I love to take my dog – Maya – for walks and she loves it when I throw for her and she fetches. A long throw really helps her open up the speed!
As I took her for a walk this morning, I brought with us one of her ‘throw and chew’ balls. Much like a tennis ball but squidgier.
Usually I throw rocks for her and I have a pretty long throw – but despite my usual effort, this ball didn’t travel as far.
Now, it was substantially larger than a stone and almost perfectly spherical – looking picture perfect to throw, but it lacked density and this is why it didn’t make the most of the strength with which it was hurled. In fact, sometimes it only travelled a few meters! Needless to say, Maya was none too pleased.
It got me thinking
I believe that Life, the Universe and the force that is greater than us all, seems to want to propel us to great heights towards what we wish for ourselves, but what do we bring to this ambition to help it along?
If life presents an opportunity to propel a person forward – perhaps to greater learning and prosperity, how does that person get themselves in a position to maximise how far they travel?
As I pondered this, I wondered if the density or substance of the rock was more suitable to be propelled than the ball – which ‘looked’ like the best thing to be propelled.
What is the substance of a person that helps them make the most of the propulsion that life offers? Seems to me that by the time the opportunity arrives, there is likely very little a person can do to acquire the skills to make the most of that particular gift. So it seems substance is a set of general characteristics and capabilities.
Here’s a list of attributes that I think count as ‘substance’ by which a person ‘goes far’.
Integrity – being true to your word and being guided by your principles.
Being good to work with – being respectful of others, open to collaboration.
Being adaptable – anticipating and responding elegantly to change,
Learning what they need to – and quickly.
Being generous – with their time, knowledge and resources.
Being open – in mind and of heart.
Persistence – knowing when to push on (and pushing on) and when to pull out.
I’m sure this is not exhaustive but what do you think?
Do you agree with my list, can you think of any more?
How does one develop these capacities to be a person of substance?
In January 2016, I committed to take my dog – Maya – on a really long walk and I committed to use the walk to raise money and awareness for more investment into the medical conditions: Myalgic Encephalitis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and FibroMyalgia. My best friend and my daughter both suffer from forms of these conditions and they are poorly understood, poorly diagnosed and treated. There are no cures currently for these conditions.
Whether you walk it alone, or you trek with a group – a great walk helps you connect with people, nature and yourself. And in this connection there is so much learning. I don’t know whether it is science or spiritual or simply what happens when you give yourself the time and space to be heard.
Going into this walk, I had a bunch of things to figure out – primarily I wanted time and space to reconnect with myself. I did reconnect with myself – reaffirming what makes me, me and what my focus in life is, who and what are important and more importantly, who and what aren’t. Unexpectedly I also reconnected with parts of humanity that I had silently drifted from and didn’t realise I needed to rediscover and I’m so glad I did.
I learned so many things about myself and people and life on this walk and wrestled with demons that I hadn’t previously made time to resolve. They say that in the woods, no one can hear you scream. There are lots of woods in the North of Spain and I had many opportunities to scream at my demons and them at me.
Then there are the lessons that necessity teaches.
Anyhow – here are some of the things I learned on my walk:
Maya is a Truly Amazing Dog
I consider myself to be a very practical dog owner. There is a power relationship in play between man and dog and whilst I know all the blah blah about trust and loyalty, I hadn’t fully experienced it with any other dog I’ve had, until this walk. I know that Maya considers me her pack leader – who will ultimate protect her from any threat and provide for her.
As far as I know, Maya can’t read a map nor calculate the distance between places on a route. She doesn’t know to plan for a 30km walk with multiple ascents and descents.
This beautiful dog walked with me every step of the way and stayed by my side in the rain and through the mud. Through forests and towns and hard tarmac roads that must have been tough on her paws. She braved her fears – unfriendly dogs that barked terrifyingly at her approach – and she spread her joy by making friends with every person we met.
Whether it was 10km or 30, Maya just walked with me – trusting that I knew where we were going and seeking nothing but having a pine cone thrown in play every now and then.
Vaseline is magic
“Here’s some vaseline – put it anywhere that starts to catch or heat up or rub” – the wisest words a newbie long distance walker will ever hear. My friend Amancio said these to me when we first met and kindly offered me his own tube as a gift.
Long walks put huge strain on your feet, things rub, skin gets bruised and blisters form. All these on their own are bad enough – but when you have to walk every day, suddenly things get rather more complicated. In comes Vaseline.
Every morning of my walk started with a smattering of vaseline on my clean feet – not too much, just enough to rub into my feet and create a protective shield. This shield almost entirely eliminates the friction that causes blisters.
Then when the straps of my 9.5kg backpack started rubbing into my shoulder and my neck – Vaseline again to the rescue.
Fix problems that affect your ability to make progress as soon as they occur
Stop and fix problems when they occur. Lesson learned.
On a walk and in life, there are things you must keep doing to move forward. In life, it seems like there are a multitude of things you need to maintain. You have to look after your health, eat well and exercise for example. Some say you have to keep learning, others say you need to keep an active social life.
On a walk, life is much simpler. The only thing you need to do to make progress is maintain your ability to put one foot in front of the other and walk. I learned that I needed to address any problem that affected that ability as soon as I felt them.
For example – I had new walking boots and the inevitable pains of breaking them in all started to emerge from about the second day of the walk. First I got shooting pains in the sole of my left foot – but I ignored them, put a brave face on and kept walking. Then they got worse, the pain spread to the back of my left knee.
Had I stopped and stretched, applied some balm – as I did on subsequent days (with fewer painful consequences) – I’m sure those first 2-3 days would have been a less injury prone experience.
The cost of stopping and fixing the problem is much lower than the price of being laid out for a day or two.
So now I’m working on understanding what essential things I need in order to move forward joyfully in life and I’m learning to spot problems that will affect them.
I really don’t need very much to be happy
Something about living out of a backpack for 10 days is exceptionally liberating. I packed 4 dry wick tech shirts – they are extremely light and quick drying- 2 trousers that could convert to shorts and a few other items of clothing. But I realised actually I could have packed even half of those items and still been fine.
I was without my laptop, a TV – though I had my phone, I used it almost entirely for taking pictures and keeping in touch with my family via Whatsapp.
Aside from the physical things I didn’t have – I also had much less responsibility. Basically it was to find food for myself and Maya.
Yet the walk was truly one of the happiest 2 weeks of my life. I think as material things go – I’ve never been a hankerer for things – so not much improvement there. This walk has taught me to think about the responsibilities that I take on that I might not need to be happy, it also taught me that there are some things that I had closed myself to – that I now recognise make me feel happy – which I really need to try and get more of.
I never tend to do things because I seek gratitude in return or even an acknowledgement by anyone who might benefit from my doing them. I do things mostly because I want to do them or I see they need to be done. Yet I was completely unprepared for the effect of reading some of the short messages of gratitude and appreciation on Facebook and on my JustGiving page. Hundreds of messages of gratitude for walking for others. I blubbed almost every time I read.
Everyone has their own camino
Each person has their own camino
I was joined at the start of my camino by my friends Helen and Horacio. We had such a wonderful time for the 3 days we were together. We laughed so hard, there were never any awkward silences. There were times we walked in step and other times when each walked their own pace. It was easy.
Yet as much as we enjoyed walking the same route, we each were walking our own camino -both as a physical journey through each person’s limits and challenges and through each person’s mental baggage they needed to work through.
And this was the same for each person I met on the walk. Appreciating that we are not all walking for the same reasons or to the same schedule almost entirely eliminates judgement. There is no right way to walk nor a right way to start or a good time to complete a stage in.
As I apply this learning to life – I feel totally filled with empathy for the journey each person is on – even if they don’t realise they are on a distinct one from everyone else.
The Kindness of Strangers is Powerful Stuff
‘Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud’ – Maya Angelou
There were a few times on this walk when I needed help. Especially when things got a little complicated with accommodation with Maya or finding food for her on days when things were closed or in places where nothing was open.
The warmth and the kindness of people who didn’t know me from Adam – people who could easily have said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ – simply blows me away.
It turns out that over the last few years I have not needed the kindness of strangers – most of my endeavours have been very much in my control. Yet on this camino, I put myself in situations where I needed that help and there it was.
From Kepa who happily let Maya sleep in his courtyard – to Manolo in Pobeña who offered to drive me to the next town to buy dog food – I’m convinced these are the people who neutralise all the cynicism in the world by their small acts of random kindness.
Never sleep with a big dog in a small tent
However much you love your dog – and I love mine a whole lot (and a whole lot more after this Camino), there are lines to be drawn.
One such line is never again sharing a small tent with Maya. Aside from the paws digging into my side and the tail tickling my nose, the most unbearable thing were the farts.
Maya is lethal with her farts- though I think I gave as good as I got – and this is made more toxic because of the size of the tent. So if there is one piece of advice I can share – that I learned the hard way – it is never to share your small tent with a big dog.
Now, remember I went to walk. But I did manage to take some pictures too. I’ll add more of my photos as well as some from Helen, Horacio and James when they share them.
I’m deeply grateful to so many people for the support and concern during this camino. Huge thanks to my wife – Katharine – for making it possible for me to even have the time to be away from home for 12 days.
Thanks to these 58 amazing people who backed my JustGiving campaign. We exceeded the target and this money will make a difference to the lives of so many people suffering with ME/CFS/FM. We need research into these conditions and whilst £3000 may not sound like a lot for research, it will fund the activism and advocacy that is critical to agitate for more investment.
The Next Steps
As my friend and Camino consultant – Amancio – says “You’re hooked on the Camino”. I am pretty hooked now on the idea of the camino as a quest, a time to reconnect and as a physical and mental challenge. So now what?
Well, in September/October, Maya and I will be walking for 25 days to complete the remainder of the Camino del Norte from Santander to Santiago. About 600 km. It will be a more informed adventure and, for sure, a lighter packed one.
I’ll post more about it and I know now that I will continue to raise money and awareness for ME/CFS/FM and also to raise awareness and funds for MOAS – the Migrant Offshore Aid Station – who are doing an incredible job saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea by rescuing migrants from capsized boats.
If you would like to join me for part of this longer walk – stay tuned to my blog for news of the plan and the schedule.
This Saturday – May 7th, my Long Walk on the Camino de Santiago will begin.
As some of you know, I am doing this to raise awareness and funds for ME/CFS research (donate here if you haven’t: https://www.justgiving.com/mhsuttonlongwalk).
I’m doing this long walk because I was inspired by my best friend Joel, who is fighting ME/CFS and also other sufferers of this condition to whom it would be a dream to just set foot and walk for 100 yards.
As an ME/CFS sufferer at home, there are two very easy and fun ways you can “join” me on this walk. You can do both!
First: Participate on the Dedication Day:
(This is kind of urgent – the first dedication day is Saturday May 7th – when I will dedicate 22km of my Camino – so please hurry.)
How it works: I dedicate each day of this 12 day walk to an ME/CFS sufferer – tell your story, share a picture of you that day and help show the world that just because governments aren’t taking this seriously enough, it doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.
After much research and trying to navigate the various logistic challenges, my final route is San Sebastian to Santander. Covering a total of 255km and likely to last 12 days of walking.
Maya, me and 3 Chums on the Camino
So I haven’t told Maya yet that she’s walking 12 days with me – I mean , I’ve spoken the words but I don’t really know that she understands what I mean. But she trusts me and she’ll go along. Though I’m not entirely sure how long that loyalty is going to last after the second day!
We’ll be joined at various points by friends. My amiga from Germany – Helen – at the start for 3 days, then the lovely James from the UK for 4 days. Poor James is joining during some of the longest walks – but he is a seasoned walker and I’m honored to have him on those long, endless walks.
Somewhere in between the start and end , my Bolivian friend – the ever smiling Horacio – will join for a few days and we will no doubt laugh until we cry!
Tremendously excited to share this journey with 3 amazing people.
So the gear list is almost all provisioned and my packing list is nearly complete.
Tent Sleeping bag Sleeping mat Walking Poles Blister prevention hiking socks Compeed anti blister plasters Solar Charger Night light Penknife
Walking shoes/trail shoes 5 x easy dry/wickaway t-shirts 2 x lightweight walking trousers – convertible into shorts Flip flops 1 x hoodie 5x underpants (or 1 pair reversible 🙂 Maya brush Cagoule rain outerware Packaway pillow 2x Microfibre towels (one for Maya) First aid kit Backpack
My goal by Thursday May 5th is to able to get my tent pitched in darkness and in the rain in 5 minutes or less. It will be like a military drill!
Unfortunately, work commitments have meant that I have fallen behind in my training schedule. So this week – Thursday to be exact – I’ll hike a 24 km round trip fully loaded and a 32km round trip next Monday. Then that will be it!
I couldn’t have gotten this far without help… meet Maria
So I work with my clients on-site 10 days a month including travel time. Then I work 8-12 hours a day of the rest of the time on Amazemeet, Snaptime and whatever else I’m exploring – when I’m not with clients.
I realised pretty quickly that I needed help but had no real idea what form that help should take. So I hired someone who did. For my startup adventures in Amazemeet and the 27 other ideas we have on the list, I hired Clara Bielefeld to be my co-conspirator with a marketing and growth focus (that’s a fancy title for ‘awesome ninja lady’). Clara, seeing my quite obvious predicament as an over-committed person, suggested I hire a Virtual Assistant.
So I hired Maria Bellido – someone with seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm! She has helped with researching accommodation options, dates and times to things, spoken to hotels and generally provided support that would have been nigh on impossible for me to do as competently and as timely.
If you are ever in need of a superbly organised, intelligent and enthusiastic person to help get things sorted, flights booking, research done, flowers ordering (ahem!) and whatever else. I know just the person.
Did I mention she speaks 5 languages!!
Every single cent of every Dollar or Euro, every penny of every Pound you donate to this walk goes to activism and awareness raising by InvestInME who are in the forefront of fighting for greater awareness and funding by the UK government for ME/CFS research. This disease devastates the lives of the people that have the it and the lives of the people that care for them. You and I can be a rainbow in their clouds.
You can make it easier for them with a simple donation – no more than 2 minutes of your time and less than the price of a coffee and slice of cake.
Millions of people from all over the world have walked to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The routes they have take over the ages are called the Camino.
For whatever the reason people make this ‘pilgrimage’ – spiritual, recreational or simply popping out with the dog for a pint of milk – this is a chance to connect with whatever you need to connect with. In my case, my dog, myself and your donation for a great cause.
Ultimately I intend to complete the entire 815km northern route in 4 visits. This is the first visit, the second is tentatively planned for September 2016 and the rest in 2017.
You can see more of the route I’ll be taking here.
Make every kilometre count
I’m making this journey because I’m fit and healthy and fancy a walk. There are thousands of sufferers of M.E in the UK – including my best friend Joel – who can’t walk 100 yards without feeling totally exhausted. They’d love to do this – but they simply cannot.
They – like Joel – used to be fit and healthy until they suddenly got severely sick and never got better – like a permanent severe flu. Their lives have been put on painful pause by M.E and their recovery put on hold because the UK Government and medical establishment are hiding their heads in the sand on this. It is up to the general public – you , me and InvestinME – to move this forward.
So I need your help.
I need you to put your hand in your pocket and sponsor this walk. My target is £1000 and I’ll even match donations up to that target.
Give what you can and more importantly share this we need to raise awareness as much as we need to raise money. Sponsor me here now:
About Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E)
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a systemic neuroimmune condition characterized by post-exertional malaise (a severe worsening of symptoms after even minimal exertion). It causes dysregulation of both the immune system and the nervous system. The effects of ME are devastating enough to leave 25% of patients housebound or bedbound. For moderate to severe patients, living with ME is like living with late-stage cancer, advanced stage AIDS, or congestive heart failure for decades. – www.meaction.net
Living with ME is like living with late-stage cancer? That’s pretty rough – right? Now imagine that is your life for the next 5, 10 or even 15 years,
You would think that with such chronic pain, suffering and lower quality of life affecting so many people with this condition that there would be state funding to fund research into the condition and develop a cure or definitive treatment. Not so – in the UK, the funding to date – of £2m over the last 25 years – is entirely embarrassing.
It simply isn’t good enough and I’m taking this walk partly to raise awareness of both the condition and the lack of emphasis on it. Please help me in doing both.
My 214km walk is in 10 stages and if you would like to join any of the stages – that would be wonderful. Here are some things you need to be aware of:
you need to be fit and able to commit to complete whatever stage(s) you join
you’ll need to make your way to the rendezvous location the evening before the start of the stage with whatever gear you need
If you would like to do a multi-day walk with me – you might have to rough it. My dog and I plan to camp in a tent most of the time but there are very basic hostels called Albergues that you can bunk in.
We’ll walk for 6 – 8 hours a day and eat ,drink, muse and recover for the rest of the time.
I’m a sought after world class agile coach – you cannot hire me until 2018 because I’m all booked up to help organisations deliver value more effectively and joyfully . If you would like to spend a day walking and talking about the challenges you are facing as a manager/Scrum Master/whatever in a tech organisation struggling to deliver value effectively – then make a minimum donation of £500 to the cause above, get your walking boots on and lets talk. I guarantee you it will be the best £500 your company ever spent.
Limited to first 3 people only.
Updates on my Camino
I intend to keep this blog updated of my progress before, during and immediately following the walk – so be sure to bookmark and follow along.
You can also “like” my Facebook page here to stay updated.
I just watched the entire Daredevil season 1 on Netflix in 3 days.
Prior to that I watched the entire Arrow series in 4 days.
And Agents of Shield? I polished that off in 2 days.
Before Netflix – I got into the Sopranos box set – that was a killer.
Earlier today, my 6 year old son and I explored the idea of being able to watch episodes of a series whenever you wanted and I explained how different his experience was to mine when I was his age – 35 years ago.
When I was a kid, you watched an episode of something a week – at the predetermined time. When video recorders came up, you could choose to record a series but had to do that weekly at the predetermined time. You could only watch the entire series after it had been aired.
Then came boxsets. Boxsets moved things on a bit. You could watch entire seasons that had aired a few years to a few months ago. But the interval based episode format was still the same.
Netflix disrupts this format by making both syndicated and original content available in episodes but without the interval – you don’t have to wait at all to watch episodes in a season and only a short time for new seasons. I don’t know whether they are following the trend of the ‘NOW’ generation or leading it. Actually I don’t care.
What I care about is the content – specifically how stories are told. Three hours of a series of episodes is theatrically different from a three hour movie. Even my 6 year old – Ruben – understands this. Things developed to be consumed in intervals must build in enough hooks to keep you coming back every week to see how it unfolds. So there needs to be drama, thrill and suspense – all key emotional manipulators – in each episode – to trigger anticipation. Over the course of a week, perhaps our human system can handle such manipulation, but when you binge – as I and millions of others do – what damage does that cause to our emotional and sensory systems?
To a large extent we have the same experience with franchises like Lord of the Rings and Avengers. The interval is longer between episodes and each episode is itself a longer show. But collapse the intervals and watch them back to back and you are in danger of seriously messing with your mind and possibly your perception of reality.
I’m sure Netflix and others – Amazon etc – argue this is disruption in format is about choice and in part I agree. However, I am curious to understand whether that choice is both real and actionable when the content is designed to hook.
Do you watch Netflix or binge on boxsets – how does it affect you?
When my wife was growing up, her parents – like many young parents of the day – needed to organize childcare.
They were far away from extended family and only had other young families around them. So they organised around shared needs – all the young families needed to have some respite from their kids once in a while.
So they formed a babysitting circle. There was no money involved – they simply took turns looking after each others’ children and if someone needed to take multiple turns, they basically gave an IOU and paid back in additional sitting when required.
Sharing is… esusu or a Voluntary Credit Union
Growing up in Yorubaland, there was a credit structure where members contributed a fixed amount into a pot and each month, one of the members would take the entire pot.
Example: if there are 12 friends and each contributes $1000 into the pot every month, then every month, one person could take $12,000. By taking the pot, they go to the end of the queue – they can’t take from the pot for another 11 months.
This structure is great for large purchases or one-off large financial needs. There is no interest or APR nonsense. Simply pooling and sharing of resources. It gave each member the strength of 12, once a year.
Sharing is…. a Lift Into Work
At my very first programming job, I caught a ride with my friend Paul Green.
He had a nice car, I didn’t have one – but more importantly he lived close enough to me and was happy to give me a ride to and from work.
Paul never asked for any payment, though I did buy him a tank of fuel every week or occasionally I paid for his lunch.
Sharing is… street Wi-Fi
When I lived in the UK, I once asked my neighbors if they would like to share WiFi. It made no sense to me that we should each pay £20 a month, when for a single payment of £40 we could buy a router and share only one ADSL subscription.
I was surprised when they declined. You cannot help some people.
Sharing is… oranges and lemons
Today I live in Spain. There are lots of orange and lemon trees and so much fruit is wasted because , often, it is more expensive to pick them and sell them than it is to leave them where they fall.
Most times when we go into my local butcher, we are offered bags of oranges and lemons – for free. Sometimes my other neighbors with orange trees will happily brings us bags of oranges. Free.
Sharing is good. It brings us together, reduces waste and helps us meet our shared needs in a very human way.
And then there are Uber, Lyft and AirBnb
The ‘sharing’ economy has been described as the economy where individuals with an asset – a car or housing – could rent out the asset when they weren’t using it.
How is this sharing? How is this not the same as the Hilton group of hotels renting out its rooms or the Yellow Cab company renting out its spare seats to commuters?
The only difference is that the owner of the asset is an individual, not a recognised business entity. This does not make it sharing. At least not the sharing that generates positive emotion and meeting shared needs.
Calling what Uber, Lyft and AirBnB do ‘sharing’ is fraud. It is a misappropriation of a word. It is a hijacking of a noble intent for the purposes of marketing what are essentially platforms to create small sized businesses, whose motivation is to make money.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I support Uber, Lyft and AirBnb, if only because they are disrupting the established order of things – but I disagree deeply with the use of the word ‘sharing’ to describe what they do. It is nothing more than marketing bullshit.
So I have a really small ask. Uber, Lyft , AirBnB and others in the same mould of creating platforms that enable mass supplier markets; the press that reports on these kind of businesses and everyone involved in them – please stop calling what you do ‘The Sharing Economy’.
Why This Matters
This matters because there is a real sharing economy and it is not driven by profit. Its participants are the kinds I have described above. They are individuals and businesses who are trading non-financial assets for their own mutual benefits and usually shared need – not profit.
It matters because a sharing economy focuses on shared needs and trust to work together to meet them. It takes deep trust and the skills and emotional investment to establish such trust to make a sharing economy successful. The participants of a sharing economy are not relying on a Terms of Service or the threat of litigation to police their trust based agreement.
It matters because admitting purely transactional, profit driven participants into this economy diminishes everyone else and reduces the power of the idea of sharing. It confers an undeserved legitimacy to such participants like Uber and AirBnb. It is putting the wolves dressed like sheep amongst the sheep.
Do you agree with how ‘sharing’ is being used? What have been your experiences of participating in the sharing economy?
I’d love to talk more about this. Consider leaving a comment below or tweeting @mhsutton.
Anyway, as I read what seemed to be a very open and honest update on where the CEO of Fab.com thinks their restructuring is at right now, I have very mixed feelings about a lot of what Jason says and how he says it. Given I have no inside info on how Fab works internally, I can only surmise from the CEO’s words.
Here is what I would have said and some of the questions I would have asked had I been able to comment on the tumblr post:
Yes – you are a fucking startup, again! At some point you had it all going for you – the billion dollar valuation, the love and adoration of the media – everything. Do you have all the perspectives of what went wrong? What lessons did you learn? How do you apply that learning. If you are restricting your learning to your management team – I can almost guarantee this will not be the last time you taste the humbling effect of demotion to a startup from thriving business.
Yes, you had experienced huge layoffs and are battered and bruised from it – but how did you grieve? How did your colleagues grieve? As ‘leader’ how did you facilitate the support of others? Loss is a huge driver of behaviour and we all think we know how it works because, hell, it is part of life. Even now as you rally troops – do you know how the loss of colleagues and a dream affects those whom you rally?
Yes – you are a fucking startup and startups are hard, so why are you making it harder by still ‘assembling and managing the right people’. Of all the times to grasp a different way of leadership – this is it. You alone don’t have all the answers, not even the ‘right’ people you might have hired. Yet you are lucky to have a lot of good – yes bruised and battered – people and you all together have more of the answers. The question is how do you have the conversations that you need to have and how will you help harness and unleash their awesomeness on your turnaround?
Yes, you are a fucking startup and you are ready for war. You say this is ‘wartime’. People die in war and almost all who escape death are left with wounds that never heal. People also kill in war. Who or what are your enemies? Is that really the analogy you want? If you choose to stick with ‘war’ then remember that the skills to win a war are not the skills to thrive in peace. Ask countless guerilla leaders from Alexander the Great to Robert Mugabe. Do you have the skills to recognise and lead in ‘peace’ – whatever that means in your context? Finally remember that most great guerilla leaders tend to turn peace into war in order for them to ‘manage’ effectively.
Yes, you are a startup – or at least you want something from that culture. From what I can surmise, you want the ‘right’ people to be committed and to work tirelessly, remaining focused. How do you intend to help them do that? Can you have the benefits of that culture without having the challenges from which that culture emerges? Can you have the challenges in a ‘turnaround’?
Yes, you are a fucking startup and no, brutal honesty is not part of my experience of a startup. Honesty without the brutality is. Is a company where honesty is violent really what you want? Where is the violence in your organisation, how can you find it and neutralise it or- better still – channel it into something positive. I can guarantee you do not need the violence that words like ‘brutal’ encourage in your re-imagined company.
Yes, you are a fucking startup – and in every single startup I have seen and met, there is uncertainty and fear. There is also Joy – some times pure and unbounded Joy. Of making and being with other dreamers, the Joy of making a ‘ding’ in the world. Or simply the Joy of Whatever. Where is the Joy in Fab.com and how do you hope to nurture it, how do you find it, amplify and make it the single reason for being. The thing that makes all challenges seem achievable.
Finally, yes – you are a fucking startup. But actually wait, no, you are not.
You are a deeply broken business company. A startup is not 750 people or even 300 – it is small, it is nimble and it pivots without mass nausea. A startup is not valued at $1 billion while raising $150 million. That is a business, not a startup. A startup is people being pretty equal and pretty fluid – doing what needs to be done. More importantly, a startup is searching for its model. Fab.com is not. You had a model – probably one that is still viable.
I think you are searching for your soul and that needs a different set of skills to find. Do you have them? How can you find them and how can you spread them to everyone still left in your company?
Jason – I work with broken companies and I can help with yours. You seem a pretty decent dude, who has peeked into the abyss and is doing something to find and retrieve the soul of his company back from the darkness. I would be happy to help. Email, tweet or call me and let’s have the conversation.
A few years ago I had cause to seek help to address chronic depression.
I met with my GP and he offered referrals to either an NHS psychiatrist or a new service that was being run out from their surgery – a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
Knowing that I didn’t really favour a route that involved medication for any prolonged period, I tried the CBT route.
And I learned something fundamental – the journey through something is greater than the reaching a destination.
During my CB therapy I learnt techniques to help me tackle many kinds of thoughts and behaviours and I developed an inner voice that is my objective and more rational counsel when I feel overwhelmed. If I had gone down the psychiatry route, I fear I would have never developed this super power. I overcame my depression but didn’t cure it and I now have awesome tools to prevent and manage it when it happens again.
When I look at the world around I see achievements are hugely celebrated – from winning gold at the Olympics to selling a startup for a few billion dollars. What is hardly ever mentioned is how you are changed by the journey to the achievement. How the athlete has been changed – both physically and otherwise – by what she had to endure to win the gold. Changes that make it more likely that she will win another gold and changes that mean that if she never won another gold – she would have developed the qualities to be OK with that.
Those are changes that come from the journey, not the destination.
You can reach the same place from different roads but not all teach the same things.
I always dreamed of winning the lottery. Of waking one morning to find that my ticket was the 100 Million Jackpot winner. So I would arrive at wealth but without the qualities to create wealth, nor the humility to appreciate it. What is more valuable in the end?
As I ponder life, sitting on my Spanish terrace dealing with the hopes, fears and dreams of now, I wonder less about my destination and more about what journey I am on, what journey I should be on. Perhaps there is a way to choose the journey by choosing the destination. Perhaps by saying that I shall have acquired certain qualities and experiences, I would auto select the journeys.
What do you feel when you read this?
What journeys are you on?
What qualities are you learning from them?
I’d love to hear and share. Please consider sharing this, leaving a comment or tweeting to @mhsutton
The difficulty I find most often in working with companies trying to improve themselves is that a new conversation needs to be started and it is often a difficult conversation to have. It is difficult for three major reasons:
An organisation and its management have to acknowledge that there are problems that they cannot fix on their own. Acknowledging this can be a big deal – especially in companies that have a rich history of blame for things perceived as failure.
Few – if any – of the people who need to be in the conversation have ever experienced being open-heartedly asked to join and take part fully in the conversation – at least not in a way that makes it OK to say ‘No’.
Few – if any – of the people in the organisation, know or have experience of facilitating this particular type of conversation.
Most employees were not hired to help improve companies.
Almost every company I have known in over 20 years of my working life has hired almost exclusively for function and competence at function – they hire people to do the job they want doing. In this regard people serve a functional purpose, just as a telephone serves a functional purpose, or a stapler serves a function. Yet human beings are so much more than simply functional resources.
So people join companies primarily to do what they were hired to do – not explicitly invited to take part in the continuous improvement of the company, themselves and each other. As people move from job to job, the invitation is never made. Until one day they get to a company that does make the explicit invitation and they have no idea how to do contribute to help make things better.
Continuous improvement of the sort that I believe in – where we are individually and collectively focused on improving both our product (and services) and each other in the process takes people who care. It is not the kind of continuous improvement that is mandated from above. The input about what needs fixing comes from the same people who will play a key part in fixing it – everyone. I’ve often heard this referred to as ‘bottom up’. I do not agree with this – because it implies that in this approach there is still a ‘top’. In fact there is no hierarchy when we have this conversation – we are all equal partners, albeit with different responsibilities.
I once invited a group of developers in a company to a brown bag session to explore what things they thought needed improvement and what capabilities they thought might enhance their effectiveness. As the invitation went out, I got responses from a number people who said they weren’t interested. One in particular elaborated on why he wasn’t interested. This email created such an impression on me that I saved the most relevant quote. Which I share with you now.
We are here to code this software and we have too much to do – I’m not fucking interested in helping anyone else to get things better – that is what we have managers for , isn’t it?
I often wonder how many of the people I have met in the companies I have worked with who feel this way but never say it, but act on it nevertheless. How many work in your company?
Now I also wonder how many of those same people would have applied for the jobs if they had been explicitly invited to help the company continuously improve – not through some bullshit HR feedback system – but through full participation and ownership of both the problems and the solutions. How many would be willing to take the empowerment that was offered and seek sustainable improvements through collaboration? How many would in your company?
Invitation? But joining in improvements is implied, isn’t it?
Often when I talk to groups about why an explicit invitation is essential, I often get people who roll their eyes and say “but it’s kind of implied, isn’t it?”. Of course, it is reasonable to assume it is implied if we are ourselves readily do it. Expecting of others what we do naturally is common human behaviour. It is also one of the commonest ways we inflict violence on ourselves and others. By expecting that others will behave in the way we think is implied often results in disappointment which often leads to judgements – ‘they are incompetent, they are selfish, they are <insert your moral judgement here>’.
I feel pretty strongly about this and see a strong analogy with date rape.
A guy invites a girl out for dinner, a movie and some drinks – maybe even coffee. After the date, she drops him at his place and he invites her up for ‘coffee’. Is sex implied with coffee? What happens if the girl doesn’t recognise that implication and actually has no intention to have sex with the guy? For her, the invitation to coffee was exactly for a beverage. What happen if she says ‘No’? Whilst this situation may not always end in rape, one has to wonder what moral judgements emerge as a result, what coercion was applied, what suffering caused?
All this because an explicit invitation wasn’t made.
I deeply believe that whatever is risked by making an explicit invitation to join a mutually beneficial activity is returned several times over by the explicit buy-in and commitment that those who say ‘Yes’ give back.
I believe that it is a form of violence to demand people to do something they had no explicit knowledge they would be asked to do and then, if they do it ineffectively, to chastise them. Yet I see this happen often. The chastisement is not often overt, but it is present nonetheless.
This is why I think all organisations that are committed to developing the habits and behaviours of continuous improvement need to fundamentally redesign how they hire, to explicitly include the invitation – not demand – to prospective employees to participate fully in continuous improvement.
Redesigning how hiring is done is actually the tail end of a longer chain of redesigning activities and attitudinal shifts.
To make the invite, the company has to figure out what continuous improvement means for them – this is the start of the internal invitation. The makers of the invitation – usually management – need to discover what a ‘openhearted invitation’ means and be comfortable enough to make one.
Then the invitation itself needs to be figured out.
If it is too vague, it risks being irrelevant.
If it is too rigid it risks being perceived as a demand and as coercive.
If it is just right, it is easier to have the conversation and demonstrates to the prospective employee that your company is worth taking a risk on.
Are you involved in continuous organisational improvement in your company, I’d love to hear your experiences. Please comment or tweet me: @mhsutton
Why I Wrote This
I wrote this because my mission is for the world – including and especially the world of work – to be full of JOY.
I wrote this because I wish for the people who work in broken companies to see value and a potential for JOY in joining with others to improve their companies and I want them to realise this potential.
I wrote this because most of the time, I see that a huge amount of misery, frustration and anger could have been avoided by a few open-hearted invitations and conversations and I want to help companies start to have those conversations.
You can help spread JOY in the world by sharing this. Thank you