As a small company working with large technology firms, we've learned some difficult lessons about how to navigate the corporate world. As the white, male founder of a firm, but with 'hidden' diversity (all of our current employees qualify as at least one protected class, such as women, members of the LGBT community and/or disabled) I have seen a lot of conversations where people assumed I was one of the old boys' club, and had at least as many where I was definitely not in the 'club.' What I've learned is that mentorship is the second prize: sponsorship is what really matters. I first heard the term 'sponsorship' at the BlogHer Business, Entertainment and Technology conference a few years ago. In contrast to the (useful) mentorship and coaching models, which are mostly about advice in a private setting, sponsorship is the concept of lending or giving tangible and intangible resources to others to help them get a leg up—like reputation, connections, leads, money or access
As the world shifts towards more-networked organizations, the creation of feedback loops is more important than ever. An organization's capacity for empathy determines whether or not its products and services will actually serve the people it is trying to earn money from, and its awareness of what motivates its competitors, regulators and even its own staff will determine its ability to form important strategic alliances, form public-private partnerships and retain its workforce.
I keep coming back to the question of "how does nature handle IP?" The closest I can think of is our creation of APIs. Organisms don't walk around with their genetic code sort of displayed for everyone to see, what makes them unique. But there is massive and constant interaction between organisms and their environment, and exchange of information. I think APIs, in a way, are sort of an interesting way of thinking about that. You display enough information about your internal code that others can really interact [with it], and build upon it effectively, without giving away the whole farm—which probably wouldn't even be useful. The other organisms don't even need to know your entire code. That piece is interesting to me.
I first started conceiving of misfits and misfit teams when I began to reflect on my own employment process. As an unusual, "over"-sensitive and intelligent kid with no siblings, I often balked at oversimplified directions, experienced a bruised ego when receiving criticism, and struggled with how to participate in team or group environments. By the time I entered the workforce, I had developed a complex web of insecurities and related defenses designed to protect against the embarrassment of making public mistakes, compensating with my intelligence. It was in my first management position, which happened at about the same time I was engaging in lot of personal development work, that I really saw the impact.
Often, the focus on the ideal of the cross-functional, interdisciplinary, extroverted worker results in questions being asked which the average employee is insufficiently skilled to answer. In her book Quiet, Susan Cain cites the example of one of her research technical interviewees' recollection of a 'murder board,' a panel of decision-makers whom engineers had to face in order to get their new ideas considered for funding and other resources. One can imagine a hard-faced panel of besuited men tearing down the brilliant if meek engineer with the smug expressions of a young MBA grad: "What's your marketing plan!," they might shout, "
Autonomy, especially in and around U.S. businesses, is a tricky concept. Autonomy is valued very highly in our culture, but the challenge of finding a way to hand off acceptable amounts of control takes a lot more work than most leaders or employees realize. Few companies have the patience or budget for mistakes which occur when a more-autonomous goes wrong, so they choose not to grant autonomy in the first place, or revoke it at the first sign of trouble. Understandably, the constant conflict of employees who need autonomy and leaders who need accountability plagues most organizations.
For an example of a fluid progression from values to high-level beginnings of doctrine, consider this published set of business principles from Moore's Cloud, a "smart light" startup based in Australia. Their founder, Mark Pesce, explained that the intent of these principles was both internal and external, being used both to inform internal daily decision-making and to filter (attract or repel) investors by explicitly stating the company's commitment to open ecosystems and transparent business practice. By 'downloading' individuals decision-making guides from key leaders in the organization and then 'uploading' them to the business's guiding source code, Moore's Cloud has reduced huge amounts of unnecessary
Doctrine sits in between strategy and plans. It is more specific than the strategy, but also more versatile than plans, or rules. Think of it as heuristics, or guidelines: the purpose of doctrine is to enable an individual to know what to do in a situation that's consistent with the strategy and achieves the objectives of a plan, but with flexibility, with autonomy, for the individual, in the circumstance. And the creation of effective business doctrine, I believe is going to be critical for the transition of business in the next century.
Gender is a touchy subject. In the U.S., business peoples' historic inability to responsibly discuss gender resulted in a backlash which human resources department also reacted to—with an oversimplified, "we're all the same" message substituting for a deeper, more nuanced discussion of inclusion and equality.
I was recently asked to weigh in on how to support the creative worker. It's a broad, almost-impossible question: how does one even begin to categorize such a person? So I chose to respond by focusing on the elements of the workplace which enable creativity, both culturally and structurally, to support the rise of good ideas and ease for those bringing good ideas to light.
Most leadership guides, hiring manuals and educational practices are grounded in the idea of supporting collaboration and motivating employees by having extroverts lead. The history of how this came to be is detailed in the revealing title by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.