The making of an Olympian


As a boy, growing up, one of my first memories of the Olympic movement was traveling with my family to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Seeing the athletic feats first hand in alpine skiing and luge particularly struck a cord with me. Learning of the personal struggles athletes make in order to rise to the top of their game as competitors, let alone medal winning Olympians, is truly inspiring. And so when my role at Comcast allowed me, starting in 2014, to help shape the at-home experience of the Olympics I jumped at the chance.

This week in sharing our latest experience we’ve crafted for PyeongChang with the public I had the chance to spend time with two very special Olympians.

    • Sasha Cohen: In Atlanta this week she shared with a crowd, filled with young girls from the Georgia Figure Skating Association just starting their own journeys, what she most cherishes about becoming an Olympian. She recounted the sense of accomplishment in medaling, however its not what she most cherishes about her skating career. Her advice to those starting out is to appreciate the journey… the preparation thru training, scripting the programs, designing her costumes, etc. For those of us who build products for a living I think this also can hold true. Not that driving your KPIs isn’t gratifying (it is) but it really is the craft, the team effort and the process that I believe provides lasting joy. Sage advice from a 33-year-old Olympian.
  • Scott Hamilton: scott-hamilton-preston-smalley One of the all time greats in figure skating, he not only made his mark as a gold medalist himself but in helping many of us at home experience the routines of countless others over the years as a broadcast announcer. In gaining a peak into who he is as a man I can say this… the journey of becoming an Olympian really forged his medal and shaped who he is to the core. Nothing came easy to him in life — from battling major health issues as young boy to facing the world without the support of his mom when she died battling cancer while he was just 19. Thru it all he had to actively choose the path he took and no one would have blamed him for succumbing to the obstacles he faced. He said a big reason for his success was “making the easy decisions” like choosing to not to party the night before a big early morning workout — decisions he saw others, who were more physically gifted than he was, not make. I can’t wait to read his new book coming out next week.

As I reflect on what our product development team has put together for Comcast customers I can proudly say its the best way to experience the Olympics short of (or maybe including) going to PyeongChang yourself.

preston-demo-atlanta

Demoing the X1 Olympic experience at event in Atlanta (1/30/18)

My personal favorites from the experience we’ve built:

    1. Voice Remote: We’ve leaned into what we know from the Rio Olympics were the most popular phrases people say (mining the now 500 million commands processed each month). For example focusing in on the names of sports and the top athletes over the ability to search by nation. We’ll have live results and always connect you with something interesting to watch.
    1. Olympic Channels: While previous Olympics had areas by sport, there wasn’t an easy way to enjoy a lot of video without picking and playing each one. For PyeongChang we’ll offer 50 virtual Olympic Channels powered as dynamic playlists… allowing you to both lean back and enjoy or lean forward to skip to a segment that looks interesting. We’ll apply to all the sports as well as curated topics like biggest upsets and funniest moments. In a waywe’ve tried to combine the simplicity of live with the control of OnDemand.

      corporate_x1-olympics-home-screen-2

      Olympic Home on X1 (Comcast)

    1. XFINITY Stream App: In the past if you wanted to stream live the Olympics on your mobile phone or laptop you had to go install or signin to the NBC Sports App. For PyeongChang while you can still do that, we’re making it easy for those already used to the Stream App to make that video just a tap away whether you’re home or not. No muss, no fuss.
  1. X1 Sports App: For over half the X1 households that use this feature every month, it needs no introduction. For the Winter Olympics it’s sporting its own tab right alongside the other major sports in season right now. You’ll find it complete with everything you’d expect: all the events live at that time, background info, current results, related videos, and of course the ability to tune right in. Just press the “C” key on your remote to pull it up.

Creating this multi-platform experience that brings you the events in the way that you want was only possible given the previous technology investments we’ve made over the years. It does feel like this Olympics experience is a glimpse into the future of TV where the viewer has the choice of when, where, and how they want to watch. I can’t wait for you to try it and hope you take a moment to root for TeamUSA. It all starts on Feb 8th.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Applying to Business School

This time of year I often get asked by people for advice on whether they should apply to business school for an MBA. Over the years and many coffees with folks, I’ve settled on the following key questions…

MBA - Haas School of Business Diploma

  1. Why do I want an MBA? 
    I’ve heard of a number of reasons but they mostly seem to boil down to these three that draw people to consider one:
    Business Concepts — In your core curriculum you’ll learn the fundamentals of what makes companies succeed and fail mostly by studying case studies on past leaders and companies. You then may then focus during the second half of the program on on entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, or marketing concepts.
    Network – Connect with others in your program and the (potentially vast) alumni that preceded you. Thru the case-study method you’re going to learn as much from your classmates as you will from the lecturer. And after you graduate they people will be tremendous assets in business. 
    Brand – If you join a “top-tier” program it can give your resume additional strength that can help give you an edge and at least get you in the door for an interview. If it’s currently missing a top brand (a company or your undergrad) this can be one way to add one.
  2. Do people in your “dream job” have an MBA?
    A great technique is to have coffee with 4-5 people in the type of role you’d love to have in 5-10 years. Learn about their career path and what got them to where they are today. For me at the time, a number of the people shaping product at successfully scaled Silicon Valley companies had MBAs and in talking with them they recommended that I do the same—those that didn’t, as you might expect thought it wasn’t necessary. I also saw the design, product management, and business functions converging and thought an MBA would enable me to span those disciplines. 
     
  3. Full-time or Part-time?
    If you’re in your 20s, looking for a career change, or looking to launch a company in business school then a “normal” 2 year full-time program is probably best for you. It gives you the chance to close out what you were doing prior and really focus. However if you have a good job that’s teaching/paying you a lot or are looking to accellerate a career path you’re already on, you should also consider a “part-time” program (evening, weekend, executive programs). I found the advantage of “part-time” programs is that during class discussions instead of just “students” in the room, you’ll have engineers, doctors, marketers, and entrepreneurs all with a bit more “experience”. 
  4. What’s the Opportunity Cost?
    Earning an MBA will cost you a large amount of time and money. To effectively evaluate the benefits of an MBA think about what else you could do with that same investment. Start a company? Invest in stocks or real estate? Continue in a great role? For me, the MBA cost me 20 hours a week and about $80K (then)— which meant no TV, fewer social events, and I would stay with my Honda Civic for years to come. Because I was able to continue full-time in my role at eBay I was able to continue to drive my career and benefit from stock options, all while learning how to round out my capabilities on Saturdays in school.
  5. Okay, now how do I get in?
    Put yourself in the role of the MBA admissions office. They want to select people that will be able to complete the degree and then go onto become wildly successful in business—bringing prestige and alumni donations back to the school. As you write your essays, think about why the school should “invest” in you—what will make you successful and how will you be an interesting addition to a cohort. 

As a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (2008), I’m a huge fan of their program and in particular think their evening-weekend program is exceptionally well designed for people like me working in Silicon Valley on Product. 

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice, I also recently found venture capitalist Mark Suster’s 5 C’s on whether MBAs are Necessary for Startups to be helpful on what you gain and what you lose in seeking an MBA. 

A new lens on Myers-Briggs

FIRO-BAs part of my leadership course at UC Berkeley I recently took a hybrid self-assessment, facilitated by CPP, which combines the power of Myers-Briggs’ MBTI with a less well known assessment called FIRO-B.

First introduced by William Schutz in 1958, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), analyzes the dimensions of Inclusion, Control and Affection. It also probes on behaviors you tend to express as well as those that you wish others to demonstrate. Recently repositioned by CPP this tool is now rising in popularity.

The assessment and analysis uses the three FIRO dimensions to further color the factors used in the MBTI. The tool really helped me better understand my leadership style. It outlines areas of strengths as well as potential challenges I may face. Finally it provided a detailed action plan that I could utilize in developing my career plan.

Whether you are trying to better understand yourself or are looking for a tool to use in developing a career plan for someone you manage, this assessment is worth a look.

Take Assessment [Cost = $120 for 3 reports Leadership, MBTI, and FIRO-B]

Vital Friends

I have to admit I’m a junkie for the Gallup Press line of business books and Tom Rath’s latest Vital Friends is no exception. Rath asserts that we all are motivated and deeply affected by the friends that we keep. They play a key role in how happy we are, whether we stay at our current job, and even the success of our careers.

Vital Friend: noun 1. someone who measurably improves your life. 2. a person at work or in your personal life whom you can’t afford to live without.

Buy Vital Friends on eBayRath goes on to define eight types of vital friends:

  • Builder – Motivator and Coach
  • Champion – Stand up for you and show loyalty
  • Collaborator – Shares a passion with you
  • Companion – Always there for you
  • Connector – Helps introduce you to others
  • Energizer – Help motivate you and make you smile
  • Mind Opener – Expand your horizons and introduce new ideas
  • Navigator – Advice you on future direction

I’ve found it incredibly useful to reflect on the friends in my life and understand the role they are playing. For example, my wife is my companion, collaborator, and champion. It is important that I appreciate this fact as it has a tremendous influence on my outlook at work.

People with a least three close friends at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.

Also for people managers out there, understanding the importance of your team members forming vital friends at work is critical. Having them contributes to job satisfaction while the absence can often lead to attrition.

Employees who have a close friendship with their manager are more than 2.5 times as likely to be satisfied with their job.

So stop what you’re doing right now and go make a friend. 🙂

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In reading What Makes a Leader? (Goleman) I learned that while technical skills and IQ are important for senior managers to succeed it is emotional intelligence that is actually the most critical. As a long-time believer in soft skills I did not have any difficulty believing this assertion.

Emotional Intelligence’s Five Components:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.
  2. Self-Regulation: The capacity to manage one’s emotional states — to control emotionsor to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.
  3. Motivation: The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.
  4. Empathy: The capacity to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people’s emotions.
  5. Social Skill: The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
    Above as defined by Daniel Goleman & Peter Salovey.

Personal Reflection

In thinking of some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, I definitely see that they have shown strengths in emotional intelligence. And conversely as I think of hot-head or sell-absorbed leaders who were less effective–they obviously would score low on this assessment. Fortunately for all aspiring leaders most of the leading thinkers on this topic believe that while some EI is innate, much can be improved or learned with time.

For example, I am not always a great listener which hurts my ability to emphasize. Thru conscious effort I hope to improve in this area. If you know me personally, let me know how I’m doing. 🙂

Want to know more?

How to Play to Your Strengths

In the article How to Play to Your Strengths I learned about a career planning technique that focuses on 100% positive feedback—that’s right no “constructive feedback”.

The article outlines that it’s human nature to focus on the negatives (when asked people remember four negative memories for every single positive one). And yet far too often, we as managers focus on developing weaknesses in ourselves and our teams. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy put forward by Gallup Researchers Buckingham and Clifton in Now, Discover Your Strengths which, as the title suggests, focuses on the positive qualities in yourself and your teams.

Reflected Best Self (RBS) Exercise

Unlike most performance exercises, this one focuses entirely on positive feedback—no negative or “constructive” comments. Here are the four steps to this process:

  1. Identify Respondents and Ask for Feedback
    Gather feedback from a broad set of sources, including people you don’t currently work with (e.g. family members, friends, teachers). Avoid conducting it alongside traditional evaluation methods which include a negative focus
  2. Recognize Patterns
    While the sources of input will be varied, try to identify common themes.
  3. Compose your Self-Portrait
    Take the patterns that emerged and your own self-observations and write a prose narrative that describes “When I am at my best, I…”.
  4. Redesign Your Job
    Based on what you learn about yourself you may change how you work and what tasks you delegate to your team.

The self-portrait developed out of this exercise seems like a useful tool to motivate and align one’s efforts at work.

Want to know more?

Managing Oneself

Peter Drucker is a firm believer in “feedback analysis”, the process of comparing your past expectations with the actual results. In his article Managing Oneself I learned that this approach was actually popularized by John Calvin and Ignatius Loyola in the 16th Century and helped contributed to the success of the Calvinist and Jesuit movements. The concept of feedback analysis has four elements:

  1. Concentrate on your strengths
  2. Improve your strengths
  3. Overcome intellectual arrogance
  4. Avoid areas of weakness

Understanding how I perform and learn
Drucker first asks whether you are a reader or a listener? I’ve known for years that I’m a reader and visual learner. He also asks whether you perform best as a decision maker or an advisor. For me I excel in the advising role and love all the analysis and preparation that goes into a recommendation for a decision maker. Drucker would recommend that I focus on honing that ability rather than assume that I would also be good at decision making saying also that it is very difficult to change oneself. Many people over the years in the Number 2 role fail when promoted to the Number 1 position.

Understanding your values
If you are working somewhere whose organizational values are in direct conflict with your own values, then you will constantly be frustrated in your role there. Some examples:

  • Short vs. long-run company goals
  • Hiring philosophy (promote within vs. hire outside)
  • Quantity vs. Quality

Hense the importance of knowing your strengths.

On Being Ready
What Jack Welch calls “luck” and Guiliani calls “being ready”, Drucker points out how to be successful we must be prepared for opportunities:

“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunties because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person—hard-working and competent but otherwise mediocre-into an outstanding performer.” – Peter Drucker

Which leads us to Drucker’s important question which resonated with me: “What should my contribution be?” In today’s society this is not dicated to you as it once was perhaps 100 years ago. We must choose our path and ideally that path is a natural fit with our strengths and values.

Want to know more?