Following a legend is hard — at apple or anywhere else

December 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Posted in Business | 1 Comment
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There’s a lot of talk lately about Steve Jobs. Here’s a representative post of many that I have seen lately. However Apple handles this, I think it’s nearly a no-win situation for the next person who is going to take over.

This is a huge problem in sports. Following a legendary coach is tough for several reasons:

1) If you succeed, it wasn’t really you… it was you just riding the coat tails of the guy before you.

2) If you don’t advance the organization, it’s all because of you and the guy before you would have certainly done better than what you produced.

3) Your comparisons to the legend will only get worse because his image will grow in lore over time.

4) In some cases, the legend hangs around in the shadows just enough to never quite let you step out of his shadow.

So what is Apple to do? It will be interesting to watch, but my bet is that they will go through a lull of sorts when Jobs decides to step down. For me, following a legend is a tough situation with very little upside. I’d rather step into a disaster and build it up or start afresh somewhere. But that is a personality thing. Someone will definitely be ready and willing to take over for Jobs. Will be interesting to watch when it happens.

if it sounds too good to be true — dig!

December 16, 2008 at 10:14 am | Posted in Business | Leave a comment

The enormity of the Madoff scandal and the simplicity of how a Ponzi scheme works just amazes me.  Of course, everyone is asking “How!?”  However, before the “how” question, lies a more fundamental one: “why?”

The reason we’ve all been taught the adage: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is because the democracy of history shows that greed and pride pave the way to countless schemes of deceit.  Something certainly can’t just be done for the sake of being “good” can it?  Actually, yes, I believe it can.  BUT — and that’s a big but — we are right to question it when we see it and dig a little deeper to find the motivation behind it.  There’s ALWAYS a motivating factor, whether altruistic or nefarious — it’s there.  Our job is to find out what it is before we allow ourselves to dive in.

Now lets flip that around.  What if YOU are the one doing the altruistic act?  Such was the case recently when my company launched a site called SQLServerPedia.  When we rolled the concept out to our contributors last year, they loved it — and then they were skeptical.  When we rolled it out to our customer advisory board, they loved it — and then they were skeptical.  You could see the reaction over and over “This is great…  hmmm…. too great, in fact.  Wait a minute… what’s the catch?  What’s in it for you?”  In each case, after detailed explanation of our motivations, you could see they “got it” and were comfortable and excited again.

Those were good lessons for us about the value of transparency, which led to this page on the site that proactively explains exactly why we built it, what’s in it for us (or said less cynically, what motivated us), and why believe it is a good and beneficial thing for everyone.  It was a great reminder that even when your motives are altruistic, the world around you rarely knows or believes that.  ESPECIALLY these days.  Take the time to show folks why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Of course, one could still be lying.  But I think the more open you are, the better chance you have at dialog, the more they get to know you, the better the opportunity to build a relationship.  More work?  Yes.  More benefit?  Off the charts.

pulling together

December 15, 2008 at 8:01 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment

In the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 US Hockey Team’s unlikely winning of the gold medal, a scene takes place where head coach Herb Brooks is picking his players during tryouts.  Assistant coach Craig Patrick is watching with some confusion based on the picks.  The scene’s dialog is as follows:

Craig Patrick: You’re missing the best players.

Herb Brooks: I’m not looking for the best players, Craig, I’m lookin’ for the right ones.

I recalled this scene as I’ve been thinking a lot about teams in the face of this economy.  Good ones, bad ones, the kind of people we need on them, etc.  And I was reminded of something I did many years ago in my first “real” job as a co-op (intern) student.  I needed the co-op to complete my degree and I was bound and determine to make a good impression.  Technically, I did.  In spades.  But then I still vividly can recall a day I’d love to take back.  It was 1992.  Times were tough and cuts were on the horizon.  Our team huddled around our manager as he gently prepared folks for what was coming.  Never one to miss an iconoclastic moment back then, I said something to the effect of: “what’s the big deal?  If you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough.  The company’s gotta take someone so step up and get it done, or you get cut.”

I was 22-years-old and fresh out of five years of college football that bred (by design) the exact attitude I just conveyed.  Yet this group of husbands, fathers, mothers, and wives looked at me with disdain and shock.  Several were visibly angry but nobody said anything directly to me about it. (Likely because they thought I was just so ignorant that I wasn’t worth their time.)  I wish someone would have.

As we pull together as teams through this economic crisis, we need to be there for each other.  What a chance to grow!  If we’re more on the conservative side and always hoping for status-quo, this is our time to be pushed out of our comfort zone.  If we’re more on the aggressive, damn the torpedoes side, this is our time to learn some empathy and compassion towards those that aren’t.  Never was there a better time to celebrate the diversity of talents all around us and find out what people have to contribute.  I believe those that push, encourage, and help each other in the true spirit of teamwork will emerge from this incredibly strong and ready to build the future.

interesting look at web communication

December 12, 2008 at 11:33 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | Leave a comment
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I love the way Bob Warfield over at SmoothSpan is thinking about the various web-learning styles and the quadrants he created and populated.  Interesting to think about regarding how we learn, and also how our  customers learn, and what products/methods are out there.  There were several companies/products that I didn’t recognize.

The “star” syndrome

December 12, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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Twice in my coaching career I had to deal with the “star syndrome”. The player that is so good that you find yourself looking the other way when it comes to his negatives, even if sometimes it means a bit of a double standard. That is a hard one for me, as it is for most coaches. There comes a point when you’ve got to make a call on these kids for the good of the team. The decision is agonizing.

I saw this recently not with sports, but with MySQL creator, Monty Widenius, when he publicly went on a rant about a recent decision to release a product. This was not his first action of this sort. Fact is, we find these people in all walks of life, both personally and professionally. They are extremely talented, passionate, brilliant, and often mean well, but their negatives can greatly bring down the infrastructure of a team or organization, especially depending on the maturity of the organization.

Jack Welch in his book Straight from the Gut talks about a quadrant approach he used to help clarify his thinking on this issue. (disclaimer: I listened to the audio book, but from what I heard, it looks pretty close to this:)


In his years of experience, he talked about how even though the decision can be extremely painful in the short-term because of their results, he has rarely seen it end well when someone just doesn’t fit the corporate culture. The erosion happens in slow, subtle ways that are very difficult to recover from in the end.

I believe the tolerance for the “star syndrome” is directly related to the size and maturity of the organization. Complete speculation here, but I’m guessing Monty’s passion and style were a fantastic, if not utterly necessary, fit in the early days of MySQL. But over time, their mission changed and I’m talking even well before the Sun acquisition. They needed to make money, pure and simple, and that objective was somewhat at odds with their early mission statement and goals. Things changed as they grew but it appears Monty didn’t want to change.

Should Monty go? I don’t know. That’s up to him and his team. But I do know this: organizations are in constant change. Sometimes it’s evolution, sometimes it’s regression, but if you’re trying to build a true team, then cultural cohesion is paramount every step of the way. The problem is often that those who benefit from the star’s brilliance don’t ever see the wake of problems that others must deal with. Monty’s developers may love him passionately because of his talent, but can you imagine the trail of carnage left by this particular action and how it affects so many facets of the company? And this was just one we saw. I know of many others they’ve dealt with internally. That makes for a culture that absolutely undermines the building of a strong, long-term team.

A good idea for one … not many?

December 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Business | 2 Comments

I opened one of my trade mags today. Took it out of the plastic and then… well, then I couldn’t turn the pages. I hate when I can’t turn the pages. The reason I can’t turn the pages is because of inserts, outserts, wrappers, posters and that funky glue that holds papers together. I mean, that’s a real pet peeve of mine. So, I start de-cluttering it and ended up with the pile you see below

decluttered magazine

Somewhere in that pile of papers is my magazine, which turned out to be quite small once I pulled all the stuff out of it so that I could flip through the pages.  Now let me add a disclaimer — my company is responsible for contributing to the problem!  But, it seems like such a good idea at the time.  You have this vision of thousands of readers getting their new magazine and seeing your oh-so-special “appendage”, taking it out, oohing, and ahhing over it.  Scenes of Ralphie enter my mind when he dreams of turning in his essay. (If you haven’t seen a Christmas Story, you might not want to read my blog anymore! 😉

Maybe I’m in the minority.  Maybe other people do react positively to these things.  But for me, I have to say, they are beyond frustrating.  I will rip every one of them off before reading any article in the magazine.  We scream from the rooftops when we get invasive ads in our online experience.  I wonder how many complain to magazine companies?  Or maybe it’s accepted.  Oh, and one last point.  I’m in no danger of being called a “tree hugger” anytime soon, but I do care about the environment.  That pile on my floor… that times the thousands of magazines out there must ultimately leave a carbon footprint the size of Godzilla!

OK, I’m done ranting.  Nothing of any value in this post.  Just needed to vent — and rethink the budget dollars I allocate to these things!

man it’s dark out there

December 3, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment

Coaches love catchy little sayings. I mean, we are full of ’em. I still remember these from various locker rooms over the years:

“You can measure a thoroughbreds speed with a stop watch, but it takes a race to measure his heart”

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

“Character is what you do when nobody is watching.”

And there were countless others. So the other day I was giving an interview and was asked about the economy. I tend to be overly blunt sometimes, so I apparently gave an answer that seemed a bit depressing. My coworker who was there said, “That’s a great downer to end on!” And immediately, one of those slogans from coaching days past sprung to mind, and I added, “But you know, the darker it is around you, the brighter you can shine.”

I do believe that. I have blogged in the past about measuring your worth. I’ve talked about getting honest feedback and knowing where you stand. I’ve talked about differentiation and why it’s important that you know where you stand, whether your company is telling you they buy into differentiation or not. Why? Because right now, you’re being differentiated. We all are. More than ever. You can…

1) Panic.

2) Be grateful and sit around happy that you still have a job.

3) Make a name for yourself.

#1 is unproductive and unhealthy for some obvious reasons I won’t get into. I think you should ALWAYS do #2, but by itself, it leads to complacency. So there is no better time than right now to execute #3 with a passion. Your company needs you now more than ever. They need bright, passionate, dedicated, people who can find solutions to really difficult problems. This is a great challenge for all of us to find out what we’re made of. We will emerge from these tough times. But we can’t miss the chance to GROW through them. If we do, we — and our companies — will be so much stronger on the other end. One more sign than hung in our weight room:

“Without great challenge, there cannot be great accomplishment.”

Sometimes those corny signs make a lot of sense.

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