The Xconversation: Software CEO Meets University Innovation Leader, Part II

(Page 2 of 3)

technology, and about 75 to 80 percent of that revenue is software licenses. And then about 20 to 25 percent is services. That is what we use as a spark plug to help our customers embrace this, if it’s a Ford or a Nordstrom. And usually we spend a lot of time in those early parts of the engagement around culture, and we talk about things that aren’t necessarily Chef-related, but helping them embrace DevOps, and lean, and agile, and all these things.

I wanted to ask Vikram about the role of velocity because I think there’s this tie between velocity and innovation that’s worth exploring.

VJ: They’re almost complementary, I think. As you know, the quicker you can fail, the more you can learn.

Embracing failure very quickly, that’s a big cultural change, because very often people’s personal feelings, personal egos, self-worth are tied to success, especially in settings like where you are getting a grade for a course, or even faculty. So that’s a very big change for, for instance, researchers.

Because, in a tenure system, there is no place to say OK, I failed five times and then succeeded, so I should get more credit than you who only failed once and succeeded.

The faculty who are embracing this more are those who work in teams. And more and more of the grants that are being funded from the Department of Defense or from NASA [require] people to get together and do things which are so risky that no one of them could do it—and you’re willing to tolerate failure.

The more failure you can tolerate, paradoxically, your velocity will go up, because you’ll remove failure quickly from that system.

BC: Yes.

VJ: There’s good ways to fail and sloppy ways to fail. You can’t fail and say ‘Oh, I failed, that’s great.’ What is it that you learned that you won’t repeat? And how can you share your learning with other people so they don’t make the same mistake? That goes back to innovation, too.

BC: One of the things I say is let’s avoid failing out of laziness.

Crist at Chef's headquarters.

Crist at Chef’s headquarters.

VJ: Exactly. Or sloppiness, or because it’s fashionable. I think all of those tie into velocity: quick failure, learning from failure, parallel experiments, team-based work, sharing, communication, all of those things. That’s the system we are trying to build. And it’s a mindset.

BC: One of the things that I think has been very innovative that’s been applied not just in the business world but in academia—and really Toyota was one of the first innovators—is moving to high-velocity, small-batch production. That has affected in a positive way all aspects of IT, our business certainly. That’s tied to innovation, if you can rapidly do these small batches, where it allows failure on a small scale instead of on a large scale.

VJ: The whole lean movement, which starts on the business side—now our faculty even in the College of Environment and social work are talking about it. So they’re getting excited about those kinds of things. Hypothesis testing, small batches, pivoting—all of the things that businesses do, now I think in general innovators are learning from that. Even artists, for example.

X: Vikram, we’re talking about how to lead innovation organizations. And I read these recent tweets of yours:

That’s some wisdom that you’re kicking out on Twitter there. Can you unpack that a bit?

VJ: I’d love to be able to do that, so this is almost more a challenge to myself.

We see this in young students going through. They look at things like disruption and quick thinking, and sometimes try to imbibe it themselves, in their lifestyle, which I think can work for a certain amount of time. But you don’t want people to burn out. Especially in a large organization.

Yes, you can have all these exciting discussions. But you’ve still got to take care of yourself. You know this. People who are successful exercise. They will have something to go back to. They keep things in perspective.

Surprisingly, we don’t teach this in schools, in colleges.

So that’s really what this is about: The leadership. The more sanity you can provide as a leader, the more all of this exciting stuff will happen.

It’s a dichotomy. In fact, there’s another phrase, I don’t know where I got it from: Infinite patience leads to immediate results. So if you’re in the right mindset, things will happen. It’s not really spiritual, but it’s just common sense, right? Staying centered, staying balanced, staying emotionally connected, but not attached. These are things that leaders do all the time. Many of them just do this automatically. Some do it as a training.

I’d love to learn how you do this.

BC: One of my observations has been humans are deeply integrated systems, and it’s very difficult to have, in the long-term anyways, success in one part of your life and not others. Eating well, exercising, taking care of your personal relationships—those actually give you more energy and more stamina, and I think do amazing things in the work environment.

We’ve all been guilty of this. I know I have and I suspect Vikram has also, looking at his background. We’ve been guilty at times of our lives where you overpower one side. And you can’t do it in the long term.

VJ: We all know there’ll be times when we have to put everything into stuff, but the more balanced you are, the more you can do that and get back. So it’s not saying don’t do your best or be mediocre. It’s that you can’t be running at 100 percent all the time. You’ve got to keep something in reserve.

X: What are some things you do when you have free time to restore that balance? What are your hobbies that are restorative in that way?

BC: As a leader, when you have free time, do things that are hard. First of all, it’s a de-stressor. It knocks the piss and vinegar out of you a little bit. But also, it builds confidence that you can apply in other parts of your life, including business. I love doing cyclocross, which is a more specific cycling event. It’s hard, it’s bloody, it’s messy, it’s muddy. And then surfing. They’re both hard. Finding some hard things to get your teeth into as a leader is really worthwhile.

My wife and I are empty nesters. My oldest graduated college. My younger one is a sophomore. So that’s freed up time. I read a lot. I enjoy going to lectures. All sorts of things.

VJ: I always find my hobbies keep changing. [The photo of Husky Stadium at the top of this story is from his latest hobby: drone piloting and photography.] For a while it was making model airplanes because it just keeps you focused, and one piece of plastic suddenly becomes the most important thing. It was really relaxing. But I’ve also, for a long time, tried to do meditation. It comes and goes. There are times when you can do it and times, when you need it the most, it’s the most difficult time to do it.

I’ve been a longtime squash player. That gives you a totally different mindset on competing and at the same time being fair and keeping your body in good shape. So that’s a big help.

And then I’ve got two small kids, which keep me in perspective. A 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.

BC: It goes quickly. I will warn you. It goes from all I want is a good night sleep to Hey, where have the kids gone?

X: Barry, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask about Chef’s roadmap going forward. I know you’ve been asked a lot about whether an IPO is on the table, and when, but apart from that, we’ve talked a little about culture. I wonder, as you contemplate that, do you worry about what having to be beholden to Wall Street’s expectations could do to a company culture?

BC: A couple questions in there. First, I’ll repeat something that I said at an all-hands meeting last week. I’ve never been more bullish … Next Page »

Single Page Currently on Page: 1 2 3 previous page

Trending on Xconomy