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What I learned about people, commitment, and quality from playing Zynga’s Words with Friends

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Social Games

There has been a spate of recent IPO‘s in the social space.  One of these is Zynga.  Zynga creates social games.  Zynga makes money by selling virtual goods and through advertising.  The Zynga stock at IPO was $10.  At the time of this writing, Zynga is trading below its IPO price. Zynga’s IPO raised about $1 Billion dollars.

So what’s the attraction of social games?  Well, I surely understand it – intellectually.  But what is the experience of it?

I thought I’d give Zynga games a try.  Zynga’s Words with Friends seemed to be my speed.  I tracked down an expert scrabble player from my social network.  I asked if she ever tried Words with Friends.  Well, she did.  And so we decided to play a few of the social games from Zynga.

The Play

When we started playing Words with Friends I was making quick moves to move the game along – experiencing the game, as was my intention.  My opponent beat me and she beat me by a lot of points.  We played another games – she beat me again.  So now it was not about “experiencing social games’.  It became something else.

There was an asymmetry in the game.  She was giving me a good game with some spectacular words in multiple dimensions.  I was not returning the favor.  That is, I was not matching her commitment to a good game,  So I changed my effort, and my commitment, and the level of play.  What were once quick moves with little consideration turned into extended studies of the board, the discovery of a strategy for play including planning the next and perhaps subsequent moves, and choosing the best option to play considering the alternate moves and point scores.

The validation

I didn’t learn anything new as much as I validated, in a very clear way, what I already knew and what I’ve observed in many corporate environments for many years.

Folks who have made it through the 1,000+ pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged may remember this exchange with Rearden, the creator of the strongest steel – Rearden metal.

You have judged every brick within this place by its value to the goal of making steel. Have you been as strict about the goal which your work and your steel are serving? What do you wish to achieve by giving your life to the making of steel? By what standard of value do you judge your days? For instance, why did you spend ten years of exacting effort to produce Rearden Metal?”

Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

“If I told you that I understand it, but you don’t—would you throw me out of here?”
“I should have thrown you out of here anyway—so go ahead, tell me what you mean.”
“Are you proud of the rail of the John Galt Line?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s the best rail ever made.”
“Why did you make it?”
“In order to make money.”
“There were many easier ways to make money. Why did you choose the hardest?”
“You said it in your speech at Taggart’s wedding: in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”
“If that was your purpose, have you achieved it?”

“to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”

It’s interesting to observe teams.  The best teams develop a commitment to each other and this sort of commitment – “my best for your best”.  In the play of Words with Friends I surely got the idea that I was not doing my best to her best.  Of course, Words with Friends has some easy moves.  All you really need to do is form a legitimate word to send the game on its way.  But just forming any word will not win the game nor will it make the game interesting.  There is a direct analogy of this to teams of individuals working on projects.  Some give their best and some just do the least required to move the project along.  Those who do the least are often not embarrassed by their poor performance.

The Real Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson wrote an excellent book on the life of Steve Jobs.  It was published shortly after the death of Jobs.  Before Isaacson’s book there was “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs“.  The reality of this is that there are no “secrets” of Innovation.  It’s not about secrets, it’s about choices among options that are clearly visible. As regards the leadership style of Steve Jobs and what made Apple so successful you don’t need to be a genius.  The genius has already been accomplished and demonstrated to the tune of more than $300B in Apple’s market capitalization.  What you need to discern are the choices that Apple (Steve Jobs) made that positioned Apple for its amazing success

Isaacson says as much in the April 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.  The lead-in to  the special article on Jobs’s Leadership style is this… “Six months after Jobs’s death, the author of this best-selling biography identifies the practices that every CEO can try to emulate

The article lists 14 practices.  One of them is… “Tolerate Only “A” Players”

Jobs was famously  impatient , petulant, and tough with the people around him.  But his treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his desire for perfection and his desire to work with only the best.  It was his way  of preventing what he called “the bozo explosion,” in which managers are so polite that mediocre people feel comfortable sticking around..  “I don’t think I run roughshod over people,” he said, “but if something sucks I tell people to their face.  It’s my job to be honest,”  When I pressed him on whether he could have gotten the same results while being nicer, he said perhaps so.  “But it’s not who I am,” he said,  “Maybe there’s a better way – a gentleman’s club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet code words – but I don’ t know that way, because I am middle class from California”

The Take

Why do some people do their best and why do some people just go through the motions?  In Atlas Shrugged, Rearden wanted to make money – but he did it in the hardest way possible.  Why?  It really wasn’t only about the money, it was about the commitment to the exchange, in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.  Money comes along for the ride just as Steve Jobs stressed by placing a priority of products over profits.  If you make insanely great products the profits will follow.

Does “my best for your best” exist only in an idealistic world that does not exist in reality?  In a sense, you need to create and maintain such a world.  This gets to Jobs’s leadership practice of “Tolerate Only A Players” to guard against what he called the “bozo explosion” of mediocre people.  Hire the best people in the world and maintain the culture by the disciple of straight talk and confronting people.

Perhaps social games are a stealth way to measure commitment.  These games are essentially meaningless.  The best people do the best they can no matter what it is.  And if you ask why perhaps the response from Rearden in Atlas Shrugged should suffice.  Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

As far as investing in Zynga and the potential for monetizing social games… The jury is still out.  But in testing the experience of social games I was glad to get yet another confirmation that there are folks out there that always do their best – no matter what it is – and they can still take me along for the ride.

Related Articles

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Zynga’s pre-IPO S1 filing

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Written by frrl

May 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

Perhaps it’s time for you to retire – “without cause”

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It’s always interesting to watch companies…  what they do…  and what they try to get away with…  and what they hide… and what they disclose… and how they manage their image.

And in all of this, you as – shareholder, employee, stakeholder, or other interested party get to make an assessment of what the company thinks of you when they make public statements that affect your view of the company, its executives, and the company performance in general.  Are they (the company PR) telling you the truth?  Or, are they trying to cover something up?

You may or may not have a stake in the company.  If not, then these events can be pure entertainment and, perhaps, an education for what to watch for in those companies or organizations in which you do have a stake.

So over the past few months we have come to the end of the calendar year.  Christmas and the holidays is a nice time for senior executives to retire.  Of course, upon the announcement of retirement, there will be a glowing and rosy statement of the senior executives accomplishments and achievements over the years the senior executive has been with the company.

But how many of these are voluntary retirements and how many of these are, what I will call, “retirements with cause” at the hands of corporate Board of Directors?

How can you determine if the “retirement” of a senior executive is voluntary or if s/he was “shown the door” by the Board?

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Written by frrl

December 24, 2011 at 6:25 am

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VMWARE Fusion 4 – the apple from the Garden of Eden

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You could wonder if VMWARE Fusion 4 is the work of the devil.  Or perhaps it’s the snake from the Garden of Eden.  Or in the ultimate irony and twist of fate, perhaps VMWARE Fusion 4 is the apple from the Garden of Eden, offered by Eve to Adam, which was responsible for the downfall of Mankind.

That’s exactly what VMWARE Fusion 4 seems to be.  It’s a temptation.  Fusion 4 from VMWARE allows Mac OS X users the capability to run a Windows operating system on a Macintosh.  Or worse, it allows the wholesale migration of an entire existing Windows machine into the Mac.  Why would anyone want to do that?

I and other true-blue Mac users know that a Windows operating system should never be installed on a Mac.  To install Windows on a Mac would be like seeing a velvet Elvis hanging in the Louvre Museum in Paris.    It simply is not done.  And you don’t have to explain this to people who understand.  You don’t have to convince anyone at the Louvre why a velvet Elvis should not be there just as you don’t need to explain to true Mac users why Windows should never be co-mingled with the Mac.

We all understand why.  Steve Jobs said it best

The only problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste and what that means is – and I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way – in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product… Why is that important?  Proportionately spaced fonts comes from typesetting and beautiful books – that’s where one gets the idea.  If it weren’t for the Mac they [Microsoft] would never have that.  I am saddened not by Microsoft’s success – I have no problem with their success; they have earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact they make really third-rate products. – Steve Jobs

Boot Camp

This is why I have avoided Mac Boot Camp.  Boot Camp provides the capability to install Windows in a partition on a Mac computer.  It’s probably the case the Steve Jobs, a good  business person, reluctantly agreed to building this capability into a Mac.  Perhaps this  provided an opportunity to win more Mac users if Apple offered a machine that could run both the Mac and Windows operating systems.  So, Boot Camp may be Apple’s offering of redemption in the post apocalyptic Garden of Eden that we now live in where the majority of personal computers are based on Microsoft Windows.

A moment of weakness

In a moment of weakness I decided to see what the snake was offering.  You can get a 30 day trial of VMWARE Fusion 4 from the VMWARE website.

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Written by frrl

November 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Real Men in the Digital Age

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A while ago I went wandering into the local Microcenter.  Microcenter sells lots of stuff – computers, cameras, printers, books, calculators, and all the rest.  Basically, they sell computer stuff.  They also sell T-shirts.  What sort of T-shirt would I find at Microcenter?

There was a display for “Geekware” in the corner.  What sorts of T-shirts would be in the bin?  I took a look.  One of the T-shirts had this in white letters on a black shirt.

“Real men don’t use computers, they BUILD them.”

Curious.  I searched on-line to find a picture of this T-shirt for this posting.  Couldn’t find one.  But, I did come up with this which is a similar sentiment.

So, lets stick with “Real men don’t use computers, they BUILD them.” with all deference to those who build elevators.  Obviously, the intent of this saying presupposes someone would buy this T-shirt as a status symbol.  If this saying is a status symbol to a certain demographic of buyer then what are these people  thinking?

I remember hearing this sort of  thing from IT (Information Technology) System Admins:  “These machines would run better if there were no users logged in.”  There was a recent episode of the The Big Bang Theory where one of the guys was going to spend an enjoyable evening installing a dozen operating systems on this machines while his roomate was planning to go on a date.

Bottom line, seems that some folks think of  technology as an end in itself.

I picked up the new book on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and am working through it.  What strikes me about Steve’s conception of the Macintosh computer was that it would “change the world”.  The computer was to be an enabler for people to do wonderful things.  And so it has – Desktop publishing, digital darkroom, music, movies, and all that the computer has enabled us to do on the Internet.

Real men don’t use computers?  Really?

Building computers today is assembling pre-manufactured functional parts (case, disk drive, motherboard, CPU, memory chips, etc.) using little more than a screwdriver.  Today “they build them” is not what The Woz did when he designed, built, and wrote the software for the first generation of Apple I computers.

I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.

Some look at an airplane and see a half-million parts flying in formation.  Other’s see it as transportation to see the world.  Some see computers as an assembly of components with the goal of little more than to run an operating system.  Others see computers as a tool that enables and extends human creativity and imagination.

In the book on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson there is a picture of Steve in his home in Palo Alto.  The picture was taken in 2004.  The caption has this quote.

I like living at the intersection of the humanities and technology.  — Steve Jobs

What is the value of technolgy without people and society and art and design?

In Apple products, the technology exists only for and because of the user.

Apple products are the convergence of technology, art, and design.  People love holding, looking at, and using  the iPad, iPhone, Macbook Air, and the rest of the product line.  These products are not stamped out pieces of sheet metal that characterize so many consumer products. 

Steve Jobs had the kind of  thinking that enabled Apple to become the second largest U.S. company by market capitalization behind Exxon Mobil.  Apple surpassed $300 billion dollars in valuation in 2011.

Think Different!

Written by frrl

October 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm

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The difference between leaders and managers

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From Seth Godin’s Blog on 22 Oct 2011

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.

Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.

We need both. But we have to be careful not to confuse them.

And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.

The difference between leaders and manager is a well-worn topic.

Here is another take

Management is about results. A manager is given certain assets – people, money, and equipment – and they are expected to make the most of them to deliver an expected outcome. Management is quantifiable, measurable, and almost a science. Companies gain a significant advantage over competitors by being more adept as practitioners of the management discipline.

Leadership is an art. It’s the secret ingredient that makes people commit more of themselves to their work, to make extra effort, and make work personal and not just part of their job.

Management is almost mechanical and  a well-understood discipline.  Leadership is selling the vision and engaging people and is not so easily learned or replicated.

Managers focus on yesterday and today.  Leaders invent tomorrow.

People report to managers, but they follow leaders.  

People who have no followers are not leaders – no matter where they are in the organizational hierarchy.

Admired leaders focus their time and attention on others. They do not place themselves at the center; they place others there. They do not seek the attention of others; they give their attention to others. They do not focus on satisfying their own aims and desires; they look for ways to respond to the needs and interests of their constituents. They are not self-centered; they are constituent-centered.

At times leadership has to be tough.   Leadership is also about getting the right people in the right jobs and getting the wrong people out.

By about age 25-35 it’s interesting how people sort themselves out in the workplace – Leader, manager, or individual contributor.  And generally, the choice they make will follow them to the end of their careers.

Who better to consult in this topic than Steve Jobs. Here are a few quotes

On employees

My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.
—CNNMoney.com/Fortune, February 2008

On firing employees…

It’s painful when you have some people who are not the best people in the world and you have to get rid of them; but I found my job has sometimes exactly been that—to get rid of some people who didn’t measure up and I’ve always tried to do it in a humane way. But nonetheless it has to be done and it is never fun.
—Smithsonian Institution Oral and Video Histories, April 20, 1995

On a culture of excellence…

People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.
—Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward, 1987

On corporate culture…

It’s not just recruiting. After recruiting, it’s building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision—all those things.
—In the Company of Giants, 1997

On Accomplishment…

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me.… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful—that’s what matters to me.
—CNNMoney/Fortune, May 25, 1993

Written by frrl

October 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm

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Steve Jobs, a life well-lived

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What is there to say about Steve Jobs?
There is everything to say, and nothing to say.
There is nothing to say because what Steve accomplished – the demonstration of his talent – says it all.
There is everything to say because of what can be learned from him.

Personal Stories about Steve

I met Steve Jobs twice.  It was in the mid to late 1980’s when Steve founded NeXT after getting booted out of Apple.  On both occasions a small group of people from research universities were invited to come see the NeXT factory in Redwood City California and talk to Steve about the NeXT computer in education and research.  We got treated to dinner with Steve at a nearby restaurant  and had some Question & Answer time with him. 

Many people have stories about Steve.  There is the public Steve and the not-so-public Steve.  At one of these events at NeXT, during dinner, I was talking with a 20-something CEO of a company that was doing NeXT software development.  Near the end of dinner we saw Steve sitting by the bar by himself.  We wandered over there to have a one-on-one chat.

On the day that Steve died many people were asked to tell a personal story about Steve.  Some of these folks were caught a bit off guard and really did not have too much time to think about what they were going to say.  They told a story of a personal encounter which portrayed a Steve Jobs that was very blunt, to the point, and had little regard for the use of delicate language.

That was my experience with Steve.  He is very direct, to the point, and has excellent use of the language – in all its forms.  What I did not expect is for Steve Jobs to give the 20-something year old some unsolicited advice about women.  But he did.

The Reality Distortion Field

I also did experience what some have called “The Reality Distortion Field”.  This is a field surrounding Steve Jobs when he is talking about an idea or vision.  If you are within the reach of this field it’s hard NOT to see the future he describes.  But once at a short distance outside the reach of the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field you wonder if it’s at all possible.  An example of the Steve Jobs RDF is NeXT to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate and personal investors.

“I want to put a dent in the Universe” – Steve Jobs

What is for sure is that Steve Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple.  Some people go through life never finding their passion or their place.  You ask people in grammar school, “What do you want to do?”  They don’t know.  You ask them again in High School.  They don’t know.  You ask them in College.  They still don’t know.  And in life, their job, is a choice by accident and they can’t wait to retire if they only had enough money.  Retire to do what?.  They don’t know.

I believe that Steve Jobs always had an answer the question, “What do you want to do?.  And the answer was simple, “I want to change the world”.  His whole life was a demonstration of that simple principle.

So, who’s next and what’s next for Apple?

Steve Jobs hand-picked Tim Cook as CEO of Apple before stepping down as CEO due to his illness.  Why?  It does not seem an obvious choice.  If you read this postI tried to make the point that there is a huge difference between those who are creative and visionary and those who are operations and support people.  A company needs both – Vision and execution.  Both sets of skills in the same person is unlikely

Who is Tim Cook?  From the Apple Web site

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple and serves on its Board of Directors.Before being named CEO in August 2011, Tim was Apple’s Chief Operating Officer and was responsible for all of the company’s worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple’s supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries. He also headed Apple’s Macintosh division and played a key role in the continued development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships, ensuring flexibility in response to an increasingly demanding marketplace.

Prior to joining Apple, Tim was vice president of Corporate Materials for Compaq and was responsible for procuring and managing all of Compaq’s product inventory. Previous to his work at Compaq, Tim was the chief operating officer of the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics.

I suppose I can ask the question many people are asking.  Tim Cook is clearly a guy that can keep the lights on and the “trains running on time”.  But can he lead a visionary company like Apple given the track record of the shadow of Steve Jobs?  Given Tim’s experience, I’d say, “no”.   (read more)

The Take

Having grown up using Apple Products and following the career of Steve Jobs I can say that Steve Jobs is an example of a life well-lived.  His life and his work should be an inspiration to everyone.

Some links which may be of interest

Written by frrl

October 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm

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Some thoughts on Apple and average products for average people

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I’ve had my Mac Mini for 1 day. But seeing it sitting there on my desk next to my PC I thought of something Steve Jobs said in an interview back in the 1990’s when he was CEO of NeXT.

The only problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste and what that means is – and I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way – in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product… Why is that important?  Proportionately spaced fonts comes from typesetting and beautiful books – that’s where one gets the idea.  If it weren’t for the Mac they [Microsoft] would never have that.  I am saddened not by Microsoft’s success – I have no problem with their success; they have earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact they make really third-rate products. – Steve Jobs

The Mac mini, a single piece of sculpted aluminum 7.7-inches square and 1.4-inches tall, is sitting next to my behemoth PC.  The PC’s case was made by forcing a sheet of cheap steel into a rectangular box.  I remember the NeXT Cube that I had on my desk in the early 1990’s.  The case was a cube of magnesium and inside was the NeXT Step operating system based on the Mach Kernel.  The GUI was clean and crisp based on display postscript.  One cable brought power and video to the monitor from the cube.

What do consumer products really tell you?

I collect old radios.  I recently acquired a Hallicrafters WR600.  It’s a 4 band shortwave receiver.  The WR600’s were produced between 1961 and 1964.   What do these radio’s represent?

On first pass, these radio’s represent something of the history of radio.  The WR600 is a tube radio (fire bottles).  For as long as there are RF radio broadcasts these radios are both collectible and usable every day.

On second pass, and thinking of the quote above from Jobs, take a look at the radio (links below).  Take a look at the cabinet.  This is another example of someone bashing out a piece of sheet metal and forming it into a rectangular box.

The real icing on the cake of the Hallicrafters WR600 is that someone at Hallicrafters decided it would be a good idea to apply a wood grain to the sheet metal cabinet.  So, you have a radio that has an obvious sheet metal case covered with a picture of perfect wood grain.  Is anyone being fooled by this?

Add to this the fact that the Hallicrafters WR600 has no power transformer.  This means that one side of the power cord is soldered to the metal case.  It also has a non-polarized plug.  So, plug the radio in and you might end up with the chassis and case at 110 volts.  Touch the radio and something at ground potential at the same time and you will find the value of cutting corners by not using a power transformer – at your expense.  Shocking!

Take a look around you for mediocre products.  How many pieces of furniture do you see made out of particle board covered with a veneer?

What do consumer products tell you about manufacturers, the buyer, and the culture?

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Written by frrl

June 1, 2011 at 5:17 am

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