Things I learned at my last job

Today I closed a chapter in my life. After nearly 4 years tenure at a company I wanted to reflect on the things I learned over that time.

I have been very lucky to have a few excellent – world-class even – mentors here who have taught me things that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I wanted to share the reflection process with you in the hope you gain something valuable too.

Individual Success Isn’t Success

For a long, long time I  adopted the ‘aircraft oxygen mask’ approach to my career: I’ll get to where I want to be first, then I’ll help others. This company has taught me that isn’t the right thing to do.

ubuntumeme

My thinking was always “I’ll be in a better position to help others” once I hit my objectives, but that simply doesn’t work in practice: without respectful, cooperative development across your team(s), you risk yourself hitting your goals at all, and if you haven’t helped others hit theirs too, nobody wins.

Dare I use the management-bullshit-bingo term ‘synergy’?

My current role here is a technical leadership role – that means I don’t have people reporting to me but I do have authority over technology direction and a remit to ensure conceptual integrity of the solution. I have led project teams before, I have even run small businesses before, but being a leader in a larger company was new to me when I began this chapter of my life, and I wanted to be good at it.

I’ve seen all the memes about the difference between a boss and a leader but for some reason I struggled to enact the differences. However, after some time spent being (in retrospect) a terrible boss, some sage advice from one of those mentors made everything ‘click’, and I was given the mental tools to develop the techniques required to become a good leader instead. (Note, a good mentor won’t give you the answer, but the means of finding it on your own!).

boss-vs-leader

“Take people with you.”

So what does that look like in practice? Last year I was offered the chance to travel to our American HQ to present some new work to 1,500 customers. ‘Prestigious’ isn’t even close – this is a huge event, so compelling that our customers pay us to listen to our plans and roadmap. The trip dripped with a significant amount of attached ‘kudos’ and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the highest of the high in the business. Not only that – the opportunity to ask probing questions to 1,500 customers about our technology direction is such a rare occurrence it was unmissable. The old me would have started packing immediately. Continue Reading “Things I learned at my last job”

Push vs. Pull

I don’t know what it is, but I’ll take ten.

There are two ways make a product successful: either you saturate consumers with marketing so there literally is no other choice but to buy it (“push”), or you make the product so appealing that it hardly needs any marketing capital at all (“pull”).

 

Apple

Right now, Apple is proving that pull is the approach to take. While I’m a big fan of Android and my only Apple device is a 3rd Generation iPod from 2007 I have to be realistic here and acknowlege the sheer class and artistry that the Cupertino-based company sinks into each new device.

The iPhone really was the start of a global revolution in touch-screen, internet-enabled, pocket-sized devices and I was dubious when the iPad was launched during a recession at twice the price of its nearest competitors, but I was wrong to doubt the undeniable power of the pull effect.

 

Google+ vs. Facebook

At the same time, I believe Google+ hasn’t been successful because it has been rammed down our throats at every turn. Want a YouTube account so you can comment on a video? You’ll need to sign up to Google+. Want to create a new email account on GMail? Guess what? You’ll need a G+ account… Humans are naturally averse to being forced into something; the aversion is considerably greater when technology is involved and exponentially greater when the service being forced onto us asks for our personal details. Now, Google has shot itself in the foot, Google+ is actually a VERY, VERY GOOD service, Hangouts are incredible and the whole common Google estate idea will make it easier for users to live their lives. But Google shouldn’t have been so arrogant as to tell us what we should be doing.

I strongly believe that the feeling of being “left out” of something is a greater driver to making people take action than being told to take action. The entire Apple reinvention over the past decade has gone from strength to strength on this ethos. Google+ had nothing but great publicity when it was in its early “invitation-only” stage and the not-obligatory launch and acceleration phases after that. It was when Google’s centralised Privacy Policy came about, and then Google+ accounts became mandatory to use completely unrelated parts of Google’s online empire that the really bad stuff started to come out.

Facebook has used the Pull effect since day one too: “my friends are all on Facebook, they’re sharing, they’re talking, I’M BEING LEFT OUT!!!”. And despite their stock price diving with more ability than Tom Daley, nobody is thinking less of the actual service offered. Continue Reading “Push vs. Pull”