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Photo by Irena Carpaccio on Unsplash

In Which My Difficult Neighbor, Who I Don’t Like, Teaches Me Something

Bob The Neighbor

I have a neighbor. Let’s call him Bob (it’s not his name). I really, really don’t like Bob, and apparently he doesn’t like me. The details don’t matter a lot, but ten years ago Bob and I got into a nasty altercation involving my young son. It was bad. We got close to having lawyers involved. It was never resolved and since then we ignore each other, cross to the other side of the street when we pass. Ugh.

This seems unlikely to change. When I think about Bob, I get angry, and a little scared. The sheer rage with…

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The Question, and the Bad Answer

The Question

“When’s it going to be ready?” Oh, it’s a hard one. In previous incarnations of my career I have been asked that by founders, CEOs, nervous leadership groups and a couple of the more illustrious VCs in Silicon Valley (John Doerr was particularly direct).

I figured out fairly quickly that there are no great answers, several pretty good answers, and one bad one.

The bad answer, I discovered recently to my amazement, is still around in the software business. I’ve seen impassioned arguments, in mid-2020, supporting it.

The bad answer is “I don’t know”.

I’ve had founders ask me “should…

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Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Yes, You’re Doing It For the First Time. So Is Everybody Else

So this happens: we’ll be in a coaching session, ticking along, and you’ll get a slightly worried, perhaps bemused look on your face and say something like: “I’m doing this for the first time, you know…”, and then wait, expectantly, for me to say something. Probably I won’t. Or perhaps I’ll do a coaching thing and say “I hear you. So what’s the question you’re wanting to ask?”.

And then it comes out: “what is it that I don’t know? what are my blind spots? how do I compare to other leaders at my level? …

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Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

Your Brain Is Not On Your Side

Why Hard Conversations Are Hard — Short Version

I’d say the single most frequent issue that comes up in my coaching practice is the Hard Conversation. Perhaps a founder needs to reset the relationship with their co-founder; maybe a VP needs to be really clear with their GM that you can’t ship a product earlier with fewer people; or a Head of Product and Head of Engineering finally need to have that come to Jesus meeting.

The details (and the stakes) vary, but in the end we come to: “there is some really hard stuff I need to say, but I can’t find a way to say it”.

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Photo by Niko Lienata on Unsplash

Find Your Own Voice! We’ll Listen.

The Dead Language Drizzle

How much “unlocking” can we do? Isn’t everything just about “unlocked” by now?

Why does creativity have to be “unleashed”?

Are you really “passionate about leveraging The Cloud”?

Are the “three tips” in your post really “powerful”?

Is your new experience “fully immersive”?

Language is emotional. Language can move us. The phrases above, and many others like them, move nothing, say nothing. Our response to them is not energy, but a kind of dulled recognition: another struggling marketing pitch, another piece of slightly desperate striving. They drizzle past us, like an endless, sticky mist. They have no dancing to them…

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Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

In Which We Shouldn’t Accept The Way We Are

“I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes. It’s just the way I am”

I hear variations of this statement pretty frequently, usually in relation to poor behavior in communication: “oh, I’m from Bluntville and we’re just blunt”, or “I am just a passionate person and I let it run away with me”, or “I’m sorry, I just talk sometimes and stop thinking”, or “I grew up in NastyLand and that’s the way we talk”, or “I’m an introvert, so I don’t speak up”.

These are excuses, neatly disguised by a degree of self-deprecation, which is designed, almost…

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What’s Driving Us. A Simple Model.

A Bubble Story

A Bubble Story

The scene: a public company, in the bright shiny new “internet space”, San Francisco 1999. Our stock is on a tear. We look at our personal holdings and can’t imagine how things got this way. The only possible direction is up and to the right. Crazed, grandiose pronouncements are the order of the day.

And we need to make an acquisition. At least, we think we do. We want to enter a market adjacent to ours and think that building something would take too long — everything’s moving fast! The market is hot! We gotta get in there!

So we…

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Know Your Tribes. Be Nice to Each Other.

Humans Form Groups. It’s What We Do.

Humans are successful because we collaborate. Collaboration is our super-power. We can form a group with an arbitrary set of people, share concepts within the group and understand that if we make tradeoffs which are costly to us individually we may benefit the group as a whole. We demonstrate this “shared intentionality” — the ability to understand from another human being what is necessary — from a very early age (Yuval Harari does a great job describing the evolutionary effect of this in Sapiens).

We will form groups with almost no pressure — our inclination to do so is wired…

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The Bad Thing — Photo by Spaylia on Unsplash

Changing the Status Quo is Scary, But It’s Your Job

You have to tell Jim something difficult. You’re going to hire somebody over him, or he’s being taken off a project, or he has to manage a group that needs a turnaround and it’s going to be a tough job. You’ve been dithering about having this conversation for a while — weeks, maybe months.

On the one hand, you’ve been thinking things like “well, maybe Jim will grow, he’ll be fine, we don’t need to hire somebody more senior” or “ehhh, he could stay on that project, it’s not like he’s doing any really serious damage”, or “maybe I’ll spend…

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Photo by mnm.all on Unsplash

Your Team Will Build a Tribal Identify Anyway. Better to Build it Consciously

You’re Going To Get A Tribal Identity: Pay Attention

If you put a group of people together for any length of time, even a few minutes, they will start to form what we might call a tribal identity. They will start to agree amongst themselves, quite unconsciously “this is who we are”.

Think of a group of strangers stranded at an airport gate. Very quickly the group will decide: “we are lost” or “we are helpless” or “we are heroes and we’re not going to take this any more”. …

Joe Dunn

Executive coach, working with execs and technical leaders in high growth companies in San Francisco. Ex Engineer, VP Eng from way back.

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