Masterclass Review: Bob Iger on Business Strategy and Leadership

A couple of months ago, I was gifted a subscription to the online learning platform Masterclass. This platform brings experts in various fields into your home via a series of video lessons on a variety of topics. Learn cooking techniques from Gordon Ramsey, or how to tell a great story with David Sedaris. Anna Wintour will teach you style, or you can learn about tennis from Serena Williams. Tony Hawk’s course on skateboarding just came out. In all, there’s over 80 courses to take.

The first course I completed was “Bob Iger teaches Business Strategy and Leadership.” I had wanted to take this course ever since I first started seeing advertisements for it; I had also recently finished his autobiography, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company . I was interested to see how he would blend his book into a video course.

Syllabus
The course encompasses eleven total lessons, including several case studies:

  • Time Management
  • Focus, Strategies and Priorities
  • Taking Giant Swings: Pixar Case Study
  • The Art of Negotiation
  • Creating Brand Value
  • Expanding Your Brand: Marvel Case Study
  • Anticipating What Consumers Want
  • The Importance of Taking Risks
  • Navigating Complex Deals: 21st Century Fox Case Study
  • Managing Industry Disruption: Disney+ Case Study
  • Tenets For Success

All of the case studies center around a particular acquisition. Notably missing was the Lucasfilm acquisition, which he goes into with great detail in the book.

The Lesson
Most of the core advice and learnings in the lesson are straight from the book version, which isn’t a huge surprise. Lessons range from four to 20 minutes, while the book is 272 pages; he can obviously go into much more detail with that length vs. the lesson. Still, it was good to hear a more direct take-away from an experience vs. the full story. In the book, it’s more of a play-by-play of his life, his business career, and the milestone events that serve as markers. In the lesson, by contrast, the focus is more on the outcome and what we can take from that.

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Most leadership and business advice tends to boil down to similar messages, and this course is no different. What is different is that just about everyone in the world knows about the Walt Disney Company and its brands, and Bob Iger is one of the most visible, well-known CEOs. The milestone events that serve as the case studies, and the drivers of the advice in each lesson, are all things most people know about. Whether it’s acquiring Pixar or Marvel or Lucasfilm, or building a new theme park, or launching a streaming service, these are all things that have happened relatively recently, and very publicly. Most drivers of business courses tend to be a bit lesser known, or happened long ago (i.e. the Williams-Sonoma bread machine case study, or the Tylenol recall). These lessons are all relevant, which helps you to see the point more quickly than with something else.

I think that’s the key. His advice may not be revolutionary, but how his advice is communicated, and the context surrounding it, makes it easier to digest and accept. Relevant real-world examples are important in achieving that stickiness, and these lessons showcase that well.

Overall Impressions
While the book goes into more detail and offers advice and lessons outside the scope of this course, Bob Iger’s Masterclass is still something I would recommend. I found it engaging and will likely refer to my notes often. It also makes me interested in taking more classes from Masterclass.

Restless Energy in the Time of COVID-19

Most mornings, I get up, shower, eat breakfast, and head upstairs to my office. From 9AM to around 4:30PM, that’s where I sit, other than trips downstairs for water and lunch. It can be a bit lonely, communicating only via Slack or Google Hangouts. I mean, I’m incredibly thankful that my wife is here and I can always talk to her, but you get my point.

Running and going for walks is truly a godsend. 3-4 mornings a week, I go for a run before starting the rest of my day. Most days, after we eat lunch, we go for a short walk around the neighborhood. That time outside really helps keep me level, and prevents me from going crazy. And based on the amount of people we see out, lots of others have the same idea.

Is it the safest thing to do right now? Probably not. While the CDC and others say going outside is fine, provided you maintain social distancing guidelines and wear a mask, that doesn’t work out as well for running. We do a good job when walking to maintain a lot of distance between us and others (including sometimes crossing the street just to avoid others). When running, I try and keep away from others as well, but it’s a bit harder. And no one is sure if the six foot rule is as applicable when moving. And running in a mask? No thanks.

Without running, I’d be going crazy. Even with it, I find I have energy that is just sitting there. I feel like I should be doing something, I just don’t know what. I’ve seen the meme talking about learning a new skill, a new language, something like that. I’m sure my wife would LOVE it if I learned some Spanish, so that’s an option. I’d love to start a business, though I struggle for ideas on what that business would be. I’m more of a COO than a CEO, which makes getting started tough.

But I’ll keep thinking of it. I thought about setting a rule where I have to come up with X number of ideas in a week, then spend some time evaluating them. That seems like a good start. If nothing else, it puts some of my energy into searching for problems and possible solutions, which is a key skill for entrepreneurship. A start is a start, no?

For now, it’s running and working and trying to keep sane in this strange time.

Why Corporate America Sucks, pt. 2: Hurry Up and Wait

hurry up and wait

Constantly shifting priorities can make an employee frustrated and confused

At the beginning of the fiscal year, I sat down with my manager to go over my objectives for the year. The previous year, I had taken on a lot more product responsibility while other teammates were busy with project work. I got no credit for doing so, but I felt I had to. So when it came time for this year’s objectives, I made it a point to say I wanted to work on a project that interests me. My manager agreed, so we divided up my time into the required buckets, and I felt I had a good grasp on how the year would go.

Before the first quarter was over, a huge project came down the pipeline that sidetracked everything, and I was ordered to stop what I was doing and focus on it. As this was a high profile project with lots of senior management visibility, I was excited. We redid my objectives, shuffling some other things around based on these new priorities. This project started consuming a lot of time, and I questioned whether 30% of my time was an accurate assessment.

Queue to a few weeks ago, when that project was shelved suddenly. I was left with little to do, and not much of any substance. All of a sudden, a completely different project fell into my lap. And once again, my objectives had to be completely changed.

This constant hurry up and wait can get old very fast. I went from a slow and steady approach to my work, to speeding up quickly on one project, to suddenly powering down and stopping in my tracks, to again ramping up on a completely different project and moving full steam ahead. It’s a lot to deal with, and you have to be able to pivot quickly.

Why it sucks…
It sucks because it can be hard to focus. When you never know if your “super important project” will end up lasting more than a month or so, it’s hard to find the motivation to really get after it. It sucks because constant starting and stopping can be bad for your mental health. Much like a cars engine, stop-and-go can wear down parts quickly. It’s the same at work. Your mind can get numbed to the effect after a short while, and you’ll find it difficult to fully commit your energies to that project.

It also sucks because, at the end of the day, what do you have to show for it? I did great work on that first sudden project. But does it ultimately matter because the project was shelved? Who knows. At most, it’ll just be 10% of my total objectives. That won’t exactly move the needle come annual review time. If this project also gets cancelled, I’ll have two quarters worth of work that went nowhere. Is that my fault? Not really. But it affects my review nonetheless.

How to handle it
The best way to handle it is to take it one day at a time, try to keep the big picture in mind and celebrate any accomplishments you can. Use your downtime to focus on as much other work as you can, so the next hurry-up period can be totally devoted to that project. I used a great deal of my downtime to finish up some reporting and collateral tasks that would have taken up too much time had I had another project to work on. You can also use the wait time to catch your breath, reset your bearings and think about other things. Use some of it for career development tasks, something we could all stand to do.

The point is, you’ll find yourself ramping up and slowing down often in any complex organization. Even fast food workers. Starting at 11:30AM, McDonalds is slammed and workers are moving furiously to take orders and get food out. By 2PM, things have slowed to a crawl. If you take a late lunch, you’ll see workers cleaning up after the lunchtime rush and getting ready for the dinner rush. It’s the same in any business, so use your time wisely and try to keep your wits about you.

Making Impossible Goals Less Impossible

The other day, I was going through my normal routine of websites. Via lifehacker I came across this article about impossible goals and how you shouldn’t do them. The five goals are:

1. I have to make everyone happy
2. I have to be perfect and never make a mistake
3. I have to never fail
4. I have to sell 100% of my prospects
5. I have to reach all of my goals by the time I’m [insert age here]

To me, these are not “impossible” goals. These aren’t even goals, really. Rather, they are guiding principles for life. A goal should be measurable and actionable. Go here to learn about SMART goals. Of the five goals the author brings up, only two (#4 and #5) are measurable in any realistic sense. You can’t prove #1; are you going to survey every single person that you have ever tangentially associated with to verify that you made them happy? You can only measure #3 after you are dead. Guiding principles are things we should always be going after, using them to dictate how we act in life. We should never give up on them. As far as the two measurable goals, I don’t have a problem with them. I personally have used #5 to set some deadlines to spur myself into action. Without that deadline, I wouldn’t have signed up for a race. This only works for some goals; don’t set an age deadline on something like marriage or you’re likely to make a bad decision to accomplish it.

That gets to my second criticism. The author, Noah St. John, says that you should stop going after those goals immediately. Why? Shouldn’t these be exactly the sort of goals that we go after in our lives? Shouldn’t we want to make people happy? To try and not make mistakes? To not fail? To me, these are EXACTLY the types of goals that can lead to a successful life.

If I could change something about the article, it would be to eliminate the absolutes. Change “have” to “strive” and drop the “never.” Go through the list again with that simple replacement:

1. I strive to make everyone happy
2. I strive to be perfect and not make a mistake
3. I strive to not fail
4. I strive to sell 100% of my prospects
5. I strive to reach X goal by the time I’m [insert age here]

Looks much better, doesn’t it? Striving to make people happy is a great principle to follow in life. Striving not to fail seems like such a no brainer; who sets out to fail? You will fail in life, for sure…that’s unavoidable. But you can seek to limit your failures by planning ahead and making smart decisions. Again, seems like a good way to live a life to me. If you’re in sales, shouldn’t you strive to close every sale that comes up? If I had a sales staff, I certainly would want them to do that. A job interview is selling yourself to the hiring manager. Shouldn’t you strive to always successfully sell yourself in that instance? I’ve never gone on a job interview where I didn’t!

Always be aware of absolutes like the first version of these goals. In fact, always be weary when someone tells you not to have a certain goal. It’s dangerous, pessimistic and limits character growth. The “goals” in the article are not even goals, but guiding principles in life that are actually a GOOD thing to push for.

The Six Month Entrepreneurship Experiment – July Recap

Oof. Let’s just say that I’m glad I gave myself six months for this challenge. To recap the challenge, read this post. So here’s what I did in July.

Find A Topic
Obviously, if you’re going to create a blog for revenue, you want to figure out what you’ll be writing about. How? The first step is to research some keywords. Head on over to Google Adwords and create an account if you need to. Once you’re all set up, go ahead and click Tools at the top, and select Keyword Planner.

keywords1

Next select the first option: Search for new keyword and ad ideas

keyword2

There are two parts to the next screen. First, you want to enter in your keyword ideas. For this example, I put in sprint triathlon. Also, be sure to click on Customize you search. I put in 1,000 into the average monthly search box. You do this because you want to see adwords that have a decent number of searches.

keyword3

Once you click submit, you’ll see a listing of search words, grouped by ad words. These are some general ideas, but now what you really want.

keyword4

No, we need to drill down deeper. See that Keyword Idea tab? Click that. There’s what you really want! In my case, Sprint Triathlon had 8,100 local searches per month. Not a huge total, but a decent amount. To try out my ideas, I decided to go with it. It helps to also search Google for your keyword, to see what comes up on the first page. In my case, it was mostly individual sprint triathlon races. Decent, and something I could take over and end up on page one.

Advice: Search until you find something you can be confident in keeping up with. If you aren’t interested in a subject, you’ll find yourself struggling to write consistently about the topic. Don’t just search for something with a great deal of monthly searches, but also think about the topic itself.

Once I had keyword I wanted, I headed over to my domain registration website to search for a domain name. This is a key point: you want to get a domain that has your keyword in it. Hyphens and plurals are ok, but make sure your keyword is available at a top-level domain (i.e. .com, .net or .org). Avoid a low-level domain as they aren’t ranked as highly in Google. I was able to find my keyword and register it for a very low price: I spent $10.87 on www.sprint-triathlon.com. Once I had my site registered, I also needed hosting so I can store my pages and photos and such.

After a bit of Googling, I found a host for a very low price: $1.50 a month for Lithium Hosting. I signed up, pointed my domain to their servers, and I was good to go. The next step was to set up WordPress. Luckily for me, my host had a plug-in that would automatically set it up for me. It took about five minutes to have it installed. I selected a theme and customized my layout a bit, and my website was officially launched.

The most important aspect is content, and here’s where I struggled. I wrote up a few posts, but it really needs more. If you aren’t passionate about your subject, this is where you’ll get into trouble. My triathlon season was over pretty quick this year, so I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to write posts. And if you don’t write up a good deal of content, Google Adsense will NOT approve you; I found this out the hard way.

All in all, I’ve spent less than $15, so I have $85 remaining. I will spend the rest of this on the remaining five months of hosting, a logo and a premium WordPress theme. I need to separate my site from others and give it unique content, or else no one will care. I’m hoping that in a month I’ll have enough posts that I can finally get approved for Google Adsense and make some money. My site generates very little traffic (this blog gets WAY more), so it’ll be a long haul. But again, I’ve got five more months!