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Principles of Technology Leadership

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bcantrill

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Principles of

Technology Leadership
CTO
bryan@joyent.com
Bryan Cantrill
@bcantrill
Origin of this talk
Origin of this talk
Origin of this talk
Principles?
• Principles are the fundamental truths that form the basis for
beliefs and the foundation for behavior — they are universal and
permanent, transcending culture and time
• By contrast, values are expressions of relative importance of
desirable attributes — they are by nature more malleable and
may change over time or may be naturally in conflict
• e.g., honesty and integrity are principles; industriousness and
resilience are values
• Principles and values are both important!
Must we elucidate principles?
• Elucidating principles can feel redundant — if they are universal
truths, why make them explicit?
• And if we make explicit principles that human behavior will
occasionally contravene, are we institutionalizing hypocrisy?
• This is exactly why we must make them explicit: making clear
our principles allows our future selves to be guided by (in the
words of Abraham Lincoln) the “better angels of our nature”

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Principles of Technology Leadership

  • 5. Principles? • Principles are the fundamental truths that form the basis for beliefs and the foundation for behavior — they are universal and permanent, transcending culture and time • By contrast, values are expressions of relative importance of desirable attributes — they are by nature more malleable and may change over time or may be naturally in conflict • e.g., honesty and integrity are principles; industriousness and resilience are values • Principles and values are both important!
  • 6. Must we elucidate principles? • Elucidating principles can feel redundant — if they are universal truths, why make them explicit? • And if we make explicit principles that human behavior will occasionally contravene, are we institutionalizing hypocrisy? • This is exactly why we must make them explicit: making clear our principles allows our future selves to be guided by (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) the “better angels of our nature”
  • 7. The ur statement of principles
  • 8. The power of elucidated principles
  • 9. The power of elucidated principles, cont.
  • 10. Organizational principles? • Principles are just as important in the small as they are in the large — and it behooves an organization as much as a nation to elucidate its principles • Organizations reasonably conflate principles and values and integrate them into their mission — but they all combine to express the deeper purpose of the endeavor • Purpose is one of the factors in Daniel Pink’s triad of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • 11. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 • e.g., as part of managing for values, Levi Strauss & Co. developed their “aspirations statement”:
  • 12. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 — Robert Haas, CEO Levi Strauss & Co. in an
 interview with Harvard Business Review, September 1990
  • 13. Organizational principles, ca. 1990 — Robert Haas, CEO Levi Strauss & Co. in an
 interview with Harvard Business Review, September 1990
  • 14. Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley… • Sun’s aspirations were more distilled: “Kick butt and have fun” • This was heavily loaded: “kick butt” carried the implication of a fair fight (viz. Sun’s championing of open systems in the 1980s) • The culture of Sun was more fully expressed by Scott McNealy, albeit as an epitaph: Kicked butt, had fun, didn’t cheat, loved our customers, changed computing forever. • Scott elaborated upon this in his farewell e-mail to Sun employees…
  • 20. The Web 2.0 generation • For the companies of the Web 2.0 generation, the ethos shifted • Google: “Don’t be evil” • Facebook: “Move fast and break things” • Which brings us to Amazon’s Leadership Principles…
  • 26. Amazon’s Leadership Principles • With essentially no exceptions, these aren’t principles • And in as much as these are to be principles, there are some important ones missing: integrity, honesty, decency! • Some of them aren’t even values! • They contradict one another sufficiently that they can be used to justify essentially any action • The danger isn’t so much in these “principles” themselves (many of them represent laudable traits), but rather in how they mistakenly inspire the next generation…
  • 28. The next generation — Marc Andreesen, “Why Software Is Eating The World” (2011)
  • 29. The next generation, courtesy James Mickens Source: James Mickens, “It was never going to work, so let’s have some tea” (LISA 2015)
  • 30. Me want leadership principles! • The peril of the me-want-services/software-is-eating-the-world generation is that software companies are now coming into contact with the much broader economy • These software companies see themselves as disruptors — and they often rely on skirting (or outright violating) regulation or other norms • These companies are tautologically new; they lack any inherited wisdom or humility — and they view that as a strength • When they mimic Amazon by codifying their own principles and values, the results are predictably calamitous…
  • 31. Uber’s 14 Cultural Values • Meritocracy and toe-stepping • Own it don’t rent it • Super-pumpedness • Optimistic leadership • Champion’s mind set • Celebrate cities • Inside out • Making bold bets • Make magic • Always be hustlin’ • Principled confrontation • Let builders build • Being yourself • Obsession with the customer
  • 32. Uber values: “Greyball” Source: letter from Uber to Portland (OR) City Attorney, as quoted in PBOT Greyball Audit Report, April 2017
  • 33. Uber values: Self-driving cars Source: letter from Brian Soublet, Chief Counsel of California DMV to Uber, December 14, 2016
  • 34. Uber values: Self-driving cars Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CdJ4oae8f4 as reported by CBS San Francisco
  • 35. Uber values: Anthony Levandowski Source: New York Times, “Uber Executive Invokes Fifth Amendment, Seeking to Avoid Potential Charges”
  • 36. Uber values: Susan Fowler’s experience Source: Susan Fowler, “Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber”
  • 37. Uber values: Eric Holder’s verdict Source: Report by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán on Uber’s workplace environment in light of Fowler’s experience
  • 38. Software vs. the world • We in software have allowed values of optimization and disruption to seep into our organizational thinking • But what is right for software is not necessarily right for society! • That software is eating the world does not mean that societal constraints no longer apply! • Software is on the cusp of yet broader societal impact — and at a time when our society is increasingly divided and fractured • We have a greater burden to society than ever before — and we need to start acting that way
  • 39. Principles of technology leadership • With greater information connectedness and with consolidation into relatively fewer entities, the potential for abuse is great • There are many grey areas; principles must be elucidated to assure individuals exercise sound judgement! • Companies must explicitly treat decency, integrity, and the law as constraints on the problems that they endeavor to solve! • So: kick butt, have fun, don’t cheat, love your customers — and let’s lead the world to a better future!