Category Archives: Uncategorized

Donald Trump, Job Applicant

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I’m not the first person to point out that if Donald Trump had a “normal” job, he’d have been fired by now. No HR policy would allow his behavior, and no Board of Directors could withstand the scrutiny, regardless of how much money he was making the company. A recent Business Insider article titled “What if Your Boss Acted Like This?” put it this way:

Imagine your boss did this: 

You send him a memo about a life-or-death issue for the company, and he doesn’t read it. He has regular calls with firms you’re doing deals with, but he doesn’t prepare for them, and instead spends the whole call talking about himself, or insulting the person he’s talking to. He commits an egregious, humiliating screw-up one morning, then turns his phone off and plays golf, leaving everyone else to clean up the mess.

These are not hypothetical examples. This is quite literally an account — taken from a single day! — of how Donald Trump does the job we hired him to do, and that we pay him to do.

But Donald Trump doesn’t have a “normal” job, and the only way he can be “fired” is if the American people vote him out. In fact, Donald Trump has never actually even had to  apply for a job (if you think running for president counts, compare that with any job interview you’ve had). So I started to wonder: what would happen if he did?

An interesting resume 

Imagine it, if you can: Donald Trump, fresh off his tour as President of the United States, sending out resumes in the hopes that one of the companies he’s considered buying over the past 50 years might hire him instead. The jobs I hire for, typically team leaders, product managers, product designers, and software engineers, are somewhat specialized, and require a fair amount of experience, but let’s face it: Trump’s resume is pretty interesting, so I might bring him in regardless.

The Interview

The interview here is, of course, imagined. Trump’s words are his own, pulled from interviews and statements he’s given in the last five years, with links to their original sources. My questions aren’t actual interview questions, but I think they get the job done.

Lee: What makes you a the best candidate for the job?

DJT: ….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

Lee: That sounds impressive. And that makes you the best candidate?

DJT: So great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!

Lee: Um, okay. Accountability is a big deal to me. Tell me about a time when you took responsibility for something that didn’t go well.

DJT: [Silence]

Lee: Maybe related to the coronavirus?

DJT: I don’t take responsibility at all. This horrible disease was sent to us by China. It should not have been sent. They should have stopped it. They could have stopped it.  They didn’t. And the entire world has gotten infected, and a lot of countries are going through a lot right now.

Lee: Once it was clear that coronavirus was here, and that we needed to deal with it, how did you see the role of the federal government versus the states?

DJT: The states’ testing is up to the states to do, which will implement the test and logistically coordinate the tests.

Lee: “The states’ testing is up to the states to do”? That’s not really saying anything at all.

DJT: Similar to the situation with ventilators, states need to assess their complete inventory of available capacity. Some states have far more capacity than they actually understand. And it is a complex subject, but some of the governors didn’t understand it. Not simply ask the federal government to provide unlimited support.

Lee: So the states should not ask the federal government for support?

DJT: The authority of the President of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total.

Lee: I’m not sure that’s true, but let’s assume – just for a minute – that it is. How would you rate yourself in your handling of the coronavirus? I mean, the U.S. has already had more than 5.5 million cases, with more than 170,000 deaths.

DJT: Nobody has done anything like we’ve been able to do. And everything I took over was a mess. It was a broken country in so many ways. In so many ways. We have done a job, the likes of which nobody has ever done.

When I took this over, it was an empty box. We didn’t have testing. We didn’t have anything. We had a broken system there. We had a broken system with stockpiling. We had a lot of broken systems. And I’m not just blaming President Obama. You go long before that.

Lee: I’m still trying to figure out which role on the team might be the best fit for you. Your responses don’t exactly scream “engineer.” What job on the team do you think you’d be best suited for?

DJT: I don’t know if you know this but probably 10 years ago I was honored. I was the man of the year by I think somebody, whoever. I was the man of the year in Michigan, can you believe it? Long time.

Other countries come to see me, all of their leaders they say, sir, first thing, sir, congratulations on your economy. We’re trying to do the same thing. Congratulations sir. And I say you think Hillary could do this? I don’t think so.

Lee: Are you talking about Hillary Clinton? I’m not sure what this has to do with her, and we don’t have an opening for “man of the year,” but since you’re focused on the economy, maybe a job in Finance? Although it’s been extensively reported that, under your leadership. the US economy is suffering its biggest contraction in 75 years. That doesn’t make it sound like you’d be an asset to our Finance team.

DJT:  It was just put out that the United States economy added almost 5 million jobs in the month of June, shattering all expectations. The stock market is doing extremely well, which means, to me, jobs. This is the largest monthly jobs gain in the history of our country. The unemployment rate fell by more than 2 percentage points down to just about 11 percent. We started at a number very much higher than that.  As you know, we broke the record last month, and we broke it again this month in an even bigger way.

Lee: This certainly seems like good news to me. All this talk about jobs makes me think you might be a fit for our HR department. Like other companies, we’re working hard to be anti-racist, and as a Minneapolis-based company, we were sickened by the murder of George Floyd.

DJT: All Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served.

Lee: I’m so glad to hear you say that, I was nervous you were going to say something about there being “fine people on both sides.”

DJT: Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, “This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.” This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality. It’s really what our constitution requires and it’s what our country is all about.

Lee: How on earth can this be a great day for a man who was brutally murdered by police?

DJT: What we’re announcing today is a tremendous tribute to equality. We’re bringing our jobs back. When we had our tremendous numbers. And when we had just prior to the China plague that floated in, we had numbers, the best in history for African American, for Hispanic American, and for Asian American and for everybody. Best for women, best for people without a diploma, young people without a diploma. I mean so many different categories. Our numbers were the best in almost every category.

Lee: I notice you mentioned women.

DJT: You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the –

Lee: [Interrupting] So definitely not a job in HR. Wow, look at the time! Thanks so much for coming in. We’ve got a few other candidates to talk with, but you should expect to hear from our HR team within a few days.

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Unqualified for any job

There you have it. My imagined interview, with answers pulled from real interviews, speeches, and Tweets. My goal was not to be comprehensive – I barely scratched the surface – but you get the idea. You can’t make this stuff up.

And yet, much of what Trump has said, even here, is made up. Recent data shows that the President tells more than 23 lies every day, a number that has increased since the start of COVID-19.

Setting aside the bluster, Trump’s record as a President is clear, consistent, and public. So is his record as a businessman. A quick internet search will give you the facts related to his handling of race relations, the coronavirus, his record on job growth, the state of the economy, what he’s done to the environment, the company he keeps, and who has benefitted from his policies. It will also reveal that Trump has golfed 135 times since taking on the presidency at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $140 million, and that he has openly used the highest office in our country to line his own pockets.

If, after all of this, you’re still feeling good about a second Trump presidency, consider this: if Donald Trump showed up at your place of business (office, fire station, convenience store, restaurant, etc.) for an interview, what job would he be qualified for? What job would he be good at? What job would you give him? If your answer, like mine, is not a single one, then is he the right person to run our country?

Can agile principles help us become anti-racist?

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Like many people, I’ve been a sponge lately, taking in amazing books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, listening to fantastic podcasts like How Core Values Influence Diversity and Inclusion with Kim Crayton, and reading mind-blowing articles like What is Owed by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Now is a time for me to learn, and I’ve got years of work to do before I can claim to have gotten past the tip of the iceberg.

But I don’t have years, weeks, or even days to read, listen to, and process all of this information before taking action. I have a job to do, and a team demanding that I use my position to make positive change now. Yes, this is a time to learn, but it’s also a time to act. We’ve been patient – even with ourselves – for too long.

This is complicated by the fact that it’s a terrible time to make mistakes. The stakes are high and scrutiny has never been greater. On the positive side, we’re all being held accountable for our words and actions, as we should be. On the negative side, we’re also demanding that people take risks, and mistakes can be costly.

So it seems like we need to listen, learn, and take action, and we need to do it without making mistakes. But how?

Unfortunately, we’re going to make mistakes

Unless our plan is to learn everything before we do anything, we will fail, at least occasionally. The issues we face related to racial injustice have been deeply ingrained in our society for hundreds of years, and in order for us to make things better, we’re going to have to have hard conversations and take risks. And what are the odds we’ll get it right every single time? Not very good.

If our goal is to make things better, and to do it quickly, we need a structure that allows us to make mistakes and learn from them iteratively. And here’s where I turn to the agile principle of failing fast. In agile development, when we talk about failing fast, we assume that failure is inevitable, at least some of the time. And if failure is inevitable, then the faster we do it, the faster we learn and improve. According to Ben Rossi in Information Age:

In software development, the point about “fail fast” is that if a failure is going to take place you want to reduce the time lag in a) detecting the failure, and b) relaying the detection back to the responsible developer. 

What would it mean to apply this concept to our interactions with others, to our discussions about racial injustice? If we all agreed that “detecting the failure” was step one, then we’d expect it, and we’d be grateful when it happened quickly so we could move on to step two, “relaying the detection back.” For example, if our organization unintentionally supported the wrong charity, or made well intentioned hires without supporting them well, or changed HR policies that singled people out instead of bringing them together, we could identify these errors and fix them. If we could do this without fear or judgement, imagine how quickly we’d learn and improve.

Of course, this would require that we all acknowledged up front that we’re going to make mistakes, and that this is as important as it is inevitable. We’d have to trust each other, assume positive intent, and agree not to blame or judge each other when we fail. We’d need to speak freely, without fear of unintended consequences, and we’d need to listen openly, giving others the benefit of the doubt. This sounds hard, but I think it’s possible.

Embracing the agile concept of failing fast

At the start of this post, I said what we needed to do was clear: listen, learn, and take action without making mistakes. But what if we acknowledged that mistakes will be made and leveraged a process – like agile – that helped us fail fast, correct our behavior, and learn? What if we were willing to be wrong without being defensive?

As we work towards social justice and equality, we need to acknowledge that we will, inevitably, make mistakes. And while agile philosophy may not be the silver bullet that makes us anti-racist, I do think it might offer us a viable way forward. If we embrace the concept of failing fast and use it as a way to learn, understand, and improve over time, we’ll be better able to meet the needs of each other and our teams over time. And that’s a start.

No justice, no sleep

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Just under two weeks ago, just over a mile from my house, George Floyd was murdered. It is indisputable that if he were white, he would still be alive today. 

We’re all exhausted. It’s hard to sleep with helicopters circling overhead, and with the constant threat of violence in our neighborhoods. It’s hard to sleep with white supremacists and anarchists descending on our city and hiding in our backyards. It’s hard to sleep when we see so much injustice all around us. 

We white folks slept better a few weeks ago, didn’t we? But how? The racism and hatred that led to George Floyd’s murder has been with us all along. Without systemic change, it was inevitable that another black person would be killed by another white police officer. How did we sleep? 

We slept by pushing these terrible, inevitable facts out of our minds. We focused on the small things we could do, and on our good intentions, and on the donations we made to the right causes. We did this even as the coronavirus continued to spread disproportionately to communities of color. We knew these things, but they were too uncomfortable to face, so we looked away. 

It’s much harder to look away now. How will be sleep? Maybe we won’t. Probably we shouldn’t.

What now, white guy?

I’m a well-meaning white man. I’ve been extremely restrained on social media, because I believe it to be an echo chamber at best. And while my priority is to listen carefully and openly, I need to make my feelings public and clear:

Racism is poison. I’m committed to working against it, even when it makes me uncomfortable. I’ll listen better and learn more, and I’ll use my influence to make things better. I’ll put more of my money, and all of my votes, where my mouth is. I stand in solidarity with the black community and demand justice for George Floyd. Black lives matter.

So what? So nothing. To build a society that works for all of us, this statement and the thousands just like it being posted across the internet by well-meaning white people are less than the price of admission. I know I need to back up these words with actions. I’ll write more about that in future posts, including how to lead people through these challenging topics and times.

The center of the world

I love so much about Minneapolis. I love its lakes and its restaurants, its culture and its parks, its sports and its quality of life – I’ve even written a song about it. But Governor Walz put it perfectly when he said that:

We don’t just rank near the top on educational attainment. We rank near the top on personal incomes, on home ownership, and on life expectancies. We ranked second in a survey of the 50 States, second in happiness behind Hawaii. But if you take a deeper look and peel it back, which this week has peeled back, all of those statistics are true if you’re white. If you’re not, we ranked near the bottom.

Have you heard about “Minnesota Nice”? It’s the idea that we Minnesotans are as pleasant as can be when we’re together, but that we’re just being “nice.” That we’ll do anything to put someone else at ease, but we don’t actually mean it. That we’re not genuine, we’re just trying to avoid conflict. This is something we readily acknowledge and often laugh about, and that white people often credit to their Scandinavian or Germanic heritage. How can it be bad to be nice?

The truth about “Minnesota Nice” is that it can prevent us from getting below the surface, from really understanding and connecting with each other. “Minnesota Nice” is what allows us white Minnesotans to say we empathize with black people, to donate to black causes, and to vote for people of color without actually engaging in the community or the conversation. I keep thinking of the lyrics from Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith”:

You can’t depend on the goodly hearted
the goodly hearted made lamp-shades and soap

It’s time to stop being nice, to stop avoiding conflict, to stop running from the hard stuff. It’s time to engage.

Clearly Minneapolis is not the only city in the country – or in the world – with a racist history, and with racist policies that have created vast inequities for hundreds of years. Still it’s my city, and right now it feels like the center of the world for the worst possible reason.

This is our time

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Right here, right now, we have an incredible opportunity to shape the future, to turn Minneapolis into a city that works for all people, regardless of the color of their skin. If we can rise to the occasion, then maybe we can be the city where things got so bad that they finally started to get better.

This is a time to listen openly, to challenge our ways of thinking and behaving, to stand up for the things that matter (including each other), and to work for change. This is our time.

We can sleep after that.

For heaven’s sake, apologize!

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It was just over a month ago, but it still makes me feel sick. I was presenting an important and sensitive topic to the team, something I’d worked hard to get right. There were two versions of the deck I’d created, and between the stress of the day and a variety of technical difficulties, I found myself presenting the wrong version to the team. The fact that this version and the scenario it described were old and outdated didn’t matter. There it was, for all to see.

The worst part of my mistake was that I wasn’t the only person who was embarrassed by it – the deck I’d accidentally presented had implications for others on the team too. It was not my best hour. In response, I did what a lot of reasonable people would have done in the same situation: I ignored the mistake and hoped it would go away.

Only – surprise! – ignoring the mistake did not make it go away. It was only after I acknowledged the mistake a full week later that the team could get past it. “I made a mistake,” I said, genuinely, “I’m really sorry I did that.”

In response, one of my team members said something that truly amazed me. “I’ve never had a boss apologize to me before,” he said, “that means a lot.” What took me so long?

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It’s not just Elton John who thinks so. According Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D., in Psychology Today:

Apologizing is difficult because it requires humility. Apologizing temporarily reduces one’s self-esteem.  The offender who apologizes yields some power, some control.  Having announced their imperfection and error, the offender is now vulnerable.  It takes humility to make a sincere apology, and for some people humility is just too uncomfortably close to humiliation.

When we apologize, we acknowledge our “imperfection and error,” which makes us feel weak and vulnerable. But we are imperfect, and we do make errors. There’s nothing weak about it at all. I’d argue that you need self-confidence in order to admit your failures. As Plato said in The Republic:

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

I used to wonder at what age I’d be smart enough to stop putting my foot in my mouth, but that was a long time ago. Now I know that age will never come, that I’ll never be that smart. I may not be “the wisest man alive,” but I know I don’t know everything. And if I don’t know everything, sometimes I’m going to get things wrong – and sometimes that will require an apology.

“Sorry” can be overused

The internet is littered with articles describing people who apologize too much. According to Greatist:

If you’re someone who throws out “sorrys” like candy from a parade float, that can be a problem. While on the surface this might seem like a polite habit, overusing any word can devalue it—and more importantly, excessive apologizing can make you look guilty when you haven’t done anything wrong.

While according to Tonic:

Apologies aren’t always helpful—and sometimes they can be excessive. This behavior may stem from anxiety or depression, although research on the topic is scarce. What we do know is that, for some, the urge to say “I’m sorry” for every little thing is involuntary and often has little to do with actual remorse.

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According to the Child Mind Institute, this is especially problematic for girls:

Apologizing can be a good thing—a sign that a child is empathetic and has strong social skills. But saying you’re sorry too much can backfire. For instance, when a girl starts a statement by saying, “Sorry, but… ” or “I might be wrong, but …” she may think she’s being polite, but it undermines what she’s about to say. “It says ‘I don’t feel confident in what I’m about to say or my right to say it,’ ” explains Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

Got it? The point is not to apologize with abandon. It’s to acknowledge that we genuinely care when our actions hurt people, and to admit that we make mistakes.

Coda

We’re actively hiring at work – we’ve got lots of open roles on my team and lots of great candidates, both internal and external. In an effort to get the word out quickly and get the ball rolling, I rushed a few job descriptions out before checking them with the hiring managers.

Can you guess what happened? Candidates had applied for a job based on a description they’d seen last month, and we were planning to interview them based on a job description we’d updated last week. Not ideal.

As a believer in the Agile Manifesto, I’m committed to welcoming change, to favoring individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and to responding to change over following a plan. I move fast. I break things. My intentions were pure, but this issue was entirely my fault. As I called each of the candidates, letting them know how and why the job they’d applied for had changed and asking them if they still wanted to apply, I made at least one thing clear.

“I’m really sorry about this,” I said, “I made a mistake.”

“No problem,” they responded, “thanks for taking the time to explain what happened. See you next week.”

 

I’ll be voting tomorrow

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I believe diversity is a strength and not a weakness.

I believe all Americans should have the opportunity to earn a living wage.

I believe we’re obligated to provide for those in need.

I believe we’re all equal, no exceptions.

I believe we should strive to create a world that’s better for our children.

I believe we’re in it together.

I believe scientists.

I believe the world and our country are less safe, less compassionate, and more violent since the current president was elected.

I believe facts.

I believe my vote matters, and I’ll be voting tomorrow.

8 reasons my team is great (and keeps getting better)

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My current eCommerce team is among the best I’ve ever worked with. In the past year, we’ve launched four mobile apps, re-platformed three eCommerce sites without any downtime at all, made major strides towards continuous deployment, and much, much more. (Even if you don’t know what any of these things are, you’re impressed by now, right?) Much has been written about building great teams, of course, and this is in no way meant to be definitive. Still, I want to share a few of the reasons my team has succeed so far (in no particular order), and why we’ll continue to get better:

1: Everyone on the team is a business owner

It would be an exaggeration to say that everyone on the team is motivated by our KPIs in the same way, or that each developer, user experience engineer, and Product Owner feels the same passion for driving revenue. Still, we do a lot of work to make sure each person on our team understands what drives our business, and the items on our product roadmap can come from any person or team. We understand both what we have to do and why.

2: We define our own priorities

Continuing on the above theme, our product roadmap is largely driven by the team. Because we understand what drives the business, we have the flexibility to work on the projects that are most impactful, in the order that makes the most sense. There are times we have to justify our priorities – and we review them with our senior executives each month – but we own the roadmap, no question about it.

3: We like to solve hard problems

Being intellectually curious is a big deal. Our team is smart, and intensely focused when it comes to finding sustainable solutions to big, hairy business and/or technical problems. Sometimes this leads to frustration – we don’t always have time to do things right, and we all despise increasing technical debt – but, by and large, our team strives to do things right, and we’re up for any challenge that comes our way.

4: We persist!

We like solving hard problems, and we don’t give up. When we can’t figure something out, we keep at it. Sometimes we wrestle with a problem for weeks – or months – before finding the answer we were looking for. Sometimes we need to try a lot of things before getting something right.

5: Our leaders push us in the right ways

When we need a kick in the pants, we get one. When we need some space, we get that too. From top to bottom, our company and team leaders understand that empowering the teams to do our best work is critical to our success.

6: We test and measure everything we do

Measuring allows everyone to see where we meet expectations and where we don’t. New functionality is AB tested until it “wins” and we’re confident we haven’t introduced new problems into the system. We’ve got dedicated testing and analytics teams, and our Agile development teams wouldn’t even think of introducing new functionality without their involvement. Of course, we still make mistakes, but when we do…

7: We learn from our mistakes

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Building and running our own web platform is hard, and despite all the great testing and measuring we do, mistakes are inevitable. Because we encourage continuous improvement and innovation, we also favor blameless post-mortems and retrospectives during and after all projects. These allow us to truly understand where we’re most effective and where we still have opportunity to improve. We’re going to make mistakes, but we really don’t want to make the same ones twice.

8: We genuinely like each other

Who wants to spend all week, every week, with people they don’t know or like? Not me. Work is a big part of our lives, but it’s not everything. People go on vacations, have babies, experience loss, and root for baseball teams (they often do those last two at the same time). And people who like each other are there for each other when they need support – in their work and in their lives.

We’re not perfect

If some of this sounds a bit aspirational, it is. My team is far from perfect, and we don’t always get these things right. We get crabby, and frustrated, and annoyed by each other. We argue, we have egos, and we break more things than we’d like. Sometimes we focus on the wrong things, and we’ve been accused of moving too fast. But the foundation of our team is strong, and our core philosophies don’t change.

Do any of these ideas resonate with you? Are you part of a high performing team? If so, what makes your team great? If not, how can you get there? I’d love to hear from you.