Things I'm thinking: Mean people suck and things can change

I admit it, I have not been a fan of TechCrunch or Michael Arrington. I found the site (led by Arrington) tended to be bubble-ish on hype, post-bubble-ish cynicism, and FoA biased. That said, NO ONE SHOULD SPIT ON MICHAEL ARRINGTON, much less threaten his life. It disturbed me to read Michael’s post about taking a break, particularly because the final straw took place in Germany — my second home.

I’ve seen some spiteful actions related to Spreadshirt’s founder, Lukasz Gadowski. It rarely impacts us at all, just an annoyance. Luckily, Lukasz, Matthias and the team they recruited built a strong company that can withstand spitting like this. It has made me think several times though… why do people spend time and energy trying to tear something down. What is in it for them? Like with Arrington, what was gained by spitting on him?

I know I’ve done some mean things when I was tired or frustrated. I also know I’ve stopped myself from doing them too by taking a breath and remembering, “mean people suck”. Yes, it is human nature to get frustrated and angry. But we can all take that breath too. Spend that energy building something up, take that responsibility, make things better. It is that simple.

Michael, I hope you come back.

Some people would say to the above that things can’t change. I’m going to give you two examples now of how they have.

David Henderson, former CBS news correspondent, posted a quick note today on how crisis management is changing. I loved his first line:

Web 2.0 has changed crisis response in the world of PR from “announcements” by an organization to a “conversation.”

While it hasn’t taken the world over, as it takes change on both the side of the journalists and corporations, it is happening. In 10 years, crisis management will be nothing like it was for the last 30 years, and the direction towards conversation is a positive direction, because few crises are black and white. There is always more story, and we learn more from conversations than sound bites.

Somewhat similarly, SuperBowl ads are changing to conversations. The water cooler chatter is extending to before the Super Bowl, and the driving force after. I look at what is happening is a transition from brand image implantation to brand experience. As Brian Carr pointed out in his post about “after the ad”, it is becoming less about the brand image being burned in with follow-up ads, and more about the conversations before and after the Super Bowl.

Both of these changes point to conversations with your customers being increasingly important. Social media strategies — real, interactive, aggressive strategies — must be on your list. And this shouldn’t be just to “be there”, but to converse. Who are your examples of companies that do this well? Who is from the old economy who has made the transition?

And to add some fun to the end of this serious post, check out this great watch I found today:
Faceless Watch
Found on Geek & Hype.

What does my shirt say today? What else…


What I've worried about over the holidays? The 2008 Presidential Race

We had an exciting holiday season at Spreadshirt. We hit records and had INCREDIBLE performance across our teams — marketing, production, customer service, and IT that keeps it all humming. Why can’t we have Christmas every few months? It is a real adrenaline rush! But, to the point of this post…

After the Christmas shopping days, we all got a chance to take a breath, and what did I do? I worried. I am not a political activist by any stretch, but I am a voter, and I take it fairly seriously. I felt uninformed, so I spent time reading about the candidates to check what I thought I knew and learn more.

Where did I end up? I don’t feel that I have a candidate for whom I can vote at this point. I’m concerned about our economy, not a steep decline, but a slow, anguished one that keeps us comfy until we hit the rocks. More people are swinging this way too, according to USA Today’s early December poll on important issues for the Presidential race. The war in Iraq was down 14% as an issue and the economy up 23%.

I know I’m more keenly focused on this, but have any of the candidates noticed the state of the US dollar in the world’s economy? The US dollar is at its lowest point in over 10 years compared to the Euro and Canadian dollar. [Note: I want all of these markets to remain strong!] My favorite “commentary” on this status is that US rap star Jay-Z flashes Euros in his latest video, rather than dollars.

I don’t see that any of the candidates get that the economy is the key issue — the war has a different light with a strong economy. Focusing on one issue is hard… remember Carville had to post a note to remind the (original) Clinton campaign about this: “It is the economy, stupid.” From my perspective, it is STILL the economy, stupid.

So on my wish list? To see the candidates answers to the question in the “Lessons in Leadership: The Three-Minute Manager” article from Fortune’s 12/24 edition. (Annoyingly enough, I cannot find a link to this online, but it was a good issue as a whole! My favorite article: 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.) The question posed to three management gurus was “What do you do if you discover a huge loss at your company?” Of course, for the candidates I would change this to “huge loss within your country”. The responses were broken into four categories:

  1. Assess. What is your first move?
  2. Fix. How do you clean up the mess?
  3. Take responsibility. Don’t pass the buck.
  4. Study others. Who’s done it right, and who hasn’t?

I’d like to see the candidates answer as succinctly and clearly as these gurus. Anyone have any pull at any of the campaign HQs?

Don’t worry, this won’t turn into a political blog this season. As I said, I’m not an activist, just thought I’d share what I did over the holidays.

What is on my shirt today? Well, it is a gift I gave for the holiday season:

Whine less
    Wine more

Done in Greg’s hand (1st line) and Santa’s Sleigh (2nd line) fonts, and Burgundy (a.k.a., maroon) flex on a white shirt.

What can I say?

I’ve been struggling. I wrote a post last week that I decided not to post. I had an experience today that I wanted to share. But overall for both, I did not feel it was appropriate to share just yet. I will share these points, but the immediacy is a challenge, as some things still need to shake out. I’m realizing that many things that are pressing on my mind, I just can’t post yet. So, tonight I took a step back, took a deep breath and here are my two experiences over the last week based on that wide-angle lens…

A tool I’m finding useful

A few months ago, the Spreadshirt Vorstand (roughly translated to executive board members … it is a German legal construct), we adopted a principle to follow: ask questions first. The point was to give the presenting person(s) the benefit of understanding their position and reasoning, before going negative. This sounds good, but rarely works in practice. Lukasz and I have done a good job of pushing each other on this principle and it has led to good results. Basically, we have both become comfortable saying, “I think you are breaking our questions first principle.”

What it has done for me… rather than feeling defensive if Lukasz starts with arguments on a point rather than questions, I back up and push for the questions first, as that brings out the issues more clearly… rather than a presupposed solution. Since we’ve both adopted this pretty well, I believe he feels a similar comfort.

Now, we need to be better about this in the Vorstand in general, and it is a concept I’m trying to practice and encourage in the company. So, even if you don’t have this principle agreed in your situation, you can take this approach. As soon as you feel that “defensive” instinct triggered, back up and ask for the questions. Don’t defend your position, until you get those questions and understand the other party’s concerns.

This tool reminds me one of the principles of talking to the press… answer the question you want to answer, not the one asked. This doesn’t mean ignore the question, but turn it into one that makes your key points. Like the above, this “press” principle puts you in control and not trying to back track through logic unfamiliar to you. Back up, start at the source where you are both on the same page. To be clear, to do this, YOU MUST LISTEN.

Something I didn’t do, but wish I had

In Watkins’s 90 Days book, the first point he makes is to promote yourself: Make a mental break from your old job and take charge in your new one. His principles and my comments on this:

  1. Establish a clear breakpoint. I did a rolling start versus a clear breakpoint. Watkins says to identify the ways you have to think and act differently. Maybe this is a good thinking point for the plane tomorrow night? Anyone have experience or advice on this?
  2. Hit the ground running. Done. I run and I feel good milestones have been established weekly, monthly, etc. that follow the corporate priorities. I’m following these and also driving them through the org.
  3. Assess your vulnerabilities. I’m on the fence on this. First, I’d redefine “vulnerabilities” to energy assessments, meaning where do you get energy versus have energy taken. But that’s not the point. I don’t agree with the assessment which puts me weak on Finance and R&D. I agree that I don’t get energy from Finance; I like the analysis, not watching the sausage being made. But I get tons of energy from R&D. If you look at the questions though, one of them that I ranked low was “project management systems” (I don’t get energy from implementing them, but I love them in use!). But the bigger point is, I don’t see that as R&D. OK, so that’s not Watkin’s point… the words. The point is knowing where you are vulnerable, and if I ignore getting project management systems in place because I don’t get energy from them, then I could be vulnerable. (Does this count for #5?!)
  4. Watch out for your strengths. I’m guilty here. I should back up more and spend some of the time I’m working more closely with some teams backing up and communicating the vision and priorities for the company more. This is really critical, even if the vision is the same, people need reassurance that it really is the same, and in general, “it’s the same” doesn’t seem to hit home.
  5. Relearn how to learn. Done. Well, I didn’t need to relearn here. My career has been spent as a learner. It is a strength… oh, darn, according to the above, I guess I should worry about that. I feel like I’ve just hit a circular reference. 😉
  6. Rework your network. Done. I haven’t done this as consciously as Watkins suggests, but it is again something I’ve always done. I’m fortune to have an incredible mentor network — I call them friends — who constantly reveal new skills and insights to me!
  7. Watch out for people who want to hold you back. I suck at this. (I am quite sure that isn’t something a CEO should say. Oh, well.) It has impacted me in my career. I trust people, and if they don’t want to support me, it is their issue not mine. With respect to Mr. Watkins, I’d change this one to… stay true to yourself. Don’t change your beliefs because of your new role, and don’t let the naysayers distract you. Learn from them, but don’t let them distract you from what you know is right. This thought crosses my mind almost daily.

So it is bedtime now, and this brings me to what is on my shirt today…

I’m recruiting!

 Spreadshirt is hiring, and we need great people. What better place to say it than a shirt?

The #1 Question for a New CEO

Based on recent experience, what is the #1 question asked about a new CEO?

“What will change?”

Or specifically in our case: “What will be different now that Jana, the American is in charge, rather than Lukasz, the founder?” Three answers given most often:

  1. I’ll add more process (sometimes said in the negative sense, “I’ll add bureaucracy”)
  2. I’ll be more US market focused (including will you move the company to the US)
  3. English will be our corporate language

These aren’t my answers, but the ones given most often from what I’ve read and heard… sometimes created or assumed by an outsider, sometimes implied or directly said by an insider.

So, what are my answers?

  1. De-centralize management. About a month ago, Lukasz asked me if I would have done a project the way it was being done. I told him no. He asked why I “let that happen”. I explained why I believed the project was within the tolerance levels of “right”, and that as a leader my role was to set the end goal, give guidelines as how we work as a company, and then support the team in getting to the goal themselves. Guidelines are often expressed as process, so yes, likely this will include some process.
  2. Take us beyond Web 2.0. While I am excited about the North American market due to both its t-shirt culture and giddiness over self expression, what I like is our opportunity beyond the Web2.0 leaders into the mass market in all of our markets. Based on the company’s success, it is often overlooked that we have an incredible growth opportunity here in Germany, in France, in the UK, in the US, in all of our markets. It is our turn to cross Geoffrey Moore’s chasm from the early adopters to the early majority.
  3. Say no more often. De-centralizing management and crossing chasms is a lot of work. We need to focus and deliver with exceptional quality across our priorities in order to succeed to the level available to us. To focus, we need to do less… and to do that, we need to say no. So, yes, perhaps the amount of English will increase… by the word “no”. 😉

So, what is on my shirt today? For some reason “Hazy Shade of Winter”, written by Paul Simon, resonates with me when thinking about our current stage. The song goes from “look around, leaves are brown” to “look around, grass is high”. It is easy to see the brown leaves as we go through the process of change, but we need to stay focused on where we are headed… high grass, ripe fields.

See what’s become of me

This would have been a great shirt for my 20th high school reunion this Summer! 🙂

P.S. Some folks were confused about the whole “90 days” thing. I didn’t mean I would blog EVERY day, but I will blog more than once per week and discuss directly the things that are happening during this change. Oh, and feel free to ask me questions… that you want to know about during this change. I’m game for Q&A!

Starting with the obvious…

The first question people ask you when you make a change is “why”. In starting my new role as CEO of Spreadshirt, the two questions folks had for me:

  • But, I thought you were happy at Intuit?
  • Ummmm… t-shirts?

First, my commentary on the questions. As a culture, we question – rather than support – change. We need to work on this. Provide counsel and guidance, while being happy for those with the courage to try something different. More than nine times out of ten, they will grow from it. What do you think?

And, what are the answers to those questions?

  1. I was extremely happy at Intuit. Intuit is an amazing company… a combination of entrepreneurial vibe and operational expertise. QuickBase is growing like crazy; and the team is outstanding. The Innovation Lab was leading not only at the company, but in the industry; and the team inspired me every day. I wasn’t considering leaving, and I told Spreadshirt that for several months… until one day, I realized that I had done my job at Intuit. The kind of early-stage audacious problems I get energy from working on… they were solved. I realized that I might be turning down a great opportunity, not because the teams weren’t ready to carry the torches we had lit together, but because I wasn’t ready to leave. Not a good reason, IMHO.
  2. What about those t-shirts? I can’t tell you. Really, I can’t tell you more about the secret sauce here at Spreadshirt. We aren’t ready just yet. What I can tell you is that:
    • I had already decided I wanted my next gig to be with a company that produced a physical product. After 15+ years in the bits-and-bytes business, it was time for a change.
    • After spending time with Lukasz, Matthias, and Michael, I wanted Spreadshirt to succeed even more. And, my skills seemed complementary to theirs.
    • Closely related to the above, quality wasn’t just an adjective to this team, but a key value.
    • I missed being in an international setting. Since ’97, I worked in some capacity on global aspects of a product or company.
    • I can wear t-shirts to every event and it is appropriate!
    • …But, seriously, this is about more than the shirt itself, but the self-expression capabilities provided. I like the simplicity of a t-shirt being the vehicle for that.

What’s “on a shirt” on this topic? To support big change, how about:

You can’t jump a 20-foot chasm in two 10-foot leaps.