When I arrived at Fannie in 1992, there were about 400 developers/contractors… and we used about 400 development tools. Now, innovation and creativity are important, but at the end of the day, we were a bank, so the ROI of that many different tools was hard to justify. In the “other duties as assigned” category, the CIO had added “reducing the number of development tools” into the role of Director of Software Engineering. With a budget of…. “.. buying lunches and asking each VP to nominate their best developers to join the Tools Focus Group”. And while I was doubtful I could succeed, I didn’t question that – as I knew the relationship between food and productivity, particularly with developers, was well correlated, and even causal…
When I am working with new leaders, I always ask them have they ever led a volunteer group? Church, Community, PTA, etc? And if the answer is no, that is one of their first assignments. If you can turn a group of volunteers into partners, where all you have is your influence, you can probably lead them in settings where you have authority. And unlike food and developers, the opposite is not correlated – followers that you have to command vs. influence trend towards very weak contributors who “follow orders”. Particularly as you get higher in an organization, the collaboration, and cajoling, and working together on initiatives is so critical to success – both your own and the organizations. If your boss or organization is telling you something different, I would doubt it.
The Avetts were now moving forward with their albums, and the complexity of their music was increasing. Their “cook” also played cello, and they found that it provided a different texture to their music. Also, they started to experiment with fiddle, another classic bluegrass element, but also “drums” where they are not typical. Their records got the interest of a major music producer, Rick Rubin, who didn’t actually approach them about working together – he just asked them to lunch.
It is interesting that food is so critical to relationships. I was just hosting a friend who has worked with Jewish and Palestinian youth – getting them to sing together. He is using the power of music to bridge cultures and build harmony, both literally and figuratively. When I shared that the most powerful conversations happen when neither party is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Stressed, – HALTS – he commented that sharing a meal, you know you are not going to be poisoned 😉 Over food, the conversation slows down, the understanding goes up, and the relationships have a way of being more satisfying.
Rick and the brothers eventually partnered for an album that features today’s offering, which put them on a completely different road. He saw something maybe they didn’t and partnered with them to bring into the world that needed it, and their great smiles and wry observations. Similarly, the Tools Focus Group worked together for nearly 8 years – once a month for lunch, and those partners became an invaluable foundation to many initiatives we would work together on. The gift the CIO gave me wasn’t the money, it was the “trusted advisors” to each VP there, who helped me wrestle with my own doubts.
Thanks seems too small a word to characterize what they collectively taught me through those years, including the time that a good friend emailed that they had standardized on Fortran for all future development work. He was SO serious and so deadpan, that I took him seriously – until he cracked his wry smile. Over lunch. Who do you need to break bread with, and how can you be partners … to help each other Decide What To Be, and Go Be It… balancing your Head Full of Doubt/Road Full Promise?