Posts by "tymula"

Culture at Harris Partners

Earlier today I was interviewing someone for a job at Harris Partners (side note – what a great candidate!).

I was trying to explain to her the type of culture we have – one that promotes extreme ownership. As a follow-up to the interview I wanted to leave her with some thoughts and materials that shaped my thinking over the past years in founding the company, and shaping its culture.

My list was as follows:
a) “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” – I read this book the summer before I left McKinsey, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Before reading it I knew I wanted to leave. After reading it I knew what company I wanted to build next.
b) “How Google Works” – Google (or any other software company) didn’t make the “Built to Last” list of companies, because one of the criteria was being around for 80 years or longer. This book describes in most detail around the types of behaviors we are trying to have Harris Partners employees – “smart creatives” – to exhibit in order for them (and our company with them) to thrive
c) Stanford University CS183C: “Technology Enabled Blitzscaling” – Reid Hoffman (a founder of LinkedIn) created the course, invited a “Who Is Who” of Silicon Valley to guest speak across 20 lectures, then made it available on YouTube. What a legend! While I learnt something applicable to Harris Partners from each lecture, the one that made the biggest impact was definitely one by Jeff Weiner (current LinkedIn CEO).
d) The Netflix deck (and a follow-up HBR article) – the Power Point presentation by CEO and Chief Talent Officer of Netflix describes how Netflix approach to talent and culture works. It was famously described by Sheryl Sandberg as the most important document ever produced in Silicon Valley. For 128 pages, it is a surprisingly quick read (helped by font size kept well above 40pt on most of text!)

My personal philosophy that most likely still shapes a lot of the Harris Partners behaviours can be very broadly classified as stoic. And there is a whole list of books that have been shaping the thinking

Digital transformation: similarities with running a marathon

I recently ran my first marathon. I have been running on and off since junior year of high school, with “off” times driven mostly by recurring knee injury and excuses (like working crazy hours or travelling).

Since moving to Sydney three years ago I found myself running more consistently (after someone told me about a simple stretch that stopped my knee injury to get better over me), but it took a while for me to actually find myself at the starting line of a 42.2 kilometre race in Canberra at 6:25am on Sunday 10th April 2016.

Running the marathon came around the second anniversary of me launching Harris Partners – a tech company focused on helping clients in their digital transformations – so while reviewing our progress and thinking about the strategy for the next year I couldn’t help to notice that running a marathon was actually very similar to a digital transformation.

Both are simple, but hard
Matrix - Simple but Hard

Simplicity does not imply easiness. Running a marathon is simple. I can describe my process for achieving it in a small number of very simple steps: wake up six times a week at 5:15am for 16 weeks, and run – depending on the day – between 5km and 35km, at varied levels of intensity. Is it easy? No, it is damn hard. To be successful you need to do it day-in, day-out. Rain or shine. And up to this point we are not even talking about situations when you fail (more about it below)!

A digital transformation is dead simple too: take some data about the way your customers interact with your brand across different channels. Develop hypothesis on what can be improved. Run a test with a strict control. Ruthlessly analyse the results. Get more data to come up with more insights. Run more tests.

Really really simple. Is it hard? It seems so. It requires your organisation to fundamentally change the way in which it operates.

*Yes, that’s the one we struggled with most. It seems that the answer is any system that has limited number of variables connected in a non-linear manner, for example Lorenz’s model

Both deliver best outcome when you set a big goal
go big or go home

I set myself a big goal for my first marathon. After some back of an envelope calculations (based on my past half-marathon times, my V02 max level and pace of my recent training sessions), I set my go-to time for 2h41m, with a backup plan of sub-3hrs. Did I end up achieving my 2h41m? No. I managed to get 2h53m. Did I cry myself to sleep because of that? Also – no. But did I feel challenged? Yes. My hypothesis is that if I had one goal of sub-3hrs, I am not sure if I managed to reach that one either.

When I think about my next marathon, I still have 2h41m goal in mind. That is my Everest. I am not falling into a false sense of achievement because I ran a marathon, I want to keep improving. I want to challenge myself to reach my full potential. Setting comfortable goals that I am sure to achieve is not going to help me.

If your digital transformation sets a timid goal (say improvement of profitability in single digits over a couple of years), you are not transforming. You are playing by the same rules you used to play. Your digital competitors waiting to disrupt you are not setting goals of “become a leader in implementation of average ideas that we take to market in average length of time”, “become a number 25 player by market share” or “become a magnet for truly average digital talent”. They are swinging for the fences. If you do not adapt the same attitude, you have failed already.

Both require persistence – also in face of failure

Persistence is what keeps you going when you fail. It is the trait that allow you to shake yourself off after you failed to run the speed session at the planned pace, or when you feel so tired after a workout that you feel that you are weak, and have not made progress in getting stronger.

I believe that ability to adopt “fail fast” culture is the single biggest determinant that prevents organisation from achieving its full potential. It is easier for executives to say “we are doing fine”, when they are playing it safe, instead of defining five big goals, and feeling comfortable failing, but learning from the failure to keep pushing on all fronts the very next day.

Both require flexibility to make changes to the plan quickly
keep calm

On 8th week of my training my lung collapsed. It is less scary than it sounds (and happened to me on this scale at least twice before), but it definitely was not a welcome addition to my training program. I had to stop for 10 days while my lung re-inflated. Did I give up on my goal? No, I adjusted my training schedule coming out of the rest period, and kept going.

It is easy to remain calm and make adjustments to the plan in face of adversity when you know you have done your ground work. Things might not go the way you think – to be honest, they most likely will not (maybe a better quote here would have been “no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy”…). But knowing that you are prepared means you will be able to quickly make resolutions to any problems you encounter. No point losing sleep over things you do not control…

Delaying both is a game of excuses

In retrospect, I could have ran the marathon a year, maybe even two earlier. I ran my first half-marathon in May 2014. This was an obvious trigger to sign up to Melbourne marathon in October. I planned to do Gold Coast in July 2015 (it’s nice and flat – definitely helping when you run for the first time), but ended up in China at the time instead. It was lack of conviction that was driving it.

Many executives of large companies tend not to like changes. It is in line with economic theory to only collect a pay check when your incentives are not aligned to make changes…

From my experience digital transformation may come from three groups of people:

  • Forced transformation resistors: They were told by their boss to make one happen, but they are not thrilled by the extra work required, and the most positive conversations with them tend to start with a “yes, but…” (I hate working with them)
  • Hired transformation expert: they were hired to make one happen – they have a singular goal, and are working towards that goal as the most important strategic objective. They are not afraid to break some eggs to make an omelette. (I love working with them)
  • True transformation leaders: they realised by themselves through reading and talking to experts that they can build something great and special, challenging themselves in the process. They tend to over time – if they are not forced by resistors to leave their organisation – create teams of people equally excited about it (I love working with them most of all)

Unfortunately the world is full of resistors (although certain countries have more of them than others). If you are a true transformation leader, please get in touch. I will do whatever I can to help you succeed.

So what?

Digital transformation is already running across entire industries in a tsunami-like manner. The problem that I find most critical is that digital transformation is in fact harder than training for a marathon.

I can decide to run a sub 2h40m marathon and start training tomorrow. In order for a 100 year old brand to decide to do a digital equivalent of the same, multiple stakeholders in that company need to decide and share that vision. That requires a strong leader at the very top. Or a smart one that hired others that will figure out that digital transformation is the way.

Feedback matters

Today I had another meeting with another smart person to talk about digital transformations. He sits on a board of a large multinational company that has been around for a while.

It was another meeting with a lot of nodding: we both agreed that the digital transformation would make a lot of money for the company, and that without it it was a matter of time that the company would first stop growing, and then quickly start struggling.

The meeting still finished with an overarching feeling on both sides that nothing will be done by the company’s management. Conservatism, or rather lack of foresight of the future burning platform, will mean that excuses will be made – not to move, to preserve status quo, and to continue the slow slide into oblivion.

The culture of any organisation can only be blamed by a very myopic person. At the end of the day the buck stops with the boss. “The culture of any organisation will over time evolve to the lowest behaviour that a leader is willing to tolerate”.

Leadership cannot be a hobby that CEOs practice when the times are good. It is how they act in the face of the struggle that separates the great bosses from the good ones. Being a great leader sometimes requires difficult decisions and tough conversations. Have you ever had to fire someone? If so, which one do you think is easier – firing one under-performing person on your team, or sweeping problems created by that person under a carpet and waiting for them to explode?

Sometimes I feel that the only thing that is required from any person working in a high performing team is their attitude and openness of mind – ability to take feedback from anyone, and assessing it in an objective manner to see if it is true, and then acting on it.

And it is everyone’s job to give that feedback.

“Truth is like poetry. Unfortunately, most people fucking hate poetry.”

Sydney travel highlights

Some suggestions (1-5 are best, but I wouldn’t be able to decide on order between them, 6 & 7 would not be as good as 1-5):

  1. Sydney Opera House tour: it is SPECTACULAR. The normal one during the day (1-1.5h) is great and a no-brainer. It covers the outside and a bit of inside – but mostly in the public areas. There is also a backstage VIP tour, which is a bit pricey – $150 or thereabouts – but TOTALLY worth it. Starts at 7am, finishes at 9-9:15ish with a breakfast in the Green Room, where all the employees and actors eat. I have done the day one 3 times by now (each guide has its own stories), and the VIP one once.
  2. Bondi – Coogee walk: great ocean views, an absolute must-do, whatever the weather. On the Bondi end, try coffee, drink or a meal at Icebergs or lunch at Vue if it’s a nice day.
  3. Surfing at Bondi Beach: the north end is the best beach in the world to start surfing. And it is full of pros in the south. “Let’s Go Surfing” has lessons that are great for beginners.
  4. Harbour Bridge: you can climb it (I have never done it – and don’t have plans), but walking over from Ciruclar Quay to the other side gives you SPECTACULAR views, and takes about 45-60 mins if you take it easy. The first part of the walk is on a side-walk on Cahill Expressway (the highway above Circular Quayt), but it is only 10 mins, and gives a cool view of SOH. You get there with an elevator on the East corner of Circular Quay next to Cahil Expressway (looking towards Sydney Opera House, to your right)
  5. Sydney Fish Market: BEST FISH I HAVE EVER HAD IN THE WORLD. PERIOD. A friend of mine lived in Tokyo for years, and was super picky about his fish – he would only eat sushi in 3 places in Sydney. This was one of them.
  6. Manly: a suburb in North Sydney, you take a ferry from Circular Quay to get there. A large beach, in a quiet, resort-like place. Tons of good bars / restaurants with a view (and I probably appreciate Ben & Jerry’s there more than US residents will, but still – it’s there if you need it). You can walk to Shelly Beach if you east in Manly at the beach, or to Sydney Harbour National Park if you go West from the ferry
  7. Zoo in Taroonga: hands down best zoo in the world we have been to. While we probably appreciate it a bit more because we have kids, it is pretty effing awesome (and has great views of the city when you take a ferry from Circular Quay)

My friend Serena has written an article about her favorite spots too – your can read it here.

New York travel highlights

  1. Walk across Brooklyn Bridge (I prefer Brooklyn to Manhattan direction)
  2. Best burgers in the world – Bare Burger (multiple locations across the city). Try Jalapeno Express with a pint of Pale Ale
  3. Brunch at Yuca Bar in East Village (be ready for sangrias with your eggs)
  4. Park Slope (the lovely, but yuppie-fied, neighbourhood in Brooklyn, filled with iconic brownstone houses, leafy side streets, idiosyncratic boutique shops, and gentrified thirtysomethings pushing monstrous strollers around)
  5. Central Park
  6. Met Museum: THE museum to see in NYC. One of the largest collections in the world – several million pieces, including a massive collection of Egyptian artefacts (yes, thieves…) – is an incredible museum and you can spend hours and hours inside.  It is a sliding scale admission, which means you pay what you can afford (including just $0.10, if that’s all you can afford). It’s located in Central Park, which means it is easy to fit into most itineraries.
  7. Guggenhaim Museum (as long as you hit the Met too)
  8. Grand Central – prettiest train station in the world
  9. New York Public Library: The NYPL main branch on 42nd and 5th is right in the heart of midtown New York, down the street from the Empire State Building and a couple of blocks from the Chrysler Building and Grand Central.  It is a beautiful piece of faux-classical and feels about as New York as you can get.  The interior of the library is lovely, with some gorgeous wood-bedecked reading rooms, and I have yet to find a better place to peoplewatch than the stairs in front of the library, with the two stone lions on either side and one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares in front of you.  Behind the library is Bryant Park, which has a lovely grass field and plenty of benches, along with an al fresco cafe and free wi-fi
  10. Shopping on budget: Century21 (just outside Ground Zero). Ridiculously priced stuff from top brands
  11. Shopping with unlimited budget: go to Rockefeler Plaza, then walk within 2 mile radius. Prepare your credit cards for carnage
  12. Overhyped (but you probably will want a tick…): -Ground Zero -Statue of Liberty -Times Square (I will mock you if you waste any time in this godforsaken hellhole)

Milan travel highlights

  1. Duomo. Go to the rooftop.
  2. Bio Pizza – Corso Italia, 16. Order Carpaccio in Bianco, which instead of red sauce, has white truffle sauce – IT IS THE BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE (I also made a lot of people eat it, and they agree with the assessment). It is 10 mins walk from Duomo, so you don’t have an excuse not to visit
  3. Torre Branca – You get to see Castello Sforzesco while you are at it, so you kill two birds with the same stone. Cool views – take lots of pics! If you are a football fan, an added bonus is that you can see San Siro!
  4. Alchimia – most chilled place I have ever been in (outside Amsterdam at least…). Apperitivo is great there (it’s a Milanese tradition – they will serve free food during happy hour, so you can stuff your face with appetizers while getting drunk on cheap cocktails). I normally started with Long Island Iced Tea, followed by Capiroska alla Fragola, but if you are with a female companion, then a awesome girly drink is strawberry amaretto colada Totally walkable from Duomo as well (and you get to see Colonne di San Lorenzo which are awesome) Via Francesco Brioschi, 17,+Italy&cid=426902463743938265
  5. I would hang out in Navigli after aperitivo (which normally finishes around 8-9pm depending on place) and hit more bars – just head two blocks over to the canals (walk both Naviglio Pavese and Navilgio Grande). I would start with Maya on corner of Navilgio Pavese and Via Borsi – they had some good mango cocktail if I recall, and a generally solid drinks menu
  6. If you are hungry after drinking, then have a salmon puglia at Ambasciata Tarantina pizzeria (Via Giosuè Borsi, 1). I lived above that place for 3 years! Go to the takeaway place, although the sit-down place is alright too
  7. Remember that if you have coffee at any bar standing at the bar, the prices will be regulated by the govt – expect around EUR1 for espresso or machiatto, 1.30 for latte or capuccino (although if you order the latter after 11:30, you will get laughed at – only tourists do that in Italy). If you sit down, they can charge you whatever they want

San Francisco travel highlights

For a second most favorite city that I lived in, I don’t have too many things to share. It’s probably a function of not only the relatively short period of time that I lived there, but also the fact that I spent half of the time travelling to LA for work. And the remaining time was spent changing diapers, rather than going out a ton…

But anyway – here it is!

  1. Baker Beach – original setting for the Burning Man. We lived close enough to the beach to hear the waves when falling asleep.
  2. Burritos – you can start with my local favourite Gordo’s, but there are TONS and TONS of great places – experiment with all ingredients!
  3. Rent a bike in San Francisco, cycle across the bridge to Sausalito, then Tiburon. Catch a ferry back
  4. Ghirardelli Square – order ice cream with freshly made chocolate
  5. North Beach (Italian area in town) – find an ice cream place and a pizza place
  6. Rent a silly yellow cart at