Dan Sweet

How To Keep Up With Industry News In 3 Simple Steps

Imagine a leisurely lunch followed by a stop at the espresso machine on the way back to your desk. Suddenly, your boss’s boss strolls up and your mellow afternoon vibe instantly fades. Boss^2 makes some polite small talk and comments on a recent industry event.  You respond by … staring blankly? This happens to people all too often, and it is completely unnecessary. With three simple tweaks, you can be the master of the latest news in your field and securely enjoy your espressos from now on. Read on to see how I keep up with industry news.

Disclaimer: I work on battery innovation, strategy and finance in my day job and I also have some geeky leanings in my personal interests. Apologies if the topics I mention sound deathly boring. Please take away the concepts and the tools and just replace the specific sites and topics mentioned with your much more interesting content!

Principles:
• Always be learning
• Use “spare” time efficiently

Step 1 – Source Basic Content with a Combination of Apps, Email, Blogs:
Stitcher – Great mobile app for listening to podcasts. Download it via your app store of choice.
– Subscribe to “This Week in Startups” podcast (2x / week – 1 interview with a startup founder or investor, 1 news roundup)
– Add other podcasts of interest (I like WSJ this Morning, NPR Hourly News Summary, etc)
Digest emails – Tend to send daily or weekly emails that might surface interesting reads I have missed in my normal workflow. Medium.com, Quartz.com, Digg.com, Slideshare.com, Quora.com, Twitter.com Sign up on the individual sites? (Not sure how I started getting these.)
Quora.com – I search on Quora to research new areas, find subject matter experts to follow on Twitter, share opinions, be amused, connect, etc.
Blogs – I used to use RSS via Google reader to follow 30+ blogs regularly. Now if they write something good, people in my network tend to tweet it and I’ll see it. If I want to “catch up” on a specific person I’ll go to their blog directly. AVC.com, Feld.com, cdixon.org, bothsidesofthetable.com, bhorowitz.com, a16z.com, bostonvcblog.typepad.com, reidhoffman.org (all prominent VCs or entrepreneurs)

Step2 – Take Conscious Steps to Build in Serendipity:
Twitter.com – I use it almost exclusively through mobile app. Sign up at Twitter.com. Facebook is the people you know. Twitter is the people you wish you knew. I either get things directly from Twitter (via random browsing) or from a product/service that lets me log in with Twitter. That product then knows my taste graph based on who I follow on Twitter and can serve me relevant content.
LinkedIn.com – follow companies and Influencers you are interested in to get good content in your news feed and digest emails.
GetPrismatic.com – algorithmically-sourced news from around the web –define topics you are interested in and get relevant news automatically in an infinite scroll newsfeed style – I use it primarily on my desktop.

Step 3 – Give Back by Curating and Sharing:
Bufferapp.com – Chrome Browser extension allows me to easily comment on and share any Chrome tab to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any combination thereof.
Evernote.com – I use the Google Chrome Web Clipper browser extension and “Save Full Page” anything I want to be able to access in the future via a keyword search on mobile or desktop. Sign up at Evernote.com for free.

Simple Steps to Integrate Into Daily Life
• Mowing the lawn, buying groceries, commuting – listen to audio via Stitcher
• Downtime btw meetings / lunch at desk – GetPrismatic.com – open a bunch of interesting stories in new tabs then scan and close 90%, archive 5% via Evernote Web Clipper, share 5% via Buffer with appropriate social network.
• Brief downtime away from a desktop – click through to a story from a digest email in my inbox, or open mobile Twitter app, read interesting links, RT, see what buzz is about.
• Sitting on couch watching TV with the wife – Same as downtime btw meetings above.

Dan’s personal content sources below:

Entities I follow on LinkedIn that might be of general interest:
People: Tim Brown, Reid Hoffman, Paul Kedrosky
Companies: YouTube, Microsoft, Dwolla, P&G, Evernote, Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, Uber, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Cintrifuse, Dropbox, Lego Group, Greycroft Partners, @WalmartLabs, Metamarkets, dunnhumby

My “Interests” as explicitly defined by me on GetPrismatic.com:
YouTube, Mobile Technology, Online Advertising, Silicon Valley, Marketing, Data Mining, Poker, Google Chrome, Statistics, Machine Learning, Startups, Productivity, Android, Data Visualization, Venture Capital, Management, Innovation, Procter & Gamble, Artificial Intelligence, Entrepreneurship, Google, Computer Science, Duracell, Facebook, Batteries, Robotics, Twitter

The 100-ish most-followed people I follow on Twitter: (generated using twitonomy.com)

@a16z
@adage
@AlexiLalas
@AliceMartin8
@AllthingsD
@AlpMimar
@annieleibovitz
@AntDeRosa
@baratunde
@bfeld
@bgurley
@bhorowitz
@biz
@buffer
@BuzzFeedBen
@cdixon
@chr1sa
@chriswolferts
@claychristensen
@clint_dempsey
@DanielPink
@DaveRamsey
@dickc
@dongatory
@Duracell
@elonmusk
@eMarketer
@ev
@firstround
@FiveThirtyEight
@fredwilson
@Gartner_inc
@garyvee
@googleresearch
@GoogleVentures
@hnshah
@howardlindzon
@hunterwalk
@jack_welch
@jack
@jasonfried
@Jason
@JeffBooth
@jeff
@jennydeluxe
@Jermainejunior
@johnbattelle
@johndoerr
@joshk
@kevinrose
@KISSmetrics
@levie
@LIVESTRONGCEO
@mattyglesiast
@mcuban
@Medium
@MichaelHyatt
@mkapor
@mlevchin
@mqtoddl
@MrKRudd
@MSFTResearch
@msuster
@NateSilver538
@naval
@newsycombinator
@nickbilton
@om
@paulg
@petershankman
@PeterWinick
@pkedrosky
@pmarca
@RaviZacharias
@reidhoffman
@sacca
@satyanadella
@Sequoia_Capital
@sherylsandberg
@ShowtimeTate
@sorenmacbeth
@StartupReport
@StartupWeekend
@steverubel
@SwiftKey
@techstars
@ThomRainer
@tide
@tim_cook
@TimHowardGK
@timoreilly
@UpshotNYT
@venturehacks
@vkhosla
@voxdotcom
@WarrenBuffett

That is it.  Go sign up for some accounts, follow some people, subscribe to some podcasts, etc.  Do some listening, some reading and some sharing. Please leave a comment below sharing your favorite resources for staying current.

Most importantly though – go enjoy that espresso with confidence!

Meet your new best friend – the Assumptions Table.

This post is for big-company people only.  If you actually make it all happen yourself – congrats – I envy you!  For the rest of us, we have to play nice with others to get things done.  At the time of this writing, I lead financial analysis and commercial delivery of new initiatives for a billion dollar P&G brand.  I work with people from many different functions and generally need to function as the second-best person from each function to do my job well.

I was skeptical when I first met the Assumptions Table. It seemed like a classic non value-added big-company CYA exercise. Write down everything important that is being assumed, put other people’s names next to all the assumptions and ta-da! – nothing is your fault anymore.

I’ve since become convinced the Assumptions Table is a critical tool in moving big projects forward in a consensus-driven multi-functional organization. However, there are a couple important rules to maximizing the value you get out of using the Assumptions Table.

1.  All critical assumptions are documented.

2.  Every assumption has an owner.

3.  All owners are associate director (insert your org’s label here) level or higher.

4.  If key assumptions aren’t being provided – use your best judgment, write it down, and assign the appropriate owner.

5.  Always capitalize Assumptions Table to make it seem more official – OK I made that one up.

The beauty of the Assumptions Table is that anyone can create one and start sharing with the team.  This serves the team by assuring everyone is on the same page, demonstrates leadership, makes team meetings more efficient, provides a central repository for key decisions made as well as key unknowns to be worked.

The seniority of your initiative owner is critical.  It doesn’t matter one bit what the sandwich guy thinks is the right amount to spend on media behind the launch next fiscal year.  It matters what the marketing director’s plan is, so ask her!  It doesn’t matter one bit what the technical packaging guy thinks the materials will cost.  It matters what the leader of the product supply organization’s purchasing people can actually deliver so ask him what the number is!  The reality is that you are usually working with their subordinates and the senior people often aren’t around to consult directly.  However, you absolutely want their business judgement applied to the problem at hand.  Forcing their subordinates to provide assumptions that will have their bosses names next to them as an owner is a good way to get them engaged in putting their best effort into the work.  I typically put the subordinates doing the grunt work in the To: line with the assumption owners in the CC: line.  I then highlight their status as owners and urge the subordinates to get their bosses to make time to review the work that has been done and weigh in with any adds/changes.

Another critical piece is that you must be willing to make best-guess assumptions yourself if the appropriate owners aren’t providing what is needed.  Often, competing priorities will dictate that your project isn’t getting the time and attention you feel it deserves from all players.  You have to make some assumptions to move forward, so make them and get moving.  You still list the owner next to the assumption that should be providing it.  As long as you publish the Assumptions Table regularly and they have plenty of opportunities to review it and provide changes, this is a completely defensible position.  “This group officially owns it but hasn’t provided anything so the team is moving forward with best guess X until told otherwise.”  This prevents the classic circular – “Hey, wait, you can’t do that – we weren’t consulted – that isn’t allowed – so-and-so will never approve” nonsense that can waste months of time in big companies.  “Actually, the Assumptions Table has shown this is what was being assumed for the last three months, take a look, so-and-so is the owner, maybe go talk your concerns with them.”

The Assumptions Table has proved itself incredibly useful a couple times for me in the last few months so I wanted to share it.  I encourage you to give it a try if you work on big projects in a collaborative multi-functional org.  Leave me a comment below with your reactions and let me know how it works for you once you try it out.

“There are weeds over there too!” (Greener grass and all)

I spent some time a while back in a training for “managers of others”.  One component of the training involved salary planning as well as some commentary on motivating and retaining employees.  P&G spends a lot of money to recruit and hire its managers and would like to retain them for 30 years plus, as long as the performance is there.  Various scenarios were discussed that involved different combinations of work, location, role, rewards, management style that might deliver a positive experience for the employee.  Eventually though, we got to the “what do you do when someone says they are leaving” question.

The HR leader leading the training said that his basic approach is consistent and simple.  “There are weeds over there too!”  That is the bulk of the approach.  Help people process the fact that the things pissing them off here likely exist over there too.

As I think about my career it is easy to look at other industries or geographies and think life might be better there.  My favorite tool that I find useful to provide a reality check when I begin to think along those lines is Glassdoor.com.  If you haven’t used Glassdoor before, head on over and setup a free account.  Read employee verbatims of what they like and hate about their companies.  Read their “advice to senior management”.  See what they get paid, what their bonuses, profit sharing, etc is.  It is amazing how quickly the glow can come off of some glamorous sounding jobs when you read a half dozen reviews from people working in your function at the company that all complain about the same thing.  Whether it is nepotism, office politics, work-life balance, no raises, no career planning, terrible systems, an organizational prejudice against a certain function, an outsourcing trend, etc – WAY better to know that dynamic exists up front.

P&G has 127,000+ employees.  No matter how good of a screening job you do, there will still be some jerks in a group that big.  However, as Glassdoor demonstrates, we are now living in the age of transparency.  If organizations as a whole exhibit significant dysfunctions in their culture, people WILL find out.  I hear people (mostly from older generations) bemoan the new openness and public nature of the Internet.  I’m a big believer in the old adage that “sunshine is the best disinfectant”.  I think if you are a good person or a good company that generally does the right thing, you have nothing to fear from transparency and openness. Go check out Glassdoor.  Post a review of your company.  Go read some reviews from employees at companies you are envious of.  “Test drive” that greener grass from the safety of your couch.  Leave a comment below and let me know what you find that surprises you.

General Manager College – Bigger, Faster, Not My Fault.

An anecdote I heard over lunch one day went something like this:

General Manager College Curriculum
Day 1 –  Make it Bigger!
Day 2 –  Make it Faster!
Day 3 – Everything that goes wrong was your predecessor’s fault.

Now in all fairness, I think General Manager’s College may only be a two-day event.  However, I do think this is likely a pretty good summary of the content as senior leaders seem to invariably ask how ideas can be made bigger and how change can happen faster.

The challenge this creates is, how can you put forth what looks like a great effort, yet still has some upside you can keep in your back pocket for the inevitable follow-up questions re: bigger and faster?  In a perfect world I think you “write-up” 90% of your idea and keep the final 10% to share when discussing the idea/proposal in person.  Get the manager to think they came up with the last 10% and everyone wins.  They got to contribute and improve the idea, you get to go execute on your plan.  Call me cynical if you want, I prefer effective.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

If you haven’t heard of The Cult of Done, then you need to check this out. Working at a huge corporation, there are no shortage of people who will add you to the invite list for their standing weekly meeting if you so much as look at them sideways. The Cult of Done Manifesto is a reminder to get your work done and move on to the next thing. I love the encouragement to stop thinking and planning and just DO.

Actually doing something takes balls. It’s much easier to design requirements or write scope statements or document desired outcomes and key resources that will be needed. Technology today often makes it possible to produce a finished product in the same time it used to take to sketch a draft of what a product might be. I get that process is mission critical in some contexts. I also get that a lot of people default to process because they are lazy. I like the “Manifesto” angle and find it personally helpful to cultivate a certain level of disrespect for and animosity towards people and institutions that default to process over doing.

The poster version of the Cult of Done Manifesto is pasted below.
1. Print it out.
2. Hang it up.
3. Go DO something.

The Cult of Done Manifesto - poster