all the options and then pick one. The way MIT administrators and many big companies make decisions is similar. Things run on auto-pilot by the hourly staff until someone launches a reevaluation project - which is very broadly encompassing. Decisions are then made and then stuff goes back into auto-pilot.
However, if the goal changes, I may be slow to adjust. For example, I spent too much time studying for the 4.605 midterm by reading the book because this is what I did before, even though I should have been more strategic studying. I studied differently for the 4.605 final.
There can be benefits from changing something that is working. I remember reading in a business magazine once that the MGM Grand in Las Vegas once calculated how much money each restaurant "should be" making based on the traffic near it's spot. Based on this analysis they replaced a perfectly profitable restaurant with one which happened to be even more profitable.
I use the same pens. I like consistency in my papers and I like the feel of them so it's not worth switching. Perhaps I'm overly fixated on using the same pens for not really good reasons. I've used the same keyboard for the last ~9 years. I'm used to it. When I try another keyboard, I don't like how it feels.
It's important to take history into account. For example, I think that the classes that have the most history at MIT are the best ones. This does not mean that they do not change, but specifically that they change ~10% each year. Changes that are made consider the recent history of what worked and what didn't.
Too often things exist only because of inertia. For example, for the Baker Rooming Review, it was worth taking a look at best practices and then writing up a system. However, now that the review has been complete, there is no need to conduct a mini-re-review each time the process is run. By thinking through scenarios ahead of time and writing them down in detail, there is no need to consider each situation from scratch. However, if it feels like the whole process isn’t working, likely in a few years, it may be better to review it again.
Having a process means stuff is less ambiguous. When setting up a process, it's important to think through all of the corner cases. This is just computer code. When it place, it should make decisions easier.
I like to be prepared for everything. I like to have read ahead and plan for every eventuality.
If I came across a scenario I have not encountered before, I will often handle it poorly in real time. However, I then think about what happened and adjust my plan.
For example, before buying a car, I like to read everything about buying a car so I feel far more confident at the dealership. If I just walked in the dealership I would feel nervous because I didn't have all of the information needed to make a decision. Perhaps it's because I don't trust the salesperson or feel like I might get ripped off. I just want to make sure I have all of the information I needed.
I also spent some time researching how to connect my iPhone to the car. I wanted to make sure that when I got the iPhone, I could hook up the iPhone immediately. I guess I could have done that later, but I like to plan. This also depends on how much time I have for stuff. If I'm busy, I will operate without a plan.
If I am meeting with someone, I like to think of the conversation ahead of time and think of what I'm going to say. For example, before calling my future boss at Oracle I read through all of my notes from the previous meeting to make sure I am on top of things. Or before meeting key administrators at MIT, I would outline my key talking points in my notebook.
Writing stuff down
I also like to write everything down. This is how I remember. This strikes some people as odd. But I seem to remember stuff better if I write it down. This is not appropriate in every situation.
I don't like to forget something. I feel that if I don't write it down at the time, I will forget it. If I feel that I've forgotten something I feel really bad at it and keep trying to remember it. I kick myself for having forgotten it.
I'm always making to-do lists. For example, during my 6 week transition period between MIT and Oracle I have 73 items on my to-do list to take care of between now and then (not including sub-items). I make checklists all the time.
Desire for Productivity
At MIT, and even as I remember, back to 2nd grade, I had a strong focus on productivity. I like to keep busy working on stuff. I feel bad when I am not getting stuff done.
It's hard to get started. However, once I am started, I usually stay engaged. I have found productivity when I am "on" and focused can be 2 or 3 times that of being unfocused.
If you find yourself unfocused instead of trying to slog through, try and take a break. If you're not feeling something, try to put it on hold till you come back excited to it (though be careful not to ignore stuff you are dreading - though I have moments when I am more or less excited about something). This can be hard to due if you have deadlines - try to schedule enough time so you can move things around. Though, even for me, deadlines do motivate.
Also make sure to get some rest and be "off" so that you can recover. People can't always be "on". I can't go more than a day or two without taking some time alone.
I also like to track my productivity; I save all of the pens I use each semester so I can compare. I think being able to look back and think about your progress allows you to reflect. It also lets you compare periods - they may feel different, but how different are they actually?
I want processes to be idealistically designed, meaning that they are neatly contained, well specified, and contain no rough edges.
What I mean by this is things should be neatly contained. For example, why does one use their drivers license to buy alcohol? I thought one wasn't supposed to drink and drive…. Now, it's because of history. At one point, states decided to license drivers. The issued them ID cards. Over time, as identity has become more important, these cards became fancier, with special holograms and such. Since many people had them, they were used. However, you don't have to drive to buy alcohol or vote, so the DMV now issues non-drivers "drivers licenses" or state-issued photo ids. What does the DMV have to do with identity? They are now the de facto identity office in the US.
If one was being scrappy, one could argue that Driver's License were things which people already had and DMVs were already across the map. But to that I say why not rename the office to be more generic? It's probably because of inertia , and because people do not like the idea of a government ID card.
Another example, is that the government should do single sign on for web. This seems to be blocked by the same privacy concerns. However, the security forces are able to link the data anyway. (Plus, they are probably doing it in a haphazard, messy process anyway - more likely to make mistakes - and land innocent people on the no-fly list). Implementing this solution would be so much cleaner!
I like when things are well-specified. For example, at MIT, the dining plan as of 2013, is billed as all-you-can-eat. However, for some premium items (ie. scallops) the dining contractor wanted to limit portion sizes because they were only able to order limited quantities with their budget. I think it's good that we can have premium items at dinner. I recognize that because such items are rare, they will be highly demanded, so the items can only be offered at limited quantities. I have no problem establishing a limit for those items. In fact, I had even originally proposed a hybrid limited entrée, unlimited sides program when the program was being hashed out. However, I think the plan should be carefully thought through with all stakeholders, instead of coming up with some way to limit items on-the-fly.
This is because I think it's best to think about a solution up front - in a process when you have time to read the latest research, explore options, consult stakeholders, and then arrive at a robust policy. I'm a big believer in the stakeholder consultation process - as I described in my white paper. Then when it's time to implement the plan, you just have to do it.
Emergencies are like this as well. What if there is a intruder in Baker House? How should the desk person react? Instead of wasting time considering actions, or taking the wrong action (evacuating the building instead of sheltering in place, for example). When I was at Disney, I visited Disneyland's Emergency Operations Center. They had a thick binder of every possible thing that could go wrong (power line out, flood - even though it appears to me that Disneyland is not really in flood danger, etc). For all of their attractions, they have hundreds of pages of documentation. They spent time figuring out how to do it right, and now each person doesn't have to start from scratch.
This doesn't mean you need an ironclad procedure. People should still use their best judgments. But they might not be aware of everything. For instance, it may not be best practice to announce someone's name when they lost their ticket due to privacy. A line level employee might not recognize the privacy considerations. However it's important to at least provide a template.
No Rough Edges
I like when things don't have "rough edges" or have one-offs for what seems like silly reasons.
Exceptions should be neatly contained and make sense. There should be some robust rule to why exceptions are granted. I really liked MIT classes which abstracted complicated systems down to their most basic components. Everything seemed to make sense there. When designing the geo spec at Yahoo, I tried to reconcile all use cases into a simple model. If there were any exceptions, I tried to create a rule out of the exceptions.
This gives you the power to make sweeping simplifications which allow you to manage at a higher level - there is no need to consider all the details. This keeps it easier to keep everything in your head and to make trade offs.
For example, I remember reading an article about a casino that hired an outside contractor to run their beach bar so that it would be outside the union "shop" and thus non-union. I understand why they did this - they want to avoid paying the union rate. I don't have a problem with this, but with all the complexity that this adds. Now the two different locations have different policies - creating complexity. Some may even be visible to the customers - for example, some gift cards or foreign credit cards aren't accepted, or the customer service does not meet the standard of the home organization. Sweeping simplifications can't be made, so management becomes harder and as a result quality suffers. This may still be more profitable because the decreased costs from outfoxing the union means increased management costs and decreased customer goodwill from a non-seamless experience. Also just to note, while the benefits are clear, the downsides aren't - hopefully management considers this. Now certain business situations, may mean that this structure is the best choice for the situation. However, it's not my first choice.
I put the time in to be idealistic.
For example, I don't think Dormcon should pay for other dorms' events. The total amount of money is relatively small, $10,000/semester, but I just think the principle is wrong, because I think dorms should pay for their own events and there is no clean way to do it. Baker also makes money off this, so I'm not just looking for my local community. I just don't like the principle.
Essentially what this means is I don't always calculate the reward before taking time to do a project. This may mean I may seem to "waste" my time on pointless things, but I think that outcomes are usually not immediately clear or quantifiable, so you may miss opportunities by being idealistic. But I think many benefits are not immediately obvious; thus it's best to keep one's options open. I've had plenty of examples where things paid off - generally it's your reputation. People who don't act like this are annoying to me. Still if your time is limited, you need to think about where you are spending your time.
I believe that it is very important to be intellectually honest in your dealings. It means doing what you think is principled and right. It means saying what you believe. This is a theme in consulting. It means putting the client and project above all. Even though it might hurt someone's feelings, I think it's important that business comes first and that you do the job that you paid for. It may mean putting in extra work or putting a friendship at risk. It means being transparent. It means not lying or withholding the truth, or covering something up. This always seems to get your in trouble in the long-run. You shouldn't cover something up because it will create more work for you. Do the extra work and make it right the first time.
All this also matters for your reputation - which is vitally important..
Skeptical of established convention
I'm naturally skeptical of established convention. One must be critical of what one hears and push hard for objective truth. Don’t just go along with it. For example, one thing which is often used to shut down a conversation is "Legal said so." Well why? Look into it. It may be that they misunderstood, or there may be a way around it.
Be Friends at the Top
Ever since I got to know Mrs. Greenspun, the director of technology at the School District of Haverford Township, I realized that many senior people in organizations do not always know everything that is happening on the ground. I think many people assume that senior leadership is automatically aware of everything going on, but I have found this is not the case.
I'm made a pattern out of knowing the people at the top and bringing well-formulated concerns or insights to them, especially about systemic issues. I think many people just think the higher up is uninterested in what they have to say. However, the higher up's job is the systemic design! Thus, they are often very interested in your insights on systemic issues!
It's important that insights be well formulated. Many issues are local; it's only once the local structure fails repeatedly that the issues becomes systemic. For example, I had some trouble with the SAO office at one point at MIT. In my letter to Chancellor Grimson, I didn't speak about my problems, except as examples of systemic issues. I tried to include comments from other people which corroborated my examples. I also tried to limit to comments to things which were objectively wrong. For example, in my 14.02 Complaint Letter I limited my comments to logistics because those where the ones I feel like I could support. (Reviewing that letter two years later is kinda embarrassing, I think my letter writing skills have improved since then)
Writing good letters helps build up one's reputation. As one sends good letters, one's reputation increases, earning the trust of the person, that you are emailing them about important systemic issues. This pays dividends. So you need to be brave and send.
They also need you. These insights help them be better managers. As you're helping them, you become more valuable to them. This can help speed your advancement.
Better to be wrong than silent
I think it's better to be wrong than to be silent. I think MIT students, are often scared to voice their thoughts in a committee. MIT tend to view MIT professors as these "priests on high" and are very cautious about voicing their thoughts. In addition, students at MIT, I think, are over concerned about being controversial with or disagreeing with a professor. This appears to be particular true in Institute committees. Many students sit silently through meetings, seemingly afraid to speak up.
I did not do this. In MITCET, the oversight committee of MIT's involvement in EdX, I spoke up in meetings. This surprised some of the faculty members and administrators, as apparently some students just attend those meetings and say very little. All of my predictions didn't come true, but some of them did. I think often people are scared away from speaking up.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do things.
I like to think about organization design. Organization design is really interesting. I'm interested in what are the most efficient ways to do something. I really liked these types of classes at Sloan, and to read Harvard Business Review.
At MIT, I wrote white papers about A Framework for Community Engagement and Problem Solving Teams suggestions to improve MIT. I like to set up new systems. It's just fun to think through all the complexity and come up with the ideal system design.
I like to work in, what I call, "close-in teams." Most importantly this means the team is one place. Working with remote teams is a real drag. In person, you can see when your boss is around and not really busy. I don't like calling because I don't know if someone is busy or not. So then you are limited to pre-planned meetings which have at least 1-2 days lead time. It also means that team members know each other real well and are comfortable working together. It also means trying to limit external dependencies.
I don't really like lots of abstractions between groups in a company. What I mean by this is there is a tendency for divisions to form us versus them mentalities. Each team of people are good friends with each other. However, they see the external team as "clients" and they try, as a group, to polish their interactions towards the other team. This can be good because it reduces misunderstanding on teams and moves projects along. But this type of interaction is usually what produces innovation! It might slow the project somewhat, but I've seen this can be more than mitigated by ensuring frequent updates and/or large CC lists. This gets more people thinking about the problem, which I've found can produce better results.
I like to push forward do new things. It's fun to create and innovate. I don't just like to do existing things or use existing patterns. I like to spend the time to go back to the basic principles and create solutions from that. I think MIT helped me there a lot.
Working with Others
I spent a lot of time working with others at MIT. In particular, being President of Baker House was the first time I was in charge of managing an organization. This was very instructive, and I learned a lot.
The biggest challenge I had is how much autonomy to give the people I was working with. How much do you trust them to do the project right versus how much you check in on what they are doing. I tend to micromanage - I like to know the details and I care a lot about getting the design and user experience right. For example, at Baker I cared a lot about our signage design and the experience prefrosh had at our CPW events. However, one can only be involved in so much; one has to delegate to be able to get stuff done.
But I got burned. For REX 2012, the VPs of REX didn't know they had to register a party with the police some days in advance. I was familiar with the process, that I didn’t think to ask if they had registered the event. However, the people were new, so they weren't aware of this step. I should have guessed what they knew and used this as input.
One of my favorite parts of my role at Baker was mentoring others, particularly people like me. This was my favorite part of the job. I hope I can do more of this in my future roles.
Adding in more people better
I've found that adding people into discussions is generally better. Sure adding people in can make discussions go slower, but I've found over time that it's usually better to spend the time to arrive at a better solution than rushing something out.
Job descriptions are fluid
I found that it was best to give work to the person who was most excited about doing it, regardless of what their actual title was. Was the facilities chair not looking after the game room? Is someone passionate about fixing the game room? Well why not invent a game room chair to look after the game room. As long as the facilities chair doesn't care (which they probably won't because they didn’t express interest before you appointed someone else - and plus everything should be collaborative anyway. Give the work to whoever is the most competent.
Also, the flip side is true. One should be flexible and do whatever is needed - regardless of the job description. This goes along with my belief to never say you don't know how to do something.
To take this as step further, I think people should just collaborate without any sense of job title or hierarchy position. From my experience, this pattern seems to correlate with highly functioning teams. This means everyone is discussing something as equals. Participants don't treat anyone as any different from others.
Leaders should refrain from playing the "fiat" card unless absolutely needed. This is sometimes needed, especially to wrap up a discussion, but should be avoided if at all possible...
I try to go a step further when I'm a leader in situations which are non-hierarchical and try to involve the people I am working with in brainstorming. It think this throws people who are interested in hierarchy for a loop. However, it's needed to try and create this type of environment.
In contentions situations listen
This may sound obvious, but I have seen many cases where this doesn’t happen. When people are shouting at me, I naturally start speaking slower and less often. Calm down.
I like to dive into the details when communicating. I'm a wonk. I like to play to the sophisticated audience. I don't want to dumb stuff down.
I also want to challenge them to come to my level. Again, this goes back to my desire for people to learn when they are bad at something. Perhaps this is more of me being idealistic over realistic.
Be competent at what others do
I think one of best ways to gain the respect of the people working for you is to be good at their job. I allows you to understand what they are going through. Plus, you were probably promoted because you were an expert in whatever you were doing before. This allows you to tutor the other people. People will want to learn from you, because they recognize you as an expert. In situations where this is not the case, people tend to be mistrusting.
Gain respect from them
I think it's key to gain the respect of the people who are working for you. If they don't respect you, then they will try to work past you, which is no good.
Model good behavior
It's important to model good behavior if you expect others to follow. Try to put yourself in other people's shoes - what do you look like? Treat others how you would like to be treated. You're modeling behavior.
I try to be polished in public. I think this helps people take you seriously.
Be humble. I wasn't always so careful about this, but I think it's important not to overstate what one can do. I think this helps one gain respect.
I try to have a manner that is friendly and engaging most of the time, but I can also be very serious or short tempered. They are helpful in different things. The former is good for designing products, but the later is better for financial scenarios.
I also try to be "bubbly" or excited about stuff. I think that enthusiasm helps. I like work situations where other people are like this.
I think it's important to give people feedback on how they are doing in roles. I think it's important to be honest in performance reviews if something isn't working right. Now, I still think one needs to be careful about how one says something, but it's important to get it all out there.
BCCing people only ever gets you in trouble. It should not exist. Don't use it.
Always CC Named People?
One of the things I've been toying with in the past few days is to always CC people when you mention them in an email (for example, so and so said…). I haven't fully developed this idea yet.
Hate when people flake out
I like to make a schedule and stick to it. I expect the people I am meeting with to do the same. I hate when people flake out (cancel the day before or imply they might come and then don't). I'm not 100% perfect, but make a schedule and stick to it. This makes me especially upset if I went out of my way to accommodate the meeting. If I say I will do something, I will do it. For example, if I have a call with a friend scheduled when I want to take a nap, I'll wake up from the nap. If the other person then is not there, it's super annoying!
I am slightly loosening in this regard; moving to be more spontaneous, going less out of my way to make every commitment; but also avoiding making such commitments in the first place.
I've also changed since high school. Some are only slight refinements, but some are 180 degree shifts.
I used to not care about getting people to use what I built; I had a "build it and they will come" attitude. For example, with Tecker 911, we never sought people out or tuned our format. We stuck to what we had built for no real reason. I know realize I should have done more to promote the show and to react to fan feedback. I also know how to be more deliberate about growth.
I also had a quantity over quality attitude. For example, this is why I put my school work on ThePlaz.com. I've now realized that there is plenty of material online. The problem is sorting through it to find quality material. I think something like Khan Academy works far better because it is oriented towards the purpose of education, and they have the time to do it. Having the time to customize something for your purpose is important. When you have scale (like when I was at Disney) spending a lot of time on quality is important because you also have tremendous economies of scale. But for example, I still think companies could spend more time on adding more long-tail content. For example, an Avatar: The Last Airbender soundtrack might not sell millions of copies, but if it isn't too much work, put it out there! Google was super successful in automating advertising.
Similarly, I used to think appearances didn't matter. If you got the work done, when did appearances matter? But I think appearances really color the entire experience. People's first impressions are killer. People are supposed to be logical, but they are not. The whole "user" experience matters. For example, I thought sending "Thank You" notes after interviews was silly - until I actually got one and thought "this is actually kinda cool!"
Since taking 15.279, the managerial communications class, I've become much more entune with people's feelings. The class, which is one of my favorites at MIT, thought me to think more about how other people will read what I write, and then to shape what I write based on that.
Do more of:
There are a few things I could be doing better at.
In general, I need to continue to be able to change fast and adopt to the situation. What I have outlined here are only my defaults. Those will change over time. Certain scenarios call for deviation from what I have here - and I certainly think I need to be able to adopt, even if it isn't my first preference. I need to be able to "defreeze" when needed and adjust - not stick to outdated procedures which no longer fit.
I should embrace the Silicon Valley style of experimentation and A/B testing more. I currently like to spend time a lot of time up front engineering a good experience and then rolling it out. But this may mask problems - what if users don't hit the "Detect" button?
I need to recognize where I can add the most value and focus my time there. I need to ask myself all the time what is the most important thing I can do with my time.
To go along with that, I need to get better at delegating. This means I need to be better at trusting others to work on something.
I am much better at finding areas to cut costs, than in finding new revenue opportunities. I think the best managers and companies are not just the ones which manage to cut costs, but the ones which manage to grow revenue. Certainly the best CEOs don't just cut costs, but grow revenues.