What Game of Thrones Teaches Us About OKRs

What Game of Thrones Teaches Us About OKRs

If only Cersei and Daenarys Used OKRs to Create Their Winning Strategy

With only one more episode (the finale) of Game of Thrones, we thought we would jump on the bandwagon and bring you a culturally relevant example of how OKRs can help the process of developing your skills as a strategic leader.

What’s an OKR?

In the 1990s John Doerr and Andy Grove created OKRs when they were working together at Intel. John Doerr’s recent book titled: Measure What Matters (https://www.whatmatters.com) provides a succinct explanation. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are prevalent to the tech industry, but useful for any company looking to integrate strategic vision across teams. We use it in our work with clients. One of the hardest things to manage is how a senior leader’s strategic vision is carried through by internal and external resources. OKRs make this happen.

Let’s look at a Game of Thrones analysis of three characters chasing similar objectives to support our argument that good OKRs help you drive desired outcomes. [Spoiler alert, if you’re not caught up on Season 8, don’t read this]. We wrote OKRs for three main Iron Throne seekers Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister. We asked ourselves, do the quality of the OKRs correlate to who will win the Iron Throne? (Not that they will, because it’s a TV show controlled by writers and ratings, but it would be cool to see who is deserved of the Iron Throne, nonetheless). After you’ve read through each character’s OKRs we think you’ll see who should sit at the King/Queen of the Iron Throne.

Cersei Lannister (Queen of the Seven Kingdoms)

Objectives (Strategic Vision):

  1. Solidify role as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms retaining great power and wealth.

  2. Ensure the life of [not yet born] child (Cersei has suffered through the deaths of her other 3 children).

Key Results (Measurable Results to Achieve Objectives):

  1. Remain Queen after husband King Robert Baratheon’s death.

  2. Form a paid relationship with The Iron Fleet and The Golden Company to add to the Lannister Army’s forces (Sea and Land).

  3. Win the battle at King’s Landing.

  4. Deplete competitor’s army with new weaponry (Ballista — or Dragon killing bow).

  5. Overcome an assault on King’s Landing.

Initiatives (Actions taken to support Key Results):

  1. Attempted to keep Winterfell and Westeros at peace through marriage, her son Joffrey and Sansa Stark of House Winterfell. (This failed when Joffrey wielded his power and had Sansa’s father Eddard Stark killed).

  2. a) Did not participate in helping to battle the Night King. b) instead spent the time building up her battle forces with the help of Euron GreyJoy and Golden Company armies.

  3. Broke Daenary’s battle advantage with new weaponry, the Ballista, built to kill Dragons.

  4. Convinced Euron GreyJoy that she is carrying his son (the real father is Jamie Lannister) in order to form an alliance with his Fleet.

  5. Refused to surrender peacefully to Jon Snow and Daenerys, and instead captured and killed Missendai (Daenerys’ trusted advisor and handmaiden).

  6. Attempted the Battle at King’s Landing, and ended up surrendering.

In the Season 8, episode 5, it appears she’s died (not for certain). But if she didn’t, we’d still affirm that she is NOT deserved of the Iron Throne. Everything she assembled, ended up backfiring. She wasn’t able to develop any deep, trusted relationships or lead people effectively. Most importantly her OKRs were not rooted in humanity (which it takes to gain empathy/loyalty with your followers — this is our opinion). Her visions are more tactical than they are strategic (short term wins vs. setting up for longer-term outcomes) and Cersei used people as pawns, not relationship building. We say Cersei makes a bad Iron Throne leader longer term for the Westeros region.

We can see that her direct reports suffered from the poor quality of her OKRs. Her direct reports (in Season 8: Maester Qyburn (Cersei’s hand — from the poor man to royalty help — deceased); The Mountain (Ser Gregor Clegane — deceased); Harry Strickland (The Golden Company — sellswords army from Essos — deceased); Euron GreyJoy (Iron Fleet — deceased).

Jon Snow

Next, is Jon Snow. He grew up as the bastard son of Ned Stark but discovers in this Season 8 that he is actually the true heir to the Iron Throne (the only surviving son of a Targaryen).

Objectives (Strategic Vision):

  1. Save Mankind.

  2. Help Queen Daenerys retake the Iron Throne.

Key Results (Measurable Results to Achieve Objectives):

  1. Convince leaders that the Night King exists before the Night King comes South of the Wall.

  2. Build a large enough army in the North to protect against the Night King.

  3. Defeat the Night King.

  4. Win Battle at Kings Landing.

Jon’s Initiatives (Actions taken to support Key Results):

  1. Traveled beyond the Wall, showed loyalty to the Free People that he would fight with them for however long.

  2. Relinquished leadership role at the Wall with the Night’s Watch.

  3. Broke down barriers between past enemies to form a large army.

  4. Convinced Queen Daenerys to fight with her Dragons and in return, he abdicated his role as King. This resulted in him increasing his forces: Dragons, Unsullied Army, and Dothraki Army.

  5. Accepted two Lannister family members (Queen Cersei’s brothers) into House Winterfell knowing he needed anyone who would fight against the Night King and his army.

  6. Accepted Daenerys as his Queen, even when he finds out he’s the true heir to the Iron Throne (and actually Queen Daenerys nephew).

By the end of episode 5 season 8, he’s still alive. So he remains a strong contender. And based on his alignment of OKRs, he’s effectively shown strategic leadership through long term alliances and partnerships, and the willingness to be flexible in the near term for future outcomes. He showed leadership strength with a long list of allies from back in his Winterfell days, his battles beyond the Wall and his travels South.

We can see that having effective OKRs helps your direct reports thrive. His direct reports: Sam Tarly (Lord or House Tarly), Tormund (Leader of the Free Folk), Night’s Watch Lord Commander: Dolourous Edd, Ser Davos Seaworth (Baratheon leader) and the Winterfell army.

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons”

Key objectives (Strategic Vision):

  1. Retake the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.

  2. Provide a new kind of leadership where slaves and citizens are free to choose their own life (hopefully one where she is the leader).

Key Results (Measurable Results to Achieve Objectives):

  1. Defeat the Night King along Jon Snow’s side.

  2. Remain allies with Sansa Stark and House Winterfell.

  3. Use dragon firepower to provide air support to land forces at the Battle of Winterfell (Night King battle).

  4. Ensure the secret about Jon Snow’s identity is kept secret in order to retain her role as heir to the Iron Throne.

  5. Takeover Kings Landing without destroying the city and the people.

Key Initiatives (Actions taken to support Key Results):

  1. Married Kal Drogo to become Queen of the Dothraki and Mother of 3 dragons.

  2. Unseated the Unsullied leaders and finds herself the leader of slaves (by giving them their freedom).

  3. Formed partnership with Jon Snow to defeat the Night King, in exchange for Jon to relinquish leadership to her as Queen of the Kingdoms and to fight for her.

  4. Helped to defeat the Night King with dragon support.

  5. Utilize intelligence from Cersei’s loyal advisors (Jamie, Tyrion, and Varys) to help win Battle at Kings Landing.

  6. With the help of her dragon, Drogon defeated Euron GreyJoy’s Iron Fleet, forces the land armies to surrender.

  7. Command the ultimate battle with Jon and the armies on Kings Landing.

Based on her OKRs and an examination of her initiatives she’d make an unstable strategic leader. She was doing a really great job executing her vision until she decided to go one step too far and burned down the Red Keep at King’s landing — killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

Deviating from an objective should be a rare, highly coordinated and considered event. When she went rogue and wiped out Kings Landing none of her reports were in the loop. We think this is going to spell her demise.

Her Direct reports: Ser Jorah (dead), Tyrion Lannister (hand to the Queen), Varys (advisor — dead by fire killed by Daenerys), Greyworm and The Unsullied (Army), The Dothraki, Jon Snow.

Would you agree? Disagree? Let us know! We’re looking forward to the final episode this Sunday.

In summary, OKRs are an effective framework to wrangle complicated, long term and short term objectives to help drive results. Who would have thought a water cooler TV series could be used to strategize your battlegrounds and alliances at work. Hopefully, you’re not having to slay dragons, but if you are, take a lesson from Jon, Cersei, and Daenerys and let OKRs lead the way to strategic vision and leadership.

Winning is Hard

Vision is a CMOs most underutilized weapon. Nothing adds more value to your brand. Nothing else compares when it comes to fueling business growth at scale. Yet, too often, vision sits on the sidelines like a dragon at the Battle of Winterfell (I figure any GoT mention should help SEO). Vision, our game-changing asset gets set aside while we obsess over incremental tactics.

I get it.

It’s in our nature. Brand health and human health are pretty similar. If the promise of a lifetime of well-being felt as good as instant gratification, we’d all eat better, live smarter and spend our time more wisely. So, yea, it’s harder to do what’s best for you. That’s why there is probably about the same percentage of thriving brands as there are happy people. 

We gravitate to what we can measure. But we can’t let that divert us from focusing on what it takes to win. And you won’t win if your most powerful asset isn’t in the game. `Nothing against data-led optimization here. It’s essential, high-value work. But vision is what enables differentiation, creativity, innovation, inspiration and alignment. Without vision, optimization is a fast road to parity.

What can we do about it? First, let’s recognize the paradox; your most valuable brand tool is also the least measurable. That sucks when you think about the accountability gauntlet you have to live through; revenue meetings every Tuesday morning, the ever-present marketing dashboard, quarterly leadership team performance reviews, the $250,000 attribution model and on-going C-Suite scrutiny of whether marketing is an investment or cost center. Not a highly receptive environment for talking about brand vision, platform and relationships.

So don’t.

Vision is about one thing - winning.

Every project has a win. Increasing sales, gaining share, acquiring new customers, successfully launching a new product, elevating the brand. Equate your vision directly to the win. All those famous brands we love to talk about do it every day. The vision sets in motion an unstoppable chain of events that determine your fortunes. Make it 1) inspired enough to rally a diverse team around a shared mission, 2) clear enough to provide an achievable (yet ambitious) picture of success and 3) actionable enough to guide how individual contributions ladder up to the collective win. 

Think about the best work you’ve been a part of. Was the magic conjured by a series of A/B tests, or was it a vision that motivated a team to achieve something special? 

Final thought about the most common scenario. Just about everyone articulates some sort of vision early in the process. The truly hard part is making that vision a compelling, on-going factor in every marketing decision throughout the entire process. It’s hard to keep that flame lit, but it’s what great, dynamic CMOs do to build iconic, enduring brands.

That ended kind of abruptly. Even I have some questions for me:

Q: What evidence do you have that vision is so important?

A: There are many studies from folks like HBR/EY (link) and Korn Ferry (link) about how companies who embrace and activate vision/purpose/strategy significantly outperform their peers. But I’ll cite one from, of all places, the Project Management Institute (link). I use them to illustrate my point about activating the vision in your go-to-market work. Projects (campaigns) are where that happens. They say that over 1/3 of projects fail, and every one of their reasons point back to strategy [or in this case lack of]. While this is universal across all categories, I find this correlates strongly with how marketing falls short because the value of the vision wasn’t realized.

Q: I already spent a lot of time articulating an awesome vision, so, I’m good to go, right?

A: Glad you asked, I wanted to talk more about this. That’s a great first step, but you still have work to do. You need to make sure that vision is infused everywhere along the journey. From the brief, through the integrated campaign process, creative reviews, channel strategies and in-market activation and optimization.

Q: You said that brand vision isn’t measurable, so how will we ever know what it’s contributing? 

A: Well, that’s a mischaracterization of what I said. My point is that it’s less measurable with less immediacy than your performance marketing activities. The full answer is kind of long, but the key is to avoid making your brand tracker an isolated study. (Perhaps a topic for a future post).

Q: Can you expand a bit, maybe by doing a play on words?

A: A powerful vision takes the blinders off. Channels can work in concert. It’s why your social content, customer service, experiential, brand experts and the rest work in additive, versus siloed, ways

Q: Why don’t you like optimization?

A: Wow, did anyone even read what I wrote? I’m an optimization fan. Think of it like building a race car. If everyone went off on their own making state-of-the-art components…. sorry, petered out there, analogies bore me when you know where they’re headed. 

Q: But if I spend more time doing vision-led versus data-led stuff, I’ll get fired, won’t I?

A: Maybe. But it’s not like CMOs are lasting very long right now anyway, so, what do you have to lose?

The first step to a new you...becoming a mentor

A 22-year old entering the job market today is facing the Millennial Rush to get a leg up on the world, chasing a yet to be filled dream that at June’s graduation, the Magna Cum Laude and paid guest speaker promised was out there waiting for them.

He or she is a bit confused, sometimes crushed, by the overwhelming prospect that they don’t know who to reach out to or how to begin. Mom and Dad aren’t the right resource, they don’t understand and they have their own biases about what a “good job” gets them - insurance, 401K, stability and upward mobility.

This confusion and frustration is warranted.

They just spent a decade working on getting extra-curricular activities (sports, debate, not-for-profit, volunteering, sorority/fraternities, internships and after-school jobs), and that is after the excellent grades and test scores. Don't forget the camps, a semester living abroad, learning a new language and culture all so that they would have an arm’s length advantage over their best friend in high school.

Yet, through all of this amazing effort, they are missing one thing - a mentor. A mentor is more than someone who tells them how to go out into the world, try new things, connect, fix their Linkedin profile, resume and get informational job interviews.

It’s being a listener. I spend a lot of my time as a mentor/advisor trying to sort out what’s the reality of the dream? What’s the thing that’s going to make them the happiest. Where’s the career when the first career choice fails?

In my little Utopian world, everyone would help the generation before them to become something bigger and better than what they are today. And you’re it. You’re the someone who’s done it before. Someone who knows people that he/she can connect to. 

Here are some ways to start your new role as a mentor:

  1. Reach out to your alma mater (High School, College and Graduate). They all have some form of alumni or mentorship program;

  2. Ask you employer if you can sponsor a new employee. Hopefully your company has a program like this, if not, maybe this will get them to start;

  3. Announce on LinkedIn you’re available for mentorship/advisory;

  4. One of the first steps I take with my mentee is ask them to take the Gallup StrengthsFinder https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/ so that I understand what their passions and strengths/weaknesses are. It is usually enlightening to see that how they think and feel has been defined in ways that the world would understand - and then tell them to put it on their linkedin profile/resume;

  5. Check out their resume, see where you can help them with format, descriptions, basic marketability;

  6. Ask them how you can help them and begin a relationship through being a good listener and supportive. 

These are the easy first steps, but often I hear friends say they intend to do this, but never actually get around to it. In 2019, this is the new you, and its your turn to make a difference.

The question is, will you?

The knee bone is connected to the...

I’ve been battling an issue on and off for the past 6 years.

It’s my knee.

You see, it bothers me when I walk. It’s not a pain, it’s a sound. It clicks. And it’s really annoying. It clicks when I bend it, walk up stairs, wall down stairs, run, do a lunge. You get the visual. It hasn’t always been the problem. For a long time it just really hurt. It hurt so much that I went to PT, had an MRI, thought I was destined for surgery to repair something in there.  I’m too mobile to have a knee problem. I’ve got my Portuguese Water Dog Bowie in Agility training, I run, ski in the winter, work-out, hike, kick-box, you get the picture - activities that need a healthy knee.

When we have an issue with a body part (in this example, my knee), we should investigate the entire system of mechanics, not the first area that shows the wear and tear.

I’ve come to find out it’s all the parts that support that joint (in this case my knee joint) where the discovery should begin in order to isolate the weakness in performance. I didn’t understand this until my incredible Pilates/Massage Trainer Julia Hollas (Corpo Kinetic in Berkeley) redirected my thinking. When I took my first class with her, she asked, “What do you want to work out today?”. I said, “Oh, abs, my core, my fat under my arm, etc…”. Julia took one head-to-toe scan of my body as I stood there in my shorts and t-shirt and smiled, “Great, let’s start with your hips”. Hips.

I didn’t think I had any problem with my hips. They didn’t hurt, they worked like they were supposed to…until she began to “peel the onion” for me.

Because my hips were not strong, my large quads were working overtime (there are two/three sets of quad muscles, my large quads were fine it was my small inner-quad muscle (vastus medialis) right above the inner kneecap that wasn’t firing). And because the large quads did too much work, the hamstrings on the back of my leg were lazy and not doing their job supporting the knee…oh and let’s not forget, my feet were also doing too much work, so that the muscles around the knee weren’t firing because they relied on my two feet…

Who knew that walking and our knees were a part of an incredibly sophisticated network of cooperation and collaboration of my quads, hamstrings, glutes, feet, and hips. The eye-opener for me was that in order to get the knee performing and in its most healthy state again, Julia and I would be in a constant weekly struggle to break these over-use/under-use habits of different critical points of movement. It’s a constant process…a bit of a yin/yang. But it’s an incredible statement about how our body mechanics rely on a system of collaboration between individual sets of high-performing muscles/joints/tendons, etc…when if one team-member is working in overdrive, and others are less than optimal, everything can go to hell.  

Which brings me to this, the lesson in understanding your systems. When uncovering your systems, whether it be your body or your team at work, figure out how much effort you are spending to understand the underlying parts of the performance in each area (your knee, your team, channel, workstream, etc…). Someone has to continually have a handle on a macro-view of what’s going on to see where the tendencies are for strengths and weaknesses.  

Without someone like Julia (who has full-body knowledge) I never would have gotten to a place of understanding about the "whole" part, not just the "individual" parts. This is true in your work-life too. If you take a step out, and away from your systems, what do you see? Are there weaknesses in one place?  Many places? We tend to roll-up everything into a performance metric or benchmark, or we tend to look at individual metrics, but in reality, it's looking at every metric that then rolls into defining the whole, not just that uber benchmark (sales, revenue, customers, etc…).

I would love to hear your ways of tackling this total view of all of it, in your work, in your knee, in your life.

In the meantime, the knee saga continues...


Heroes and the Hard Thing about Hard Things

(Fade in) A movie screen.

A lot of great stories are built around heroes. 

A good example is the Indiana Jones blockbuster series. The archaeologist takes us on many adventures around the world, searching for precious idols, a Holy Grail, an Arc of the Covenant while overcoming evil villains, jungle tribes, snakes, etc.  He has to make some split second life and death decisions.  Should he jump across the ravine?  Should he hold on to the Grail as his dad is saying, "son, let it go."?

It’s damn hard, what he’s doing.

Let’s not forget the softer “hard things” he’s doing like finding resolution with loved ones - a girlfriend, ex-wife, his father and a son he never knew. Whether we want his life for our own or not, we admire and fantasize a life like Indy’s, the decisions he makes and the growth of his character over time. He’s a hero.

(Cut) To work life.

Working in a startup we're chasing something elusive and high probability of failure (like Indy) but getting there is about the thousands of different decisions we make along the way.

Which brings me to Ben Horowitz (startup entrepreneur and Andreessen Horowitz VC) and his book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”. A person I know, said they read it every month. Wow, I thought, if something is worth reading over and over again, I better read it. And he was right, it’s an amazing book about running a company, and it’s not the traditional, this is how you do stuff. It’s a book about all of the hard decisions you have to make when things go south. The really hard stuff. Firing people, making decisions that won’t go over well with your employees, but are the right thing to do. Knowing when to cut and run instead of sticking it out till the end. It’s a fabulous book and one I would highly encourage everyone to read because it’s sobering about the ugly painful things that have no handbook, no guidelines for success. You have to just go through it and learn.

My point of this post is that the heroism we see on the big movie screen and what we decide at work is basically all the same. What makes it heroic is the growth that we gain from decision-making.  We love Indy for who he becomes, not necessarily the prize he's after.

Because when we add them all up, it’s the boundaries that we've pushed, the hard things we've experienced, and the growth that happened because of it, that makes it all heroic, and worth seeing it through to the end.

So pat yourself on the back. You're a hero. 

(Fade) back to the Movie Screen

Indy looks at his Father, let's go of the Grail, grabs his dad's arm and rides off into the sunset.

How Do I Get Back Those Five Minutes?

When was the last time you said, "I'm so glad I spent those past five minutes doing ______(fill in the blank here)". Speaking for myself, I don't tend to highlight the good five-minute things in I spent throughout the day, I tend to focus on the things that wasted five minutes.

For example, when my good friend repeats a story I've already heard. How do I get back those 5 minutes?

Or the time I’ve taken a wrong turn when trying to fight the Silicon Valley traffic through the 101 or Bay Bridge or GG or basically any roads in the Bay Area.

Or the small talk at the beginning of a meeting and of course the meeting gets cut short at the end...if only I had back those five minutes!!!

And let’s not forget about all of those five-minute slots of time that I'm on FB or Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter?!! How do I get back all those thousands of times of reading about something that will make very little difference to the betterment of my world…

So how did we get to this place? Thank the developers of the apps, news and social tools we use every day.

A New Commitment to Time Well Spent

I've recently committed myself to develop a deeper understanding of the concept Time Well Spent.  It's a movement that was started in Silicon Valley by Tristan Harris (ex-Google employee with the cool title Design Ethicist). http://www.timewellspent.io/

Tristan has taken on the humongous task of helping engineers at companies to be more deliberate and conscious of the time consumers spend on their technology. (Just look around, there is no small talk on BART anymore, it’s FIP (Face in Phone)).  Tristan is also making the speaking rounds on Ted, Charlie Rose and other shows to get the general public aware of what he calls a critical emergency in attention manipulation to the detriment of society. See his most recent Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/tristan_harris_the_manipulative_tricks_tech_companies_use_to_capture_your_attention

While success metrics at most of the big tech companies (FB, Twitter, etc...) use DAU and MAU (Daily Active Users and Monthly respectively) and/or other metrics to drive user engagement and attention, they are calculating a users’ willingness to stay on a hamster wheel in their product. And to sustain this quarter over quarter, product managers come up with new ways for users to remain in this trap.

Here are some examples of user manipulation:

Facebook: notifications that someone liked your comment so that you'll open up the app again and see who liked it and then maybe stay awhile longer;

SnapChat: Chat Streaks that keep track of how many chat conversations in a row you've made with a friend;

Youtube, Facebook, and Netflix: Video views in a sequential fashion (did you notice that one video rolls right into the next, even if you didn't ask for it?);

So to answer my original question, tech companies and their investors got us here. When you think about it, these are all things that the company wants (your attention), but at what cost to you? Tristan quotes a study by Gloria Mark (UC Irvine) that says that when we are distracted or interrupted it takes 23 minutes for us to regain our focus. And if in the next hour we are being interrupted many times, in the following hour, we'll self-interrupt ourselves. He calls this bulldozing our attention.

Having transitioned to the startup world and a founder of software at Promontory Brands, I feel a huge responsibility to help people get off of our web app, Sky. Of course, success will be measured by the number of people who adopt our tool but at the same time, we are challenging ourselves to design features that are accountable to "Time Well Spent" and "Human Centered Design" -

Some examples we might ask our users to evaluate themselves against might include: 'Am I doing my best work?' 'Am I proud of my contribution?’ 'Am I making others better?'.

Other examples of questions we'll ask ourselves include: 'Are user choices transparent and beneficial to them' 'Can users control their attention in positive ways' 'Will a user consider this time well spent?' And how can we get people there by spending LESS time in our tool, not more? 

What if engagement could be gauged another way - like how much someone says they really like using the app? Or the fact that they got to spend more time with their family because the app saved them one hour of their day?  These are mushy at best and hard to quantify. Yet, if developers and tech startups re-imagined their product to do more than saving time, to make a user happy - so that they can say it was time well spent, wouldn’t we all be saying, that was a great way of spending the last 5 minutes? Shouldn’t we be asking these tech companies, what are you doing to value my time? At the heart of customer empathy or user centered design should be the value of your time. Right?

I know, I know, you’re asking yourself as you’re reading this, how do I get back those 5 minutes? 

Why we need more compassionate empathy in 2017

It is December 4, 2016. Three days ago my mother-in-law passed away, at 92, after a very long, slow degrade from a number of ailments. We celebrate the life she lived, the friends and the emotional connections she made with just about anyone she came in contact with, albeit in the grocery store line or as a volunteer at the White Elephant Sale in Oakland. But what made her most special was her empathy gene. I always joked she was a hypochondriac, but in reflection, she was sick about the people that suffered around her - she was special in that way. Her husband (my husband Dave's father) was killed by a train when Dave was 8 years old (imagine raising two boys by yourself, working to put them through private school, and college and watching them succeed and raise their own children and grandchildren). Through her working life at Kaiser, until aged 65, Betty spent the remainder of her retired life as a volunteer via many organizations and taking care of those that ailed. That was Betty, she was a student of empathy and compassion.

I stumbled upon an essay in the Dec 2nd Wall Street Journal titled "The Perils of Empathy" by Dr. Paul Bloom. I'll admit an excellent and timely headline, his thoughts dove into the perils of empathy and how compassion is actually the better way to approach the world. Dr. Bloom defined empathy into two types: Emotional and Cognitive Empathy. Cognitive is the kind one feels to understand another person's viewpoint (we do that all the time in marketing - account planning, etc...). Emotional empathy is when we actually feel someone else's pain. I felt that way seeing immigrants in Aleppo (for example). Dr. Bloom makes the point that emotional empathy, although a very important ability to feel for others and vitally important to understanding others, can also lead to bias in how we feel for others. Through many examples he explains that depending on which side of the coin we sit, which perspective we bring to the situation, our empathy can incorrectly bias us about others. To quote Dr. Bloom:

"As a candidate, even Donald Trump asked Americans to identify with the suffering of others, from displaced Rust Belt factory workers to the victims of crime by undocumented immigrants. Though there are obvious ideological differences over who deserves our empathy, it is one of the rare political sentiments that still command a wide consensus. And that’s a shame, because when it comes to guiding our decisions, empathy is a moral train wreck. It makes the world worse. When we have the good sense to set it aside, we are better people and make better policy."

Dr. Bloom makes the strong case in this article that empathy can lead to biases and ultimately it can wear us out, emotionally and physically. I see a lot of that in my Facebook feed specifically with the outcome of the Presidency, where the sadness and anger continues to play out. He notes there are studies that prove that compassion instead of empathy is a more powerful construct. Compassion is the idea of forwarding good will, good thoughts and positive energy versus needing to feel people's pain. We gain compassion through a meditative state as we reflect on ourselves, versus the empathy of putting ourselves in others' shoes. To quote Dr. Bloom again:

"These studies also revealed practical differences between empathy and compassion. Empathy was difficult and unpleasant—it wore people out. This is consistent with other findings suggesting that vicarious suffering not only leads to bad decision-making but also causes burnout and withdrawal. Compassion training, by contrast, led to better feelings on the part of the meditator and kinder behavior toward others. It has all the benefits of empathy and few of the costs."

Bottom line, empathy allows us to feel "with" someone. Compassion allows us to feel "for" someone (cause us to take another action). Through his stated studies of the brain, empathy highlights the negative zones, compassion highlights the positive, reward side of our brains.

If compassion make us spread positivity faster than feeling empathy in a social media world that continues to get more vicious, judgmental and biased I'm all for it. And if we all start to meditate a little (my Yoga class today was a bit more meaningful than usual as I transferred my thoughts from body alignment to emotional alignment) we might produce a better collective consciousness than if we strictly hold true to feeling empathy.

But at the end of the day, and the end of 2016, I won't forget the enduring empathy Betty was driven by through her 92 years, because it made her someone that everyone loved and someone we'll miss every single day. Empathy + compassion seems like the right formula, versus one over the other. For 2017, this will be a top-of-the-list reminder for me that loving kindness starts with empathy but works toward a better place for both you and the person you are caring for, with a dose of compassion.

Here's the full WSJ essay by Dr. Bloom (inside a paid wall): http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-perils-of-empathy-1480689513

Thank you

The famous writer Robert Kabus once said to me, "Who you are is the sum of who you've known".  Okay, maybe he just made that up as I was writing this blogpost.

But it's true that it takes great people to find great people.  And those people are usually the ones who have been around the block more than once.  

When building a company, each person you add to the team feels like you're jumping over the Grand Canyon.  This metaphor applies for many reasons - one it feels as if you are taking the biggest risk in bringing that person into the team - will they make a contribution that takes you someplace average or someplace for the history books?  Will they help you transition into the vision you've been attempting to deliver or beyond your wildest dreams? Two, do you have the timing right for when they should come on board. When we're bootstrapping our company, every dime matters and bringing someone on too early can mean lost resources. Three, is there a good cultural fit? We're building a heterogenous team (look it up, it means we're all very different and add different skillsets). With this comes conflict, friction and at the end of the day, great results because we've looked at things through different lenses/perspectives/angles. But there's a balance here, we're all marching toward the end result, but we may get there via different pathways.

On our road to building our company we have found that the greatest source of inspiration is our past.  Because in our past we've worked at some of the best places, worked on some of the best pieces of business and met some of the finest people.  And we are thankful.

Because through this road we've been on, the people we know, know people that they know and so on...And through this beautiful and wonderful journey of acquaintances and friendships come new relationships.  

For those of you reading this that have been helping us along the way, you know who you are, and thank you.

Each and every add to our startup has made a world of difference from one day into the next. But at the end of the day, and at the end of this sprint, we know one thing Is for sure, it's great people who help you find great people for whatever endeavor you are on - building a company, building a marketing team, building a network to lean on.

We hope to pay it forward any way we can because we know great people, who know great people.

Why Bad Stacks Happen to Good Marketers

A messy desk.  A messy drawer.  A messy relationship.

We give many excuses for why things aren't as neat as they should be. But for the most part, isn’t it really about how much we care about the desk, drawer, relationship?  And how much time we put into caring for them?  

I have this little flat box that sits next to our phone (forever ringing with an irrelevant sales pitch that we never pick up) in the kitchen. I looked at it this morning and thought - why is that box a mess?  It's full of random items in varying stages of usefulness - muscle clay to strengthen your grip for rock-climbing; batteries whose life expectancies are secrets; super glue that might be viable underneath its dried up hole; spent checkbooks…etc. These things were all necessary at one point or another.  But now they are just sitting there screaming to be put to use, or put away, or put out to pasture.

I'm reminded that, even though I never pay much attention to this little box, it continues to evolve and take on a life of its own. 

I started to feel a bit like many marketers I've been speaking to. There's a love / hate thing going on with their ecosystems. Over time, they find themselves with a mix of indispensable, necessary, irrelevant and obsolete resources. Kind of like my messy box. It's full of things that made sense in the moment. But, now, it feels like something that's happened to me - not something I made happen.

Why? It seems like we're building our marketing stacks like a tactical arms race. As every new capability emerges, we deploy a new resource against it. On the plus side, it means we achieve "full chunnel" (every channel covered across the funnel). The downside is that your ecosystem becomes generic - it has little to do with how your specific brand adds value to your specific business in your specific category. 

It's time to take a more strategic view. A view that allows you to see the relative importance of each resource. To see how they collectively create value. To see how you can reduce some to bolster others. To see where time, money, technology and effort can be best spent. 

Maybe the question is: "is it riskier to continue as is or take a new approach"?

I guess it depends on whether or not you see your ecosystem as a tactical or strategic brand resource. 

What’s in your box and do you really like what you see?