I was lucky enough to be in GE's "Technical Leadership Program" after graduating from college, and that experience gave me a huge respect for a company that most of us associate with kitchen appliances.
The truth is that GE is about far more than that, and in fact I'd consider them one of the most progressive and lean companies in the business world, and I'm not alone. Anyone who's a student of business will usually have great things to say about GE. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that you can tell how immersed someone is in the business world by asking them what they think of GE. Either they think "kitchen appliances" or they think "world dominator". Their revenue is $157 Billion/year (yes with a "B") and their profit in 2005 was 16 Billion. To put it another way, GE's profit is double Google's revenue of around 8 billion. Kinda puts things into perspective, eh?
So here's the most valuable thing I learned while at GE: Everyone has good ideas, but they're meaningless unless two things happen: 1) someone takes ownership of the idea. and 2) a date is set for action on the idea. And the GE folks are religious about this. As ideas or suggestions come up in meetings, they're not shy about asking who in the room wants to take ownership of the idea. And if nobody does, they ditch the idea then & there. If someone does take ownership of it, s/he has to commit to some action by some date. So a conversation in a GE conference room might go something like this:
[Jim:] "I have an idea - why don't we make our GE engines run on solid watste
[Sandy (running the meeting)] "Jim, that's a great idea. Do you want to be responsible for finding out if that's feasible?"
[Jim] "No, I can't - my plate is full"
[Sandy] "Can anyone else find out about this?"
[Audrey] "I'll get some further information"
[Sandy] "Great Audrey. When can you have an answer for us?"
[Audrey] "I'm not sure, Sandy - I'm really busy right now."
[Sandy] "OK Audrey, by when can you tell us when you can have an answer?"
[Audrey] "By the next meeting I'll have an idea of when I can find this out."
So of course this was a fictional exchange, but I saw this type of thing happen over & over at GE. And some pretty significant things just happened in that exchange. Let me highlight them for you:
1) Jim said "no" - I was always impressed by GE's encouragement of people to say "no" when they couldn't commit to something
2) Audrey set a date to have a date! Sandy had Audrey set an action item date, and the action item was to decide by when she'd look into the topic. That almost never happens anywhere else! How often do you say, "By Monday I'll decide when I'm going to finish that project". But it works really well, because then you havea an actionable date and you can check up on the progress of the item.
So go try to emulate GE a bit in your everyday life and see how it affects you.
Your thoughts are concise and well thought out. Thnak you for taking the time to express them. I found this while researching google apps. I read your experience with buying a house. Funny, I am doing the same thing involving mortgages. Good luck with your business.
You're light years ahead of your competition!
Being a business owner, I have a bit of a different perspective on life than most people. For one thing, to me work is more of a passion than a job. Owning a business is like having a child. Even though I don't have any children (yet), I think I can imagine what it's like based on the parallels: You have to tend to the business at all hours, things are never as easy as they seem they should be, you have to put the business before yourself, etc.
One of the perspectives I've gained is the importance of keeping everyone in the company on the same page & prioritizing the company's needs correctly. And I've learned that there are two really, really important aspects to this: One is setting commitments and the second is always attaching a date to those commitments.
Sounds obvious right? It's not. Here's the difference in interaction I'm referring to:
Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK let me know.
Being a business owner, I have a bit of a different perspective on life than most people. For one thing, to me work is more of a passion than a job. Owning a business is like having a child. Even though I don't have any children (yet), I think I can imagine what it's like based on the parallels: You have to tend to the business at all hours, things are never as easy as they seem they should be, you have to put the business before yourself, etc. One of the perspectives I've gained is the importance of keeping everyone in the company on the same page & prioritizing the company's needs correctly. And I've learned that there are two really, really important aspects to this: One is setting commitments and the second is always attaching a date to those commitments. Sounds obvious right? It's not. Here's the difference in interaction I'm referring to: Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK let me know. Versus: Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK when can you let me know? Bob: I'm not sure yet, but how about this - I'll let you know by Friday when I'll know for sure if it's a good idea. Do you see the HUGE difference here? Jane is asking Bob to give her a date by which he will give her a date. He is telling her that on Friday, he will tell her when he will know on what date he'll be able to determine if it's a good idea. So when Friday comes around, Bob might say, "Hey Jane, I'll know by March 31st if this is a good idea." But the important thing here is that he is committing to a date NOW instead of leaving things hanging, even though the date he is committing to is just to give Jane another date. This is an incredibly hard habit to get into. You have to really force yourself to always give dates by which you'll do things - even if the date is just a date by which you'll give a date, as in the example above. I learned this when I worked at GE. In fact, GE takes this one step further, requiring anyone who comes up with an idea to either take ownership of the idea - with a date attached, of course - or immediately relegate the idea to the "good idea, but no action" bin. In order to accurately track tasks with employees, I use a hosted task service called TasksPro. It's an inexpensive way to track the tasks employees commit to doing, and I have a weekly review meeting to go over progress. You'll be astounded at the difference insisting on dates makes. Just try catching yourself and those around you when an idea or action item comes up and force yourselves to commit to dates, and then track the dates. I'd love to hear about your experiences.
As an entrepreneur for the past 12 years, I haven't collected a paycheck from any employer other than a company I own. In theory this sounds great, but there are few things in life that apply more pressure than being responsible for not only your paycheck, but the paychecks of employees. Most of these companies have done well, but some haven't. It's also quite taboo to talk openly about the emotional and mental stress that startups create, but privately almost every CEO I've spent time with has shared similar feelings with me. When Sebastian and I discussed posting on each other's blogs, I figured this was a great opportunity to open up about what it's like to be the CEO of a technology startup along with several previous companies, and specifically to discuss the self discipline that's required to successfully navigate the stresses of startups, because these same lessons apply in anyone's daily life. As you can tell by the title, I liken it to having the self discipline of a Buddhist monk.
But first, some background: When I was 22, I graduated from college with an offer from General Electric to work in their Technical Leadership Program. It was a sweet offer -- a fast-track to management role where a select set of college graduates were rotated through various parts of the company. It gave me the opportunity to work in Latin America. I was sent to GE's Crotonville leadership campus, where I'd see Jack Welch, GE's CEO at the time, fly in and out on his helicopter, and senior GE executives would train us in leadership seminars. It was like being a golden child, a chosen one. We knew that we were being groomed to be the next generation of leaders at GE, and GE did everything it could to foster that confidence in us.
This leadership program was just two years long. It was going very well, but something was nagging at me: Growing up, I had to be very entrepreneurial out of necessity. I had to pay for college myself. I'd always been very independent and self sufficient. Suddenly, I was part of a huge machine. Although I was being treated very well, I felt that I wasn't being true to myself and my entrepreneurial spirit. I knew that I could do more, and that if I didn't quit then, I would get sucked into the trappings of corporate life. So I quit GE six months before I was supposed to graduate from the leadership program. It was 1999 and the tech bubble was going in full swing. I felt that staying even six more months would be too long.
Going from GE's leadership program to a startup company is a bit like going from the comfy cigar chair at country club to washing dishes in the back. It's a jarring experience, but one that I was thirsty for. I soaked it up, and quickly learned my first lesson in startups: If you're not really, really passionate about what you're doing, then don't do it. Although being an entrepreneur is romanticized in popular culture, the road is so long, and the pain is so great, that unless you're really passionate about it, you'll be crushed by the pressure.
Passion for what you're doing in life applies beyond startups. It's easy for any of us to become trapped in the constructs we create. We feel like we have responsibilities to those around us to be risk averse. Maybe you have a mortgage. Or kids in school. Or a spouse depending on your income. But I'm here to tell you that you are not trapped by your environment. You are never a victim of your circumstances, and you have not only a right, but a responsibility to live your life in a way that inspires passion inside of you. Those around you will benefit far more from that passion than from your fear of pursuing it, and they will be inspired themselves to seek out the things that they are passionate about. You only live once. No, seriously, you only live once. If you're not doing something today that you're passionate about, then quit. Take that scary plunge into the unknown. You will be so happy that you did. It won't be easy at first, but it well be better immediately.