Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tripping Over Our Blind Spots

(A guest post by Jill Chiappe, in my opinion, the best executive coach in the business.)

The most common question I get as an executive coach is, “Can you fix him?” (or her), usually pointing to some other executive. It’s an interesting question, as it tells me immediately that the person believes that something “over there” is causing his or her problem. Interestingly, the problem never is “over there.” 

Photo-1414604582943-2fd913b3cb17A perfect example:  A CEO of a mid-sized SaaS company hired me to review his executive team and give an assessment of strengths and weaknesses of each person and the whole team. He was interested in growing the company by 25% in the upcoming year to prepare it for sale and wanted to make sure he had the right team in place. I asked if he would also be getting a review himself and he looked surprised. I explained that any direction-setting or leadership initiatives would begin with him. He agreed. I asked him if he felt he had any blind spots in achieving his goals. He answered, wisely, ‘If I knew about them, they wouldn’t be blind spots.’ Exactly. He ended up getting a review, and he also sold the company a year and a half later for his expected price.

That’s the problem with blind spots—by definition we can’t see them. And in leadership, they can be fatal. At times, it is just those things we don’t want to see that we stumble over later. It’s why executive coaching and external reviews have become so popular over the years. (According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the number of companies using executive coaches has grown by 2000% since 1996.) Sometimes you need an outside look to uncover the most important issues, obstacles or opportunities. It used to be that coaching was viewed as a way to improve “problem” people. Today, coaching is a perk for senior executives. 94% of Fortune 500 companies provide some kind of executive coaching at their highest levels*.

But what about that “problem person” on the executive team? Can coaching “fix” him or her? In about 80% of cases, the answer is yes. In the other 20%, the person is simply not coachable. That is a determination that a good executive coach can give you. I have had to deliver the news of an “uncoachable” executive more than a few times. But it’s better to know up front rather than wonder and wander. For a longer answer about whether someone is coachable, I’ve devoted an entire chapter (Chapter 4) to it in my book Be Coachable which is available here.

In short, about the best advice I can give any executive is to first get a good assessment of himself and his team. I recommend a 360° assessment as the best way to uncover blind spots. Read more about that here.  A good assessment will so accurately target blind spots that the road to improvement becomes plain as day. That’s the beauty of uncovering a blind spot—no more tripping over the things you can’t see.

 

Inside the John Ive bubble

Apple_logo_black.svgInteresting article in the New Yorker about this fascinating (and genius) designer.

Jobs visited the design studio and, as Ive recalled it, said, “Fuck, you’ve not been very effective, have you?” This was a partial compliment. Jobs could see that the studio’s work had value, even if Ive could be faulted for not communicating its worth to the company. During the visit, Ive said, Jobs “became more and more confident, and got really excited about our ability to work together.” That day, according to Ive, they started collaborating on what became the iMac. Soon afterward, Apple launched its “Think Different” campaign, and Ive took it as a reminder of the importance of “not being apologetic, not defining a way of being in response to what Dell just did.” He went on, “My intuition’s good, but my ability to articulate what I feel was not very good—and remains not very good, frustratingly. And that’s what’s hard, with Steve not being here now.” (At Jobs’s memorial, Ive called him “my closest and my most loyal friend.”)

Worth a read, here.

Better be careful what you write to your politician

UntitledJeb Bush, in an effort to be transparent, has released all of his emails from his governership of Florida.

Really, all of his emails. That includes detailed information, including the sender’s email address. 

I remember a few times emailing him, and getting a personal response. Impressive (I’m sure I’m in there somewhere in this huge warehouse of data, but I’m still trying to download all of it).

And it’s clear now that putting “Confidentiality notice” on your email won’t do much, at least when you’re emailing a politician…

Google makes it easy to move 

How can you make it simple and easy to move a customer of a competitor over to your product? At my last company, we spent a lot of time working on code to easily migrate customers over to our platform, with huge success.

So, suitable admiration for Google’s simple tutorial on how to move Firefox’s default search engine to Google. Smart, simple ways to move customers from a competitor are always worthy of a hat tip.

Grow fast or die slow

Inevitably, a downturn will hit our economy, the normal business cycle likely to be abnormally exacerbated by the Fed’s aggressive monetary policies.

Whatever. Just be prepared. I’ve had some of my most extraordinary successes while there were big economic downturns.

How will you be prepared to weather the storm? Great companies survive (and often prosper). Mediocre companies succumb. Stay as debt free as possible, keep cash on hand, and continue to grow your topline. Growth is key, as my colleague Mike Rogers outlines in growing fast or dying slow.

Websites these days are so hip… and boring.

Is it just me, or is this hip new style of web pages (all on one page, big banner on top, blocks of graphics going down, numerous little cute graphical stat counters) getting to be more than a little tiring?

It seems that every valley startup has a formula – get this type of hip website, raise a seed round, try to build a product, try to raise an A round, then go bust, then start a new company with exactly the same type of hip website…

What is the new new thing? Certainly not this look… 

Another lesson from the “don’t screw your customers” rulebook

Intuit has suffered brutally from users (and competitors) over a recent change in TurboTax. The company removed support for Schedule D (capital gains) in their latest Deluxe version, forcing users to shell out extra money to buy the Premium version.

User backlash was breathtaking — over 1,500 negative reviews on Amazon alone, not to mention social media. What’s surprising is that this whole backlash started in November of last year. Intuit is only now formally apologizing and issuing refunds. But the apology is one of those “we’re sorry we didn’t do enough to communicate the change”.

There are three parts of this issue that really bother me: a) why did Intuit do this in the first place? Anyone who has any experience in this business knows the danger of downgrading features from an “upgrade”. Then, b) what the heck took them so long? It’s now late January, and user rage started in November. And c) why not do a real apology, not blame it on “not doing a good enough job of communicating”.  It’s like a husband saying “sorry, honey, I am with another woman now, I’m sorry I didn’t do a good enough job of communication that with you.”  Idiotic.

The lessons are obvious. Don’t screw your customers. Instead, create a culture of delivering more than is promised. The next version should have been better and more awesome than the previous, not a downgrade. And, if you screw up, get on it fast, and be completely forthright. Take the blame, apologize, fix it and don’t do it again.

Ironically, some of the best opportunities to shine are when you screw up. It’s how you handle it that counts. Instead, Intuit is mealy-mouthing their way through this debacle.

One party is happy, though: H&R Block. And so there’s final lesson: when your competitor screws up, jump on it hard and fast as a great opportunity to capture fleeing customers. And treat them awesomely!

tumblr_static_trainwreck_phrases

Runaware — live online software demos

A year ago, I took on the role of executive chairman of Runaware, the leading producer of live online software demos (“test drives”).  This system allows a software company to bypass having to ask users to download a software program; instead, the user simply runs the demo software through a Runaware TestDrive session. Some of Runaware’s customers include Dell, Sage Software, and SAP.

It’s been an exciting year as we’ve revamped the entire technology from top to bottom, and created a truly world-class demonstration environment.

One of the problems software companies have in demoing their software is being able to guide the user through the process of trialing the software.  In short, users don’t always know where to click, and what to focus on.  So, we developed “Walk Through Guides“, tailored environments that walk the user through the various features of the product being demoed.  This has been a huge success.

I’m still working on a number of other board positions, including being on the board of BlueStripe Software, and StopBadware (originally, a joint-effort by Google and Harvard to make the internet safer, now a thriving community on its own).

Problems installing Nito Smart Installer on original Apple TV (silver)

I had a bit of effort to get this to work, so I’ll share my findings.

I installed FireCore atvflash on my original silver Apple TV.  But couldn’t get Nito Smart Installer to work.  I kept getting an error message to the effect that “mhelper has the wrong permissions or owners to work properly”.

I tried the recommended solution, but no help. After some messing around and googling, my solution was to do an installation of Nito TV through SSH, as explained here.

Basically, it’s beyond easy.

Open SSH (I use Putty).
ssh -1 [email protected]
wget http://nitosoft.com/nitoTVInstaller_tt.zip
unzip nitoTVInstaller_tt.zip
cd “nitoTV Take Three”
chmod 755 installme
sudo ./installme

Reboot the box.  Just type “sudo reboot” from your SSH session.
[If you have trouble getting to your Apple TV box (which should be accessible as AppleTV.local), just use the IP address of the Apple TV box directly.  You can get the IP address by checking your wifi router.  The user name and pwd for the box is always “frontrow”]
Then, go into the Nito TV menu, install Smart Install.  It may fail once.  Just try it again.  It should work fine.
Alex

I’m joining the board of StopBadware

I’m quite honored to have been invited to join the board of StopBadware, the non-profit organization originally founded as a joint effort by the Berkman Center at Harvard and Google as a way to make the internet safer.  It’s been spun off as a separate non-profit and is a thriving hub of security information and action.

I’m joining other board members Vint Cerf of Google, Esther Dyson , Michelle Barret of Paypal, Philippe Courtot of Qualys, Eric Davis of Google, Brett McDowell of Paypal and StopBadware executive director Max Weinstein.

I look forward to working with this stellar team to help make all of us safer on the internet!