Archive for May, 2010

In answer to the  question about mixing zoo animals and beasts of prey.

The answer is simple. Rommel was faced with this in North Africa in WWII in 1941. He had about 50-75,000 Italian troops and about 30,000 German troops (Afrika Corp). He used the Italians to hold the front line. They were not as good or well lead soldiers as the Germans so he used them for what they were best at. Digging in and defending a frontal position.  He used his beast of prey, the Afrika Corp) to maneuver around the flanks do the out of the box thrusts into the British positions.

The same with Alexander the great. His infantry or phalanx was less mobile than his front line. It pinned the enemy while his Companion Cavalry went for the weak spot or flank.

So it is best to use zoo animals for what they are best for. The stable front line. Then the beasts of prey manuever around the flanks.

The problem comes when your leader or commander is a zoo animal. They rarely understand this concept and expect everyone to be a zoo animal. Think western front in WWI. Two armies pounding each other for 4 years, fighting over a long front and rarely gaining more than a few miles ether way until the Americans came in and broke things up in mid 1918.

What made Viscount Allenby special is that he understood the use of beasts of prey (Lawrence and also his own British and Australian cavalry).

So we beasts can do fine if we are under and Allenby but not so well under a zoo animal who expects everyone to behave like themselves.

At Guagamela (331 BC) Alexander pinned a much larger Persian force with his slowly advancing center and left-wing while creating a gap with his Cavalry which had moved to the right and then drove into the gap created.


Years ago at a startup one of my smarter employees asked me what he role was versus what I was doing. I showed her how she and the others in HR held the line providing essential services while I maneuvered around the flanks trying to save the company. She really hated this paradigm but didn’t have the ability to understand how she could have helped in on the beast of prey side. Instead she began to look for a new job and eventually left the company. Her boyfriend, who worked at the company got royally pissed at me for not trying harder to keep her.

I learned two lessons from this.

1. Don’t generally tell zoo animals their role versus yours. Unless they understand the concept (like an Allenby) they will get angry feeling of lessor importance in the whole operation.

2. Don’t let yourself be distracted by employees who are screwing each other on the side. I tried to explain myself to this jerk and later realized that he and she were just different sides of the same coin. I should have just ignored it or called them on it. It wasn’t a barrier worth attacking.


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A friend asked me yesterday, how do you mix zoo animals with beast of prey? In other words how do you mix employees are willing to really think out of the box and innovate, with those that just want to play it safe, hunker down and keep their job.

Well, you don’t. Zoo managers, who generally end up being the manager of beasts, either get them or they don’t.  I had to leave my last job for this very reason (yes, I am a beast of prey..of sorts).


IMHO you segregate them. A moat with an electrified fence works really well. Zoo animals get really uncomfortable and spook easy if exposed to beasts of prey for too long a time. In the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia Feisal is speaking to Allenby, the commander-in-chief of the British Army in the Middle East. He is referencing Lawrence who has just walked out of the room after successfully leading the Arabs in their goal of taking Damascus.

          Ah, yes. But then Aurens is a sword with
          two edges. We are equally glad to be rid
          of him. Are we not?

          I thought I was a hard man, sir.

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Here is an interesting article from Forbes. It’s titled How to get over the bad boss blues.


Insightful  article but fear driven which is how most of our driven. Fear is a primal urge only losing out in the primal urge sweepstakes to sex.  I know. Most of my not being laid off job moves were due to bad bosses. So if anyone “ran” I certainly was one of the fastest to hit the pavement and look for my next job.

I have a fatal flaw. Bad bosses can intimidate me. Only in the last few years I have been able to actually and effectively stand up for myself. But when I think back over the toxic boss part of my career, frankly I didn’t do a very good job of handling myself. In this case “handling” meant acting in way that I could look myself in the eyes (let’s say while shaving) the next day and feel good about myself. My way of handling things was to “get along” and bow my head taking those good for you, whacks from some bad bosses verbal whip while listening to those soothing words, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t care.

Care about someone else, will ya?

Shaking’ the bush boss.

I’ll be good, boss.

Then I would head out and go hide in the swamp.

That stopped in 2008. I finally took two bully’s down verbally. I called them on their behavior but then neither of them was my boss. Just colleagues who were bossing me around. Finally at my last job I took my bosses boss down (nicely but cleanly). Not because this person was bullying me but because they were bullying my boss. In this person’s defense, they were contrite and immediately stopped the toxic behavior. It turns out that beneath the bullying was a pretty good person.

But let’s face it. I knew something secret about myself. I was no HR superhero. I was certainly up the ladder on having courage but as long as I had felt trapped into needing a job, I had wimp tendencies. I became one of the silent ones.

Now I am not working and the ease of not having to deal with these types is paramount in my enjoyment of each day. Now only the doctors and IRS can have their way with me. But day-to-day, I don’t have to stand up to these types. Recently a friend wanted to refer me into an early stage HR job but she told me that the CEO was a really big prick (My words. Not hers..but close enough). I realized that I had to say “no” because I knew that the first time this guy played his you’re my whipping boy routine I would take him down.

Because one thing I found was that I trapped myself. No job was really ever the job. And here I have to give kudos’ to my friend Dan who was being terrorized by the chairman of the board in a small dysfunctional company. Dan is one of those guys who is loyal. He will stand in and take it if you treat him right. he is certainly no coward. But his “boss” was very toxic. 3 Mile Island Toxic. Dan asked my advice and I recommended that despite a stinking job market that he get the hell out. And eventually Dan did just that. He told me that the relief was orgasmic (my word. Not his). But you get the general idea.

He left.

After some long months of being unemployed he recently got a new job. He came through the dark period and survived. But one thing he told me. Not once during the time he was looking for a new job did he wish he were back in the old job making money. It wasn’t worth the price.

So you can “just” leave. It’s just a matter of going.

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I am reading Jack Pennington’s very thorough book titled Custer Vindicated. It is book that basically tries to prove out the theory that Custer’s strategy at the Little Big Horn was not flawed but that Custer was betrayed by his subordinate battalion commanders, Marcus Reno and Frederick Benteen who failed to come to Custer’s aid when he was conducting his fatal flanking action against the large (very large) Indian Village located along the banks of the river that gave the battle its name.

I don’t totally disagree with the premise of the book. Reno might have stood his ground drawing off warriors who were freed once Reno retreated to the bluffs.  Benteen might have come on and been quick as Custer commanded in his famous note (below).

But there is a leadership lesson at the bottom of all that happened on June 25th 1876. Custer’s battalion commanders hated him. They felt under appreciated and underutilized that day and in the year preceding. Benteen hated that Custer had abandoned a squad of his men at Washita back in 1868. Indians from another village had killed them to the last man. Custer failed to appreciate this fact. Worse yet, when  he divided his forces in the face of the Sioux, Arapahoes and Cheyennes, he took all of his favorite and loyal commanders with him in his battalion.

So why would Custer have expected subordinates who reviled him to come to aid and risk their necks?

We can argue about it persuasively as Pennington has in his book but the bottom line is that they didn’t come or really even think of coming and Custer’s battalion of 5 troops was wiped out to the last man. The only man who wanted to go to the sound of the guns was Captain Weir and believe me he tried. he got within 3 miles before being knocked back. If you stand at Weir point you can clearly see Last Stand hill and the big white monument that was erected there some years after the battle. But on June 25th all Weir could see was Indian warriors, gunsmoke, dust and little else.

Custer died for many reasons that day but not knowing his commanders and how much he could rely on them was critical. Most of his command still lies on that hill in a common grave. That says it all.


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I was never really a good team player. I was a loner who had to look like I was a team sort of guy but the truth is that if I did team (and I use that word loosely) it was because the person in question was a key or bridge to my goal. In a rare instance I actually valued them enough to know that we could work together without pulling each other down to a lower level of performance.

But I hated teaming.

I hated team events. Friday bashes, offsites, bonding and team building. I am not saying they were worthless. They just didn’t have an effect on me. If I went to Friday bash it was generally for the drink and food and perhaps the opportunity to collar a specific person. Not to be seen as a member of the greater organization.

I focused on individuals and my relationship with them. I could be many things to many separate individuals but rarely a force with all of them.

I love tribes because they tend to focus on their own needs rather than the needs of the whole. When someone would disparage an organization with the words that they are tribal, then I knew that I was in my element. I was not a uniter of tribes. In fact I preferred to use each one for its own strengths rather than weaken the links by trying to make it a whole. I could conduct raids with tribes or a subset of tribes. Leading armies was someone elses job. I was better at 1.1’s rather than in bigger meetings.

It is easier to be a loner when one is a consultant. Once you become an employee you become a target of teaming. The guy at my last job who said we do lunch sometime. I asked, when? He said that he would find out when the next group lunch was. He was trying (innocently) to pull me into the greater good except it wasn’t so great and it wasn’t very good.

But you can’t tell people that you are loner. They get put off by it unless of course they too are a loner. Then they will understand the temporary nature of your relationship with them.

Loners, you see, make it about the creative effort they can bring forth because they can act on their own rather than making it about title, pay and perceived power. The power is in acting alone.

You can learn from others. Some others. Not many. Loners tend to rely on their own experience. They trust it. The non-loner rarely can truly say this because they are seeking consensus.

Small tribes are better than large tribes. Easier to influence. I am not a nation builder but I can influence those who can do this role. I can smell out who will contribute and who will destroy the nation (or company or organization). Not being one doesn’t mean I don’t know them for whom they are.

Lawrence understood this role in Arabia. It wasn’t necessary for him to be the leader of many tribes. That was for Feisal. He could lead tribal raids on the railroads and bridges and military targets and then disappear back into the desert. It was for Feisal to be the nation builder. He could be the “glue”.

Most people line up in the big organization chart of life waiting to be accepted and promoted to the next level. I was never truly like that but at times I had to act like I was just to get along. But at the top of the org chart is death because that is the final inevitable promotion for all of us. Death means not being here any longer. So matter what role we play in life and how imprtant we think ourselves to be, not being here any longer is the final payoff. To be afraid of this doesn’t make sense. There have been 12 billion people who have lived on earth. 6 billion are alive today (at this very moment) and 6 billion are no longer here.

Life comes down to really understanding yourself, what motivates you and what makes you happy. It’s not really about failure because in the end we will all fail.  It’s the moment. The now. This moment. Oh, it is gone already.

The first sip of a cup of dark, rich coffee in the morning, cigar smoke in twilight with the sunlight filtering through your glass of merlot or chardonnay.

It’s a great book or movie that has taken to another place. I try to write words like this and I fail. I don’t mind the failure. What I would mind is not trying or not enjoying another trying.

The loner knows that they come and go on this journey as one. Not with others. Perhaps for a time along with others but in the end the path of the loner diverges. It goes to the darkwood. The deep mountains. The cold stream. That place deep inside their mind when great things can be imagined.

Lawrence said it best.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

I prefer to be dangerous.

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When I started this poor excuse for a blog I still thought of myself as a Silicon Valley Warrior because that was what I was and had been for the past 33 years. But 10 weeks out from leaving my last gig I realize that I am transitioning myself to something else. I may be an oracle of sorts (think of Delphi not the Ellison run company that just ate the Sun). But I believe over time that those who have come to me for advice will seek wisdom elsewhere.


My experience will become dated and in any case the Valley is renewing itself with younger folks. Those of my generation are alternately weeding themselves out of work. And I get why. One day you wake up and realize that after 3-4 decades of moping the floors that you just plain got tired of it. The Java experiences were few and far between and more and more time at work was just repetitious. Besides, you begin to note that if you are no longer in the game, the game leaves you behind. Oh you can join boards and wear Faconnable shirts to board meetings and those frankly stiff and boring dinners afterward and think you are still a player. Actually it seems that the main requisite for being on a board is to be able to ingest large quantities of power point presentations and still be able to drive afterward.

I am not that person. I was barely an executive.

In any case unless I really get a call for interesting work I know I am out. Over time there will simply be fewer who will even want to call. I mean who calls for General Ulysseus Grant anymore? I believe this is the final case of moving on. At the end of a gig I would often trot across the parking lot to my car and get in, turn on the ignition and drive out without looking back.

I may well be doing this to any idea of ever working in the Valley again.

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Poor Lawrence.  How often we call upon him. He must rumble within his grave in the church yard at Moreton.

In my last post I referred  to the new Lawrence book I am reading.  To Begin The World Over Again. It is by John Hulsman.

The book resonates. It is familiar and I wonder why.

It resembles my own book of the mid 1990’s titled Influence As Power. My book hammers the same themes that Hulsman hammers but my book points towards effective strategies of influence as an end product. It focuses on The Twenty-Seven Articles that Lawerence wrote in  1917 for the Arab Bulletin.

Hulsman’s book  is a good read and uses Lawrence’s strategy in the Middle East during and just after WWI to teach lessons and help us understand the mistakes that are commonly made in nation building.

After 9-11, I watched the US and Britain plunge into Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew that our top down nation building approach to those countries was not sustainable. My book taught that too but not as pointedly as Hulsman’s book does.


Maybe there is the rub. Even Hulsman acknowledged that we Lawrencians are a strange group. So mostly when you bring up Lawrence people will think of the movie. While I have been able to successfully use Lawrence-like strategies to influence outcomes I have found that the lessons I have learned are rarely transferable. It is too opaque for my colleagues. Except for a few (very few) I don’t try much anymore. The top down or direct approach is easier for them to grasp even though it is rarely effective for them.

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