It had been a long time since I’d spent more than a few hours in London. When I was at Ask Jeeves I used to come over here a lot, and I even thought about moving here but I never did.
It used to feel very exotic. Now it feels much less so, because there is a lot of British influence in South Africa. Actually it feels mostly like a colder, busier, version of home, with slightly different brands and accents. And a lot more warning signs (Beware the pickpockets! Don’t climb on the fence! Please leave quietly!).
What else used to feel different was the Wi-Fi conference I attended. The first time I went to one, in San Francisco, I didn’t know much of anything. I knew no one, I didn’t know what Wi-Fi offload was, and I really thought Ruckus was the enemy. True story. Now, I wasn’t able to be at the venue for two minutes without seeing a friend, I not only know what offload is but I know how to debate with mobile carriers what their core competency is in the Wi-Fi space, and Ruckus is one of my two favourite hardware vendors.
They’re still rookies for letting their dogs get stolen. No, I didn’t steal them. But really.
Well, the conference started off with a bang when I went to the pre-day Roamfest mostly just to scout out some stuff for a partner, and of course wound up running into my old drinking buddies (aka friends), one of whom managed to get me a ticket to this river cruise/London Eye tour hosted by The Cloud. That was fun.
Not so much the staying out until 3am drinking bit when I had a 7am call with Cisco, was speaking on a panel at the conference later in the day, and my hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t work. So I stumbled into the local Starbucks to use the free Wi-Fi, and I was so tired the boy who’d made my day the day before by speaking to me in Afrikaans tried to make my day by giving me an extra shot that was really strong …. But there comes a time when caffeine cannot help you.
This time around I didn’t learn too much from the conference. I did, however, make some very good connections and not just at the bar. It’s a question of positioning and of core competence. I am starting to understand the ecosystem very well, where the value sits in the value chain (as they say in MBA speak), and where I think Skyrove should go.
By the time my last meeting on Friday was complete I was drained. Physically (getting as little sleep in two nights combined as I normally get in one, plus more drinking than I had done all year long), emotionally, and even mentally. Friday brought three meetings, two with very large companies and one with a telecoms industry analyst.
One thing that is interesting. When you look at a problem differently or refuse to accept constraints put on you, things happen.
But also, saying something doesn’t make it so.
I was lucky enough to have dinner this week with one of my wonderful friends from the Ask Jeeves days, who has now made it to the senior levels of a big, and, from what it sounds, well-run multi-national. One of the things we discussed is that awful feeling you can have in the pit of your stomach when you go home every day and feel terrible about the decisions being made at work, and you can’t do anything about it because either it’s not politically accepted to do so, or you’ve voiced your opinion and been overruled.
The thing about being in charge is that you don’t ever have that problem. You have other ones: the fear of ‘is this the right path?’ The frustration of ‘why can’t I be six places at once?’ or ‘why hasn’t this happened yet?’ or trying to stay the stable rock because that’s your job when everyone else is busy worrying about the part that they are concerned with, and it’s your job to give context to everyone.
He also said something very important, which is that you must not forget the impact that you have on the people around you. Little things you say matter, and at the end of the day if you’re a leader you must push people to be better and to deliver, but as someone said so well on Twitter this week: ‘Never push someone past the point where they don’t give a f*ck.’
Or past the point where they just get annoyed. Speaking of annoyance, the side benefit of not training this week is that my rotator cuffs are doing much better. Still a niggle, and still annoying.
A few things I’ve been repeating to my team over and over again:
- There is an opportunity cost to everything; focus on what is important.
- We don’t make decisions on gut feel; but you don’t always need data (some things are obvious).
- The only thing worse than no data is bad data. A number that’s not good is OK; juicing the stats is not.
- You will make mistakes; that’s fine. Covering it up is not.
- When the company makes a mistake, we apologise and take responsibility, and try not to do it again. Don’t forget the last part.
So did I learn much at the conference? Not really. Some of the implications in terms of messaging I will wait for our PR engine to bring to life, but it was really in the meetings in and around the conference that the interesting stuff happened. Of course, the first rule of non-disclosure is …. I know nothing.
There’s this quote attributed to Greg Glassman: “The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation, and the fun is in the community.”
Well, when it comes to Wi-Fi, the magic is in finding what the venue actually values, the art is in the go-to-market approach, the science is in the solution mix, and the fun …. well, the fun comes from figuring it all out.
The whole conference there was only one speaker who really focused on the first point with any degree of specificity. No one really talked about the second, other than the hardware vendors talking about their kick-ass solution sets, and much as I love my vendors, it’s mostly all a commodity space. The right mix can be compelling, but the needs and capabilities are constantly shifting.
The same can be said of most things in life: sport, business, hell, even relationships. When things aren’t going well, you can normally tell. Don’t be afraid to admit it, but figure out why, and change. People aren’t buying what you’re selling? Find out what they want. Don’t just try and sell them something else and hope they buy it. Constantly injured or never getting stronger or seeing results but not losing the weight? Don’t be afraid to look in those dark places.
But that bit above about not pushing other people past the point where they don’t give a damn? Don’t push yourself there, either. I’ve been down that road before, and it’s also not a good place to be.
Enjoy the journey. Like it or not, you’re on it, may as well smile!
- “I forgot I was working!” – Zama
- “I know there’s a bar here. It says: ‘bar.’” – Chris
- “Don’t underestimate the power of those little statements.” – Chris
- “You’re never going to get through your to-do list.” – Chris
- “Ellie, we did have summer last week.” – Carole
- “Welcome to the best city in the world.” – David
- “The cost of the capex is almost free.” – overheard at WBA
- “Google likes moonshots.” – Paul
- “You know tonight’s gonna be worse.” “How can it be worse??” – Mark & Ellie
- “If you can’t get 600kb or 1Mbps, back onto cellular you go.” – CEO of BandwidthX (LOL)
- “I don’t think I should drink any more gin tonight.” “What are you going to drink, then?” “I don’t know. More gin?” – Steve & Ellie
- “Well, when you have a CEO who doesn’t know what auth is.” – Steve
- “I’m not speaking French. I just said ‘hibou.’” – Ellie
- “That’s a Ruckus dog!” “No it’s not … oh. You’re right. It is a Ruckus dog!” – Cedric & Ellie
- “Perfect timing.” – Cedric
- “You know exactly what to say. You’re just too polite to say it.” “True.” – David & Ellie
- “Is that a metaphor for something?” – David (he actually left me speechless. I was impressed)
- “And then he wasn’t at the bar!” – Steve
- “You know what? Just grab it.” – Spencer
- “It’s my favourite attribute.” “It’s a weapon.” – JT & Steve (naivete)
- “ … my advice on who you can trust. Assuming you can trust *me*!” “The way that you say that makes me think that I can.” – Ellie & Paul
- “You’ve come into the industry at an interesting time.” – Russell