But how do you feel about your own performance?

Something that has been bouncing around my head since an interview during the Olympics by Matt Lauer with Bode Miller. (I think this is the interview, but since I’m in Germany now, I can’t verify.) Matt asked Bode about a comment that he made regarding the gold not mattering to him. Matt was pushing about whether this was true, and from what I remember if it was disrespectful to the gold or not. Bode made a great point, and I relate to what he said. He does not judge himself by whether he wins the gold or not, it is how he performs compared to how he believes he should have performed.

It is easy to say that Bode is pretending to be above the medal. It isn’t that though. He values the gold, but he values his own judgement of his performance more. No one knows better than you how you could have performed. You know the conditions of the hill, better than you think, even. Yes, there are things out of your control, but that’s part of the sport. It is how you handle yourself on the hill. Did you respond the way you could, or did you hit snooze? This is exactly what Bode meant. Only he knows when he’s performed to his potential … 1 gold, 8 golds, or none. Do you regularly think about how you performed by your own standards?

I do and I find it frustrating. Bode has me on his Zen approach to this. What I love about it is that I do think it holds me to a higher standard overall. I know better than anyone what I can accomplish. However, as Bode points out, winning or losing takes on a different scope. When there is a mismatch between your beliefs on performance and the world’s, it is unsatisfying. Either you feel not worthy of praise because you could have done better, or you feel cheated because you did your best, and it wasn’t recognized.

So, what is the take away? Judge yourself by your own standards, but make sure you hold those standards high. Benchmark yourself with others, still staying true to you.

And why do you want to do it? Because ultimately for you, you do know best. Trust yourself, and challenge yourself.

Be Bode!

So what’s on my shirt today? This is from the Adam Bryant’s interview of Wolters Kluwer CEO, Nancy McKinstry, in the Corner Office column of the New York Times.

Every day, advance the ball


I have left many posts site in my drafts folder, but I can’t let this day go by without supporting Blog Action Day. The purpose of Blog Action Day is to bring focus to an issue that matters to all of us by putting the power of blogging behind one topic. This year’s topic is Poverty.

I’m not an expert on poverty, and haven’t been an anti-poverty advocate other than occasional donations and volunteer work. As I was thinking about this post, I did what I normally do when I start thinking about a topic: I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to get a better sense of the topic based on definitions. That’s what drove the subject line and the structure of this post.

I have to admit that I felt a bit of unease and somewhat frustration… why haven’t I done more? As I thought through this more over the last month, I remembered something my grandmother, Zella Beattie, used to say to me: Use your talents.

It sounds simple, too simple or broad for impact. Aren’t we always using our talents… except when we get lazy? What she meant though is along the lines of what Marcus Buckingham is teaching regarding focusing on your strengths. This leads to the question of what are your strengths, and how can the regularly be used to help the state of poverty, in your city, country, continent, or world — as part of your daily life, along with special actions, like donations and volunteering — official or unofficial.

So, as a high-tech executive, where are my strengths best used to act against poverty? Here are my top 5:

  • Job creation. A great deal is reported in the news about layoffs, what isn’t reported is job creation. The most thorough statistics I found are from the Small Business Administration in the US, reporting employment across companies from 1990-2005. In only two years of that 15 year span has there been a decrease in net employment numbers. Remarkable record. I am a business builder — less poor.
  • Training. I believe in focusing a business on skilled work — anything else possible should be outsourced, as it isn’t how you will win. Skilled work also means you need to train employees, making an investment in them. Training ==> higher productivity ==> better margins ==> more money to invest back into the business. With a focus on training, along with increasing your business value, you are increasing the overall wealth of the population by adding more skill — less deficiency.
  • Vendor relationships. Understand your vendors in the same way you understand your customers. What are their goals and how do you fit in? Select those vendors that are important to your business and spend the time building the relationship. Together, you will find efficiencies pretty easily, and you will also find new business opportunities regularly. Being strategic about your vendors means a healthier, stronger business — less scarcity.
  • Community action. When it comes to community action that supports your business, my hero is Danny Meyer, who started Union Square Cafe and has turned it into a very successful restaurant and catering group in NYC — one of the toughest places in the world to succeed with a restaurant. He’s had a community-action approach with every restaurant with an eye to the community impact. I highly recommend his book, Setting the Table, to learn more about a community-focus for your business — less destitution in your area.
  • Mentoring. As an executive, realistically, you can impact 1-3 companies at most. But you have a multiplier in the people that you provide mentoring. Mentoring can be formal or informal. Intuit had an incredible internship program that was designed in a way that increased mentoring opportunities. I have wanted to start a similar program via a network of start-ups and growth businesses to provide strength in numbers. Thanks to Blog Action Day for bringing this back to the forefront of my mind. I believe that through mentoring the multiplier effect will keep that job creation number high. Go out and inspire others for less poverty!

Thanks for listening. Writing this post has helped me think about some new ways I can have an impact on poverty in my everyday life. I thank the folks at Blog Action Day for encouraging this type of thought exercise, as I know it will lead to actions. Please take some time to visit their site, as there is a wealth of resources and ideas on what you can do to help!

On my shirt today, in honor of my grandmother:

Use your talents.

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.

Adam says I'm dusty… and what a CEO should be doing

Adam’s right, it has been too long since I posted, so the blog is dusty. (Jenny, I cannot believe you haven’t nudged me too. Are you turning patient?) Speaking of what I’ve been doing, well, I’ll answer by covering the question that Om Malik asked me, when we were recently chatting in San Fran: “What should I be doing as a CEO anyway?”

If you don’t know Om, a talented and respected writer, a year or so ago struck out to start his own media group. He’s done well, even running out of ad inventory (go Om!). And he’s now not looking at himself and a handful of freelancers putting this together, but employees and larger responsibilities to partners and advertisers. Om knows well what CEO’s do, as he’s been talking with them and writing about them at Fortune and Business 2.0 for years, but the problem comes from the big grains (vision, principles, foundation) to the small grains (hours and minutes of time). Om was thinking more about the latter… whas he going the right things on the daily and hourly basis to meet his goals… and the big question… what was he missing?

Here’s my answer, based on my experience:

  • 30% should be about customers+prospective customers and their use of your product with your team.
  • 25% of your time should be with customers or key partners.
  • 10% should be spent coaching and mentoring your team.
  • 10% should be with your business’s numbers.
  • 25% should be spent working on tomorrow’s vision and innovation… which includes recruiting and org work!

This can flux a bit, but what’s important is evaluating yourself at the end of each week. How did you do? Where did you spend your time? Was it on your critical areas? What impact did you have in those areas?

I learned this approach to time management when I was working in sales. My brilliant husband taught me the principle of 1/3 of your time prospecting, 1/3 of your time moving deals through the pipeline, and 1/3 of your time closing. And yes, I need to practice it more myself!

What do you think of these time allotments? Think I’ve missed or underrepresented something?

Today, what is on my shirt:

       You have
(make each great)

What can make you feel like a CEO?

Being asked by the BBC for a response to allegations about supporting sweatshop labor through our supply chain made me feel like a CEO. I’m not going to dwell on that story here; you can read about what’s occupied a good chunk of my time since Sunday in my note to our community on the situation. What I will dwell on here is that feeling, because I told you I would share these things. I described it to a friend tonight as walking a tightrope without a net but with:

  • the confidence of knowing what’s right (Bennett would call this True North),
  • the reality that “what’s right” doesn’t always win,
  • a fear that the group misrepresenting facts could be the one you are trusting, (would they really lie to your face?)
  • an unsure audience watching every move,
  • some nay sayers hoping for a fall,
  • the press looking for a hook (and sometimes taking the bait without investigating), and
  • a family (our team) looking for a successful end.

The first and last points create the net for me. The rest of it makes the holes in the net bigger. While it isn’t over, as we still have more investigation to do, what makes the holes feel smaller is a comment like the one I received this afternoon from a team member, Lindsay Patross who said, “You know, we don’t talk enough about why we are proud to work for Spreadshirt. This answer and what’s behind it is one of the reasons I’m proud to work for Spreadshirt.” That “what’s behind it” is my first point, and her comment is the last.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my shirt for today…

Inquiry is
fatal to certainty
(a quote from Will Durant)

I wish more reporters practiced inquiry, like the BBC did. Because of our core values, I’m happy to answer the questions… the questions just need to be asked.

Trust, Europeans, CEOs, advice, PowerPoint and dog commands

A 2006 European study covering “who you trust” (pdf) rates CEOs as the least trusted source on a product or company information — seriously dead last in every country polled. Ouch!

I have a thought each for CEOs and those not trusting them, and I want your feedback on these newly formed thoughts. Both were spurred into action by my respected friend, Jenny Spadafora, who writes a thinking person’s blog, 12frogs. Thanks, Jenny!

For CEOs… find points of overlap

As I licked my personal wound of feeling mistrusted simply based on three letters behind my name, Jenny challenged me, “How many CEOs do you trust?” My fingers started typing names, which I erased and then typed, “I don’t know them well enough to say ‘trust’.” She continued — pointing out something we saw time and time again as we visited customers at Intuit — people trust people who are “like them”. And… most people don’t feel CEOs are like them.

My advice for CEOs and would-be CEOs (and anyone that wants to lead):

Get to know your customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders.

From my expeirence, the points of overlap where they see places where you are like them increase interaction quality and more trust will develop — a virtuous cycle.

Quick example, last week, our Customer Service team brought a Dilbert cartoon to me that made fun of a new CEO around an issue that is sensitive here (location). The team felt I was like them enough to appreciate a cartoon, even if it could have been considered somewhat at my expense. I was proud to have gotten to that point in only a couple of months with my being at their office only 1/3 of that time.

Do y’all have examples of this type of “points of overlap” theory working to increase trust?

For those wanting to trust… seek first to understand

Yes, CEOs should hold themselves to a high bar and continue to raise it as they meet their objectives. They should not be scoundrels. That said, the consumer of the information and actions of the CEO should hold themselves to a higher standard. Remember two things:

  1. When you see a dumb decision, there really are often factors you don’t know about, can’t see, or even, can’t understand.
  2. Recall that global optimization (across a corporation for example) often does cause local stupidity (in your department or life for example).

You shouldn’t excuse dumb and stupid acts, bud do raise your own bar in working to understand.

How did Jenny get me here to this point? She wrote an exceptional post on assault with a deadly PowerPoint file. (Please read it because she’s right.) Her first point is about realizing that the PowerPoint is not the novel, but the Cliffs Notes. As an information consumer, either when looking at a PowerPoint, hearing a presentation, or questioning a CEOs actions, understand that you are getting the Cliffs Notes version and there is more to the story. Seek first to understand… then go on the attack if you need to, but make darn sure you’ve done step 1. Hold yourself to that standard.

What do you think? Think these two points can help us get to a better place? Does it matter that CEOs rank last in trustworthiness, or am I just being sensitive?

I’m going with a pun for my shirt today. I’m a word geek, so I have a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary online. In thinking about this post, I looked up trust, and was amused to find that the second definition was:

b. Imperative: an instruction given to a dog, requiring it to wait for a reward, usu. in a begging position with a tidbit placed on its nose.

So, with that in mind for a definition of trust, I’m:

Waiting for my reward

My (business) hero

Lukasz and I had a wandering conversation as we were both working way too late Saturday night. As we talked about business goals, it intertwined with personal goals and he asked who my hero was. I said Herb Kelleher… clarifying a bit “on the business side”. My parents and grandmothers are heroes to me on the whole person side. And, many more people who have inspired me, I would add to my hero list, but before I make this a list of truly awesome people (note to self… another post idea), let me get to Herb.

In case you don’t know him, Herb is the founder of Southwest Airlines, which is the largest US carrier in terms of total system passengers, particularly remarkable considering the other major carriers have international operations included. What I find amazing is how he built the top performing business in one of the most established, heavily unionized businesses around with the industry fighting him at every step… and kept a sense a humor through it all. Now, I love Ben & Jerry’s — having a tremendous respect for what they did and how they ran their business — but they were selling premium ice cream, a nascent industry at the time they started. Southwest has the same feeling and spirit that Ben & Jerry’s did, and Southwest is an AIRLINE… stodgy, old, grumpy, set in their ways, competitive, etc.

How did Herb do it? In my opinion it actually boils down to one thing… not one simple thing, but one thing. I’ll use Herb’s own words to explain it:

I keep telling them that the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles in the competitive world because, obviously, you can replicate the tangibles. You can get the same airplane. You can get the same ticket counters. You can get the same computers. But the hardest thing for a competitor to match is your culture and the spirit of your people and their focus on customer service because that isn’t something you can do overnight and it isn’t something you can do without a great deal of attention every day in a thousand different ways.

I’ve bolded what I think is the crux of this statement. This is what I aspire to do:

  • Separate the tangible from the intangible (harder than it sounds)
  • Focus on people and customer service
  • Inspire them in accomplishing their job every day

On my shirt today:

I work for you

Reminding me that as a leader, I work for my employees, customers and stakeholders… one of whom I’m likely standing with during every minute of my work day.

Related books I recommend:

Power to the people, or only certain people?

From mass media to juried art to “me media”, who determines quality or beauty, and how, in each of these areas? Last week, I was at Guidewire Group’s (a.k.a., Chris Shipley’s) new Fall Leadership Forum. In a user-created content session, the hot debate was about “quality” going down as more users contributed. Some people held a strong view that moderation (by other users or experts) was necessary; others that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”… anything else would be elitism.

This reminded me of a debate on Fast Company a few months ago, “Anyone can be a designer — and should be“, and a post from my colleague Adam on Threadless and the “burden” of their popularity. Of course, this is an age old debate on who should be the arbiter of beauty.

I have to admit, I’m surprised that this debate is going on in these circles. These folks are on emerging edge, and, IMHO, this debate feels like we are going backwards… not appreciating and embracing that we now have the Internet, which can help deliver true “me media”… whether I want my “me” delivered based on what the masses want, what experts see, or from my set of defined judges. Why don’t we talk about how to provide the tools and capabilities to let people find their own definition of beauty quickly? Who cares if there are lots of choices, if I can find “me” quickly?

We should inspire and support people in creating things they themselves find are more and more beautiful. And, then, if they are the only ones seeing the beauty… what’s wrong with that? I think on my shirt today would be this related question:

Do you ever doubt your doubts?

So, what do you think? Where are we going with all of this user-created content? Have you thought through your position on this? And if so, did you question your position?

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.