The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 198

Alex Kantrowitz

Always Day One

What does it mean to constantly reinvent? Alex Kantrowitz, author of Always Day One, posits that the tech titans (Amazon, Google, Apple, etc) will stay in power as long as they are willing to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. The good news is, so can you. Uncover the advantage of minimizing execution, what it means to ‘invent and simplify’, and why ‘best practices’ might be a thing of the past.

About

Get the book, Always Day One, from Amazon here:

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Website: Alexkantrowitz.com
Bio: Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter at BuzzFeed News. His work has been referenced by dozens of major publications, from the New Yorker to the Wall Street Journal to Sports Illustrated. Kantrowitz is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He lives in San Francisco.

Video

Transcript

This transcript is unedited.

Peter:

With us today is Alex Kantrowitz. He has written the new book always day one. He’s a senior technology reporter at Buzzfeed news. He has been referenced by dozens of major publications from the new Yorker to the wall street journal, sports illustrated. He wrote this book after doing a tremendous number of interviews with industry leaders in Silicon Valley. Always day one comes from will help describe it to us, but something that Jeff Bezos said at a meeting that, that makes for a good story. So at least I’m going to have Alex describe it to us. But Alex, welcome to the Bregman leadership podcast.

Alex:

It’s good to be on. Thanks for having me, Peter.

Peter:

Actually since I already keyed it up. Why don’t you share with us always day one where the, where the name of the book came from.

Alex:

Yeah. So this is a saying that Jeff Bezos has popularized inside Amazon. He talks about it when he speaks to the company. He writes about it in his annual letter to shareholders. And I have to be honest, when I first landed in Seattle, you know, I’m a tech reporter, so I have definitely covered Amazon. But this is my first time really digging into the company’s culture. And when I got to Seattle, I was like, okay, day one. That must mean that Amazon is instructing its employees to work as hard as they possibly can. You know, to not take weekends, to work through holidays, to work nights and to not really see their family. It’s always day one. If you go into a day two mentality, it means you’re a slacker and therefore it will be fired because you don’t work hard enough for Amazon.

Alex:

That I found out was not the case. Amazon definitely wants its employees working hard. You. No one says it’s a joyride inside that company. But what I found was what day one means inside Amazon is that everybody in the company should be approaching their work as if it’s the company’s first day. So a lot of companies get stuck on legacy and this is how we did things and this is what our preexisting businesses will do and how do we maximize the assets that we have? And for Amazon it’s the opposite. It’s always, well, how can we build the future? What can we invent next that’s going to keep us relevant? Not just today, but tomorrow and thereafter. And so that’s what Bezos has done inside Amazon is he’s impressed upon his employees that you need to be constantly reinventing. You know, the building that Amazon web services is hosted in, it’s called re-invent, which is just this crazy word for, you know, one of the biggest companies on earth.

Alex:

Why reinvent? Have what you need already. But the thing is, that’s the whole point. Inside Amazon, they not only have a first party retail organization, they’re not only a bookseller, but they’re a third party marketplace. They’re a logistics. And fulfillment operation. They’re a web service hosting company. They’re a voice computing platform. They’re a great producer of hardware and they’re a grocer, not to mention it, an Academy award winning movie studio. So for Amazon it really is always day one. And if my belief bringing that mentality to the world we live in today is what’s going to keep companies relevant into the future. Once you start getting into this day two world where you hold onto what you have, you’re in some big trouble.

Peter:

So you know it as an idea, we can all get it and it makes sense. And yet, and, and you talk about it in the book around Microsoft’s decision to sort of risk it’s present to build its future, right? That, that you know, to risk windows in order to go into other areas. And, and while every single one of us can agree a hundred percent with that idea, right? Which is you have to constantly reinvent and like, you know, look at Kodak looking encyclopedia Britannica. Those are people who didn’t reinvent really and yet the emotional experience of saying, I’d like to reinvent. Like we are in love with our inventions. Like the things that we invent, the things that we create. We absolutely love. I bet you like love your book. And if suddenly you were told like, okay great, now I want you to completely rewrite this book in a way that’s going to hurt sales of the book that you just wrote.

Peter:

Like what did you notice or what did you see in the leaders that you spoke with that enabled them to make that emotional tradeoff that, that allowed them to say to not get emotionally so connected with what they’ve invented, that they’re willing to risk it in order to invent and move in a different direction. And actually that to me the question is emotional and it’s also rational. It’s like we have to risk revenue. We have to try something new to replace something that exists that’s doing well. You know, in the case of windows 10, maybe it wasn’t doing as well and you can kind of see the writing on the wall. But you know, with Amazon, things have, you know, they reinvent things that are doing well. And so my question to you is, you know, what do you notice in the leaders that enable them to make that move?

Alex:

That is a great, great question. Well, first of all, I think the leaders can key into what’s going on in this present moment in history. So in the 1920s, the average company on the fortune 500 lasted about 67 years. Today it’s 15. So I think these leaders, you know, they’ve seen other companies, you know, just go by the wayside while they’ve been, while they’ve been working on their products. And they know that if they stick to what they’re doing at the current moment, they’re going to be one of those companies that wash right out of the fortune 500 as well. So they see it not as a matter of, you know, should, you know, we, we’re attached to what we do sentimentally and how can we stay you know, how can we maximize that asset? But they really see that if they don’t start reinventing what they have, they’re going to be toast.

Alex:

I asked Mark Zuckerberg, here’s the one thing that didn’t make it into the book, but might be interesting to your audience. So I, so there’s part of the stories in there, but I asked Mark Zuckerberg, so what happening, what would happen if Facebook does? Facebook stopped inventing? And it was this amazing moment where he just kind of stopped, looked at me, kind of laughed at the question and was totally baffled trying to get his footing. And he goes, I don’t know. What did you think? And I was like, well, I think it would be bad for Facebook. And he goes, yeah. And I was like, I think you’d probably fall apart. He goes, it’s just not even something I would think of. It’s, it’s a strange question. And he goes, I think of Facebook as an organism, something that’s living and constantly evolving.

Alex:

And I think that’s really the important part of these leaders thinking is they view their companies not as static, but something that is as living. And you know when you’re living, you grow and you change and no living thing and you think of a plant, it doesn’t just stay in place. It’s always growing and sprouting new leaves and it doesn’t say, Oh I have this STEM that I really like and I could, you don’t have to put all my energy towards that. Got to focus on those new leaves to get more light and keep living and I think that’s the way you look at it.

Peter:

I’m curious about a couple of things related to this. One is, is any of it, you know, these are all leaders who themselves disrupted other kind of companies and organizations and like you know status quo in order to create what they created and and that is there, is there a sense from them that they kind of understand disruption because they disrupted and that if, and it makes them like a little more afraid of being disrupted by others because they did it like they’re almost projecting onto the world.

Alex:

Totally. I mean they know exactly what’s going to happen to them if they stick around. I mean, Zuckerberg is another good is going back to that Zuckerberg example, you know, that’s a good one to look at. We all know that their Facebook wasn’t the first social media company. And I think that when you look at the Facebook data, you just start to see it. You see the, you see it on its way to MySpace territory every few years, right? Like the company is constantly losing users and trying to find ways to bring them back. You know, there was this moment when I was covering Facebook a couple of years ago where people just stopped sharing on the newsfeed and the newsfeed at that moment was the most important part of Facebook. And Zuckerberg basically had to say, okay, we’ve been doing things this way for a long time.

Alex:

We’ve made the newsfeed the focal point we’ve made broadcasting to your friends and followers the focal point of Facebook. But we have to rewrite that otherwise we’re just going to end up like one of these old social networks and die. So, yeah, I definitely think that he sees the fact that, you know, Facebook wasn’t into, I mean there’s that famous thing in the movie, which you know has been questionably accurate but sort of captures the spirit where Zuckerberg has been accused of stealing the idea from the Winklevoss twins and he sits back in his chair and he says, you know, you could never build Facebook. You just had this, he’s about seed of an idea, but you didn’t, weren’t able to evolve it. And I think that’s key, right? It’s not being attached to that first idea, but understanding that if you’re not constantly changing, you will end up, you know, in Facebook’s case, like, like MySpace in Google’s case like Alta Vista and Lycos and ask Jeeves, right? There are so many examples like this.

Peter:

Which would suggest that execution is more important in some ways. And the idea is because you just have an idea, but you didn’t actually really make it happen. On the other hand, you make this really great distinction in your book between ideas and execution. And one of the points that you make is these days, you know, it used to be in the industrial age where execution was 95% and the idea was 5% and with knowledge work, you know, and, and this is maybe a little debatable but, but let’s just go with it, which is with knowledge work, you know, maybe 10% or 15% is ideas and execution is 85% and I think that’s by the way really true for these large like Accenture, these large consulting firm knowledge working factories, which are all about replicating methodology across 50,000 people and then deploying it. I also think there’s some, like in some ways it’s interesting because I think that’s true for the big companies.

Peter:

And then I think of small companies that actually have a harder time growing really big because it’s not only 15 or 20% ideas and 80% execution. The ideas are constantly changing and the ideas are what fascinate the owners. And so you’re not able to actually, you know, build at scale because you know, you don’t want to just execute on an old idea. And by the way, I know that space kind of intimately well because I’m sort of one of those people. And then what’s more important is this place that you’re talking about in terms of the technology companies that you’ve looked at in the Amazons and the Microsofts and the apples and where the idea is 10 is, is 80% of the time that people are spending and then only 15 or 20% is spent on execution. And so I find that really, really interesting. And that AI is doing all the execution. My question, and I’m sorry, I’m taking so long to get there, is if what Zuckerberg said is true, which is that was just an idea, but you could never make Facebook happen, that would suggest to me that 90% is execution and 10% is the idea. But what you’re finding is that it’s the opposite, a scale. And I’m kind of curious to hear you speak about that.

Alex:

Yeah. So I think when, so first of all we should talk, we should admit that we’re talking about this fictionalized part of the movie with the Zuckerberg and the Winkle by twins. But I will say, let’s look at that statement though, right? The idea is you couldn’t have built Facebook. It wasn’t that the Winklevoss twins could not have coded up the online directory that Facebook started as is that they lack the ability to evolve it. You know, I do think that startups are definitely these companies that are filled with ideas and they struggle most, as you mentioned with execution. Here’s, here’s what I think, right? If we split work up into two categories, the idea work and the execution work, we spent too much time working on execution on actually like supporting our preexisting products and not enough energy on dreaming up new things and bringing them to life.

Alex:

That’s the evolution part. Why do we spend so much time on execution work is cause we’re bad at. Right? And I think that there are ways that companies can actually take execution work and minimize it. You know, and they have to focus on it without focusing on it. You’re in trouble. So one way that the tech giants do this is with artificial intelligence. You know, inside Amazon, there aren’t people that are ordering products and pricing them and figuring out when they should get to the, to the fulfillment centers and how they should be marketed on the site. That’s all done by automation and machine learning. Because they realize that this is just a task that’s meant to prop up an existing business. And that’s where I think startups might get into trouble, right, is they don’t have they, they don’t, they don’t have the processes to support their existing businesses and they skip onto the next one quickly.

Alex:

So I do think execution work is important. The thing is how do you be most most efficient in doing this execution work, right? That’s why automation helps. It’s also just a mindset. I mean, an Amazon, there’s this mindset called invent and simplify. They say invent. And then once you do something enough, you know enough times, you can start to figure out how to simplify it and move on to the next thing. There are companies out there that say it’s just an accepted fact of business that we need to spend our time propping up our current existing businesses with a ton of execution work. But what you tend to see is people in those jobs, they, they are utilized 50, 40% of the time. And then they don’t, they, they are kind of trying to figure out what to do. They work in efficiently. And I think that just looking for places where businesses can simplify, whether, whether it’s with automation or not can help companies not only execute better, but make room for ideas and help bring those ideas to life.

Peter:

So that’s a little bit the formula too, which is create a great idea, simplify it and then find some kind of AI or automated way to execute that doesn’t involve a lot of resources and a lot of thought and a lot of, you know, human intervention so that that human capital can be spent inventing and creating new ideas and reinventing.

Alex:

That’s right. And this is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention when people talk about leadership because it’s boring. But I do think that optimizing process, finding ways where can bring in technology to help you cut down on execution work is really a big deal. And if a company does that right and then finds a way to make use of the ideas that they get in the time that’s left over, that’s when they can find themselves going ahead of the market instead of playing from behind.

Peter:

Well, and I think just that issue that you just described, I think is, is actually really important for people to learn, which is some of the best leadership is really boring. Like some of the best leadership is not, you know, being on top of the Hill with this great motivational speech. It’s creating systems and processes that operate and that can operate without you and, and that and that those things should be efficient and those things should, you know, take as little time and energy as possible. You talk about Zuckerberg and others as not being visionary leaders, but as being facilitators as like people who are just making things happen. Can you talk about that?

Alex:

Yeah. So I think that, that you cutie onto it exactly right. That we think of leaders as people that will stand up on top of a table, grab the megaphone and rally everybody around their vision. And I think that’s certainly part of it. But what these leaders do, what the leaders of the tech giants do best is they’ve all built systems to elevate people’s ideas and bring them to life. So I don’t think inside at your people say Jeff Bezos is the visionary inside Amazon. He’s definitely come up with a lot of ideas there. But what he’s done, even better than has come up with his own ideas, is build this pathway for his employees, ideas to come up to decision makers and quickly bring them to life. You know, people say, how is Amazon such an inventive company? It’s the mindset always to the employees.

Alex:

Think about how it’s always day one and you should be reinvented. Then it’s the taking down execution work. The company uses machine learning like I mentioned, to help cut down some of its core work and its core businesses to let people come up with new ideas. But most importantly, you know, now that there’s room for these ideas and this company is ready to reinvent itself at all times. It’s the system, right? So I do think that the leaders, the, the traditional leadership model that we might think of, of that person on the table with the megaphone really just doesn’t apply today because the economy is moving so fast. You know, if, if, if one person thinks they can come up with enough ideas to keep themselves ahead of the economy and especially now, let’s take a look at this moment, right? If one person thinks they know all the answers to adjust in the middle of, of this coronavirus moment the wrong.

Alex:

But the cool thing is you have all these brilliant people working underneath you if you hire right. And you know, if you build a system that helps take their ingenuity and turn it into what your company does next, you’re going to be ahead of the curve. I mean, because anybody else that’s operating in a different way where the ideas just come from the top where they just protect the asset where they don’t use processes and to cut down execution work, they’re going to be way, way behind. And like I said, in terms of the numbers of when companies wash out of the fortune 500 you know, they might be able to make it look pretty for a couple of years, but eventually time will catch up with them and they’ll be swept out of the market. And if you operate differently, you can keep ahead.

Peter:

Talk to us about Apple’s culture of secrecy. What’s worked about it, what no longer works about it.

Alex:

Yeah. Apple is a sort of the antihero in this book, which I think is also a bit of a what, it’s not something that you hear very often. And I think Apple’s Apple works in a culture of refinement, right? They have, and they’ve been a company that’s disrupted itself, you know, multiple times. They are, there used to be a, you know, and they still are a company that does very well selling desktop computers, but they helped usher in this mobile revolution with the iPhone even though it would cut into their into their desktop sales. But now they seem really stuck on refining this iPhone. So they, they go into secrecy I think because they, they want the press to have a big splash every time they release a new product. And also to have their experts concentrate on what they do best. So there’s not like this hand in everything. Like if you’re really good at screens, they don’t want you talking about how to do software. If you really good at software, they don’t want you talking about how to do screens because they think that’s a waste of time.

Peter:

And literally what you described in the book is like, you know, if you want to have a meeting from one department to another, you’ve got to get special permission to be able to do that. And what I imagine you’re about to go into is you know, you look at something like Siri that’s supposed to work across devices. How do you manage that in a culture of secrecy like that?

Alex:

Yeah, and to me that this is, this is Apple’s biggest weakness right now. So to use a counterexample Google built the Google is, I think you know, if you ask anybody who’s used the Google assistant versus Siri, they’ll tell you the Google assistant is better. It just is why is it better? It’s better not because, you know, Google is that much better at using artificial intelligence. Apple has amazing artificial intelligence experts insights. It’s because Google opened up that company and allowed collaboration to happen across divisions. You know, an assistant like Siri, the Google assistant or Alexa, and I’m happy I unplugged the echo before this because usually she goes off in the middle of, of every conversation I have. And then sent the audio to Amazon. But I guess I, I’m digressing, but if you think about these assistants, what they do well is they pull in from every part of a company.

Alex:

So the Google assistant pulls in from search, it pulls in from maps, it pulls in from YouTube. I mean these divisions are totally separate inside Google, but because the company was able to work together, it is able to fit these different bits and pieces in pretty seamlessly. And I think about it if you’re trying to do that inside Apple, right, where you have every division siloed off and you need to be disclosed. And I think the problem is that that the divisions couldn’t work well enough together. They’re walled off. I spoke with someone who was part of the original you know, Syria team and he mentioned that the team was just sort of put cast aside, you needed three, you know, ID swipes to get into wherever they were working on. And it just didn’t allow the collaboration inside the company to be able to bring those different pieces in. And so that, yeah, go ahead.

Peter:

Well. So now, arguably that for a while worked really well for Apple, right? Because not only from a press perspective but holding very tightly to the chest that, you know, like that that was why originally Apple was 5% and Microsoft was 95% but then they were able to build some products because they had control over every element of it. That ended up really sort of becoming the next big thing. And I’m not overtaking Microsoft in terms of, you know, numbers of computers, but, you know, certainly growing into being, you know, the biggest at times or certainly one of the biggest companies in the world. How do you, how do you like how, how do you put those two together that it’s, that it’s, that it’s, you know, and do you agree that, that, that kind of culture of secrecy strongly contributed to their success, at least up to a certain point?

Alex:

Yeah, I think it definitely contributed. And you know, I mean, I’m speaking to you through Mac book pro. I have AirPods on and I have an iPhone next to me. So clearly they’ve done a good job on the current products that they’re, that they’re working on. The question is what happens when the computing world shifts? Microsoft had a great desktop operating system called windows still pretty good, but because the company over-index so highly on windows, it didn’t see mobile coming right, which was moving from the desktop to the phone and it was slow but eventually made its way to cloud computing, which is, you know, working on the browser instead of installing programs on your computer. I think Apple might be in the same position as as Microsoft was when it sort of got so attached to windows. It’s so attached to the iPhone and to the way that into the process that it uses to build the iPhone, that that has made a great product.

Alex:

It’s refined the crap out of the iPhone to the point where it’s a terrific product, but it’s there. We’re going to move into a world where you can’t just ride a single product. I mean that’s, that’s what I, that’s the whole point of, of my book is to try to say, and I, and I think it’s proven out through history, that when a company gets attached to one thing, that’s when it gets in trouble. So I do think that Apple and Apple knows this. It’s not just trying to hang on to the, to the iPhone. It’s tried to build Siri and the home pod and struggled.

Peter:

And arguably the iPad is sort of tribalizing on the Mac and there, you know, kind of not replacing, most people would have an iPad and an iPhone, but, but it’s, you know, they’re kind of playing in that domain, but it hasn’t been, you know, I guess new they’ve been doing the iPad for a bunch of years.

Alex:

Yeah. And I think the truth is that computing is shifting. It’s moving more. Well, it might take a little bit of time, but it’s moving more from like actually typing to speaking to computers. As we see the rise of voice computing start and now we’re going to start to see computing start to end up taking place. And places that are beyond the phone, like the car for instance, the self driving car, something Apple has interested in building. There’s a whole project inside the company that’s meant to help them build the self driving car. But the same problems that plagued Siri also plague the car. So when you have machine learning engineers that are working on the iPhone and then you have others that are working on Siri and then you have others that are working on a car and they can’t talk to each other, you’re just going to build much slower than if you were to say, let’s end up talking so well this is a long way of saying I agree with you. The secrecy has helped and it’s really helped. Burnish Apple’s image, those, I mean I’ve been to those product reveals and they’re pretty cool. But I think that by holding onto that process, the company puts itself at a disadvantage when it wants to move into new worlds like voice computing, like the self driving car. And that’s why we haven’t seen real jumps from Apple and anywhere outside of the phone.

Peter:

So a very quick question. You know, I’d just, so people can say they heard it here first. Are you suggesting that we sell Apple short?

Alex:

Oh, that’s a good question. You know, there’ve been many journalists that have come across and said, Apple’s done. And you should short it and the end of Apple, and they’ve all been proven wrong.

Peter:

They’d probably all written those articles on Mac books and that’s right.

Alex:

So I’m not here to say it’s the end of Apple. I think that, you know, I spoke with Steve Wozniak for for the book and I put the story at the end of the chapter where we meet at this diner near Cupertino and talk about the future of Apple. And was said, you know, Apple is going to be fine. Even if, you know, people don’t upgrade, their phones have become so good. You don’t need to upgrade every two years anymore. Most people hang on to their phones for three, four or more years. So I think Apple is going to be fine. I’m encouraged by the way that they’re tackling services and software. Even though it hasn’t been so smooth, but they’re doing some, you know, if you’re looking at it from the perspective of an investor, they’re doing some good asset maximization in terms of, you know, rolling out Apple TV and Apple news and trying to find ways to make more money from their users. Right? But so, so, you know, shorting is also a pretty risky proposition, but I will say, I will say that like, if you ask me which of these companies have the, the most promising future in which have the least promising future, I’ll say the most promising future is Amazon. Maybe Google second. The least promising future I believe is Apple. Right? And I don’t know how people should put their money on that prediction. I think time, time will definitely prove out that Apple will struggle to adapt as it’s presented with more challenges in the future.

Peter:

Right. So so this is my big question and I’ve left it for the end because it was a question that I have throughout the book and I, and I kind of wanted to build this up to it, which is you’ve got Apple with this culture of secrecy that was super helpful to them in the beginning, but not, not anymore. Right. Or maybe, you know, maybe it’s, maybe it’s helpful in some ways and not in others. You’ve got, you know, on the one hand you know, facilitator versus visionary, but, but also, you know, baseless wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t visionary. Like if he, you know, I mean he’s, he’s, he’s there’s a lot of great Silicon Valley companies that have replaced their CEOs because they haven’t been able to sort of continue to to be visionary and in a certain way, although obviously he’s done a lot with execution. You’ve got, you’ve got Zuckerberg and I loved, cause I’ve been to Facebook offices and I think you’ve described them, you know, I’ve been to that glass in case conference room in the middle of the big concrete building, which by the way it feels unfinished and, and that’s on purpose, meaning that it feels unfinished because they want you to feel like it’s day one like that.

Alex:

That’s right. Their version is 1% done and Amazon’s is always due on Facebook. 1% done. Microsoft hit refresh. All these companies are right. Sorry, I’ll let you finish the question. The

Peter:

Question is, and here’s the real question is, is there really such a thing as best practice? Meaning we’re, we’re, we’re looking at, you know, certain companies that have become very big and even they have really been become big based on the sort of culture and personalities of their leaders and the cultures that they’ve created and their different cultures. Like you wouldn’t work walk into a Facebook certainly, and an Apple. And I mean, I was at Facebook one day and Apple later that day and it blew my mind how different those two companies were. Like everything from look and feel to the way people acted to, to absolutely the key cards you needed to go places. And, and what I wonder after you’ve looked at all of these companies is, is there really such a thing as best practice or have, you know, first of all, are we at a moment in time when the way certain leaders are leading works really well for this moment of time and it wouldn’t have worked 10 years ago and it may not work in 10 years or 15 years ago? Remembering that the iPhone is 10 years, 11 years old, right? It’s like not like this is a super fast rise to power. And, and is it, you know, are there really uniformed best practices or are we, are we watching at a point of time leaders who are leading in a way that’s working for this time and working for the cultures of their, even

Alex:

When those cultures can be very different from each other? Man, I love this question. This is such a good question. And I’m really excited to be able to get into it. So, okay. The first part of this is, is there something that these companies are doing that’s helping them? I think the answer is unequivocally yes. There’s a through line here, which is again, it’s these companies have a prioritize what’s coming next versus what’s now. They’ve figured out a way to cut down on execution work, make room for ideas and they’ve built systems to take those ideas to decision makers and bring them to life. I think that is a through line that exists through all the companies and given the world that we’re in right now where things are moving fast, where the business reality on the ground changes quickly, where companies can spin up a new product or service in a blink of an eye due to cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Alex:

That is true today for the best companies. And that will be true for a long time in the future. I don’t believe that’s just a phase. But now the question about best practices, and I think that this whole idea of best of a best practice is, is dangerous because a company can get caught up on what are the best practices and then have a checklist of 12 things they should do and then just go one. Yes. Two. Yes. Three. Yes. And if I do all 12 exactly as I’ve been told by you know, X business book, then my company is going to be in great shape. That’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. And I wanna like talk a little bit about, and I know this is kind of inside baseball, but the style with which I wrote this book, this is a book that is not prescriptive.

Alex:

It’s descriptive. It doesn’t, there are very few moments in the book where it says you should, you must. And there are no bullet points at the end of the chapter. What it is, is a book that says, here are the stories and you can learn from the stories. So do I believe that every company should go in and implement every little bit of of culture that exists inside Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft? No, I believe that would be a mistake. I think every company needs to adapt. You know, what they see as the practices that that worked well that would fit well for their company. You have to understand how your company works and how the best companies in the world work and figure out where you can bring in bits and pieces. And I also think that like saying you need to do all these 15 things would be so, you know, as often so overbearing.

Alex:

The companies get to the first one, they start halfway and they said, ah, well we have, we have other things to do. So my hope with the book is that it’s an example of any business leader, anybody working in inside a business or any organization today can read it. Learn how these companies operate and say, Hey, you know, that thing might work well for us or that we’re actually, you know, we’ve tried that, but we might want to tweak it a little bit and that might take us to where we need to get as opposed to saying, okay, you know, here’s this, you know, 250 page book. I’ll go through, write the checklist and make our way through the, through, through it all and then become a great, so yeah, the idea of best practice. I love that you asked about that. I think that that’s where people can really get constrained and end up taking their company and just going all the way down. But I do hope that people will be able to learn from these stories, implement and then, and then find themselves able to get through what’s going to be a difficult, you know, probably a year or longer ahead and find ways to adapt and adjust and make their businesses strong.

Peter:

And you know, it’s interesting in the spirit of like doing the exercise that feels most painful to you because that’s probably the one that you need that is least developed in your body. And doing a lot of physical therapy for, you know, a hip bursitis has taught me that, you know, like, Oh, maybe I’m not using my butt muscle in the way that I should. I found out a strange connection here, but that maybe people should also read your book and, and, and yes. Say, Hey, yeah, that practice might work for us. That could be useful, but also say, Hey, that practice would never work for us. Huh. Let me get curious about that. And what about it won’t and why won’t it and what might we have to address in our company that we’re not addressing at all because we’re seeing something that I immediately would dismiss and say wouldn’t work for us. And, and in fact, that exposes a weakness in our organization that maybe I should address. So to like go for the easy but also go for the heart.

Alex:

That’s right. Yeah. I think this, this reach should be an adventure. And you know, I think the people that I’ve given it to ahead of time have, have read it and said, ah, like, okay, well this is how our business is approaches this and this is why our business doesn’t handle that. And I do think that the core message is worthwhile and people should strive for like operating in this always day one world. Yeah. But again, like the idea is read it to, you know, sit with the stories and find out how they would apply best to your business. And you know, by looking at how the tech giants operate, you’ll learn a lot about the way that you run your company or the way that you operate inside the company. Or if you’re a regulator, how you might want to, you know, approach these tech giants. And, or if you sell an Amazon sort of how the internal operations work. Yeah. So I think that that’s, that’s a great message. You know, read it noodle a little bit and, and you’ll learn a lot about not only how these companies operate, but how you operate. How you might want to change the way that you do business.

Peter:

So normally I would end this conversation here cause it’s a great place to end. And you know, we’re sort of at the distance of the, of the normal podcast and and yet I’m looking at you on the video and you have all these beautiful colorful stickies behind you that were based on the you used in order to create the book. And I’m curious for you to just share with us just a minute or two about your writing process and you know, like for those people who are on here and who were kind of interested in the sort of inside baseball view of, you know, you Alex Kantrowitz the writer, like share a little bit about your process. Yeah.

Alex:

This is definitely, you know, a fun one and obviously spent a lot of time working through it. This is my first book. So it started off with with not much of a process. But I think the key thing that we did or the key thing that I had to do at the beginning was start with a very big question, which is I had seen bits and pieces of these tech giants you know, doing things differently on the inside. And I had studied labor relations for undergrad and it was like, okay, there might be something that might be something central here. Let’s explore it and, and do as many interviews as possible and see if we can find the key things. And it turns out that we ended up, you know, I ended up with working with my editor and my agent and you know, through many, many conversations, we were like, okay, we found, we found this through line.

Alex:

So once we had that you know, it was really, I think that as a reporter, my, the thing that I like to do is just spend as much time as much of my day as possible on interviews. And it’s constantly, there’s learning process. And so finally it was like, okay, it’s time to write. We, we got, you know, I wrote the introduction and started making my way through the chapters. I organized everything inside of Apple notes which was like the lowest tech possible way, but I had like a note for each chapter and then sort of put things that I found interesting and came back to them and, and refined and worked through it. And then I put these post-it’s on the wall to let me remember, help me remember, okay, these are the chapters that I’m making my way through it and here are the main sections that I want to hit.

Alex:

Then I wrote my way through. So I took, you know, I’m a reporter at Buzzfeed, so I asked for leave. So I took nine months of leave to get the first chunk of it done, almost all the reporting, a good bit of writing. And then I went back for a few months and then returned to leave to finish up to, to finish the last few chapters and edit. And I came home the first day of that second two months and I read through everything I had and I was like, Whoa, this sucks. I’m going to have to rewrite this whole book. And then we ended up, okay. Reinvent. Exactly. So it ended up being that those two months were intense and you know, in this moment of isolation, it’s kind of familiar. I mean, I was able to do it without a killer disease threatening, but I mean I spent a lot of time in this room just going through every single chapter and writing through in a way that, you know, I think reflected the later discoveries. So it was so, I mean, writing is hard. It’s tough. It makes you want to cry sometimes you do. But yeah, ultimately it was about, you know, understanding where, you know, starting with the question, understanding where I wanted to get, and then just accepting that it was going to be a journey through there and not getting discouraged.

Peter:

Alex, thank you so much for sharing that. It’s the first time I’ve asked that question. It was prompted by the by the PostIts behind you. And I’m so happy that I did because I feel like we, we all got to connect with you as a human even in a little bit of a deeper way than, than than even having the conversation about the ideas and the thoughts behind it. So I really appreciate seeing that part of you. Of course. Yeah. Anyone who says it, this was an easy process when they, you know, work through a book or going through a project, that’s not the case. It’s painful. There are long, long nights, but ultimately, you know, it’s, it’s a fun thing to do and I hope to get the chance to do it again sometime. Well, the book reflects all of the energy and effort that you put into it. We’ve been speaking with Alan Kantrowitz, he’s a senior technology reporter at Buzzfeed and he has written the book that we have been talking about always day one, how the tech Titans plan to stay on top forever. It’s great. Read a lot of fun. And Alex, thank you so much for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.

Alex:

Thank you for having me. And also, thanks for reading the book. It’s clear that you really went through it and the questions reflected it, so I appreciate that. Truly, my pleasure.

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