Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
Leaders Need Not be Flashy, w/ Microsoft VP Dave Gainer
Jedi Master of LeadershipListen Now:
If it wasn’t for Rob’s interaction with Dave Gainer during his time at Microsoft, there’s no doubt that Rob’s life and career path would have been vastly different, and very likely not in a good way! Dave currently is Vice President of Product for Microsoft Office, but he’s ALWAYS been a great leader of people. As you listen to this conversation, you’ll quickly realize why Dave is in the position of leadership that he’s in. He’s QUITE good at it, and he shares his story and his approach towards being a leader.
References in this episode:
- 2:30 – Dave turns the tables and asks us some questions and the unconventional story of Dave Gainer
- 25:30 – Dave and Rob’s paths cross (and Rob learns some vital lessons), the importance of storytelling to bring humans together, and what makes a good leader
- 45:30 – Dave’s leadership principles and guidelines and how he formed them, the influence that Dave has had on Rob (and many others),
- 1:10:30 – A good leader can come from anywhere (ala Ratatouille) and the role of fate in life and career
- 1:29:30 – Dave swears he isn’t a radical (we think he is), Dick Winters from Band of Brothers has some rules Dave emulates, and incentives and remote workers
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today's guest is Dave Gainer. Dave is a VP at Microsoft in the Office division, and ultimately some products that you very much care about are things that are in his purview. Things like Excel, for instance. But in this interview, we really don't talk about any of that. What we talk about instead is leadership and mentoring, and specifically the impact that he had on me in my career. The reason that we focused on that, is that in my experience Dave has some very, very clear and refreshing views on what it is to be a leader, what it is to be a manager. The reason I know that is because I worked for him, he was my manager at a very, very crucial, informative juncture in my own career.
Rob Collie (00:00:47): Now, of course, I've learned a lot of valuable lessons, a lot of valuable things from a very large number of people in my career, and yet I don't think I've learned as much from any one person as I have from Dave. In my long journey of growing into who I am today, becoming comfortable my own skin, becoming competent and learning to leverage my own strengths, I just don't think anyone's had nearly as much influence on me as Dave did back in the early 2000s. There are actually a number of us walking around today, alumni from that era, who say very similar things about this individual.
Rob Collie (00:01:23): Here's maybe the coolest part, the habits that make him so impactful, so successful, so valuable, are actually accessible. Meaning I think they are easier to emulate than you might expect. As I learned to emulate some of these habits of his, that became a tremendous inflection point in my life and in my career. I suspect that you will take away at least one, but probably multiple new habits just from listening to this conversation. What does it take to be a good manager, a good leader? Let's get into it.
Announcer (00:01:59): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please.
Announcer (00:02:04): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with your host Rob Collie and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive, is data with the human element.
Dave Gainer (00:02:28): Do you want me to do the welcome?
Rob Collie (00:02:29): Oh yeah.
Dave Gainer (00:02:31): Hey Rob, welcome to your podcast. Can I see something to start out?
Rob Collie (00:02:35): Sure.
Dave Gainer (00:02:36): Okay. I do a lot of walking. I go out for a lot of walks at night, go on runs. I've gone up to Canada a few times to help my folks, and you know that requires like 40 hours of driving either way, because I don't want to take a plane with COVID. I get a lot of time to listen to podcasts and audio books and stuff. I probably follow 30 podcasts, but I listen to all of yours and it's probably one of the top two in rotation just because you guys do such a phenomenal job with it. I just want to say welcome to your podcast. You guys do a fantastic job.
Rob Collie (00:03:05): Wow. That is awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. Best intro ever. We're just going to have to have you as a regular.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:14): No, I think we're just going to replay that every podcast.
Rob Collie (00:03:18): He's our hype.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:20): Yeah, hype man.
Rob Collie (00:03:20): Not our hype man. It's like the whole hype department. Well, Dave, that is a hell of an introduction. What do you do these days Dave?
Dave Gainer (00:03:29): I think we refer to it these days more and more as the head of product for a portfolio of applications that are associated with Office. Some of them you get with Office. That'd be things like Excel, Microsoft Forms, which you may have bumped into. There's a thing called Microsoft Planner, which is a simple project management tool. You can think of it like as a [inaudible 00:03:48] board. And then a lot of the extensibility bits and pieces of Office. If you're going to write code behind Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, that's my team.
Dave Gainer (00:03:56): We also run developer portals and help with the developer program and run the store that you'd go get applications out of. And then I also am responsible for Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio, which are interesting because they're Office like things, but they're sold on their own. Unlike Excel, which is just really a feature of Office 365, they are standalone many businesses. And so I'm responsible for that. I have a bunch of people that run those things like Brian, who you talked to recently, that report to me. My job is to work with an engineering and design peer to manage that group of things.
Rob Collie (00:04:31): You're in charge of things, a lot of things actually, that people listen to this show care about. Microsoft is very interesting topic to a lot of people, but guess what? That's not what we're going to be talking about today. We're not going to really be talking about Microsoft. What we'll be talking about is you, Dave, where you came from, how you came to be who you are and what it is that I think makes you different and valuable. Also our relationship over the years. Spoiler alert, you've had a lot to do with my development as a professional. I want to set that context up front. This isn't going to be an inside dive into what it's like to be an executive at Microsoft. We'll leave that for someone else on some other day.
Dave Gainer (00:05:13): Hey Rob, hey Thomas, I have a few questions for you guys before we get rolling on this thing. Thomas, I listen to all these podcasts, you get involved, I think I, I missed the podcast that explains how you got involved and how you came to join Rob and hang out with people every day and talk to them. What's that all about?
Thomas LaRock (00:05:29): I honestly have no idea. Rob one day he sent me a text. "Do you want to do a podcast?" Of course my answer was yes, because I had nothing going on except this pandemic. I needed to get out and tell to people. I've known Rob since he accosted me in New Orleans back in 2010. He and I share a data gene, we might be half brothers, I'm not sure. But he thought it'd be great for me to come and hang out and talk data. I try to bring a slightly different perspective to the conversations because when Rob talks with a lot of the folks that he's intersected in his life, it's from one particular viewpoint of data. My viewpoint of data is a little bit more on the administration side so there's some intersect for us. But every now and then when I hear a conversation going one way, I'm like, yeah, but you guys forgot about XYZ. This is why there's additional friction in a certain area. I'd like to pretend I have some value.
Rob Collie (00:06:30): Well, you're also pretending that we talk about data on this show. What we really do is talk about being people who happen to occasionally work with data, is a lot more about the human side and so-
Thomas LaRock (00:06:39): Correct.
Rob Collie (00:06:40): You do bring a different perspective because it turns out you're a different flavor of human.
Dave Gainer (00:06:44): Hey, speaking of the human part, so this is something Rob, I wanted to ask you before we get going. Your podcast is data with a human element, but data can't have a human element because data's at best a mathematical construct. What are you really trying to say about that? Is it about the human beings behind the data? Explain to the listeners.
Rob Collie (00:07:01): Yeah. The strange realization that I had about the BI industry and it's not strange in hindsight, at the time it certainly was, is that I was seeing this amazing difference in the way that Power Pivot and later Power BI worked in the workplace. It just did magical things relative to all of this heavyweight technology that we'd had for a very long time. It was very difficult to explain. Why is this new technology so much better than the old technology? You look at it and you go, it's not like it's really that much more advanced. It's not like suddenly the brain inside the computer. The software brain just became an order of magnitude or several orders of magnitude, more intelligent. It wasn't like that at all. It turned out to just be that the new software fit the people better.
Rob Collie (00:07:51): That's all it did. It allowed people to work in the way that people actually need to work. The software met the people where they were, rather than forcing the people to meet the software. This is really the difference between the Power BI engine and its data modeling concepts and its DAX formula language, versus the MDX multidimensional model that, Dave, you and I were working on the first time that you and I were really work together. You could argue that the multidimensional one in many ways was more advanced than this new one. The end memory stuff is pretty hot and the compression's really hot and all of that, that's like sci-fi coolness. But really the things in the end that make the difference is just that it's about the people.
Rob Collie (00:08:35): And so you used to harp on me all the time about, if you can't explain something so simply you don't understand it well enough. I wasn't particularly good at that at the beginning, working with you, but I use that all the time. Everything is about the people and everything can be explained simply. If you're not focused on the people and you're not explaining it simply, then you don't actually understand what's going on. And so I think the stories of how people in this space come to contact data, how do they end up working on it, why do they end up working in data as compared to everybody else? What is the data gene, but what do you do with it? Why is it valuable? How does it play out in the human plane? Because in the end if no human being benefits from this stuff, then it's not worth anything. And so I find the human side of all of this to be far more interesting to talk about.
Rob Collie (00:09:26): Plus a podcast doesn't really fit technical anyway, let's talk about how to write a really well-constructed summarized function. Like, eh, no, that needs to be a video. That video won't be starring me because I don't like the summarize function very much and it's just, it doesn't really speak to me like it speaks to some other people. But if you work in data we want this show to be relevant to you. But we also want it to be interesting and also valuable. I think the most valuable is in the human plane not the tech plane. The software is never the star. Power BI is not the star of any engagement that our company's involved in. It's the people associated with all this that end up kicking ass as a result of changing the tool set to one that actually fits the way that they work.
Dave Gainer (00:10:15): Like I said, I love this podcast. I listen to it all the time and I don't listen to it because of the software. You get a lot of people in here that have really good stories. I think more than anything, it's just Rob hanging out with humans, doing what humans do that. That's so powerful.
Rob Collie (00:10:27): I appreciate that. Without going into a tremendous amount of detail up front, let me just say that my interaction with Dave Gainer, many years ago now, represents a pretty significant inflection point in my career. He had a lot of impact on me and for the better, let's be clear. Let's not leave the vector unsigned. You're a leader, that is definitely a part of your job description. It was 15, 20 years ago, it certainly is today. I have this thesis that leaders don't have to be flashy. You don't have to be the Steve Jobs type. I just think that there's so much that you have to offer. You're a software professional today. You work in the data corner. You're not typically working on the consumer side of things. You're up to your eyeballs in the data side of the world, but that's not your background really? Is it?
Dave Gainer (00:11:22): No, it's not really my background at all. I was probably 24 or 25 before I saw a spreadsheet, for real. Yeah, if you go way back, I feel like at some level there's probably been like some gravitational pull pulling me in a product like Excel together over time. But it wasn't something that happened in a very linear fashion. I actually grew up in a smaller city in Northern Canada. I was like a lot of us where the first thing I bumped into by way of computer was some Apple II that my buddy who had a prof for a dad at the local university brought home. We went and looked at it and said, "What's it do?" We found the word processor and that got boring after about 15 minutes, so then we found some really bad video games and learned to program basic.
Dave Gainer (00:12:01): I played around with PCs in high school, we got a few Commodore 64s. I spent one Christmas holiday programming a Blackjack simulation. But going to get a formal education in computers, just wasn't a thing that dawn on me. I think even at that time, I'm old enough where what you're taught if you went to get a degree at university was mainframes and many computers, so it wasn't going to happen anyway. I wanted to be a journalist. I loved reading. I loved history. I loved all these things. I went to school and I spent six years at university, five years was because I just liked taking courses. I took a year off to go run a bar and restaurant in a mountain resort, which was it's own education.
Dave Gainer (00:12:36): And so I ended up getting degree, I think in history and English, but I have enough credits for a degree in anthropology too, because I love studying people and systems. I guess that makes sense for a journalist. I went and got a job as a journalist and did that for a year and boy did it suck. I was going to be like Ernest Hemingway. I was going to go write truth and beauty. It was going to be amazing. I got this job on this magazine. You can think of this like Time Magazine, but for Western Canada. A lot of local politics and oil and stuff like that. What I discovered, it was the weirdest thing, is that a newsroom full of my coworkers that are all people like me, young and out of school, and every day the managing editor come in and tell us what to write. "We're going to write a story on and this is what we're going to say."
Dave Gainer (00:13:15): It was, even back in those days, heavy arterial slant based on the politics, the guy that owned the magazine. And so after about 12 months of that, I thought, well, this isn't what I thought it was. Plus the problem with being in the news industry back then is, you had to have set printed copy and that had to happen at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning so they could print all weekend to put out on Monday. I tended to work from noon till midnight, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. That meant if you wanted to go out for a date or drink beer with your buddies, impossible. It's like double whammy. I did what anyone would do with five years of education and experience running a bar and that, I quit and went and drove a bus in the Rocky Mountains.
Dave Gainer (00:13:52): My parents. My parents are awesome and they're a big part of my story too. They said, "Do you have a plan?" I said no and they let me go off to the mountains. Eventually I add up in an MBA in Toronto. This is how carefully I planned my career. I had a buddy who was going to school there in an MBA. He said, "You should come on out." I had a brother that live there and he's like, "You can stay in my basement." And so I went off to school, got an MBA degree and as luck would have it, got a job at Accenture, it was called Andersen Consulting at the time. That was a great job. It was a good way to break into industry. They taught me a lot of things, how to be a really good manager, how to do hiring, how to break down a work plan, how to represent your stuff in front of people. It was great. I worked there for a lot of years, became a manager and then ran into another problem, which is cool company. You got to do lots of fun things. There was a point in my life where I had an apartment in Vancouver, BC, an apartment in San Jose and an apartment in Munich. It sounds super glamorous, but it's this other problem if you're on the road 260 days a year, you never see anyone. You still can't get a date. I had that in common with the journalists. I quit that and ended up at Microsoft because I wanted to be around interesting technical problems and people trying to do great things, but I didn't want to travel anymore. That was the path. There's funny things that we can talk about as we talk today that I pluck from all of those experiences. Because it turns out you learn a lot running a bar, you learn a lot driving a tour bus. A lot of that is surprisingly applicable in a corporate software job.
Thomas LaRock (00:15:14): I need to know, how did driving a tour bus help you with your position at Microsoft today?
Dave Gainer (00:15:22): Couple things. The variant of the job I had was great, because the company I worked for, they had this whole business model of, normally when you put a tour through the Canadian Rockies, that's why I was working, [inaudible 00:15:33] all these beautiful places for anyone that's ever been there. You have a driver on the bus and then you have someone that sits there and knows all the geography and natural history and flora and fauna and animals and does the entertaining and educating. We're going to make ourselves money because we're only going to have one of those, so the driver's going to do both of those things. It was great. My dad grew up in that area, so I knew a lot about it anyway.
Dave Gainer (00:15:53): And so on one hand it's a great job. You have no boss. You spend six days puttering from place to place. You stay in the same nice hotels with the people you're taking around. They're all on holidays. They're super happy. But you have to learn how to communicate with a wide range of people, tell stories, be entertaining, keep attention, read the room, read the vibe. I would say from perspective of communications inside the context of companies or customers, it was wonderful practice for the 12 months I did that. Yeah, you're basically on the mic eight hours a day, making sure that it's all working and what you're trying to say.
Dave Gainer (00:16:23): And so I think in some funny way that helped me become a better, storyteller's the word you hear a lot these days in the computer industry, but just able to go in and grab some people. Some days it would be a bunch of Australians that were all rowdy and just wanting to laugh. And then you'd get the bus full of British folks that were super cerebral and wanted to know like the details of the geography. You had to figure out how to meet people where they are, keep them focused and make them happy.
Rob Collie (00:16:46): All the while conducting the conversation with them in the rear view mirror, while not driving the bus off of some thousand meter cliff [inaudible 00:16:54].
Dave Gainer (00:16:55): Exactly.
Rob Collie (00:16:56): Just [inaudible 00:16:57] degree of difficulty.
Dave Gainer (00:16:59): I did scrape up my fair share buses, but it was all very unexciting things. I'd pull up in front of the hotel and not notice a rock that I was supposed to go around quite as much and then I'd crunch in the side of the bus.
Rob Collie (00:17:09): One time rented an RV and they told us, this is 95% of the damage to these RVs, is people pulling out of a gas station don't realize that the back end of it when they turn right is going to swing out to the left and smash into the island. Dave, did you know that my two job offers that I got down to out of college were Accenture and Microsoft?
Dave Gainer (00:17:33): No, I don't think I did know that.
Rob Collie (00:17:33): It was still Andersen at the time. Subconsciously I'm like, nah, Dave's got that covered. I'll meet him in a few years and he'll bring that with him and I'll just go get started at Microsoft.
Dave Gainer (00:17:45): But clearly we're going to meet one way or another.
Rob Collie (00:17:46): Apparently. Because Excel was pulling us both. I had no idea. Do you know that I one time, Dave, told a manager at Microsoft before we met that I would, for example, I would never go to work on something like Excel? I just was so derisive about it. Like, no, that's so beneath me, I would never go work on something like Excel, and Excel is sitting over there in the corner like this giant attract of gravity going, we will see young Skywalker. You're orbiting in, you just have no idea. Yeah. Okay. The programming of the Blackjack simulator, that's a flag, right? That you were doing that even while you were thinking, I'm going to go be a journalist. Nothing that sophisticated in my middle school or elementary school years for sure
Dave Gainer (00:18:34): That was high school. Honestly I look back at those days and think, boy, life could have gone in all sorts of different directions because I remember bringing that thing home and wasn't like anyone instructed it, and I just figured it out. I watch my kids today, they're at the age I am and the programming they've learned to do. It really is, I think there's moments in your life when your brain's just ready for these things, and then it takes off. I don't even know why 21. I didn't really play 21 beyond what any normal teenage kid at the time did.
Rob Collie (00:19:00): It just seemed like attractable problem to program.
Dave Gainer (00:19:03): Yep. It's funny. I remember my first spreadsheet experience. And so I head to off to Toronto, which at the time was in the middle of a real estate boom and rent was really expensive. And so I needed money. When I got to MBA school, they were looking for someone to be the proctor of the computing lab, the MBA computing lab. I thought that's a pretty fancy title. It basically amount to sitting in the computing lab, answering questions for all the people that didn't know how to use computers particularly well. But I remember the first day I went in and thought, okay, I know how to use Word perfect. I had heard about Harvard Graphics. So I loaded up, played with it a bit and figured it out. And then I opened up Lotus 1-2-3.
Dave Gainer (00:19:38): I'd never seen a spreadsheet before. I saw this grid and I swear, for 10 minutes I tried to find something useful to do with this application. I couldn't, so I just closed [inaudible 00:19:47]. I said, I guess if something comes up there I'll have to just wing it. That was my first moment with a spreadsheet. Now, of course in MBA school they eventually make you do things like build income statements and balance sheets and value derivatives. I got pretty darn good at it. But at the beginning, I still remember that, here's an app and it was just not apparent what to do with it. Everything else had a metaphor that was human understandable. We knew what a slide was if you'd ever taken a camera and used it, you knew the piece of paper was. But just empty rows and columns, what are you going to do with that?
Rob Collie (00:20:15): I remember AppleWorks for the Apple II. It had a word processor, a spreadsheet and a database. I had the same experience. I could never figure out what the spreadsheet and the database were good for. It's just like AppleWorks. That's that thing that comes with the word processor and there's a other two things that no one uses. My dad one time asked me, came home and said, look, "Son, at work we've sent a bunch of change orders out to a bunch of different contractors over time, and for each change order, we have the list of contractors we sent to, but we don't have a list of, by contractor, which change orders they received. It's just, we're not organized that way." He's like, "If I gave you the list of all these things, the way that we have it, could you give it back to me the other way?"
Rob Collie (00:21:02): Instinctively, I said, "Yeah. That's got to be what the other parts of AppleWorks are for." I still couldn't figure it out. Eventually I had to go back to him in shame and say, "I can't help you." Imagine how easy that would be today, that same problem. What I tell people is that sooner or later in their business career, in any career, any office career, you are going to cross paths with a spreadsheet. You're going to cross paths with Excel. Most people bounce off in terror. They bounce off of the Excel collision. But one out of 15 sticks. You were being forced to stick because you were in an MBA school, but most people's real collision with spreadsheets happens not in in a classroom, not when they're a student, it happens when they're in some other job. Do you recall like any of your emotional reaction to it?
Dave Gainer (00:21:54): I can't say I honestly sat around MBA computing lab saying I love this application, but I think as far as the homework we had to do, that was the one that was borderline pleasurable. Yeah, we'd have to write papers. That's fine. But working with it was fun. I once read somewhere might have been Joel on Software, Joel Spolsky. He was actually an Excel program manager many, many, many, many years ago, like on the Excel 95 release or something. He wrote a pretty interesting blog post once saying at some point something sparked in his head about spreadsheets and that they were just like a very generic data structure. They were grids organized into a pad of grids. That was a light bulb for him because he joined Excel thinking this is for accountants to do accounting work. He left saying, this is really just a generic data structure where anything is possible. He was making a bigger point about some other app he was building, but that's the piece of that stuck with me.
Dave Gainer (00:22:44): That was the thing I enjoyed about it. When I was younger I was pretty into creative stuff. I'd spend as much time drawing and painting as I did goofing around with technology. I haven't done that in 150 years probably since I got into high school. But I think Excel, I enjoy in part, this is a spreadsheet point, certainly Excel because I'm responsible for it. Because it allows you to be very expressive and solve problems and model things. I remember once the Excel team did a big piece of user research, they do these things called baselines where they go talk to 200 different people. Again, to get back to my university degrees, it's a very ethnographic thing where you go when you study people and how they work with technologies.
Dave Gainer (00:23:22): The funny thing that they came back with was, 50% of people, and these numbers aren't perfectly right, but it's about a half and half split, find Excel intimidating, but they understand it's a professional tool. The other 50% find it very creative, a very creative tool. And so that caught a lot of people off guard because like what? No, that's Adobe Photoshop or something like that. But the point that landed with me is, once you figure out what this grid is about and a bit of how to use it, it really is just a canvas upon which to scratch or you can put together mathematical models, mechanical models. It really is a creative tool. I think that's the part of spreadsheeting whether it was back in the MBA days with Lotus 1-2-3 or with Excel, that sticks to this day. I think there's part of that, which is as soon as people get over some skills gap, then they fall into this other category of, yeah, this is a canvas that I'm going to use to do my work, it's not a challenging tool that I find difficult.
Rob Collie (00:24:14): Obviously, I'm completely on side for this. It's a blank canvas with a little bit of structure and a whole lot of capability. There's a point at which you knew let's say six people, knew them really well, after a while futures were anonymously handed one of their spreadsheets and you're asked, "Who did this?" You're going to know who did it. You can look at it and go, oh, that's a Rob. Look at that. Oh, there's that little flourish there with the... I see that. Look at that offset or whatever. It's not just about personal style, there's this thing that you're bringing into existence. The world gets something new that never existed before after you sit down and do it. And so sometimes it's just like, you just can't help but smile after you've created this thing. You've seen our wheel of inquisition, right?
Dave Gainer (00:24:59): I've heard you describe it.
Rob Collie (00:25:00): Dave, it's got realistic physics. Realistic and yet still predictable.
Dave Gainer (00:25:06): Well, if something's worth doing Rob, it's worth doing well.
Rob Collie (00:25:09): It's worth doing well, that's right. We're burying the lead a little bit here in a really cheesy way. It's about what I learned from you. One of my earliest memories of you was before I ever worked for you. I had been at this point in my career, I had been in a transitional phase in terms of the types of interview questions I've been asking. Now at that point, there had been a long tradition at Microsoft predating us that there were a lot of brain teases being asked in interviews back then. In fact, there were websites, when I interviewed at Microsoft, there were websites that helped you scout the Microsoft interviews ahead of time with their particular brain teasers and things like that. And so if you were clever, you found your own brain teasers to fit in with this.
Rob Collie (00:25:52): And so I had some of my own brain teas that I asked people that I'm pretty sure weren't on these websites. But over time I'd started to get the impression that maybe these weren't the best gauge of whether someone could actually do the job. I'd started to ask a different question that I had seen some other people asking and I really like this other style, but again, there were still so many people and very influential people sometimes, not always but sometimes, that were still doing the brain teaser style. And so I had flipped a coin on this interview loop and I had gone with a brain teaser question. And so I walk into your office, I'm prepared to tell you about this person's performance on the brain teaser. I didn't know what I was about to walk into, which was, I started to explain the brain teaser question. It was very clear, you made it pretty clear that first of all, you didn't really think this was a good judge of whether this person could do the job.
Rob Collie (00:26:40): I was crushed, because, A, I was already on this path to changing my ways, and to be called out on something that I had secretly already been debating myself, it felt like I wasn't I wasn't even getting full credit for who I was. You and I didn't know each other at all at this point, really. It also took the wind out of my sails a little bit because I was prepared to really break down this person's performance on the brain teaser. I went ahead and did that.
Dave Gainer (00:27:09): I'm at a disadvantage here because you have this memory that is special. It's amazing. You can pull things out that are long past any recollection I have. I'm like, I don't know, maybe that happened, maybe it didn't. I have no recollection. The same can pull movie lines out of the 10 million movies you've seen and I can't even remember one.
Rob Collie (00:27:28): I don't want people to get the impression that I have some amazing memory. What I really have is a snapshot memory. There's certain moments in life where this snapshot goes off. My overall recall is relatively poor, but I do have this really intense snapshot memory. I mean, that hurt. That interaction was painful. It made an impression.
Dave Gainer (00:27:54): Okay. Let's try this one. Do you remember when I swung down to your office, you were on the first floor in building 17, I was on the second floor. You're off on the XML gang, I was Mr. Excel person. I came down to try to suggest to you that maybe the thing you're putting in the Excel product should probably pick up a few of the design patterns in Excel, so it was less of a alien foreign thing. Do you remember that discussion?
Rob Collie (00:28:18): No, I have no recollection of that whatsoever. No, counselor. No. I mean, I honestly don't which I think is telling.
Dave Gainer (00:28:28): I guess maybe what we're discovering is, you and I remember different snapshots.
Rob Collie (00:28:31): That's right.
Dave Gainer (00:28:32): Because that was one where I sat down and I was very calmly saying, here's my reasoning and we're trying to build this thing and whatever the reasoning was to say, let's make this more like Excel and less like something you want living in Excel. You looked at me and said something along the lines of, look, you're not going to change my mind so I think we're wasting our time here. Do you want to keep talking or not?
Thomas LaRock (00:28:52): That sounds like Rob.
Rob Collie (00:28:53): That does sound like me, yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:28:54): That tracks.
Rob Collie (00:28:55): I mean, yeah, let's just cut to the chase. Actually, I really had... Let's be fair. We're talking about a much younger...
Rob Collie (00:29:03): Let's be fair, we're talking about a much younger version.
Dave Gainer (00:29:04): Oh yeah, and that was a funny one, because I remember walking back upstairs thinking, okay, I'm going to need a different strategy on this guy. You make a good point too, which is like, we've all changed a ton. The interview thing, if we had that same interaction today, it would be wildly different.
Rob Collie (00:29:17): In the end I came around to seeing things your way, and I'm a much better professional and probably even better person because of it. It's just that at the time, I was still in the camp of like, oh, you don't understand this is too advanced for you or it's like, oh, he doesn't get XML or whatever. Like no, Dave kind of gets everything, he gets the people, and the burden of proof is on you to explain why the technology is going to help the people. I kind of had it backwards, I'd like to tell people that I'm a recovering software engineer. You're never fully cured, but you try to make amends, you try to redeem yourself over time. In hindsight, these questions, these brain teasers, a lot of had been very, very, very good tests as to whether or not someone was a good algorithmic programmer. But the job you and I were doing, it had become very widespread at the company really wasn't programming at all.
Rob Collie (00:30:13): Were these questions, good questions for the job that we did? I think in the final analysis, we all decided that they weren't, that these other questions were or better. To this day, this is really, really, really strong and powerful lesson for me, and it wasn't just that I learned it from you. I learned it from my own experience as well throughout all of this was that when you're interviewing, you have to do the work, as an interviewer, you have to construct an interview question or a set of interview questions that simulate the actual job that people are going to have to do. There's no point being fancy about it, and trying to divine it from all kinds of other little clever things around the edges. Just go straight at the thing that they actually have to do, and design a good test for that. That has been one of the crucial ingredients in our company today is our interview process, our screening process.
Rob Collie (00:31:09): It very much derives from this philosophy that I was already kind of working on when you and I had that fateful encounter, but it was a real sharp turning point that day. I'm grateful for that, because it steered me in a different direction. By the time I ended up reporting to you, I think I'd already sort of worked those demons out.
Thomas LaRock (00:31:28): You guys are walking around one thing that you haven't gotten to yet. And what's the origin story with you two? How'd you come to work together, and how's Rob end up reporting to you Dave?
Rob Collie (00:31:37): Is pretty much accident, right?
Dave Gainer (00:31:40): Yeah. It's like everything just stuff happens, and it ends up. Rob and I both ended up at Microsoft through very different route. Rob you're hired right out of university, right?
Rob Collie (00:31:50): That's right, yeah.
Dave Gainer (00:31:51): Sorry, I'm being Canadian again. You're hired at college.
Rob Collie (00:31:55): Yeah, I translated.
Dave Gainer (00:31:55): Yeah. But they are universities. So like maybe at some other part of this podcast, you can explain why there are universities, but you go to college, I've never bothered to figure that out. Anyway, I came in a much more secure to route. We ended up just sort of working in the same group, and over time the kind of things we're working on intersected, and at some point. What I don't remember is if you join the team, maybe you're a lead and they stop building the product you're working on, put you on the Excel team as a lead or something like that.
Rob Collie (00:32:20): So you'd been in charge of the SharePoint less control in the same release where I was in charge of that beautiful XML integration into Excel, that just feels so natural and everyone uses it. And yeah. Okay. And so for some reason, the powers that be were really impressed with your work and not so impressed with mine, and so they put you in charge of Excel. I had no ambition or hope, I wasn't expecting to be in charge of Excel, so that's more just a joke. But it puts you in charge of Excel, and then for some reason, and this boggles my mind to this day, given my performance up until that point, everyone came to me and said, "Hey, we want you to be in charge of the BI features as a lead, not as a group program manager, which is what you are." But they wanted me to lead the BI features, and looking back, I'm like, why would they have picked that version of me? I can understand picking today's version of me, or even a version of me three or four years later.
Rob Collie (00:33:17): But that version of me, I feel like there just weren't enough bodies around or something, like I was way too raw. Do you remember any of this?
Dave Gainer (00:33:26): Yeah. Well, I remember being pulled off of that SharePoint effort a bit early because they wanted somebody to go. At the time our boss had gone and signed up with analysis services folks and said, Excel should do more in the BI space. So I got plucked off early and got told, go think about this and try and figure out how the Excel match will be made. And so I whiled away on that for like six months, and some point we hired Alan Faulting, and I don't know if you joined us before or after that?
Rob Collie (00:33:53): I hired Alan.
Dave Gainer (00:33:54): Okay.
Rob Collie (00:33:54): I interviewed people for a long time for that job and was actually reaching the point of frustration where I'm like, "Maybe I'm holding my bar too high, I need somebody, maybe I need to lower my standards." And that at that moment, Alan walked in the door and like, oh yeah, this is why we hold our standards high is because of Alan.
Dave Gainer (00:34:15): Another thing I want to say Rob, besides the fact that you have an exceptionally well done podcast is, how to totally impressed I am at what you have gone and done post your career at Microsoft, and I sort of told you this briefly in a text a couple months ago. Holy smokes, it's one thing to have a job and do all the things you did at Microsoft, then you ended up participating in some pretty important stuff, but then you went and built a company from scratch that's big and amazing and forward leaning. That's amazing, I'm super impressed, you'd done a tremendous job. So nice work on the podcast, but really nice work, building a thing from scratch, because I don't think that's easy and I don't think most of us could do that. I look at that and say, boy, I'm not sure I would have the moral fortitude to even give that a whirl. I can get at some things, but I'm not sure I'd be good enough at a bunch of things to do that, so nice work.
Rob Collie (00:35:01): Well, thank you. It turns out that even I wasn't good enough to do that. You probably listened to the Callen episode, it's one of the things I now tell new hires is to remind them that a single human being in the woods is wolf food, we're just like the most helpless thing on the planet. You get five of us together and you sharpen some sticks, and suddenly the wooly mammoth goes extinct. We are such a collaborative virus, the whole rugged individualism thing or all that no, that's all myth. It's always team, it's always how well you work with others, and it's who you have on your team. I feel fortunate I stayed in the zone long enough to find people that helped me figure it out.
Dave Gainer (00:35:49): Have you ever read Sapiens?
Rob Collie (00:35:51): I've read half of Sapiens, which is about my batting average for any non-fiction book, by the way. It like 50% is the new 100% for me when it comes to non-fiction books.
Dave Gainer (00:36:01): Yeah, somewhere in the first couple chapters, part of the point he makes is sort of the point you're making, which is, there's a chapter where he talks about why are humans different from many other species? And it was the ability to organize themselves around stories, like that was the unique thing. And so, I think you could extend your metaphor there are around like wolf food and packs of five to say it's really about storytelling. I think that you might even think about this one as a work thing, because I was anticipating, maybe Rob will ask me some of the things that I think have helped me be good at this role when I started out as an English student and what does English students do? Well, they read complex of literature, it's funny. I had a prof that used to say, "There's fiction and there's literature, and you shouldn't mistake the two." I'll leave it to the podcast listener to figure that one out.
Dave Gainer (00:36:47): And they try and figure out what that means and wrap their head around complex ideas, and then you have to write papers that sort of take them and simplify them and make your own point. It's about communication, taking in complexity and making it simple, and also storytelling. Not in the way of the kind of stuff that you might see on a YouTube video, but it's about rallying people around ideas. I think that's actually been super important in my time at Microsoft in the sense that a lot of I end up doing is reframing things for people, and how you talk about it. And so I think there's something there that goes beyond just five people in the woods getting together, or I think it's how they relate to each other, and the stories they tell. I bet if you do some thinking about you as a leader, even though it's memes and movie quotes and very different, because I tend to be much more dry and dusty about these things.
Dave Gainer (00:37:31): But I bet there's an aspect to that, which is how does Rob pull things together or maybe see that outing some of the other people in your company, I don't know.
Rob Collie (00:37:38): Storyteller is honestly that's how I was raised, both of my grandfathers were slash are consummate storytellers, those formative years, I grew up with that. Here's a movie quote for you, and get shorty John Travolta's character goes out to LA, he's a mafia soldier. A little bit later in the movies, like he tell someone I'm in the movie business now. And they're like, "You've been here five minutes, you've been a mobster your whole life." He goes, "Yeah, but I was never that into it." And that's kind of how I feel in some ways about my software career. I was struggling, dog paddling a bit for those first gosh, like five years at Microsoft, which is kind of when you and I intersected. I had no idea what my place was, again, I wasn't really into it. I kind of knew that I wasn't really into it, and I was trying to fake it all the time. I learned a whole new way of looking at the world and way of looking at the job, by working with you.
Rob Collie (00:38:39): Also imposter syndrome, another one of these really big themes that it's true at our company, it's true on this podcast, we're talking about all the time. Through your eyes I got to slowly see that some of the people that I thought were heroes or the people to emulate actually were doing a lot of harm. Even though, they were really smart. Most of them were smarter than I was and ever will be, they weren't modulating their behavior properly, they weren't being disciplined enough. And so I kind of reinvented myself on your watch, and I didn't expect that. I thought I was going to change you, it shows you how stupid and naive I was like, you're the most stubborn person I've ever met.
Dave Gainer (00:39:19): My wife would concur with it, I'm one of the most stubborn people you've ever met. I think one of the most important things I do when I come into the job every day is help the people around me develop and have more impact, it's not all managing. I think this is a place where if you came and work for me now, it would be very, very different experience, since I've grown up a lot as a leader too. But a lot of it is coaching, skill forming, asking questions because that's how you get more out of your folks. At the end of the day, I've been given a bunch of people to go make customers more successful, that's sort of the core of my job. And so a big part of it is how do we put those people in the right conditions, how do we build the right culture and how do we get out of their capabilities. That involves making sure they're getting self- actualization, and learning and doing things that are interesting.
Rob Collie (00:40:03): I'm sitting here realizing yet again, first of all, how fortunate I was into crossing paths with you, but also like kind of like everyone deserves this fair shake. Looking back at our interactions before we worked together, I look back and go, "Really?" You had plenty of data on me, things that I look back on and go, oh man, those are not smart things that I was doing. It's very clear to me, I wasn't demonstrating the kind of excellence that I wish I was. But for you to see through that and go, ah, look at the raw material there. I don't think most people can do that, I don't think most people are capable of separating those two things. You've got all of this surface level signal that sort of dominates the field, it dominates the field of vision. I'm positive people were referring to me as a bozo, like behind the scenes, and you saw something different and we're patient and helped me develop. That is not management, that's leadership, that's development.
Rob Collie (00:41:01): That's being a good human and holy cow, we need more of that. How do you go about getting to know the people on your team and adapting your approach? Even back then, the two thousands, I noticed you handling people on your team, it was like, you were a different manager for each of us. You did absolutely fit and morph how you handled people, do you have a methodology there? Or how do you go about all that?
Dave Gainer (00:41:29): No, I don't have a methodology, that's kind of a funny word even bring up in the context.
Rob Collie (00:41:33): You're Mr. Methodology.
Dave Gainer (00:41:35): I'm going to open the webpage and look at instruction at five dash seven to see how to like deal Rob Collie.
Rob Collie (00:41:40): Okay. Philosophy approach.
Dave Gainer (00:41:42): Well, so it goes back, like again, what is our job as leaders? We're given this pool of assets that in the case of software, as some combination of existing brand and customers, but people. And so your job's to get the most out of those assets you can, for the benefit of the customer. I don't know this is something I was ever formally educated on, or again, if I have is lost in the missed the time. This is a discussion I have with a lot of people that work in our teams that are managers, which is, we're all individuals, we are trying to create an environment here where everybody can be their authentic selves at work. I think all it is, is saying like, boy, if I can meet Rob, where he is, as opposed to like asking Rob to snap, to my style and needs and personalities, A, we're going to do better in our communication interaction relationship. And Rob will feel like Rob can be Rob and that he's understood, and certainly a discussion I have with managers of my team from time to time.
Dave Gainer (00:42:39): Go figure out the people on the team, spend time to try and understand them and what kind of communication style they have, what they're interested in all those things. And then the more that you can sort of adapt how you work with them to their world view and style, the better it'll be overall. I think it's just the philosophy I've always had.
Rob Collie (00:42:59): You're a methodical person. What you just explained is essentially a very analytical way of looking at things, but without all of the coldness that usually goes with the word analytical. What truly matters?
Dave Gainer (00:43:14): Yeah. I'm not analytical at all, I'm extremely intuitive. I know you're very analytical, because you come from a math and logic and philosophy background.
Rob Collie (00:43:23): No, I'm also very intuitive, I'm not nearly the left brain thinker that I thought I was. I got through high school science and math based on raw intuition alone, and then when things started to get really dicey, like in Diffy Q and stuff like that, it turned out and I just didn't speak to me. Calculus one in high school, okay, that was kind of the limits of where intuition can take you. But I pressed blue on the personality test, the analytical, like I put that hat on when I came to work quite a bit.
Dave Gainer (00:43:51): I pressed green on that thing, and so no one knows what these colors mean, the point being I'm centered in relationships. Some of this is just go put yourself in the position of that other person and then say, how would I like the world to unfold? And that's sort of my coaching to people is, just sit down in their chair. Because there's people that are going to show up and say, I'm all about the work. So I'm going to sit down and we're going to start the meeting, and it's going to be a whatever you're working on, feature, performance business case. And then you have people on the flip side that want to have relationships and understand those things, and if you can take people and say, think about how you would want to be treated in this interaction, then flip that around. And as leader, that's probably not a bad way to approach things of.
Rob Collie (00:44:30): All the people I've with in my entire career, I've never worked with someone with as many clear principles as you. You have these guidelines, rules, you have so many of them. The word methodology or philosophy or whatever, I know it's difficult when you're just talking about what it's like to be you. You've always been you, a morphing and evolving version of yourself. But from the outside, I think it's a lot more striking as some of the things that make you different. Here are a few that I remember, ready for this? You've mentioned a bunch already, think about how your people would like to be treated and treat them that way. We could go through and put bullet points in like 11 of the things that you've said so far, tack them up on the whiteboard is like pearls of wisdom according to Dave. You're not trying to write a book, this is just how you operate. From back in the day when I worked for you, you had all kinds of things. So here's an example, make the easy thing easy to do. If there's a more complicated thing to in the software, they can climb the learning curve for that. But don't pollute the easy thing with the complicated thing, which of course, computer scientists only want to do it the other way, they want the "elegance". So for example, we were doing the conditional formatting dialogue, and it had been like a rules engine dialogue for years, and we were going to make that even more complicated. And you said, "Well, what about just selecting some cells and slapping a data bar format on that? Can't we just have like a button on the ribbon that does that, and then still have this rules dialogue." That was kind of groundbreaking for me, I took that principle with me. You had other ones, like if you have to decide between two features for the product, as far as you can tell, they're completely equal in value. Pick the one that's more visual, the one that lends itself to screenshots better. Because it's easier for people to see on the back of the box or whatever what the value of it is.
Rob Collie (00:46:29): You had other principles, like let's not spread ourselves so thin and build 80% of a zillion different features, let's build cohesive features around common themes where when we're done, we can look at it and we can say, we're proud of it. There's even a test, like a validation for it at the end. I had never encountered someone at Microsoft really even since who's like that, now I've tried to be like that. I think people who work with me, if they're listening to this, they go, oh, that's where he got it. I'm doing this all the time, but all the time for me is like 20% the rate at which you do it. Whatever we want to call it, that's something that to me is very different about you, and different in a very valuable and positive way.
Dave Gainer (00:47:21): Well, I appreciate the comments, I wrote down a few things as you're talking. One of my principles, and I don't have a pithy way of saying this is, everyone's an individual so like figure that out. And so you're saying the computer scientists did this, you're drawing this distinction. I've met probably in my life now thousands of computer scientists that were not like that, that were sort of super customer focused, I don't try and stratify the world. It sounds like there's computer scientists and then there's us, and I don't really see it like that. You know what I mean?
Rob Collie (00:47:47): Just to clarify, I mean the person that identifies as a computer scientist, before they identify as a human, before they identify as a professional that's building software, those people exist. I kind of came from that factory, I was a little bit defective. It wasn't 100% with me, but that's kind of where I'd come from, originally.
Dave Gainer (00:48:09): Some of this might just be hard wiring. I think even before I started go to university, I always just loved quotations. Maybe it's my version of like movies for you.
Rob Collie (00:48:17): It is.
Dave Gainer (00:48:18): If you go look at my bookshelf, I used to go buy books like Oxford's book of parables, and Oxford's book of quotations and I'd read it. I found a book the other day that I had university where I'd write down interesting quotations, since then move that to a doc where I've got all these things written down. And so I think there's just a part of my way, that's how my brain organizes things. I'd say to other things, I went through life learning from other people. There was this partner, the consulting company I started out with, he was awesome. This is back when PCs were just emerging, and you still did projections with actual overheads as opposed to PowerPoint plugged into things. But he had this binder, and we'd have these project reviews where we'd be like some giant project and we'd see how it's going. This binder was just full of slides that would have a picture, and a sentence on it, and he'd literally pull these things out and slap them up on the overhead at the right time.
Dave Gainer (00:49:05): He'd throw it up, and it would say, "When you're in a hole, stop digging." That was his way of just getting the 50 people that were working on this project to sort of stop and say, okay, something's not going right, and you're thrashing and you're not really dealing with that, so how about we just press pause. So there's role models, and I think a lot of these things just developed over time is again, you see things and my philosophy is treat everything as a new situation and evaluate it for what it is. Maybe to tie these things together, so how do you motivate people to things differently? Well, you reframe it for them. I think a lot of these things is just reframing it in ways that hopefully are simple, and because they're simple or self evident that you can motivate some people to move in a different direction. This's another question I get is like, I want to become a manager someday or I'm a manager and I want to get better at it.
Dave Gainer (00:49:49): A big part of my thing is then work for a lot of people, and pay very close attention to what they do. Because we all do things that are really, really good, and then we all do things that are less good me included. If you sort of make a study of that, you can pluck the pieces that are laudable and try and reemphasize the pieces that are less laudable, and that's going to develop you a ton.
Rob Collie (00:50:10): That's something else that I trace back to sort of that era in my life is where it begins, is thinking of myself as the Borg from Star Trek, going from environment to environment, manager to manager, colleagues, coworkers, et cetera, and trying to harvest the best habits of the people around me, and add them to my repertoire. If in the end, you're just sort of like this collection of all the best things you've been exposed to, plus a little bit of your own secret sauce. And that's not a bad place to end up, that can be a very powerful thing, and it's worked very well for me. Of those principles, there's one that I use pretty frequently still. I don't think this is one that would've risen to the concept of principle for you, but there was a conversation, basically the gist of it was someone on the team was talking about, we could do it that way. We could solve that problem, we could make that feature work the way that you wanted it to, but it'd just be really, really, really complicated, be a lot of work. You said, again, snapshot moment.
Rob Collie (00:51:11): You said something like, "Well, let me, let me tell you how this works. Customers trade us money for us to solve problems for them, we don't get to make our problems their problems, that's not how this relationship works." Do you remember saying that? Is that something you say frequently or was that a one off that I snapshotted have been parroting ever since?
Dave Gainer (00:51:33): I don't know if I use that phrase a bunch, I read something a while ago that's sort of similar. I think it was off Twitter or something like this, but the comment was, the easiest companies to disrupt to the ones that put the needs of their strategy ahead of their needs of their customers. And so I don't say that to people that I think it's just a good way to frame, we've got to organize these things around customer success, not around what's personally valuable to us. In my role now, I'm trying to get a bunch of smart, creative people organized around making customers successful. We really try and actually use data for that. When you and I were PMs back in the day, we were hired to make could bunch of decisions in the absence of information. But when I was hired at the company, one of the very first things I always did is we did a bunch of customer research, because we needed to sort of understand how customers were using the product was working on.
Dave Gainer (00:52:21): And so what did we do? We wrote out a bunch of questions, we typed them up, and then we printed off 10,000 copies and paid someone to put 10,000 copies in envelopes, and sent them out to the world, and we got about a thousand of them back. The internet was just sort of a thing that was coming along, and so that was the state of the art on how you collected information. So if that's the best information you have, you have to go find people like Rob and Dave that can take very complete information and try and figure things out, and design some things and ship them, and hope it works out. You've talked about you ship things, then you get feedback five years from now. Like that's not at all what we do anymore, and my joke is, it used to be our job was to try and figure out things because we had no information, now our job is not to do that.
Dave Gainer (00:53:03): Because between the customer systems we've set up, the telemetry we have about what happens in the product, the way we build software, all that uncertainty is taken away. And you have real time feedback, and you know if what you're trying to do is succeeding. And so, it's less about evaluating features at my level and saying, hey, we have to go take the product its direction. Can you people spend a bunch of time in customers and figure out what we need to do and then start building some stuff, iterating, experimenting, and learning and get there. You had a podcast with Ken our MVP friend, I love all the podcasts, but there was part of that I felt really good about, because he talked about how customer focus the Excel team had become. It's not just the Excel team, it's sort of the way we do things these days. Which is, it starts with a customer it's focused on the customer, we collect data, we build these features, we get them out in early rings of validation, we watch very carefully what's happening.
Dave Gainer (00:53:56): Quite often, our designs were not right and we pull them back in, change them or address them, we tweak them. Part of the exit criteria is people are successfully using it to do things they could not do before, the worlds just so different. I don't really have that anymore, partly because I play a different role in the company. I'm not doing those sort of things, but partly just because of the way we do things in software development these days doesn't even lend themselves to those sort of discussions as much.
Rob Collie (00:54:19): Well, that's certainly better. But what's funny is that I think I'm very fortunate though that I worked at my Microsoft in the era of incomplete information, because most of the world isn't like that, most of the world doesn't have instrumentation. The software world, yes. Okay, great. Everything's gone instrumented in the software, but so much of the world, the information is always incomplete.
Dave Gainer (00:54:42): Yap.
Rob Collie (00:54:43): The training I got at Microsoft, like it was just crazy, like the pace we had had to move. You're making double digit decisions every day on how the product behaves, and those decisions largely stick and you don't have time to go commission a research project. The ability to extrapolate from principles and incomplete information and move fast has been a real credit it to me in the outside world, even as you're getting instrumented internally and not needing those skills as much. The bootcamp that I got in that 15 years that I was there has been incredibly valuable, outside the wire. Going back to that customers trade us money to solve problems, that is essentially the whole mission here at P3. I didn't know how broken the BI consulting industry was until I saw that it could be better. When I was goofing around with Power Pivot back in 2010, I didn't expect it to be that good. And then as I was using it, I'm like, just to write a blog, I was just trying to write a blog, I wasn't trying to discover the next great thing.
Rob Collie (00:55:53): When I went, "Oh my God, look at all of the things that are broken in BI, and this fixes them," just down the line, the BI consulting industry has for years, forever, made all of the problems with their business model. All the problems with the software, all of it, has just always made it the customer's problem. The customer pays dearly for all of that. Our dangerous little idea here, you mentioned things, you weren't sure that they were going to work. You weren't even sure if you could solve the problem, even in a computing manner. We weren't really 100% sure we could do it, but we were sure that we were going to find out. We were stubborn about, can we take all those problems, solve them internally, insulate the customer from those problems, and deliver the best possible experience for the customer.
Rob Collie (00:56:43): We have another set internally, which is it's really one that's mostly me, when I say we, which is just constantly saying the sports team that just won the super bowl, they're, "Nobody believes in us, nobody gave us a chance." Because we have had to absorb a lot of doubt, sometimes internal doubt. We've had people on the team over the years that turned out they didn't really believe in what we were doing, they just kept waiting for us to switch to the more traditional business model. Then those people aren't here anymore, I mean, they eventually voted with their feet. We've reached the point there's not really much limit to how we can scale, that's a crazy thing to say. As a professional services firm, we are not really sure that there's a max size for us and boy, what a gratifying process that has been. Again, in some small part, it traces back to you saying, "Oh no, no. Let me explain to you how this works."
Dave Gainer (00:57:40): It's such a funny thing, because when you say that, I'm like, okay, you and I had this interaction at a time where it all made sense. But I can also imagine someone listening to this, like how is that insightful at all? It's this funny thing of course that's why companies exist. You guys have also had to iterate, adjust, react to feedback, try things, they don't work you back up, you try other things. I feel like in some sense, if I get again ...
Dave Gainer (00:58:03): ... back up, you try other things. I feel like in some sense, if I yet again, philosophical on you, same process, different thing. You're trying to build a company, but you're trying to build a company that's very customer centered at its heart and iterating your way there and being very clear about what the measurements are and what success looks like, right?
Rob Collie (00:58:17): That's true. We're much more on the monthly cadence than the multi-year cadence. We don't have an official monthly milestone of where we remake the company every month or something like that, but there's been a lot of trial and error and refinement and evolution. And looking back on it, it's one of the most gratifying things that you can do is to operate that way and grow that way, as opposed to the old, every three years, we'd make a huge guess and an incomplete effort at that at the way things should be.
Rob Collie (00:58:49): So those principles of yours, the things that you say that we use to guide things, now those were sentences that no one would ever disagree with them, right? There's an art to this, which is, people might hear that sentence and go, "Well, that's just dumb. That's just the simplest thing ever. I can't imagine that being all that effective or useful", right? But that's the thing. That is it. That is exactly the spirit of it that I learned, which is, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of things that you can say about how you should be going about your business that all sound right. And maybe they all are right. And none of them sound like genius or rocket science, right? But knowing which ones of those simple statements are actually really important to follow and which are the ones that you can not pay attention to, is a tremendously important art.
Rob Collie (00:59:44): Nothing in the end needs to sound like it was super smart, and yet the smart is figuring out which of those things needs the bold button pressed. And again, this is something I have tried to emulate everywhere I have gone since then. Something else I'm "[borging 00:02:05]" from you. If there's value in this for you, it's just hearing a deeply observational person. I am an observational human being, right? I studied you under a microscope all those years, whether you knew it or not.
Dave Gainer (01:00:16): I didn't realize I was studied that carefully.
Rob Collie (01:00:19): It really was good news for me that I didn't really have a choice but to take you seriously. I mean, you are my manager, right? So you can't succeed if you and your manager aren't aligned on at least some important core principles. And if every idea, every plan that you have for things that you are going to do in the product, if they have to go through a certain person for approval, well, you better get good at communicating with and anticipating what that person is going to... what their reactions are going to be. The thing I wanted to highlight though, is that the principles that you fall in, in your business, if you're doing it right, they never sound like obscure, mystical genius. That's not how it is. If you're looking for that, you're looking in the wrong place. You need to find the simple things that you can all get behind and you can't pick everything.
Rob Collie (01:01:10): It's a prioritization between those things that you can use to guide yourself. We also had a really bad habit back in the day of, whenever we were talking about features and capabilities, we would always formulate it as a yes, no question. Should we add this to the product? And by formulating it as yes, no, we were already baking in friction and failure, because by the time something got to the point where we were asking that question, it was a good enough idea that the answer was probably yes.
Rob Collie (01:01:41): As simple as it sounds, you broke me and I think a lot of other people like me, of that habit and got us much more into the, "No, no, no, no, no. Not yes, no. We get so many things to do and we have to rank them against each other". And that's the question, is it more valuable than this other thing? Not, yes no. Very, very, very simple. Again, you have no idea to what degree that has successfully impacted in a positive direction everything I've done since then. I describe to people a lot of times like, "Hey, you know what? I'm really just a gainer franchise".
Dave Gainer (01:02:21): I don't know if franchise is the right word. You're going to have to come up with another word.
Rob Collie (01:02:26): All right.
Dave Gainer (01:02:26): Because I was your manager, so I'm willing to-
Rob Collie (01:02:28): Affiliate.
Dave Gainer (01:02:28): I'm willing to accept that I have some responsibility for how you developed as a person. When we spent time together, I couldn't do a podcast like this. I don't think I could have gone and built the business you built, and so like, sorry, but it's more complex than that.
Rob Collie (01:02:41): How about this? I was your student. I think that's a good way to put it. In the same way that Mark Cuban was Wayne Winston's student. Like, I don't think Mark Cuban is a Wayne Winston franchise, but he was a student.
Dave Gainer (01:02:57): Oh, I didn't realize that was the tie.
Rob Collie (01:02:59): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (01:02:59): Oh, yeah.
Dave Gainer (01:03:00): Okay, interesting. Did I miss that? Because I listened to that podcast. Did you guys talk about that or is... I don't remember that.
Rob Collie (01:03:05): Now that came out in Twitter after the fact when Tom tagged Mark.
Dave Gainer (01:03:09): Oh, okay.
Rob Collie (01:03:10): So apparently Mark sneaked into Wayne's class when he wasn't allowed to be there yet. Freshmen weren't allowed in his class, but Wayne let him stay. That left an impression, I think. Okay. So I didn't know at the time we crossed paths, that I needed the type of input that I was going to get from you. Your style of looking at the world and the way that you mentor people and the way that you try to get people to sort of align their thinking and help them be effective, it was the first and maybe the last time that I've encountered someone with your style, and it made a profound impact on me. And again, I didn't expect it. I just thought, "Hey, this is going to be another stop on my tour of managers that I have to listen to".
Rob Collie (01:03:57): Yeah, I was young. So if I can try to characterize it for people who are listening, which is awkward, because I'm talking about someone who we're interviewing at the same time, but there was never anything that masqueraded as advanced or magical or some super intelligent thing, right? And there was a lot of that in my career up until that point. I had experienced a lot of the other kind of deliberately mystical type of leadership. All that faded away working with you and it came down to a bunch of really simple ideas and simple sentences that, if you take them out of context, no one would think they were all that valuable. You'd be like, "Well, like of course". Almost everything I learned from you, if I just tell people one of those things, they go, "Yeah, duh. Of course it's like that", right?
Rob Collie (01:04:54): But then I go, "Yeah, that's not the thing though. What's really important here is that this principle, if you follow it, it really makes a difference. It's one of those simple things that everyone's going to agree with when they hear it, and yet no one lives by it", right? And when you go about picking these things and living by them and acting according to them, it changes your entire life. It's crazy. That's got to be a little awkward to hear you summarized to you. "It's not for you, Dave. I'm summarizing it for the audience". Okay? So it's all good.
Dave Gainer (01:05:31): Well, one thing I used to say to you all the time was, "Perception's a reality". So you can summarize me however you want, because it's your perception.
Rob Collie (01:05:38): Okay. Hold on. I just said to everybody that there wasn't any mystical shit and then you come out with perceptions of reality. It's like, "Oh God". You're like the Sphinx from Mystery Men suddenly. Come on, try to stay on brand, Dave.
Dave Gainer (01:05:55): Sorry about that, Rob. It's definitely a lot easier to say things than do them. Every company in the world will say, "We need to be customer focused or be customer obsessed". There's a very wide range of actual realities with all those companies saying the same thing, and so I think one thing that's always been important is be clear about what you're doing as a group, as a team and in individual, and then go really focus in doing that. Articulation and principles have to be the same as outcomes and it's very easy for that kind of stuff not to happen.
Dave Gainer (01:06:28): My time at Accenture, they had lots of wonderful training programs. One of their lines was, "Think straight, talk straight", right? Like go look at things, see them for what they are, sort it out, write a course of action and then do that. No drama, no fuss, no muss, and I think some of that probably rubbed off on me anyway. Some of that probably fit in with the worldview I already had. And I think a lot of the interactions you and I had when we were working together were very much in that matter of speaking, right?
Rob Collie (01:06:53): Yeah. Oh absolutely. Even some of my most crushing defeats. Yeah, anyway. We don't have to go into that. It's such a hard thing to summarize. You gave me a guide, a how-to, a kit, but it wasn't a kit that I of followed to turn into all of those things that I had struggled with. It was a kit to go and be like an authentic version of myself with very grounded principles and not worrying about trying to act the part. I had been trying to act the part of a Microsoft software engineneer, and it turns out that's kind of silly because that's a million different people. There isn't such a thing, right? First go be the best version of yourself is probably a good place to start, and I wasn't doing that.
Dave Gainer (01:07:47): Certainly the most satisfying things I do when I manage or lead people, and I also think it's an important aspect of leadership, is helping people grow and self-actualize. And everybody's different and everybody has some different set of skills and experiences and behaviors and background that they bring forward. And I think the more we can create environments that they can just be that person and that they can have sort of the confidence to do it, the results for them, whoever their customers are, whatever company they're working for, are going to be that much better. And so I have historically spent lots of time on that, working with people. To me, that's every bit as important as, "Hey, let's talk about the product strategy", or, "Let's talk about the latest competitive move", or what have you, right? Because I'm not going to do everything. I'm just a person.
Dave Gainer (01:08:35): There's a bunch of people I work with on my team and the more that they can be amazing at what they are and who they are and what they do, that's where the leverage comes in. And you know this now, right? Because you're in charge of a company and it's big and you were saying, "This thing could scale endlessly". The real problem to getting to scale is getting a bunch of human beings that are sort of effective, and there's one playbook, which is hire herds of young people out of university and send them to 12 or 16 weeks of training so they all sort of become the same. The army bootcamp model.
Dave Gainer (01:09:03): Or the other model is just help people embrace who they are and their talents. And I think that if you and I had done this podcast 10 years ago, I don't even know if I had the self-awareness to be talking about it like this. Another thing that I found is I've become much more cognizant about what I'm doing. I think a lot of it I was doing anyway, but the whole philosophy behind it and the intentionality of it is much more now so than it was back when you were a manager and I was your boss and we were just figuring things out together.
Rob Collie (01:09:28): That's astounding because I think that younger version of you is the most intentional person I've ever known. So you're like, "Oh yeah, I was really amateur back then. I've really gotten intentional now". Like, "Ooh, I need to come do an executive internship or something, I think, just to check this out. I got to see what this looks like".
Dave Gainer (01:09:48): Well, I think this is where your background comes into it, right? Part of this is DNA, I think. And part of it just your background and other influences. Like our family has a share of characters like any family, but I got super lucky. I have two amazing parents and they did the most important things right. They let me pursue the things that were interesting, but they always had my back, right? It was sort of this, "We trust you, we respect, but we let you explore". But the other thing is, they were just incredibly good role models. They're honest to a fault, they're both super hard working. They sort of taught us, "Do the right thing, even if it sucks", and I think that's a big part of some of these themes.
Rob Collie (01:10:24): Did you listen to the episode we did with Lori Rodriguez, who at the time was with Gartner?
Dave Gainer (01:10:30): I'm about a third of the way through that one.
Rob Collie (01:10:31): That was a long one because she and I just took off. I think Tom had to go at some point. We ran for like another hour. We talk about the movie Ratatouille and there's this tension in the movie Ratatouille, between the chef that inspired the rat in the first place to cook. And the chef was famous for saying, "Anyone can cook". And then there's this critic, this food critic, very snobby food critic, who plays the villain for like nine tenths of the movie, and he thinks this is just preposterous, right? Anyone can cook. That's just silly. There's clearly a difference between good cooks and bad cooks, right? And in the end, without you ever expecting it, they resolve this tension with a modified version, which is, "A chef can come from anywhere". I'm going to spin this, right? A leader can come from anywhere.
Rob Collie (01:11:24): I don't think everyone's a good leader, right? Like we can look around and see plenty of bad leaders, right? Or people that you can't imagine ever being a good leader. We have the ability to differentiate between good leaders and bad leaders, right? There's clearly a difference, but their origin stories... You shouldn't expect the origin stories of good leaders to be somehow homogeneous. There's two or three different themes I'm sort of messing around with in my head for this interview. One of them is again, look at your background.
Rob Collie (01:11:55): Like mine, it's very, really funny. We just talked about how intentional you are, but as a youngster, it was more like wandering the earth, like Caine from Kung Fu, right? I'm the same way. I didn't go to grad school because there weren't any checks in my checkbook when I got to the front of the line to take the test, and I'm like, "Well, okay. Well, must be getting a job then".
Dave Gainer (01:12:19): Are you serious about that?
Rob Collie (01:12:20): I am totally serious about that. I got to the front of the line. I'm like, "Well, there's that Florida Auburn game on today. I clearly was meant to be there instead". So I chalked it up to fate. I didn't want to take that test anyway. That test sucked.
Dave Gainer (01:12:34): That is awesome. As different as we are, and we're pretty different in a lot of ways, I think we share that similarity. Because the reason I ended up in an MBA school, as opposed to doing like a master's degree in History, is I didn't get around to finishing the application for the history degree on time so I just never mailed it in.
Rob Collie (01:12:48): Yeah. I mean, it is kind of a test of whether you really care, right? Like, did you really want it? You can't even fill out the application. Same with me, right? I couldn't be bothered to register for this exam or whatever. The GRE or whatever.
Thomas LaRock (01:13:03): G [inaudible 01:13:03].
Rob Collie (01:13:03): I couldn't register for it in advance. I had to do the walk-in and I get to the front and I don't have any checks. I'm like, "Mm, whatever. No big deal". So there went my promising career in operations research that I didn't even understand what that meant. It just seemed like it was a good fit for all the stuff I'd been studying and enjoying at the time. So never got to find out what OR really is about. There you go. There's the path not taken. Hey, you and I played hockey together. There's another thing we did together. We ended up on hockey teams together. If I describe two things to you that they will sound mathematically identical. To the really logical, left brainy analysis, they will sound identical. When you're going to shoot and try to score a goal in hockey, you can try to aim the puck around the goalie, right? You can try to aim the puck in a way that it avoids the goalie, or you could aim the puck in a way that tries to hit the open net. Now these are, in some sense, identical statements, but in practice, there are all the difference in the world. You have to shoot for the net. You have to shoot for the open net. The reason I'm using this metaphor is that everyone brings their own quote, unquote, strengths and weaknesses, to the table. You can talk about mitigating your weaknesses, or you can talk about leveraging your strengths.
Rob Collie (01:14:17): What I have found is that leaning into your strengths, you can't ignore your weaknesses. You got to work on those, but you can't go through life just trying to be the absence of these downsides that you might bring. The old saying, "You go to war with the army you've got".
Dave Gainer (01:14:30): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:14:31): Today, you lean into the strengths of the people that you have, right? Rather than trying to homogenize them all with a bootcamp, right?
Dave Gainer (01:14:41): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:14:41): But when you end up with the smaller teams that run for years and years, like at Microsoft, you have the opportunity to do it the other way.
Dave Gainer (01:14:48): Oh, totally. And I think probably when you and I worked together... I don't know if we ever explained that. There was a moment in time where I became the person responsible for... like the Head of Product for Excel, and Rob was a manager on the team, and that was the first time. We'd sort of bumped into each other in the hallway, but I think that was the first time it ever dawned on me that I was now in a job so big, I couldn't actually pay attention to all the details.
Dave Gainer (01:15:11): That was probably the first point in my mind that was formalized is, "Boy, I need a lot of clever people and we need to make sure they have structure and direction, but it's up to them to be great". I can't go waiting and spend time with Rob and everyone on Rob's team and then we'd had another need-lead named Charlie. And it was too many of them. Too many ideas flying around. And so that's part of where I really figured out my job is to help make sure Rob's being as great as he can, because that's actually what's going to make the product great and give the customers what they need. And that's about me growing and supporting Rob.
Rob Collie (01:15:44): Was that your first time being a manager of managers or had you had previous experience with that?
Dave Gainer (01:15:50): I had been a manager of managers at Accenture and then when I joined Microsoft, I went back to just being an individual contributor. And I think because I had management experience, it was easier to head back up the hierarchy, but it's just a different job. At Accenture, your job's to make sure everything's perfect, so you do spend your days... Or at least many years ago when I was there, a large of it was waiting through all the details in a product like Microsoft Project or something like that, to make sure everything was perfect. But it was just a very, very different world.
Rob Collie (01:16:15): You say that that was the time when you realized that you couldn't track all the details. It's funny though, I remember, boy, did you want to. You had an amazing capacity and hunger to keep track of as much as you could. It was impressive. One of the jokes used to be, you always had an opinion. You could weigh in on almost anything, right? And you did. You were much more interested in the details of how that product worked than most, if not all the managers I had before or after. And yet at the same time, I understand... And I'm not saying you were wrong, that you didn't have to delegate. You did absolutely, but you were pretty good about establishing a framework. Did I ever tell you that in the end, a tremendous amount of the development that I got out of working with you, I got it while you weren't even around?
Rob Collie (01:17:07): After a while, I could sit down and start role playing what you were going to say and I'd be like, "Okay, so I could just go through the process". Like I had this idea of how the product should work and I would sort of have my rough draft in my head. I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to go pitch this to Dave. What's he going to say? Oh, he's going to say that this is, oh, this, this and this. Dammit.", right? And so those thoughts wouldn't enter my head until I went through the process of switching around mentally and sitting in your chair and saying, "What's Dave going to say? What was Dave Gainer going to say?". There's this sort of exploit in the AI world where, if you've got an algorithm that is highly tuned for something but it's got a published API, you can use that published API and feed it a whole bunch of input and use it to train your own clone of that API, right? Of the AI behind the scenes, right?
Rob Collie (01:18:02): I kind of think that's what I did, is that I used the Dave API to train this other part of my brain that apparently had been used for Minesweeper or something up until that point. These were uninitialized neurons. I had more capacity. And so I end up carrying this miniature Dave around with me and the funniest part is that I'm sure every now and then, you would say something and I'd go, "That's not what Dave would say at all". I do vaguely remember cases like going, "Oh, come on. That is so not you. That's not... You're supposed to say X, Y, Z".
Dave Gainer (01:18:47): We talked at some point about principles, right? And the use of principles to guide things. I think part of why I was big on that and I remain big on that is, how do you motivate a bunch of human beings in some common direction without telling them what to do, right? Principles are a super effective technique for doing that. Part of it is how do I get Rob, and I don't know how many people you had working for you. Let's say four, and then Charlie and his five and [Cordell 01:19:10] and his three. That's a lot of people. So how do you get them thinking the same way without telling them what to do? Because I'm very much against that.
Dave Gainer (01:19:18): You lay out principles that are either rallying points or logical tests or the kind of things to consider. And then your job gets simpler and they have to talk to you less, and I think that's a win-win. And then serious thing, you have a better memory than me. So I don't remember the kind of details I drilled on probably nearly as much as you do, but even there what I would say, and I still tell people this, how do you choose what you spend your time on, Dave? You have a lot of things going on. My boss recently asked me, how do you prioritize your time? And he sort of expected I would go down by product, like the most important product first and the second most. And I was like, "No, no, no, no, no. You need to figure out enough of what's going on in your world and then build a heat map". I'm a very visual person, so even inside my head, when I look at stuff in my world, some of it's red, some it's green, some of it's orange.
Dave Gainer (01:20:05): And then you go spend the time on the place where it's red, because the green stuff's going fine, and me injecting myself there is only going to mess it up. And so I think the story I'm going to make up retroactively, and you might say, "Well, that's not true", is that part of the technique is go figure out enough detail to know, "This is fine", or, "No, there's smoke here". In which case you, as a leader, want to spend time there. And if it's fine, then completely back off and let people do great work because you hire these people to do great work, and in general, they do. Do you see that in your world? You got a pretty big company these days?
Rob Collie (01:20:37): Well, yeah. Five years ago it was really clear to me that this was something I got working with you. This is a skill that I had developed working with you, that I did not have before and it is indispensable. We've both admitted to being very intuitive thinkers, and intuition is the type of thinking that doesn't happen in words. It's almost impossible to transmit an intuition across people. It might be an amazing insight, but it is the opposite of verbal. And I had gone through my whole life being what I thought was very effective, with that style of thinking without of course realizing that's what I was, right?
Rob Collie (01:21:20): I had no idea that that was the kind of thinking I did, because it was all I ever knew. And running into you, you kept... You bastard. You just kept insisting that I transmit my reasons for thinking something through the air, to your ears, right? I was really flustered at the beginning. I'm like, "No, that's not how this works". You see, I know what the right thing is and you're like, "Why?", and I'm like, "Ah". I was at a loss, right? And I was talking about, I would role play Dave in my head. Well, of course it was a lot easier for me to role play you when you were transmitting these principles. You were taking the time to digest your intuitions and put them into little tiny digestible, transmittable... You were translating them from Dave intuitive speak into English that could go from brain to brain and trigger a similar sort of thinking on the other side.
Rob Collie (01:22:26): It turns out, that's a lot of work if you've never done it. And you weren't mean about it, but you were not going to let me get away with saying, "Trust me". That wasn't going to work. You did trust me. It wasn't like that, but if you wanted to know why I couldn't look at you and go, "Oh, it's just... Just trust me", right? And so in the course of those few years, I learned to sort of retroactively inspect my own intuition, backtrack along that thought process, and extract the words out of it, turn it into a sentence. It's almost like being a historian for your own thought process and summarizing it and then be able to transmit it across. And I take this for granted now. It is so second nature. It's effortless now, and it's just this conversation that reminds me, that in my mid to late twenties, this was anything but effortless.
Rob Collie (01:23:28): In fact it was alien. I couldn't do it at all. It's like not being able to stay on your feet on ice skates versus playing hockey. I couldn't even keep my balance at this particular skill, and I do this all the time. We're having some discussion about how we should operate or whatever. Whatever business issue we're discussing or new service or whatever that we're discussing at our company, I still have the same intuitive thought process. It's still the same things, right?
Dave Gainer (01:23:58): Yep.
Rob Collie (01:23:59): But I can now transmit. I can transmit why, and by transmitting why, you actually help other people, first of all, get on the same page with you. You might even be wrong. Your intuition might actually be wrong, and if you can transmit your reasons clearly, you can help figure out whether or not you're wrong. Whereas if you can't transmit and you're in charge, oh my gosh, you're just always going to do what you think. You're going to win all ties. I would actually say it's the most important thing that I developed working with you by far and the second place isn't even close.
Dave Gainer (01:24:36): And it's funny, we're clearly wired the same way. Companies have you do these psychological profiles like Myers Briggs and Insights and stuff to help you understand yourself and understand those around you, and I remember in one of those, probably the Insights one, there's some text that describes you. A line that I read that I thought that's perfect, which was, "Dave will often experience thoughts much more intensely than he can describe them in words", right?. I remember thinking how weird it is they figured that out about me based on whatever questionnaire I'd done and how true that was, right? Because I'll sit in these meetings and think, "Bam! I have this thing in my head and I just can't get it out in time". I have a very slow-twitch brain and I've had to train all my managers. Quite often when we come back to 30 minutes after a meeting and discussion with what I actually think about it, because I just can't do it in the real time.
Dave Gainer (01:25:22): You think about, "Okay, where did I get that from? Why was I there before you?". I don't really know the answer because it wasn't like if he went and found Dave in high school, he was like this, but I think a lot of where I got this from was writing a lot of English and History papers, which I find hard to this day. I find writing incredibly challenging, even though I have a whole degree in it, but it's sort of this training of read complex stuff, summarise it, get it in explainable principles, and then communicate it. And practice, practice, practice.
Dave Gainer (01:25:49): So when I did that for four years and wrote I don't how many, like 50 papers, I emerged the other side, having trained my brain to some degree to say, "Here's how I take a thing and communicate it to others in a way that's summarized enough that they can understand what I'm doing". And so it's another example of, "Huh, what makes a good leader?". Well, I don't know. Any background can be drawn upon. Leadership isn't a course you take. It's not a degree at school. It's also probably very circumstantial, like that one just happens to be good for the kind of work we do.
Rob Collie (01:26:16): When you said Dave often experiences thoughts, and what was it? More powerfully than he can put into words or whatever, right? I'm just nodding vigorously here. That's absolutely me, right? And it was so frustrating for so long to be on an island with those thoughts and no ability to communicate. No ability to share them. No ability to even, heck, get validation or invalidation. Gosh, that's where you found me. You know the slow-twitch brain thing? I often describe my brain as a very, very, very unsophisticated engine, right? It'd be like a 1960s-
Dave Gainer (01:26:51): 426 Hemi.
Rob Collie (01:26:52): Yeah. 426 Hemi, right? It's got a lot of displacement. It's not high tech, it's not optimized. None of that. It's just brawn. I had before-
Rob Collie (01:27:03): None of that. It's just brawn. I had before crossing paths with you. One thing I had learned as a technique, a coping mechanism at work was to, in a meeting, I would say, Hey. I'm not sure about this. I do need some time to think about it. It won't be long. I'll circle back with you right? I won't be able to say all the things I need to say in response to what's happening in the meeting. I can't do it in real time but I do reserve some space to think about it and come back to you quickly. And before I discovered that trick, I just got steamrolled all the time right? Because if I couldn't get my thoughts out, the meeting would end and a conclusion would be drawn and it wouldn't benefit from what I had to contribute.
Dave Gainer (01:27:44): And then you can invert that and say okay. Now Rob, you're a leader, Dave's a leader. What do you do with that information? This is why I'm such a believer of figuring out what people's authentic resting place is and making sure you understand them, making sure it's okay for them to be that and that they can plug into the system in the way that makes sense for them right? Because imagine if all your managers said, Rob. I understand how your brain works and I have these discussions with you. You would've been much more unleashed and comfortable earlier in your career. You wouldn't have had to figure it out yourself. And so I'm a really big believer in trying to spend time talking to people that work for you about not work or customers or all those things, and that stuff will always be there but about these sort of things.
Dave Gainer (01:28:33): What's the most effective way for Rob to participate in the collective work. This group of however many people are working on a product or project or trying to do. Because bringing that to the forefront and talking about it, legitimizes work styles, puts that person in a place where they can be much more effective. And this is an example when I say I'm a different human being than I was 10 or 15 years ago when we worked together. I stumbled through this with you but now it's much more of an active thing I manage right?
Thomas LaRock (01:28:59): This is a great conversation that I think we could probably spend hours and days talking about development of people and managers. It reminded me, I have this blog post from 11 years ago, which is essentially, Where Have All The Good Managers Gone. Because you often only hear about how, I can't find talent. I can't find the people I need. I can't find a good DBA. I can't find the people... If I could only find that Power BI Expert then we'd really be doing something. And the point in the post is really, the problem is, there's no leadership. And I don't know if you guys have seen the Netflix series, The Movies That Made Us. They're in their second season. We've binged three or four or last night but one was just Jurassic Park. And you guys are talking about these managers and there's this great story.
Thomas LaRock (01:29:51): Industrial Light and Magic have to make the dinosaurs. And it's 1995. You might be familiar. The levels of technology that existed in 1995. There's this guy at ILM who's like, "I think I can make a dinosaur look real computer animated." And the manager at ILM is like, "Don't you dare spend your time on that. We got a guy doing the stop motion and he's going to take care of all the dinosaur stuff for us. You are not to spend one moment of time on this." And so here to me, there's a manager, he's not encouraging his... He's like, "I'm here to execute orders. And the orders are stop motion." That's what Jurassic Park will look like. Done." So this guy's like, "Yeah. Well, F you. Because I think I can do it. I'm just going to working on it anyway."
Thomas LaRock (01:30:40): And he's so great. If you watch this, I don't want to spoil it but he's like, "I've been suspended from ILM three times in my career and I proudly put that on my resume." He goes to work and he does it. And as the executive producer's coming through on a tour one day, he makes sure that he has the skeleton. There's no skin or whatever. It's just the computer animated thing just going across the screen in a loop. And she walks in and she's like, " What the hell is that?" And he's like, "Well, it's a dinosaur." And she's like, "This is amazing." Spielberg is there. And he goes... His mind's blown. He's like, "This is amazing." They turn to the manager and they're like, "Why didn't you tell us we had this?" And the guy's like, "Yeah. That's something we've been working on. And you'll like what we have there."
Thomas LaRock (01:31:26): Meanwhile, he's looking at that guy like, "I can't believe you just did this to me." And as the words that were used, "this is political suicide. How dare you do what I told you not to do like this?" Meanwhile, Spielberg was like this movie's going to be amazing because now out we don't have to use that stupid stop motion stuff anymore.
Rob Collie (01:31:43): It would've looked like Sinbad.
Thomas LaRock (01:31:45): And so the idea of whether a person is a good leader, a manager and all that, everything that Dave's been talking about. I would say Dave is part of this minority when it comes to leadership and management and he's a blessing and I'm glad that Rob, you got to intersect with Dave during your time. I keep seeing other examples of where, for some reason, people rise to these levels but they're not really invested in making their people better. And I don't understand that because when you do, you make everything better for everybody. Not just you and them but your customers, the products. In this case, the movie. Jurassic park would've never been the same if not for this guy going, "yeah. I think I can make it look like a dinosaur that can walk." Although I have no idea how dinosaurs walk, that was another thing. He's like, "I've never seen a dinosaur walk. What does that look like?"
Rob Collie (01:32:35): Tom is what I would call a rabid advocate for humanity. That's something that he brings with intensity pretty much to everything. It's absolutely a credit to you. But if you're listening, you almost now get in the picture that Dave Gainer is a radical. Which is actually the exact opposite. I'll give you an example. He had this radical idea Dave. Rather than sitting around and coming up with just things we should put into the product, why don't we go and look at the data that we have. Data. There's that word right? Look at the data that we have about places where we're getting support calls. What are the top 10 things that generate support calls? And we go look at the list like and we're like this is a really boring list. Says Rob, right?
Rob Collie (01:33:22): Says untrained pre Dave, Rob, at the beginning of this process goes, "well, that's no fun at all. We're going to make printing better." Really? We're going to make printing better? And he was like, "Yeah. We're going to make printing better because that's what people are doing." And I remember saying, okay. That's great. Fine. But I want nothing to do with that because that's... But here's the thing, by the time that feature set was done, the improvements to printing in that particular release, I was able to look at it and go, you know what? That actually was a very interesting problem.
Rob Collie (01:33:57): It was a very interesting problem and a very gratifying problem. And so I'm picking on myself at the beginning of that release. Really just to set up the punchline that at the end, that simplicity of doing the thing that actually was going to affect a lot of people and improve what they do was actually in a way, it was its own version of radical. There's this moment in Fight Club where Edward Norton says, "You know what? It all started to make a little bit of sense in the end." Something about letting that which does not matter truly slide and focusing on the things that do.
Dave Gainer (01:34:32): Yeah. I don't know. Radical and Dave Gainer are not things that have been used together before this podcast.
Thomas LaRock (01:34:37): They should be.
Rob Collie (01:34:38): It's a quiet radicalism. It's a conformist radicalism.
Dave Gainer (01:34:42): Here's how I'm going to prove this. That it's not radical. We're going to talk about the U.S. Army. And so there's this miniseries, Band of Brothers right?
Rob Collie (01:34:50): Yeah.
Dave Gainer (01:34:50): Many people have probably seen that. Turns out it's true. You might have read the book that it was based off and that's actually what happened. And the guy in charge of that, one of the main characters was Dick Winters. And at some point someone gives me a photocopy of a book he wrote where in the last page, is his 10 principles of leadership right? And so here we are, this is someone that was a paratrooper, the most elite or I guess one of the most elite things in the military, he went and fought his way across Europe, tough guy right? These are his leadership principles. Some of them sound more military than others. I'm looking at them right now because I actually have them taped up on my door.
Dave Gainer (01:35:22): One is, lead from the front. Say, follow me. Lead from the way. There's one about staying in top physical shape. But then here let's talk about number four. Develop your team. If you know your people, you're fair in setting realistic goals and expectations and you lead by example, you will develop teamwork right? U.S. Military. And this isn't their formal doctrine but this is clearly so someone that's been successful. Number five, I love because this is one of these ones where I read it and said, yeah. That's my philosophy around how I work as a leader. Put into words, delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs. You can't do a good job if you don't have a chance to use your imagination and creativity. And so what I would say is, I don't think it's radical. I think it's what we're supposed to do as leaders.
Dave Gainer (01:36:01): My job is to provide framing, direction, clarity of objectives, talk about resource allocation and then let talented people do their thing. And I need to have enough connective tissue. And this goes back to the principles that Rob and I talked about. But boy, if I can have Rob Collie working on how to make something better in my product as opposed to me because he's going to go do it full time and bring the full weight of his imagination. And if Rob's surrounded by some other talented people in product and design and whether our disciplines are involved, this be like 100 times better than what I'm going to do. And that's just like a fact.
Dave Gainer (01:36:32): This is why this is my philosophy. Like number six, Rob, you'll enjoy this one. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. You and I talked about, I worry about everything. You were pruning the tree right? There's another good one. Seven, don't worry about who receives any credit. Never let power or authority go to your head. Number eight, take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask you if you did your best work.
Rob Collie (01:36:57): Can I stop for a second?
Dave Gainer (01:36:58): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:36:58): That last one. Never worry about the credit, power, et cetera.
Dave Gainer (01:37:01): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:37:02): I run into a lot of people who think that leadership is about getting your orders followed. Leadership is the act of being listened to. Because I think that's a lot of people's initial impressions of it. If you're going to be in a leadership position, the first thing you need to do is get over that concept of it. Because it's toxic, and its self-defeating, it is not going to help you. It is a very common default for sure.
Thomas LaRock (01:37:30): Look at that.
Rob Collie (01:37:31): I have a list of paradoxical commandments of leadership. When Dave may mentioned... This is a little more formal military but it's just so funny because when you started saying those, I'm like, I wonder if there's overlap on these. But these are things like, the good you will do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. I've had this posted I don't know how many years now. It's just so funny he mentioned that he had something posted there.
Dave Gainer (01:37:54): Does it say the best plan is often to do nothing? I'm just kidding.
Rob Collie (01:38:01): No. It doesn't.
Thomas LaRock (01:38:01): Does it say until you master your fear, your fear will be your master?
Rob Collie (01:38:04): No.
Thomas LaRock (01:38:05): Something like that. Which is another line from Mystery Men by the way. Dave, there is a positive connotation to the word radical. Let's say you're not radical. Being a member of your team was not being radical. However, it absolutely did feel revolutionary. There's a lot of positive connotations to these words that I experienced working in this system. Working in this mindset. You're not doing something crazy. There's no crazy there right? It's just doing things that make sense. And that oftentimes when it's galvanized and energetic and organized, takes on a lot of that feel that gets people excited. And I didn't expect that right? I didn't expect overhauling the printing experience to feel that way. I agree that radical and Dave Gainer don't belong in the same sentence really but there's other part of it. There's certain portions, they're certain flavors that are mixed in there in that word. Some of them absolutely do. It was really cool.
Dave Gainer (01:39:11): Let me take a crack at this. It's funny. I've had a lot of bosses at all the companies I've worked in and gotten my own set of feedback and they let me know how they think I'm doing and that sort of thing. But I think one thing, and we talked about this. Stop and think about what's going on. Think about it for what it is. And from the perspective as a bunch of the stakeholders. When we're working on software, I really try and push the people that are using our stuff to be the starting point for that stakeholder analysis. What I try and bring to my PR set when I'm working is just a healthy point of view that considers things broadly and prevents us from developing group thing or taking off in a particular direction. Some of my bosses over the years have commented that's really helpful.
Dave Gainer (01:39:50): You help us see things for what they are. And it's like an intentional place I spend energy and put focus. It's part of just who I am. But I've been acknowledged enough for it by bosses here and at Accenture and other places. That is something I continue to try and figure out how to bring to the table and make it more interesting over time. It's not radical in the sense. That word could connote but it's more like. You don't be afraid to step back and try and look at what's really going on here or bring other information to the table and ask us if we all have the same goals, are the assumptions right? Is this really the reality we're facing? It's funny. An earlier time in my career. This is probably around when you and I worked together Rob. One of the things I was working on right?
Dave Gainer (01:40:35): We we're all continually trying to develop our skills is, I could see these things coming that were probably going to be not great for some chunk of the organization and I try and sound an alarm bell. And quite often, I didn't communicate it in a way that was very effective so everyone ignored it. And there was a guy that used to call me Cassandra. And so for anyone that is into Greek myths, Cassandra was someone who had this curse and the curse was they could see the future but no one would listen to them. I can talk to Rob and Charlie and my team fine but what's going on I can't influence these other people. And so I actually spent a bunch of time saying, boy I can see this thing but I can't communicate it so I got to get better at that. And that was another journey in trying figure out their shoes, what their framer referencer was, what their Valuing system was.
Dave Gainer (01:41:19): A lot of it comes back to trying to figure out what other people are being evaluated on. They're being evaluated on something different than you're being evaluated on. It's going to be hard to influence them. And so I do think a lot of this again is less radical and more just like really trying to bottom out on things and then find ways to motivate other people to do something about it to the extent you think that matters. Number nine, I'm going to pause here because I really like number nine and we never got there because we got into being radical. But this is another one I believe. And part of the reason I brought this hymn up is partly to say well, if this stuff can come from a story decorated U.S. Military officer, it can't be radical. But also just like how sensible it was up to me but at the same time you don't see it everywhere.
Dave Gainer (01:42:02): True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to successful leader's to earn respect. Not because of rank in position but because you're a leader of character. And so that's another one that as I've become more senior, I think about more and frankly it terrifies me because the bigger your team is, the less you can spend time with them personally but at the end of the day yeah. You want to make sure that you're enrolling these people not because they have to work for you but because there's something bigger than that going on. And that's something that I think I still struggle with to this day because it's a hard thing to scale.
Rob Collie (01:42:34): I think that is a reflection of just human wiring right? It's the age old problem. We're wired for village size cooperation, but we've unlocked this cheat code as like Sapiens talks about. We've unlocked this cheat code of collaborating at phenomenal scale. Just absolutely phenomenal scale. You end up cooperating with people that you don't know. Or your actions are impacting people. It's fundamentally the problem that human society is struggling with now. The incentives are all wrong right? You can constantly externalize the negative consequences of your actions to people that you don't have to sympathize with.
Rob Collie (01:43:14): I know that's not what you're saying Dave but when you organize at that scale, that deep human authenticity, how do you broadcast that? How do you scale that past a certain number? If you figure it out, you will be the only person on the planet who know knows. I just don't think anyone truly knows how to do that. Look at some of the really successful business leaders of today. They might as well be actors in terms of what they're showing the world right? It's a very carefully curated public image that is being displayed, not just to the world but to their rank and file. We don't know these people personally, it's really hard to do that. Good luck.
Dave Gainer (01:44:02): This is something that you must have to struggle with because you've grown a company and it continues to grow and you onboard people and you and Kellan are the formal leaders. You've got to figure out how to project and enroll right? And it's the same challenge to anyone in the position of formal authority has.
Rob Collie (01:44:17): It's true that I do have this problem but I don't really answer to anyone. This is still very much my company right? And so all the places where the official handbook of business says don't do X, we can still do those things. There need to be some sort of guard rails in a larger organization. And we have them here too of course. It's just that we have more leeway. And I think we can retain that leeway for quite some time. We can continue to grow for quite a while with exactly that same leeway. Who knows what the future holds. But I don't see any short term changes when... Again, we're not tens of thousands of people yet. And we're hiring people every week.
Rob Collie (01:44:58): Every week I get another invite. I got one just before this recording. Another new hire that I get to meet. And it's fantastic. It's the coolest thing, meeting all of these amazing people and guess what? They don't all come from a homogenized set of background stories. Shocking right? Amazing people with such incredibly diverse backgrounds. And another thing, a lot of it, very unintentional. A lot of bouncing around and then even actually discovering that data is their thing. Almost no one at our company, myself included, set out to be a data professional. None of us. I don't think there's any of us that did.
Dave Gainer (01:45:41): Certainly not me.
Rob Collie (01:45:43): Hey. Well, you were programming Black Jack while Luke and I were programming animations of sneezing with snot going across the screen. In stop motion quality right?
Thomas LaRock (01:45:56): There you go.
Rob Collie (01:45:58): It's like digital stop motion.
Dave Gainer (01:46:02): Wonderful. Okay. There's one more thing I wanted to actually ask you both before this is all over.
Thomas LaRock (01:46:08): Okay.
Rob Collie (01:46:08): Okay.
Dave Gainer (01:46:09): Process right? I came from Accenture. They trained you to do things in a very repeatable fashion. And then I got to Microsoft and I got to manage people like Rob and one of the things I tried to train Rob and run the team on was very repeatable fashion. And I think that was one of the things where you saw it differently at the time. And I've heard you say recently, "I'll characterize you like, hey. This stuff turns out to be pretty important." I'd just love to like hear a little about that journey. I felt like when you and I parted ways and you went off to the next phases of your career, we still didn't see eye to eye.
Rob Collie (01:46:41): Well, it goes back to a couple of things we talked about. Number one, what is it? The zebra doesn't change it's stripes. And you go to war with the armor that you've got. I would say that my transformation on this axis is half complete. Not a 100% complete. And half complete is probably where the story is going to end. It's like what I said about the printing story. Thinking about it ahead of time as like, the printing, it's going to be so boring. And then in hindsight, having this tremendous appreciation for it. I think that's where I'm in a similar place with the value of process. Now, Kellan's not here right? He's not on this recording. The sum total of my change here is that I have come to greatly appreciate and recognize the value and the necessity of having good processes.
Rob Collie (01:47:41): I still haven't developed whatever it is. The capability, interest, whatever you want to call it, attention span. I have no idea right? To personally be good at implementing that. That's still not a strength of mine but thankfully it is a strength of others and they're in the right positions at this company. I weigh in and I have input for sure. One example though of a place where I actually have something I've come to believe with like religious fervor, I read this article, this essay or speech. We've mentioned it on the show before but it was by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's right hand man. It's a long article. It's really aerody. It's crazy how this guy thinks but the first thing he talks about is the one that he really presses the bold button on and says, you could ignore the rest of this and just pay attention to this. Which is, if you get the incentives right in an organization, basically things are going to go well. If you don't get the incentives right, forget it. Almost nothing you do is going to matter.
Rob Collie (01:48:50): And I was fascinated by this. And so consciously at this company, we made a decision to lean into this and I think it just had a lot to do with our ability to stay like in the Sapiens sense right? Organized not only at scale but at remote scale. We don't have a centralized office. We find the most talented people wherever they happen to be. We don't call our shot on geography, we don't make people move. We set the bar high enough and by keeping the geography filter essentially unspecified, we get the best of the best right? But we never get that face to face in office contact.
Rob Collie (01:49:31): It's even harder to organize it's scale remotely. The places where I have contributed actually like passionate investment, have been around this, Kellan and I are equals in this. Trying to get the incentives at this company designed in a way that they're applied objectively and continuously. And that align the best interests of the company like of me, of Kellan and the individual employees. That is not the sum total of our process. We have a lot of processes but the one place where I actually have felt like I've been really active, is that one. But yeah. It's the strengths of the team right?
Dave Gainer (01:50:12): You're right. That's a place where I spend a lot of time because we have big orgs that have to work together. And part of it is if there's some shared notion of success, everything works 10 times easier. And so putting tons of energy, you know that with whoever is leading the org on the other side, that's I think one of the best things I can do to help the people that will then have to go do the work. But the other thing and we wont to have time to get into this today. You could have another like whole podcast on this, which is, surrounding yourself by people that are different than yourself, right? This is another lesson I believe strongly, which is go find people that don't think like you.
Dave Gainer (01:50:44): One of the things I always loved about having Rob on my team is you came and challenged my way of thinking just because you did and who you are and where you're coming from right? And I find that incredibly valuable because you get different perspectives if you have people that have different skills, backgrounds, belief systems, value systems. And the more you have of that then the more you're going to get super thoughtful dialogue that creates a better hole and so you and Kellan is just a nice example of, go find someone that's not Rob and put him on the team and then empower him to do what he does incredibly well. And everybody's better off. I guess we can save that for another podcast to go in too deeply.
Rob Collie (01:51:20): That sounds like we get to bring you back.
Dave Gainer (01:51:22): I don't know Rob.
Rob Collie (01:51:25): Since you've enjoyed this so much it's like, I'm already cuing up the next episode.
Dave Gainer (01:51:29): Exactly.
Thomas LaRock (01:51:30): It was that good.
Rob Collie (01:51:31): Dave, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Even more so man. There's a number of us like this, you have a number of alumni. I just sincerely appreciate what you did for me. Whatever metaphor we want to use. A number of us huddle from time to time and go, and I don't know how we ever pay it back. We could never pay you back for the things that you did for us. We just do that whole pay it forward to other people. Wish there were more like you.
Dave Gainer (01:51:58): That's very kind. Plenty for me to think about coming out of this.
Speaker 3 (01:52:00): Thanks for listening to The Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to www.p3adaptive.com. Have a data day.
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