5 Creative Ways to be a Team Player

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Hellen Keller

First of all, why would you want to be a team player? What’s in it for you?

Hilsoft would never have built our first ERP product without the team of five people who made it. My brother and I who developed the general ledger, I did the front-end, and my brother did the back-end. Our cousin Neil was the one who continued the accounts payable module and our dear friend Shotie who made the accounts receivable module. Later on, Bob joined us who helped us in the initial client implementations. All were young engineers who were passionate and playful about what we do.

We worked hard at day time and played basketball and video games at night. We were a team who has a deep level of relationship. Sometimes we argue, but at the end of the day, I believe we loved each other.

When they all left the company sometime in 2004, I single-handedly tried to operate the business with the assistance of my uncle abroad, partners and valued employees that came in and out of the company. Yes, I was able to have small wins but also small losses, up and down like a roller coaster ride, but it never came to a point where I wanted the company to be. I never had a core team until just a few years ago when I accepted the truth that I cannot do it alone. We grew 400% right after and now continue to grow while I empower our team to strive for impact and results.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -This quote from Michael Jordan hits me while I write this.

So if you want to be good then maybe you don’t need to be a team player, but if you’re going to be great and achieve great results, then it is about time to learn how to be.

Here are some creative ways on how to be a team player.

  1. Believe in the power of a team. The story above was somehow proof of the power of a team by believing that helping out your team in solving a problem will result in a macro-level positive result.
  2. Actually “Care.” You can never fake caring. People will see it and feel it. Practice loving-kindness with people in general, and special care with your team and even their families.
  3. Be self-aware of your strength and weaknesses. Let go of your ego. Share with the team what you know and what you don’t know. Then compliment each other by helping them out where they are weak and vice-versa.
  4. Align with one objective. With Hilsoft, we aim to continuously develop and improve our products that are useable and make our customers look forward to more. Regardless if one engineer is assigned directly to one client and the other one is independently assigned to another, the team develop and improve one base product for all.
  5. Play. Have fun. Build a positive community. Go out and make your team your second family.

This article is a tribute to Bob Abraham (the guy in front), one of our pioneering team member and a friend who passed away last year due to a health issue. Thank you, brother.

Innovation By Outside-In Thinking: 3 Reasons Why You Should Adopt This and 5 Tips To Execute

When we decided to develop our first ever product, an online accounting software, we have no idea of how it works and what is acceptable to the market. We did it by reverse engineering existing accounting software online without careful assessment of the user needs especially Filipino accountants. We picked modules and sub-modules based on naive common sense. We did it inside-out.

Fast forward six months later, we showed what we developed to prospective clients, and it turned out that it was not sellable. We went back to our drawing board, and fortunately, we met an accountant who’s well versed with systems, and we learned that we have to redo 80% of our code. So we did, and our product evolved customer-driven or outside-in from thereon.

Outside-in by definition is an approach guided by customer orientation and customer value creation. It means that real customer problems and challenges drive the product features, operational process efficiency or human resource structure.

Why should we innovate by outside-in thinking? Here are some reasons and benefits:

  1. Customers are becoming more powerful. With the online reviews and social media feedback platform, companies have no choice but to listen to their customers. Spend efforts to maximize customer benefits rather than the shareholder returns.
  2. Market disruptions are popping here and there. People are a lot wiser. We can quickly learn something from the Internet andYouTube with the vast content and information overload; hence people can easily find ways to tap the whitespace of a particular market. There’s no way of knowing that whitespace if companies don’t listen or get feedback from the customers. So if you stop listening, then you’ll become obsolete.
  3. It improves customer delivery. Organizations who adopt the inside-out method define their delivery process based on theories or experience they got from their previous jobs. Every business is unique, so whatever process that is successful from other companies does not necessarily apply to your company. By outside-in thinking, companies should put themselves to the customer’s shoes, simulate the experience and practice empathy. Define the customer’s pain points and change the method based on those data. This method will definitely decrease customer attrition rate and complaints, an increase in repeat business and loyalty.

Here are some tips in executing business in an outside-in manner:

  1. In product development, obtain an understanding of what products or service that is available in your target market. Research why a particular group of customers are not buying them and not solving their problems. Develop a feature to solve that problem.
  2. In sales, understand their challenges and the reason why they made time for you before you make your pitch.
  3. In delivery, understand the customer journey. Please take note of all the touchpoints and check to see how you can improve them.
  4. In execution, improve your response time, close all issues and feedback and do not tolerate problems.
  5. In HR, train employees to ensure the organization is all on the same page in doing the above.

8 Takeaways from The Creative Brain Movie

Source: The Creative Brain Movie

The words “creativity” and “innovation” always get my attention. Netflix recently released a documentary about the creative brain and here are the takeaways.

  1. Take two ideas and combine them.
  2. Bend, break and blend ideas.
  3. Being original is not necessarily about creating something out of nothing.
  4. Creativity is creating extraordinary from an ordinary.
  5. Try something new, a new career, or a new skill.
  6. Combine the familiar and the new.
  7. Push boundaries.
  8. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Can You Systematize Innovation?

When it comes to systematizing innovation, I always remember “Try a lot of stuff and keep what works”, a chapter in Jim Collins book Built to Last. It tells about how 3M and the others systemize their process by having a 15% rule. It encourages their employees to use 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

I tried that a couple of times with Hilsoft, but we always fail. We were always bombarded with operational issues, and it is difficult to spare time to execute innovative ideas.

I came across with a podcast of Tim Ferris the other day, and I got a little excited when the guest was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO & chairman of Google.

The first idea I learned was to run your company at a consistent spin rate with the formula:

70% of your efforts in your core product
20% of your efforts in new products
10% of your efforts in new ideas

Unlike the 15% rule where it is employee driven, this is management driven. To simplify the idea, you can depict the formula above as: 70% of your team shall focus on your core products, 20% dedicated team in new products and 10% dedicated team in new ideas. It resolves the issue of cutting the momentum of the core products team as the new products & new ideas are dedicated.

At Hilsoft, in a way, this is unconsciously executed. Majority of our team focuses on our core which is ERP and HR/Payroll. A smaller percentage of our team is dedicated to new products such as Hotel Management, Real-Estate & CRM and a tiny portion on new ideas such as Snap Accounting & Snap Payroll. With this new learning, I am motivated to mindfully steer our team to more or less hit the percentages above. This move should result in more focus, clear direction, and staff satisfaction. We can always shuffle people now and then, to excite them.

The second idea that I learned, that as a leader, you may also want to systematize your meetings. I first discovered this from Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter where he runs the company in themed days.

“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company‚ĶTuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”

Instead of squeezing your time each day in solving issues on all departments, having themed days is focus-driven hence more productive results.

I just recently implemented Mondays in operations, Tuesdays in sales and Fridays in team coaching and culture. The rest would be client meetings as we don’t have the luxury yet of me being full time in the back office. I still need to support our sales and delivery team in the field.

So to answer the question in the title, yes innovation can be systematized. It’s a matter of building & setting the right parameters (time & resource) to keep your clock ticking.

The Best Way to Tackle Difficult Customers or Difficult People in General

I think here’s the best way to tackle demanding customers or difficult people in general.

When it comes to customer service or dealing with angry customers or people, I always remember my friend’s story who, at the time, was working for a retail telco. He shared that the customer slammed the phone on the floor in front of him. That, to me, is the ultimate difficult customer to handle.

If you put things into perspective, high self-esteem is what you need if you are pursuing a service business or this line of work. That’s the primary key. Because if you have high self-esteem, then you can stay calm, you can listen to what the customer says, you don’t take things personally, you don’t argue, but instead, you will have the confidence to provide solutions and offer a compromise.

If you have high self-esteem, then you can always give sincere apologies if you made a mistake and show empathy.

But in any relationship, you should have a threshold. Unreasonable customers or people is the indication to fire your customer or stay out of the relationship eventually. Yes, firing a customer is an option especially if things are unjust. Self-esteem is also self-love. Yes, you care, but you should also care for yourself if things are unfair.

9 Tech Trend Assumptions That We Make That Is Probably Wrong

In light of my fascination with technology and innovation, I’ve been thinking about some assumptions that many of us make that may be wrong or we don’t realize what is really happening in the technology space.

This post is to encourage all of us to innovate and stimulate our thinking about the latest technology trends.

  1. The future of technology is coming. What we don’t realize is that it is here already. We have the AI, VR, AR, DLT, name it. We are already on it, and we just need to think of ways on how to apply it.
  2. Social media makes us happy. Yes if you’re using it properly. Some people are just not mindful that they only use it as a platform to let other people perceive them as happy.
  3. Internet or Cybersecurity is not a big deal. Hackers stole $172B from people in 2017.
  4. If we create an app and place an ad, it will get traction by itself. Before even creating the app, introduce first the change that you want to contribute to your chosen market. Build your MVP and minimum viable audience (MVA), a small tribe of loyal customers first and then do the ads.
  5. Your business does not need an AI strategy. If this is your assumption, then expect that you will go out of business in 10-20 years.
  6. Innovation is always just about the latest technologies. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, the touch screen technology has been existing for quite a while already. He was able to disrupt the market by using an existing technology.
  7. Innovation is only for geniuses. Anybody can innovate. If you’re an employee, you can always find ways to improve your productivity by using new tools and technologies. There’s a lot of productivity tools out there such as Asana, Trello or JIRA. If you’re a developer, research and introduce coding practices like automated-tests, continuous integration and new ways to build and debug, if successful, then you can always share with your colleagues or even the management.
  8. That Blockchain and distributed ledgers (DLT) are the same things. If bitcoin or cryptocurrencies are the by-products of the blockchain, DLT is the mother concept of the blockchain. There several other implementations of DLT such as blockDAG and TDAG. Each has distinct characteristics that affect security and performance. If you choose to innovate on this space, then carefully study each option.
  9. That Blockchain is unhackable. Yes, it is, specially colluded attacks. Again, find the right balance in your implementation.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to build something, define your mission first more than profits. Choose your target audience. Analyze their challenges and white space. Then solve them through the latest technology that is applicable to solve the problem. You don’t need to study deeply on a particular subject if you don’t need it.

In any case, the awareness of the above can help you apply the technology rightly and may give you a proper perspective of the future.

How Integrity Helps You in Creative Decision Making

Integrity came from the Latin word Integritas or Integer in English. As you know, an integer is a whole number and cannot have decimals or fractions. In life, a person with integrity is incorruptible and 100% in terms of doing the right thing. It does not mean that the person will not make a mistake. It only says the person is doing what he or she thinks is right.

I’ve been an advocate of integrity for a long time already. I have a Chinese symbol tattoo on my back and one of the core values defined in Hilsoft’s core values.

In business or any workplace, you’ll be faced with a lot of scenarios that will challenge your integrity. There’s always a question of what is the best action for a particular problem. The first thing that we do is to reason with it and use our logic. If it couldn’t be explained through logic, then we follow our gut feel and intuition. But if integrity is within your core values, then that I think is the last filter to tell yourself if you’re making a sound decision or not.

I always hear from NBA coaches to play the game the right way. And most of the champions play the right way. What stuck to my mind is the 2004 Detroit Pistons led by coach Larry Brown and with no superstar player. They played the right way by passing the ball, selflessness and team chemistry and they were able to defeat the LA Lakers with an all-star team such as Shaq, Kobe, Karl, and Gary.

This example above gives integrity a strong argument, and that’s what I firmly believe. Would you choose positivity over negativity? Half full or half empty? I will never choose negative because positivity always wins. Cynical people may win in the short term, but in the long run, positive people or positive culture still prevails and wins.

So what are the practical ways to demonstrate integrity?

  1. Keep your commitments. Don’t say yes if you want to say no. If you say you will give feedback tomorrow, then provide feedback tomorrow.
  2. Let go of your ego. Sometimes our judgment is clouded because of ego. There came a time at Hilsoft where I had to let go of my perks and allow our finance team to controls my expenses. It’s my job to be a model for my team and let go of the ego when the finance team controls my costs. I also know that I am responsible for the survival of the company, our customers, employees, and our shareholders. They should all come first before me. It was difficult at first but I let the concept of integrity guide me.
  3. Take responsibility and accountability. If you made a mistake, admit it, and correct your errors.
  4. Don’t tolerate problems. People tend to tolerate problems when they see them. They always assume that it will take care of itself. It is not. So we have to resolve every issue that we see. It will never end but at least it doesn’t pile up.
  5. Negotiations should always be a win-win. Sometimes, people are tempted to win a deal without carefully assessing the other party’s benefit. This should apply not only to customers but also with employees and suppliers.

These are just a few examples. The takeaway here is to learn to always be in check on your decisions before making actions. Would you rather win but will bug you in your sleep forever or win with a peace of mind. An integrity-based decision to me is always a peace of mind. If you do this, then you have nothing to hide, and you won’t take criticisms seriously.