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Open Letter to Myself as Thinkspace Turns 9!

Nine years ago today on May 1, 2008, I started Thinkspace. As I reflect back on my nine-year journey of running thinkspace, there are things that I wish I knew then that I know now. So I’m about to step back and look at some of the mistakes made it feels a little bit painful and embarrassing kind of like watching a recording of yourself on video. It’s uncomfortable, but, in a healthy way. I wrote this open letter to myself from the perspective of Old Me sharing with Young Me what to look out for, and thought I would share it with you too.

Dear Peter,

  • Young me: Bad advice has ramifications to you, your family, and your team. Find mentors, advisors, fellow entrepreneurs who have successfully done what you’re trying to do and get right sized advice. – Old me
  • Young me: There are six human needs. 1) Certainty 2) Uncertainty 3) Significance 4) Love and Connection 5) Growth 6) Contribution. Meet four of your customer needs at a high level and your customers will be addicted. – Old me
  • Young me: I wish I would have known how important it is to have alignment on the following levels: 1) personal 2) family 3) employees 4) customers. It would have saved me from a lot of pain. – Old me
  • Young me: When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. – Old me
  • Young me: If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business. If you treat people at the end like you did in the beginning, there never would be an end. – Old me
  • Young me: Say what you actually believe and you will attract those that believe what you believe. – Old me
  • Young me: The social era will reward those organizations that realize they don’t create value all by themselves. – Old me
  • Young me: Customers are not loyal to cheap commodities, they crave the remarkable, the unique, and human. – Old me
  • Young me: Extend more grace and service to people. When someone is struggling, extend them more support and love, when you think you’ve given enough, dig down and give them more. – Old me
  • Young me: There is no weakness in forgiveness. – Old me
  • Young me: Always maintain a beginners mindset. There’s a lot to learn out there. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. – Old me
  • Young me: Read these books before you start your company: 1) The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. 2) Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder. 3) Lean Startup by Eric Ries. 4) Linchpin by Seth Godin. 5) Drive by Daniel Pink. 6) Who by Geoff Smart. 7) The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. 8) Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! by Greg Crabtree. 9) The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna – Old me

Love,
Old me

The Ugly Truth Behind Delegation

FullSizeRender (2)I’m stepping into a new executive role at work, and read the classic book by Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive.  In it, he argues against delegation saying that it makes little sense.

“‘Delegation’ as the term is customarily used, is a misunderstanding – is indeed misdirection.  But getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that one does not have to delegate but can really get to one’s own work – that is a major improvement in effectiveness.” 

Here we discover the ugly truth behind delegation.  Often leaders spend time delegating their work to others, or feel pressured to be a better delegator.  But, should their work really be someone else’s work?

In regards to delegation, leaders should ask the question: “What things on my plate could actually be done by someone else just as well, if not better?”

Delegation isn’t just to get others to do your work.  It’s looking at the work you’re currently doing, knowing that you are bound by limits of time, and knowing that there are certain key tasks to focus on.  Delegating what others can do or do better than you helps you to target your focus by equipping the right people to do the right work (including yourself).

DO:

  • Delegate work that can be done by someone else just as well, if not better
  • Equip and train people with precision and detail
  • Communicate the “why” of the task at hand and how it contributes to the organization

DON’T:

  • Delegate work that only you can do
  • Delegate work that you’ll need to micromanage
  • Communicate criticism of how the task is being accomplished in public

 How do you handle delegation in your role?

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Success Unshared Is Failure

Iconic Conference 2016“Success unshared is failure” was one of the ending statements given by Robert Herjavec,  CEO of the Herjavec Group and an investor on Shark Tank, as the Iconic Conference was coming to a close yesterday. After a day filled with raw and genuine lessons given by some of the most remarkable entrepreneurs, I couldn’t stop thinking that it might as well have been the leading thought of the event.

Bring Your Vision To Work Day

Nonetheless, Iconic Conference’s catchphrase “innovate, inspire, ignite” was setting the tone just as well. As was promised in the opening remarks, all of us are ready to go back to work tomorrow morning and deliver the newly-found value (or attempt to, at the very least. As Kevin O’Leary said today, “What matters most is the skill to execute. There’s nothing worse than vision all day long.”) Regardless of the stage that your company might be at, or whether you are a founder or an employee – even regardless of the industry you’re in – your perspective was bound to change within the eight “iconic” hours.

What did I found out? Now, for me, this part is always tricky. I can go around and try to find the quotes that I think would be the most interesting to me if I was a leader of a company. I don’t. I’m not a founder, a C-level executive, I do not manage people.

Robert Herjavec: “You’re never prepared enough for a role that has a chance of greatness.”

Katie and Kamila at Iconic

But I do run a business. Even as an employee, I do run the business. I take a part of the company into my hands and become responsible for its sustainability at worst; growth, development, and innovation at best. At Iconic, I had a chance to take away lessons on leadership from some of the greatest minds in entrepreneurship. I found a two-fold value: for one, I scribbled down thoughts and advice that I can implement personally in my work and my approach to it. Two: I had an opportunity to look at entrepreneurship through the eyes of founders and CEOs. It might be surprising to those who have always “founded” or “executed”, but experiencing an inspiration to set the shoes of an employee aside for a moment, and look at the business through the eyes of a leader, sheds a new light at your own role in the life of the company. It’s an understatement to say that the promise of “innovate, inspire, ignite” was delivered at Iconic. But as Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of IndieGoGo said today, “Innovation is not the point. It’s the mean, not the goal. Ignite, inspire, innovate are only tools.” – now where you take them, and how you use them, is on you.

If you had a chance to attend, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the experience. Bonus question: what’s your opinion on the value of opening the doors of “C-level insights” to your employees?

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How to Satisfy Millennials’ Hunger for Collaboration

Whether good news or bad news, we’ve all heard everyone talking about millennials. There’s really no way to avoid them since there are 80 million in the U.S. and more entering the workforce day after day — almost 50% of millennials plan to actively look for a new job in 2015, according to a study by Aon Hewitt.

So in order to attract and keep this generation engaged, you’ll have to start listening to their needs. Gartner, a global research firm, found these interesting stats:

  • Employees are only spending about 40% of time at their personal workstations
  • Non-group tasks have decreased to about 20% of the working day

The dynamic of the work environment is changing, and can you guess who’s behind that? You guess it: millennials. As a generation that grew up collaborating, this crowd expects that in the workplace. So if you really want to attract millennials and tap into this pool of talent, you’ll need to consider restructuring or redesigning your workplace setup. Doing this will help create an environment that fosters collaboration and creative thinking — both of which this generation highly values.

Fall of the Wall

collaborative workspaces

In a typical workplace, employees would withdraw to their own private space. The human silo. Millennials don’t want this. They crave collaboration. And the first step to satisfying their hunger for teamwork is to say “rest in peace” to those cubicles. In fact, companies that moved from cubicles to an open-floor plan enjoyed some amazing results, according to this study by interior design and research firm Knoll:

  • Performance increased by an average of 440%
  • There was a 5.5% reduction in business process time and cost

This makes sense. Walls are a physical obstacle that blocks communication. They separate people and prevent them from talking to each other. So is there any good reason for organizations to still keep them up? Try grouping desks together in pods or lining them up in rows so employees are in close contact with each other. And make sure teammates can easily talk to one another without having to shout or move too far from their desks.

Space for Collaboration

After the walls are gone, the next step is to give millennials the space they need for collaboration. According to this survey by IdeaPaint, millennials reported that only 30.8% of their ideation meetings are planned. So to support that process, here are solutions that encourage both spontaneous and scheduled brainstorming:

  • Open meeting areas: Scatter tables and chairs in various nooks and crannies around the office. This allows employees do some spur-of-the-moment teamwork instead of making them wait until they can schedule a meeting room. Even better, hang up a whiteboard nearby, and you’ve got a truly productive space.
  •  Break rooms: Opposite to what you may think, idle chitchat around the water cooler isn’t always time wasting. Employees tend to create conversations that are work related, so you never really know when a brilliant idea will pop up.
  • Meeting rooms: Besides spontaneous gathering areas, don’t forget to keep rooms that people can schedule. This is ideal for when there’s a sensitive topic on the horizon or you need to gather a large party.

Startup Stock Photos

Collaboration can’t always be done at people’s desks — especially if it involves three or more people. So to encourage this type of work, you’ll need to designate specific spaces so people can be free to unleash their creative ideas with one another.

Space for Privacy

The one thing to keep in mind is that we’re not saying to get rid of all privacy. Collaborative areas are extremely important, but so are private spaces. This comes in handy when an employee needs to work on a complex project or a task that involves fine attention to details. With these spaces, they’ll be able to really hone in on their task and keep focus. And the walls don’t have to be fully enclosed; partitions will suffice. Just having that minor barrier still allows employees to zone in on their task. An office that pairs collaborative and private spaces gives employees the flexibility to choose workstations that suit whatever task they’re working on. It’s always said that millennials are shaking up the workplace in a negative manner. However, that’s not the case. They’re actually making it better for employees of all generations. So to really attract them to your organization and keep them truly engaged, you’ll need to create an environment that fosters their collaborative nature.

 

DavidNiu_HeadshotDavid Niu is the Founder and CEO of TINYpulse, an employee engagement survey solution that empowers leaders with actionable feedback to make positive changes in their workplaces. David is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and successfully sold two prior businesses, NetConversions and BuddyTV. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for his BA and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for his MBA. He was named a “40 Under 40” recipient by the Puget Sound Business Journal and is actively involved in the Entrepreneurs Organization “EO.” David is also the author of Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness.
Twitter: @davidniu
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My Mental Time Travel Trip Landed Me in Austin

As an entrepreneur it’s important to be forward thinking. One of my main goals was to do mental time travel for the future of thinkspace. That’s hard to do when you’re constantly working inside the business, knee deep in day-to-day activities, and can’t see the forest for the trees.

Get out and travel

Nothing opens up your eyes like travel. Going to a new city, meeting new people, experiencing a different environment, food, music, allows you to see things from a different perspective. You start to see new opportunities that you never knew existed. SXSW is the ultimate cross section between tech, music, and entertainment. There are so many things to taste, touch, feel and ultimately learn.

Mind map your company

thinkspace-mindmapWhile down at SXSW we created a mind map of the company. In the mind map were all the pieces of what the business looks like today. It was great to have a visual representation of the company so when attending one of the thousand different sessions you’re able to take and apply new ideas to specific areas of the company. It’s also a good way to visualize where you are going.

Don’t keep doing the same things over and over

Repeat Last Years HarvestOne of my favorite slides came from a presentation by Jeremy Gutsche on Trends for 2015 and a proven path to unstoppable ideas. The slide read, “We repeat whatever led to last year’s harvest.” A lot of times it’s easy to get caught up on doing the same things over and over. We try to create a formula–I personally don’t think that’s the way to get extraordinary results. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but if you want to increase your success you have to double your failure rate. Jeremy also spoke about “3 Traps of a Farmer”: 1) Complacent. 2) Repetitive. 3) Protective. Where as the “3 Hunter Instincts” are: 1) Insatiable. 2) Curious. 3) Willing to Destroy. After thinking about it for a while, there were a couple things that we do in the business today that I was “willing to destroy” and stop doing, despite the fact that one of them will impact future revenue.

Convergence and Divergence

One thing that I really started to see from the SXSW trip was that there are patterns of opportunity right in front of us. Convergence is one thing that I was seeing throughout the entire trip. There’s opportunity for combining two areas that you normally would not see together. That alone is innovation and your competition probably is completely unaware of it. Another area is divergence, where it would be counter culture to do something that your competition would definitely not do. These two things can be major areas of differentiation.

For me, the SXSW trip was invaluable to gain a different perspective. For every leader and visionary, I’ll leave you with this last quote:

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. – Wayne Gretzky

I would love to hear from others who have found insight by attending SXSW, or just traveled to gain a different perspective.

 

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Re-hiring an Employee That Quit Your Startup

ryan-gosling-back-at-your-doorWhat I’m about to write is NOT going to resonate with the millennial Gen-Y crowd and that’s ok. This post is written for the startup founder, entrepreneur, and small company CEO. This topic is looking through the lens of the person that created the company, started the company with their own money, and pretty much has everything on the line if this company doesn’t succeed. Much of this post was inspired after reading “Never Hire Job Hoppers, Never, They Make Terrible Employees“.

The millennial Gen-Y crowd mostly are job hoppers.
In six years of running this company I would have to label all employees who can’t stay in a company for more than 2.5 to 3 years as a job hopper. I get it that those people are just starting jobs after college are going to make a 1000 different decisions on what is best for them and their career. So, that said, I look back at my own track record as a Gen-X and see that I was with the same company for 3.2 years. Not every day in those three years was great, but, I didn’t quit at the first sign of hardship. I always think about the “fight versus flee” mentality and at the first sign of trouble are you a person fights or runs out the door? I do realize that we just came out of the worst recession our generation has ever seen and there are going to be reasons out there why the economy impacted a person’s career path. If that’s the case, make sure that your resume reflects that the company went bankrupt which is why you left your job.

I quit my job because my manager sucked.
In Mark Suster’s blog he said: “I was working for a lame boss.  I had to get out of there.”  What I hear, “You’re difficult to work with.  You don’t have gravitas.  Anybody with any common sense would know not to talk badly about a prior boss.  What will you say about me after you’ve left?  What will you say about me to your peers in my company when I make difficult decisions?”.

I quit my job because I was recruited away.
Again in Suster’s blog: “I was recruited away from that job.  The new company was willing to pay me more money / give me a title increase” – what I hear, “Three times?  You were recruited away three times?  You aren’t loyal.  The first company that offers you a higher check means you going to jump ship.  You’re only about the money and yourself.”  Believe me – people WILL offer your employees more money.  Job hoppers take it. I’ve personally been there, considered it, but I’ve turned it down.

They ran away from home.
A good employee that quit. One and a half years later they come back and say they would like to be re-hired. What do you do? Assuming that they left in good standing you have to ask them the hard questions. I’ve come up with questions to ask an employee who quit and is asking to be re-hired:

    • In what ways have things changed for you and the company so that those reasons that you left are still not reasons why you would leave again? [This is non-negotiable, if the reasons why they left the first time have not been exterminated then this employee will leave you again. Be the first person to offer and help them find a company to work for where that problem doesn’t exist.]
    • In order to build a great company, which is a huge challenge for startups and small companies, what are you going to do help me attract and retain great employees? [A lot of the momentum in your company is built upon hiring great employees, when someone great leaves the can destroy that momentum. They can even recruit other employees away on your team, and being a small company or startup it is devastating to your company. I’ve had this happen and it causes an incredible amount of pain. The flip side is when you hire great employees, it attracts more great employees, and I’m fortunate to be in that cycle right now! A-Players love it when you hire more A-Players. B-Players get scared and turn into C-Players.]
    • You’re back on my team for a month and someone that used to work with you gives you a call and recruits you to come work with them, what are you going to do in that situation? [You already question their loyalty and because a persons network is only so large, they are likely to be recruited by someone from within their network. You’re looking for loyalty and the opportunity for them to recognize that you’re giving them a second chance.]
    • What new skills have you learned in the company you are working for that you didn’t have when working at your company? [If they left your company, hopefully, they have learned something new that they will bring back to your company and improve your business. If not, then they aren’t worth re-hiring.]
    • Their life plans and goals have changed. [Find out how have those life plans changed. You have every right to understand how and why the stage in their life is now going to impact further life decisions such as finding a new job. The reasons why they left in the past, is no longer valid.]

With that I would have to say that if you’re going to take a risk on re-hiring someone that quit, the absolute number one reason to not re-hire them is if the reason why they left has not changed then they will undoubtedly leave you again. Don’t waste your time with that. You’re investing in people that believe in your company, it’s mission, and even when the tough gets going (and I’m 100% sure that it will get tough) that they are not the person that will run out the door. One of my best decisions, which was also a hard decision at the time, was making a decision on going with a new employee who really wanted to work for me rather than re-hiring someone who would have been excellent but probably not in it for the long run. I trusted my gut and now I have someone I can build the company around rather than have questions in the back of my mind.

No take back policy

I’m a person that believes that people need to be shown more grace. With that I think that if they get through those questions then it’s worth the chance that they can become exceptional loyal employees. One of my favorite blog posts that I’ve ever read comes from my advisor Annie Duncan, who wrote this blog post: Maybe the Grass is Greener on the other side. Annie says: “Instead of being jealous or threatened by greener grass, see it as an invitation to water the grass you’re standing on”. What are your thoughts on re-hiring people that have quit? What other questions have you asked to test their loyalty?

Some other good blog posts on this topic:
Never hire job hoppers. Never. They may terrible employees
Why job hoppers make the best employees (I have to say I totally disagree with this blog post)
A Gen-X Managers Advice to Millennials
Confessions of a job hopper
Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare

A Roadmap to Develop Leaders With Both Heart & Horsepower

heart+horsepowerI’ve been running my company for six years and it still feels like a startup. I’ve had bits and parts of a leadership team in the past but it never matured into a leadership team that was able to scale and grow to reach the next level. We’re already in the top 4% of all companies and have $1M+ in revenue but our goal is to be named in the INC 5000 and also reach the top .4% of all companies and have $10M in revenue. In order to reach this level, the right people, strategy, and ability to execute has to be in place. The part that I’m most excited about right now is the launch of the thinkspace Leadership Academy with a new framework that I haven’t had in the past.

Creating Leadership Academy

I’ve formed a Leadership Academy which is modeled after the Bramble Berry Leadership Academy. The intention that I have set forth for this program is to elevate the directors on the team which bleed our core values and have both the heart and horsepower to reach our goals. My goal is to focus on both growing our IQ as well as our eIQ. There also needs to be true passion, the same kind of passion that drives me as the founder. This kind of passion is the feeling like one is able to change the world through this business and it’s not because of monetary compensation. Its hard to put words to it, but, if someone were to treat your passion like their job, you would probably hate that.

“Great lives, great businesses, don’t happen by accident. They happen through deliberate design and hard work” – Anne-Marie Faiola, CEO of Bramble Berry.

Creating Space to Learn

bellingham-view-chantel-bailey-katie-walvatne-peter-cheeThe love of reading is a requirement. We’re reading a book each month. Reading opens the mind to new ideas. You must have an insatiable appetite for learning. Good thing that’s one of our core values! The first book we’re reading is “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson.

One of our key training initiatives is having my leadership team participate in the EO Accelerator Program. This is a program that focuses on helping companies go from $250K to reach the $1M mark. The importance for me is total alignment with my team. The Accelerator Program helps them think like an entrepreneur. The primary book we’re reading is “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish.

Modeling Success

anne-marie-peter-chee-soap-queen-tvRather than learn to be a successful from scratch and re-invent the wheel we are modeling ourselves after successful leaders that have already achieved a high level of success. Each month we are meeting with CEO’s and leaders that exemplify similar core values as us. The goal is to surround yourself with extraordinary people that have been able to break through and model yourself after people like that. It’s the fastest way to successfully learn.

It’s About the Journey Not The Destination

This year I’m on a mission to complete my first marathon. My goal is to just finish. I’m not looking to break any land speed records. I’m defining success as the journey to get there not just the actual act of crossing the finish line. A few people on my leadership team are also participating in this journey with me. I know through doing this it’s going to further push the edge out for all of us and its the most exciting thing for me this year — I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

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A post-Super Bowl-post: Stop trying to have a better past.

Handling loss.

A fitting topic for this dreary-raining-post-Super-Bowl-Monday morning.
Especially if you’re a Seahawks fan.
Especially if you’re a Seahawks fan that wore her wedding dress+jersey only because that’s what you wore on February 1st, 2014 (thinking, superstitiously, “This better work…”).
Especially if you couldn’t sleep last night because you replayed that last possession over and over in your mind.
So…about that loss…
After a restless night, this morning I’ve found solace in what a friend of mine says:
“If you want to have a better future, stop trying to have a better past.”
There’s nothing we can do with yesterday.
Only what we can do with today.
Feel free to apply that to yesterday’s game, or wherever it is fitting in your life.
Looks like Russell Wilson already has. #leadership #gohawks

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.00.39 AM

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The Power of Positive Constraints

lee-lefever-autographIn his CreativeMornings presentation in Seattle this morning, Lee LeFever, founder of Common Craft and author of The Art of Explanation, broached the subject of constraints.   Constraints generally have a negative connotation.  For champions of free thinking and unbridled creativity, constraints appear to be the things holding you back, the things keeping your imagination in check.  But constraints can also be incredibly liberating.  In the context of Lee LeFever’s presentation, this set of constraints helped to shape the direction of his company and its product.  But what if we apply this same process to our day-to-day lives?

It is okay to make your happiness a priority.  And sometimes, this means saying, “No.”  A set of constraints can be a set of rules to live by.  It can be a set of goals and values.  Defining what will make you happy allows you to say, “No” to the things that will diminish that happiness.  It’s not about holding yourself back, it’s about having a set of guidelines to create accountability, a set of guidelines that will directly contribute to your happiness.  Happiness is made up of a series of choices, of thousands of micro decisions over time.  In creating positive constraints, you can create freedom.  You develop the power to say, “No.”  You optimize for happiness.

The difference between helping, fixing, and serving.

This summer, I am participating in a continuing education program at a hospital.  The program is called Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE), and through the program I have the opportunity to serve as one of five chaplain interns.

During our first week, we had numerous orientations, seminars and trainings.  This on-boarding was likened to a fire hose (meaning we were receiving more information than we could take in).  However, one thing I did retain during that first week was discussing the difference between helping, fixing and serving.

As a chaplain, I am learning that my role is one of service.  I am not there to help or to fix anyone.  This goes against my desire to help and fix a situation when something is wrong.  But when I am meeting with patients, the reality is that I cannot help their suffering anymore than I can fix their ailments.  I am learning that just being present with people – a “ministry of presence” – is sometimes the only thing I can do.  And the only thing that is needed.

An article by Rachel Naomi Remen has been incredibly useful in distinguishing my role as a chaplain intern.  She writes:

“Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between two equals.  When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength….When I fix a person I perceive them as broken.  Fixing is a form of judgment…Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe…[Therefore,] when you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken.  When you serve, you see life as whole.”

Understanding my posture as a chaplain is also informing the way that I interact with my colleagues, friends and family.  I appreciate it more when others listen and understand me (serve), instead of quickly try to remedy my problem (fix) or think that they know what’s best for me (help).  Adopting this service-mindset initiates more relationship in a non-condescending and genuine way.

This is definitely a new way of thinking for me – so I appreciate any comments/feedback as well as critique/pushback!  See you in the comments :)