I’ve had the idea for this post noodling around in my head for the past few months. To be quite candid, there was a part of me that wasn’t quite sure how much of this I wanted to share. Even though I don’t know all 2400 of you personally, I’ve always had this desire to be transparent. My hope is that that my experiences, agile or not, could somehow help you guys get better doing what ever it is that you do.
It’s not been any secret, at least I don’t think it has been a secret, that these last few months after leaving VersionOne have been really challenging for me. Working for VersionOne was a great gig. Someone else sold my engagements, and I just showed up where I was supposed to show up, when I was supposed to be there. When I wasn’t on client sites, I did papers and blogs and attended conferences. It was a pretty fun way to make a living.
When I joined Pillar, all that changed. Now I was working constantly to build a business here in Atlanta. My life became all about generating sales. Rather than trying to solve the big problems in the agile community, I was trying to solve the big problem of managing a sales funnel and running a small consulting business. Much of what I’d been doing was brand new to me. I was like the guy that loved to make bread that opened a bakery. Now, rather than making bread, he was running a bakery. Not quite the same thing.
The time between the Scrum Gathering in Orlando and the LeanSSC conference in Atlanta was pretty tough psychologically. I spent a lot of my time stressed out, and sick to my stomach. There was so little correlation between the effort I was putting in, and the outcomes we were seeing, the stress was really getting to me. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t connecting, and I wasn’t enjoying life. To some degree I felt like I had lost my way… I had somehow lost sight of the big picture and what was really important. I needed to refocus.
Four books that helped me refocus
One night at the LeanSSC conference, I was sitting in the lounge having a drink with Jean Tabaka and Dennis Stevens. Jean was telling me about some of the books the folks at Rally were reading, and about how several of them were having a profound impact within their company. Jean turned me onto the first two I want to talk about today: Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Daniel Pink’s Drive. I like Jean, and I think she’s smart, so I took her advice and started reading them.
Come to find out, some of the guys at Pillar were reading Drive too, and turned me onto a third book, by Chris Anderson, called Free. I think the Pillar guys are smart as well, so I picked up Free and starting reading it also. The fourth book was Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It. I’m not sure where that one came from, but I’m really glad it showed up in my life. For me, these four books were the right four books, at just the right time. Together, they really helped me see, and articulate the core problem that I was struggling with.
I want to first highlight a few simplified takeaways from each book, and then tell you guys why there were meaningful to me.
Drive by Daniel Pink – The main point of this book is that creative people are intrinsically motivated. That means that they create for the joy of creating. They love being in a state of flow. They love being challenged. They love helping people. The idea behind this book is that people need to have their basic needs covered, but once that happens, extrinsic rewards don’t increase performance. More often than not, they decrease performance. I have found that while I want to earn a boatload of money, it’s not really about that. It’s all about the intrinsic motivators. The money is a distraction.
Linchpin by Seth Godin – This was a big book with lots of big ideas, but I think what really resonated with me was Godin’s take on how society is changing. The social contracts that told us to go to school, get an education, get a job, and conform… and in return society will give you lifelong employment… are broken. To be a linchpin, we need to think outside the lines. We need to be creative. We need to bring our passion. We need to give. We need to make ourselves invaluable by bringing our whole person to our jobs. This book helped me rediscover the path I had been on and why. Excellent book, my favorite of the four.
Free by Chris Anderson – I’m still reading this one, but the general idea here is that, as it gets cheaper and cheaper to distribute information, the cost of that information goes down exponentially… to the point where it is so close to free that it is less expensive to round down than to sell. In an economy of open source software and free services, how does someone run a profitable business. You give away one thing in the hopes of selling something else. Free helps me stay connected to people, to build relationships, until the right opportunity presents itself… and if it never does, that is okay too.
Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk – Gary V. is a guy that turned a moderately successful local liquor store into a 20 million dollar business, and ultimately an online wine seller called Wine Library. He did this using social media and the power of the internet. His message is about family, hard work, focus. Great businesses are not build in a month or two months or even a year. You have to do what you love, so you can work your ass off while the thing isn’t making any money. If you don’t love it, you won’t have the energy to sustain it. This book gave me a few more ideas for connecting, and reinforced that patience really is a virtue.
What I Learned About Me
Over the last 8 months, I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had incentives to do the things that I used to do for free. I could go to a conference, show up and network, try to be smart and polished, and go home. The VersionOne brand hopefully benefitted, but past that… I didn’t have any part of my compensation tied to how much software we sold. Sure, I had a paycheck, but at VersionOne, there wasn’t any further incentive to go out and sell business. I trained people for a living… I blogged and networked and attended conferences, just for the love.
When those things became direct marketing activities, things that had an impact on how much money I make… they got uncomfortable. Now it wasn’t about helping people, it was about finding leads, and seeing who I could impress. It was about making sure I got a business card so I could reach out to someone later, to maybe move some of our consulting services. It felt inauthentic. I struggled to find a way I could sell, that allowed me to keep my personal integrity. More than once I was called out because something about me was different, I wasn’t being myself.
If I was going to do this for a living long term, I had to find a way to decouple psychologically, what I love doing, from how I earn a living doing what I love… at least from a direct financial perspective. What I found is that when these things were directly linked… it had a profound negative impact on my writing, my interactions with people, and how I fundamentally viewed the world around me. All in all, it hasn’t been a healthy place for me to be. To be successful going forward, I had to think about things differently so I could continue to bring my whole self to my job. What I was doing, wasn’t working.
I am fortunate that I love what I do, and I’ve found a way to make a living doing something that I deeply care about. It’s not just about software development, it’s about the quality of our human condition, it’s about making work/life balance, it’s about working in environments that make sense. It’s about meaningful work, and creating real value. It’s about putting people into systems where they can be successful. The methodology that surrounds that is just a means to an end… not a goal unto itself… no matter how interesting the technical details happen to be.
What I learned through some of these books, is that the stuff that really drives my passion, the stuff I love, is the stuff that I need to give away for free. It can’t be tied to a sale. To maintain passion and enthusiasm for my craft, I have to contribute, I have to feel like I am making a difference, and I can’t feel like every interaction is something to be monetized. I want to connect with people, in meaningful ways, that aren’t always about selling someone something. I feel like the pending sale diminishes the quality of the relationship.
It makes me feel a little queasy and it’s not who I want to be as a person.
Rethinking the Sale
I’m getting better at distilling what I like about this field and what has me excited to wake up in the morning. It’s not the sale… it’s not the chase… it’s the connection. It’s about helping people connect with each other. It’s about helping people connect the dots in their organizations. It hit me a few months ago when I was doing this public class in Atlanta. We had 22 folks representing 12 companies. By the middle of the second day, they were talking to each other and exploring ideas and possibilities. I switched from teacher to facilitator and let the discussion play out. It was awesome.
I’ve decided that I don’t want to sell. I want to help people be successful. I want to help people grow. I want to connect them to each other and to the community. I’m going to bring my whole self every day… try not to worry about quotas and revenue. I have to trust that if I do all the right things, and work really hard, the rest will follow. Integrity is about being internally congruent. What I’m really doing is, I’m learning how to sell with integrity, in a way where I can live with myself…. and do what I love as a result.
I don’t know that I have the details worked out yet.. but this feels like the right way to think about things. I feel like I’ve gotten myself finally on the right path.