Episode 11 | Remote Cultures & The Power of Storytelling with Michael Lopp, aka "rands"

Listen to this episode on your favorite platform!
November 30, 2021

Episode 11 | Remote Cultures & The Power of Storytelling with Michael Lopp, aka "rands"

Community creator and engineering leader at Apple, Michael Lopp (aka rands), joins Jason and Eiso to chat about the power of storytelling for engineering and the state of content for engineering leaders. The author of "Small Things Done Well" shares his opinions on video conferencing, distributed work, and how managers can create more authentic connections with remote teams.

Here are a few of our favorite moments from the conversation

Those sort of early warning systems, serendipity, bumping into people, that's gone. It doesn't happen in Slack. I mean, you're not going to know that something's awry by looking at an emoji, right? I'm so biased about working together, 'cause I really like that sort of signal and whatnot. I'm like, "why is this thing blowing up? Oh, we didn't talk to each other." We've been throwing it into a meeting or we're throwing it into a Slack channel or whatnot. But we're not actually getting that sort of spidey sense sort of awareness of how things are moving along.

The one thing that I absolutely hate about being remote is when someone says you should be full async. And that to me is actually one of the biggest challenges because, just the GitHub issue or a Slack channel, I don't find that you can get any of those signals. And in fact, I've come to this opinion that you have to be explicit way more in remote, in video than you can be implicit in person.

Everyone knows me for saying 99% of all problems in organizations are communication problems. And to me, the physical office, the space you share together, you've built up ways to figure out those communication problems for exactly what you're talking about. But those problems still exist, you found a way to work around them.

When you look at some of the future of companies that are building fully remote from day one that is explicit, it's like, "yes, we have to do extra work. Yes, as a leader, you're going to have to spend more time getting to know people, you're going to have to do more zoom calls." But then there's the flip side of it, it's how much you can actually do, right? How much you can actually fit in your day. All of a sudden, at least to me, the fact of being remote gives you this opportunity of being far more explicit and effective.

As a person, if you get good at being able to connect with people, through video or audio and all, that it's a superpower. If your company can operate in a distributed fashion and your leaders, and I want to be very, very explicit about this, your leaders know how to communicate and know how to be effective, know how to organize, know how to execute in a remote fashion. If you're good at that, you're an excellent in person, company in all likelihood.

I had an interview once and the exec asked me, because I'd written a book, "Hey, did writing a book make you a better leader?" her question was really good because I'm like, "oh yeah." The reason I think it makes me a better leader is, ask me about one-on-ones. I will bore you to death with my thoughts on one-on-ones. But everything that I'm telling you is actually something that I've written down, passed it through my fingers and I've considered it.

When I choose to go and write something down, the idea goes from me kind of just thinking in the back of my head to something far more thoughtful and well-constructed.

When I started at GitHub people used to tease me all the time, because "why is the CTO walking around, GitHub with no laptop?" I literally only carried a small moleskin notebook with a pencil and I would take it out in meetings to write one quick note, and put it back in if I needed to go do something. But they were like, "dude, you're the CTO, you should always be on your laptop." I'm like, "no, I should be in the room right now with you all when we're making this type of decision." And yes, maybe my mode of operation is slightly different than yours, but we have to be here in the moment. Instead of something taking an hour, because we're all half paying attention maybe we can get it done in 10 minutes too.

💡 Topic Explainers

🛠️ Rands in Repose

randsinrepose.com is Michael Lopp's blog, a space where he shares his thoughts in the form of superbly crafted articles and blog posts. Rands in Repose has over 15 years of content, and most of it remains relevant today.

🛠️ Carry Fisher CGI: Uncanny Valley Theory

In the beginning of the episode, Michael gives his deposition on why video conferencing sucks. To explain it, he compared the feeling of being with someone on a conference call as the uneasiness he felt when he saw Carrie Fisher in Rogue One. "It feels weird because that's not really Carrie Fisher, it's a CGI version of Carrie Fisher!"

Here she is: 

This feeling of disconnect between us and a CGI being is referred to as Uncanny Valley.

The uncanny valley is a term used to describe the relationship between the human-like appearance of a robotic object and the emotional response it evokes. In this phenomenon, people feel a sense of unease or even revulsion in response to humanoid robots that are highly realistic. Source: verywellmind

🛠️ Explicit vs Implicit Communication  

Eiso is known for saying that 99% of problems in organizations are communication problems, and both Jason and Michael agree that mastering remote communication is a superpower for leaders.

Remote communication is explicit by nature, "when I'm on zoom I am smiling more and waving my hands and opening my eyes so you know exactly how I'm feeling", says Jason. The key thing about explicit communication, is that it is comparatively less open to interpretation, as opposed to implicit communication, which refers to all nonverbal elements such as choice of words, gestures, tone, sentence construction etc. and which is far more prominent in in-person teams.

Implicit communication is a key part of human interaction, however, it's not always reliable or consistent, whilst explicit communication is more intentional. In remote teams, frequent, explicit communication is key, in written or video form. Scheduling a call to talk about an issue can be more work than simply talking about it by the water cooler, but it can often have a more positive impact as it leaves less room for interpretation and involves every member of the team that needs to be involved.

This is arguably the one thing that makes remote work more effective. But explicit communication should not be exclusive to distributed work. In-person teams should look into adopting more explicit communication methods to improve productivity and avoid drama in the office.

🛠️ The Snowflake Method for Novel Writing

The snowflake method, created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, is a technique for crafting a novel from scratch by starting with a basic story summary and adding elements from there.

Jason has used this method for writing, but it has also translated for him into a product development perspective as well.

The 5 Steps of the Snowflake Method:

  1. Choose a premise and write it up in a one-sentence summary.
  2. Expand that one-sentence summary into a full paragraph.
  3. Create character summaries.
  4. Build your character summaries into full profiles.
  5. Expand to a multi-page synopsis.

Once you have these elements drafted, your literary snowflake is complete, and you’re ready to dive into the first draft of your novel and start writing fiction!

Learn more about the Snowflake Method for Writing Novels at masterclass.com

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Eiso: Welcome to developing leadership podcastwhere I, Eiso Kant and my cohost, Jason Warner, talk about our lessons learnedon engineering leadership throughout the years. Today, we have writer,community creator and engineering leader at Apple Michael Lopp on the podcast,but you might know him better as rands from Twitter, the author of "SmallThings Done Well".

[00:00:19] He joined us to talkabout the power of storytelling in engineering leadership, and the state ofcontent for engineering leaders. We also spoke about online meetings and ouropinions on creating more authentic communications with remote teams. We didn'tget super technical on this one, but as always, if you hear a topic on today'sepisode that you would like to learn more about, make sure to check out thisepisode, show notes, linked in the description.

[00:00:45] Hi, everyone. We'reback again for another episode of Developing Leadership. Jason and I have aguest with us today, Michael. Michael, you're not just an engineering leaderwith quite the resume, you're also the creator of rands and repose, and one of the largest communities ofengineering leaders on Slack. And so we're excited to have you with us todayand would love to ask you to give the introduction about yourself.

[00:01:10] Michael: Hi, good morning. It's very earlyhere on the east coast ,of east coast? West coast of California, so coffee iskicking in anyway, I'm Michael Lopp, on the internet you probably think of meas rands. Rands is my wife's maiden name, and when I was asked that that's whyI have that name. I've been running around the Silicon valley for the lastcouple of decades, working at companies like Slack and Pinterest and Palentierand Apple and Borland and Netscape. So I've been doing a lot of things and Iquickly realized as I became a manager that no one had written anythinginteresting down to me as an engineer, there's lots of books out there, butthey're all like vapid, Tony Robbins,garbage, sorry, Tony. And it, it was good stuff, but it just didn't speak to meas an engineer, so I started about, I don't know, many years ago, I startedwriting a blog which turned into books and then turned into this, this largeleadership community, that is one of the things that has been the least work,but the most, most powerful thing that I think I've had been contributed to interms of people learning from each other.

[00:02:09] Eiso: Fantastic. Great to have you on. Andactually, if you look at, you mentioned something interesting, right? The stateof content four for engineering leaders. It still hasn't improved very much.You're still one of the few-

[00:02:23] Michael: I'm working on it!

[00:02:24] Eiso: But still, when you look at the desks ofpeople, when you walk through an office, for those of you who still work in anoffice, you still find the same three, four books every single time before wedive into today's topics, why do you think that is?

[00:02:38] Michael: Engineers are kind of jerks, we haveour sort of specific way of like that we like to work and like we speak andwhatnot, and we're pretty particular, which is a privilege by the way, and it'sa, it kind of means that we kind of find our own language, literally, that wework in and that we speak in. And I, and I think if there's a appeal to some ofmy stuff, it's because as an engineer, I'm speaking to you as an engineer andyou're hearing it as an engineer. So I think it's, I think it's a tone thing. Ithink it's a, not necessarily a values thing, but just like, you're at a bar,and you're talking with your favorite engineer and she's railing on this andyou're railing on that. You're speaking in a certain way. And I think that'skind of the thing is that we, we get used to our little cliques and sort ofcommunities and that, that's the thing is these other leadership books, whichare great material by folks, they're speaking too broadly, or they're speakingto, you know, poetry like or whatever. Like there's great writing, but it's notnecessarily appealing to sort of the engineering community.

[00:03:38] Eiso: I couldn't agree more with you there. Solet's be opinionated, let's be engineers and let's have some discussion. Andahead of this episode, you know, Michael essentially sent an email about thetopics and one of the things was "why video conferencing blows." andI know probably the three of us are gonna have different opinions on thistoday. And we're seeing each other on video FYI. So Michael share with us alittle bit, your point of view on this.

[00:04:02] Michael: Alright, so let's be two disclaimers.Number one is we have to do this right now because there's a pandemic. Sothat's number one. I'm going to come out negative on video and by the way, butwe're doing this because it's the healthy, it's the right thing. It's thesensible thing to do right now. That's number one. Number two is like, it workslike guaranteed, it's been working for years and years and years, so... buthere's number three, did you see Rogue One? Yes, this is relevant. You sawRogue One. Okay. Right. Remember at the end there there's a scene in the, yousee Princess Leia, right? And you come in and it's this big reveal at the end.Sorry. Spoiler alert. If you didn't see rogue one, but Princess Leia is in it.

[00:04:42] She's not in it.It's a CG Princess Leia, and you know it immediately. And if I showed you apicture of it right now, it's literally on my screen right now. You'd be like,huh? Yes, that's Princess Leia. No, that's not Princess Leia becausesomething's wrong. And this is my fundamental core issue with video conferencing.Its Princess Leia? What? How am I going to pull this off? It's because we ashumans have these five, actually seven senses that we have developed over thelast bajillion years, uh, learning about who you are, this person across to meat the table in the cave, in the conference room. And I know exactly by lookingat you. Who you are, what you're thinking, uh, where, where are you, where'syour mood?

[00:05:26] And the thing aboutthe Princess Leia thing is like, go look at it sometime and you'll be like,"oh yeah, he's right, it doesn't look quite right." Tell me why itdoesn't look right. You can't tell me. A CG expert, a person who understandshow humans look would you say like, "well, the eyes are dead and thisthing and blah, blah, blah." But you actually do know. Cause you can seeit when you go, like something is wrong here. And this is the, this is thething we've been in for the last 20 months. I'm looking at the two of you rightnow, and I'm kind of getting a read on you.

[00:05:52] I don't know howtall you are. I don't know if you're wearing pants. I don't know all of thesevery interesting things that if we were sitting here in the cafeteria orwherever we would be, we're living in this world where all of this othercontext that we became used to working together is now gone. Now, is it adisaster? No, the disaster is there's this pandemic going on and that'shorrible. But in terms of working together in terms of us gathering context andsharing things and the serendipity and the water cooler talk, it's all gone andwe've found powerful ways, including Slack and lots of thumbs up and noddingand all this stuff that we're doing in video conferences.

[00:06:30] I fundamentallythink there's this thing that is missing. It can work, it can work fine, butI'm, I'm deeply looking forward to a world where we're, we're sitting here andlike I'm drinking coffee, and I can see that your body position is a little bitoff. And I know I looking at that, that you're somehow uncomfortable with somethingthat's going on. I can't do that right now. I literally met someone that Ihired like six months ago for the first time. And I'm like, "oh, you'resuper tall I had no idea." Does that matter to like how we're building oursoftware? No, but it's still, there's this little piece of context that aremissing right now. So, thanks for listening to my Ted talk. That's why I don'tlike video conferencing.

[00:07:07] Jason: Well, Michael, I think everything yousaid was right. I think that's what we're, we're kind of thinking about isthat. We actually probably have slightly different opinions, but everything yousaid is right. And this is, like you said thousands of years or millennia ofall these different things that we know about each other, but also on the flipside, the world we live in, not even just from a pandemic, but, you know,because of business requires us sometimes to do these things remote.

[00:07:35] So I've always foundmyself in a position where I keep thinking about, "okay, maybe what, notwhat we should do, but what do we have to do sometimes too?" And I alsosay this as a, an executive who's been remote for 12 years, I've, you know,GitHub and Heroku and Canonical. I've always done those remote, with somein-person time and heavier in person time at times, too. But part of what I'vedone remote is I, if you're watching on video, you're going to see this. Myhands are going everywhere, my head is moving, my eyes are wide, I'm trying tofake a smile sometimes and pretend Eiso is funny.

[00:08:13] Even if you're onlyhearing this, I'm doing something intentional, I'm trying to be more inflectiveor maybe slow down at certain times, emphasize, like there's, there's certainthings you have to do in the audio or video world that you don't have to dowhile you're in person. So a hundred percent agree with you also, you know,other things that we can figure out as well, to do in a video world.

[00:08:36] Michael: There's another piece here I've beenlike looking for, like the thing that we truly truly lost here and the, thelittle subtle things of gathering context and whatnot. The thing that I thinkis I'm actually really worrying about is more of the serendipity in the watercooler moments of, "I can kind of, I can smell this team. Something's wrongwith this team? I don't know why I can't tell you exactly, but oh, look there'sAshley. Ashley is a standing right there." "Hey, Ashley!" Whojust happened to be there for reasons I don't understand, "What's thisthing I smell. Do you smell this?" She's like, "oh yeah, it was atotal disaster." I'm like, "I'm sorry, what?" The fact that Ibumped into him, the fact that he and I both had like the "spidersensi" thing and we both left that and went, okay, why don't we go put thatin at the top of the list and go fix it right now. Right.

[00:09:17] That's sort of early warning systems, sortof serendipity bumping into people thing, that's gone. It doesn't happen inSlack. I mean, you're not going to know that something's awry by looking at theemoji, right. So. That's the other piece that I worry about from a, and again,I'm so biased about working together. Cause I, I really, really, really likethat sort of signal and whatnot, but that's the thing I'm like, why is thisthing blowing up? I'm like, "oh, we didn't talk to each other." Wewere, we've been throwing it into a meeting or we're throwing it into a Slackchannel or whatnot. But we're not actually getting that sort of spidey sensesort of awareness of how things are like moving along. That's still super subjectiveand touchy-feely, but like that's another thing that I think is hard for us todiscern.

[00:09:58] Jason: This is, so this is, I think this is actually the root of a lot ofpeople's challenges with the remote cultures that are kind of emerging, is youcan either, there's something about in person where that spidey sense goes offand I can tell you, and this is, I've been again remote now for 12 years, Ihave pretty strong opinions on like the modes, maybe the tools we should use.And the one thing I will say that I absolutely hate about being remote is whensomeone says you should be full async. And that to me is actually one of the biggestchallenges because, just the GitHub issue or a Slack channel or whatever. Idon't find that you can get any of those signals. And in fact, I think there's,I I've come to this opinion that you have to be explicit way more in remote, invideo than you can be implicit in person.

[00:10:48] So what you said atthe water cooler, I kind of think is implicit. You just happened to ran, runinto Ashley and all that sort of stuff. But what I find is that if you're in ameeting, there's that awkward pause and the awkward pause to be somewhereinside there you say, "okay, hang on a second. What's going on? Who's notsaying the thing that they want to say?" That sort of thing. And then youhave to take note of that because afterwards you have to go to almost talk toeveryone individually, because someone's not going to want to say it in theroom in front of other people, so on the manager or the executive, it'sactually a lot more work. That is actually probably one of the challenges.

[00:11:20] Michael: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. It's, it's thatreading the room and going, like, "why isn't she talking? I know she caresabout this, this architecture a lot, so she can't figure out how to interjectinto all of this people who are just trying to jump all over each other interms of conversation." There's a lot more work there in terms of managingthe conversation, like looking at it and reading the grid and going like,"okay, Ashley's super unhappy. I can tell from this little postage stampon my screen."

[00:11:44] Jason: It's it is harder work and I find it tobe, it's also, sub-optimal, it's less effective. And this is the thing,whenever, I get called in a lot, especially during the early part of thepandemic for larger organizations that never had to, when they were forced togo remote. And the one thing I've told all the executives was, "everyonehere is on you and then one level below them, it's on them for the level belowthem and et cetera." and they said, "well, that's not the way itshould work. It's just, I just laughed. I'm like using the word should, shouldis not something we can have in our vocabulary at the moment, which is what youneed to do".

[00:12:17] Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.

[00:12:19] Eiso: So it's interesting because, like you,Jason, I've been remote now, I think going on five years and in the last twoyears have been building a new company where we still haven't met in person. Soit's two years in, finally dependent make is getting to a point where peopleliving across different countries, we can travel and meet each other soon. Andso was, was forced to actually do all the extra work. And this is kind of the,the funny thing is I agree with both of your opinions, but at the same time,there's something that, that underlies all this, which is when you are remoteall the problems, and everyoneknows me for saying 99% of all problems in organizations are communicationproblems. And to me, the physical office, the space you share together, you'vebuilt up ways to figure out those communication problems for exactly whatyou're talking about.

[00:13:06] But those problems still exist, you found away to, to work around them. Well, the moment you, you have a remote cultureand I, I do asterisk this with, it's a lot easier to build that from scratch,from trying to implement that in an organization in the middle of a pandemic,but you know, tens of thousands of people. But when you look at some of thefuture of companies that are building fully remote from day one that isexplicit, it's like, "yes, we have to do extra work. Yes. As a leader,you're going to have to spend more time getting to know people, you're going tohave to do more zoom calls." But then there's the flip side of it, it'show much you can actually do, right? How much you can actually fit in your day.All of a sudden, at least to me, the fact of being remote gives you thisopportunity of being far more explicit and effective.

[00:13:50] And building thatculture in an organization where people say, "Hey, we are going to takeeffort to communicate. We are going to write things down and we're going tohave the meeting about it." To me there's one thing that's neverdiscussed, and I haven't heard it discussed publicly, and I'm not sure ifanybody's going to strongly disagree with me about this, because it might be abit controversial. As a leader so much about what makes you a great leader isyour inner game, right? And you and I, Jason, I've talked about this a lot.It's about how you bring yourself, to that meeting to that day, no matter ifyou're tired, exhausted, if the company's going through a crisis or it's goingthrough, you know, its its boom period. And when you're sitting in a roomtogether, the positive feelings and the excitement of, of what's happeningdefinitely rubs off on everyone else. But the opposite side of it as well. And,and some of that stuff might have nothing to do with work, I think particularlythroughout the pandemic, this is very clear, right? If someone's having anincredibly tough time at home before in the office, that would radiate to therest of the team.

[00:14:48] What I found veryinteresting around video conferencing remote is that you come into a meetingwith intention. So, no matter what is going on in your life, no matter whatelse is happening, you can set that intention and come into those 30 or 60minutes and be very explicit. And while you don't have some of the positiveeffects of things that might radiate, and you have to do those things that youmentioned, Jason, you have to put a smile and think about the intonation onyour voice. You can also use that for the negative side effects that you mighthave from being in person.

[00:15:17] Jason: I agree, a hundred percent agree. Ithink like, again, I'm going back to what Michael said earlier, which is, yeah,it's true, if we can all be together in person, it just, things are just easierand it's going to be more magical and more serendipitous. It's going to feelmore natural. I don't know, Eiso, said we spent a couple of days together inLisbon just a couple of, a week ago are so. Much easier than just doing thisand we've known each other for years too. And Sam who we had on a couple ofpodcasts ago, he and I are friends. Every time we go to San Francisco, it'seasier to condense a couple of hours of conversations into minutes. It's just,it's just the way it works. On the flip side, we've got to find a way to makethis work. It's kind of the nature of the game.

[00:16:00] Eiso: I also think there's a massive amount ofopportunity, right? Because Jason, you and I met first, I don't know how manyyears ago in-person over a dinner, a one-on-one dinner, and then hadn't seeneach other until last week in person for years. And throughout that built agreat friendship relationship over those years, entirely through video, oftenat times sitting on opposite sides of an ocean. And so I do think it'spossible, but you're right. It takes a lot more work, and, and the days we gotto spend together definitely are needed to have those checkpoints to kind of,level up a relationship is maybe not the right word to use, but I think thiscomes to your point of finding that balance between spending time together at ahuman level. And I'm even a fan about doing that and not talking about work andhaving actually explicit meetings that could be on zoom and that are aboutwork.

[00:16:48] Jason: I mean, I'm not going to disagree. Ithink it's just easier and more fun to do it that way and not talk about workand get to know each other on a human level. I also think that again, goingback to what you can do in situations, it's just, yeah, we, we wouldn't befriends if we didn't take the opportunity to do it over zoom, but we alwayswaited to get in person, you and I would be acquaintances, not friends. And soit missed opportunities by for sure. And you know, this is actually somethingI'm struggling with in my new job, because part of VC is a relationship gameand a lot of the relationship is touch and feel, and you've got to get in frontof folks, but in a world like this, how do you do that? But just in general, Ithink like, you know, on the topic, yeah, video kind of sucks, but you've gotto figure out a way to do that.

[00:17:30] And so let me put itin the positive spin because I'm always looking for the one, not that I'm, a,I'm a glass half full, but also opportunistic is, put it this way, if you getgood at this, it's a super power. And let me flip it around one other way. So like as a person, if you get good atbeing able to connect with people, video or audio and all that it's asuperpower. Here's another one. If your company can operate in a distributedfashion and your leaders, and I want to be very, very explicit about this, yourleaders know how to communicate and know how to be effective, know how toorganize, know how to execute in a remote fashion. If you're good at that,you're excellent in person, company in all likelihood. So, but it's notthe same, if you're a good in person, company, and you had to translate toremote, you're likely a bad, because there's a whole bunch of things that areimplicit, as I was mentioning before about being in person, but you have tomake explicit as you go remote or distributed. So if you make those thingsexplicit, they're actually going to again, become super powers for you inperson.

[00:18:27] This is just one ofthose things that I've, I've come to understand. And I think this is also whyas an engineering and product leader over the last decade or so. Theorganizations that I've been a part of, you've always seen a massive uptick ineffectiveness, if you come and you start saying, well, we're going to writethat down, we're going to do this, we're going to do that. Also, you startmaking some of the hidden work visible as an example, or some of the implicitthings that people are known more explicit. It just kind of happens that way.I've been on my part too, it's more about explicit communication and gettingthe organization to be explicit in their communication.

[00:18:59] Eiso: So, Michael, I know you are big fan ofwritten communication and writing things down and the importance of writing andthat I think extends to one of those superpowers. Share with us a little bityour point of view on this

[00:19:11] Michael: I mean it's sort of related, whatyou're just saying is sort of, "if you didn't write it down, it neverhappened." That's what it says on the field notes books. If you didn'twrite it down, it never happened. But I think it's actually more powerful thansort of just having a written record of that decision or that discussion orwhatever the heck happened that you want to capture and share with otherpeople. I had an interview once and theexec asked me, he's like, "Hey," because I'd written a book andthey're like, "Hey, did writing a book make you a better leader?" andI'm like, "ah, what a great question," which is what you say whenyou're stalling to figure out a good answer. But her question was really goodbecause I'm like, "oh yeah," the reason I think it makes me a betterleader is, ask me about one-on-ones. I will, I will bore you to death with mythoughts on one-on-ones.

[00:19:56] But everything that I'm telling you isactually something that I've written down, passed it through my fingers andI've considered it. It's not just me like Yolo, sounding like I can justextemporaneously tell you great things about one-on-ones. I'm just readingeither blog posts or the blog posts about it. And when I, when I choose to goand write something down, the idea goes from like me kind of just thinking inthe back of my head is something far more thoughtful and, and well-constructed.

[00:20:20] That little CarrieFisher pitch I gave you at the beginning of this thing? That's a presentationthat I'm giving in Poland in about two weeks sitting on my screen right now,cause I'm sitting here thinking about the pandemic and distributed work and Iwas watching Rogue One. I'm like, why is Carrie Fisher looks so weird? Oh, thisis the whole problem. all of the signal is missing and we're, you know, oh,that's great. So now I have this interesting story about Carrie Fisher andthat's why I don't like distributed work or video conferencing, I likedistributed work, video conferencing is hard. So that's, that's writing. That'sthe art of taking a thought and making it a coherent narrative. And that'sactually what leadership is too.

[00:20:55] So I, last night,someone sent me this horrible, horrible status update that they were sendingout and they're like, I'm reading, I'm like, I can't, I what, so I copied it,put it into Bear, my favorite editor in the world, and just rewrote it rightthere. It was one paragraph. It was awful. I turned it into two paragraphs andit was very readable. Just a little tiny thing that goes in a status reportthat no one's ever going to read, but I just gave me a little joy to like, takethis, this poor piece of writing and then make it good again. Right. So that,and that's, that's a, that's a skill that I've learned over decades is thatwhat is clear writing versus just, you know, things that kind of showed up inthe head and it's a practice and a skill that you got. And it's, I think forleaders, it's just, it's an essential, it's an essential skill to have. Is thatability to convey thoughts through writing.

[00:21:39] Jason: I could not agree with you more. And infact, one of the things I've always appreciated about you, Michael, andobviously your writing has been influential to a lot of people, includingmyself over the years, is your ability to tell stories about that or to giveexamples or to make things relatable, all of those things. And I think that's incrediblyimportant, particularly as you go out in the leadership ranks because there's awhole bunch of set of skills, which are like the basics. It's one of thosethings, that's the basics, it just covers a wide category of things.

[00:22:09] We could talk allday about expectation setting and goal setting and all of those, but like thisright here, what you do with the stories is so important because people, Eisohas heard me say this, there's that Maya Angelou quote, which is, "peoplewill forget what you said, but they'll remember how you made them feel."Well stories are actually how they'll actually remember what you said as wellas how you made them feel too. So I think that's really important. I was gonnasay one thing that's actually helpedme as a engineering leader, product leader is writing, but learning how towrite books. And I know you've written a bunch of books, but there's thismethod. And I think I would encourage people to think about this, or to go findit, it's called "the snowflake method for science fiction writing" orsomething like that. And the whole idea is that you start small and you build.So you don't start with the entire novel in your head, but you start with thesmall premise and you start to slowly methodically over the course of a coupleof weeks, build it.

[00:23:03] And that's actually how I've done productdevelopment in the past too, which is like, I would like to do X you, can youthink of it as a triangle? And then you add the next triangle slightly skewed,then the next triangle, the next triangle. And then by the time you're done,you have a fractal of a snowflake. From just from adding triangles all the waythrough. And I have found that just from a mental model perspective to beincredibly useful.

[00:23:25] Michael: Yeah. My, my model is different and Idon't write science fiction novels. My model is in terms of starting withsomething and turning into something which is a significant piece of writing iskind of like what you just said is, I find the story, and once I know what thestory is, like, I know I can tell you about this thing, cause I had thisepiphany about Carrie Fisher or whatever the thing is. That's the piece thatactually gets me. Cause I'm like in my head, like I've got like eight articlesin my head or like on the screen right now.

[00:23:53] And some of them arelike sitting there kind of just, and I'm looking for that spark of like,"what's the, what's the, how am I gonna open the door and start tellingthem this story?" And it just bounces around and sometimes it just stopsbouncing. And I just goes in the slush pile, but there's this moment sometimeswhere you're like, "ah!. Carrie Fisher. That's right. That's it, there is,there is, I can frame the whole thing here." Like 80% of it won't be aboutCary Fisher, but it's suddenly this story that lands and gives it feeling andheart and that's, that's where it comes. But again, these are, these aresmaller sort of like pieces on like a topic as opposed to like a space opera.

[00:24:24] Eiso: So Michael I'd love to dive deeper intostorytelling within a leadership function, not just for, for creating greatcontent. If you look back over your career, are there examples, in particularI'm thinking around alignment. I heard aquote this week and I think it's attributed it was in secondhand through theCISO workday, who says, "velocity is not about speed, velocity is aboutalignment." and when I, when I think about storytelling as a leader, Ithink about alignment. And so I'm curious to see how you've used your skills tobuild alignment or consensus with storytelling.

[00:24:57] Michael: Yeah,it's, there's a, there's a really cool part of this and the really super boringpart of what I'm about to say. The cool part is kind of what we just said inthat, like, let's say I'm, I'm, I'm doing a reorg or something where I'm takinga team from point A to point B. So the fun part is, is to figure out the storyabout why we're doing this. There's some, some story there. And just like wejust said, it can't be this, like, "we're improving alignment andincreasing efficiency because who the hell cares about that?" We all careabout it, but it's a boring story.

[00:25:24] I mean, it's a goodthing, but it's like, it's boring story. But I, I'm making this up, this teamis, we're under resourced here, and I want us to, I want us to be able to dothese three big huge things over the next three years. And these things are X,Y, and Z, and boy, all three of them seem impossible. Right. Let's go for it.So I just made that up and you're smiling because I can tell, cause I'm onvideo conference, I can see it. So that's far more interesting than analignment and efficiencies and bla bla bla. So that's part one of the. Thelesson that I've learned is like, find that story to describe this bigstrategic thing that we're actually going to go and do, and that's super hard.

[00:25:57] The boring part ofthis, this is we, engineers hate what I'm about to say, is then you go tellthat story about 3000 times, about 3000 times, not 1000, but 3000 times. Andabout at about 120 you're like, this is so dumb. Why am I still telling thisstory about these three things we have to go to? That's the job, especiallyduring a pandemic of. You just need to be out there, just kind of retelling itand selling. And sometimes people say like, "what do you mean bythat?" And you're like, "oh, edit great. Okay. Story's a little bitbetter right now."

[00:26:25] But there's thispiece of just, and this is when we'd like, when I really actually do reorgs,everyone's like all these engineers just wanna "okay. I get it. Now let'smove on to next thing,"I'm like "no, no, no, no, no." Everyoneneeds to hear it and they need to hear it again. And then the people that areaffected and to hear twice and they need to sleep on it and talk to you theday. Like there's this whole cascading thing, and it's just incredibly hard andboring, but if you don't do it, something's going to blow up, someone's goingto feel bad, bla bla bla.... So that's, that's the part of it, that is there'sthis operational side of the storytelling that you have to do.

[00:26:56] Oh. And by the way,every time I tell this story, you have to believe it's the first time I'msaying it, because I'm so inspired by it. And it's not the 200,000th time thatI've actually said this story. So that's the storytelling piece, but there's anoperational side to it is as important because everyone needs to hear thatstory and they need to believe in it, and it needs to be repeated and theorganism needs to get it in the bloodstream.

[00:27:16] Jason: As an engineer, I've tried to givepeople a little bit of a context around this in terms of like, "Hey, howdoes this actually work?" I say, "well, you have to say somethingseven times to be heard. And then you have to say that same thing, or you haveto hear something seven times to be have it understood. So you're talking about49 times effectively that you've got to say the same thing for the sameaudience, to have it fully grok in if you're talking about an org.

[00:27:36] So I just givepeople that same sort of advice, but I also then say too, modes matter too youprobably have to write it down, I'm going to do a video, having to do an allhands, some Q&A, and you're going to have to have variance on this. And yetyou are going to hate saying "we're doing this because this reason,"but it's so critically important.

[00:27:56] Michael: Yeah. There's another piece that youjust reminded me of, relative to reorgs. but I think it's really any sort ofbig sort of change that you're taking the team through. There's usually somesort of visual or written artifacts, like for the reorg that I go down and I doit 10x better than anybody else, because I know that this is the one thingthat's going to travel the furthest. So like for a reorg, I have a slide guywho actually does the reorg. slide and he's genius at keynote or whatnot.Because that's the thing everyone's going to care about, It's like, "whoworks for who and what happened to Ashley" and dah, dah dah, and that sortof thing. That thing is the thing that I do 10x more work on, than, you know,the other pieces. Cause that's, that's the thing that's going to kind ofencapsulate and wander around and be the thing that is one of those repetitionmoments where folks

[00:28:41] Jason: Great call out on that too, because thevirality of something, and this is where also something you say in person cango, it's like, "well, what did Jason does say?" That's why you haveto actually follow it up with a written too and say, oh, just check out theblog post and the slide deck.

[00:29:07] Eiso: I don't know if either of you have hadthis during the pandemic, but I've definitely had, you know, days where, whereyour spouse or comes and says," I can tell this story now, I've heard itso many times. I've heard you say it over zoom, if you want. I can come on thenext call.

[00:29:26] Michael: Yeah. I have the same thing. My wifeis very aware of my day to day, unfortunately.

[00:29:33] Eiso: Fantastic. so Michael writing as asuperpower, I think we spoke a lot today about making things explicit. Right. Ithink if we, funny enough, started off on, on video conferencing and thought wewould all disagree in terms of, we, we all keep agreeing, but it all prettymuch comes down to, you know, it's the world that we live in today, whereremote is just likely going to stay a big part of it means that we have to beeven more explicit as leaders.

[00:29:57] Is there anythingnon-obvious that you've been more explicit about in these last couple of years?

[00:30:02] Michael: Yeah, this is sort of related to it.The other thing about the water cooler, when I'm talking with Ashley is like, Ican see how I can check in and be like, "Hey, how's life?" And hesays "nothing at all." I'm like, cool, I'll move on. And then theother time I say, "Hey, well, hey, how's life?" And he says"something." I'm like, "oh, I need to check in here." Andthis has nothing to do with work. I mean, it is work cause we're coworkers, butlike, there's that sort of like, you know, that, that banter that we have sortof this as we're walking around and bumping into each other, and you kind ofchecking in on things and sort of doing mental health checks on folks andwhatnot. That's all gone because we're sitting here as trapped in these boxes.

[00:30:36] So I'm findingexplicitly at the beginning of, you know, staff meetings, to like I literallyam scanning and I'm checking for like differences in their background, I'mlike, oh, you have a new book there. And I'm doing that to, to create thatcohesion piece, that social cohesion piece, that it was gone right now. And Ialso have a, I have a standing agenda item for the end of my staff meetingcalled "gossip, rumors and lies". And all we do is we just kind ofsay, I'm like, "Hey, so what did you hear?" Right. And this is alloff the record. No, one's writing anything down. But it's this sort of like,"Hey, by the way I heard we're never, ever going back into the campus everagain." that's a lie.

[00:31:14] But people, and it'slike, it's the best part of my week, by the way. It's the last 20 minutes of anhour long, staff meeting and it always starts off kind of quiet, and then,three minutes later, we're all just laughing and kind of going, "did youhear that"? And like, "I didn't hear that's so weird, blah, blah,blah." it's the reason that it's such a rich time is because we're allchecking these boxes right now and we don't actually get to go do that. So I'mdoing that. And then like, we did it when I first started at my current gig.But it wasn't that interesting. It's super interesting now because people wantthat, we're social creatures, we like that connection and sort of that random,poetic, inspiration of hearing what Myra has to say about this thing over here.

[00:31:52] So I'm spending alot more, I spend time doing that piece there and then one-on-ones too, it'sstill, you know, we did it before when we were all like hanging out together,we kind of say, "how's it going now?" But now you really actuallyhave to do it to kind of, you know, just open it and kind of connect as humansbecause you're sitting by yourself far away talking to your screen, that's whatyou're doing. But you need to give yourself the illusion that like, it's Ashleyon the other side and we're like having this conversation. So we've gottenreally good at convincing ourselves that they're actually in the same room,even though they're not.

[00:32:20] Jason: The "gossip, rumours andlies" thing is not something I heard before and I love it, gonna steal it,it's gonna become part of the things that we do. That's a amazing. Your pointabout the first start of the meeting, looking for things behind and all that.That is something I cannot, oh my goodness. Like you need to, and like,particularly if they're like hybrid, if you've got a room full of people andthen you got a couple of people on zoom or video or something like that, Ithink it's incredibly important to pull the video people into the conversationexplicitly at the beginning of the conversation.

[00:32:50] In fact, this was abone of contention I remember a while back with somebody who was not a veryadept remote leader, and they said, "I don't want small talk before allthe meetings," and they had 15 people on a zoom call and I was like, youliterally, we literally know nothing about these people. They're just boxes ona wall to us. If we don't start trying to pull them in and that's such adehumanizing thing, then you start treating them as commodities or resources.If you know what I mean by the airport resources at this point. And I thinkit's just one of those things that you can lose.

[00:33:21] Michael: Yeah. And you're just a riff on thata little bit. The, the inverse of that is true is suddenly if you make it okayto be in my video's off, I'm just kind of half listening to this conversationperson in this meeting. And by the way, it's easy to do that. Cause we don'thave conference rooms that have a certain amount of people that can getanymore, so you can make them as large as you want. So there's an argument out therethat like, cool. I just want to hear what y'all are saying and I'm gonna justturn my video off and listen. Not going to happen.

[00:33:45] I have a hugeproblem with it because suddenly it's like, it's suddenly, it's 48 people andthere's four of us talking. This, this happens by the way. And like the otheris 20 there. And like 10 of them are literally not even in the room anymore.Cause they just kind of turned it on and put it in the background. And nowthey're like cleaning their bookshelves or something and they're tellingthemselves, they tell themselves that they're listening. They're not listening.It's the same. This is why we have a huge problem when we're all together. AndAshley has his, sorry, Ashley has his notebook open, he, and he said, he'slike, he's, "you're taking notes." I'm like, "you're not, I'lltake notes" or we'll have someone else take, you're a part of thismeeting, if your notebook's open, I get 50% of your attention. "What areyou doing here?"

[00:34:24] I'm being super adversarialabout this, but like, I have an issue with this because, I value people's timeand I want the, I want the meeting to be efficient. I want the people that arethere to be contributing and like this sort of like group of people that arejust kind of hanging on, they could be working, they could doing other things.Giving them the impression they have to be there, we as leaders are failing interms of saying," Cool, we're going to document every decision and we'regoing to share it in Slack. So you don't feel you need to be here. Cause we'regoing to share everything there." Like there's this contract that's beingfailed. And then someone feels, they just want to be in that meeting. If I feelimportant, I get it like super get, I want to be in that meeting too. But ifI'm there, my video's on, I'm listening, I'm nodding, I'm a part of theconversation, even if I'm not necessarily saying something there.

[00:35:07] Ooh, I've got a ventgoing on, coffee's kicking in.

[00:35:09] Jason: I think you, I mean, this is where weare going to violently and vehemently agree again, because it's one of thosethings where. When I started at GitHubpeople used to tease me all the time, because "why is the CTO walkingaround, GitHub with no laptop and I, I literally only carry like a small moleskin notebook with a pencil. I would put in my pocket. I would take it out inthe meeting to write one quick note, put it back in if I needed to go dosomething, but I literally would have no laptop with me when I went into a meeting,whereas most people would bring their laptops to meetings, open them up, checkslack, do whatever.

[00:35:41] And I said, "Hey, we're gonna startclosing these things," but they're like, "dude, you're the CTO, youshould always be on your laptop." I'm like, "no, I should be in theroom right now with you all. Like, and we're making this type of decision andyes, like maybe, maybe my mode of operation is slightly different than yours,but we have to be here in the moment. Instead of something taking an hour,because we're all half paying attention maybe we can get it done in 10 minutestoo.

[00:36:05] Michael: Yep. Totally agree. Yep. We totallyagree 100% agree.

[00:36:10] Eiso: I think there's a, there's a side note,we can all agree on that, the hybrid meeting the conference room, plus the zoomis the biggest disaster ever invented.

[00:36:19] Michael: Yeah, that's my worry about whenwe're all kind of coming back is that scenario, because the folks on thevirtual side of it, are at such a disadvantage to the folks in the room, so,and those folks are there for a reason, a really good reason. So it's actuallygoing to get harder because right now we're all required to be in these littleboxes, but, when there's five of us sitting in the conference room and five ofus around the world. If I were on the world, that is a, that is a whole new setof challenges we've got to get good at.

[00:36:45] Hopefully I'mhopeful in that we've been doing this for the last 20 months that we know whatit feels like to not be seen more than we did 20 months ago for us who hadn'tdone this a lot, but we'll see.

[00:36:57] Jason: I think this goes to intentionalityagain and explicitness, but I think leaders, particularly senior ones, at anyof those meetings need to make it obviously, known, and you've got to callpeople out. And to your point about having video off, no, you got a certain setof rules and should be the small set of people and they should be contributingall of that sort of stuff, blah, blah, blah. It's like all the stuff we'vealways said before. If you in a meeting and you see it play out and you're onthe wrong side, if you're on the video side of this, you see it playing out, ohmy goodness.

[00:37:26] Eiso: So I want to ask you Michael on any kindof parting thoughts today, explicitly, you know, the young engineering leader or someone who just became anengineering leader, who's listening to this. What do you wish you would haveknown back in the day that you know today?

[00:37:42] Michael: There'sthis, someone who's made this judgment thing about a set of skills and longago, and I don't know who it was but they said soft Skills, they said these arethe soft skills, and that soft skills somehow apply some how people read asbeing sort of easier ones relative to hard skills. Like I know how to programin C, that's a hard skill, a soft skill is I know how to read the room andunderstand who's upset based on nothing except looking at little postagestamps. That's a soft skill, right? What I wish I'd told myself whatever amillion years ago was the soft skills are actually the hardest part of the job.And that's actually my whole sticks. The whole books that I've written are,you'll notice, don't do a lot of writing about unit tests or code coverage or anythinglike that, even though that's something I care about deeply, it's all what Iconsider to be the hard skills which others think is called the soft piece.

[00:38:34] That piece has beenmy biggest successes and biggest failures is how I, well, I've done it andgotten better at that over time. This reorg thing we were talking earlier. Myreorgs are great because it's zero drama and it's totally boring. Zero dramaand totally boring is incredibly hard to do. And it's, and it comes from doingit so poorly and not understanding how people are feeling or how they want tobe communicated to. The thing about leadership is as a parting thought is like,you never reward it when it's zero drama, nothing, but that's because we havethis hero culture and diving saves and other things we do. No drama, andeveryone's fine is like, great. Maybe I don't get rewarded from that, causeeveryone's like, "Hey, Lopp seems just kind of cranking, is this kind ofworking? That's that's the hard part. And that comes from, not from great beinga great engineer that comes to being a great leader who understands and managesthe hard skills slash soft skills so well.. Ooh. That was a good answer too, bythe way.

[00:39:30] Jason: It was a great answer. By the way, Ihave started to frame it when people ask me about that too, and particularlywhen I'm talking to senior leaders, because they say, "oh, you have reallygood soft skills." I'm like, yeah, "I call them executive skills becausethat's what they actually are. If you want to think about them that way."And that's what it takes to be a good executive. It helps some engineers, butmore than that, I'm kind of pointing out to some of these other folks that theylack some of these things. And the other side of the whole lack of drama thing,that's a, that's a, that's a whole nother podcast that we can go into because Ifind that most of the people that do end up in leadership positions in a lot ofvery large organizations, would be considered the Firestarters the"Fireman, Firestarters" the ones that go out and they're like, kindof starting fires on their own. They may not be explicitly doing it, butthey're allowing embers burn that become raging fires.

[00:40:24] Michael: Yeah. And it's interesting, isn't it?Sorry that's a whole other podcast. But like they're trying to do somethingthey think is right, by the way, in that, but it's usually some sort ofsystemic error or a structure that is actually, gives them the sense that theyneed to do that, there's something wrong or that actually needs to be debugged.Anyway, that's a whole other podcast.

[00:40:45] Eiso: Thank you so much, Michael, for joiningus today, it sounds like we're going to have to have you on again about the episodeabout drama, this was an absolute pleasure.

[00:40:55] Jason: Michael thank you so much for joining,this was amazingly fun.

[00:40:57] Michael: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Iappreciate it.