As I was reading this great article about one of Elon Musk‘s endeavor, SpaceX, this particular passage resonated beautifully.
[…] Even at that price, a one-way trip to Mars could be a tough sell. It would be fascinating to experience a deep space mission, to see the Earth receding behind you, to feel that you were afloat between worlds, to walk a strange desert under an alien sky. But one of the stars in that sky would be Earth, and one night, you might look up at it, through a telescope. At first, it might look like a blurry sapphire sphere, but as your eyes adjusted, you might be able to make out its oceans and continents. You might begin to long for its mountains and rivers, its flowers and trees, the astonishing array of life forms that roam its rainforests and seas. You might see a network of light sparkling on its dark side, and realise that its nodes were cities, where millions of lives are coming into collision. You might think of your family and friends, and the billions of other people you left behind, any one of which you could one day come to love. […]
[…] Never again would you feel the sun and wind on your skin, unmediated. Indeed, you would probably be living underground at first, in a windowless cave, only this time there would be no wild horses to sketch on the ceiling. […]
Say you want to get something done: Build a product, a service, a car. Tackle malaria once and for all. Distribute free meals to the homeless. In this article I will show you how to do that. I will show you how YOU can do that.
There are no task too hard to accomplish. If you have the right amount of energy you can do anything you want and move mountains. The concepts below are not rocket-science. In fact they are pretty easy to understand, and for some, instinctive. What is hard to do, is applying them in a good disciplined way.
1. Start with your goal
The very first thing that you have to do is defining your goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Say you want to start a company making waffles. Who doesn’t like waffles?
Your goal could be “I will make 10 Millions dollars in 10 years selling waffle”, but quite frankly, now is not the time to think about how much waffle you want to sell, and how many sport cars you will be able to buy with your waffle-fortune.
Your goal could be to make the best waffle possible. You are making the assumption that if you make the best waffle in the world, you will make it as an entrepreneur. There is a bit of a “If you build it they will come”, which some of you might say is wishful thinking, and others will call a product-centric approach.
Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say we will build a company that does all of things that are required to make the best waffle in the world. What it comes down to here is defining your goal in process terms as opposed to results – Or, expanding the initial goal to incorporate process thinking. By thinking in terms of processes, you will be focused on the steps that it takes to sell a great waffle, and will not be bounding your potential upside to the very initial $10 millions waffle empire goal that you initially had in mind. Of course, you will have to build processes that can scale up to make millions of waffles.
It’s not to say that you cannot start expressing your goals in terms of the target or results you want to hit – The point here is to look at things from an execution standpoint. What are the things that need to happen?
2. Design at a high level
Those things are the things that will allow you to make the best waffle possible. You are the CEO of a company that strive to become the number 1 waffle maker company in the world – Where do you start? That first level of designing will be the backbone of your company, so make sure you are doing it right. From a design / operational standpoint though it’ll be the easiest thing to design in your company. Mostly because companies all look alike from a distance.
You need to manage various resources likes office space, legal, HR, etc.
You need the best recipe possible. An R&D function.
You need waffle makers. A production function.
You need to market – A marketing function.
You need to sell – A sales function.
You need to support – A customer services function.
Let’s stop there. If any reader has waffle experience let me know so that we can add to the list above and make the article more accurate.
I think you got the point. Understand what the things that need to happen for you to make the perfect waffle are. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to do those things. In the next section we will talk about hiring people who do know.
One thing that we still need to do though is to establish what the goals of each functions should be. In the same way we did for the company at large, each of those function need to be described from a goal standpoint.
Once you have the goal, you can derive responsibilities, but don’t necessarily spend too much time on that because you will work with the people you hired to figure them out – You are not necessarily an expert salesman.
3. Hire the right people
Now that you know in more details what the things that need to happen are, you will need to hire people to do those things for you. We’ll take the example of the sales function – You need a Head of Sales (Or maybe you will decide to get a Head of Sales and Marketing – Your call (i.e. you can design roles by grouping goals together)). Before hiring you have to write a job description. The best thing to do is to go from the responsibilities (which should be part of the job description anyway), and derive the skills and abilities that will be required in order to execute those responsibilities in a good way. This is where it is a good idea to spend some time with mentors or books that will give you some answers as to what those are.
In fact, a great interview question would probably be the very open “I want you to sell my waffles, how would you do?”. This is a way to pick the brain of the interviewee, test their abilities to think on their feet, and test how much they know about selling waffles.
As you interview these people which will constitute your management team, and refine the Department goals -> Responsibilities -> Abilities & Skills chain, you will start seeing the design of the level below. But while it’s important for those things to happen in a good way, it’s not your role to go down to that level. Hire people your trust can do that in a good way. If you did design down to that level, you would be micro-managing. And we don’t like micro-managing.
4. Have these people start from the top (well, their top)
So you picked your head of sales. Now that person has to build a team – But you don’t start with the people, you start with the process. Only then will you know what people you will need.. Have them design around their goal, using the same methodology that you have used – They have to be process oriented, to think in terms of the things that need to happen. Probably they will need a pre-sales function, salespeople, pricing and billing, etc. … at which point they can start thinking of their head of pre-sales, head of billing, etc.
Easy isn’t it? I hope I conveyed the way I see getting anything done easily. It’s all about the things that you do. All of your discussion could include things like Goals, Design, Responsibilities, Abilities, Skills. I insist, everything that you discuss or do, can be seen from the standpoint of that framework. And when you work with people who also see that framework in everything, that’s when you move mountains.
There is much more that can be written about all of this – From building your design to hiring the right people to running your design, measuring its efficiency, etc. I have thoughts on most of those things but it would probably require a 500,000 words posts. Let me know if you have any question.
Note this though: Having the perfect processes will not make you a winning waffle making company. There are things that relate to strategy that are not covered here.
Hire for a job, not for a headcount – Here is where you should probably start anything that you want to do, including building a team and hiring people: Understand what you are trying to achieve. As simple as it might sound, too often I see job descriptions being pointless as a result of not asking that question. Writing a job description is easy. Writing a job description that actually delivers value is harder.
Step 1: Understand what your goals are
It all starts with what you are trying to achieve. You might be recruiting someone to join a specific team: You should have a good idea of what your strategy is for the team, what its mission is. In fact, it should be coming to you from a higher level, and be aligned with the corporate strategy. For example, a CEO might decide that he or she needs his organization to have an IT function. He or she will chose someone that they think can run with the IT department. That person, in turn, will decide that the IT department needs development, QA and support groups. The support manager might create a Level 1 support team, and a Level 2 support team.
From the very top level of the company should trickle an orientation, a strategy or a vision. If you are not getting this, then you have a problem. If you don’t have clear goals, you should hold your management accountable to giving them to you. This is true at every level of the organization, for every job.
So ask yourself, what will the goal of that position be?
Step 2: Derive responsibilities
Responsibilities are the concrete tasks that someone will have to do in their job in order for the goal of the group or team to be fulfilled. When working on a goal, ask yourself “What are the tasks that I, or that my team will have to run in order to produce reliable and quality results in line with my goal?”
You should probably have no more than 5 or 6 of those. For example, the responsibility of our support person could be to
Triage incoming incidents and requests as they come in
Resolve incidents and requests within SLAs
Relay user enhancement requests to the development group
Provide training and guidance to new users and new team members
Step 3: Describe who can do that.
Now that you know what you expect that person to be doing, it is time to understand how that person should be. From each responsibility you should be able to derive abilities and skills that best describe someone that you know will be capable of running those responsibilities. In our example this might be:
Problem solving abilities
Ability to deal with pressure
Familiarity with ITIL processes
Knowledge of Perl or other scripting language
Note that those are at a different level – Abilities, skills, competencies can all be refined and understood further.
Step 4: Selecting people
The job description should include both the list of responsibilities and the list of abilities and skills, on top of the usual company description, benefit disclosure, etc.
Further, sourcing resume, screening them and interviewing people should all make use of this framework for selecting the right people. The discussions with the candidate as well as the deliberation regarding the fit of that person for the position should be using the framework. Too often I see people conducting “thumbs-up/down” interviews. They get into a room, ask various questions from “Talk about yourself” to “How many barbecues exist on the island of Manhattan”, but are still unable to understand the person to the degree that is required to weed out the bad and detect the good. I call those voodoo interviews and they are an indicator that the interviewing process is not taken seriously in the organization. There is much to be talked about on the matter.
Step 5: Taking it one step further
Since you now have a deep understanding of the role you are creating, and the qualities of the people that can run with those responsibilities, you can use this information for things like performance reviews. Rate your people explicitly against their responsibilities. I have seen everything from overall ratings (both opaque and useless), to generic frameworks built by HR departments with things like “Quality of work”, “Quantity of work”, “Team player”, etc. The goal of the performance review does not end with the rating itself! Here again there is much that can be said but that’s not the point of this post.
Like many things, hiring comes down to knowing what you are trying to achieve, and doing the things that make sense to get there. By understanding the what and the how, you’ll make the best who decisions.
The worst job interview I ever went through was years ago, for a trading support role in an investment bank, when I was asked advanced Perl scripting questions for about 3 hours, from 4 different people – 45 minutes each. This happened after I told the hiring manager, who I met first, that while I knew Perl well enough, I was not a Perl expert. I spent most of those 3 hours answering questions with “I don’t know how to do that”. At some point I was given a sheet of paper, a pencil and 30 minutes to write a Perl Algo!
If this was happening nowadays I would probably, and politely, walk out of the interview. Ah, I was young and I was impressionable.
Flash forward to now: New headcount was recently approved in my team – Looking at the company’s hiring process and how inefficient it was, I realized that I would have to redesign it – I re-wrote the job description and reviewed the selection process. I will save the explanation of my methodology for a later post – My point here is about the approach that most companies, and candidates, currently use.
It has always annoyed me, in my own job searches, that job descriptions are mostly a list of skills and consequently do not offer a real window into what the job will be like. Resumes too are a list of skills sprinkled with elements of the past. Where did the candidate go to school, where did they work, etc.
The approach for both the employer and the potential employee seems to be to look at skills. If they match, then the candidate is a good one and the hiring process can start. (I’m sure though – In fact I know for a fact and from my own experience – that there are exceptions out there, meaning companies who spent time making sure they understand what hiring well means).
In average – 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. Nearly half of the people you hire will leave the company withing the first 1.5 years! That’s a large number that support the notion that the current way of hiring is inefficient. In fact, out of those 46% failures, 11% of the time the employee leaves because of skills. 89% of the time, they leave for attitudinal reasons [link]. Think about it, think about the people around you who left their job – Did they leave because of their skills?
I believe that there is a lot of value in understanding that disconnect – What makes people successful hires? Why do they stick around? How does that translate to our hiring process? Our resume flow? Our interviewing methodology?
That bank that I was mentioning at the beginning at this post does not exist anymore – It collapsed in 2008. Certainly their interviewing technique is not what caused their demise, but surely it reflected a certain company culture. While correlation does not mean causation – Correlation still means correlation.
A few months ago I managed to “crash” an ATV while riding in the outskirts of Phoenix. I managed to hurt my knee in the process. I was wearing my heartrate monitor and just pulled this information from it. On the graphs below you can see how my heartrate spiked as I was sliding down the ravine, being pulled by the ATV. Unfortunately my battery died literally a few minutes after this happened.
There is probably an area where you don’t mind spending money to get what you consider to be “Luxury”. It might be a nice car, good wine, nice vacations or a big TV. You spend that money because that is something that makes you feel good. You enjoy driving, drinking, traveling or watching it. It doesn’t matter the price of the luxury. If you are poor, a “luxurious” car is different than if you are middle-class, but you can still have your version of “luxury”. The key is to getting joy from that luxury element and appreciate it.
You have a problem when you start not getting luxury because they make you feel good, but because you want all the luxuries in the world, or because you want a better car than your neighbors. It’s a combination of extreme consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses where the object or service itself is not what you are after – You are after owning the object and the associated process of acquisition. You don’t own what you have. What you have owns you. You lose track of what makes you happy, and under the illusion that having is what drives you, you build huge credit card debts and lose yourself.
I hear people talking about making a “pros and cons list” all the time. And it annoys me.
You know those lists very well: Usually the column on the left is pros; the column on the right is cons. Some swear by them whenever they have to make a decision. In my view they are a terrible tool when trying to assess anything: When building them, you tend to focus on the assessment as opposed to how you assess things.
Most of our choices, whether we are conscious of this or not, are made in order to accomplish a specific goal. Whether you are choosing a new apartment, or a new car, you do have a set of goals in mind (From which you might derive “criteria” – But the semantic does not matter much). For some people, going from point A to point B is what they are looking for. For some others, social recognition, fuel economy or maybe performance is what they are looking for.
This is what Goal attachment is – Do you understand why you are doing things, do you understand what is important to you? Over the long run, not knowing will cost you opportunities and create pain. In the context of my current job search I get to assess often whether or not certain job offers are appealing to me. I could go with “I like the salary but don’t like where the offices are located, and the industry the company is in is dying” – Which is essentially me spitting out my gut-feeling about the job offer in an unstructured way. Instead of doing this, I am better off sitting down in front of a white piece of paper, and thinking long and hard about what is important for me in a job, in an absolute manner. Things like “Job interest”, “Compensation”, “Resume Impact” are the type of things that should be my criteria. Once I have that list, I can order it by order of importance. This will constitute my basis for assessing my interest in specific jobs. I can then literally grade jobs against each of those dimensions – Which will also be very helpful in comparing them with one another.
Generally speaking, we benefit for taking the time to think about how we do things, rather than just jumping in the mud and getting things done. The “pros and cons” thing above is very much a meta point so it can get confusing. We reach our goals depending on the set of decisions that we made along the way. Thinking about how to take those decisions, I realize that understanding what my goals are in the first place is key. Goal-attachment is a very implicit process for most. But it should not be. How do you drive somewhere if you don’t know the address? How are you going to be happy in life if you don’t know what really matters to you. Is that money? Is that a nice apartment, a nice car or personal relationships?
Below are some interesting and/or fun facts about our trip
Total Miles driven: 10,035.6 miles (16.150,7 km)
Number of days: 46
Average mileage per day: 218.17 (351.11 km)
Longest days of driving: #46 – 960 miles (1545 km) – 16 hours
Average Gas consumption: 24.5 mpg (9.60L / 100)
Total number of gallons consumed: ~409.62 (~1550.58L)
Max speed driven: ~145mph (~233km/h) – On a dry, flat, empty road in Texas
Car issues and maintenance to deal with:
Flat tire in Knoxville TN
Dead headlight in Mammoth Lake CA
Wobbling wheel between 45 and 60mph in Salt Lake City UT, due to front tires being in very bad shape.
Oil change in Salt Lake City UT
Number of states visited: 24
NJ, PA, WV, VA, TN, GA, AL, MS, LA, TX, NM, AZ, NV, CA, ID, MT, WY, UT, CO, KS, MI, IL, IN, OH
Longest stay in a single town: Las vegas – 8 nights
Number of hotels: 34
Earliest checkout time: 9am – Pony Express Jackson WY
Latest checkout time: 3pm – Venetian Las Vegas NV
Number of pictures taken: 4,000+
Number of sprained knees: 1 due to ATV incident
Things we were happy to have with us:
Large storage boxes and smaller bags (Most of our clothes where in large plastic bin in the trunk, and we were only carrying small bags to our hotel rooms)
A big car – We were (I was) thinking of getting a convertible. It would have been very nice on some section of our trip, but overall, the comfort and space of our car was a huge plus.
A Canon lens: 70-200 F2.8L II IS – Purchased in Las Vegas. It’s fantastic.
PDANet – Allowed me to tether my 3G connection for accessing the web with laptop and ipads.
A place for everything – After a few unpacking / packing session, we became very good at it. It would take us maybe 2 minutes to pack everything and move on with our trip. This was mostly thanks to knowing where to put things in our bags. Also it prevented us from losing anything.
Things we wish we had with us / wish we had done:
Altimeter – Although I discovered later on that my car had one albeit not convenient to use
AAA subscription – Would have saved us some money on hotels.
An RV – Seeing those people parking on the side of the road on top of a mountain and spending the night there.
Running some kind of project associated to our trip. e.g. take a thematic series of pictures, visiting specific restaurants, etc.
A stronger zoom – My 70-200mm was nice, but a 100-400 would have been really nice for those wildlife shots
A wide lens – I would have liked to be able to shoot wider than 17mm – e.g. 10mm. Would have made panorama and other landscape shots more interesting.