Bucket List Interview question

I recently heard the tail-end of an interview on Sirius Radio (no idea who it was) about candidate application questionnaires when interviewing for jobs. One of the questions asked was so telling on what really motivates a potential employee. That question was simply, “what’s on your bucket list?”.

If you are unfamiliar with bucket lists, here is a quick google definition:- “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime”.

So what does this question have to do with hiring employees? Take the marketing agency I’m currently with (50 person agency in Atlanta). If someone answers the bucket list question with: Own a super yacht, own a gulf stream to travel the world, have a mansion in each continent….Bucket list items like these are most likely not going to be attainable working for an agency, and as a result, we’d never be able to make someone like this happy during their career with us. What’s more likely is that they’d work for us for a few years (or less), then move in search of fulfillment of their dreams (successfully or unsuccessfully), but in that time as an employee we would have done little to effect the experiences and achievements they desire. In other words, at some point they won’t value or feel enriched with the employment experience with us.

On the other hand, if the candidate answers the bucket list question with: I’d like to go sky diving, fly first class one day, learn how to speak Spanish, drive a race car, live in a new city, give back to the elderly….These bucket list items are items our company can work to full-fill. If someone is performing like a rock star and we have the means to give them a certificate to go sky diving as an example, or perhaps live in a new city when the company expands into new markets, etc.; the net effect is that we are helping them enrich actual experiences they hoped to accomplish in their lifetime. Items like these (not all) are within our means and as a result you’d have an employee that’s happier and loyal. As a company, I’d rather we have an ability to positively effect an employees happiness and dreams than disappoint them during there career life journey. I’d rather give them something from there bucket list than a random bonus that has no meaning.

So next time you are interviewing someone, ask the question and see if your in a company that could actually help that person achieve some of the bucket list items. The theory I heard on the radio interview was that, if you can, hire the candidates with attainable bucket list items (not all the items, but some), then you’ll have a solid hiring experience and equally the employee will as well. I like the theory, what do you think?

Staying focused and organized in leadership positions

Over the past several years I’ve developed, borrowed, learnt from others, and adapted techniques I use to keep myself focused and organized in leadership positions. There is nothing earth shattering about these techniques, but I’ve found that when I give this advice to friends and colleagues they find it very valuable. So I figured I’d share it with you, in no particular order…

Keep your calendar free in a given week at 40% to 50% availability.
Many years ago, I asked a very successful VC how he gauged if a CEO/leader was going to be great. His answer was so simple and so telling; he looked at the person’s calendar and if it was packed full of back-to-back meetings he knew the leader was likely a “reactional” leader, as they’d have little to no time to reflect, think about where the business is going, or fire fight critical issues without canceling existing meetings. The reality is that it is easy to book up your calendar 100%, heck some even book 125%+ (and disappoint folks often); if you do this, you really are reacting to what you are hearing from one meeting to another or emails/text’s you might be getting between meetings. It’s much harder to keep your calendar 50% open in a given week, however, I’ve found that the net positive effects/traits are plentiful and was what the VC was looking for in this simple calendar observation. Continue reading

Innovate for the Inevitability

I don’t consider myself a futurist, however I do enjoy thinking, learning, and discovering about new possibilities that will fundamentally change the fabric of society and our day to day lives. Elon Musk famously talked about “Accelerating the Inevitable” as a reason he set-out to create Tesla and SpaceX. For Musk, he believed Electric Vehicles (EV) were as inevitable as is a manned mission to Mars. His motivation wasn’t to create a company that generates huge profits for shareholders, but rather to accelerate what he believed would happen at some point in the future. Both Tesla and SpaceX have pushed new boundaries in innovation and have fundamentally accelerated the Inevitability of EV’s and space travel to Mars and beyond. Whether Tesla and/or SpaceX become market leaders in these categories is yet to be determined, but what Elon Musk and other mavericks like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos has been able to achieve has and will accelerate their vision of inevitability in how they view the future we will experience and live.

If you think about the future and what will be inevitable, you can quickly see how industries will be disrupted, how new types of companies/innovations will be needed, how our society and daily lives as we know them will be effected (positively and negatively) and the types of products and services that could deliver new types of value to fill these voids.

For example, it’s inevitable that we will have automated EV’s in 10 years or less, and within 20 years it’s likely our cultural norm will be to travel in automated EV’s exclusively. So what could this effect and what are other inevitabilities? Continue reading

How my Executive MBA recharged my career

The past 28 months have been the most stressful and exhilarating period of my professional and personal life. In that time, we sold Enguage to Publicis Group, I embarked on an Executive MBA (at Georgia State University), while also merging Engauge and Moxie, and then became the CEO of BLiNQ Media (formally part of Gannett Ventures), and finally, took an extended sabbatical with my family. Yes that’s a boat load over a short period of time.

Looking back, the decisions to take so much on (i.e. new roles while doing an EMBA) prepared me for a C-level role more than I could have ever imagined. I’d like to think I did pretty well as an entrepreneur and team player with my first company, Spunlogic, and then later with Enguage, but in fairness I was extremely lucky to also have some tremendous partners to share the risk, rewards, hardship, and decisions with. I didn’t lead on my own, but rather as part of a tight group of friends that worked extremely well together for the most part of 15 years until I went out on my own in August 2013 when we sold Enguage to Publicis Groupe.

Ironically, my plan after Enguage was to take some time off (18 months), embark on my Executive MBA and welcome our second child to the world (plenty of time to study and help with Family, so I thought). That all turned up-side-down when I decided to stay on with Publicis and help with the merger of Engauge and Moxie. This was also the same day I started my domestic residency (School puts you up at the Intercontinental Hotel for 4 days of intense sessions to see who can survive) for my EMBA.

I can honestly say at that moment (Aug 2013) I had doubts on what type of leader I might be without my old co-founder and partners to support me and whether I could survive grad school in-general. My domestic residency was nothing short of a wake up call to my hunger to lead, inspire, and motivate a team. I can’t stress the confidence I gained on my domestic EMBA residency to do this on my own; it truly opened my eyes to what more I could do and how I could confidently stand on my own as a leader.

I found that leadership comes very naturally to me, as did confidence in laying-out a plan-of-attack for a team and seeing it through with conviction. But most importantly, I could bring a team together with different strengths/weaknesses and get the most out of them as a collective. This is what you’d expect from a leader, but along the way of Spunlogic and Engauge, I forgot what this felt like to do on my own and the excitement of leading the troops from the front.

In truth I was also hesitant to work for someone I didn’t know or hadn’t co-founded a business with, but thanks to the show of confidence from my then CEO, Suzy Deering at Moxie (Publicis Groupe), I was empowered to assemble a team and lead the charge for the merger of Enguage and Moxie (over 600+ people). It felt good to head-up that team as well as work with a largely new leadership team I was unfamiliar with. This further gave me confidence that I could do more and for the first time I wanted the #1 seat, CEO. Several months later I become the CEO of BLiNQ Media and absolutely loved every moment of the experience even though it was short lived due to a corporate spin-off of the publicly held holding company a year later. However, in that time, my initial experience at my EMBA residency of leadership aspirations and ability were reenforced. I thrived in the role, learnt how to assemble a new team from the ground up and provide a clear vision/plan to attack and win, and had an extremely positive experience working for Vikram Sharma who oversaw my business unit within Gannett Ventures and whom, like Suzy, gave me the freedom to lead and inspire a team on my own.

So 28 months since I started this transformation in my career from co-founder/partner to a C-level executive within a publicly traded company, I can truly say my EMBA experience helped me realize and awaken my leadership aspirations and confidence to tackle any C-level role within a public or private company. I’m a better executive and leader from it, and the experience with Publicis Group and Gannett Ventures have only strengthened my abilities to work with a new and much larger team than I originally co-founded. On to the next adventure, whatever that might be!

Take a Sabbatical – It will change your life

I just returned home after a 17 week family RV trip across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest with my wife, Tovah, our two kids, Nina and London, and our two dogs, Stella and Chai. Read about the trip on Tovah’s Blog. It’s odd to be back and tough to get back into a “normal” routine. But, I’m ready to jump back in the game, my mind is clearer, I’m healthier, I’m more connected with my family, and my career options have only gotten better since I unplugged.

In the US, taking a sabbatical of this length is unusual and both Tovah and I have been lucky enough to take the time off and break from our careers/life. Actually, this is the second time I’ve taken a Sabbatical (took 4 months off in 2009 to travel the world with Tovah pre-kids) and it (hopefully) won’t be the last. In Europe, doing something like this would be common place and highly encouraged. 34 of the top 100 companies in Europe offer a paid sabbatical, 37% of UK companies provide Sabbaticals, and in Japan its 25%.

Luckily, the concept of taking a Sabbatical and the benefits are starting to take off with US companies. In fact, 24% of small businesses and 14% of large businesses allow their employees to take sabbaticals (paid or unpaid of six months or more). Technology (Google, IBM, eBay, etc)  and consultancy (Accenture, Bain & Company, etc.) companies have been leading the change in the US. However, even if companies in the US are offering these types of benefits, the average professional in the US still has a hard time committing to taking this amount of time off (paid or un-paid) for various reasons (cost, break in career, etc.). It’s not our cultural-norm to do something like this in the US, but I can tell you first hard it’s absolutely the right thing to do for your life, your health, your family, and surprisingly yes, your career. Continue reading

Goodbye Promenade Building

Yesterday was my last day as CEO of BLiNQ as we moved forward with the merger of PointRoll, Shoplocal, and BLiNQ Media. I fully support this move as I believe it will make all three companies much stronger in the market place as a combined company and properly leveraging the strong content and data assets owned by Gannett. At the same time, it was hard to make the decision to part ways with the people at BLiNQ and G/O Digital; I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of them, and I’ll miss working with them and wish them all the very best as the units come together in the coming months.

I was originally hired into BLiNQ to access the business, re-stabilize the unit, and determine a new vision for the company in a post acquisition era. I’ll leave it to my peers in the industry and to Gannett to determine if I accomplished my objectives.  From my stand-point, I’m extremely proud of what my team was able to accomplish in less than a year; what’s most gratifying to me is that the product strategies and vertical focused pivot I put in place at BLiNQ will be used as the blueprint of the new combined company.

Reflecting back, what’s amazing is that I’ve been at the Promenade building in Midtown, Atlanta since 2004.  First we moved Spunlogic into the 17th floor (from Zonolite Road), then sold Spunlogic (2008) which become Engauge and moved up to the 22nd floor (2010), then sold Engauge to become Moxie (2013) still on the 22nd floor (2015 Razorfish moved into the 22nd floor, space looks great Patricia Camden-Peterson), and lastly, I moved down to the 12th floor as the new CEO of BLiNQ Media (2014). That’s 11 years of great memories and experiences I just said goodbye to.

So what’s next for me? No idea yet, but what I do know is that I’d like to take a little time off. The last 19 months has been pretty crazy for me. Selling Engauge, helping integrate Engauge into Moxie, undertaking an Executive MBA and finishing it a few months ago with an awesome international residency in Vietnam and Thailand, moving from Publicis and taking on the BLiNQ role as CEO, having our second child (who is awesome), and generally traveling a lot and missing out on family time. Wow, pretty crazy when I think back.

Before I jump into the next work adventure, Tovah and I will be heading to the beach for a few weeks and then we are planning an RV trip across the US, Pacific NW, through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta. Yes, you read it right, an RV, and no, I’ve never been in an RV before. As we plan more I’ll write about it, but that’s the plan for now.

If you want to change the world

Some friends shared a post on Facebook about a commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven at University of Texas (Austin 2014). I just watched the video on Youtube and it’s inspirational and humbling. The video is a little over 19 minutes, but worth taking the time to watch. Great speech, hope you enjoy.

My favorite lessons are #6, #7, #10. Which ones did you like?

 

Jeff Hilimire – Memories to Share

My friend Jeff Hilimire and my first business partner is leaving the roots of the company we co-founded some 14 years and 10 months ago today. It’s a sad moment for me (and him) as we’ve shared a journey and this is the first time in our professional careers we’ll be apart. We have been close friends from the day we met 17 years ago and I know we’ll always be close friends regardless of our professional lives.

I met Jeff in August 1996 when I was an international exchange student at UNC in Charlotte, NC. Jeff was my roommate and we quickly became friends. At the time Jeff was a straight A student, great at math, tennis, computers, and a master of Tetris (really, the guy is bad-ass at Tetris). He was dating his high school sweet heart, Emily (his wife and the rock now behind him), and was the oldest brother to sisters that all looked up to him. His family took me in as another member of the family, especially his mum who welcomed me into a country I knew little about. Jeff’s commitment to his family has never waivered, and I’d say it’s been a model for a lot of us who know him and his family well.

Jeff and I had very different social lives (I think he’d agree), but one thing that bonded us was our love of the internet and the uncharted possibilities for a couple of guys who didn’t know any better. To observe us back then, we were unlikely friends or business partners; in fact, I’m not sure either of us ever considered working together. Yet, fate and pure luck brought us together a few years later and we never looked back. Continue reading

My Five Truths

So Jeff Hilimire and now Donovan Panone have challenged me to write about my five truths. I think Drew Hawkins originally challenged Jeff, so the I’m next in line. I hope this is the first and last blog challenge from these guys. So here are my five:

Truth #1 – I have no regrets.
I’ve certainly made bad decisions, wrong choices and done some pretty stupid things. However each mistake has taught me something new or given me a new appreciation of the situation. I’m a better person as a result of my choices and therefore have no regrets .

Truth #2 – I’m a bad writer and reader.
I’ve always been a bad writer, and it doesn’t help that English was the third language I learned.  Hopefully I make a few folks laugh when they read my stuff.  Also, reading bores me and I often find myself unfocused or falling asleep. It’s not that I don’t want to get better or haven’t tried new techniques; I just don’t enjoy it and avoid reading unless I have to. Yes- bring on audio books and video.

Truth #3 – I get obsessed solving a problem.
When I’m faced with a challenge, I can’t see the forest through the trees.  This can be a good thing at times as I can normally find a solution to most things and love doing it. The bad thing is that I get totally obsessed to the point of diminishing returns.  If I’m focused on a problem, I’ll stay up all night and the next day; if someone is talking to me about something else I’ll zone it out. You can’t pull me off the project until I’ve solved it.

Continue reading

The Apple Trap – Can I think differently?

I started off on a Mac when I was 15 (1991) and fell in love with Apple’s GUI and all that was Apple. I started designing and experimenting with my Apple and always felt like a trend setter with my Mac. When I started my company, Spunlogic, in 1998, I traveled around the world designing websites on my MacBook Pro; unfortunately, what I was designing and coding always looked different on a PC (Browser hell back in the day). Anyway my co-founder and I decided to switch the agency to PC’s (January 2000), mainly because they where cheaper and it simplified things when designing and developing as a team back then.

I got used to a PC and continued using one and forgot the days of Apple for several years. During that period Apple also lost it’s mojo, at least in my opinion. Continue reading

What Would Happen if the Internet was Gone?

I don’t often watch South Park, but when a friend sent me this clip I had to share it with everyone. As I watched, it dawned on me how much we rely on the internet these days, and nothing can illustrate it better than this clip.

Click on the picture above, or visit this link to view the clip.

Would you be able to function on a day-to-day basis with no internet?