Pain Points Point to Opportunity

#23 Always Search for the Worst

This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

Optimists see the glass as half full. Pessimists see the glass as half empty. Designers see the need for a better glass.

The idea behind Bruce Mau’s 23rd Design Principle is that designers have an entrepreneurial mindset. Instead of setting up camp in areas already enriched by brilliantly designed solutions, they always search for the worst. Why? Because where there is failure, there is a lack of design, and that’s where design-thinkers can contribute the most.

“Designers see the world upside down,” Bruce says. “The biggest problem is the biggest opportunity. Good things are bad. Bad things are good. Terrible things are awesome. We have a first-responder mindset — we run towards the problem.  We’re looking for the biggest challenges, because that’s where the biggest opportunities are.”

Some of the best problems are ones created by our own success. For example, think of all the breakthroughs made to promote wellness, safety and extended human life expectancy. “The fact that we’re over seven-billion people creates a whole new set of problems,” Bruce points out. “And we’re over seven-billion people because we’ve solved so many problems.  If we failed more frequently, we’d have fewer problems. So this is a way of daily looking at where the opportunity lies.” And there’s plenty of evidence for just how well this methodology works.

Bruce points to some of the case studies collected in C. K. Prahalad’s  “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” In one story, Dr. V of Aravind (a ground-breaking eye care institution) made it his goal to design a way to eradicate needless blindness among India’s millions of poor people. Because they couldn’t afford treatment by an ophthalmologist and lacked the means of getting to a health care facility, blindness due to curable things like cataracts was rampant.  Designing a system to deliver quick, inexpensive eye surgery required that his team rethink every aspect of eyecare, from setting up rural eye care screening camps, to arranging transportation, to training surgeons and nurses to perform in new ways, with efficiently designed surgical rooms to take time out of the procedure. As a result, efficiencies went up, costs went down, and the contribution made by patients who could afford care was enough to cover the free services provided to the poor. Today, according to a Huffington Post article, Aravind surgeons to do more than five times the number of cataract surgeries performed by an average Indian doctor, and 10 times that of a typical US physician. Best of all, this proven system is now being replicated in developing countries throughout the world.

How does this apply to our industry? At the very top of the pyramid — exclusive, well-funded events have the resources to invest more in experimentation and the development of innovative ideas. At the base of the pyramid, the challenges are huge, because often there are more customers to serve but fewer resources to bring to the solution.  This points to a tremendous opportunity. If we can design solutions to elevate the experience of myriad exhibitors and trade show participants — and make that scale around the world — we can have a big impact.

Where should we begin? Bruce would tell us to search for the worst. Are people waiting in long lines to register? Are they eating mediocre food? Are they having trouble getting to the one exhibit they most want to see? “Anywhere there is friction, where people are not happy or satisfied, those are all opportunities for making money,” Bruce says. “They are all opportunities to create new value, to advance our industry.”

Digital technology has opened the door to innovations that simplify workstreams, engage audiences, and help personalize the experience. Consider the problem of sleep-inducing general sessions.  Sync™ by Freeman second-screen technology (formerly FXP|touch) gives presenters a way to connect with audiences in real time, assess their level of engagement, seek feedback and address their questions. It scales to any size audience and requires no special app downloads — just a web connection.

One of the most exhilarating things about working in the arena of live brand experience is that there is so much that we can improve. “Pain points” point to a need for designed solutions. Optimization is opportunity. In the new world of design thinking, it’s the optimist who notices what’s wrong.

Beware of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Early lessons in leadership – #8

If you’ve ever watched toddlers playing in a room full of toys, you may have noticed them trying to pick up a new bauble without putting down the toy they’re already holding. They are curious about the new object, but reluctant to let another child grab what they’ve got. Eventually they walk around holding toys they can’t play with, because their hands are too full.

I’ve seen similar behavior at various companies across my many years in the industry. There always seems to be that one person who is eager to grab a new position with new responsibilities but who refuses to let go of the old one. Even when they can’t possibly do their old job and the new one with any level of success.

Some of this can be attributed to a simple reluctance to give up the known for the unknown, which is perfectly natural. But the situation I have in mind is a situation where all that matters is “who’s got the bigger pile of stuff” at the end of the day.

I’m thinking back several years to the chance I had to promote a high-achieving executive. I was creating a new job that offered huge opportunity and I was taking a bit of risk betting on this guy. He had a reputation as a fixer and the results to back it up, and I felt he earned my confidence. I also knew I could find others to take on his current assignments, which were important but not especially challenging, to free him up for this chance to really define and own the new piece of the business.

I was excited to create this opportunity for him, so you can imagine my dismay when, after explaining the promotion, he took issue with my insistence that we redistribute his current work. He actually became obsessed about what I was “taking away from him” instead of focusing on everything I was laying at his feet. He implied that I didn’t trust him. In fact, the opposite was true — I trusted him so much, I was placing a big bet on his success. But I wasn’t so naive, or so heartless, to expect that he could add another full-time job to the one he already had. (Even though that’s what he wanted.) The new opportunity was huge, but I couldn’t afford to go backward on the existing business.

In hindsight, maybe he thought I was looking for a hero, someone who could carry even more weight without complaining. In fact, I was looking for a leader to come up with a vision for success and inspire the team to win big in a new arena. He thought he could do it all and do it better. I wanted to give him the bandwidth to do more than “better;” I wanted him to take our business to a whole new place.

Sadly, the result was one I’ve seen play out time and again. By acting betrayed, and walking around the office like a kicked puppy, other people picked up on his attitude and assumed he’d fallen out of favor. Because he acted like he’d been taken down a notch (even though he’d been promoted) it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our coworkers were happy to listen to his complaints and console him for his “loss” — but they no longer saw him as the top dog.

In today’s fast-change, high-growth environment, we must all expect that our job responsibilities will be continuously reshuffled and redefined. The best way to set ourselves up for success is to rise above our fears and design the next opportunity. To do this effectively, we must make sure the self-fulfilling prophecy in our head is one of professional success, regardless of what we attempt.

Think about this the next time your job is redefined. (Sooner or later, it will be.) Make the decision to jettison whatever narrative —whatever baggage — is holding you back. You may have to get out of your comfort zone, say farewell to favorite clients, go where there are fewer names beneath yours on the company flow chart, or even give up your illusions of playing the hero who can do everything at once.

Only when we let go of these things can we grab the next opportunity with both hands. Only then can we design a better future.

You’ve Got Mail (You Don’t Know it)

Early lessons in leadership – #7.

Early in my career, circa 1990, my work in the nascent tech-media industry forced me to raise my game in computer literacy.  It was a humbling experience — but a great learning opportunity.

I was hired by Seybold Seminars, and when asked about my computer experience, I felt pretty confident.  After all, I had a rudimentary understanding of DOS — I knew how to enter a password to access a central inventory database — what else could there be?

So, there I was, the new guy, when my new boss asked me to cover for her while she went to Australia on holiday. She explained that she’d sent all of her contracts and follow-up information to my in-box. I assured her I was on it. After she left the country, I couldn’t find anything I needed, so I went down to the mailroom and explained that I was looking for some missing files. What I discovered was that she’d sent everything to my email box. I didn’t even know I had one — or how to use it. Epic fail.

For a few days, my work life felt like a bad sit-com. To get it back on track, I had to swallow my pride, make myself vulnerable, and ask for help with email procedures that now seem rudimentary. I had to learn an all-new way of working, and it was pretty intimidating.

Fortunately, I had an awesome, generous boss who saw beyond my shortcomings to the core competencies she knew I brought to the table.  That helped my bruised ego, because I shared her office, and had to learn a suite of new technology tools right in front of her. Every time I fat-fingered something and my Mac computer blasted  a “FAIL” noise, she just shouted out the command sequences I needed.

I never forgot the two lessons I learned from this humiliating experience. First – if you don’t know, don’t fake it. It’s better to be vulnerable and ask for help than to exacerbate the problem. Second – be patient with people who need help learning the ropes. True leaders, like my boss at Seybold, understand the importance of hiring for essential abilities and culture fit. Skills can be taught, but values define us. And empathy is a two-way street.

The Economic Upside of Passion

#22 Work On What You Love

This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

At first glance, the advice to “work on what you love” feels a little soft — less like a design principle and more like an inspirational poster in a recruiting office. But the more we think about this principle, the more it’s evident that it should be directed not only to individuals seeking employment, but also to managers and clients looking to optimize their teams.

Companies that want to attract and keep the best talent need to seek out opportunities for their people to contribute to the assignments they’ll find most stimulating. In the brand experience category, we need to arrange it so that gear-heads and auto enthusiasts can work on car shows, foodies support the trade shows for restaurants and food science,  and gamers work on the related tech conferences.

“This might be the most important principle of all,” Bruce says, “because it lets us align talent and energy behind the right opportunity. You want alignment between talent, communities and opportunities — things you can contribute the most to.”

The benefits of this approach to assigning work become exponential when we consider what it means to clients. Imagine a medical association putting a job out to bid that involves strategy and content development. They know they will have to get the new agency team up to speed on everything ranging from government regulations to the obscure scientific issues that are top-of-mind with their target audiences. But when they have the option of working with someone who already has a passion for the medical field — has a ten-year jump on the newbie — they actually save time and money. This is equally true for any event with esoteric appeal. By engaging with people who have a passion for a category, brand or community, there is a much greater chance of finding a new innovation, a new way to be relevant, or a new way to disrupt that marketplace. From this perspective, it’s easy to see that by aligning your people behind brands they feel passionate about, your value to the client is much, much higher.

The beauty of having the kind of scale we do at Freeman is that we serve clients whose expertise runs the full spectrum of business sectors, educational or political causes, and fan-based events. We just need to get better at finding ways to let people raise their hands and say, “I want to work on that — I love that.”

We recently put this to the test by sending one of our senior creative executives to China to help launch a car account for which he had a lifetime’s passion and several collectible models. He walked in knowing the brand’s rich design history, the technical details of each model, and how to lean into its legacy to charm potential buyers. After the event, one of the brand’s largest dealers called our client to tell him it was the best event the factory had every done. Our client was ecstatic — and so was our “brand ambassador,” who contributed so much.

“That’s why we want to organize around sectors,” says Bruce. “The culture of our client — it’s so valuable to us, we can’t overstate it.  It means we understand the language of their culture and immediately add value.”

How does this principle apply to young people who aren’t lucky enough to find employment in their chosen field? Bruce points to advice that the actor Alec Baldwin wished he’d given his 20-year-old self, “try not to need money ‘til you’re in your 30s.” The point is, focus on your craft when you’re young, not on fame or fortune.

While the idea is a bit poetic, Bruce notes that as a much younger person trying to launch his career, he lived like an impoverished student so that he could focus his energy on doing great design work, regardless of pay. He likened working on what he loves to sending out a beacon to the like-minded design-thinkers he felt destined to learn from and work with – people who were also seeking him. “I knew that any time I compromised my work, it would be harder for them to find me…” Bruce explains.  “I found those people…. And it’s only possible because I did that. For me, that’s what working on what you love means.”

If working on what you love puts you in the path of other people working on what they love, the potential for collaborating on satisfying work is huge. For business leaders, it means tapping the passion of your people and aligning it behind your customers’ brands. Creating opportunities for employees to work on what they love creates new possibilities to connect people in meaningful ways and inspire massive change.

That’s what I love about my work.

The Power of Being Alone with Yourself

Early lessons in leadership – #6

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a young executive was forced on me by circumstances beyond my control. Left to my own devices, I might never have learned that using quiet time to find clarity requires intent.

I’m an extrovert by nature — I always have been — and I love to be around people, share ideas, get feedback, and build that kind of synergistic energy.  So, it took a life-changing event to reveal the power of spending time alone.

As a social person who found that collaboration always worked well for me, I had neither the inclination nor the opportunity to spend much time in solitary reflection. Then, in the early ‘90s, I took an assignment in Japan. My wife had a job she liked back in the states, so the “commute” was extreme. I didn’t really know anyone in Japan except my co-workers, who were anxious to spend weekend time with their families.

This was before social media and the universal adoption of email. It was also before international mobile phones (we had those expensive things the size of a thermos – and I was actually armed with the famous “International Calling Card”).  Even so, scheduling a call with friends and loved ones was challenging, given the extreme difference in time zones. Instead of living out of an American hotel, I rented an apartment, where people pretty much kept to themselves.  And of course, the television and entertainment options were in Japanese, so none of the usual distractions were available. As you can imagine, the combination of these factors proved very isolating.

For the first time in my life, I had blocks of time alone — time spent in my own head — with no one handy to discuss my day, the decisions to be made, or the general trivialities of a life shared with friends and family. I really missed the interaction. But in hindsight, this unlocked the opportunity to spend concentrated time in reflection — something I would never have sought intentionally. And it turned out to be one of the most significant periods I’ve ever experienced.

There’s a lot of power in slowing down, reflecting, not making excuses, and taking the time to be honest with yourself. And you simply can’t do that in the few minutes spent waiting for an appointment or stuck in traffic. Spending time by myself, I was confronted with my own uninterrupted thoughts. I learned a lot about who I was and what I wanted to be.

Today, it’s harder than ever to shut out the rest of the world, which means that time alone is something that needs to be designed, scheduled, and honored. Call it meditation if it helps. Or tell people you need to give your brain time to reboot. But give it a try. I can honestly say that the time I spent in contemplation — even though it was because there were no better options — made a profound difference in my life. I went to Japan as one person and came back another.  I started out as something of a hot-headed, impatient American business guy who thought he had all the answers, and came back as someone more centered, more intentional, more in tune with what was going on in my head and in the world around me.

Of course, I didn’t realize at that time what a profound change it had made. But now I can see it. The great thing about reflection is that, when you take time to know yourself better, you become more discerning about the outcomes and goals you want to achieve, and also what you don’t want. Once you understand the path you’re on, you make better decisions about how to move forward and achieve your dreams for the future. If that’s not worthwhile, what is?

Quantity X Consumption = Massive Impact

#21 Design the Platform for The Impact Double Double

This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

In the previously published design principle about The Power Double Double, Bruce Mau talked about how massive change happens when improved capability coincides with increased quantity — i.e., exponential population growth. This next design principle — Design for the Impact Double Double — is its mirror. It asks us to consider the impact on our world when the outputs of individual consumption are multiplied not only by increased population, but by social advances that bring both the benefits and excesses of a modern lifestyle to a greater percentage of that population.

One look at the Great Pacific garbage patch, 80,000 metric tons of plastic floating out in the ocean, demonstrates the potential ramifications of ignoring this principle. But it also underscores the opportunity to apply design thinking in ways that create positive massive change. Big challenges equate to big opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs.  Consider what young Boylan Hatch and 12-year-old Anna Du are already doing to put this principle into action.

What does this mean for our industry? How do we find new ways to create more value with less stuff? “This is a huge opportunity for our planet, our industry and also for our business,” says Bruce. “Every time you take waste out, you capture value. You capture resources. That’s the opportunity!”

There has been a lot of progress made in the expositions industry in terms of recycling and repurposing materials used to create exhibits —but we still have much to do to eliminate the global practice of “build and burn.” One of the primary obstacles is that we are severely restricted by load-in and load-out times. Too often, there simply isn’t enough time to disassemble and repurpose everything, because the trucks are already driving up to unload for the next big show.

How do we design for this challenge of saving both time and the materials we want to recycle or reuse? Chatting with Bruce about The Double Double Impact got me thinking about Moore’s Law – and how the doubling of installed transistors on silicon chips occurs 12-18 months, while the costs are halved.  I tried to imagine this kind of efficiency in our world of brand experiences, but since our cost is largely based on labor hours, it seems impossible. One way we can begin to make a difference, however, is to design from a time standpoint. Bruce urges us to think about shifting where and how labor is used. For example, we can “spend” more of our labor before the show by designing modular exhibit pieces that can be quickly loaded and assembled on site – and more easily disassembled at the end of the show, so materials can be reused.  By preassembling some of the pieces, and making sure everything is sized for a 53-foot truck trailer, we save time and labor cost that we can invest elsewhere. As Bruce puts it, “If it is designed in a modular way to go in, you’d save time on the load-in, and you’d save material on the load-out.”

That’s the thinking behind the beautiful, highly configurable display system that we plan to market as Flex by Freeman™. Its use of modular assembly units means that it’s easier to create attractive,  beautiful exhibits that quickly go up and down. And its aluminum structure means it’s lightweight, can be repurposed indefinitely, and can be recycled much like an aluminum Coke can.

“We have a very limited time to do what we need to do,” Bruce explains. “We can use the labor savings to do more, not less. By reducing the cost in one area, it allows us to do amazing things in others…. What Flex allows us to do is spend more time on things that matter. More time on things that add value to our client. And that’s good for the business, it’s good for the industry, it’s good for our clients.”

Designing for The Impact Double Double may begin with a desire to improve sustainability. But the beauty of innovating for massive change is that the benefits are often greater than we first realize. We’re seeing it in every industry, from bottling companies to agriculture.

“So many of the things that we do now, people said for years, you can’t do it – it’s impossible,” Bruce notes. “And yet people are solving these things. We’re moving to waste-free ecology and a waste-free economy. Ultimately, that’s where we’re going to get to, if we’re going to be here. If there’s going to be 7-plus billion of us, we’re going to change the model of what we do.”

That’s The Impact Double Double. That’s the power of design thinking.

Time to be Thankful for Time Well Spent

Time is the new currency — how will you invest it?

In the U.S., November brings the celebration of Thanksgiving and a reminder to count our blessings. I am grateful to work on what I love, to enjoy the friendship of so many awesome Freeman colleagues and clients, and to be loved by family members who inspire me every day. Not surprising, each Thanksgiving my deep sense of gratitude evolves into a resolution to design my time better, so that it aligns with my priorities. I vow to spend more time focused on people and opportunities that really matter. I think I’m getting better at this, but I still fail when things that seem urgent displace those that are truly important. Meetings that run long. A stack of email in which I’m one of 100 people copied. Daily inefficiencies. Maybe this is something we can help each other eliminate.

Bruce Mau and I were chatting the other day about how time is the currency of modern marketers. With all respect to Benjamin Franklin, we agreed that his truism “time is money” is no longer true nor timely. Franklin’s “Advice to a young Tradesman” assumes that there is an excess of time that can be converted to ready cash. Work longer hours, make more money. This may have been sound advice 270 years ago, but in the 21st Century, most people I know would gladly pay any ransom to get back  some portion of their hijacked time. In this sense, time itself is the treasure, and gold the means to redeem it.

We agree to this exchange more than we realize. Every time we pay more for the convenience of having something done for us or delivered to us, every time we use an app to shave minutes off a transaction, every time we choose a higher-priced custom solution over one that requires us to shop for what we want, we are buying time. What we do with that saved time is worth thinking about. Are we allowing people and things to drain away precious minutes that we’ve allotted to more meaningful things? Or can we commit to acting with intent by truly designing how our time is spent? We hear a lot about work/life balance, and it begins with design thinking. Considering our work goals, family goals and our personal goals, how do we want to spend the 24 hours of each day?

Yes, this is totally a #FirstWorldProblem. But the time/value transaction determines how our lives are spent, so it’s worth considering. We are all rushing around. But what are we rushing to? Something worthwhile? Something that helps a customer or a colleague? Or simply a  blurb on the Outlook calendar that insists we scurry off?

Next, consider our impact on others. Are we respectful of their time, or are we in the habit of grabbing as much as we can get? In our industry, we need to design brand experiences in a way that helps both attendees and exhibitors make the most of the time they’ve invested to participate. For attendees, this means helping them quickly identify and experience things that align with their priorities. For exhibitors, it means facilitating the meaningful connections and leads they need to grow their business. For everyone involved, wasting time is tantamount to robbing them of their treasure. So we must design events to purge all the things that waste time: long lines, poor directional signage, pointless general sessions, etc. By respecting people’s time — by making each moment count — we give them more of what they prize most. And that builds loyalty.

Consider this less frequently quoted bit of advice from Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” — “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.”

We all want to spend our lives doing things that are worthwhile — things that matter — with  the people who matter most to us. Let’s begin by being grateful for the time we’re given, and being respectful of each other’s.

Finding a Cultural Fit

Early lessons in leadership – #5.

Freeman is noted for its strong culture — 90 years in the making, and a source of pride for all of us. But in recent years, as we’ve acquired new companies and brought in new leaders, I’m reminded that it can take a while to feel like you fit in. It’s especially hard when everyone else seems to share a coded language and ritualized behaviors that you don’t quite grasp. I remember the first time I had to learn how to fit in, and how hard it was to be patient with that process of acceptance.

My eye-opening career experience happened when, as a young man, I went to work for Seybold Seminars & Publications. The company worked out of an old mansion, right on the beach in Malibu, next door to Johnny Carson’s old house. Reception was in the foyer, shipping and receiving was in the dining room, marketing was in the living room, customer service was just off the kitchen, and our offices were in the bedrooms. For a kid from Indiana, it all seemed pretty exotic — even the people.  Especially the people. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what to make of me, either. We were similar in age and education – but came from different worlds.

Early on, I was initiated into one of my first trials as “the new guy.” One of the rituals that my new team engaged in was running down to the beach and seeing how far they could fling an old beach chair. To me, it seemed like childish chest thumping, but I played along. It was only later that I realized what it was all about. I thought they were sizing up my physical prowess as a man. But in fact, the chair-tossing game was something they enjoyed that was uniquely their own. What they were sizing up was who I was as a person – how I handled the situation. It was a personality assessment, calculated to see if I had fun or if I refused to join in – a litmus test for cultural fitness.

It wasn’t until I’d gone through the full cycle of producing my first big show with that team, and passed countless other little tests, that I realized I was no longer and outsider, but an integral part of the team. It took patience. But what a team we made. And I discovered that, once you do find your place in a tight, culture-driven team, it’s a wonderfully supportive, powerfully collaborative place to be.  Everything just clicks.

Today, my advice to anyone joining a culturally-driven enterprise as part of an acquisition is to give things at least 18 months before deciding if that culture is right for you.  Take time to learn and earn your way in. Exercise patience. There’s no such thing as “instant culture.”  You need to give the culture time to work in you favor.  It’s like yeast-leavened bread. It’ takes longer to rise, but the results are worth it.

Don’t Assume I Can’t Handle It

Trusting others to know what’s best for them.

Managers are required to make decisions that affect the careers of their direct reports. It just goes with the territory. But all too often, with the best of intentions, we default to our assumptions instead of consulting with the individual in question.  It’s scary how often this happens and how many of us are guilty without realizing it.  Even worse, you’d think that gender bias would no longer figure into the formula. But it does.

Case in point: you assume that because a woman is pregnant that this isn’t a good time for her to take on a promotion. In fact, it might not be, but if she’s earned your consideration, hasn’t she earned the right to weigh in on her own career? Likewise, I’ve heard managers assume that, because an employee’s spouse has a thriving career, they’d be reluctant to take on a job that would require a move. Again — why is it so hard to ask?  Maybe they’d like to move closer to relatives. Maybe they’re ready for a change. Or they can arrange to work remotely. The point is — you don’t know, because you didn’t ask.

As managers, we must make daily decisions about how to best deploy, motivate and reward employees. That doesn’t make it our right to presume we know best when it comes to personal decisions in their lives. Engage the employee in the discussion about a future opportunity and see if something can be worked out. Don’t take it off the table until they say “no, thank you.”

Oddly enough, we sometimes do the same thing with clients. We may have a new product or service that we know they’d put to good use, but we don’t make the offer because we assume they can’t afford it. Or that they’ll resent the sales pitch.  Or even that they are too traditional to appreciate the value of the new technology you are reluctant to offer them.

Relationships are built on trust and it begins with us. If we don’t trust people enough to ask them to consider decisions that affect their own lives, how can we expect them to trust us? Rational people make rational decisions. Don’t presume; ask.

When Passion Isn’t Enough

Early lessons in leadership – #4

One of the best dividends of my hospitality experience in the Midwest was that it brought me to San Francisco, where I was lucky enough to get in on the leading edge of the high-tech boom. That led to a job for a tech-media start-up in Japan, and several hard-earned lessons in leadership. Along the way, I went from being the 17th person hired to CEO — all in short order.

As with so many people, I learned the right way to do things by trying the wrong way first.  I was young and passionate about the business and our opportunity in Asia. The team didn’t seem to share my passion, and needed to elevate the level of their work. It hadn’t occurred to me that not every culture operated just as we did in the United States — or that there might be ways of motivating people that didn’t involve confrontation. In the middle of a difficult budget conversation with the executive managing that office, I raised my voice and I said that his effort simply wasn’t good enough. He stormed out of the room. I didn’t know what happened. I was just venting because I cared deeply and I wanted him to understand how important it was. But his second-in-command made it clear that I’d better go after him and apologize; I had made him lose face.

The fault, of course, was mine. I disrespected him. And I quickly learned that being a hot head — yelling about my expectations and demanding perfection — doesn’t work in Asia. To be honest, I don’t think it works anywhere. From that day forward, I worked hard to be more diplomatic and respectful, and that approach has served me well wherever I happen to be working. By the way, I still see that person, who became a close friend, whenever he is in California.

The lesson, of course, is that your own passion isn’t enough to motivate people. Leaders take the time to understand what motivates their people. They find a way to let individuals tap into their own passion. And they’re smart enough to know it’s not the same for everyone.