In one word, what is your career?

Today, The New York Times’s Adam Bryant interviewed George Hu, COO, Salesforce, for their column, Corner Office.

Hu asks job applicants, “How would you describe who you are, in the core of your DNA, in one word?”. (His own answers are below.)

Great question! Can you distill your work identity to a single word? My answer: “leader”. Earlier in my career my answers would have been, “Designer”, “Problem-solver”, “Translator”. While I still am those. In the last two years I have recognized that most people I work with (both clients and my team) do not feel comfortable having overall responsibility.

At the same time, I recognized that I, on the otherhand, am most engaged in my work when I take on responsibility for more than my own work. It bring out my best resources and motivates me to work hard and keep my eye on the ball.


With friends and family we often start our day’s conversation by asking, “what is the caption?” as a way of getting the other person to drop the minutea of their day and share the pith.

The one-word format intrigues me. In today’s “Brand You” career culture we talk often go on and on about ourselves in great depth, making sure to mention every aspect of our skills and accomplishments. What’s the caption?

Hu asks, “who are you?” What can we learn by answering, “what do you make?”

My question, “How would you describe what you do, in the core of your DNA, in one word?”

For me, it’s, “Products”.

For you?

And if you had two words to encapsulate your career?


Using Just One Word, Try to Describe Your Career DNA, by Adam BryantNew York Times, Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Interview Questions

  • You worked your way up from intern to chief operating officer at Salesforce in a decade. Where did you get your drive?
    • My parents gave me a lot of freedom, which actually allowed me to find myself.
    • One early trait: I always tried to do the thing that people said I couldn’t do, or was off-limits.
  • How did you start your rise up the ranks at Salesforce?
    • The Salesforce C.E.O. wrote, “We’re having some problems in Europe.” I talked to 20 people, did an analysis and sent it to him. He said, “I want you to tell me what’s wrong with the company.”
    • My advice: Don’t solve the problem that your manager or your boss tells you to solve. Solve the problem that either they don’t know they have, or solve the problem they know they have but nobody is solving.
  • That was a bold move.
    • If I think I have a good idea, I just can’t help sharing
  • What do you do to spur innovation?
    • We sort and filter up great ideas and execute the really good ones.
  • What are some unusual things about Salesforce’s culture?
    • On internal social network employees can rant about anything.
  • What else?
    • We ensure we are always communicating and aligning.
    • Every year, the management presents the business plan to every employee worldwide: The values and the 10 most important things we’re going to do
    • This is V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures).
    • Any employee can see what I’m supposed to get done that year.
  • How do you hire?
    • I ask “why” a lot, to learn what motivated people to make the decisions they made throughout their career.
    • A bias toward people in an organization for more than five or six years.
    • I force people to prioritize things
  • What behavior do you have a low tolerance for?
    • Responding to a request with a three month-long detailed analysis
  • What other career advice do you give people?
    • Answer “the core of your DNA, in one word?”
    • Know who you are, and really understand what you’re exceptional at.
  • How would you answer that question?
    • “Analyst,” then “Problem-solver.” Today, “Leader.”

Engineering & Endurance Running

What is the place of engineering in endurance sports? In running?

This past week I registered for this year’s Mount Washington Road Race. “Only one hill” they like to say!

So, I have some training in front of me. Until now I haven’t put any 2013 races on my calendar. There are great races locally and elsewhere, of course. In the past I’ve entered races that I could run with friends and that were available.

Anticipating this season I’ve held off because I’ve been re-thinking my approach to races – and to training. Any race is a good race, I have no hesitation to race. And any trail race is even better! This year I want to define more direction for my racing, so, what direction? Where do I want to go? So far I know this: long and up. My love of ultras remains strong. I have also decided that I need to spend more time on mountains.

In the past few years worked on some mountains and skied down some mountains. I have not climbed many, however. I need to do that.

Now that I have to run up the tallest mountain in the Northeast United States, its time to put my ideas into action. So, the questions: “how to race?” and “how to train?” are on my mind more acutely.

Time for an answer!

~~~ ~ ~~~

Last June Audi won the 2012 24 Hours of  Le Mans victory, it’s tenth victory in this French sportscar endurance classic.

Recently I watched the film “Truth in 24: every second counts” about Audi’s victory there. The film portrays the thrill of the race and the people of the Audi Sport team. I was struck by the breadth of expertise teams bring to the endurace racing endeavor. This is not just a race car driver and some mechanics.

The Mount Washington race isn’t twenty-four hours long, but does demand four thousand, six hundred and fifty feet of elevation gain over seven-point-six miles.

In the midst of thinking about racing I reflected more on the Le Mans race story and the Audi team. One role intrigued me: Race Engineer.

I’m not a motorsports fan, so this is a role that is new to me. For a race like Le Mans, a entrant campaigns more than one car. Audi campaigned three R18 e-tron quattros. So, the car =  team formula doesn’t hold. Each car has a team including drivers, and pit crew and this team is part of Audi’s whole race team. It turns out that the Race Engineer is really the leader of a car’s team. Audi Sport’s Race Engineer Leena Gade:

“I am responsible for the entire crew, mechanics, background engineers, assistant engineer. I’m in charge of that,” Gade said.

“Then you’ve got the drivers, the set-up of the car and the strategy side of things. I’m responsible for the final decisions on the race car. If a part on the car moves, changes temperature or changes pressure, I’m logging it. The collected information is then used by me to give instructions over a radio to the driver to help him maintain tires or maximise the engine performance for example. I’m the main contact to the driver.”…

Gade confirms what I saw in the film: the driver and the racecar are both guided by engineering. Yes, the design of the R18 is determined by engineering, of course. What struck me was how race decisions, both tactical and strategic, were by and large engineered.

~~~ ~ ~~~

Last week I had the rare opportunity to glimpse into another endurance sport: singlehanded ocean racing. I was invited to hear American solo ocean racer Bruce Schawb talk about his 2002-2003 Around Alone and 2008 Vendee Globe campaign. He, too, had a pit crew who monitored his boat, his route, weather, sails, hull performance.

Looking back to his story after seeing the account of Audi’s Le Mans campaign and thinking about preparation for my own upcoming races, I wonder if endurance runners could approach racing this way – assessing performance and guiding the their race decisions with engineering principles across the duration of the race.

Other questions arise from this idea:

  • Do any runners do this?
  • Is there an endurance race in which this is the common approach?
  • Is there competitive advantage to be gained from this approach?
  • From what companies would the money to fund a technical team come?
  • Do well-funded racing teams consider this? Nike? Salomon? Montrail? Any universities? Orienteering teams?
  • What engineering disciplines would be relevant? Gait? Nutrition? Biomechanics? Navigation?
  • Do racing rules allow live monitoring of racers? By voice, telecom or observation?
  • What factors might be candidates for engineering improvement and optimization?

I don’t yet have a picture of this. I will explore further.


And it occurred to me:

Coke’s David Butler on Design

Designer David Butler’s responses to a few simple questions about commercial design ring true to me.

Designers … “see problems as opportunities to make something better”

… “the predictable, formulated and analytical world we’ve known and operated in for so long is changing. … this requires different skills. For example, being able to integrate seemingly unrelated things is a skill, as is using empathy to design solutions that can adapt to different user needs, or using systems thinking”…

“I love learning and thinking about all types of systems, from simple to complex.”



Below, the full text of these question from ten he answered:

3. Most Coca-Cola associates know you for leading global design. You’ve referred to designers as “natural optimists.” Can you expand a bit?

Designers don’t see problems as problems. We see problems as opportunities to make something better … we’re hard-wired that way. Today’s world is more connected and complicated than ever before. The types of issues we’re faced with have moved beyond complicated to what some call “wicked problems” — multidimensional, nonlinear challenges like obesity, water scarcity, global warming and the international debt crisis. We can’t really solve these problems; we can only chip away at them. They require all of us to “think like designers” with a new level of optimism as we design solutions for a dynamic and uncertain world.

4. We hear a lot about the rise of the creative class. Can you touch on the growing importance of creativity and “right-brain thinking” in the business world?

Much of our business is predictable. Our core business is driven for the most part by formulas, analytics and certainty. But our world and many of the rules of business are changing. Ian Bremmer says it best in his new book: “We have entered a period of transition from the world we know toward one we can’t yet map.”

When we look toward 2020, the predictable, formulated and analytical world we’ve known and operated in for so long is changing. In order to survive and hopefully thrive, we must design for adaptability. And this requires different skills. For example, being able to integrate seemingly unrelated things is a skill, as is using empathy to design solutions that can adapt to different user needs, or using systems thinking to understand how to create shared value. Some people call these examples of right-brain thinking or design thinking. Others call them creative skills. I call them survival skills. But no matter what we call them, we all need to build our competency in these areas to create more adaptability for our business.

5. What inspires you creatively?

When people ask me this question, my answer always throws them a bit. To be honest, I’m a systems geek. I love learning and thinking about all types of systems, from simple to complex. The ones that inspire me the most are the complex ecosystems found in nature — from black holes in space to bee colonies. All of these are very complex systems, and I love trying to understand how they were designed.

From “10 Questions With Coca-Cola’s Innovation Guru,” by Jay Moye for The Coca-Cola Company, 20121016

The Internet, Newspapers and Democrasy

Today a Vermonter brought this 2009 speech* by Ross Connelly to my attention.

To delineate his principles as a news publisher asks this question: “what does this have to do with democracy?”

A parallel thought that popped up in my mind at each workshop, was, what does this have to do with democracy? I always asked this question as the press has a constitutional protection — one of two institutions given that status in the First Amendment. To me, that means the press rests on the foundation of a civic society, as that is what the constitution creates. A newspaper is, therefore, a civic institution that has a civic responsibility. I repeat that: a newspaper is a civic institution that has a civic responsibility. My view is that carries a lot of responsibility with it. And recognizing that responsibility — that privilege — is the reason I always ask what is the relationship between the technology the Internet offers and newspapers? Said simply, what does that relationship have to do with democracy?

I concur with Mr. Connelly. Newspapers have a primary responsibility to their institutional civic role. Articulating and embodying this role must be a news publisher’s primary guidance.

He goes on to discuss his own newspaper’s reasons for publishing in print.

For him, the fundamental fact of the web as a communication medium obviates it as suitable for the publishing responsibility of newspapers.

As a publisher, I also know I would rather Gazette readers have to go to the store or the mailbox to get the newspaper than read it on the Web. I say that because I see a generation of people who “communicate” with each other all day and night via the Web. As a matter of fact, none of them is interacting face-to-face with another person. They are interacting with a computer screen.

To me, part of democracy — no, a requirement of democracy — is face-to-face interaction. We have to interact with each other if we are to be able to live togeth- er — to work out solutions that benefit all of us. To me, a person who stops into [the local store] on a Wednesday morning to pick up a copy of that week’s Gazette will interact with other customers and employees. The person may take a glance at the front page and offer a comment to another customer or to a sales clerk and the other person may respond. The people are engaged in a form of civic life that strengthens society in comparison to a person who is speaking to a computer screen.

As citizens, we who design and promote the web as a communication medium, have a duty to our fellow citizens and our society – a civic duty – to be mindful of the civic impact of our work and furthermore to advocate for the inherent value (and authority) of real, actual interaction with each other without the mediation of machines.

The impact of the products of our work is so widespread that it changes the fabric of our society. Some civic institutions and activities are not improved by the disintermediation of electronic communication.

What does this have to do with democracy? (PDF)

By Ross Connelly, Grassroots Editor, fall 2009

A longtime member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, Ross Connelly is the editor and co-publisher of The Hardwick Gazette, a 120- year-old weekly newspaper in Hardwick, Vt., and a past president of both the New England Press Association and the Vermont Press Association.

To change thinking, change the model (Fuller)

R. Buckminster Fuller puts it succinctly. Twice.

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them.

Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

― R. Buckminster Fuller

This is a fundamental approach I take to solutions to my clients’ problems.

This is the strategic aspect to strategic design.

This is at the root of design thinking.

Facebook Principles and Values

I’m drafting some rules of engagement for children’s use of Facebook, as well as some guiding principles.z

To find them, I distill Facebook’s user experience, customer interactions and uses to remove sentiment, marketing nonsense, brand claims, misdirection.

So far, I have these:

1. Facebook is predatory (parasitism)
2. Facebook is playing for the long term. (To win the long game)

Elaboration and more thoughts to come.

Music to Wireframe by

So, I spun up The Hunt for Red October to accompany a short Balsamiq scrimmage. Some early product definition for a new enterprise.

Foreboding music swells through a collage of naval menace and violence. The opening scene is grave as the credits roll. The soviet commander’s eyes are watchful and defiant. With good reason, we see. Dollying back from Connery along the massive conning tower’s deck, then panning away to take in the tremendous bulk of the Red October as it passes across our field of vision. She is unbelievably huge.

She is a Behemoth. Enourmous. Black. Featureless. Powerful. Dominant. The Captain, atop his sub, surveying her and his domain. A thing of awe.

And unequivocally male.

How does a woman experience unilateral, autonomous command vicerally?

Is there a primary attack sub somewhere in the world’s waters commanded by a woman?

It seems there is.

Are. The first: Royal Norwegian Navy Commander Solveig Krey, HNoMS Kobben, 1995.

They each and collectively confront personally and in their office an elemental tradition of the Navy. And they embody it.

Now that’s someone I want to meet!

An inspiring diversion. Back to wireframes.