Monthly Archives: November 2006

I have a love/hate relationship with email. On one hand, I like reading email, but on the other, I detest responding to email. Actually, I don’t hate responding to all emails. When I receive emails that are short and succinct, the probability of my replying in a timely manner increases. When I get a long multi-pager… Well, it might be two weeks or more (if ever) before I can summon up the time and energy to respond.

Why is that? Well, today, I read a post entitled “What Abraham Lincoln Taught Me about Email” that went a long way toward explaining this phenomenon. One anecdote in particular caught my eye:

“Your long despatch of yesterday just received,” Lincoln chided General George McClellan about a 10-page telegram sent in May 1863. Then the president required only three additional sentences to reply to the general’s endless essay.

I wonder if Lincoln got away with this because he was the president? Nevertheless, I could learn a few lessons from that. I agree with Lincoln that if something is so important that 10 pages has to be written, it would be better to meet face-to-face instead. In the meantime, if I get a multi-pager email, I will channel Lincoln and reply with brevity!

The other day Chris Sacca of Google proposed that Whole Foods should harness the talents of its workers by giving them more autonomy. The idea is to take advantage of the resulting bottoms-up bubbling of ideas, i.e. The Google Way ™:

At Google, the employees are encouraged to constantly innovate and create new and better products. Small teams are given the resources to experiment with new product ideas and have the freedom to launch new initiatives even at early stages in their development. There is very little centralized planning. Instead, innovation bubbles up from the engineers and product managers themselves as they dream up new ways to solve end-user problems.

That is all well and good, and sounds great in theory. But having had several leadership experiences under my belt, I know managing this process would not be easy. I wonder how this really works in practice? I posted the following comment in reply:

This is what we have all heard about Google as well… But how does it work in practice?

What I mean is, new services from Google are always launched in an orderly fashion. This implies some “culling” of ideas before they are officially launched, and it also implies that some initiatives are NOT launched. If every team truly has the freedom to launch anything, then your service offerings would, it seems to me, be a huge unruly mess.

Where/how does this culling take place? How do you avoid bruised egos from canned initiatives, if everyone is “supposed” to have the freedom to launch anything?

If anybody has an opinion on this, I’m all ears.

As an aside, I met Chris Sacca at Startup School ’05 hosted by Paul Graham, and he is a top-notch speaker. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, go!