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In Defense Of Chaos (Why We Need It)
A GIANT VAT OF HONEY
I came home last night to a giant vat full of honey – not just a lifetime’s supply, but several lifetimes.
It turns out my wife Heejin ordered it when online shopping at Target and she was way too busy to vet honey sizes – so she just bought the first one she saw.
Things of this nature often happen in our house because Heejin thrives on chaos.
HOLY CHAOS, BATMAN!
Yesterday was no exception, as it was her birthday (she was fielding well-wishes and flower deliveries all day); she was making offers on properties in both Austin and Plano; she was managing contractors and landscapers; she was managing JVM’s finances; she was setting up bookings for our Airbnb properties; she was coaching JVM’s BDOs; she was managing her own team; she was working with our tech consultants; she was meeting with our mortgage bankers; she was vetting caretakers for our two dogs; she was treating our new dog who showed up with ear infections and an intestinal parasite; she was booking a weekend getaway for the two of us; and she was buying a new vacuum for our cleaning lady who was also here yesterday. Heejin also walked the dogs for almost two hours in 90-degree heat, in an effort to tire them a bit before the doggy caretakers showed up for “meet and greets” to ensure “the dogs were on their best behavior” (it didn’t work).
WHY CHAOS IS GOOD
The above schedule is all too typical for Heejin, and it is a good thing, according to Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn Founder) and Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO).
This is because that kind of chaos fosters both innovation and quick decision-making.
Hoffman and Schmidt discussed all this at length in this excellent podcast – Masters of Scale: Innovation = Managed Chaos.
It is from 2017 and I just re-listened to it at the suggestion of our BDO Manager (Danny Levitt), and man, was it good! (only 16 minutes too at 2x speed).
Here are a few interesting takeaways.
- CEO Shares Small Office: Schmidt had to share a tiny office with an engineer when he was first hired as the CEO of Google. I found that both amusing and fascinating.
- Data Analytics Guy Knew Numbers Better Than Anyone Else: Schmidt’s officemate was a data analytics engineer who pretended not to be listening to Schmidt’s phone calls. Until one day he informed Schmidt that his revenue projections were woefully short. The engineer predicted the exact number because he understood Google’s data analytics so well – proving how valuable accurate data analytics can be.
- Schmidt Was Wrong: Schmidt was wrong about how effective the Google auction system for online ads would be, and his team let him know and won the day. If they had not let Schmidt know, Google would not be anything close to the juggernaut it is today. Credit to Schmidt and Google’s culture for that.
- Chaos Fosters Speed/Like Flying an Airplane: A recurring theme in the blog, podcast, and Twitter world is the extreme need for speed with any type of new business or start-up, and chaos often forces speed. This is because managers are forced to make quick decisions when there is so much other stuff going on. They are not always the correct decisions, but a decision is always better than no decision. This is a theme that is repeated often in books about battles and generals too, and it is why good generals often make good business leaders. Schmidt compares managing to his flying lessons; pilots have no choice but to focus and act – or they die.
- Chaos Fosters Creativity and Innovation/Butting Heads: Google encourages frequent and fast-moving meetings (no time for long meetings) during which everyone is encouraged to contribute and argue – and “butt heads.” Google also makes sure there are always several people working on any given project, as that always fosters more creativity and innovation.
- Persistence and Curiosity: These are the traits that Google looks for in all their hires. They want people who want to learn, and they want to see examples of extreme persistence (they love Olympic athletes for example). This is a great reminder for anyone looking to hire.
- 20% Flex Time: Google is famous for giving engineers 20% of their week to work on whatever they want, and this too fosters tremendous creativity.
- Managers Can’t Be Control Freaks: They must tolerate chaos if they want their teams to thrive.
- Engineers Can Choose Their Projects and Their Managers: This forces managers to literally sell their ideas and their management style to their teams.
- No “Glue People.”: This is my favorite item because the mortgage industry has more “glue people” than any other I think. 😊 Per Schmidt, glue people are individuals who sit between functions while not actually performing any necessary duties. If anyone has seen the wonderful movie “Office Space,” they will know this concept well, as there was a person who carried papers from sales to engineering because he was a “people person” even though sales could have just interacted directly with engineering. Google has no glue people.
Final point, not mentioned in the podcast: Chaos just stretches all of us in healthy ways, particularly if we are OCD (guilty) and prone to fall into too much productivity-killing rigidity.
And lastly, does anyone need any honey?