A Done Done Culture: Habit Twelve

Well folks, this is the last chapter that's going to be online. The actual eBook has a chapter that precedes the 12 habits, and another that wraps it up. But other than that, you've seen it all. The book cover is done, the infographic is done and even that last chapter is done. So now I just have to send it over to Amazon (and maybe even Apple). Don't forget this promotion.

They have an Open Mind and are Willing to Learn

When I interview software engineers I start by asking them to complete three tasks. I ask them to solve a business puzzle. I ask them to write some sample code. And the final thing I ask is that they create a PowerPoint slide deck that will teach me something I don’t already know.

Now if you think that’s all strange for a software engineering position – it is. In a time and place where companies, mature and start-up alike, are looking for the smartest software developers out of places like Berkeley and Stanford, I often don’t care where a student studied.

You might wonder if this position is some sour grapes response to not being able to convince Berkeley or Stanford alumni to join me in my endeavors, but that’s not true. I’ve hired several times from Berkeley. Just not always from their Computer Science department.

Maybe you’re thinking my sample size is too small to make a case, but I’ve hired and fired over 350 staff over the last twenty years and that doesn’t count helping other organizations hire or fire their own staff.

This approach I take, which I agree is strange and counter-intuitive, helps me for three reasons:

  1. I’m looking for people who have multiple skills, not just one.
  2. I’m willing to look in places others ignore, to find a diamond in the rough.
  3. I’m building a high performance team to solve problems I can’t even define.

That last part is especially critical – regardless of what kind of role you’re trying to fill. Let me push you to think about your own business for a second.

Have you been able to predict the future?

  • Fifteen years ago, did you care how internet-savvy your new hire was?
  • Ten years ago, did you look up their resume on LinkedIn?
  • Five years ago, did you demand that your new hire was a social media expert?

Were you able to predict the future? You couldn’t, could you? In some cases (LinkedIn), it wasn’t even possible. But my point isn’t that you don’t have the special skills of a seer. My point is that we rarely know what will become important in the future, in terms of required skills.

When we can’t define the problems that we’re going to face, building a high performance team that you know can face it is almost impossible. Which is why I suggest you focus on building a high performance culture that reinforces the things that you value. It’s a subtle difference but in the computing world it has a huge impact. It’s the difference between saying I want to hire a python developer and I want to hire someone who knows how to learn quickly and isn’t impacted by negative feedback loops.

In other words, I want to find people who have an open mind and are willing to learn.

Everyone is Out-Working Everyone Else

Have you ever seen this Scott Berkun quote:

“The biggest difference between you and Picasso, or Einstein, or whoever your heroes are is that they out work you. They spend more time in front of a canvas, or guitar, or computer, working away at applying their minds and souls to specific things.”

I ask because there’s a crazy notion that what makes high performers perform so well is their industriousness. Their willingness to work harder than anyone else. I’ve lived in this paradigm for years and until recently never even stopped to question it.

But here’s my question: If we’re all so busy outworking each other, doing what we already know how to do, so that we can develop a 10,000 hour experience base and be considered an expert – if we’re doing all that, when do we have the time to learn something new?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard. But you’ll notice nowhere in the list is the need to outwork everybody, start earlier and end later than everyone else. What I am saying is that in order to face tomorrow’s challenges, we need to create opportunities to learn and grow, and we can’t do that if we’re too busy.

The Twelfth Habit of a “Done Done” Culture

I’m a big fan of Bill Gates. If you knew how many Apple products I own, you would find that surprising, maybe. But it’s true. My entire career has been shaped by Bill and the work he did at Microsoft.

Years ago I read a book called Microsoft Secrets (not in print anymore). In it, the author articulated three roles – the developer, the marketer, and the one in the middle that they called a program manager. What was interesting was that they were very clear on how they went looking for developers and marketers but how hard it was to find someone who could connect both worlds. I was young enough when I read it, at the beginning of a career, to decide that that’s what I wanted to be – a connector and highly capable between both worlds.

But I don’t want to spend tons of time on this last habit talking about me. I want to share with you a single insight that I learned from Bill Gates that I think you might find interesting and one you may not know about.

For years while he was at Microsoft, Bill had a young employee who would look over tons of research papers and graduate theses to pull the ones that he thought Bill should read. Bill also asked friends to recommend books that they thought were critical. And then for two weeks a year, Bill would take off and sit down far away from everything and he would read it all and learn from it. He didn’t just make time to learn, he gathered up people to participate in the process to help him learn.

High performance folks do that – they have a vested interest in learning, all the time.

And one of those young guys who collected reading material for Bill? His name is Steve Sinofsky and he has led both the Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows teams, and could be the next one in line to replace Ballmer. I’m positive he lives out habit twelve regularly.

Discussion Questions

This is the last chapter with questions, as the next chapter isn’t a habit. So have some fun, grab some pizza and celebrate – you made it.

  • How are you setting yourself up to learn?
  • Who are you learning from?
  • Are you aware that different people learn differently?
  • How are you taking this dynamic (different learning styles) into account?