Bringing Silicon Back to Silicon Valley

Just the other day I attended the Chuchill’s Club annual event of the top trends in tech.  This year’s event “featured Brian Ascher of Venrock, Navin Chaddha of Mayfield, Jeff Crowe of Norwest Venture Partners, Lauren Kolodny of Aspect Ventures, and Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures presenting two trends each.”

You can learn more about the trends presented here:   21st Annual Top 10 Tech Trends – May 2019

After each trend was presented, the panel would either agree or disagree that the trend would go big in 2019 or somewhere in the near term.  If the trend was either obvious or thought of as a non-factor in the near -term, the panel would reserve the right to disagree and state why.   It was an interesting discussion and debate as it is every year.  Naturally, ideas can be challenged or have consensus but the reality is, nobody knows.  This is what makes attending these events always fascinating and entertaining.

The audience was also able to get into the act and vote after the panel discussed each respective trend.  The one trend that got the most votes was the “Renaissance of Silicon Will Create Industry Giants.”  Truth be told, if one would have told me that this would have the most votes at the very beginning I would have said, “I doubt that.”  But I was proved wrong as a majority of the audience agreed with Navin Chaddha.  His argument was that what made silicon valley what is today will come back with full vengeance of  new potential players who know how to play the game.

Time will tell if this will come to fruition but one thing that we can agree is that data from the edge all the way to the cloud will demand increasing computing power and performance.

What Matters to Me Now

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what’s best in one’s career:  To stride or to stretch? I define striding as someone who does their job with relative ease but is still able to deliver a meaningful impact. Stretching is someone who is unafraid to be uncomfortable and challenge “their” norm and discover new capabilities, skills in the process.  But to stride or to stretch — is this the right question I should be asking?

Being Uncomfortable

Looking back at my career, I have always held a high regard for those who took on opportunities and projects that boldly stretched themselves.  But I naively thought that this was the requisite to be “perceived” successful and ultimately become a success in one’s profession. As I look back at this notion, I now know that that this is not entirely correct.

Years ago, a mentor told me that “as long as I feel stretched then I can be content that I’m pushing myself to the max.” I admired that and tried to embrace that mentality early on in my own career. This was one of the reasons why I went to Asia to live and work.  A decision that has turned out to be a game-changer for me both professionally and personally. But, is this philosophy still salient for me years later mid-career?

Being Stretched Does Not Always Equal Success

As I reexamine this philosophy that being stretched equls success, I realize now that this mindset may no longer serve me well in my career as it did earlier on. Quite frankly, being stretched does not matter as one can be challenged in their job and consequently be incompetent at doing it effectively. On the flip side, someone who may be doing the same job for years and has hit a stride that makes her “almost” irreplaceable in her role. Perhaps this may be an extreme case but the point here is that we should be looking elsewhere to see how someone is doing in their role. Simply put, the question we should all be asking is are we performing well? And, if so, are we performing at the the highest level possible?

This is All that Matters to Me Now

At this stage, I try to focus on performing at a high level no matter if I’m an individual contributor or a people manager. This is not easy to do but at this stage in my career, I believe it is a requisite for me to function effectively and feel like I am creating value.

Questions that I ask myself include:

  • Am I doing work that matters?
  • Am I doing things that are meaningful to my job, my team, and/or my organization?
  • Am I contributing to the growth of others?
  • Am I thoughtfully driving results and outcomes in an efficient way?
  • Am I driving things forward with a cause that people can rally behind?
  • Am I challenging the norm in a constructive way?

From my perspective, these are are all examples of ways one can facilitate and nurture a high performance mindset in their day-to-day. It is not easy but with the right psychology, tactics, diet, and energy,  achieving high performance can be attainable for anyone. And one does not have to be pushed to the brim to get there. Of course, when starting a new role there will be a learning curve that will necessitate you to be uncomfortable. This is inevitable when starting a new position but once you hit your stride, focus on maintaining a high performance mindset and I’m confident that it will benefit your career and the organization.

Almost a Year Later

It’s been almost one year since moving to the Bay Area after 12 years in Asia. After countless networking meetings, stressful interviews with tech companies; ruthless travel back and forth between SFO and Narita, and countless runs to Target, I am encouraged about my decision to move back to the states. Of course, there are things that I know I will miss about Asia and Japan specifically but those things will not overshadow the exiting potential we have here in Silicon Valley. Furthermore, being closer to my immediate family is always a good thing. The pace and speed of technology here is mind numbing; the appetite to keep growing and learning is refreshing; and the amount of potential for new business development for international companies are endless. These and many other things — both personal and professional — get me excited about my future here in Silicon Valley.

Collaboration: Do You Do This Well?

A year ago i wrote about a quality that I believed to be the most overlooked quality in leadership. The response was humbling as many of you shared the same sentiments. It got me thinking recently about other attributes that serve well in establishing one’s true leadership. One quality that may be talked a lot about is collaboration. There is an art to effective collaboration and when mastered I believe it can be quite defining in establishing one as a great leader, colleague, and steward in an organization.

But what type of collaboration am I referring to?  Naturally, paying attention to someone in a meeting by putting your cell phone away is a requisite to collaborate. Or asking questions to show you are genuinely interested in a conversation with a colleague. These may seem common place but are not always followed-through in today’s world of never ending distractions.  But the collaboration that I reference here goes beyond this and addresses how we genuinely help, support, cooperate, and / or mentor others in our daily jobs.

Some of the reasons why collaboration is so important in business are common sensical but some may not be as transparent.  Such things as enhancing an organization’s efficiency or increasing internal awareness of what people are doing are some examples of why collaboration is important in today’s modern working environment. But these are just the beginning; here are some other reasons why I believe collaboration is a building-block to practicing effective leadership:

  • Helps Challenges the Status Quo
  • Helps A Business Grow Faster
  • Helps to Establishes a “One Company” Culture
  • Nurtures a “Can Do” Environment
  • Helps to Fosters Innovation

The benefits of collaboration are substantial and because of this it is covered extensively in many books as well as thought leadership platforms. Despite this, collaboration is not always easy to do when the rubber hits the road. When was the last time you deeply collaborated with someone who was not part of your P&L or group? When was the last time we genuinely helped someone who is a peer and who may — and rightfully — be vying for a promotion? Collaboration can be hard to do for these and many other reasons but it is these hard things that great leaders find a way to thrive in through and through.

Personally, this is one area that I hope to get better at in 2019. It will not be easy but with some small wins I am sure that it will become a more natural way for me to do business. Please share your thoughts in the comments section about your own experience.

The thoughts expressed within are my own. Thanks for reading.

Coming (back) to America

Perhaps I have to get use to this but a lot a people have asked me if I miss Japan or if I have experienced reverse culture shock.  My answer to both questions is a resounding “YES” but it got me pondering about how different things have become here in the states.  Indeed it is natural to want to highlight the political climate, technology, fashion, and other social trends but many of these are a given byproduct of time.  Some of the most obvious changes are the shared economy —  Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and Turo are some of the biggest services in town that have changed how we live, work, and play. But it got me thinking, what else has changed, good or bad?

Some immediate “good changes” that come to mind include my observation that people are more environmentally-conscious than I remember.  To help cultivate this environment mindfulness, people are encouraged to bring their own bag when grocery shopping.  After living in a country that is very environmentally-driven, I appreciate this.  Somehow though I keep forgetting to bring my own bag and I consequently end up spending money on paper or plastic but someday it will click.  Note to self — keep a bag in the trunk of the car.  

Another big change that I have uncovered is home entertainment.  It is easier to cut the cord than ever before with the many online streaming services out there like YouTube TV, Hulu, and Netflix.  In the past it was literally impossible especially if you watched sports but now you have sophisticated options.  As someone who has been vocal that people should watch what they want when they want to, I’m happy to see that there are more options out there with high quality content.  Note to self — Check out Hulu content.  

I would be remiss to not mention sports.  Having moved to the Bay Area, it is virtually impossible to not hear about the Golden State Warriors and their marquee players like Stephon Curry and Kevin Durant.  And the Golden State Warriors are good, very good.  I remember when they were the bottom of the barrel in the league but now they are not only world champions but also a true dynasty having won 3 championships in the 4 years.  Moreover, their style of play has changed how basketball is being played all over the country.  Note to self — master the three pointer.   

But what seems to be overshadowed by the good are the things that are not so good.  When I was here back in the early 2000s, people seemed more engaged and less distracted.  People are too consumed and somewhat controlled by their cell phones everywhere: in their car, in the restaurants, at home, and in the office.  This has been a sobering reality that I am hopeful will change soon but I’m not going to hold my breath.  Note to self — be an example for others.  

But perhaps the biggest observation that I have after returning back to the states is that the gaps between haves and have nots seems to be widening. After living in Japan where everyone seems to have a fighting chance to make a working living, I have been saddened by how expensive it has become in the Bay Area.  The cost of living has always been an issue in places like Silicon Valley but I never thought it would come to a mind-numbing point.   This is something that needs to be addressed by not only policy makers but also tech companies as we are on an unsustainable trajectory.    Note to self — remain hopeful and vocal.  

Naturally I could probably keep on writing about my observations but I will refrain for right now.  While I am still adjusting to the American lifestyle, it’s been a very interesting and an informative few months.   A lot has remained the same but inevitably  a lot has changed both for the good and for the bad.  It is my hope and my working hypothesis that the good will be far greater than the bad for my family.