On today’s episode of #Build, host Maggie Crowley sits down with Joff Redfern, VP of Product at Atlassian. Together they talk through Joff’s time as VP of Product at LinkedIn, building a product org from 12 people to 650, the concept of a shipyard, why talent is priority 0, joining the Atlassian team and much more.
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In This Episode
0:33 – Maggie introduces Joff
2:19 – Falling in love with the Atlassian vision, needing a calling
3:30 – How LinkedIn shaped Joff’s career
6:45 – Riding the double paradigm shift to mobile and social networks
7:48 – How to scale an organization…Building Your Shipyard
8:52 – Three pieces to a shipyard:
8:59 – Values
10:15 – People / talent
10:43 – Practices
12:11 – What does it mean to be an Atlassian Product Manager?
15:40 – One set of expectations for hiring, evaluating & growing talent
19:15 – Keep it simple, because movements are built on slogans
21:52 – Creating autotomy and best practices across the organization
25:15 – Maggie shares about independent work with accountability at Drift
26:00 – Scaling really fast and incrementally improving
28:01 – Joff’s book list: Drive, Zero to One, Thinking Fast and Slow
30:18 – Don’t wait, don’t be afraid to look bad, embrace creative confrontation
Maggie Crowley: Welcome to another episode of #Build. This is Maggie, and today I’m extremely lucky to have Joff Redfern with me, he’s the VP of Product at Atlassian. He was previously VP of Product at LinkedIn. Basically, he’s worked across products that many of us, if not all of us, have used. So Joff, welcome to seeking wisdom.
Joff Redfern: Great, thanks for having me, Maggie. I’m excited to be here.
Maggie: So there’s a ton that I want to get into, especially … We talked about this idea of building your shipyard. But first, tell the audience about yourself. In particular, I’d love to know how you got into products, how you found your way to Atlassian, and what your experience at LinkedIn during hypergrowth was like.
Joff: Yeah, great. So I’ve been a product leader in Silicon Valley my entire life, so I’ve been doing this for decades. I absolutely love it, can’t imagine doing anything else professionally with my life. Been really fortunate in that I’ve worked for companies that are of very different sizes. So I started a company twice in my career, I’ve worked for a company that received over$ $100 million in venture capital at a point in time when that was actually still a lot of money, not like today. That company then got sold to a larger company, and then I worked for LinkedIn, I was at LinkedIn for seven years. I joined when it was 450 people, and I left when it was about 10,000 employees.
So I was at LinkedIn at a point where it was going through hypergrowth. That’s essentially like winning the lottery, to be able to go through such an amazing journey. Was there pre-IPO, went through the IPO, and then continued to stay there, had an amazing run at LinkedIn. I’ve never worked at a place longer than seven years. I wound up leaving LinkedIn with the thought that I would start my own company again. And I had an idea that I was pretty passionate about. I had been running this idea by Reid Hoffman, who is the founder of LinkedIn, and he was giving me some really thoughtful advice about this idea, and the change in the world that it would have made.
So I took some time to really be thoughtful about thinking that through. And in that moment of thinking that through, I wound up meeting one of the founders of Atlassian, Scott. When he’d come over from Australia to Silicon Valley, we would get together and we would have a beer. I was telling him what I was doing, he was telling me about what his dream was, and I really fell in love with the Atlassian vision. I think I was reaching this point in my career where I didn’t really need a job, I didn’t need a career as much as I needed a calling. I needed something that was my way of contributing back, and I thought that that notion of Atlassian’s vision that we have was the right way to do it.
I also had a lot of nostalgia, because I had built my career on at tools. So I was there using Jira and Confluence my entire career, and they helped me be successful. I was frustrated by them in some ways, I thought they could be even better.
Maggie: I think … Also, as a quick aside, many of us who are listening are product people. Probably all of us have used Jira or Confluence at some point in time, and probably all of us sort of love to hate it. So it’s fascinating that you spent so much time using it and then ended up actually working on it.
Joff: Yeah. Best way to scratch that itch of making something is just to join up and make that change yourself, so that’s what I would up doing.
Maggie: Tell me a little bit more about LinkedIn, that experience and sort of how that shaped your career. Because it sounds like that was really where the turn was for you, and where you sort of spent the longest period of time. So how did that experience what you’re doing at Atlassian and what came after?
Joff: Yeah, definitely. I’ll tell you a little bit about the journey into LinkedIn, because it was certainly not routine by any stretch of the imagination. Prior to LinkedIn, I had a startup, and even prior to that I was Yahoo. So I was at Yahoo for six years in a much happier time, not the last part where there was lots of drama and pivots and change. This was a period of when Yahoo was still very much dominating the internet. I left Yahoo with the intent to start a company. I started a company, but I started that company with my wife, using our own money in 2009, so it was right there in the middle of the recession.
While the company was profitable, it wasn’t as great as it could have been, so I decided that I should so some consulting, and I would consult on product for three days a week and then work on my startup for four days a week. I wound up reaching out to Jeff Weiner, who I knew from Yahoo, I’d worked within his teams. And Jeff had just joined as the President of LinkedIn. And then I said, “Hey, I’m going to be consulting.” And he said, “Awesome. Why don’t you come over here and work for one of the founders?”
Maggie: That’s awesome. Did you realize at the time that that was going to be as amazing as experience as it turned out to be?
Joff Redfern: Most definitely not, I can’t even in my wildest dream. I’d met Allen Blue, who was one of the founders there. Deep Nishar, who was the SVP of Product there. I really enjoyed working with both of them as a consultant, it was super fun. And then, once you got inside of the company and realized exactly what was going on, and what the vision was, it was at that moment that my eyes opened and I said, “Holy crap. This is huge. This is really going to change the world.” But as an outsider, I didn’t know it at the time.
So I joined, and I was doing this routine where I’d worked for LinkedIn for three days consulting, I’d go home and work four days on my own thing. My wife and I, when we started our company, we decided that we could live anywhere in the world. So we were living in Palo Alto, we decided we would move to Tahoe. So it was this further complication of I was commuting from Tahoe into Silicon Valley. I have four children, I have my own company, and I’m doing consulting for LinkedIn, and all around me the global economy is collapsing. It was a crazy, crazy period.
I remember really clearly, I started dreaming about LinkedIn more than I was dreaming about my startup, and that moment I decided to join LinkedIn full-time. And I joined with a really unique opportunity to lead the mobile team. Mobile team was very nascent back then, there was about a dozen engineers working on it, myself. Only 8% of the weekly traffic was coming on a mobile device, so think early days of iOS and Android, before people realized that that was the … technology paradigm. I really was fortunate in that I wound up sitting on top a paradigm shift in technology, really in a couple of ways.
One, LinkedIn is a social network, so in the rise of social network, I was there early. But then I was also very early in the rise of mobile, so it was like riding two waves at once. You’re learning, how you contribute, being in front of multiple world-changing events was super fun, and really just a lot of great memories about the small team of people who were in mobile. That team of 12 people grew, we grew it to 100 people. And then, ultimately, it wound up taking over, really, the flagship LinkedIn products.
So at the end of my stay at LinkedIn, I was responsible for our flagship product on both mobile and on the desktop, and the last project that I worked on probably had 650-ish people working on it. So it was this rise of over seven years, going from working with a team of a dozen people to working with a team of 650 people. And it’s in that moment, yeah, that you realize the importance of really looking at how to scale an organization.
I put a name to that in my mind, which was a shipyard. Building your shipyard, the ships that you produce, which are your products, can only be as good as the shipyard that produces them. And that put me onto a journey of what does it take to build a great shipyard? And I started to break that down. When I joined Atlassian, part of the thesis for joining is that the company is going through a real scaling period, where it will continue to grow, and that I could bring the learnings that I had from LinkedIn to Atlassian, to help us achieve our vision even sooner.
Maggie: Awesome. So obviously you’re talking about this concept of a shipyard, and what are the pieces that sort of come together to make the products that you’re shipping. So A, what are those different pieces of the shipyard, and how can other companies that are going through this scaling phase sort of learn from that?
Joff: Yeah, good question. I think of it as three pieces to it. The first, which you typically don’t have a lot of control over — unless the company is really young — is the values of the company. And those values really set the cultural tone and define how toe people in the shipyard are going to act. So some of the values at Atlassian are an open company, no BS, we don’t F the company, we play as a team. It’s really funny, because the founders are Australian, so it’s written just really frank and matter-of-fact, right? Like, “Don’t F the customer. Open company. No BS.” Which always makes me smile, to be able to work for a company that two out of five values have swears in them. It’s just like … That’s the reality of it.
One of the selling points, really, of the culture is that it is that open. But that you typically don’t have a lot of control. Once a company reaches a certain size, those values tend to be set. We can see when the values aren’t set the right way, the culture can go sideways. You see that with Uber, you see that with Zenefits, and those companies then growing through these periods of trying to recast themselves and reset their cultural values, which is incredibly hard to do.
The piece that you can control — and it’s not just the leaders of the company, it’s really anyone within a team — is what I would say are the people and the practices. So everything in the shipyard starts with the talent of the organization. Do you have the right talent? Is that talent in the right roles that really emphasize what their strengths are? And then setting things like expectation. We should probably go into that a little bit, because a lot of that isn’t written down, so you kind of have to pass that along to other people, so that they can benefit.
And then the third piece of it is practices, where if you think about any organization, they have these processes, they have playbooks, they have practices. They have a way in which they are conducting their business. You actually have to debate with people inside of your organization, inside of that shipyard, how those best practices should be done. Because if you don’t have good conversation around it, then you have unevenness across lots of the teams. Some will be working in a sub-optimal way, some will be working in an optimal way. So it’s not about trying to be an autocrat and push down and say, “Hey, this is the way everyone’s going to do work.” That’s absolutely not what we should do. You have discussion around what’s working and not working.
So it’s really those three pieces of the shipyard, right? You have your values, which you often don’t change, there are the people, and then there are the practices. And the people and the practices, those are things that we determine at a team level. Those are things that we determine at the most senior levels of the organization, so everyone has an ability to impact it. The people one was really what my eyes were opened up to.
Maggie: Can you dig into first the people … Obviously, values … Again, I agree. It’s hard to change, especially if you’re not a founder, or part of the founding team. So on the people front, you mentioned setting expectations. What does that piece mean?
Joff Redfern: When I showed up at Atlassian, one of the first questions that I started to ask the team … So on the product side, we have a large product organization … And I started to ask the team, “What does it mean to be an Atlassian PM?” So if I went out into the world and I compared you to other PMs at other organizations, what makes you special? What does the company expect of you? People want to know how they’re getting evaluated, or how they’re getting graded, or what their expectations are. And we had done some really good pre-work at Atlassian, but it was still somewhat complicated, there were too many things that we were trying to evaluate people against.
So we went out and we said let’s get together with all of the managers in product. We had discussions with LinkedIn, and Google, and Yahoo, and other companies. And we were asking them how they were thinking about expectations around product management. And what we settled around was four expectations. And the first is we expect a product manager to lead and inspire. The second is that we expect our product managers to have a certain level of product mastery, and we can talk about what that means. The third is drives outcomes. And then the fourth is interesting, we say it’s a great communicator. And for people thinking through it, they would’ve said, “Well you can’t really lead and inspire or drive outcomes or have product mastery without being a great communicator.” And all of that is absolutely true. But what we wanted to do is emphasize the absolute importance of being a great communicator.
I remember running a survey when I was at LinkedIn of all the product managers there, and I was trying to capture what the product managers believed what are the traits of the top 1% of product managers in the world? And in that survey the number one response, which was double the number two response, was that person needs to be a great communicator. And I see that time, and time again. Where product managers fail, often times there’s inability to communicate their ideas, whether that’s storytelling, or getting down to just the facts when we’re in a business-oriented setting where we’re just trying to debug or run the business, and we need to be quick and blunt. There’s different communication styles. So we wanna make sure that we emphasize that.
Once we had set those expectations, then we started to articulate and blow out well what does each of those expectations actually mean? What are some of the behaviors that you would find under there? And then we built out our job architecture. So we looked at every individual contributor role in the organization and every management role in product. And we wrote out in detail the expectation for that role, for that level, by those four expectations. Which was incredibly helpful as we rolled that out to the organization. The number of product managers who grabbed me or wrote to me and said, “Thank you, thank you. Thank you for helping to articulate and put on a piece of paper with great transparency what it is that we expect of our product managers is really helpful.” Because what it also meant was that they have clear guidelines around what are the areas that I can grow?
So then we started to build out our training program around those four expectations. Another thing that comes about from that is that when you hire someone, you also now have something to evaluate your hiring against. And often times companies get this wrong, they have one set of rules for what we look for when we hire someone, then they have another set of rules for, “Oh, this is how we evaluate and how we grow our product management talent.” And it makes no sense, right? It’s the same thing. The expectations are the same, whether if you join the company these are the expectations that we’re gonna have. So when we’re interviewing you, we should be testing against that hiring rubric of hey, these are the expectations. When it all gets put back together it’s really nice, fluid system.
Maggie: So I have one question about that. When you’re doing that kind of process and you’re bringing that kind of rigor to the product and the job descriptions and all of that, that sounds like it takes a ton of time. And in hyper-growth stage and everything is going a million miles an hour, and I’m sure you remember that experience from LinkedIn. So is this as much work as it sounds like? Is it worth doing even when you’re at a much earlier stage? Or is this something that you kind of can only really do when you’re at a company that’s a little bit further along in its career or its path?
Joff: Every company should absolutely do it. And every company should make the investment. And you’re right, it is a chunk of time. At LinkedIn we had a saying that talent is priority zero. So whenever you would see a list of things that you were working on, you might show up like a quarterly review, and your number zero was talent. And you would talk about what you were doing to grow your talent, or hire new talent, or the like. So it’s definitely worth the investment. It doesn’t need to be overkill. The suggestion that I would have is don’t make it a tops down exercise. If you look at any organization, especially once it reaches that size, let’s say over 100 people, you start to get a layer of management. Not layer in a bad way, necessary way. You get this director layer. I like to think of that as where strategy meets the hands on the keyboard.
So if you’re a vice president, you’re pretty removed from the hands on the keyboard. If you’re trying to help the company grow or change, you actually need to hit all the people that are hands on keyboards. So you actually have to work through that director layer, because that’s ultimately the last mile of where it scales out. So one thing that I like to do is rather than keep it up on an ivy tower of, “Oh, the VPs are gonna figure some stuff out, and then they’re gonna share that down,” we do that together as a group. And that way we don’t have a game of telephone. Everyone was there, we made the decisions together. They were aware of that. And then it’s really easy to move into the rest of the organization.
We have a group product manager plus meeting every Thursday, it’s 30 minutes, and it’s awesome because it’s 30 minutes. There’s no dilly dallying, there’s no pontificating. We jam in that session. So we wound up taking a whole series of those sessions and just focusing on how we built out this expectation and job architecture. And at the end it was worth it, because that job architecture can now … That will sustain us for a very long period of time. It was worth the investment. Again, it doesn’t need to be heavy weight. What does need to happen though, is it has to be written down. And it has to be as simple as possible.
Maggie: Right, so you can share it and everyone can kind of refer back to it and use it in the daily conversation.
Joff: Exactly. The more words you’re using in that, the more complicated it can get. If you look at our job architecture, each of the jobs themselves has a one work description of it. For example, if you’re an APM the one word description of the APM role is learning. That’s what you do. Right? If you’re under a director level equivalent title, we don’t use director as a title here, but the equivalent of that, your one word is scaling. You’re scaling the organization. So it’s really helpful to just keep these things very simple. Because at the end of the day, people are bathed with information, they remember the simple things; the slogans, the one word.
Maggie: Yeah. That’s interesting, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot in a couple of the teams that I’m working with, coming up even not on the product job description expectation side, but just what we’re shipping and having a tagline that helps us keep focused and make decisions as we’re moving really quickly. And just the power of those simple phrases that you can use over and over again, and how important they are.
Joff: Absolutely. I learned a lot about this when I was in college, I worked for Senator Snow in Maine. And she was the senator for a very long time. One of the things that you learn when you’re working in politics is you learn how to create a movement, and movements start with very simple words. So if you look at a country as diverse as America; over 300 million people here, all sorts of different backgrounds. But when we go into an election period, we’re voting off of slogans. Like there’s the slogan of build a wall, kind of in some ways epitomizes what’s going on, right? We’re building lots of walls, not just a wall in Mexico. We’re building a wall with our partners like NATO, or we’re building a wall within the citizenship; there’s a right and there’s a left. Or there’s hope, right? Obama used hope. Bush used no new taxes. These are things that help us rally disparic groups and they represent that.
So when I hear you say that you’re trying to get your teams when they do a sprint, or a quarterly, or an annual planning and they’re trying to get what’s the thing? What are we getting behind? That’s awesome. Because words move us. They allow us to create these little mini movements.
Maggie: Yeah, and I think it’s amazing when you see, especially maybe someone who’s new to the company, or fresh out of undergrad or something like that, and they get it. And you can see on their face that excitement when they understand what that tagline is. And then all of a sudden they can just run, because they understand where they’re trying to go.
Joff: Yes, exactly.
Maggie: Which hopefully is some of what you wanna talk about with that third piece in the shipyard, which is practices. So what does that mean for you and your career, and how did you bring that into Atlassian as well?
Joff: Yeah, practices are really interesting, ’cause you have to start with a principle of how you want the people in the system to work. And you want the people in the system to work with a great deal of autonomy. Because in a scaling organization, you wanna be loosely coupled but tightly aligned. The more coupling that you have, the more it’s gonna slow you down because it has to be some top down structure. The way that I always think about a company that I wanna work for is a company is a big startup. And then we’ve got a lot of teams in there, and they’re mini startups. And each of those mini startups has a charter, and that charter roams up to the bigger charter for the company.
I’m also influenced by Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’, which I’m sure a lot of people listening have read. It’s definitely worth looking at as a Ted Talk or skimming. He’s looking at what brings people happiness in a professional environment. After salary, like you should pay people a slight premium in the market. After that what’s really driving their satisfaction is autonomy, purpose, and mastery. So they wanna work in an environment where they can do all of those things.
So the first thing that we have to establish when we build out these practices is that you’re gonna have a lot of autonomy, and that it’s not gonna be a top down push. And it’s not gonna be some bureaucratic thing where everyone has to fill out these complicated forms in triplicate. That’s not the idea at all. We’re trying to establish best practices. You can take the software development process, right? And the software development process, if we look at it abstractly, there’s two big phases. One is around discovery. In discovery we incept new ideas and then we elaborate on them. Elaboration would come in the form of epics and user stories and design documents, whatever you might call them.
And then the other big phase is delivery. And then in delivery, that’s when we’re constructing our code, and then we’re transitioning it into the market. In the transition; DevOps, marketing, go to market, all that comes together. If you look at most companies, what they do in Silicon Valley is you come in and you say, “Oh well any team can do what they want. ‘Cause we don’t wanna be overly prescriptive.” So when I was at Yahoo, and LinkedIn, and my own startup, that’s what I had. And the thing that’s great about that is I have autonomy. The thing that’s not great about that-
The thing that’s great about that is I have autonomy. The thing that’s not great about that, me and the team we all have a set of patterns in the way that we worked in our previous roles, maybe with previous companies, but we don’t actually know if that is an archetypical way to do that work. So getting a group of people together to say, “Hey, what would be a best practice? Let’s go across organization and try to get our understanding of what’s working and what’s not working for people, and then let’s write it down and let’s share that broadly.” The idea being, “Hey, anyone can still do what they want, but this is what we think is a best practice.” If you’re not working with a best practice and you’re producing poor results, then I’m gonna ask you why aren’t you using the best practice. And, if you’re doing something that’s better than the best practice, then I’m going to say, “Hey, why don’t we change the best practice and do what team Y is doing.” You have to run through and figure out which are the practices that are worth actually getting a best practice on, because you have a limited amount of resource and time to focus on this stuff. So you’re not trying to do it for everything, you’re trying to do it for things that are most important.
Maggie: Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting. The couple of things that we had put into place on our product team, a lightweight structure and order in which we go through things, we find that every time we go through it we learn a little bit, we change a little bit, and we share it back with the rest of teams. But, because all it is is sort of, this is the process that you go through and these are the steps that you probably need to go through, everything else is up to you. That allows us to move really quickly independently, but make sure that we’re all sort of keeping each other accountable in the same way, which I think helps the team function overall.
Joff: Yeah, there’s definitely a Feng shui to figuring out exactly how much process is just enough, and how much is too much. You have to listen carefully to the teams. The teams will tell you, “Hey, you’re in my junk. This is too much. It’s too prescriptive.”
Maggie: What’s interesting is, it seems like at a company that’s scaling really fast, and I’m sort of curious to see if you have this experience at LinkedIn, or at Atlassian when you’re scaling really fast, it changes. You might get to a point where you sort of figured it out, but then, a month, or two months, or three months goes by and you have to do it again because your team has changed.
Joff: When I do my work, when I’m actually down in there and doing project management, I tend to use a Kanban system. The philosophical tenant around Kanban of, you’re just in a learning environment I love. I think too many people, they hold off thinking that there is a perfect way, and that’s actually not the way to think about it. You’re trying to incrementally improve and continue to improve, so as the company scales, needs will continue to change. We have a practice, we have a playbook, it works for us, but at some point in time it might stop working. We don’t need to be a slave to it, we can say, “Hey, this isn’t working anymore. Recombine some folks, and let’s look at it again and let’s change it.”
Maggie: Well, I wanna start to wrap this up, but before we do I have two more questions for you. The first one is, what do you do to stay sort of current on what’s going on in the product world? How are you learning outside of what you are already doing sort of day-to-day?
Joff: I enjoy listening to podcasts. I have a commute into work, which is a 30 minute commute, so I listen to podcasts. I am a voracious reader of all sorts of content, could be in the form of books, it could be in the form of newsletters. I’m constantly working with the team, just discussing new ways in which they’re doing it. I’m a wildly curious person, childlike curiosity, so it kind of comes in all different directions. I could be at a social event, or I could be at a conference, and just striking up conversation, and then asking, “How are you doing that, or what’s working for you?” A lot of different ways. I don’t think I have a steady menu, and it changes over time. I’ll go through these phases where I’ll go six weeks without listening to a podcast, then all of a sudden I’ll have travel come up and I’ll listen to hours upon hours. I’ll have a 14 hour flight to Sydney, Australia, and it will just be 14 hours of podcasts.
Maggie: I love it. You already mentioned Drive, what other book recommendations do you have for us?
Joff: Some of the books that made me think, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, man that made me think so hard. I couldn’t get off of chapter one for weeks, and in there he asks this question, “What do you believe in that no one else believes in?” Essentially, he’s trying to get at this concept of the biggest changes in the world tend to be contrarian, so you have to actually be comfortable going against the grain. I started looking at my own life and some of the decisions that I had. I got really curious. I asked my dad the question, I asked my father-in-law. It was really interesting, the people who answered the question the most effectively tended to be people who are on the extremes. I had one friend who had lots of amazing answers, he was in Silicon Valley, he was a technologist. And, then all of a sudden checked out, sold everything, became non-material, wildly over-educated person who lives in the mountains of Santa Cruz with no running water and other things like that. I was like, “Wow, you really believe that stuff.” I think there’s a lot of good things that are said in that book.
Joff: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel prize for that. Really challenged how I think about things objectively and non-defensively. I learned a lot about by biases, and all of us have these unconscious biases, and we need to try to work them out of the system. That was a good book. I’m always fascinated by how people are doing their work, so back when Lean Startup came out. They’re just different views, they’re different takes on how that work should be done. I don’t subscribe to them wholeheartedly, but they certainly helped inform the creed that I have, and the way that I practice my crafts. Those are a few books that made me think.
Maggie: I’ve read the last couple, but I haven’t read Zero to One, so I’m putting that on my list. Then, my last question for you is, I think a lot of the people that are listening may or may not have control over the way that their teams are set up or how they’re working. So what are a couple of pieces of advise that you might give to the listeners on how to take some of the stuff you talked about today with the people and the practices back and sort of put that into work?
Joff: I’ll take it in a slightly different direction than some of the stuff that we talked about. I do work quite a bit with people that are entering into product management. I entered into product management when it was an immature field, so there was not a lot of people to learn from, because not a lot of people had done it. I wanna make that change. I wanna share back everything that I have learned. A couple things that stand out, a lot of times people are waiting for perfect timing to change their behavior or do something different, and there’s really just never a perfect time. An example would be, a lot of people will tell me they wanna become a better public speaker, and I’ll say, “That’s awesome.” Then they’ll say, “Oh, but I have to wait for the right speaking engagement, then I have to get invited.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. You’re thinking about it wrong. Just do it.” You’re in a standup. Every standup, every daily standup, work on improving how you speak to your team.” An opportunity to sit down with your manager, your manager’s manager, to go through your work. Grade yourself, be thoughtful about it. Don’t wait for that, just do it, just start.
Don’t be afraid to look bad would be another one. Interesting, I think it was Adam Grant. I was listening to this podcast, they were talking about Duolingo and they found out that the people that are best at learning new languages are the people who aren’t afraid to look silly. So imagine you’re learning a new language and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t wanna say that word because I might say it wrong.” Those sets of people don’t actually learn as quickly as the other people who say, “I don’t really give a shit how … I’m trying. I’m out here, I’m learning,” and those people tend to do the best. So don’t feel bad about making mistakes, I guess, would be another way to think about it.
Then, a third thing, which was something that took me a long time to figure out in my profession, which is really embrace creative confrontation. Creative confrontation is the idea that you take something that you’re working on and you put it on a table in front of whoever and you start debating it, and you start having arguments about, “How can we make that better?” Throughout the discussion the idea will improve. I think culturally, we have this different notion out there, which is maybe more of this Newtonian philosophy that Newton can sit underneath an apple tree and it falls on his head, and he alone solves the principles of relativity. Or, we look at how we’re entertained, and we have these superheroes. The superhero, either one or a small collection of them, are the ones that save the world. It’s actually not the way the world works. Amazing product is always, always the result of a small number of people coming together to clash over that idea to make that idea better. In that clashing, what you’re looking for is cognitive diversity.
One way to achieve cognitive diversity is actually just diversity. Diversity of religion, diversity of a race, diversity of gender, diversity of income. Those people will all come from a different viewpoint in life, and because of that, the way that they think is different, so you’ll get some of that cognitive diversity. I look at those teams and they were just … I was like, “Wow, we were just an odd bunch. We were just this weird collection of people who just had different walks of life. We all celebrated that.” Importantly, we were never attacking the people, we were always attacking the problem. We love it when there was a contrarian idea, or the way of thinking differently, we would pause those, and ponder them, and debate them. Sometimes we would go that different direction, and other times we wouldn’t. That discussion changes things.
Maggie: I know I’m gonna take these three things back immediately to my desk after this. Don’t wait, don’t be afraid to look bad, and embrace creative confrontation. This has been incredible, Jeff. Thank you very much for spending time with us, and sharing all your thoughts on Seeking Wisdom.
Joff: Awesome. Thanks, Maggie.