Friday, June 19, 2009

How Do YOU Want To Be Treated?

Disclaimer: any resemblance to actual characters or facts is just a coincidence. This post does not discuss a specific person of event but
rather tries to underline the idea that people need to be treated with respect, regardless of their position.

Let's start by sharing a link: the ethic of reciprocity summarised in a well known phrase, rooted in the culture of many people: "do to others what you would like to be done to you" or, as it is known across the globe, "The Golden Rule".

Some managers may forget it, being blinded by their function, so they start patronising their subordinates. Others, probably driven either by incomprehension of their role - to service the team to do its job - or a sense of insecurity, position themselves too far from their people thus impeding informal communication or, even worse, rely solely on the argument of hierarchy to force the completion of their goals (instead of discussing personally and try to find mutual understanding). Don't worry! If the team doesn't tell you stuff, they will share it among themselves, behind your back :). I personally don't like hearing words like "subordinate", supervisor" or "hierarchy" when it comes to me and my men. It's not that I am an anarchist of some kind - far from me that thought - but in many ways I find them to be a relic of the past, of times when people were considered brute work force, with no rights and no dignity. Basic needs include food, water, a shelter and security but, right after that comes dignity. Every person needs to be treated with respect and be given a private space to react and sustain his ideas even during an argument. This is actually the reason why negative feedback should be kept private. I find it outrageous when a manager calls his team "a bunch of thick skins" or other names, either in private or in public. He should, under all circumstances, refrain from such judgements.
How I want to be treated by my supervisor is how I expect that I, in turn, treat my team and my team treats me in return - as partners. Me with my responsibilities, him / they with his / theirs. We are all here to build great products for our customers so we are sailing in the same boat, as they say. We should understand and respect each other's responsibilities and act accordingly. I don't mind being guided and shown what and why we go in a certain way but I do mind being patronised. I do mind if I am treated as an inferior being instead of being respected for who I am, for what I stand for and for what I do. I do mind if I'm being dismissed without first being listened or not be given a chance to speak my mind. I do mind also if my values are treated with disregard. Never forget that almost every human on Earth wants to be appreciated for his right judgement and I am no different - and chances are that neither are you! Even more, I consider myself a trained specialist, with something valuable to say. I want to be able to express my personality and have the space to manifest my ideas and thoughts especially because I believe that my greatest asset is my mind - that's why they hired me in the first place, right? Who am I? I'm not only Alexandru; these needs are not only mine, they are universal. So, don't forget: PARTNERS: your boss, your colleagues, your team!


Some people may argue that not all men/women are the same in what they want and not every one expects to be treated the same way or have the same values as another one has. Totally true and this is precisely why I feel that my argument is solid. One of the first duties of a manager is to adapt his communication style to each of his team members as he, in turn, expects the same thing from his manager too - adaptability, respect, cherish diversity of thought.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Creativity and Innovation

This post is a collection of ideas gathered from others, ideas that seem so natural and obvious but many people fail to apply them when it comes to innovation and creativity.
  • IDEO: build on ideas of others
  • IDEO: stay focused on the problem
  • IDEO: you don't have to tell people what to do. give them a great problem and they will do the job themselves
  • IDEO: one conversation at a time
  • IDEO: don't criticize
  • IDEO: encourage wild ideas. You don't get to see the value of an idea first of. You have to live with it for a little bit
  • IDEO: listening to your current customers can sometime stop you from being innovative. People are used to tell you what they already have plus a little bit more
  • IDEO: start with the user experience and then build the technology to support it
  • Sketching on a piece of paper is like brainstorming with myself
  • Fail soon to get things done faster
  • IDEO: give the user feedback
  • IDEO: encourage diversity. As the product complexity increases you need more than one type of specialist: you need psychologists, designers, computer engineers, brand research, graphic artists and a lot more
  • IDEO: most great ideas come from small, focused, autonomous teams
  • PHILLIPS: focus on people, focus on user experience
Obvious, isn't it?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Steve Jobs Quotes

  • A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.
  • Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes's or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?
Steve Jobs: 1955-2011
  • Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.
  • Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
  • I think we're having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we're always trying to do better.
  • I want to put a ding in the universe.
  • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
  • It is piracy, not overt online music stores, which is our main competitor.
  • It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them - not something they'd want now.
  • Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.
  • Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
  • The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.
  • To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.
  • Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?
  • You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.

Not Employees But Strategic Partners

One of the duties of a manager is to create a sense of urgency within the team. This is not without a purpose as delivering sooner means not only cheaper but also hitting a market window opportunity, enhanced creativity due to constraints, sense of completion and a lot more. However, creating such a state is very difficult as many managers (including myself) are not always able to come to their team with a solid answer to "why do we need to rush?" question. Most of the time, we mumble something like our boss told us so and we have to obey him. Quite lame, isn't it? There is, however, a powerful tool and a good reason behind the tight deadlines except costs - that is, the company strategy. Often neglected because managers think their employees are not interested, the long term strategy and the overall company vision give the answer to many questions concerning the project and its constraints. Communicating the strategy in a way that is understood by people will turn them into strategic partners rather than simple employees - a part of something bigger, something that makes sense and has a reason. They will better understand what is expected of them as they will see their place in the bigger picture. They will also grasp what is coming up next and also increase their loyalty because they have something to be loyal to. Every human being wants to catch a small glimpse of his future and if managers are capable unveiling the bigger plan (strategy) it will provide at least a partial answer to this natural human need. People who understand their role are much likely to give you trust and have the tendency to rally toward a common goal even if the future is cloudy. So tell your teams about the company strategy and you should be able to see miraculous results.

Why Become A Manager?

Many people don't understand or don't have a clear image of what means to be a manager so, I thought, it would be nice to drop in a few lines on the subject as I see it.

Beside the normal plan - organize - monitor - adjust activities and the tons of emails associated with them, for me the most exciting part of being a manager is where I interact with the team; it's the feedback, motivation, conflict management, team building, developing others activities that I really like.

A manager is "somebody who gets results through people", so one of the most important part of the job is... others. Many people would like to be promoted not because they want or have the skills to be managers, but because they see the job as a recognition for their good work and this should not be the case. The language doesn't help much as "promoting" means going up where being promoted to management means taking on a totally different role. It's a new job altogether, that can be a real pain for somebody who doesn't have the inclination or the drive to do it. It's the "best salesman" syndrome. You take the best sales person you have and you promote him / her as the manager of the sales department and, as a result, you loose a great sales person but you get a poor manager.

Unfortunately, the career paths in many companies don't help much as the management paths are well developed whereas the specialist paths may be not.

At first glance, the management career seems to be much richer and filled with opportunities. However, the best places to work are those where diversity is encouraged, where there is job rotation that don't allow people to become bored at work (e.g. after three years as render programmer, an engineer is promoted to... network programming and after that sound and so on). These places encourage horizontal move and cherish expertise. Good managers realize that creating an aura of glory for every job and for anyone that is performing great is the way to go and by doing so they make sure the talent is best used, people are motivated and come to work with pleasure. They encourage diversity, new ideas, teamwork (instead of competition for the manager's chair), innovation and respect among peers. 

Some companies don't respect specialists too much. Sometimes great engineers are placed in some obscure corner, on small desks, when even the most junior manager has a bigger desk with natural light. Sometimes, engineers are not listened to and their opinion is not taken into consideration. Fortunately, these companies tend to bleed expertise and they soon become dry out of talent - natural selection, I guess. Even more, as organizations tend to flatten, less bureaucrats are needed and more emphasis will be put on highly qualified, high performing individuals. Not respecting or not paying enough your engineers is a deadly sin these days.

Organizations that cherish talent become more agile as management is moving from "paperwork" to genuine leadership and more managers spend their time making sure their star performers get all they need to perform (google "servant leadership"). Today good managers are those who are able to service their teams, to create a place suited for innovation, motivate individuals to do their best, lead the way by finding new opportunities and let the spotlight fall on their teams instead of their own ego. This, I guess, is the manager of today and tomorrow. What do you think? Is it for you? And don't think about the paycheck as in today's business world money is tied more to talent than to position and if you are not extremely good at what you do, no matter what that is, nobody is going to pay you anything (and the reverse is true also).

To sum up, my opinion is that you should become a manager if you like working with people. Not just being friendly to them, but to actually strive to create a better place for them to grow, become creative and also let them get the glory. Don't become a manager if you like your technical job or if you are the "do it yourself" kind of guy; choose a technical path instead, as technical paths will become more and more valuable as companies strive to innovate in order to survive. Find a company that cherishes creative talent and you should be safe and happy.

One of the main difficulties that arise when an engineer is promoted to management is that the main reason he or she was promoted is because he or she is seen as a person that "gets stuff done". As a manager, on the other hand, he or she needs to let this habit go and make sure that others "get stuff done", which is very different. Most likely this is why so many managers find it very difficult to properly delegate, thus frustrating their employees. 

Other articles that shed some light on leadership / management: