On gratitude

Rob J. wrote me an email a couple years back, out of the blue. We’d lost touch since our days in Boston, as close friends back in our 20’s.

His email told me how he appreciated our friendship from those distant times past. My first response was sorta cynical. I thought maybe he was in some type of self-help program.

But his words were kind and sincere. And that email stuck with me.

Inspired by Rob, earlier this year I started sending thank-you emails to friends new and old. In some cases, I’d just thank them for our friendship. In others, I pointed out something they did or said that helped me. My hope was that maybe I could help them appreciate the positive effect they had on my life.

I sent these emails because it made me feel good. And I hoped they would make others feel good, just the way Rob’s email stuck with me.

Last week, news of my departure from McAfee was announced. I got many kinds notes and calls. And in some cases people cited examples where I had a positive impact on their work or professional lives.

Some of these examples surprised me. Seemingly small or trivial things I did or said had a positive impact on others. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised given my experience with thank-you emails.

What I also took away from these notes is that as a leader, one’s words and actions can have a much larger effect on people than one might realize. This can produce both positive and negative effects. It’s an awesome responsibility one bears as a leader.

Why I lead

Why do leaders lead? For some, it could be for the money, power, or notoriety.

For me and probably many others, the reason for being a leader is the ability to positively affect the careers – and therefore the lives – of others. That’s what gets me out of bed every day, ready to face the challenges of being a leader.

I got this text recently. Her message made it all worth it. I’ll probably find years of motivation from this:


There’s a concept in leadership doctrine called “servant leadership”. I’m intrigued by this idea because it seems to orient leadership towards unlocking the potential of those who are being led. Maybe it’s just another way of saying “be a great coach”.

When the startup that I co-founded had ultimately failed, it was a crushing blow. I knew that my own career was going to be fine, and perhaps even enhanced by this experience. But what tore at me was the idea that I had failed my employees and their hopes and dreams. Some lashed out at me in anger, which is understandable. But others remained engaged, and sought out my advice after we all parted ways. It’s been a joy to stay in touch with them, helping them along their journeys.

What I didn’t expect from my startup experience is that other companies that subsequently entered the same market space sought me out for advice. I think it’s pretty cool that those founders had the intellectual curiosity to approach me for my perspective, because they could have written me off as having failed and therefore not having something to offer them. So I’ve talked to every one of those who have asked.

For me leadership boils down to being a great coach and being generous with one’s time for advice and counsel. When that positively impacts someone else’s life, it’s magical.

“100% of my female friends have been sexually assaulted”

A female colleague told me this recently while we were discussing the Brett Kavanaugh nomination process. I was incredulous. “You’re certain it’s 100%?”, I asked. “Absolutely”, she replied.

It doesn’t stop there.

I went to a candlelight vigil for Dr. Ford a couple weeks ago (an aside: I was there because I wanted her claim investigated fully, not because I had judged her claim in advance). A friend I was with said she knew that 50% of her friends had been assaulted. We both surmised the percentage was higher because some of her friends presumably hadn’t revealed their truths.

I had dinner recently with another woman who related her own story of assault. And she knew many, many female friends with similar experiences.

There is very real damage to being a victim. The emotional trauma often begets physical damage in turn. Any other condition that caused such damage, at such a widespread rate, would be considered an epidemic. What is the appropriate response here?

The most pernicious aspect of sexual assault is that it happens in so many cases without witnesses. And surely women choose to not disclose their victimization, and especially decline to pursue justice, because their claims are not believed or taken seriously.

Perhaps the way forward relates to the Harvey Weinstein phenomenon. In the court of public opinion, certainty about his behavior increased with the number of accusers. It’s the pattern of behavior, not the provability of any one incident (or even victim), that gave credence to the accusations.

What I hope is that women are emboldened to tell their stories. And that all of us take those claims seriously in terms of acknowledging the epidemic and our obligation to act.

If you think I am exhibiting bias toward the victims, you would be right. The shame and stigma of being a victim today means that anybody who makes a public claim does so with expected negative consequences. They know they will have their reputations challenged. For example, Dr. Ford, who lives in my neighborhood, fled her home after receiving death threats. One day, a news helicopter hovered over her house. A victim’s courage is unto itself a reason to take their claims seriously.

I say all of this despite the fact that I was falsely accused of being an assaulter.

Recently, I rode in an Uber Pool along with two other passengers. In the back seat, alongside me, was a young woman. Three days after the ride, I was contacted by an Uber employee investigating a claim that I inappropriately touched this young woman, was asked by her to stop, and continued to do so.

I told the investigator that this was a serious claim indeed and that Uber was right to take it seriously. I strenuously denied the allegation. I asked if they had interviewed the driver yet, and suggested that he would verify that no conversation at all occurred between any of the passengers. I was banking on the contradiction between the accuser’s story and the driver’s as a basis of discrediting the claim itself. It also happens to be the case that I’ve used Uber since its beginning years ago and had an extremely high passenger rating without incident.

Ultimately, Uber dismissed the claim and reinstated my suspended account.

All of this got me wondering about the complex nature of the situation for Uber, for me and for the accuser. What was Uber’s policy to adjudicate this issue? Were they to apply a legal standard of (my) presumed innocence? If not, then what criteria to judge the merits of the claim? Would the accuser have any other recourse, such as the legal system? Under what circumstances would my identity be revealed? A subpoena? Etc.

Despite this incident, I believe that the bias of victims’ illegitimacy remains. To deal with this epidemic, we need victims to come forward. And we need others to say that it’s needed, it’s ok, and that we take their claims seriously.

On Dr. King: “The arc of the moral universe…”

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” – MLK

It’s MLK Day today. I celebrated by reading some of his quotes and watching David Letterman interview Barack Obama and John Lewis.

At times like these, the many gains since the 1960’s seem lost. Instead of an African-American president signifying the permanence of a new era of equality, we find ourselves regressing.

Or, to be more precise, the face of hatred for equality has revealed itself again. Only this time that face is aided and abetted by our President.

My friend put it well. At no point has she and her family been more civically engaged. Their understanding of government and their involvement in civic discourse has never been higher. I could say the same for my family. This engagement can, and must, lead to a counter-reaction to the forces of inequality and ignorance around us.

Today is a day to remind ourselves of the principles that make our country great and that must be defended by us as citizens:

  • we are a nation of immigrants, from which our unique strengths are derived
  • our diversity must be matched by equality in every way: across ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender
  • tolerance and empathy will prevail over intolerance and ignorance

It is both a blessing and a curse that I’ve never felt more connected to Dr. King than right now. May his spirit guide us forward.

Why I work at McAfee (and you should too?)

Last week, I spent 2 days with our CEO Chris Young and his leadership team, talking about where we want to go in the next 3 years.

Chris kicked off the meeting with a recap of our 5 core values, our mission and our employee pledge, all designed to protect the world in our online lives.  You can read Chris’ public letter about McAfee’s future here.

This clarity of purpose makes it easy for me to know the “what” and the “how” of my work in support of our goals. This hasn’t been the case at many companies I’ve worked for in the past, so I don’t take it for granted. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same challenge in your past.

I had the pleasure of working with Chris before, and also with my boss who leads our consumer business.  And several other former colleagues who I respect and know are here, too.

So, I’m here because of the clarity of our purpose and because I work with people I trust and respect. Maybe McAfee would be a great place for you too? We’re hiring….

Two big, new business influences

One of my personal delights is to come across new concepts and ideas that advance my professional thinking.

I’m usually suspicious of “form over substance” business books.  I’m attracted to the esoteric, favoring concepts that are meaty and somewhat hard to grasp at first. To me, the really valuable stuff is probably hard.

Two things I discovered in the past year have really got me thinking.

Amazon’s recipe for success is…..API’s?

Amazon’s success is hard to argue with.  Much has been written by the business media about their formula for success, deciphering Amazon’s culture and values such as the 2-pizza rule for organizational design (which I am a believer in, too).

This blog by Steve Yegge takes you much deeper into a seemingly arcane Amazon mandate that might have more to do with Amazon’s success than anything else.  Seriously.

I’ll tease you a bit:

So one day Jeff Bezos issued a mandate. He’s doing that all the time, of course, and people scramble like ants being pounded with a rubber mallet whenever it happens. But on one occasion — back around 2002 I think, plus or minus a year — he issued a mandate that was so out there, so huge and eye-bulgingly ponderous, that it made all of his other mandates look like unsolicited peer bonuses.

Before you click away and read it (as you should), it’s written by a technical leader who worked at Amazon for several years before working at Google for several years. He wrote this as an internal memo at Google, trying to explain why Amazon was succeeding where Google was not in the realm of public cloud services.

The gist of the memo was that Jeff Bezos himself was resolute in requiring that every system of theirs must interact with every other system using defined interfaces (API’s).

This is profound because:

  1. it meant that each team can operate autonomously of the next, maximizing each team’s agility
  2. this forced the creation of a technology services catalog well before Amazon Web Services was ever launched. Amazon was Customer 1.0 of AWS “for real” before anyone else. When AWS launched it was truly prepared to satisfy the needs of its customer base, and has sustained that ability over time

These days, business and IT are inextricably linked. If you can “grok” this article, you’ll be ahead of most in understanding how and why.

Wardley Maps: peeling a very large & useful onion

I’ve been interested in, and performed, strategic planning at times in my career.

However, strategy has gotten a bad reputation, and for good reason. Most of it doesn’t work in leading companies to having success or not.

Like so much innovation, the most interesting innovation I’ve seen about strategy came from an outsider.  Simon Wardley’s experience was not from the strategy industry of consultants, MBA’s etc.  Rather, it was from his functioning (and failing?) as a leader of a technology business.

His “Wardley Maps” resonate with me because they pinpointed why my past work on strategy was flawed in ways that I couldn’t quite articulate at the time.

Here are short and long versions introducing his work:

Wardley’s work is like peeling an onion. You can explain Wardley Maps succinctly as “value chain meets the dimension of time & evolution”.  But I’ve spent many, many hours with his writings and I still feel like I’m only peeling the outer layers. He writes about gameplay, team behavioral types, and much more.

Grand unification

What’s really interesting is how Steve Yegge’s memo and Wardley’s writings relate to each other.

Warley has written about AWS’ success using Wardley Maps to explain why. You start to understand why Amazon’s “API edict” in Yegge’s memo was so important in unleashing their business agility.  That agility has made it awfully hard for anyone to catch them in e-commerce or cloud computing.

If you’re in the tech industry, I hope you find the time to explore and enjoy these authors as much as I have.

R.I.P. Bluenose Analytics

My startup Bluenose is no longer.

After 4+ years of trying, it just didn’t work out. We ran out of money and couldn’t attract more investment.

There are many, many people to thank for their support along the way. My wife, my co-founder, investors, friends, employees, mentors, customers, etc. “It takes a village” to birth a startup, irrespective of the outcome.

There are also many, many people to apologize to. As CEO, the ultimate accountability for success and failure resides with me.  I’m sorry to my investors for losing their money.  I’m sorry to my employees present and past for letting you down; you saw Bluenose as a vehicle to realize a personal objective and you probably didn’t. I’m sorry to our customers for not giving you a solution that fully met your needs.

You might ask “why did Bluenose fail”? That’s a question I’ve asked myself almost daily for this entire journey.  It’s tempting to explain it all away with a few neat bullet points.  I’m pretty sure the root cause is some combination of internal mistakes of mine and external market conditions.

Perhaps the better question is “what did you learn?”  That might take a book to write given all the things I’ve learned.  A few things a startup will teach you:

  • things you didn’t know about yourself. The extreme nature of the situation (risk, uncertainty) will reveal you in many ways
  • things you didn’t know about others. You’ll become a student of human nature as you watch others react to those same extreme conditions
  • the need for focus in the face of extremely scarce resources

I expect that I’ll write more about this experience later. Perhaps for my own catharsis. Perhaps to help others learn from my experience. For now, it’s too early. The wounds are too fresh. And it’s time to find something next to do.

Where is the moral outrage?

Previously, I wrote about the lack of empathy in our country right now. I argued that empathy is an obligation of parties that are on both sides of a debate / policy / political affiliation.

As much as I believe this to be a causal factor in this country’s current divisiveness, I’m also implicating morality as a causal factor too.


A tenet that seems to be in common with every major religion is that of honesty. Yet our president, and those around him, are regularly caught lying. In many cases, it appears to be especially willful, wherein the lie is told with full knowledge of the contradictory facts. This pattern is not in dispute if you take the time to read any legitimate watchdog such as Politifact.

So, why isn’t this a basis of outrage? If a fundamental tenet of every religion is being violated by our leaders, where are religious leaders and their constituents?

The effect of normalizing dishonesty is impossible to quantify but real and costly nonetheless:

  • What are our children being taught from all this?
  • How is our country able to lead the world – on the basis of a higher moral standing – against the despots and autocrats that exist always? Our self-interest is served when we can lead in this way
  • Will our standing as a nation that’s attractive to do business with – on the basis of low rates of corruption and good corporate governance – miss out on future commerce?

Helping others

Another tenet that seems to be in common with all major religions is the duty to care for those less advantaged than us. The weak, the sick, the poor.

These values are so strongly part of our national identity that they are codified in our progressive taxation system.

We live in an era when the need for helping the disadvantaged is acute. We’ve seen a massive economic dislocation over the last 30 years, wherein the twin forces of globalization and automation have eroded our manufacturing base. The blue-collar jobs are gone that used to yield a decent living, a house to own and a means to send one’s kids to college if you so desired.

What are we doing to deal with this? It seems like our administration is making it worse not better:

  • Affordable college education is not on the agenda
  • Affordable healthcare for the least wealthy appears be reduced under the ACA replacement, despite the rhetoric. Next week we’ll likely see this in objective, factual detail from the CBO
  • Tax cuts for the wealthy is definitely on the agenda. There is no evidence that trickle-down economics benefit anyone but those whose taxes are lowered, given the clear evidence of increased wealth concentration over the last 30 years

There’s a segment of Americans who believe that the otherwise admirable principle of “equal opportunity for all” has a symmetric, second principle that one bears no obligation to help anyone else in pursuit of such opportunities. In other words, it’s “American” to be left to your own devices.

I couldn’t disagree more. If we want a truly level playing field, then we must send all players onto it with the same resources: access to education and healthcare.  Nobody with a chronic health condition and poor parents is going to find a way to a college degree, let alone compete for well-paying white-collar jobs.

Eyes on the prize

The plight of the disadvantaged has been talked about more in the last year than arguably since the Johnson era. That can be a good thing.

The narrative of why Trump was elected was that he was the champion and voice of these people when all of Washington had become disinterested in their needs.  It’s a valid argument.

In his actions, it’s not at all clear that these people’s needs are being addressed in the least.

So we must act instead, and do so in a way that is in keeping with our morals.

We can have universal healthcare. As a moral argument, it’s a basic human entitlement. As an economic argument, Massachusetts has proven the long-term viability of the model.  And many industrialized countries have so far as to implement single-payor systems without economic harm. In fact, single-payor systems can dramatically drive down the costs. Witness what we pay for prescription medications versus our neighbors in Canada.

We can have affordable college education. As a moral argument, it’s a way to ensure a level playing field when we send young adults into the workplace. As an economic argument, many industrialized countries have used government money to ensure this. This is an economically sound long-term investment like no other.

We can have progressive taxation. As a moral argument, it’s a clear tenet in our religions. As an economic argument, we’re at a historically low degree of taxation on the wealthy and at a historically high degree of wealth concentration.  This is no clear correlation to broad growth in prosperity such as GDP in such cases. And real income gains for the non-wealthy have stagnated in the last 20-30 years. No wonder the lower middle class is pissed.


Who’s afraid of the big, bad feedback?

TLDR: I regularly speak with companies that are interested in starting a Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®) feedback program. I sometimes see a strange phenomenon: People offering various objections to getting started.

This comes as a surprise , given how easy it is to get started. A simple survey question for customers to answer, and a standard way to calculate the NPS score itself. So what gives? Continue reading

We’re in an empathy crisis

Young female hand holding old female hand - Taking care of the elderly people with love

If it feels like America is deeply divided, you’re not alone.

Our President is stating provable lies in a consistent pattern.  His speech (and policies) is at times hateful and intolerant, singling out immigrants, refugees, the media, liberals, etc.

No wonder Americans are polarizing along the lines of supporting, or opposing, this President.

What’s the cause of all this?  In my opinion, it’s an utter lack of empathy.

Let’s start with the President himself. I think his behavior has fit a pretty clear pattern of purported empathy for his supporters but not for anybody else.  Empathy for 40% of Americans isn’t the same as for all.

But why are Americans susceptible to this influence? Well, we lack empathy too.

How many “coastal elites” have lived in the middle American cities that have been economically decimated by the decline of their manufacturing base?  You might be “from there” but that’s not the same as living there now.

How many “middle Americans” have lived in cities comprised of heterogeneous everything: citizens and immigrants, multiple religions, secularists, LGBT communities, ethnic foods, etc?

So what’s the solution to all this? I think it goes beyond happy talk like promising ourselves to do better in our attitudes.

Empathy is a by-product of experience. And to develop empathy you must must experience the other.

How? Travel. Live somewhere else. Sponsor an immigrant.  Visit a house of worship of another faith.

It’s so much harder to personify and judge the “others” when they’re sitting across the table from you, sharing a coffee and exhibiting decency.

Travel is my favorite vehicle to empathy. I have traveled to about 40 states and 30 countries on 4 continents.  For example, I’ve experienced the amazing warmth & hospitality of Indians and seen abject poverty and filth. In the same hour.  Talk about confronting the “other”.

You can’t judge India or any country as good or bad.  Only as different. It’s been the same experience in most every country I’ve been to; a mix of things you love and things that are different if not disagreeable.

I’ve also had people from other countries tell me about the paradox of visiting America through their eyes.  Like why we are so “gun crazy” yet sincerely friendly and optimistic. They experienced us and come away changed.  More empathy.

Morgan Spurlock deserves a lot of credit for trying to get at this issue with his series “30 Days“.  It’s well worth watching.