Jeff Bezos on Process as Proxy

Jeff Bezos’s 2017 letter to shareholders should be required reading for all entrepreneurs. Seriously, go read it now. It’s short and well worth your time.

One point that seemed particularly relevant to my work is to resist process as a proxy:

Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?

One of my core principles is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Over half of my work is helping people get clear and aligned around their intentions. People often fall back on process as proxy, because they’ve lost sight of what they’re actually trying to do.

Joe Dumars on Culture- and Team-Building

Adrian Wojnarowski did a fantastic interview with Hall of Fame basketball player and former General Manager, Joe Dumars, for his excellent podcast, Vertical Pod with Woj. Dumars was with the Detroit Pistons for 28 years as a player (where he won two championships) and as the architect of the 2004 championship team. He’s spent the past two years shadowing other basketball programs all over the world.

Here’s what Dumars had to say about wanting to build another team and the importance of building a culture:

What you look for in situations is the ability to build a culture as opposed to just the ability to build a team. For quite some time, part of building a really good team for us in Detroit, we also built a culture, a mindset, how everybody saw each other and how everybody saw us as a group, and I’m talking about everybody inside the organization. What appeals to me is to build a culture.

A culture is different than just building a team. A culture is everybody in the organization feeling a certain way about each other — from video to coaches to secretaries — everybody in this organization feeling it. I got that from my initial days of playing — guys like Chuck Daly, Isiah, Jack McCloskey, who was the GM at the time. You build a culture. There was a name for it — the Bad Boys — but beyond just that name, what I learned from that was, you have to have an identity. Not only do you have to have an identity, you have to embrace your identity. You can’t reluctantly accept who you are. You have to embrace it.

For me, that’s what appeals to building something next. To build a culture where everybody embraces who they are, are proud of it, and want to be a part of it. I think we did it as a player, I think we did that in 2000 with Ben, Chauncey, and all those goes, and that’s what appeals to me next. (00:58:47-01:00:35)

Woj asked Dumars what he’s taken away from his shadowing that he’d like to incorporate into his next team. Dumars’ response — participatory team-building:

The one thing I think I would take out of all this is some of the team-building things that teams do. You have to be careful with team-building. You can’t just come up with something that you want to do team-building wise that you and I come up with, but the team is like, “Uhh, we’ve got to go and do this.” A lot of time team-building, you’ve got to get the input from the players, what they want to do together. I’ve seen that in Europe, a little bit in college, a lot of people I talk to in the NBA.

I was so focused on, “Let’s build this thing to win the championship,” I was so focused on that, I never really paid a lot of attention to that. But for me, I like that. I think it does help in terms of the camaraderie, and it helps in terms of people seeing each other in a different light than just X’s and O’s, on the court, game, what’s your responsibility. I think it’s good to get away from that sometimes.

But I think it has to be done the right way. It can’t just be management-directed. I don’t think it can just be coach-directed. I don’t think it can be just organization-directed. I think it has to be maybe your captains and the coaches getting together as to what we want to do together. I’ve seen some of that, and I really like it. 01:01:35-01:03:05

Once the World Was Perfect

Read this beautiful poem by Joy Harjo courtesy the good folks at Poetry Flash. It’s from her book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, and it pretty much sums up where we seem to be in the world and why I do what I do:

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy
in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through —
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life —
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we
didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the
next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those
clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time —
To now, into this morning light to you.

Crib Notes on Golden State Warrior’s Collaborative Culture

Even if the Golden State Warriors lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight, they have clearly established an extraordinary culture of performance and collaboration. Kevin Arnovitz outlined some elements of this culture in his excellent piece, “Fun and games: Warriors winning culture faces biggest test.” In particular:

An inclusive culture that values original (sometimes contrarian) thinking:

People up and down the Warriors’ org chart tout collaboration as the defining quality of the team’s culture. As with the Spurs, one is judged not on agreeability but on the ability to present original thinking — even contrarianism — agreeably.

Deliberative decisions and lots of communication. I particularly liked this story about doing their due diligence on Shaun Livingston:

“Decisions are made collaboratively,” Kerr said. “There’s a ton of discussion that goes into what we’re going to do. Any decision is discussed at length. It’s healthy, and we get a lot of different points of view.”

“Our communication happens on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis,” Myers said. “It’s rare that anyone ever goes off in a silo, even me, and comes into the office one day and says, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ We’re having conversations organically, and they have a rhythm to them. We’re all formulating thoughts in a daily flow. We call each other to chat the way you’d call a buddy to check in.”

Joy and work-life balance as values:

Joy is constantly cited as a guiding principle within the organization…. The coaching staff under Kerr has adopted a mantra: “Either get s— done or go have fun.” Work is honored, and it’s vital to the development of both the team and the individual players…. But work-life balance is sacrosanct. Preserving that joy is not just a byproduct; it is an objective unto itself. Nobody in Oakland is setting up a cot in the video room, and nobody would think better of you if you did.

Diverse, sometimes unconventional thinkers and interests with a learning mindset. The Warriors have a 10% rule to encourage personal pursuits.

Recommended Readings on Doug Engelbart’s Ideas

Earlier this month, someone asked me for the best resources to learn about Doug Engelbart’s work. Doug didn’t publish prolifically, but he wrote quite a bit, and some of his papers are must-read classics. You can find most of his writing and many other great resources at the Doug Engelbart Institute, which is curated by his daughter, Christina.

Start with his classic paper, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”, which he published in 1962.

For Doug’s own historical overview of his work (published in 1985), read, “Workstation History and the Augmented Knowledge Workshop.”

For a deeper understanding of his conceptual framework for high-performance teams, knowledge work, and the role of technology, read, “Knowledge-Domain Interoperability and an Open Hyperdocument System” (1990) and “Toward High-Performance Organizations: A Strategic Role for Groupware” (1992).

I’ve written a lot about Doug and his work over the years, and it represents only a fraction of what I learned from him. For a high-level overview of his work and why I think he’s so important, start with my tribute to him when he passed away in 2013 (“Inventing the mouse was the least of it”) as well as my more personal tribute.

Brad Neuberg also wrote an excellent overview of Doug’s ideas. There are also short video clips of me, Brad, Jon Cheyer, and Adam Cheyer at a memorial service for Doug that I think are worth watching.

Luisa Beck did a great podcast earlier this year for 99% Invisible on Doug’s design philosophy, featuring Christina and Larry Tesler.

For more down-and-dirty essays about and inspired by Doug’s thinking, read:

For more on Dynamic Knowledge Repositories (DKRs) and Networked Improvement Communities (NICs), read:

Finally, for a detailed repository of notes and recommendations from when I first started working with Doug in 2002, see this list. Sadly, many of the links are broken, but most are probably findable via search.

If you have others to recommend and share, please post in the comments below!