Harvard Business School’s 3 topics to round out my executive education

We did it! Despite a long journey with many twists and turns, I am now an alumnus at Harvard Business School. Made a ton of videos about the experience, the ride is done, school is out, time to sit back and watch Netflix as the sun sets in the background.

Not quite.

A significant section of this course was addressing possible gaps in being a better business leader as we continue to lead and drive change for the years ahead. Forged, focused, honed, sculpted, galvanized, reborn, etc. are all cliché descriptions of the grueling two-week process not just to be yourself, but more of yourself. The best self you can be.

That is the real value here. Harvard isn’t building us into the perfect business robots. The course helped all 140 of us chip away the pieces of us that obscured our true selves. In turn, this process allowed us to remain diverse, adjust our course, and determine where we would like to go.

Previously I discussed why I felt this education is better than more technical certifications (here) which still rings true and I would like to expand with what we covered in these latest classes.


Finance is a significant component of businesses performing well. These classes concentrated on how financial statements and strategy can help the company.

Having an understanding of these financial basics are very important for these finance courses, and frankly, it took me some time to get up to the baseline level. Unfortunately, we did not have some of the same basic training we got from previous courses. The HBX platform was excellent for getting me ready for classes in the earlier modules. Without the HBX courses in this module, I felt I was slogging through an arcane language until the 2nd week. (Some of my post-class homework involves rereading two finance books)

The best tactic was going right into the financial data and start parsing it out. Looking for apparent weirdness in the statement helped me find the problems and to ask our financial gurus for help.

Ratios are important here. We can all figure out what it means when costs are above revenue, but what are the other trends that look weird? The class covered some example on what would make sense to look at and where to begin. Two cases in particular pop out in my mind.

One case referred to the earnings per share and the company’s attempt to increase this. The ratio is right there, so how would we go about doing this? Growing earnings is essential, but why do we want to muck with shares? What is beneficial and can this cause unintended secondary effects? During the case, you see the increase in EPS but most of it is share buyback, and the financials let you keep asking more and more questions about it the company’s strategy.

Another good case was around the merger of two companies and the speculative synergies from combining the companies. A massive influx of value called synergies appeared as sensible as unicorns and fairy dust to throw into the equation. Having additional numbers backing them up and walking through the impacts on share prices were eye-opening. In the end, it seemed that the market agreed that the synergy logic was flimsy and it took some time to realize them.

All of these financial exercises don’t have a straightforward answer but instead allowed us to keep asking smart questions and keep looking at where we can find that data. The power of understanding financials is allowing us to ask, and determine if we are getting into a job or misjudging numbers.


The negotiation classes were my favorite part of the course. Each of them had a real negotiation where we were able to compete against each other in trying to get a more significant piece of the pie, argue for our position, and see what we got in the end.

It is ingenious because we all shared in the experience and was great to find out what everyone else had done while under the time crunch.

Universally my negotiations were horrible, and I was never close to the top of the class. My peers performed better, and it appears I do not understand the art of the deal. However, I always closed my deal. ALWAYS. Plus, everyone seemed to trust me, so that was nice.

Fortunately, that leaves me with the ability to improve! On some reflection, I did decide that for “real-life” negotiations my best alternatives (BATNAs) have been a pillar of strength. In real life, I have always had great options, and never need to accept if the terms were not favorable. It is my most fundamental strength going into a negotiation, and all it takes is some pre-work!

Lack of certainty also exacerbates a problem during a negotiation. In one scenario I was a consultant trying to help win a contract. However, I was going to make more money if I sank the deal and both parties drastically were underestimating the market. I spent most of my time wondering if I was on board, if I was striking up a deal with the buyer, or if I needed to torpedo the deal. That friction hurt the overall deal for everyone involved, and suddenly a $250K point made a huge problem for a $500 million market.

Overall, it seemed like increased transparency helped people find out the better deal for all involved. Increase the pie, but there is always the problem of the prisoner’s dilemma. Those who withheld information got a bigger slice from the deal. So I felt good that I was a pie increaser, even if my slice was a little smaller.


The authentic leadership section was perfect in trying to make us more effective communicators and set a direction for our lives. There are many discussions regarding how what interests us, our motivations, and how we view success in our personal lives.

There seems to be a 70-20-10 model for leadership. Around 70% is experience, 20% is from mentors and the last 10% is from the classroom. So show up.

A key takeaway was how difficult conversations occur and how to have them. The most valuable advice being that you should come from a place of understanding. Instead of assuming the intentions of someone, you should ask. You will understand your bosses, peers, and directs much better. You provide a sense of autonomy and are more likely to come up with the best solution possible, especially with complex problems.

A peculiar discovery was regarding vulnerability and allowing others to see part of ourselves that usually is more private. For example, as a new officer, I didn’t make it through the Navy’s flight school. I still feel slightly ashamed about this, and for many years I have held it close until I got to know people better. While we fear that sharing these vulnerabilities they will be used against us, it short-circuits the resistance to building trust between the two parties. Sharing my failure with my group was uncomfortable, but they were more impressed that I even got that far and opened up a more substantial dialogue about my experience. That fear was holding me back, and I learned how we grossly overestimate the negativity in people.

A majority of the class completed the True North handbook before class started and the curriculum followed this very closely. I received insights regarding my work-life balance, possible traps I am flirting with, and corrective actions to better orient myself. The workbook prescriptively walks you through the journey on your own, and I highly recommend doing it.

Perhaps the book was too good, as for me, the classwork felt a little redundant afterward. Overall I was searching for more tools to empower individuals to be leaders. It is an essential skill for moving an organization forward and very difficult to execute effectively. The best example was to teach them the same parts that you find in the True North book, and this explanation feels like it needs to a bit more parsing.

Another consideration is how the course pulled lots of evidence from social science experiments. While many are exciting and uplifting, there has been a recent pushback by the scientific community regarding the difficulty to replicate these experiments. Given the pushback, we will need to carefully pay attention to using these studies as to know how to apply these insights appropriately.

What’s next?

Work, lots of work. As always this is just the first part of the journey. DEFCON is coming up in two weeks, and I am rapidly trying to get everything put together for that. Some ideas I have been kicking around regarding follow-up videos and discussions.

  • Financials for the snek badge I sold
  • Walking through the financials of a cyber company
  • Deep Learning and NLP

If you have any suggestion, please let me know and subscribe to my Youtube channel if you think some of my projects are interesting. Also a big thanks for my AIG work colleagues helping me pursue this opportunity and my family for helping take care of everything on the home front.



Not what you read, what you reread; 3 books worth that second look

I am a voracious reader and especially now due to the abundance of audio files. It is so much easier to sneak in 5 minutes with an audiobook while running an errand, doing chores, or waiting for a conference call. It has become so easy, that I was quickly purchasing more and more highly recommended audiobooks. However, I have been starting to discover that not all books are created equal, and only a few of them should be around for the reread.

On a recent business trip, I discovered 10 minutes after takeoff that I only had some old books loaded up on my phone. Although disappointed, I scrolled through my archived books and found a short one I enjoyed previously. I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t have any “new” learning possibilities on this trip.

About an hour into the trip I was taking more implementable things from this reread than my last two books combined. I found real gems in some of the items I forgot from my first reading. It was as if I have been gorging myself on new things trying desperately to find something I liked, and once I found it, I never tried it again. It was as if I was content to say that once complete an experience never needs to be revisited.

My old book attitude seems a little ridiculous in hindsight (also expensive). It would be akin to going to the grand canyon only once or never going back to my favorite restaurants. I don’t treat food this way, why should I similarly treat books.

During my re-reads, I was able to slow down. Rethink some advice and reflect on my attempts to implement changes. Sorting out what techniques worked in my position, with my leadership style, and in my environment. Something I read a year ago was very different given my projects and experience yesterday.

It that spirit, here are three books I think are worth the re-read:

  1. Rework by David Hansson and Jason Fried: Great discussion about only doing the things that are important, cutting out meetings and BS, and getting down to the brass tacks of work that matters done.
  2. Phoenix Project by Gene Kim: Walks through a story discussing how to treat IT infrastructure more like a factory to eliminate chokepoints, manage the craziness that is corporate work, and get the critical project finished on time while not losing everything else along the way.
  3. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein: Much better than the movie. Sci-fi is great because they can bring up situations in hyperbole so that you can dissect them better. Although very dated, Starship Troopers is the kind of book to discuss some unusual circumstances in a quick read.

More than anything, I find it a bit humbling to reflect on my tries in some lessons. To try something and notice I didn’t fully commit and later lost the essence of its expected impact. A think a fast read through a book can let you know if its worth a reread, but you should also be rereading the “good stuff” constantly.


Friday the 13 “spooky” leadership lessons for October

Living in Texas, I do miss out on some of the delightful aspects of October from childhood. The crinkle of leaves, burning firewood, and the brisk night air is replaced by just… moist hot. However, I can still sneak away from being an adult to rewatch all my favorite horror movies to enjoy the season. So to stay in the holiday spirit here are 13 leadership lessons on Friday.

1. The most significant challenge is never really expected

None of the characters go into a story expecting machetes, hatches, or claws. They have entirely different concerns and goals. Looking back at my most significant challenges every single one seemed to come from nowhere as I was more concerned with other things. Running through bizarre scenarios is a very beneficial tool for rapidly dispatching mundane challenges.

2. Don’t split up

Perhaps the cardinal rule. Tempting because a team can cover much more ground but a loner is more likely to get stuck in something way over their head. Try to keep at least two people on essential projects to support each other. Going it alone? You might lose them and much more.

3. The people in charge need incredibly compelling evidence

One of the most prominent tropes in horror is that the parents and police don’t listen. While it makes sense for a moody teenager label others dumb, we all understand that an immortal unkillable machine is quite an extraordinary claim. The turning point is always when compelling evidence (usually a body count or seeing the monster). Always use strong proof when appealing to stakeholders to make a decision.

4. Resourcefulness is key; Silver bullets fail

Unfortunately, silver bullets are a one-stop solution only in movies. Even when used they rarely have the intended effect, and the heroes resort to their incredible resourcefulness with the tools and supplies they have. Often jerry-rigging something to help hold the monster at bay or make a daring escape. Just skip the bullet. Use what you have around you instead of trying to get something with impossible requirements.

5. Learning is critical

Always be willing to learn from your mistakes. Predictably approaching a problem because that’s how it was done in the past can leave your team open to some harsh realities in a changing environment.

6. Somebody always warns of the impending danger

There always seems to be warning signs of impending doom that seem apparent in hindsight. News reports about increases in phishing attacks during the holidays, the release of new exciting codes, or even grandma talking about her friend losing her retirement to fraud. We can’t dwell on everything but consider that there is some underlying truth in statements.

7. Your competition is evolving, so should you

Nothing will continue to work forever. If there is no innovation, you will be leading a group forward to the future but back into the zombie-filled catacombs. Without making changes to explore and exploit new opportunities the team will stagnate.

8. Simple is good

The most complicated plans can be put to shame if everything doesn’t line up. Sometimes the most straightforward solutions are the most effective.

9. Take care of yourself

You can’t show leadership if you are out of action. Overworking a body is almost as silly as running away from an ax murderer in heels. Eat healthy food, exercise, spend time with loved ones and on hobbies. Make sure you are ready for work each day.

10. Watch your hubris

More humanistic monsters often make broad generalizing statements condoning their mayhem. A solution that makes sense for one variation has a danger of being applied too broadly.

11. You find out your real companions when everything goes wrong

If team members are suddenly disappearing to leave you to face the problem alone, they will probably run away from every challenge. Not physically but through a deluge of excuses and rationalizations. It is best to sort out who will have the courage to face problems head-on and help the team despite the circumstances.

12. Understand whats behind the mask

Masks are used to portray what we want others to see. We all present a side of ourselves when we go to work, and we often miss unique aspects of our peers. Try to peel back the mask a little bit to see hidden talents or motivations. You can find a secret rockstar passionate about a direction you have never considered.

13. The problem never dies

You can’t just kill a problem. Sure you can slow it down and incapacitate it, but when you turn your back, it will rise again. There are always going to be new iterations of the problem that keeps popping up and evolving. The most important defense is to learn and apply what you know in the past so that you can better deal with the problem next time.

Hope everyone had a few moments to think about how their favorite horror stories and how those lessons, as fantastical as they are, can provide a tool for your leadership toolbox!

Have a Happy Halloween!


Thanks Interns! Three management lessons as temp workers transition


Businesses everywhere are seeing a large supply of cheap expendable labor depart as interns have headed back to school. Often the butt of jokes, undervalued interns are criticized for being inexperienced, undertrained, and very temporary. However, my personal experiences with interns have shown that they provide valuable contributions to the company if the manager is mindful of a few things.

The Interns value to the company

Interns provide the invaluable gift of work hours. Not free, but cheap. Interns are the most straightforward answer to getting items complete that you just need additional employees for tasks in some form of neglect. An influx on work hours can provide the momentum to push that project past the small hurdles and goals to something sustainable. With the right manager, a good intern can provide a fresh perspective and have a desire to complete their projects before they depart.

However, as with all cheap labor, there is often a trap of providing just additional “busy work” which can be spent or projects that just keep the interns producing something, anything besides just breathing. Instead of working efficiently they might be asked to continue a long drawn out procedure.

Equally wasteful, is putting interns on side-projects that are not important enough for your full-time employees. If it’s not important enough for a full-time employee, then my team is not doing it. It’s not going to be a burden for an intern.

In an unfortunate situation involving a bad intern, you can still get some value by pulling other work off your more productive employees. Don’t throw too much valuable time after the bad.

Management responsibilities to them

There are many diverse reasons why an intern would want to come and work with a company. Future career prospects, the type of work at a company, and hopefully the company’s reputation for running an excellent internship program but I never know what drove them until I ask them. It is one of the first things I should be asking when they show up.

What are they expecting and how can you help them get that.

On this latest batch, I mistakenly fell into the trap of being “too busy” and forgot to complete this step. While we were able to provide many learning experiences and let them provide tangible impact to the business, I might have been able to do a better job at aligning work with their interests if I had not slipped up.

Immediate feedback is also a key component. Professionals write scores about how feedback can be uncomfortable for both parties. I find keeping the tone straightforward and prompting leading questions for improvement helped us finish projects better. Also, the intern doesn’t revert just back to receive mode. These conversations should be modeled more like ping pong, both parties should be speaking.

I’m not the best at stepping back and allowing the process to occur. Often I just want to jump forward and drive. Like most people I know, we feel we are good at driving tasks, and we want to get there faster. However, when I allow myself to get trapped in directing instead of questioning, the results are not as good, I kill innovation, and underserve the intern by thinking for them.

I am also somewhat selfish about my interns succeeding in the program. These are people who have been vetted and groomed by the company and have a large potential for future growth. Having a good network of new up and comers is a future investment in myself and my career. One day, I will need either the intern or someone they know to help out with a project or idea.

The more knowledge and experience I provide to the trainees.
The more I support their pursuit of goals.
The more I will be able to draw from them in the future.

Management and Leadership Testbed

During my one on one sessions with employees upward mobility is a top concern. (If it is not you have other concerns). There is no question that the largest resume builders are high visibility pet projects of management and interns are a close 2nd. Interns allow my full-time employees that trial run in leadership.

The largest misconception about the military is being stuck with a Drill Sergeant barking and spitting in your face 24/7. That can’t be further from the truth. My Marine Corp “internship” was marching around with an infantry platoon. I saw that the marines were teaching leadership from the top officer to the lowest ranking enlisted. My manager was a lance corporal with two months experience making sure I didn’t mess up. He was the one grooming me. That decentralized leadership and autonomy being taught all the way to the ground is a core competitive advantage that both Sailors and Marines share.

In my biased opinion, you should follow this model.

While the military has a constant flow of people moving in and out on rotations, my corporate team doesn’t get that luxury. The more junior analysts do not have anyone to train or practice leadership with on a rotating basis.

Interns solve this.

Suddenly, there is a new, inexperienced team member ripe for training. The influx of temporary employees, allows a manager to put even those junior analysts, in a role that requires the management of the intern. It’s a fantastic testbed for your full-time employees to learn to teach. After all, the worst thing that could happen is the teaching of bad habits, which leave after summer! Even a complete failure, will inform an employee which of their leadership tools were more or less effective.

Ready for the next batch?

Sometimes interns are viewed as a bother, someone to babysit during the summer as you move through your typical workweek. Although I understand the concerns about their limited experience and short tenure, I have also grown to view them as an essential part of our growing and developing m team and would urge you to seek interns out the best you can.


My four leadership hacks as Harvard Business School get personal

As many of my classmates have already pointed out (here, here, here and here), our experiences at Harvard Business School during the second half of Professional Leadership Development program focused less on technical knowledge and more on the understanding of our personal attributes.

1. Lockpicking: Are you teaching criminals?

A major change in my attitude was to get out there and teach my fellow executives. What is something simple that I could uniquely offer? Lockpicking. I taught lockpicking with TOOOL for 3 years at DEFCON and have enough training tools that can fit into one of Emily’s old Clinique bags (people are less likely to walk off with an orange makeup bag). Everyone picked at least one lock with Nofi being a particular all-star that opened all the locks I had to offer.

Overall, lockpicking was a huge hit. I was able to host 3 different sessions and 40+ classmates learned something brand new. However, when posting on social media questions about teaching “criminality” arose. This seems bizarre since our lectures involve several in-depth discussions about fraud orders of magnitude above what anyone would ever see from home burglary. I think the critics miss how the takeaway for the students dovetails nicely with our studies. Locks provide a simple tangible process, which is much less abstract than financial fraud, which can be subverted to do something that wasn’t originally intended.

Another benefit was that after our short sessions and I was suddenly inundated by more complex security discussions. Topics were varied including advice for which security vendors to consider, the importance of password management, basic cyber hygiene, and even in one case advice on how to fight a phishing campaign. Without deciding to be a teacher on small things I wouldn’t have been able to drive a conversation on the tougher stuff.

2. Acting with the Ariel group

I never thought I would be taking an acting class. I was in small plays in High School but I never really felt it as a calling. However, on Saturday we all were sitting around being put on the spot for displaying emotions in improvisational scenarios and yelling “hah” at each other. I even told a story about my make-believe cat grooming salon. Most of it reminded me more when I sang in the Navy but we also learned an important framework for telling stories.

I don’t like telling stories and having something both relevant and impactful is tough. A framework was provided to keep things short, maybe ~2 minutes, and telling something visually interesting was a very good exercise. However, I didn’t really buy into it until I heard Noah from my live in group tell his childhood story. It was amazing and left us with goose bumps. As a Quaker, he spoke of fire, fear, and rebirth making me want to jump up and do something, anything, to help him out. His very personal story convinced me of the power of storytelling. Now I am looking at compiling a short set of stories to keep for leadership challenges.

3. Running a case study at AIG: Tunneling my inner Tushman

A very powerful thing we do at AIG is teach what we have learned from our professional development training. There are two benefits, obviously, our team can benefit from the information of an event. More importantly, the attendee is able to summarize what they have learned which galvanizes and better retains that information. So for my training, I purchased a few HBS cases, ordered pizza, and sat 20 people down in a room to go over a case.

It went amazingly well! Our diverse group argued and had healthy debates about the situation as I moderated frantically trying to keep up. I remembered the way the HBS professors would give equal time to both sides, raise pointed questions, and stop people from dominating the conversation. I didn’t even need to cold call anyone! There was always an opinion out there. By mimicking the behaviors of the professors I might not have been able to give a true experience but it got lots of people interested in taking HBS classes.

4. All the sports you could muster

At 3 am I woke up to watch a Rugby match of the AIG All-Blacks playing the Lions. I’m not really good at team sports. When I played soccer I would play with the grass and stare at the planes landing more than the ball. So waking up at 3 am to watch what my roommate Paul said was “a huge match that only happens once every 7 years” I wasn’t that excited but I knew he was I sent a message out to the 140 cohorts inviting us to join, set my alarm and went to bed.

When I woke up at 3 am the lights in the living space didn’t automatically turn on. Even the building knew that it was too early for anyone sane to be still up. Nobody else showed up, but Paul and I were there sitting in the dark, eating potato chips, and going over the finer points of rugby. While I was exhausted the next day, it was extremely fun to see how the match played out and see the AIG All-Blacks pull a huge win.

There was also a baseball game where we watched the Boston Red Socks and suddenly our roles were reversed. I was the sporting expeert and knew tons more about the game than many of our international cohorts. I spent time discussing how strikes, outs, and innings worked to people.

So why were sports important to my studies? I feel it goes back to how important it is to be willing to step into the roles of both a teacher and be a student in groups. Learning something from someone, even something very simple builds comradery, and trust. When a more complex topic comes up we have the tools and relationship to handle new challenges. Sports offered an easily useable stepping stone to deeper conversations.

So here about a month after I left Harvard I have been thinking more about my roles as a teacher, actor, and sports aficionado. Its been very bizarre and almost a completely different experience than the first segment at HBS.I find myself very appreciative to Harvard Business School for designing a program I never knew I needed and very curious on how the next module will transform me.


Conquer creativity; seize your three golden hours

Budgeting time is a universally popular topic amongst management courses, linkedin articles, and blogs. Time is the universal resource people trade for fun, salary, and sleep. Companies routinely judge employees by the amount of time completed on the job. Man-hours are formally tracked for many companies, work-hours are often explicitly stated, and even informally we are aware of our colleagues who show up late or waste time in meetings. An entire article can be written about how time management is a key component in professional training courses ranging from the military to medical school. Everyone is looking for a way to hack out some additional time in their day.

But I suggest taking a closer look. There are two separate time management issues at hand. The first is the classic triage time management approach of treating work as having different levels of importance. A kid being rushed into the ER is more important than finishing a level on a video game. However, in my own journey to perfect time hacking has led me to a second realization. Certain work is best matched with certain time and understanding that will make you the most effective for yourself, your boss, and your loved ones.

As I was watching my daughter try to shove little triangles and circles into matching holes I realized one of my biggest problems is a misfit of tasks and time. I am less effective when trying to accomplish tasks without properly matching up the best time. Throughout the day my hours have different constraints, I have different emotions, and distractions that impact effectiveness. Intuitively this makes sense. Is 2am a bad time to host a meeting? My co-workers will be grumpy. Should you plan that meeting during the family dinner? The wife starring you down will be grumpy. Are you going to get your best work done at those times? Probably not. But these scenarios are easier to understand because we typically understand if we are inconveniencing others and it is not the best time for them. It is much more difficult to be introspective and discover at what time you will be the most effective.

Different time means different things

I group my time into 3 categories. Creative, routine, and rest. Each one has its own little attributes and quirks that best fit certain tasks.

Creative time, these golden hours, are the most limited and productive times of the day taking swaths of brain power and concentration. This is the good stuff that builds to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of mastery… and it is draining. Its enjoyable because when I’m there it is almost a trancelike state where I am only concerned about what I am doing in the moment. If everything goes correctly I will slowly shake out of my trance relaxed, tired, and with a sense of accomplishment. Alas there is always some micro disaster going on wanting to pull me out of this state. While there are some ways to eek out more of this time by eliminating distractions (hooray headphones) it is always limited. On a good day I can get about 3 golden hours and my average day will knock me down to about an hour.

Routine time can be seen as a very watered down golden hour. This is basically the 5-6 hours a day where I am participating in meetings, drafting reports, and actively listening to problems. It’s not the best work, it’s not the most creative, but it gets things past the finish line or primes a project to launching point. The conditions are not as sensitive and I do not need to worry too much about being distracted.

Resting time doesn’t mean my brain isn’t working. It can just be extremely passive. Mindless television, driving, listening to audiobooks, big meetings, time with family, childcare, naps and knocking off items on the to-do list are all things that help clear my mind. Often we are able to multitask doing these things. Think of all the people listening to audiobooks on their drive. They do not have to argue with the audiobook or be concerned about optimizing their travel time on the road, they can just enjoy. I use rest time as a method to triage other tasks that require more attention at some point in the future. Audiobooks get bookmarks so that I can go back and listen to the information using my routine or creative time. One of my favorite leaders once said that he always went for a run with a problem in his head. He believed that the oxygen deprivation helped him come to solutions for when he got back to his desk. Thats the perfect use of rest time and I highly recommend it.

Fitting the right peg in the hole

The impact comes from how you can manage these three time types to get the most out of your day. Matching up your current work priorities (classic triage) and how you work best is an extremely difficult personal problem requiring good self awareness. So while results may vary, here is how I look at it.

My most important time is now that creative time that comes either at the beginning of the day or right at the end. My daughter is safe at daycare, no emergencies, and no meetings demanding my immediate attention. It is the perfect time to do difficult problems, get some serious work done, and give myself time to sink into that trance. It is rare, elusive and about impossible to get back into that frame of reference after I get ejected from it.

Routine time is the default time used at work. Its inconvenient to stop or start tasks, but not completely detrimental. I can easily handle small emergencies or shift to tackle small roadblocks that have popped up for the team. Small tasks, hiccups, and work roadblocks that you can do without much thought or concern on autopilot can stay under routine work. The real value of checklists and processes are that they turn the unique into the mundane repeatable items you have done millions of times. When they become so ingrained that no new decision needs to be made it can be completed in your rest time.

Rest time makes up the remainder of the day. There is no need for ritual or preparation and it is best for small tasks that can be broken down. When people are ready to “veg” they are doing these things and are tasks that you can be running on autopilot. Reading light literature (blog posts), sorting emails, swiping left and right on mobile apps, paying pesky bills, doing chores, catching up on your favorite TV shows or with family and friends all fall into this category. If you are tired, unenthusiastic or in bad spirits these are the activities people default to. The most important thing to realize is thats ok. You can’t run full throttle all the time but it is good to place complete your simple tasks. By getting things done you can stay motivated without losing momentum or your mind.

Building a nest for those precious golden hours

DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR GOLDEN HOURS! Fight for them with every action of your day. It will give you that creativity, the work boost, and that sense of accomplishment that will carry over the rest of the day. Set up conditions so that your golden hours will be the best uninterrupted work it can be. Also don’t give it all just to your work. Spend some time working on some personal goals and investing in yourself.

I need some prep work to build my nest and get into the zone. I need to have some coffee, find a new area away from distractions, and just go into tunnel vision. My golden hours are so important that I use my routine/rest time to prep for them. I setup playlists, clean up the coffeemaker, and move things into position so I will not have to be interrupted. I schedule meetings and anticipate problems to make sure updates won’t occur during my golden hours. But that is just me. I know other people who need to have just come out of an exciting meeting or workout session to ride that post accomplishment bliss sitting in a rat’s nest of a workspace. Whatever works. The important part is that you are realizing which time space you are in and which work is accomplished best there.

If you want to identify your golden hours I suggest this:

  1. Describe what your golden hours look like? When do you get your most effective work done and what does the environment look like?
  2. For one week see if your hypothesis meets reality.
  3. For the next week, challenge yourself to add 15 more minutes of that effective work time and keep a quick log of what you get done.

I have found being able to tap into my golden hours has helped me achieve much more than I thought possible in a day. While most of our days aren’t optimal, we should seek to integrate time management to match our most important work to the most effective time slots. We should strive to learn when our golden hours are and how to build ourselves nests to capitalize on them to increase creativity. There is no time to waste to do great and interesting things.

Additional Reading:

If you enjoy these articles please let me know by liking and sharing them below!


Five reasons Harvard Business School executive education beats out traditional IT certifications

Last September I did something I thought I would never do.

I applied to Harvard Business School.

I never really thought I would be attending. My grades/rankings through high school and college have always been good, just not Harvard good. Additionally, I never pursued the typical route of a Harvard student. I have read more binaries than cash-flow statements and choose discussions on botnet takedowns over hostile takeovers. So being accepted to Harvard Business School’s 6 month PLD program surprised me greatly. Having just completed the second module of Professional Leadership Development I can think of several reasons I am glad I chose this course over a typical IT certification.

1. I did not understand Business

I thought I understood. All my certifications and experiences had me rabidly supporting the notion that the business is king. However, this sentiment in certs and work were just small two sentence blips shoehorned into the much larger core security concepts. Overtime, I grew a bias that my supporting work was essential and everything else was trivial. You could always find someone to do marketing or sales, but IT professionals are enjoying a negative unemployment rate and are swiped up fast. I was much more likely to crack open a book on encryption instead of on business because of my mistaken belief that “business” was easy.

This shifted as I looked for ways to use my Post-9/11 GI Bill. Structured courses have always been a great way to prime the learning pump for topics I didn’t completely understand. As I looked across the diverse range of MBAs and EMBAs, I came across the Harvard Business School’s Professional Leadership Development program. It was a fantastic alternative to other Executive MBA programs for me.

With no understanding of finance, marketing, or accounting, the HBS online curriculum provided immediate immersion for me on day one. I was floored by the presentation and the complex concepts conveyed in a simple manner. The topics got much more difficult over time and I’m not proud of some of my scores, but I learned. I even started to enjoy it! Now a financial statement book is sitting on-top of my reading list.

More importantly, I have learned that businesses are fascinating in ways I had never considered. After staring at cash-flows or income statements for anomalies I started noticing little weird discrepancies popping out at me. The aha moment of seeing aggressive accounting is a very similar feeling to the joy I experience when I find a hidden instructions in malware.

2.    Real understanding of actual business problems

Harvard is famous for their Case Studies that are a fundamental part of the course. Before you arrive on campus for module 2, students read around 40 cases on various subjects. As the HBS website describes it

…the case method is a profound educational innovation that presents the greatest challenges confronting leading companies, nonprofits, and government organizations—complete with the constraints and incomplete information found in real business issues—and places the student in the role of the decision maker. There are no simple solutions…

Cases are tough and I found them extremely fun (in some sick twisted way). Personally, I covered each case three times. I read them the first time to understand the basic concepts, I discussed them the 2nd time with the live-in group, and then finally with a professor in the classroom with 80 of my colleagues each giving unique insights. Every time I learned something new and had a completely different perspective on the case.

The course throws you into the core of problems of businesses we know conversationally. Lots of us have heard of Enron’s downfall, devour Apple products, wear Lululemon, and some may have shopped at Cardullo’s. Each of these cases are relatable enough that you have probably discussed them with friends but the case studies take it to the next level. Each one puts you into the shoes of an executive at a critical decision point. I won’t call it LARPing for business nerds… but it totally is. The case studies we explored provided a different perspective of how an executive led a company to make an extremely pivotal decision. Understanding the issues, deciding how you would act, and seeing the direction the company took is excellent preparation for the next big decision you will make.

3.    You connect with a group not your own merits

A big reason I chose this course was the living group arrangement. Back at the Naval Academy we all lived in one building, Bancroft Hall, and these friendships continue to . HBS does something similar but instead of Bancroft we have Tata. Our groups might be a bit smaller (7-8 instead of 40) but I feel connected to them in a similar manner.

The diversity of these groups is amazing. In the program of 160 only 50 are American and that flowed down into our small groups. My group alone (the prolific 5C) represented Canada, Czech Republic, Kuwait, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States.

In two short weeks:

  • We studied and suffered an incredible packed curriculum for hours.
  • We argued over excessively over cases. Perhaps investing a little much in events that have long since passed.
  • We had our own inside jokes and terminology about chicken banks, “Lars”, plumbers, and other key players from cases.
  • Some of us were cold called (called without warning in class) with very tough questions
  • We even discussed the challenges of being a working parent

I believe The added stress in the environment pulled us together as we didn’t want to let each other down. Plus each of us had our own unique experiences and expertise to add to the group. I would have never understood important aspects of the cases if it weren’t for my fellow members and our short timeframes.

It was a fantastic experience and essential part of the program that is hard to replicate.

4.    Meeting the Former Secretary of the Navy

I never expected that I would be able to meet former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. But in-between classes I was asked to step out with other Navy veterans to speak with him. It was strange to sit across from a man who drastically shaped a majority of my Naval career. More impressively they even invited past Navy PLD Alumni to the small discussion.

The program didn’t have to go out of their way to coordinate this event. Nobody would have noticed if this didn’t occur. It is this unexpected perk and service from the HBS faculty that really drives home their commitment to their student’s current and future development.

5.    Anticipation for the future

The best part of the entire experience is that there is so much more to come. We are only half done. The next module has lots of work for us to accomplish including a personal case, an alumni case, individual development goals, and of course more case studies. I really miss the dedication of the people I was with these last two weeks and am looking forward to seeing them all again in just a few months.

I could not be more pleased with my decision to pursue my goals with Harvard Business School. Now I have a whole host of new tools to push my development in surprising new ways. With this new found experience I feel that I will be equipped with better skills than any IT certification could provide.

One parting word of advice…

Beware the chicken banks


Accomplish more by “Game-ifying” your Life

I love to work. I know this because I love games. The realization that a game is just work by another name has allowed me to be very successful at task oriented projects just by shifting my perspective slightly. Games may seem frivolous and immature, and yet some players take absolute delight in creating complex spreadsheets to optimize virtual services and manage intangible revenues. For whatever reason this type of work is interesting, refreshing, and addictive. However, when incorrectly used these mechanisms can cause a negative impact. As a college student I found myself building programs in Java for my computer games while my class projects continued to fall behind. This 3 am realization couldn’t save my report, but it helped set the framework for breaking that cycle.

The essential question for parents, managers, and even for yourself is what compels people to do one task over another. If work is differed for something else, work needs to emulate key characteristics seen elsewhere. People often choose games because the work is measurable, goals are clear, and players are left with a sense accomplishment.

So what are some ways in which we can game-ify our work? One method many people use is creating a rewards system. Treating yourself to a reward after large accomplishments can help cement intangible successes. Society has been doing this for years by presenting stickers, sweets, and golden stars to kids who behave well. But in games people do not receive tangible rewards and continue to spend hours toiling at games to receive virtual prizes. I have been using the “Habitica” to-do list which uses my short terms goals in a game environment. As I do chores and complete real work my avatar levels up. While I concede that wanting pixels to ride an undead dragon is silly; I’m not sure that anyone can argue the 12 hours of exercise, 4 technical books, and 14 home cooked meals it took to receive that dragon wasn’t work.

Clear and obtainable goals can help build momentum and get past the initial hump. Setting a timer has been a classic method for ensuring practice is done. Ray Bradbury attributes the quick competition of his novel Fahrenheit 451 to being forced to use a pay by the hour typewriter. A more modern approach is the pomodoro timer which simply has the person work on something for 25 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break. This can be a great tool for setting up work. As you are planning goals breaking down work into 25 minute bitesize tasks forces them to be clear, such as write for 25 minutes or find 5 citations. Additionally, with a deadline looming, even one that is self imposed, people work harder to “beat the buzzer”.

The sense of accomplishment that the player experiences is perhaps the most compelling aspect of the game. After completing a set of grueling tasks they see that they have changed the environment. The same thing can be said for work. Simply letting people see what they have accomplished, or going out of the way to see what you have just accomplished, is very motivating. If there is not a way for an employee to do this, or way for you to see this they will likely find less meaning in their work.

As the gaming industry continues to advance there are discussions about how to design better games and how to immerse players. Those same rules and designs can form a framework on how you work and motivate yourself in life. While it might not work for everyone, game-ifying my life has helped tremendously.