What Viktor Frankl can teach us about managing teams

Viktor Frankl is a psychologist, author, and Holocaust survivor. In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he advocates for everyone to find their meaning of life. This is no small task for anyone, let alone helping someone else discover it, but it is the most important thing anyone can find if they want to be happy and successful.

Frankl’s 3 ways to discover your meaning are:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

As a manager and leader, you have people working for you who are giving almost half of their waking life towards your company. Fortunately, many of those tasks can fit into Frankl’s 3 ways.  To keep them motivated and engaged, you must find ways to align their meaning with the company. With a little work, this can be achieved.

How to align your employee’s work & meaning

1) Give them ownership

Have you ever been given a task that someone had everything spelled out to a T how to do it? How motivated were you to work on that? If it was something important to you, it likely felt very stifling to not be able to do it how you saw fit.  Don’t do that to your employees. Give them the opportunity to use their skills to accomplish tasks in the way they choose.

2) Help them see the big picture

People join companies for many reasons, and a company’s core mission is often one of them.  Once they’re settled in their job and the day to day grind, it can become easy to lose sight of that mission that attracted them in the first place. Don’t let that happen! Repeating yourself as a leader is very important, especially if it’s reinforcing the core mission.

3) Connect the company mission to their tasks

Having everyone on your team understanding the company’s core mission is important. Tying their specific job to that mission is just as important. When someone feels like what they do really matters and they can see the impact, you create a powerful, motivating feedback loop. And if you manage someone in a low level job and don’t think you can tie their work to what matters, you should watch this.

4) Listen to their personal goals

It’s not all about the company. Your employees have hopes and dreams of their own. The more you can align those dreams with their work and show them how the company furthers their goals, the more motivated they will be. Humans have a natural urge to work on things bigger than themselves and a company is an amazing vehicle for this if you seize the opportunity.

What about the suffering?

Yes, Frankl believes suffering in life is not only inevitable, but essential. It is during times of suffering that we grow the most.  If you’ve ever worked long hours on a project, you can empathize with how major challenges can help you grow tremendously. Often, you work those hours because you were motivated in some way, likely one or even all 4 of the above reasons.

Frankl loved a particular quote by Nietzsche that captures it well:

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

It is when people lose their why that they can no longer endure the how that they are facing. At work, long hours or a project they’re struggling with can wear them down without the above alignment. When this happens, everyone loses as they will start looking for other jobs and their work output will rapidly decline.

Are you giving your team the whys they need?

Get LighthouseWant to help your team to find their meaning and reach their goals? Then sign up for Lighthouse, the app to help you be a better manager and we can help you stay on top of your team’s growth and career goals.

Learn more at GetLighthouse.com

A Guide to Finding Your Meaning of Life

The last six months have been a challenging journey for me. I’ve been searching. I’ve been trying to find my unique path in life. I’ve questioned what my calling really is.

Call it being a little lost. Call it a quarter life crisis (a couple years late). Call it whatever you’d like, but for me it has been an incredibly important, personal journey to determine what I should do with my life and finding the next steps to make me truly happy & fulfilled.

This wasn’t something I wanted to talk about (much less write about). However, after yet another conversation with a friend going through the same thing, I realized I really need to share some of the things that helped me get to where I am.

Here’s a few things that really helped me.

1) Read These Books

Everything you’re thinking about has been a challenge for others before. There are experts who have devoted their lives to these subjects and books are a great way to learn from them at your own pace. I read a lot and all of these came highly recommended by friends and mentors, so trust me, they’re helpful.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Growth means knowing you’re always learning and that even the best were a novice at some point. Never say, “I can’t do that.”  This attitude is an important one to adopt as you find your path: Just because it’s your path, doesn’t mean it will be easy. Mindset will help you understand how to approach the big, scary dreams you have with the right attitude.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport 

“Find your passion” is the message of Generation Y and I think it’s led many of us astray. There are many things we each are passionate about, but not all of them should be more than a hobby. So Good They Can’t Ignore You will help you figure out what you’re great at and how to do more of it while building a fulfilling life.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 

Only 1 in 12 men sent to a concentration camp survived the Holocaust. The author was one of them. From that experience and a lifetime as psychologist, Frankl has some powerful views on life and the importance of having a personal Why. He also reminds us that suffering is a part of life; as much as the American media makes us think we’re all supposed to be happy 24/7, there’s value and growth in struggling with the right things.

2) Find Your Must

I was fortunate to catch Elle Luna’s amazing talk on Finding Your Must when she originally gave her talk in October and am so glad the talk is recorded for all to see. I’ve shared the video with countless friends since. Watch it here: http://vimeo.com/77436516

As you go through those books, it’s important to listen for that voice inside you for what it really wants. In the case of Elle, she was a successful designer at Mailbox (bought by Dropbox), but was having dreams pulling her in another direction.

Just as important is Elle’s awesome article on First Round Capital’s amazing blog called, “What to do at the Crossroads of Should and Must.” This came at the perfect time for me as I was interviewing for jobs I thought I *should* take while working on a startup I felt I *must* work on. I am coincidentally no longer doing the should and focused on the things I feel I must do.

There is a lot of material in the article different than her talk so I encourage you to check out both.

3) Buy a Notebook

This doesn’t have to be anything special. Just get one of those old school spiral-bound notebooks with lots of pages and your favorite writing form (pen, pencil, sharpie, etc).

Start Writing.

Once you have the notebook, sit down alone and start writing anything that comes to mind. Just get everything swimming in your head out and write until you’ve filled a few pages. Do this every day.

What you write about will change. I’ve written about everything from passions to frustrations, forgiveness to regrets, startup ideas to objective views of the past. Every bit of it helped in different ways and brought my mind out of places I was previously stuck.

After awhile you will find you may have less of an urge to write. That’s okay. Know that the notebook is there to release things when they’re stuck inside. It needs an outlet. Don’t bother reading what you’ve written either; some of it won’t be nice things, but there’s a good chance getting it out will help you move on. At least for me, this journey was as much about finding what’s next as it was letting go of things holding me back.

Now, I don’t write in the notebook every day, but when I have something I need to get out of me, I stop what I’m doing and grab the notebook to start writing. I also use it when I’m stuck on something and need to explore an idea. It is this exploration that helped me arrive at what I’m excited to be working on today.

You can learn more about this process here: http://www.dr-jane-bolton.com/support-files/the-artists-way.pdf

4) Read The 12 Week Year

Another book? Yes. The ideas that you’ll be piecing together from the above books, the great stuff from Elle Luna, and writing will make you ready for this book. This is the book that will help you put it all together and figure out how you can really execute on that scary, ambitious *must* that’s dying to get out of you.

The 12 Week Year by Moran & Lennington

On the surface it looks like another pop-self-help book, but it has an important process that will help you clearly define who you want to become and how you can get there.

They ask you who you want to be in 10-20 years, then what you want to be in 3 years to put you on a path to get there, and finally how to find the actionable steps you can take in the next 12 weeks to begin. Following their exercises and examples helped me sew together all the ideas that I had generated from the rest of my journey.

5) Don’t Fear Failure

The first thing you try probably won’t work. Taking the first step to get out the door though is very important. Every thing you try will add new skills, new perspectives, and new people to your life. All of those will combine to bring you closer to your end goal, even if that’s not entirely clear. Don’t be afraid to quit and try something else.

I was an Electrical Engineer in college who realized he didn’t want to be one.  I tried to start a hardware company with some friends (it failed). Then I started Greenhorn Connect, a modest success that gave me a platform for developing skills in marketing, hiring, managing, product and sales. This helped me get jobs first at oneforty (the now-defunct app store for Twitter) and then to move to SF to join KISSmetrics. In both jobs, I learned a ton. Between those two jobs, I tried consulting (the only thing I liked was the money) and a bunch of startup ideas that went nowhere (hint: the moving industry is not a great place to build software).

Most recently, I spent last fall diving into the world of 3D Printing and just never found the right team and idea in the nascent industry. This led me to job hunt again, which is when a lot of the above journey of discovery began.  It was only then that I realized what I really want to do now.

Every step in the journey has been important in helping me get here.  I’ve embraced the fact that this could be another failed step, or the one that puts it all together.


If you really work at it, if you really think about the ideas in the books above and challenge yourself to write what’s in your heart, then I believe you’ll have some things to go on to find the next steps in your uniquely fulfilling life.

I have realized both the good and the bad in my life has taught me important lessons and prepared me for what’s next. In my case, that’s writing a book about How to Build Customer Driven Products based on what I’ve learned from the jobs I’ve had, the consulting I’ve done, and the great mentors I’ve met along the way.  It also means patching up a few relationships I made mistakes with and have much better perspective on now. Most importantly to me, it’s realizing that I’m a founder at heart and that I’m now working on an idea I’m driven to work on every day: helping people be better managers.

I can’t guarantee these tactics will work for you, but working through all of the above and with the help of some great friends I’ve gotten to a satisfying place.  If you’ve asked these questions of yourself before, I’d love to hear what helped you in the comments. This post is for all those coming after us that could use help on figuring out their journey.

Lessons in Innovation from the Biographer of Jobs, Einstein & Franklin

Walter Isaacson has written the biographies for some of the greatest inventors of the last 300 years in Ben Franklin, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. He spoke at the National Book Festival in Washington DC and I serendipitously stumbled upon his speech on CSPAN2. It was so amazing, I wanted to share it all with you as I found it is on Youtube here:

I highly encourage you to watch the whole thing, but I wanted to highlight two things that stood out to me.

Simplicity is a spiritual quest.

Especially in the tech scene and product world, we talk about simplicity like a Holy Grail of sorts and with good reason; a truly simple product has many advantages in the market and a strong likelihood of success. I think Isaacson captured this very well in his talk when he said,

Walter Isaacson on Simplicity

Often I find myself getting caught up in building something that is infinitely flexible and covers a million use cases and it makes me forget the essence of what I’m trying to build.

Spirituality comes into play because this requires faith; I have to believe that by sticking to the core of what I’m doing and ignoring some attractive features, I’m building the right product. It also reminds me of the effort required to get there; the first few iterations are unlikely to get to perfection. Instead, it is the dogged pursuit of simplicity that helps find the essence of what I’m really trying to create.

Tying these concepts together, and sharing how Einstein and Franklin thought about simplicity in addition to Jobs is a fascinating insight only the biographer of all 3 could do.

You have to be YOU.

After a question from the audience at the very end of the video, Isaacson covers the most important lesson I think we all need to remember as we read all the tech blogs and study successful people:

“Don’t try to just copy any one of them. Biography is understanding our world, our values and how you might apply them in your life.”

No matter who I’m studying or learning from, I try to see what I should learn from them to build on who I am, not try to be them. I will never pull off the design instincts and asshole of Steve Jobs nor the curiosity and mathematical brilliance of Einstein, but I know I can learn skills and approaches from them that will make the best version of me.

Why you should take your 20s seriously

“Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.” – Van Wilder

It seems like the prevailing advice today for anyone in their twenties is to live their lives free of any commitments and as independent and undirected as possible.  As a workaholic entrepreneur since I finished school, it never really resonated with me, but even I have found myself prioritizing based on the fact that my 20s are unique time I can do things I wouldn’t be able to any other time in my life.

A friend recently recommended I read The Definining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now. After reading it, I realized the importance of my twenties to a degree I never had and it has changed how I plan to approach the last few years of my 20s.

Written by a clinical psychologist, the book hits on all the key aspects of your life: Work, Love and your Body. There are many great takeaways, but the 3 biggest that have stuck with me are:

1) Your 20s lay the groundwork for success in the rest of your career.

Whether you’ve spent too much time as a bartender or waitress or in tech living in your parent’s basement as you “work on your startup”, you could be preventing your life from moving forward in a way that will make you successful and happy in the future.

Maybe Starbucks is enough to be happy now, but can you raise a child with that pay? More importantly, do you want to be doing exactly what you’re doing now in 10 years? If not, does your current job get your foot in the door?  If you aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, maybe you should think about how to build a career in a startup as opposed to being a young, fledgling founder forever.

No one starts at the top. It starts with a dues-paying low level job where you excel and get more and more opportunities. I had a master’s degree and still had to start with a part time internship to get my foot in the door in tech. That internship led to the person I interned for getting me a full time job at a startup they were on the board of. The founder of that company then introduced me to Hiten Shah as a mentor and now I run product for his company, KISSmetrics. This is how most successful people I know have built their careers, and it always starts small.

Lesson: Don’t put off starting to build a career. The sooner you start out in an industry and role you like, the sooner you can grow into a satisfying career.

2) Statistically, women need to have all their children by 35.

According to the author, a woman’s ability to get pregnant plummets starting in her mid-thirties. To make matters worse, the odds of a miscarriage for a woman over 35 is one in four.  This is a scary statistic that brings images to my mind of a couple struggling to get pregnant only to lose their child during pregnancy. No one wants that.

The thought of a family has been far from my mind all through my 20s. I’ve put my career goals ahead of everything else.  At the same time, I’ve known I do eventually want to have a family. Realizing these statistics has led me to better understand the choices I make and the time I’m working against. It now makes a lot more sense why there’s so many founders in their early 30s that have started families.

Lesson: If having a family is part of your life’s goals, you probably have less time than you think. If you’re a guy that wants to marry a woman relatively the same age as you, the clock is ticking on you just as much as it is for her.

3) Your brain finishes forming in your 20s.

I always thought your mind was formed as a child and that by the end of your teens your brain was probably what it was going to be until the decline began in your 30s or 40s. As it turns out, your frontal cortex goes through great change in your 20s before it is set more permanently in your 30s (imagine wet concrete hardening). Per Wikipedia,

The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.

As a person whose goal is build a massive company, I realize I need to develop as many of the skills I need to lead such a company now, because in a few years it may be difficult or almost impossible to grow in the ways necessary to handle the role. As I hear about founders that can’t (or don’t want to) run a company once it reaches a certain size, I think about the challenges of scaling yourself and the development required.

Lesson: Whatever your career and life goals, realize that the skills you develop and the personality you forge in your 20s will determine many of your abilities the rest of your life.

Few books I’ve read have led to as much personal introspection as reading this one. If these concepts interest you, I highly recommend you check out: The Definining Decade:

3 Questions Brought About by Steve Jobs’s Life

Everyone is tweeting and writing their thoughts as a legend has now passed. I just re-watched Jobs’s Stanford Commencement speech (embedded below) and was as inspired as ever.  As I read more of the tributes like Walt Mossberg’s personal recollection, it got me thinking about 3 heavy questions around all of this:

1) Steve says to “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition,” but why do so few actually have it?

I know so many people that somehow got into a rut at one point and are just on a heartless journey, living paycheck to paycheck at a job they care little about.  I wish for a world with more passionate and inspired people.

2) Would you rather live 56 years in the life of Steve Jobs or 85 years of average American life?

If the cost of changing the world is 1/3rd of your life, that’s actually a pretty high price; there is no commodity more priceless than time.

3) What if Steve’s mother had an abortion instead of putting him up for adoption?

As Steve mentions in his speech, his mother had him out of wedlock and put him up for adoption.  There are few decisions harder in life than the one Steve’s mother faced. The world is fortunate for her decision.

As Walt Mossberg said in his opening, “He was a historical figure on the scale of a Thomas Edison or Henry Ford and set the mold for many other corporate leaders in many other industries.” Only a man as great as Steve could bring about so many great thoughts and so many deep things to think about.

Motivation and Perspective

In life, you face ups and downs constantly. Choosing to be an entrepreneur means you live in a world of extremes much greater than those with the security of a 9 to 5.  Especially as a young entrepreneur who has a much simpler personal life than those with wife/kids/families, I live and die by startup life; the swings are magnified because so much of it personifies my life and determines how I measure myself.

One of the luxuries of running Greenhorn Connect is that I’ve always had it in addition to whatever my main focus was (for the last year – oneforty and now the new startup).  I’ve found that in most cases, there would be at least one victory, one good thing that always happened to focus on despite any setbacks or blows I’d also taken.

In the end though, some days I still feel more like the nail than the hammer. On these days and ones where I just want to get amped up, I turn to some key places of inspiration.

I love movies. I feel like a good filmmaker with the right story and actors can create a connection with the audience in a genuine way unlike any other medium. I also love sports.  There is no better microcosm for life. Every game and every season mirrors so many of the struggles (and triumphs) of life. It should then be no surprise that all of these are sports and film related.

The “Suck it up” Speech – Rocky Balboa

Rocky’s Speech to his son on Life & Fighting

I watch this when I need to remember that life isn’t easy, and that “90% of life is just showing up” because the other guy will give up.

The Reason to Fight so Hard – Any Given Sunday

Al Pacino’s “inches” speech

Nothing better captures the essence of the struggle and how those little victories, and all the day to day efforts are what builds success.

Hope & Spirit – The Shawshank Redemption

Andy and Red share in the excitement and challenges of hope.

In the end, all we have is our own spirit. If you listen to it, you will get there. This is my all time favorite movie and my goto film when I really need picked up.

Remembering Greatness – Compilation of MJ Interviews

From Nike ads to long hours on the baseball field and courts, a view into MJ’s life.

Your greatest competitor is yourself, but that is how you create greatness: by demanding it of yourself and putting in the work to get there.

Drive, Passion and Dying on the Treadmill – Compilation of Will Smith Interviews

This video made me a fan of Will Smith for life and never doubt another film he’s a part of.

I love Will’s line, “If we got on a treadmill together, there’s 2 things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.” You either find this disturbing or you understand me.

It feels like my life can be summed up in one word: escalation. I’m always trying to make the next step greater than the last, the next day better than the previous.

One night, shortly after starting at oneforty, Laura Fitton tweeted asking, “What’s the one most important thing?”  I answered “Progress.” Escalation is positive progress.

When I feel like progress is backwards or I just need a reminder of what drives me, this is what I turn to.  This is what I’m about.

New Year’s Resolutions Check Up

I’m two weeks into my resolutions for New Year’s and so I wanted to check up on how I was doing. I figured I might as well share my progress:

8 Resolutions in 2010

1) Improve my Punctuality: I’ve gotten a little better, but I’m still far from perfect. Going to keep at it.

2)  Improve Time Management: I’ve found that by making a list broken down by project (I’m involved in 3 startups these days) right before I go to bed, I wake up ready to get all the things done. It’s working, but will probably keep evolving.

3) Get Back to the Gym: I finally made it back to the gym on Wednesday and then went again on Friday. It felt better than I expected getting back into. Apparently the pull ups and situps I’d been doing in my apartment kept me from losing too much strength. I am incredibly sore right now, but that comes with the territory. I also feel energized, so it’s a fair tradeoff. I just need to get a routine going and I’ll be good.

4) Get back to Running: Waiting for warmer weather…

5) Read a Book per Week: I’m 2 for 2 so far as I’ve made it through Trust Agents and Crush It. I’m now onto a bit heavier reading with 4 Steps to the Epiphany, so we’ll see if I can get through that in a week as well. Taking books with me on the subway has definitely helped a lot. I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting each day just not thinking while on the subway. You’ll now know what I’m reading if you see me at an event at night as I’m taking reading material for the trips to and from.

6) Post More Often: This is my 6th post of the year, so that’s going well. I’ve also successfully started writing shorter posts as evidenced by my business card and winter wardrobe posts.

7) Keep learning: This one wasn’t so much anything new as trying to do more of the same.  A number of you have been great in providing me more feedback and comments, so please keep it coming!

8.) Pay it forward: I still help who I can. The best example is the other night at an event a woman was lamenting that she couldn’t find much support as a woman entrepreneur. I was able to pass her along info of all the resources for women entrepreneurs listed at Greenhorn Connect.

So all in all…doing well. Need to keep improving in the punctuality department, build the gym back into my routine fully and stick with the book reading regimen.

How are YOU doing on your resolutions?


Many have written about their experiences as emerging entrepreneurs to great effect. These books, blogs and articles all serve as inspiration to me and fellow young entrepreneurs.  One of my favorite items I’ve read is Mark Cuban’s insight on that journey.  It’s easy to look at him and say, “Wow. He has everything. He’s a billionaire. He owns the Mavericks. He has a gorgeous wife and a great family.”  But did you know he slept on the floor of a cramped, trashy apartment for a few years while he was trying to get his first company off the ground? Or that he read computer manuals in his free time so that he could become an expert with them? Behind every success story is years of hard work and sacrifice…


Now Mark Cuban is a great personal entrepreneurial “hero” of mine, but if we’re talking about inspiration to pursue your goals, nothing compares to Dr. Randy Pousch. At age 47 this Carnegie Mellon professor was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  Randy decided cancer could kill him, but not his spirit. In his “Last Lesson,” he shared with everyone his life story and lessons learned.  Below you’ll find the full video of this “Last Lesson.” It’s about the length of a movie, but I dare you to find one as powerful and moving:


I saved a number of quotes from Dr. Pausch for myself, but I’d like to comment on a few that resonated the most with me and others I showed the video (approximate time in the video listed in parenthesis):

(18:40) “When you see yourself doing something badly and no one is saying anything anymore…that’s a problem. It means they’ve given up on you”

I think this emphasizes the fact that feedback is so important. You always want to improve yourself and sometimes it’s really hard to get constructive criticism out of people. It’s often because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but they’re only doing you a disservice.  Of course, if they just don’t care, you have a bigger problem.  If you ever have constructive criticism on my blog, please comment!

(1:10:35)“Decide if you’re a Tigger or Eyeore”

As my father so eloquently put it, “I always thought Tigger was an airhead.” Yes, in the most literal sense that may be true. But to me, this is about optimism and hope vs. pessimism and acceptance.  Tigger sees all the great in the world and pursues his goals of being happy in life, while Eyeore is always depressed about something and never does anything to change his situation. To me, the Tiggers of the world are those that see problems in the world as opportunities to make a difference.  I’m a Tigger. Are you?

(53:00) “If you do anything that is pioneering, you have to put up with the arrows in the back”

This quote relates to entrepreneurs in two ways.  First, there will always be doubters, critics and haters.  You have to know when to listen to them…is it constructive criticism, or deep down, do you know they’re wrong? In general, I’ve found the best way to know if I believe in what I’m doing is simply to have someone try to encourage me to go another way; if I strongly disagree with their suggestion, I know I’m fully committed to my decision.  The second way this affects us is competition.  There is always someone else with the same idea.  Even if you get a head start and have more customers, better market presence, or superior technology, they’re gunning for you.  As I learned in running cross country, if you aren’t passing someone, someone else is likely passing you.

(26:40) “The brick walls are there for a reason.
The brick walls are not there to keep us out.
The brick walls are there to show us
how badly we want something
The brick walls are there to stop those
who don’t want it badly enough.
They’re there to stop other people.”

When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the track team.  Since my father ran track in college I thought I would be good too.  As it turned out…I wasn’t a natural.  At the end of the year, we had a banquet and the coaches honored all of the best athletes, which obviously didn’t include me. I decided I wanted to be one of those guys.  My coach told me I should join the Cross Country team and so after that banquet, I told him I was going to try to make varsity that fall.  He’s a nice guy, so he didn’t tell me no way, but he basically shrugged me off. He knew I ran a 7:30 mile as my best time that track season, and that pace wouldn’t even be good enough to make varsity.  Little did he know how badly I wanted it. All summer I got up every morning and ran 7.5 miles in the morning and 2.5 miles at night.  By the start of the school year I had run over 600 miles and was doing my morning run in under 7 minute mile pace.  I made varsity, to the great surprise of my coaches and my teammates.

When I set a goal, I passionately pursue it with everything I have and refuse to give up.  It hasn’t failed me regardless of whether it’s an athletic, academic or professional challenge.  I see a few “brick walls” in my life right now; I look forward to breaking them down.


Despite only living half of the average American life, Randy Pousch accomplished a laundry list of lofty and challenging goals including working for Disney Imagineers, experiencing zero gravity, and writing an article for World Book Encyclopedia.  I have a list. Do you have a list? How are you working to check them off?   Don’t be afraid if they’re lofty. Randy’s mentor put it best:

“It’s such a shame people see you as arrogant…it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish” -Andy van Dam