The way to think differently is to act differently and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For business leaders, entrepreneurs, managers and anyone who wants to improve how they work and live: Welcome to the Unlearn Podcast. Host Barry O’Reilly, author of Unlearn and Lean Enterprise seeks to synthesize the superpowers of extraordinary individuals into actionable strategies you can use—to Think BIG, start small and learn fast, and find your edge with excellence.
Leading an Engineering Culture Transformation with Chris Goddard
On reading Lean Enterprise, this week’s guest, Chris Goddard, reached out to Barry O’Reilly several years ago to help implement its principles and practices at his company, G-Research. Chris has been with G-Research, a leading quantitative research and technology company in the algorithmic investment space, for almost 20 years. He is currently the Chief Technology Officer there. Barry says of G-Research, “Working with the team has really helped me evolve my thesis on the power of gathering and synthesizing data to inform your products and business model investments, much of which is actually captured in my latest article, Precision Product Creation…”
Becoming a Leader
Being thrown into a job that he didn’t sign up for turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Chris. “What it really taught me was how the ecosystem of everything hung together;” he says, “how you needed to think about the building blocks as being bigger than just lines of code…” That experience set him up to progress to more strategic roles over his 20-year career at G-Research. He says that it’s important for leaders to ask good questions and to look for inspiration outside their field. Also, you have to accept that you will be wrong sometimes and face up to your mistakes.
Signals of Change and a Culture Shift
At a certain point, the strategies that brought you success in the past no longer suffice. At that point, a leader needs to move in another - often counterintuitive - direction. G-Research’s founder asked Chris, “Why does it feel like it's not working? Like we were adding more resources and that the business was doing well, but it felt like it was getting harder.” Chris tells Barry about the changes happening in the company, as well as how he realized that the company needed to shift their focus from functionality to developing their craft. With Barry’s help, Chris says, the company underwent a culture change. He jokes about the ‘Barry Post-Its’ that now decorated the previously bare walls. “It felt like it just cracked open the creativity that was in the business,” he comments.
Becoming More Open
The transition from developing all their own software to embracing open source is just one of the culture changes G-Research adopted. Barry comments that he admires the spirit of the team - he loves how they see ideas as hypotheses that they openly challenge. Chris remarks that they also started measuring more: they wanted to see how the new methods were impacting the company. He and Barry talk about the risk metric that G-Research used to measure speed to market. Interestingly, the team itself also grew more close-knit. They each wanted to learn about what their colleagues were doing, and took pride in being part of the team.
The Power of 10,000
Using open-source software is like getting “the power of 10,000 engineers when you only have a few hundred,” Chris argues. He tells Barry that it comes down to what you’re contributing to open source. You don’t have to expose your IP, but if you can solve general problems that many people have and put the code out there for them to use and modify, it will benefit everyone. You’re also showing the quality work you do, he says.
Looking Ahead and Top Tips
Chris is thinking more about what could be around the corner technology-wise, particularly exploring how best to use the public cloud even while investing in private data centers. Barry asks him to give advice to a leader who senses that their future success is being limited by their present actions. Chris advises such leaders to keep in touch with the people doing the job, keep abreast of technology trends and read a lot. He stresses that sometimes you just need to “stew on it.” He remarks, “Actually if you sometimes just let your mind tell you the answer you'll find it's there. You just have to kind of
Keep Learning Forward with Amy Farrow
“Amy Farrow [is] a seasoned executive who lives at the center of customer-focused product and technology innovation,” Barry O'Reilly says. Amy is a collaborator, team builder, and problem solver at heart, traits that she brought to her former roles at Salesforce and Twitter, and which she continues to champion as the current Chief Information Officer of Lyft. Amy and Barry talk about the value of reflection and how to leverage learning to build a better organization, including what not to do in times of challenge or crisis. As Barry points out, this episode “is a fantastic podcast to understand the convergence of customer insights, technology, and product to create great experiences.”
Learning From Customers
“There’s what you see and then there’s what you don’t see. And often what you don’t see is more impactful than what you do see,” Amy remarks. She and Barry discuss the importance of learning about and directly from customers. In her early career, Amy didn’t really understand why this was so important. Her time at Salesforce in particular gave her a new perspective. Barry comments that customer discovery is part of building great products and delivering great service. If a customer has a problem, help them to solve it as best as you can and bring back what you learned to the team so you can improve the product. Building this type of culture ultimately becomes a competitive advantage, as it did for Salesforce.
Keep Moving Forward
Leveraging your team’s expertise in a crisis is critical; to do that you first have to bring people together and build trust in one another. Barry comments that high-performance teams feel free to make mistakes and to discuss them openly without laying blame. In this healthy culture, teams respond quicker and learn faster than the competition, he says. In a challenge or crisis, keep going forward, Amy adds. Take small steps toward solving the problem. She says that she tries to understand why the problem arose without laying blame. Instead, her focus is on studying the problem and finding ways to solve it with the help of her team.
The Value of Reflection
Reflecting is hard work: Amy describes it as ‘cognitive load’ to constantly think about your actions. However, it’s critical work as it helps you to understand what is working and what you should do differently. “One bad pattern I see is this belief that you retrospect at the end... Why would you wait?” she remarks. You should reflect multiple times, including at the start of the year. Last year was tough for everyone, so she chose to reflect on her team’s accomplishments instead of the negatives. “We definitely learned from it, but I also just felt like people needed to let it go and move on from it more than any other year,” she tells Barry. Barry also shares an uplifting story about celebrating small wins. These small acts have a “profound impact on building team, on building trust, on role modeling ... just upping the bar in terms of the culture you want to create in the company,” he comments. Amy emphasizes that it’s important for leaders to take action on what they learn from these reflective exercises.
Barry asks Amy what she is excited about for the future. She describes two ongoing unlearning events in her personal life. Overall, she believes that the end of this year will be much better than the start. Her advice to listeners is to “Keep learning forward”. Take what we learned about work and life and apply them to make work better in the future.
Read the rest of the show notes on BarryOReilly.com
Amy Farrow on LinkedIn
Bold Product Decisions with Quincy Carroll
Quincy Caroll has a passion for delighting users, fans, and communities through world-class mobile, web, and computer applications and services. Quincy is this week’s guest on the Unlearn Podcast. He and host Barry O’Reilly discuss the bold product decisions he experienced while working on initiatives such as GarageBand at Apple, pivoting eBay’s search algorithm to scaling Crunchyroll, the world-leading Manga streaming platform from 300,000 to 3 million users.
A Product Person
Quincy changed careers several times throughout his professional life. What he learned along the way helped him to become a “product person”. Barry asks him to explain some of the things he learned about himself during this period. Quincy responds that being a product person allowed him to work with all kinds of people. The diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable in developing products, he comments. He is happy that the focus is now on group mentality and fostering team success. “Now it’s about the actual function of the role as it is, like either mentoring other people or setting up the team in such a way that the chemistry is right.”
Getting The Timing Right
Companies, products, and projects are all about the right timing. How they come to be and how they ultimately develop depends on the time spent on them and what concepts and disciplines are used to create them. Barry comments that craft discipline is a concept that is still forming even now. He remarks on Quincy’s time at eBay. Quincy adds that during his time there, he worked on, and was able to complete, significant platform-level projects within eBay’s system. However, he also faced the challenge of convincing the company not to end certain projects. Many organizations face this same challenge, Quincy comments: they either end projects too quickly, or let them run for too long.
Quality over Quantity
Quincy and Barry discuss the challenges of business owners who are rigid regarding product development. Barry comments that many people have challenges getting their ideas launched and supported due to these owners. “Companies need to look at different variables to create quality rather than quantity,” Quincy says. One such variable is an employee’s working process. Employees may structure their entire working process around a particular method to get a desired outcome. He warns that changing their structures in hopes of improving company profitability may have adverse effects. He advises that these kinds of issues can be resolved by testing new technologies and analyzing the resulting data to decide what methods work.
Cultural crystallization is unraveling an original framework into its components and deviating from the established norm. For companies to develop, they need to crystallize the culture of not only the company but also the industry and the product. They need to unravel the cultural framework around promotion. To do this, product developers need to be heard. Quincy gives an anecdote of presenting a product to the heads of department through the use of comic books. Through this innovative way, he was able to keep the board members actively engaged while informing them about his product. Barry comments that the conventional ways of promotion and pitches through slides are boring and outdated and that we need to keep things fresh and engaging.
The Age of Information
We live in the age of readily accessible information. Quincy talks about being able to liaise and engage in product development with people around the world. Leaders need to capitalize on that to help build production. The tools are there and we must use them, he emphasizes.
Quincy Caroll | LinkedIn
Making Quality Decisions with Diana Kander
Diana Kander is a New York Times Bestselling Author, an entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. Barry O’Reilly likes to reference her Ted Talk and $1 experiment in many of his videos. Diana has spent her career challenging assumptions and asking thought-provoking questions. Barry welcomes her to this week’s show as they discuss tips and tricks that lead to innovation.
The Road to Innovation
Her parents’ ability to essentially create something from nothing fed Diana’s urge to get into entrepreneurship and innovation. Her immigrant parents had to work hard to provide for the family. Through their hard work, they were able to build their own business.
New Mindset, New Growth
One of Diana’s biggest unlearning experiences happened while starting up her own business. She gives an anecdote of her interaction with a high growth program leader. She talks about having to change her mindset and approach to business due to that interaction and how it grew her company 1000% in one year! Barry adds that breaking free of existing behaviors within that frame and thinking big but starting small can help a business grow.
Saying No and Letting Go
“Good strategy means you say no, even to customers you know,” Barry says. Customers you go after are the customers you will get, Diana emphasizes. Sales from larger companies will take longer to get, but the return is worth it. She says that you should say no to companies that can prevent you from going after the kind of business you really want. She cites her experience of letting go 90% of her own customers so she could have more growth and profitability. Barry iterates that being serious about your business growth means sometimes letting go of existing customers.
Making decisions on a 1 to 10 scale allows you to make higher quality decisions. Diana says that many people are misguided on how to say yes to things because they think about decisions as a yes or no binary, rather than on a scale of one to ten. In the business decision-making process, it’s important to have people around you who can help you find ways to work through hard decisions.
Diana calls the things we monitor to inform our decisions, ‘pivot indicators.’ There should be systems in place - such as a decision-making rubric - that monitor the outcomes of our decisions and help people make progress in uncertain situations. Diana says that your decision-making rubric is a living document that will evolve as you do new things and experience what works. She adds that she has a decision diary for when she’s making tough decisions, with a checklist for those decisions. “50% of decisions are probably wrong because you have limited information,” Diana expresses.
Diana is currently focused on leading people through innovation, creating an environment that helps them get through an innovation project, and big transformation within a company. Diana’s tips to managers are to create pivot points within their work environment, give employees their space to do their tasks, and trust their employees to achieve the business’ desired outcomes.
Diana Kander | Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Website
Enabling Agility by Being Agile with Annette Gabriel
This week’s guest, Annette Gabriel, is enthusiastic about helping leaders and teams adopt higher performance practices. Annette is a former Senior Director of Human Resources at Pepsico. Barry O’Reilly describes her as “one of the people who just shines when you hear her stories.” Annette and Barry discuss the framework of agility, and how to let teams lead.
Leaders who adopt an agility mindset are eager to explore the world around them. Annette says that she views each job as a learning opportunity and a new experience whether she ends up liking it or not. Barry comments that trying and even failing is part of the process: you just have to recalibrate when things don’t go as you planned. If more people adopted an agility mindset, they would be open to trying new ways of working.
Barry asks Annette to relate some of the mistakes she made along the way, and what she had to unlearn. “Trying to do too much at once whilst still trying to influence the leadership layer of the company,” she begins. She gives an anecdote of going at the leadership layer with working programs that failed because they were too complicated. She was still learning the programs while trying to share and develop them, so she should have taken more time to fully understand them before presenting to company leaders. Barry comments that leaders often find it hard to just get out of the way and let front line staff have more authority. However, when they start to see the values and principles come to life and the positive outcomes of them, it becomes easier for them to trust the process.
“There is no one way to be agile,” Annette remarks. “Being agile is actually pivoting and adjusting for what you need at that moment, at that time based upon what you've learned, what information you've gathered and what you've learned from testing,” she continues. It’s a common misconception that processes have to be standardized to be successful, Barry comments. A better approach is a localized one: focus on equipping teams to adapt based on the context.
First Follower Concept
“A champion can bring [the team] along a lot more quickly if you give that champion the license to take the team through [training],” Annette says. She advocates the importance of ‘first followers’. “A first follower,” Annette explains, “is that champion who is going to make the extra time investment and go deeper on things, when they try to pull a group into an exercise or facilitate a discussion.” She reiterates that these individuals are influential in reaching more people and bringing them onto the new plans and directions the organization may take.
The Team Leads The Way
Barry expresses that at times senior level management believe that they have all the answers and that this can create challenges within the organization. He adds that processes designed to make things work often keeps progress back because those processes rely on one or two people signing off a document. It is better to empower the hundreds of frontline workers - who deal with the issues and know what exactly the problems are - to come up with the solutions. Annette agrees and adds that a well-constructed team with all the right capabilities will be experts at resolving issues.
Not knowing what’s ahead is what excites Annette the most. She’s looking forward to her ‘next great learning experience.’ Her advice to leaders who may be struggling with unlearning: play along and see what happens, you may not always like the result but it will always be a learning experience.
Annette Gabriel on LinkedIn
Unlearn Season Two Finale: Ask Me Anything with Barry O’Reilly
Welcome to the Unlearn Podcast’s second Ask Me Anything, something that is fast becoming an annual tradition. This episode is a kind of retrospective, a chance to not only answer questions from listeners all over the world but a chance to reflect on the year that has happened - the challenges as well as the opportunities.
Here’s to 2021 – and now, 10 answers to 10 questions.
· What has been the most important characteristic that has helped you lead through COVID?
· As a leader, what advice would you give your younger self for managing such an accelerated period of change?
· What was the biggest shift for you personally in your approach to leadership this year?
· What are the key traits and habits that leaders need to adopt to lead in this new world of work?
· You often talk about collaboration fit — can you elaborate on it?
· What’s been your most interesting video conference experience in 2020?
· What are your principles of work?
· What one change have you made to help you for 2021 and beyond?
· What’s the most interesting research you’ve discovered this year?
· What’s your favorite book you read this year?
Role Modeling Culture Transformation with Christian Metzner
Product Management For Large Scale Innovation with Secil Tabli Watson
Help Others Win with Steven Leist
How to be an Anti-Racist
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Checked this podcast out to hear the episode with Katie Anderson. Worth the listen and a great complement to her new book. I have now downloaded several other episodes and looking forward to listening to them.
Brain Food & Candy! Delight for the mind.
Just discovered this podcast while randomly scrolling through Twitter and following threads down the proverbial rabbit-hole. Saw the one featuring Susan O'Malley of Ideo whom I heard speak in NYC at a creativity conference. Decided to have a listen and found every exchange she had with Barry O’Reilly of #Unlearn to be fun, thought-provoking, generous and humble. Highly recommend this podcast !