When there is doubt

I had shared a quote a few months ago from Frank Slootman that I was reflecting on today.

Years ago, I used to hesitate and wait situations out, often trying to fix underperforming people or products instead of pulling the plug. Back then I was seen as a much more reasonable and thoughtful leader — but that didn’t mean I was right. As I got more experience, I realized that I was often just wasting everybody’s time. If we knew that something or someone wasn’t working, why wait? As the saying goes, when there is doubt, there is no doubt.” | Frank Slootman, Amp It Up

Frank Slootman is the CEO of Snowflake and previously scaled both ServiceNow and Data Domain – a rare 3x successful CEO. The insight and experience buried in this quote resonated deeply when I first heard it in April. However, as I’ve been reflecting on it some more, my appreciation has continued to grow.

If it isn’t working, make the call.

When there is doubt, there is rarely any doubt.

A conversation with Seth Godin – coming live this Friday

Long time readers of this blog know that Seth’s blog has been a huge inspiration over the years. That’s aside from the fact that many of you first subscribed to this blog thanks to Seth sharing a link to this blog in his posts over the years :-). TLDR – I’m very grateful to Seth for the inspiration, support, and encouragement over the years.

So, I’m very excited about hosting a conversation with Seth on Friday morning 10am Pacific Time (1pm Eastern Time, 6pm UK, etc.). We’ll be talking about “The Carbon Almanac” as well as Seth’s perspective on careers and leadership. While this is part of a “Speaker Series” event at LinkedIn, we’ll be broadcasting this live globally.

You can register here if you’re interested.

I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Cutting through the noise of opinions

There are always going to be opinions about our work that irritates/annoys/makes us feel inadequate.

Very few of them matter.

There’s always going to be a lot of noise. That’s just a test of our effectiveness and maturity. The noise grows proportional with the size of our ambitions and actions. We can’t get rid of it.

But… we always get to choose what we pay attention to.

All we need to do is be disciplined enough to consistently ask – does this matter?

The question will show us the way.

Mrs. Vanaja Vimal

I didn’t believe I was capable of drawing or writing particularly neatly as a kid. My handwriting wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t good either.

I met Mrs. Vanaja Vimal – a.k.a “Vanaja miss” – in my 8th grade when she introduced herself as our new science teacher. She shared in that class that she expected neat submissions every time – no exceptions.

She then turned around to write her first set of notes on the white board.

I still remember our reaction when we first saw her writing. It was pristine. Almost like someone had typed it out in a cursive font.

She then drew something on the board. Again, pristine. It was clear she meant business.

That year, our science notebooks were significantly neater than all the others.

In time, that experience made me realize that I could write and draw a whole lot neater than I thought. It changed the game.

Sometimes, all it takes is for us to meet someone who has that combination of high expectations (both in what they say and do) and a belief in our ability to meet them.

“Vanaja miss” was certainly one of them.

Amazing Nature shows – Disneynature

There are two streaming services that we are permanently subscribed to – (1) HBO Max because it comes bundled with our phone plans, and (2) Disney+ because…. we have kids. :-)

As we’ve explored Disney+ content in the past year, we’ve become fans of Disneynature – Disney’s wildlife and nature focused studio. While we’ve not completed the set yet, the stories and filmography have been very compelling. Here are a few shows we’ve loved –

(1) Dolphin Reef: 10/10 – Narrated by Natalie Portman, this is a beautiful show that brings together the tales of a Dolphin family and a Humpback whale family. It has some beautiful moments interweaved with moments of tension – e.g., when the Humpback whales call to others for help when they’re attacked by Orcas.

(2) African cats: 10/10 – Narrated by Samuel Jackson, this features a movie-worthy story about a set of lions and a family of Cheetahs in the same territory. You will fall in love with characters like Mara (a lioness cub) and Sita (a mother cheetah).

(3) Polar bear: 10/10 – A stirring story about the life of polar bears from the viewpoint of a polar bear who describes how much the Arctic has changed since she was a cub. She refers to polar bears as “ice bears” – what will Ice bears do without ice?

(4) Monkey Kingdom: 10/10 – Narrated by Tina Fey, this is a mindblowing story that showcases just how widespread the idea of “caste” is among monkeys. This is the story of a mother who is born into the lowest rung in her tribe and her subsequent journey to royalty. It is a fascinating watch – one that made me reflect about the similarity in the structure of human societies.

(5) Penguins: 9.5/10 – A beautiful coming-of-age story about an Adelie penguin called Steve. Steve has many obstacles to overcome – including leopard seals and orcas – and he does so with the help of a lot of luck and skill.

(6) Bears: 9/10 – a beautiful story of the journey taken by a family of 3 Alaskan bears to… survive. It shows the 2 bear cubs learning a series of life lessons from an experienced mother who will leave no stone unturned in her quest to help them grow into adulthood.

(7) Born in China: 8.5/10 – Born in China covers multiple storylines – featuring Panda, Cranes, Snow leopards, and Golden Monkeys. Lots of interesting stories and fascinating imagery from remote parts of China. Each of these animals carry a lot of significance in China – they also comprise the list of core characters in “Kung Fu Panda.” :-)

(8) Ghost of the Mountains: 8/10 – this is the story of the film crew who go on an expedition to capture footage of the elusive “Snow Leopard” (who we see in “Born in China.” This filled me with gratitude for the passion and persistence of film crew who go above and beyond to make movies that educate and inspire us.

(Not Disney Nature) Secrets of Wild India: 10/10 – Secrets of Wild India isn’t a Disney nature show. But, oh my, this may be one of my favorite Attenborough productions. It helped me see India in new light as the team spotlights how species and human life in India live with each other because of a culture that attempts to live harmoniously with wildlife.

There’s also a line at the end that gave me goosebumps. After the Indian Cheetah became extinct, the Indian Black Buck has no predator who can compete with its phenomenal speed of 50 miles per hour/80 kilometers per hour. David Attenborough calls attention to a project to reintroduce the Cheetah in India. To this, Attenborough says (paraphrased from memory) – “Maybe the Black buck will then remember the reason for its phenomenal acceleration.”

That line gave me goosebumps.

I thought I’d document these notes as we watch more of these shows with our kids. Every one of them has filled us with awe and wonder while reminding us of the importance of living more sustainably.

I hope you find them useful. More to come.

Face to Face

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson shared a few of his thoughts on work norms around remote and hybrid work in a post titled “Face to Face.” A few excerpts –

“The covid pandemic taught many of us that we can be productive and our companies can succeed in a fully remote work environment. But just because you can does not mean you should.”

“But even if the way we work has changed permanently, it does not mean that it has changed for the better. I believe that all change has positive and negative impacts.”

We know that humans are better to each other in person. We know that in-person interaction is more meaningful, we are more present, and we connect in more fundamental ways. So I believe that we must work in the coming years to get out of our offices (or homes) and see each other in person more often.

“For companies, this means hiring should include a face-to-face meeting. Teams should meet in person regularly. Going to the office should be a regular occurrence for those that live near one.”

“It is time to get back to the office, at least some of the time. It will make for better business. And I also think it will make us happier at work.”

This is an idea that’s been on my mind in the past months too. I’ve experienced situation after situation where an in-person conversation helped us make more progress than we’d have made in hours of video calls.

This is especially on top of mind as I’m coming off an event that brought together folks across various teams across our company. It was an intense 48 hours or so as it involved many conversations – some intentional, some serendipitous.

It is hard to calculate “RoI” / return on investment on these conversations – but, if I had to bet, the RoI is likely to be incredibly positive. These conversations will spark more collaboration and more synchrony across teams than any other mechanism we’d have otherwise deployed.

In industries where it isn’t necessary, we’ll never go back to in-person work 5 days a week. But I don’t think swinging the pendulum all the way to remote is the way forward for everyone either. In roles that rely on deep cross functional collaboration, prioritizing in-person time on some regular cadence goes a long way.

And in roles where that isn’t the case, creating excuses for high quality social interactions from time to time could be the difference between a high performing team and one that is struggling to get going.

Counting another person’s money

A friend shared a great story about NBA superstar Steph Curry. In 2017, Steph Curry had turned in incredible performance after incredible performance to win the NBA title for the Golden State Warriors. However, thanks to a 4 year contract he’d signed in 2012, he was making less than half per season as some of his fellow top NBA players.

When he was asked about this, he said“One thing my pops always told me is you never count another man’s money. It’s what you’ve got and how you take care of it. And if I’m complaining about $44 million over four years, then I’ve got other issues in my life.”

“My perspective was: ‘Man, I’ll be able to take care of my family with this. Blessed to be able to know I’ll be playing at least in the NBA for four years and see where it goes from there.”

It is easy for us to point to his massive wages and say that it is easy for him to say that. But we are social creatures who compare ourselves to others. It would have been easy for him to put any sense of happiness to death by comparison.

But he didn’t.

His approach reflects an enlightened perspective stemming from a simple and powerful idea – don’t worry about how much other people have.