Leadership & Working (by Iain)

This was first posted January 26, 2016

Last week I attended an excellent workshop on “Compassionate Leadership”. The whole point of the workshop was to have a discussion on what “Compassionate Leadership” meant to us. It was very interesting as we started with compassion being all “soft, nice, and comfortable” and finished up with compassion being “a dance between soft/nice/comfortable and hard/powerful/uncomfortable”.

Those discussions reminded me of leaderships books I’ve read, and found useful, in the last few years. These books all speak to the dance between “soft/nice/comfortable and hard/powerful/uncomfortable”.

Leadership BS (by Jeffrey Pfeffer)

This is a great book because Pfeffer lays out a very realistic description of the workplace. It is not a “pretty” description and this is why it is so useful. There is a lot of discussion around the interest of an individual versus the interest of the group. He notes empirical evidence that modern day leaders always focus on the individual first (i.e. themselves).

I wrote more here — https://hnorth.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/thank-you-jeffrey-pfeffer-leadership-bs-is-awesome/

The Hard Thing About Hard Things (by Ben Horowitz)

This is a book written around Ben Horowitz’s blog. He was an early Netscape employee and is a Silicon Valley legend.

The reason I’ve loved this blog is that Ben talks about really hard things like “Demoting Your Friend”, “Firing An Executive”, “Managing Yourself”, etc. In most cases he describes the problem as — we got to this place because you ( the CEO ) messed up and not the employee.

He talks a lot about why CEOs make mistakes. For example, one of my favourite blog posts from Ben Horowitz notes that if CEOs were tested for CEO skills the average score would be 22%. That is “CEOs suck” and then he goes on to discuss why that is.

What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology (Ben Horowitz)

If CEOs were graded on a curve, the mean on the test would be 22 out of a 100. This kind of mean can be psychologically challenging for a straight A student. It is particularly challenging, because nobody tells you that the mean is 22.

More here — http://www.bhorowitz.com/what_s_the_most_difficult_ceo_skill_managing_your_own_psychology

So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World ( by Margaret J. Wheatley)

This book describes how we can do our good work with dedication, energy, discipline, and joy by consciously choosing a new role for ourselves, that of warriors for the human spirit.

It is quite a “dark read” in that Marg Wheatley really digs into the dark corners of our working lives to set the tone for the challenge. Her picture of working is even darker than Jeffrey Pfeffer’s. (Whew) Again she speaks the truth of our working day challenges. That really helps. I’ve found the concept of a “Warrior For The Human Spirit” to be very useful.

The “good-reads” reviews are very good too. – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13590007-so-far-from-home

This book was recommended to me by Bonni. Thank You.


This is a very easy read for “Social Innovation” leaning people and a very hard book to read for “Entrepreneurship” leaning people ( like myself ). I’ve persevered and have come to understand him. I went to a talk by him, read the book, then mind-mapped the book, and took immense pressure from my daughter to understand him.

I really like that he talks about “acting like a group movement”. It is fascinating. I think all of you would like this book.

Here is the first chapter [link]

Startup Boards is an Awesome Resource for Young Startup CEOs ( and those in Training )

Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors: Brad Feld, Mahendra Ramsinghani is a very useful book for young entrepreneurs and their advisors. I really like that Feld & Ramsighani spend a lot of time defining the roles and boundaries of the people involved in a board. Most importantly they describe the roles & boundaries as a Startup evolves from two guys in a garage, to early stage Startup, to the Revenue Phase, and the Growth Phase.

Early Companies Need “Customer Development” Advisors

I find that most early entrepreneurs want to meet VCs and finance people and I really like that the authors recommend that finance is more important later on. Yes you need money, but find something to sell first. Focus your advisory time on past CEO’s, Customer Discovery, and Product Development people. Overall the key is that the board is for your companies development, so be organized about what you need from your board and advisors as you evolve.

Board composition Brad Feld

Action For Young Entrepreneurs

One take away is that a Young-CEO-in-Training can begin preparing her personal board of directors right now. Her early mentors will help her make personal career decisions and later when her responsibility grows she will already have had experience reaching out to more formal helpers when she needs it. Asking for feedback and help is “hard”. Learning to develop that skill is important and you should start “right now”. Organize your own personal board now. Be disciplined. Learn how to develop meaningful relationships to improve ones performance and not search for “cheerleaders”.

Lots of Support Available Online

I like that they authors leverage blog posts from prolific bloggers so that readers can dig in after reading the book. There is lots from Fred Wilson, Ben Horowitz, Steve Blank, Mark Suster, Noam Wasserman, and more.


I like how the authors cover, and justify, the role of a lawyer in an early stage startup. In the beginning she’s likely to do little more than keep the minutes, but that involvement will pay dividends later.

Quibbles / Reminders

I really like this book and yet I often have to remind myself that the authors are VCs and that most bloggers on this topic are VCs. This reminder comes about because the authors make a strong recommendation for non-financial experts on ones board and thus I’m looking for more coverage of this “non-VC-voice” that they are recommending. It’s great that they’ve included Steve Blank. A list of other non-financial experts would be great, going beyond that would definitely be beyond the scope of the book. I’m thinking of examples along the lines of problems brought up by Eric Ries’ “lesson’s learned blog” back in 2008 when he was a CTO. The Product Managers Lament, Engineering Managers Lament, and What Does a CTO actually do? are items that early CEOs need to have sorted out.


Recommending “The Founders Dilemmas” by Noam Wasserman

I’ve been recommending The Founder’s Dilemma by Noam Wasserman a lot these days. I like how Wasserman takes a his empirical study of 10,000-ish startups and looks for patterns.

The conclusion: People problems are the leading cause of failure in startups.

The patterns he focusses on are:

  • Career Dilemmas – Should I found? When? Why? With Whom?
  • Wealth vs Control Dilemmas – The finding that drives this is On average, the founders who keep the most control over their company make the least amount of money.
  • Founding Team Dilemmas – Solo vs Team? Friends? Roles? Rewards ( Equity Splits and Compensation), Hiring, Investors, CEO-Succession

Many of us have a few unique experiences in each of these areas, but none of us have this huge array of experiences. It is good to see that we’re not alone in our experiences and that there are other choices to make.

The Wealth vs Control Dilemma is a curious one to me. It really grabbed me when I read Eric Ries’ review of this book last year. It made me think of PMC-Sierra founder Greg Aasen right away. I always thought his “give up control” strategy was unique and only worked for him. But turns out, “it’s a thing”. A good “thing”.

The only “quibble” that I’ve found so far with this book is that “It’s not a practitioner book”. It’s a data driven study of startups. That’s not bad, just is what it is. How one chooses to “interpret” the data always creates some “tension”. It’s also “too logical”, if that makes any sense.

More Stuff

What Does Marketing Do? ( In Theory ) Make Selling Superfluous

Revisiting Drucker’s definition of Marketing — What Does Marketing Do? (Part 1) {2006}. Still Useful.

Here are the highlights.


Let’s start by referring to Drucker. We get the following definition from pages 20 & 21 in “Essential Drucker“.

There will always, one can assume, be the need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superflous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.

Here are some more supporting points from those pages:

  • Business has 2 basic functions: marketing and innovation.
  • Despite the emphasis on marketing and the marketing approach, marketing is still rhetoric rather than reality in far too many organizations.
  • True marketing does not ask, “What do we want to sell?”. It asks, “What does the customer want to buy?”
  • It does not say, “This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer is looking for, values, and needs.
  • Indeed, selling and marketing are antithetical rather than synonymous or even complementary.

Discussion — Overall, this is a very tall order.

How many products/services fit this bill? The product that comes to mind quickly is iPod. The iPod, and its ecosystem, illustrate just how difficult it is to get a product to sell itself. It’s iPod, iTunes Player, iTunes Store ( they solved legal DRM problem and got music industry on board), an O/S for multimedia, the CD ripper/burner, and more details. It’s taken ~ 5+ years to get going on all cylinders. It was obvious in the early years that people wanted music on the net ’cause Napster was such a huge thing. But making iPod mainstream, that is a work of pure genius (and loads of hard work). It was a good idea that was refined, refined, refined, and is still being refined. It’s like a non-stop loop of listen & react. ( I think the Japanese have a word for this “kaizen”)

Serious Stuff – The Burnout Zone

I wrote this “popular” post on “burnout” way back in 1Q2007. I Forget What 8 Was For? – What the !@#$ Does Marketing Do? I was amazed how many people spoke to me about it back then.

Sadly … Still very relevant. Here is some “burnout slideware” on the topic.

Full Text of “I Forget What 8 Was For? – What the !@#$ Does Marketing Do?”

I’d like to forget that I’ve experienced the following “pre-cursors to burnout” events too many times in the competitive technology industry.

  • Getting dizzy spells during a meeting.
  • Watching a colleague fall asleep during the weekly update.
  • Watching a customer fall asleep during a meeting.
  • Forgetting a close colleagues name.
  • Forgetting a bosses name.
  • Forgetting how I got to this meeting room.
  • Getting dizzy spells on the drive home.
  • Not being able to get out of bed for 2-3 days after a big conference.

These events are a way of life, they happen all the time. The unwritten rule of thumb is “Just play thru the pain like pro athletes” do. But in my reality the tech industry is “burnout central”. I see it too often. We forget that Pro Athletes don’t play everyday and the ones who have long careers take care of themselves very well.

Anedotal Evidence ( tech is a high risk environment ) — I know a handful of burnout victims whose symptoms were so serious that they had to make significant career changes. Most of them were marketers, none were VP and above. Not a large number, but depending on how I count, this is anywhere from 20 to 50% of some job categories. Note that these percentages include only the ones who have confided in me. Few people like to advertise that they can’t cut it anymore.

It is interesting that most statistics that I’ve read talk about this executive (VP+) dividing line as well. The most common explanation is that executives spend a lot more time reviewing the the “pros & cons” of projects, they have a lot more information, they are usually the first to “buy in” to programs, they are on the hook to “sell the program” downstream, and generally have more control of their environment. This does make some sense, but I’m still not sure about this explanation.

Being a “poster child” for burn-out has also put me in a position to constantly hear anecdotal comments from friends and colleagues all over the industry. I hear the following phrase too often, “there is sooo much of what you have in the valley”. These numbers are the same everywhere. I’m guessing that every tech worker has had a few scares along the way.

It’s Not Gonna Happen to Me ( wrong ) — I’m not saying that everyone should go out an quit their job now. I’m saying that you’ve got to be aware that you work in a high risk environment. You’ve got look at the example of Pro Athletes — take care of yourself if you want a long career. If you start having symptoms act on them quickly. Don’t let them slide. Better yet — be proactive.

It’s good to know how you react to stress, so that you can act on it. This is difficult, not everyone reacts to stress in the same way. Some people develop more physical ailments like rashes, back pain, numbness, etc. Another indicator is how you make decisions. Most managers take a test to see how they make decisions under stress. I forget the name, but its the one where the results are plotted on “triangle graph” – blue in top left, red in top right, and green on the bottom. You mark the point where you are with little stress and the point where you are under lots of stress. The “vector” then describes you under stress.

If you have a “long vector” it is relatively simple for you, and others, to determine when you’re are under stress. Unfortunately for me I am one of those people whose dots sit on top of one another — The Hub guy — I’m an ice man — no difference between stress and no stress. The good news — I play great under pressure — the bad news — this group is the most susceptible to burnout.

It’s Ok … Burn Out doesn’t last forever ( wrong ) — Unlike a cut or a broken bone, burnout often doesn’t heal well. It usually leaves a permanent “scar”. In my case I have effects that are analogous to a person who has had multiple concussions. My “concussions” are brought on by a combination of stress and situations which require me to follow multiple “threads” of conversation/thinking. In computer lingo I don’t “task switch” well ( if at all ). If I get myself into a situation where “task switching” is key — like a meeting or party I’ll slowly begin having difficulty following the conversation. If I stick with it I’ll soon begin having “concussion” like symptoms — starts with ringing in the head & can get as severe as near blackout.

In daily life this is confusing for most people I interact with because I look normal. In fact most people note — you look great. This is likely to be true since I’m down to university level clothing sizes. But just like a “Lindros or Lafontaine”, whose pro hockey careers ended due to concussions, I look like I can play. I want to play. But if I do play, I’m putting my long term health in jeopardy every time that I step on the playing surface 😈 I have effects every meeting ( social or work ) that I attend. It never goes away.

Movin On – I put the Daedalus and Icarus picture above because it describes how I feel when I’m working with others these days. I have plenty of experience which can help people to fly. But this knowledge also allows them to fly too close to the sun. Just like I did 😦

Mandatory Nerd Reading – The Other Side of Innovation (Execution)

“Ideas are the easy part … delivering on an idea is the hard part. It’s a long hard journey – from imagination to impact” is the theme of the “HowTo Innovate Book” The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge « Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble To the books authors, VG & Trimble, Thank You for that. I’ve always found that delivering on an innovation is extremely challenging. Reading through this book was like poring salt in old wounds. It reminded me of all the screw-ups I’ve made and introduced me to many more. My first reaction has been to recommend this book to anyone I come in contact to. It is that good.

I really like how they position an Innovation Team within an existing business. It’s a partnership. They dig into the issues of the “relationship” between Innovation Teams and Corporate Staff. They talk about hiring outside employees. Why and Why not. They dig into Power Balance and Status Issues. They cover most of the “conventional” wisdom and either confirm or debunk it. Fantastic.

The second section of the book is “HowTo Run an Innovation Experiment”. I really like the implications of that title. It is enough to ruffle a few feathers. That is “Innovations are Experiments … they are not guaranteed, we’re doing this test because … we don’t know how to do it”. They introduce very good concepts and provide a few tools.

How Does It Fit With Steve Blank’s Leanlaunch Pad and Customer Development?

I’m a Steve Blank fan-boy and didn’t need another book on innovation, but I did find it on his blogs’ short-list of books to read. I was curious since he hasn’t added many books to the shortlist in a long time.

My first pass is that VG & Trimble are very synergistic with Steve Blank’s Customer Development and Leanlaunch Pad. They are Yin & Yang. The complementary nature is in the style of delivery and where they come from. VG & Trimble choose a more time honoured business school justification of “Innovation as an Experiment” via collecting a ton of data and synthesizing it. They provide a very good “wrapper” for understanding “Innovation as an Experiment”. This is in contrast to Steve Blank’s “Gonzo/Manifesto” style that “practitioners” prefer. That said everyone has to read both, especially your “evil twin”, if you’re a practitioner then you have to read VG & Trimble no matter how much you don’t want to, and vice-versa. In a nutshell, VG & Trimble’s data seems to validate the LLP “Innovation as Experiment” approach. They are friend.

The high-level stuff. VG & Trimble provide a high-level framework for innovation within an existing business – Intrapreneurship. They provide a solid justification for spending time on “The Team” and “The Experiment”. VG & Trimble are much more focussed on Intrapreneurs and that means that they have some amazing points on “relationships” between the Core Business and the Innovation Team. A lot of these relationship issues are similar to those between Investors and Startups, but many are very different. If you’re an Intrapreneur you really need to read the “The Team” section. It will make a difference.

The main differences are about depth & details in “The Experiment” section. Here I would say that VG & Trimble do a great job laying out the problem to be solved. They provide useful tools and processes. If you’re doing this for real right now, then you need that mental support right now. And if your “Experiment” requires you to get customers for your product then you’d better dig into The Leanlaunch Pad (LLP) process via the Startup Owner’s Manual for more detail provided by a “practitioner”.

Slideware & Chapter 1

More Reviews

These are both very detailed reviews.

Thank You! (e@UBC & Lean LaunchPad Volunteers )

I’d to thank all the people who made e@UBC’s LLP workshop so much fun. I think we’ve given momentum to something very important.

The Donors-of-Time

  • A big Thank You to all the donors-of-time that made this a reality.
  • It’s >90% of us!

The Instructors

  • Paul Cubbon and I seemed to click during our “first date”. Paul brought great pace, intensity, focus. and structure to the class. I really liked his addition of the Pulsepress back-channel and the results of him “advising” me to use “less time” in my presentations. He also bought me a bottle of wine! Thank You Paul.

The Mentors

  • Doug Johnson, David Fox, Dylan Gunn, Andre Marziali, Mario Palumbo, Chuck Hamilton, and Steve Morgan
  • A big Thank You. Your efforts were very visible.

The e@UBC student “staff”

  • Peggy, Hans, Tagg, and … I’m sure I missed someone else who did the setup and tear down. Thank You

The Teams

  • Wow! You all put in a lot of “sweat”. Thanks for the great effort. It made the workshop.
  • 3D Bio Printer, Achievement Builder, Axon, Dragonfly, Foosler, Lululemon, Urban Farming, Zenith Wind, and ZipThru.
  • I also want to acknowledge that the teams that didn’t make it all the way played an important role in this workshop. They also learned what they needed to learn.
  • ps. tip to Dragonfly for the personal “Thank You” card on the last day. It made my day.

The Guys Who Paid For It – e@UBC
Thank You!

The e@UBC Team

  • Anuj Singhal, Deven Dave, and the new guy Andy Talbot
  • Thank You for providing the support to make this happen.
  • Thanks for paying for this “great sandbox” that is LLP.

Parting Notes

  • … I’m getting used to the reality that I’m “Mr. Tough Love” 😉
  • It’s a pleasure to have such a great platform, e@UBC, to donate my time to. It’s so great spending time with people who want to work! Thanks (again)