Jonathan's Blog
name

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology


TagMindfulness
Featured

Leadership Mindfulness

Emotions are at the Core of Firing People, Even at Netflix

Posted on .

I've been fired from a company I worked for. I've written about it in the past here.

I've also fired a lot of people over the years.

I don't enjoy it. It's not fun. And it's probably going to be one of the worst days of somebody's life. That's how you should treat it. Try to be as humane as you can be.

But I don't have any problem with it - it's a necessary and valuable part of how business gets done. But if you think that you can do it without emotion I think you're missing something valuable.

I came across this article today about Netflix and their CEO, which is what brought all this up:

https://www.businessinsider.com/netflix-ceo-reed-hastings-used-keeper-test-to-fire-product-chief-2018-10

Having a "keeper test" seems like a reasonable thing to do. I wouldn't do it the way that Netflix does, but that's their business. They're a successful company. How they keep their top performers, get rid of people who don't work, and put out an amazing product is their business. More power to them.

My problem with the article is that they say they do this without emotion. If you think you're making decisions without emotion you're not just wrong, you're deluding yourself about how decision making even works. You have to have emotions to make decisions, it's part of it.

If you go out and Google that topic you'll find lots of people saying that you should avoid emotions in decision making. And if you read the articles, they're right - you should avoid making decisions when you're really angry about something and when you're feeling euphoric - those aren't good states to make decisions in. But that's different than saying there's no emotion involved in decisions or you're completely analytical, that just doesn't work.

The trick is to look at data, be analytical, but be realistic about what you're feeling and why.

Often, business leaders have to make decisions with incomplete data.

If you're totally without emotions or gut feel, what are you going to do if you have to make decisions in absence of data?

The best book on this subject is Dr. Alan Watkins' book Coherence - specifically Chapter 3 in the section "Why Emotions are Important in Business".

When Netflix execs say they're firing people without emotion I suspect they really mean they are making these decisions, "without sentimental attachment to things that happened in the past and regardless of what my relationship may be to the person who I'm thinking of firing." That's a mouthful, but it is a lot more meaningful.

So, if I believe that is what they're really saying, why does it matter what was said?

It matters for 2 reasons:

  1. What they said shows a misunderstanding of emotion and it's role in decision making. If you say things like that you are wearing blinders about what emotions you're feeling.
  2. Saying that you make these decisions without emotion feeds the notion that decision makers are robots. I think that is dangerous for company culture and human beings.

If this is true, then they are using some emotions at Netflix to make these choices. What emotions are they (or should they be) using?

They're using emotions that derive from their commitment to the business and its vision. They're trying to build the greatest entertainment company in the world, they really care about that, and they're willing to get rid of people who don't quite live up to that ideal.

Those are probably pretty strong emotions. Strong enough, even, for you to fire an employee who was once successful and now is struggling.

But you definitely aren't making such decisions without emotions.

The question I would ask, but to which I do not know the answer is, "Is one of those emotions fear?" It's hinted at in the article.

I doubt the CEO is doing these things out of fear, though you never know. The rest of the organization could easily be affected by fear of "looking soft" as the article says or by fear of losing their jobs.

If fear is a big part of the emotional cocktail, that is not healthy in the long run.

Whatever the formula is, it seems to have worked thus far.

As it relates to my second point, there is a sense that the ideal CEO is someone who is able to make these decisions like a computer or robot. Does that match someone's ideal? I've worked with a lot of executives and I can't remember one who wanted to be a robot.

Visionaries, yes. Great leaders, yes. Builders of great companies, yes.

Even some who saw firing as a key component of building workplace culture - by which I mean they would never keep people around who didn't work hard and contribute at a high level. But this was not because they were cruel, and not even because they were ruthless in pursuit of efficiency.

No, it was because they responded so significantly to those who gathered around them and shared their vision. The leaders understood the emotional toll it took on those hard working, results-driving people to have to prop-up someone who couldn't cut it.

Non-contributing and failing team members can drain the life out of a team quickly. Suddenly hard fought gains are lost and the team is struggling.

This is to say, emotions were at the very core of why those business leaders chose to remove some team members.

So, I understand the sound byte. I wouldn't have said it that way and it is not what he meant, but I think a lot of people will read that article and see the CEO of Netflix acting "without emotion" and take that to heart.

It's wrong and misguided. I hope that at least some people stop and think about that.

What's a better approach? This is off the cuff, but I'll throw out some ideas about how to deal with emotion in a firing decision process:

  1. What emotions are impacting this decision I'm about to make? Be clear with yourself - emotions are impacting you, which ones are they?
  2. How does this person's performance impact those around them?
  3. Is this person a fountain (someone who brings energy to those around them) or a drain (someone who sucks energy away from teams)?
  4. Are these challenges temporary (life-change driven or tied to a new position) or permanent (a person is constitutionally unfit for a job or role)?

On this last point, it is important to note that people rarely change. And even if you think someone can change, can they change in time to make a difference? The odds are against them changing. Do you want to base your business plan around the need for a person to fundamentally alter their behavior?

It's difficult to change, though I have seen it happen.

But if you've put a person into the position in which they're struggling you owe it to them to at least ask the question.

All of these things relate to emotions. Emotions are important and we can't make decisions without them.

Even as an executive you need to be human. You can't help it anyway.

Acknowledge what you're feeling and why. The most successful executives I've worked with all understood exactly what's impacting them and they have been good at communicating it to others.

They don't let it blind them. They manage it and use it to their advantage.

Featured

Mindfulness Biometrics Technology

Spire Stone - A Wearable Device with Instant Feedback on Stress and Breathing

Posted on .

In my continued quest for biometric insights and stress management, I recently picked up a Spire Stone. It monitors respiration and it can give you real-time feedback on your breathing patterns. Very handy for identifying and managing stressful moments throughout the day.

Breathe less than 14 times in a minute? You are calm. Your breath is full and consistent. Feels pretty good, doesn't it?

Breathe more than 22 times in a minute? You are stressed. Your breathing has become quick and shallow.

If this happens, the Spire device gives you a small nudge in the form of vibration to let you know.

The great news? You can do something about it. Take deeper, more normal breaths and help your body relax and feel less stressed-out.

I like it because, like FitBit, it gives me a way to impact my health that I can make conscious choices about. Breathing? There's always time for that. And improved awareness leads to small changes that can have a big impact.

With the HRV, brain wave, and sleep devices I've tried, you just don't control those things as directly as breathing or steps.

Spire gives you control over your stress level. Changing your breathing helps you feel less anxious and it can help you BE less anxious by sending a calming signal to all the other systems in the body.

It is a really good device. I've noticed that I don't always agree 100% with its breath count. During meditation I think it over counts, slightly, depending on the position of the device.

I also have had a few false positives on the 'stress vibration'. But not more than 1 a day.

These are very minor flaws in my opinion, and the value it provides more than outweigh these (small) negatives.

The additional awareness it provides to your current breathing pattern is very helpful.

They also have an app with some nice features. They have helpful guided breathing exercises and stats on how much time you were calm, anxious, active, and focused.

Spire has a new product coming out called the Health Tag which is designed to be attached to clothes, more or less permanently (it can be washed). In addition to respiration it also monitors HRV.

Featured

Mindfulness Technology

Making a Simple 'I Love You' Button with the Amazon IoT Button

Posted on .

The article below is specifically about using the AWS (Amazon Web Services) IoT button to create a simple 'I Love You' button that my kids could use to send a text to their mother while they were staying with me.

While that was a specific idea, the concept could easily be extended for children to send a message to a grandparent, a friend who has moved away, or a cousin who lives in another city. It's not strictly limited to the situation I describe.


As a divorced parent, you often find yourself trying to make the divorce have as limited an impact on your child or children as possible.

One thing they teach you as you are going through that process is that your child ultimately views each parent as key to understanding themselves, and any time you do anything to tear down your ex you're really only hurting your child.

So, last summer, shortly after my divorce was finalized I happened to come upon the AWS IoT button, which is basically an unbranded programmable Dash button. I've written about using it at work here.

As I was working on the pitch for that project, it occurred to me that the button could be used to solve another problem. My children are too young to have phones (my opinion), but it would be nice if they had a way, when they were staying with me, to send their mother a text to say 'Hi Mommy! I love you!' or something similar.

This is easy with the IoT button. Here are the steps involved.

Step 1 - Order Button from Amazon All you have to do is order them from Amazon here.

Step 2 - Use the mobile app to configure the button to communicate Download the setup app for Android or iOS. Next, use the setup app to put your button on your wifi and configure a basic function.

Step 3 - Change the message to your custom message The last step is a little trickier. You need to edit the Lambda function created by the setup app. I won't go in to the details, but it is possible for a person with limited technical expertise to pull off. Certainly, anyone with a technical friend or relative could do it with help.

Essentially you change this:

PhoneNumber: PHONE_NUMBER,
Message: 'Hello from your IoT Button ${event.serialNumber}. Here is the full event: ${payload}.',

To make it look like this:

PhoneNumber: PHONE_NUMBER,
Message: 'Hi Mommy, I love you.',

The change itself is as simple as what I outlined above. It's just getting to the right place that takes a little Googling/spelunking if you haven't done it before.

For kids, this is also a nice, simple introduction to coding where a simple change can be made simply, and without needing tons of additional explanation, deployment, or other fanfare. Just make a change and hit the 'Save' button.

Once done, my boys were able to send their mom a short message and have her know that they were thinking about her. In return, I knew I was helping them build connections and self-esteem and not tearing that down. Here is our completed button, plus decorations:

-iot_button_custom

This is extendable to other situations - absent friends, geographically distant loved ones, parents who might be travelling. Even adults could benefit from having a dedicated 'I love you' or 'I think you're great' button to press from time to time.

Who doesn't need the occasional reminder/short cut to tell our friends and family that we think they're great?

Featured

Mindfulness Leadership

Tools, Brains, Obsolescence

Posted on .

I just finished watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with my kids and it's a good reminder that technology and tools may not always be what we expect.

Not every tool looks like a cell phone or an AI algorithm. Sometimes a club is a tool also. Hopefully, as business leaders, our use of clubs (both literal and figurative) is rare.

It is useful to consider the club in the following way: A club is different from a spaceship, but they are both tools. Perhaps, as the movie suggests, both rudimentary tools in some sense. If not today, then tomorrow.

People will always make more tools and they can use them in new ways. So people are the real asset in the long run. Humanity.

Humans are tool makers and the mind, while itself a tool, is capable of not only altering the world around it, but of altering itself for the better.

Today's spaceship is tomorrow's club and humanity today is not the same as humanity 1000 or a 100 years ago.

This is our challenge as humans and business leaders - people evolve. Customers get more sophisticated. Spaceships become clubs. Humans persist.

How will you use this to motivate and unlock discretionary effort in your organization? Hint: not like the picture.

Featured

Mindfulness Technology

Mindfulness, Gadgetry, Quantified Self

Posted on .

I've been thinking about my earlier post related to mindfulness and gadgetry. And I believe it is possible that gadets and quantified-self measurements really can help us live more mindful lives. There's evidence to the contrary, of course, but that doesn't have to be the path that we follow.

To think clearly about the relationship of mindfulness and gadgets, let's start with a definition of mindfulness. I like this definition from mindful.org:

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Here's a link to that quote.

So, we're trying to be fully present in the moment.

We all know that gadgets can distract us. We've had plenty of experience with important work emails arriving at dinner time and social media posts that draw our attention. Look around most any public place you go and you will see people who are mentally elsewhere.

So, how do we use our gadgets to the best effect to help us be present in the moment?

Part 1

Technology can help us if we are using them to be conscious of ourselves.

What are some things that get in the way of this? If our quantified self goal is about the future. Something like "My resting heart rate needs to be X and I need to make a plan to achieve that." Or "I want to be in a calm state of mind for 80% of the time when I meditate, and I'm not getting there now." Well, then you are not present.

You may be making yourself more healthy, and that's good, but you are not present now. You are looking at now and reflecting on how to improve.

If our gadgets and measurements allow us to be more aware of the body. To lead us to make choices in the moment. "I"m going to go for a walk now because I'm aware of my stress." Or "It's time to go to bed because my body needs rest." Then we are more present because we're aware of how we're doing.

Gadgets and quatnitifed self measurements can help you into this awareness.

In reality, most of us probably do some of both. There's a healthy element to looking ahead and making plans. You just don't want it to overwhelm you or for it to become the only thing that you think about, or to continual make it about goals down the road and never appreciating the moment that you're in.

Part 2

If you are using some type of gadget or device to actually measure or evaluate your meditation practice, then you have an additional way that a gadget can help you.

There are risks here, too. If you are too focused on the gadgetry or the goals, it detracts from the meditation. It's happened to me before.

But if you incoporate into your routine and you don't make it ABOUT the gadget. Then it's worth reflecting on the patterns that you see.

A different kind of visualization of what your mind is doing when you're at rest is interesting and can be revealing about how you are really doing.

I mentioned my own particular challenge in this blog post. I have a challenge sometimes where my mind becomes MORE active when I am meditating. I actually start out calm and relaxed and it's during the meditation itself (when I am not distracted by other things) that my mind activates around stressful things that may have happened that day.

Here is another example - this one the app actually granted me the 'Wanderlust Award' for. This badge was awarded because my 'mind began to wander near the end of this session'. No kidding:

Screenshot_20180406-121530_Muse

Well, someone did a nice job of naming it 'Wanderlust', but that is not as fun as it sounds.

It's not that you don't know that your mind is wandering, it's something that you learn to recognize when you're meditating. It's the pattern:

Start Calm
Mind Wanders
Get Less Calm
Mind Wanders More

The gadget and app aspect has helped me to recognize this, and this is helping me be more aware and think about that situation when it happens.

It's a bit different than the 'I know I am not calm but I'm meditating anyway', because it's a bit sneakier.

Conclusion

I think there are slippery slopes in both of these scenarios. The gadgets can overwhelm you and the apps often inject elements of gamification that I am not interested in and that I think tend to draw you out of the moment. Be wary of those things.

But if you can avoid the traps and stay present, the tools are there and they can help you build your practice and stay focused in the present.

Featured

Mindfulness HRV Quantified Self Heart Rate Variability

How to Improve Your Brain and Have Fun Doing It

Posted on .

As I have been pursuing my journey related to mindfulness and stress-reduction, I've been applying things to my life and seeing what helps and what doesn't.

If I divvy up 20 - 30 minutes of meditation time and use 3 different biometric devices, am I getting the same value as if I just sat there for 30 minutes and meditated?

I'm probably not.

I think that a lot of meditation and mindfulness practitioners and experts would probably take exception to what I'm doing.

At the same time, it's fun for me to do it this way, I get to play amateur scientist and try out technology I'm interested in.

I also get to look at different signals from the body and understand a bit better how they work.

This is fun for me.

Also, I get to write blog posts about them and that is also fun.

On the subject of playing amateur scientist and HRV and mindfulness, I've started using Welltory.

When it comes to HRV, Welltory does a great job of providing interpreted results and education. They provide a lot of information and integrate with a lot of other products that I use (FitBit, Google Fit, Qardio).

Welltory very much encourages the 'try it and see' or 'amateur scientist' approach to quantified self, which aligns well with how I do things. They encourage you try things and see if they help.

All of this puts me squarely in the realm of 'Quantified-Self Nerd'. Which is OK with me, I think. I'm turning the stress and stress management into a fun and interesting activity, which helps reduce stress.