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Episode 18 | Career Nation Show with Brian Lillie

“When you’re passionate about getting to the right answer or doing a great job, you’re not there to just get by. You want to approach it with energy and passion. Otherwise, that’s not a life worth living.”

– Brain Lillie, Career Nation Show, Episode 18.

Brian Lillie is a U.S. Air Force veteran; he has been the Chief Product Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Information Officer at leading tech companies like Equinix. He has led Sales Operations, Program Management and IT organizations at Verisign, Silicon Graphics. 

He is an innovative thinker and created a program for the Executive Education program at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, the predecessor of their current best-selling Innovative Technology Leader program.

He is a Board member at two public companies, Lumentum (LITE) and Talend (TLND), one private company (Advocate Insiders), and advises multiple startups and private equity firms.

He is a true mentor and is referred to by many in Silicon Valley as “Coach Lillie”.

In this episode, Brian shares amazing advice around leadership, about Tech, CIO best practices, about philosophy, and of course we will touch upon COVID19 among many other things.

Career Nation Show:

Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Career Nation Show. Today we are so lucky to have Brian Lillie on the Career Nation Show. Brian is a phenomenal Silicon Valley leader. In fact, the list is so long that I’m going to have to read my notes. So give me a moment here. Brian started off, he was an officer with the US Air Force. He has been the chief product officer, chief customer officer, and chief information officer at leading tech companies like Equinix. He has led sales operations, program management and IT organization at VeriSign Silicon Graphics and many other companies. You know, Brian is also an innovative thinker. He created a program for executive education program at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, which is the predecessor of the current bestselling innovative technology in theater program. Brian is also a board member at two public companies – Lumentum and Talent. Also board member at one private company, Advocate Insiders, and he advises multiple startups and private equity firms. Brian is a true mentor and is referred to by many in Silicon Valley as Coach Lillie. We will talk about leadership, about tech, about philosophy and of course we’ll touch upon COVID 19 among many other things. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Lillie:

Thanks, Abhijeet. It’s it’s my honor to be here and appreciate that long and beautiful introduction.

Career Nation Show:

Oh, absolutely. We’re so grateful to you to accepting this and actually taking time out of your schedule. You know, I want to dive into sort of your life story and, I got a chance to read your article, Lessons From the Camino and, in that article you talk about contrasting sort of the first half of your life and the second half of the life. And I personally found that very sort of deeply moving, very philosophical. Can you share a little bit, sort of the backstory about that and how it relates to your personal story, around those concepts of sort of the first half and the second half?

Brian Lillie:

Sure. Thanks for, for again, for having me here and, and for actually reading some of the things that I’ve written. I appreciate that. You know, they come from the heart and I think it’s because I feel fortunate, blessed, grateful to be where I’m at today. And, you know, it didn’t start out that way. I think like many of your listeners and people, everybody has a story. Everybody has an authentic story about themselves. And you know, in mine, you know, I really didn’t start out as Brian Lillie. I started out as Brian O’Connell. And my father died when I was nine and, and my mom remarried a couple of times, so I was Brian Anderson and then Brian Lillie. So I’ve had, you know, again, part of my story. And then my mother passed away when I was 19. And I remember I went into the Air Force, you know, because I wanted to make a name for myself.

Brian Lillie:

This whole first half of life is about, it’s sort of creating success or what you think is success. And so I, you know, when in the Air Force, they paid for my college, my undergraduate degree, so I’ll always be grateful for that. I went in and I served my country for about eight and a half years. Got out as a captain, I was Captain Lillie when I left the Air Force. And I went to Silicon Graphics and, you know, in the Air Force I was in satellite operations, command and control and technology. And then, you know, just leverage that background into IT at Silicon Graphics and then into the career that I ended up having. And so I get to this point now where in 2019 last year, you know, and I wrote about this is I just said, you know, what is, you know, what was I put on earth to do?

Brian Lillie:

And, you can look at this career and say, “Well, you were put on earth to do this career.” And I said, “Well, yeah, that’s one way to look at it.” But there’s this other half, and there’s two books that I strongly recommend. One is a book by David Brooks called The Second Mountain. And, what he talks about is that you go through this first mountain and you’re sort of building your career, you’re building a life. And then sometimes it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I wrote a note to him saying, you know, must it be a fall, but then you get into a valley. And that valley could be, you were fired from a job or there was a divorce or a death in the family or something. Then now you’re down in this valley.

Brian Lillie:

And as you’re coming out of that valley, you’ve had so much time to reflect and to think and to reassess about what am I put here for. And, so he called it The Second Mountain and he describes it as ‘where you’re doing much more maybe for the community or for others’. You know, in fact, he thinks this generation’s big call to action, so to speak, is to rebuild connection. You know, that devices and you know, it could be drugs, it could be whatever has pulled us apart as a community as supposed to coming together. So he thinks it’s connection. And it’s funny, I heard this, I listened to this on a podcast. And then I heard of second book and this second book is called, I have it here cause it’s Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr.

Brian Lillie:

And Richard is a father. Rohr is a Franciscan friar in New Mexico. And he’s talking, it’s really very alternative way, but he’s got a really powerful message and I actually wrote about this and I wrote it down. I wrote it down because I think, I think this is important. He said, “You know, the first half of your life is building your sense of identity, importance and security.” And what he calls the false self or Freud, the ego self, et cetera. It says, “But inevitably you discover often through failure or a significant loss that your conscious self is not all of you but only the acceptable you. And he says, you will find your real purpose and identity at a much deeper level than the positive image you present to the world.” He goes on to say, “If the first half of life is building the ego or the container, the second half of life is finding the contents that that container was meant to hold. What is my education for? What is my self image, my money, my reputation for? What was I born to do?” And it completely hit me like a ton of bricks given where I am in my career, that what was I put here to do? What was I born to do? And so I’ve spent the last year just thinking about that question. And, and so that’s what I mean by it is it’s a deeper introspection about what, what you were put on earth here to do.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, that is so profound. First, thank you for sharing that with us. Thank you for your service. And I really am amazed at sort of how you’ve sort of connected all these dots between your early, early phase of your life, then the business and spirituality. And that’s one of the things that is so endearing about those comments is that, you know, everybody can identify with that and everybody has, as you said, has an authentic story. I love those books that you mentioned. And I’ll make sure that we put those in our show notes so that our listeners can enjoy those as well. I want to pivot a little bit to, sort of the, business of tech and, you know, today where you are, you know, large companies, large enterprise companies want to talk to you, startups want you on their board. And, in addition to your business expertise and tech expertise, and I’ve talked to so many people about you, Brian, there are some patterns that have emerged. And so as I do my homework before interviewing you, I wanted to sort of think about these patterns as specific keywords that I came across. Like ‘energetic’ came up a lot. ‘Generous’, very, it came up very often. ‘Altruistic’, and ‘passionate’, passionate came up a lot. You’re not like, you sort of put yourself completely into something and you’re passionate about it. So, you know, from your early days at the US Air Force and now high-tech executive, you’ve seen your, how have you seen your sort of leadership evolve? I mean, how have you become one of the most sought after as CIO and product leader? How do you see that journey?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, well I’m glad those people said that. That’s, that’s good. I don’t know who you talked to, but I’ll have to, I’ll pay them later. You know, those words are really good and really powerful because, you know, when you, think about leadership, you know, I actually had a coach when I was… you know, right after the Air Force. And the Air Force, it’s kind of interesting. Air Force really teaches you service above self. That’s a, that’s a core principle. They teach you, that leaders, you know, the opposite of micromanagement. Because leaders in the military, all of a sudden you’re put into a new situation, leading a new team in a new mission, whatever. And so you really have to trust your team. And so this notion of, building a capable team underneath or as above really you should be view yourself as underneath.

Brian Lillie:

That’s right. It’s, it’s Servant Leadership. And that is, that is what it’s about. And it started there in the Air Force. And in fact, when I had this coach early in my, in my career, and I don’t think it was an STI, I think it was a very sign. She, she really said, “So what are those core element to who you are?” And she helped to bring them out of, you know, of how I had evolved, you know, from that time in the Air Force to the time at SGI. SGI I recall was really thrown into the fire when we were building what is now the Google Plex that used to be Silicon Graphics’s campus. And you know, I was working with brilliant engineers who didn’t really think much of the IT team, frankly. And, and so had to learn how to collaborate and be humble.

Brian Lillie:

You know, basically I have a leadership principle, Know Thyself and Be Humble, which is, you know, they were the experts. Heck, they were writing networking code, that we’re going into to, cutting edge at the time servers. And so, and so this collaboration, humility, et cetera. And what, what I discovered is, that, you know, they really very much appreciated throughout. When you’re passionate about getting to the right answer, when you’re passionate about doing a great job, you know, you’re not, you’re not there to just get by. I think that’s a life lesson. Like you don’t, you know, you don’t want to live life just getting by. You want to, you want to approach it with energy, you want to approach it with passion. Otherwise, you know, that’s not, that’s not a life worth living, at least from my perspective.

Brian Lillie:

And so, and so I think it’s wrapped around three core leadership principals, core values that I see and have evolved with as a leader. And the first one is, is a sincere care about people. I’m glad people commented on generosity and you know, altruism sometimes to a fault. But, but that care emanates from, I would rather see the good and the possibility and the potential in somebody and do that a hundred times. And yeah, I may be wrong five times, but I was right 95 times. Then take the other side and what are they after? What are they, so this notion of assuming positive intent, sincere care around people, you know, they have families they want to grow and become. So I think seeing that and believing that in my, I mean I believe it in my, in my soul.

Brian Lillie:

I think that’s the first value. The second value is, and I started, it’s funny with this coach I started with, well, I feel I can do anything. And she goes, “Brian, you’re a leader.” And I go, “Okay, I feel I can lead anything.” You know, I just changed dude to lead. She goes, “That’s it.” And so I think that started in the Air Force, but it started with an ability that says, “Look, as a leader, I’m not going to do it at all anyway. It’s the team. It’s the team, the team, the team that’s who’s going to do it.” Now you want to add value as a leader, you want to be able to help. You want to think about, the leadership model of Ken Blanchard, which has different styles of leadership based on where the individual is on that particular task.

Brian Lillie:

You know, do you directive to delegate, you know, coach to support. But at the end of the day it’s the people that are going to accomplish the mission. And so as a leader, I felt like I could lead anything. And I think that led to a mindset, that mindset led to opportunities where my CEO would say, “You know, you’re my utility player. I can, I can make you the chief customer officer, the chief product officer, and you’ll sort it out.” And then I’d say the third core value is, which I think is crucial and it’s important for us as individuals and it’s important for teams and it’s important for companies and even countries, which is people need a North Star. You know, there’s a proverb that says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” And I think that’s incredibly accurate for teams, companies, et cetera is, is you need, you need to know where true North is.

Brian Lillie:

You need to set a North Star, you need to set a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish and by when and you need to go after it. You know, the mission to put a man on the moon. It by the end of the year, he was very, he set a vision, he was very specific, it was time-bound. It was all those things that define something smart. And he did it, with vision in mind. And I think that it’s incredibly powerful. people will over achieve for leaders that do and do that. And so, and so. I you know, as my time evolve from Air Force officer to manager, director, vice president, C-level, blah, blah, blah, board member, it really, that core has stayed consistent, because I think core values are that they’re core, they don’t really change.

Brian Lillie:

Yeah. I love that at so many different levels, Brian. One is that leadership is value based and it’s not just a point in time, it’s continuous. And, the other part that you mentioned, which is it’s not just about setting the vision, but the vision has to be clear. It has to be time bound and all of those things. You know, there’s something you’ve mentioned there, which it kind of, I took interest in that, which is I could lead anything and it’s not common, let me put it that way. It’s not common for someone to be a chief product officer and after some time a chief customer officer and a chief information officer, those are pretty distinct roles. So let me, let me ask you a question in a way that at least the way I think of things. For example, you know, when you think about sort of a startup land or tech land, companies that produce the tech, and I like to call it as the First Mile, right? And then you see sort of the land of the enterprise companies, CIO land where the tech is implemented, it creates business value, right? And your roles and your leadership roles have been sort of at that intersection of business and technology. And how do you see sort of this First Mile v/s Last Mile relationship?

Brian Lillie:

Well, yeah, that’s a good, it’s a good question. But I think I, so first of all to comment on your first statement about it’s uncommon. It is, and in some ways it actually confuses people. I think there’ll be, you know, well are you a CIO or are you a this or are you that? And, it goes back to the core value that I can lead anything. And it’s just in me. So, when they say, I can, and my answer to that is actually I am a leader and if you want me to lead this, this or this, I will lead it. And so, and that is not, it is not usual. So you’re right, cause I’ve gotten that feedback or you know, are you this or are you that?

Career Nation Show:

And frankly, you know, I think that uniqueness, that’s a rarity and that’s something that should be treasured because not everybody can do it. Right. I think that’s, that’s not everybody is a C level athlete is what I’m trying to say.

Brian Lillie:

Well, I, I appreciate that, but I tell you, and this, this goes back to being sort of comfortable in your own skin and confident in your own abilities is there are many that that want to put you in a box. And if they can, then you know, well, you know, it doesn’t compute. I don’t understand that. So I appreciate you saying that and let me tell you, I think that the triangle of those three in particular are more connected than people realize. Here’s why. At the core of it all is empathy. So if you think of a triangle of those three roles. So the first one is the CIO, and let’s, let’s not be the CIO in the company, but although you could, let’s be the CIO target customer. A CIO that’s in the company that’s selling the product to them holds a one on one with them and says, “Hey Sally, how, you know, how’s it going?”

New Speaker:

– “Oh, I’ve got, I’m, my hair’s on fire. I got all of these, you know, I’m fighting fires. I got, you know, this network outage over here, I’ve got an application I gotta deploy over here. We have a new yada, yada, right?” So CIO to CIO, you can have a lot of empathy. You can say, “You know, I feel you, I get it. I’m in a similar situation or I’ve experienced it before or whatever.” So it starts right there with empathy. Now imagine, that they’re not a customer. The CIO could say, “Hey, let me, I would like to sit down the three of us. Let’s grab the product officer. And let’s, and let’s talk about your needs because I think we have a product, in our case it was data centers, networks, et cetera, that might be able to solve some of those issues.”

Brian Lillie:

And in an empathetic conversation, CPO to CIO now, prospect to provider, you can have a really deep and, and, and again, empathetic conversation saying, “Okay, I got that. I think we have a product and an architecture that can help you.” So now let’s say that CIO becomes a customer. Now, the best CIOs in my mind are the best consumers of their company’s product, especially tech CIO. They better be, they better be eating the dog food or drinking the champagne, you know, whatever you want to call it. Right? And, and so they should be able to empathize with the customer going through the customer journey. “Oh, I know what you mean. It took two weeks to get that quo. Oh it took three weeks to get cross connect to Amazon.” You can buy with them. And you can, you can, as the chief customer officer representing the customer back into the firm, you can absolutely carry the flag and the message.

Brian Lillie:

So to me, those three elements are, are linked and, and should be linked and can be linked in a beautiful way. So I always thought my CEO was, was far seeing and, and smart to say, you know, your customer one, Mr.CIO, I actually want you on the front lines as a chief customer officer, I want you feeling their pain, which is the next job. And then, Oh, by the way, when you come back, I want you to be the product officer and I want you to fix some of the product issues that we have to address that pain. And so it was a logical, to me, it was a logical triumvirate of positions.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, that is so cool because the idea that those can be connected hadn’t occurred to me and now it makes complete sense. I love that empathy and the problem solving. Here’s the thing that I think you may have come across and quite frankly, you may have discovered, which is the CIO to CIO empathy conversation. It’s probably one of the most underappreciated marketing tools out there. I mean, what a great way to open up a prospect and say, “Hey, let’s talk have a chat with our peers. Let’s talk about our industry and then get into sort of what’s going on in your world. Let’s understand your problems.” It’s incredible. Maybe, maybe there should be something here. as a lesson and as a, as a hack, quite frankly for many CIOs out there to use these conversations.

Brian Lillie:

I could not agree with you more. I started a program and I learned this from a CIO. I learned this when I was at VeriSign, actually I was the VP of IT. And, and I remember Mark Sunday, Mark Sunday was the CIO of Siebel Siebel systems and he had this thing called the Drum Beat. He had a few practices that I just thought were great that the 60 day drum beat, which was, we’re going to do a deployment every 60 days. And, but that means that your requirements have to be in by this day, the design and development done by this, and then it gets in on the, on the, on the program. If you don’t get this done, you don’t get the drum beat. But don’t worry because 60 days later there’s another drum beat. So, bro, to me, that was brilliant.

Brian Lillie:

The second one that he had that I thought was really great was this Siebel on Siebel program, which was how has Siebel using Siebel to run itself? So what happened was, is I never forgot that. I think he was on the cover of CIO magazine or something. And I had only met him once and it was when we were having issues with Siebel actually. And his CIO, Tom Siebel or CEO had brought him in to the meeting. But he moved over to Oracle and, and I’m happy to say Mark’s a friend of mine now, because I went over, I sent Mark a note and I said, Hey Mark, I love that Siebel on Siebel program. I go, did you do anything here? He goes, yeah, we have, but it’s not got the same length. But he goes, but I brought over somebody and he pointed me to her.

Brian Lillie:

So I go over and I meet with her and she gives me content about the Oracle on Oracle program. I took that idea and I said, look, I think this is what every tech CIO should do. And I created it. I created the Equinix on Equinix program. And I was in more, ABCs, executive briefing centers, et cetera,. Meeting with CEOs and telling them our story. And I had more CIO say literally in the room, say I want that. And then it became, we actually built out of that program the notion of solution architects, which is now about 180 person team at Equinix. It started out with, we hired one. He’s now leading it globally and it’s presales and it’s architecture and it’s aimed at CEOs. So it’s a powerful, powerful notion. And if you’re a CIO in a tech company that’s not doing that, you really, really need to consider putting real resources around that and becoming engineering’s best friend, customer care’s best friend, where when issues are resolved, you may find issues that you can resolve. You may try things out on a dog food network, you may do whatever, but be passionate and, energetic about doing that because it’s only going to make your product better and drive sales. And all of a sudden you move from a back office CIO to a front office CIO, which is a huge jump and, will be a huge jump in your career.

Career Nation Show:

Oh, I love it. And that’s sort of what a modern digital CIO should always be thinking about. and if anybody has any questions, come to @coachlillie, because that’s a value bomb that you just dropped there. And quite frankly, there’s so much value created out of this kind of a program, with very little investment. I mean, you barely need to invest anything on this, right? I love it. And Brian, as we were getting into this conversation, I would love to and make sure our viewers know a little bit more about you personally. So we play a game called favorites and what we do is we ask our guests their favorite things and we asked them why do they like these favorite things? So Brian, are you, are you ready?

Brian Lillie:

This is all G rated, right? Okay, let’s just test it. Okay, good.

Career Nation Show:

That’s right. That’s right. We are a family show here.

Brian Lillie:

Go ahead. Okay.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, what is your favorite app?

Brian Lillie:

My favorite app? I’m just, I’m just, I’m, I’m cheating. Let me just look here because, you know, I view this as a tool. I take thousands and thousands of pictures. I love and I’ve got the little three camera iPhone, you know, the 11Plus. So I love the camera. I use, I go on a lot of walks. I walk eight to 10 miles a day. And, and I love audible and my podcasts. I love Spotify and when I’m not walking, I’m sitting and I can actually read. I like the Athletic cause I’m a sports nut. So if I had to pick one, it would probably be the camera.

Career Nation Show:

Very nice. I love it. Yeah. It’s probably one of the favorite apps in the world as well because so many people are out taking pictures and we’re almost wondering what did we do before they had put camera!

Brian Lillie:

I know. Well, we carried a big contraption around our neck. Right?

Career Nation Show:

That’s right. Brian, next question. What is your favorite quote?

Brian Lillie:

Ooh, Ooh, I have this one. Now I’m a quote guy. Okay. I’m a quote guy. I was reading. Actually, wow, this is a tough one. So my favorite simple quote, very simple, is by AA Milne. Do you know what book I’, talking about?

Career Nation Show:

No.

Brian Lillie:

Winnie the Pooh. And, and here’s, here’s why I love this quote.

Career Nation Show:

Yeah.

Brian Lillie:

Because it’s so simple. Who takes things very simple. And there’s a book called the Tao of Pooh. Which to me should be, should be required reading. And, but the, and it’s because pooh represents Taoism and this, this notion of the uncarved block and just be. So, and here’s, here’s the simple quote: “What day is it?,” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked piglet. “Oh, my favorite day,” said Pooh. I love that quote. I love, I love that quote. “What day is it? My favorite day. It’s today.” But, but if I get, if I get a little more serious, and a little bit longer, I think the one that is super meaningful to me, and maybe we’ll be to your viewers, who are in what, what bill George, the author of True North calls being in a crucible.

Brian Lillie:

It’s the crucible of leadership. There was a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt gave this speech in Paris at the sore bone, on April 23rd, 1910. So 110 years ago, and the speech is called The Citizen in the Republic. And if you haven’t read the speech, I would suggest you read it. It’s 35 pages long. So I’m not going to, that’s not the quote, but the quote is a famous one and it’s, and it’s called The Man in the Arena. And I’m going to read it, but I’m going to try and change it from man to person because men or woman or however you choose to identify, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same. So here it goes.

Brian Lillie:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds? Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who had the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who had the worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know no victory nor defeat.”

Brian Lillie:

That is the man in the arena. To me, the person in the arena, one of the most applicable quotes, to getting in the game and not paying any attention to the detractors on the sideline who are, who are, you know, pointing out how you failed, pointing out the mistakes you made. You know that I have no time for those cold and timid souls who are on the sideline. So my, my message is get in the game, get in the game.

Career Nation Show:

Brilliant. Thank you for connecting us to a quote that means so much to all of us, especially in these times. And shifting gears back to the game, Brian, what’s your favorite book?

Career Nation Show:

I know this is a tough one. I think the bookshelf behind you, it’s full of books. And I know you’re an avid reader, like you read every single day.

Brian Lillie:

I read. Yeah. I mean we have the sh we stand on the shoulders of giants. Right. And those giants have written from, you know, from Plato and Aristotle to you know. Okay. This is okay. So finally this, this is a game. It’s supposed to be fun, Brian. Come on. Not always deep. Okay. I love The Lord of the Rings. I love, the Hobbit, the, the, you know, the, the fellowship of the ring, the two towers, the return of the King, the Silmarillion. So I’m a Hobbit nutcase. So, so that’s probably up there. But I’d say the other book. Soot, it might be, it might be Confessions by Augustine. Which was a story of somebody who kind of walked among us and who had an epiphany. But but it’s written not from the sky looking down, but actually from the road. I’m an existentialist. I love the road and the journey of the road. I mean it’s my Camino. And Augustine to me was the first existentialist, with again, with the faith base. So I’d probably say Confessions, it might be a recency bias, but, Confessions.

Career Nation Show:

Love it. And we’ll put the books down in the notes so that other folks can also enjoy them. And, next question, Brian, is what’s your favorite food?

Brian Lillie:

Okay, that’s easy. You can’t see me because I’m below, but I like, I, I enjoy eating. I enjoy, I enjoy Chole Batura, I enjoy Butter Chicken. So Indian food. Indian food is pretty high. I love Chinese food. My mother-in-law’s Italian, but I, I wouldn’t, I, but you know what? Above all of that, I think Mexican food. I love spicy food and, well, I love Thai food. Dang. Abhijeet, that’s a tough question. Maybe Thai food. Thai.

Career Nation Show:

Okay. Not a clear winner, but…

Brian Lillie:

It’s, it’s the first among equals. Right.

Career Nation Show:

What about music? Brian? What’s your favorite music,

Brian Lillie:

Huh? Boy, that completely depends on mood. Completely. Pretty much completely. Like, if I’m in here in my office, my home office and I’m reading or whatever, I actually prefer a quiet. If I, if I’m just, if I’m doing some work that, that music, you know, it’s not deep concentration work, love listening to guitar, piano music. But, but I’d say probably my favorite group of all time is probably The Eagles, So, you know, but I mean, I enjoy eighties rock and, I love John Mayer. I even like, you know what, if you asked me what my favorite song is, it’s probably because it had such a deep connection because there were times on the Camino in Spain where I was listening to music and there’s a song, it’s a piano song and it’s called If You Believe, and it, it, it just struck me at the time that do I believe, I mean, it just, I don’t know. But If You Believe is a beautiful song, piano song by Jim Brinkman, it is incredibly inspiring and emotional. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

Career Nation Show:

I will, I haven’t listened to it yet and that will be going on my list very, very soon. Brian, thank you for playing the game with us and for being such a great sport. You know, one of the topics that sort of, implicitly came up as we were playing the game was this situation about around COVID 19. And, it’s sort of changing day by day, even hour by hour in some respects. And you’ve been talking about this situation to many of the companies that you’re, you know, you’re coaching. Where, or how do you see the current situation and what are some of the sort of challenges/opportunities that are coming out of this?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a regular, it’s a regular conversation on the boards, at the board level. Pretty much we’ve accelerated having meetings we’ve met much, much more frequently because, you know, there’s a technique that, I learned in the Air Force that I think is useful for everybody. And, and it certainly come to fruition in how we’re dealing with COVID. It’s called the OODA Loop

Brian Lillie:

And what the OODA Loop is, and I forget the author’s name. You can, you can Google it and look it up. O, O, D, A. In the service when you’re in a, you know, they call it Von Clausewitz called it the fog of war. You know, the minute you engage the enemy sort of all bets are off. Typically the plan goes awry. There’s some sort of friction that you didn’t plan for whatever. And so what the OODA Loop is, is it observe, orient, decide, and act. And then you’re back to observe. And, and so if you think about this in management or leadership terms, that’s what a board is doing. They’re, you know, every quarter or whatever the periodic nature of the meeting is, they’re observing, they’re helping to orient or reorient the company, making some decisions, and then the company is acting.

Brian Lillie:

Then at the next meeting you’re observing, orienting, deciding, acting. The OODA Loop is a great leadership tool, management tool, for assessing, in a changing environment where you are. So imagine tightening you to loop every week. And that’s sort of where we’ve been in COVID is tight and we’ve in one company, I’m on the board of, we shrunk the OODA Loop, ie, the meeting cycle to every Friday. Every Friday we’re doing an OODA Loop. Anybody gets sick, where are we at with openings and closures? How are we at country by country, right? You’re observing, you’re orienting, you’re deciding and you’re acting. And if you do that on a more frequent basis, you’re shrinking your OODA Loop. Really, really, really important. In fact, in OODA Loop, you could argue is in a tactical mission is happening minute by minute.

Brian Lillie:

So, so the OODA Loop can shrink or expand based on the timescale of the problem or the situation you’re in. And, and so in COVID this tightening, you know, when you see the issues, I mean, everybody talks about the issues. Issues are clear, right? How do you, you know, how do you keep the health and safety of your employees? First and foremost, how do you support your customers? What about your customers that can no longer pay? What do you do, what do you do for, preserving capital so that you can survive? How do you manage through investor expectations? I mean, the list of issues go on and on. I think the opportunities are if you survive, but the thing is, is you can’t survive alone. And that’s, I think is really an important fact that some people are forgetting is like, “Yeah, I survived.”

Brian Lillie:

Yeah. But if you don’t have customers to sell to or suppliers to buying from, you know, what’s the point? So we’re, we really have to think about this collectively. And when I think of the opportunities, you know, the opportunities are, you know, the world’s going to change. It’s, and it’s not, has changed and it’s not going to go back. You know, when you think about Twitter announcing just the other day that you can work for home forever. Well, you can work from home forever. Think about that statement. And that’s kind of a, as Aaron Levy set of box, he says that’s a bellwether for the tech, the tech world. So I think there’s tele, you know, remote working, whatever you want to call it, it’s here to stay and will grow. I think the repercussions on real estate, commercial real estate is commercial real estate in maybe in cities are going to become less valuable because people are going to move and live where they want to live, especially talent and, and work remotely. So it’s going to, I think there’s, there’s opportunities in any sort of solutioning around making remote working even smoother than it’s gotten with things like Zoom and whatnot. I think telemedicine, telehealth, it’s going to grow. I think, AR and VR, it’s going to grow because if I can’t be there, how do I make this experience even more immersive?

Career Nation Show:

Maybe a hologram would do the trick. Yeah.

Brian Lillie:

You know, what, beam me up, Scotty. I think it’s, you know, I think it’s, I think it’s coming. Anything relating to 5G, telecom optics. That’s why I really love Lumentum and this place it’s playing, which is building all the optics for a lot of these carrier networks and network equipment manufacturers. So, I do think there’s a ton of opportunities, but I just won’t leave the point that says we gotta do this together. We gotta help each other. And that’s why one, one article I wrote was the, the choice we can all make the antidote we can all administer in COVID is empathy. It’s we can all, choose that path. And so empathy helping one another, you know, having courage and being kind as Cinderella said, have courage and be kind. I think is what we need to be in this, in this, in the world today.

Career Nation Show:

Yeah. Brian, you dropped a bunch of value bombs there. That OODA Loop. I love that concept because it can be applied to so many different things professionally, at a company level, team level personally as well. I love that. And I’m going to personally steal that and I hope that other viewers steal that as well. The other parts that you mentioned about those opportunities in the COVID situation. You know, every company has their own context, right? They have the context of their own ecosystem, their industry that they’re playing in and all that. And finding opportunities is challenging in this environment. But I agree. I think there’s, even though that yes, there are issues, there are new opportunities that open up and we got to quickly figure and do the OODA Loop and figure out where to we, how do we pivot and take advantage of advantage of some of those opportunities. You know, speaking of sort of pivot and opportunities, When you, when you teach your Stanford class, you’ve mentioned this concept of True North, right? And so when, especially in sort of a COVID environment, it gives people some downtime. People are not commuting anymore, especially in the Bay Area like people have two hour commutes. Can you imagine that? Like now people are sitting at home, they cannot imagine a two hour commute anymore. Given this time that we have a little bit, how can, how can I go about finding my True North? And, is there, is there a tool, is there some concept that I can apply there?

Brian Lillie:

Yes, there is actually, there really is. And I actually have this on my shelf. There’s a book called True North by Bill George. So Bill, I love this book and I use it. It says, discover your authentic leadership is what it says. And the reason why I love this book is it’s very, very, pragmatic. I love the combination of inspirational and pragmatism, inspiration and pragmatism. And the thing that I like about this, and I’ll, I’ll find a, a picture, but it says that leadership is a journey and it’s got a compass here. And what the compass says is, is your true North is your purpose for leadership. It’s your purpose. Okay. And it starts in the core with self-awareness in the very center of the compass is self awareness. And that self awareness is values and principles. This is why I took the time to sit down and write my values and principles. Like what do you believe in? What are your triggers? What do you care so much about that you won’t sacrifice? And so finding this, your True North, finding your motivations, building a support team, somehow creating an integrated life. That’s what he talks about in this book. And at the end of each book or I mean, I’m sorry, in each chapter he’s got a set of questions. And so to me it’s, I use this as a way, it’s, it’s, it was a way to just to do self exploration and to write down what’s really, really meaningful for you.

Brian Lillie:

There’s ways, there’s a guy every Friday, I signed up for his newsletter. His name is Robert Glazer, G, L, A, Z, E R and Robert Glazer, is a, I think he’s a CEO of his own little company. But he talks about, you know, he walks through, he’s got a thing called your whole whole, sort of your whole life dimensionality is, is picking these out of a set of values. What are your top ones and then walking you through it. Steven Covey had a process. One of my favorite podcasts is and please, I didn’t make up the name and the name is sort of silly, so just give me a little bit of license here, but it’s called The Art of Manliness. It’s downloaded millions of times a month.

Brian Lillie:

It’s a brilliant, it’s where I first heard about some of these books that I’ve referenced because he interviews authors and then those authors explain and then they reference and it’s sort of this DoubleClick HyperClick. And, and they have, when I was looking to write a family mission statement, with my family, I scoured the web to find the best way to do that. And The Art of Manliness, you Google Art of Manliness’s family mission statement, it’s brilliant. It teaches you, here’s the family meeting to have, here’s the questions to ask. You know, it’s a meaningful, purposeful pursuit that, which is really the answer to your question. If you really want to know your True North, it’s as meaningful a pursuit as going to work every day. You have to work at it. You have to, you know, look at the resources, you have to try things on you.

Brian Lillie:

It’s, it’s not just gonna fall into your lap. You know, I had to answer this question. I had to answer this question because I’m in this coaching class at UC Davis and to be a professional and a life coach. I don’t even know if I want to do that. But I do know it’ll make me a better person. And they asked me this question, answer this question Brian, “Who am I?” Holy crap, that is not an easy question to answer. And then, you know what the second question was, “What have I chosen to stand for?” That’s, that’s meaningful stuff. And the third question, “What am I here to contribute to the world?” Those, those are incredibly meaningful, powerful, difficult questions. And you know, cause if you say, who am I, well I could instantly say, Oh, I’m an exec and blah, but that, no, that’s what I do. Who am I?

Brian Lillie:

I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m an uncle, I’m a friend. You know, again, those are rules. Is that who I am or am I, you know, and so these are just, these are difficult questions to answer. And I think that this pursuit is, is lifelong, meaningful, enriching, and critically important for us to put down Instagram for five minutes and actually think about these questions.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. It’s profound. It talks about, connect so many different things. I love that concept of, you know, a sort of a family, getting the family together. Because I think yes, as individuals we’ll be contributing back to the society will be contributing meaningfully. But as a family, what’s our plan to do that? I love that concept. And finding a True North is probably an ongoing journey because we evolve as human beings. And we go through different experiences and we have to evolve our own definitions of who am I and what am I here to contribute. And I love those questions. It’s a lot of, real soul searching, which is healthy and necessary. And quite frankly, it’s a rare. I mean, in today’s world, given everybody’s, you know, and on their devices, almost 24/7…

Brian Lillie:

And the time, the time demands and you know, it’s harder than ever. But, but I would argue though that, that you can make the time and find the time and even if it’s meditating or if it’s walking and thinking. You know, I just, I love how I think it was Shakespeare that said to thine own self be true and, and to, to be able to do that, you have to know yourself. And so I think it starts at self-awareness. It’s in the core. And, I’m not there, don’t get me wrong, I’m not, I’m not anywhere near there, but I’m, but I’m at least on the journey. I’m in, in that pursuit.

Career Nation Show:

I think we all are. And I think that, getting on that journey is important. And then of course, we can all crawl, walk, run on that journey. Brian, I wanted to ask you a question, sort of in the, we go from sort of the finding the True North and sort of the finding your like figuring out what your values are and what you stand for to sort of in the heat of the battle, into work. And when we talk about work, it’s like, I want to get some of sort of the Brian’s secret sauce. Like how do you work? How do you approach certain things? For example, if you have a big customer meeting coming up or a big product launch, what would you do? Like, give us some of that secret sauce. What are some of the things you think through? What are your techniques? How do you work with your team? Give us some of that.

Brian Lillie:

Well, you know, I think so that’s a really big question. I would say that several things that all share, probably very few of them are original. They, they, you know, the best of us, I think, learn from the best of us. And sort of integrated into our own thing. The loop was created long before. You know, it just, just was there that I learned. You know, some of the things I learned from my CEOs, you know, one of them I learned is, you know, that that show up now in my leadership principles are you know, that listening is seeing, I remember Stratton Sclavos who was the CEO of Verisign, used to say that ‘listening is seeing’, and I never, I’m like, what? But I, it’s, it’s core to me now is that, you know, my, I realized that what he was really saying was what my mom said, which was, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, Brian.” You know, listening is, is you need to listen more and talk less. you know, the, the notion of paying it forward, I think this is critical.

Brian Lillie:

You know, I did a computer world or computer online, I don’t remember. It was when I was in Australia. And I got interviewed there and they wanted to interview me about people and they quoted me as saying, I said, ‘anybody who wants to be a CIO, everybody who works for me ultimately will be a CIO if they want to be’. And so this notion of pay it forward, it wasn’t, I wasn’t bragging, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, you know, doing anything other than that’s how much I want to invest time and energy and effort into, into growing people. And I look at it and I think I look around the Valley, the CIO of Aquonics Milind Vaguely worked for me for years. The CIO at Service Now, Chris Beatty, worked for me. The CIO at ancestry.com Shriram Thiagarajan worked for me. The head of Technology and Trust at Next Door, Craig Lisowski was in my team. There’s a couple of vice presidents at Equinix that will CEO’s once, you know, Amar, LR Bati and Greg Vogel, Roche Dawes, these, these people, and others are all, you know, a result of us all working so hard together and paying it forward. And so, you know, so that’s why I think when it’s, you know, you asked me before about startups and advising and all that, to me, that’s all a part of paying it forward because these startups create jobs and jobs, painful for families and, and that’s just sort of a part of my core.

Brian Lillie:

So, so I think part of the secret sauce is, is knowing who you are and knowing what you value and what your principles are and then trying doesn’t mean it always happens, probably every day. You know, I have, one of the things I learned from Colin Powell, I was in the service in Colin Powell actually went on this…friends call and we were all on the other end and he was thanking us for, you know, helping world war. Because of the mission doing, you he said something and it’s in his leadership principles, it says perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. So this notion of being optimistic. I remember at Equinix when we were in deep do to, on a project, a big, huge program that we needed to take over from NSI. And I looked in the eyes of my team, and they, they were never afraid, but in this they were afraid.

Brian Lillie:

And I realized that in that moment I needed to be the leader with confidence, and optimism. And so I think, you know, you have to know your people, know your situation know. What leadership style or leadership approach is exactly what’s needed in that moment. Sometimes you need to be that hardcore confident leader. Sometimes. Other times you’re, you know, you’ve got a, you know, you’re, you’re in run mode or, or you’ve got a highly skilled team at a certain level and you let them run. So I think you know number one, is knowing your principles, knowing who you are and, and living that way every day. I think, I think the only other specific I would give you is something that I think applied across so many situations. I’m the acting CIO for the, it’s, it’s volunteer work for the San Jose diocese of the church.

Brian Lillie:

And, they’re trying to put in systems to get better visibility into financials of parishes in church and in schools and all that. And so I’m helping them with this. And I used it there. I’ve used it in org design, I’ve used it in on boards and, and I call it the recipe. And the recipe is very simple, which is I think what makes it useful and powerful. So the recipe is this, it’s a five step process. Let’s say you’re trying to think about an orange design or let’s say you’re trying to rethink your IT architecture or whatever it is. It literally is just flexible. And what, what you do is, is the first thing you do, did you write down the current state. So step one is what is the current state? So again, if it’s an organization you just write down, here’s the org boxes, here’s what they do.

Brian Lillie:

There’s absolutely zero judgment. You’re not commenting on how good it is or bad it is that a, that’s kind of come. So the first one is just write down documenting what is. The second step is putting down what are the issues with that current state. What are the challenges with it? What are the, what are the, what is the thing that’s making you think about changing it? Now you’re judging it. You also want to put what are some of the opportunities that you’re missing. They’re not, they’re not issues. There are more opportunities that you want to tackle. Okay. Step three, write down and it’s first brainstorm cause you’re brainstorming this proposed future state. What could that be? What could it look like? What are the possibilities and then… You’re, you’re, you’re imagining that future state. The fourth step is a step that often gets skipped.

Brian Lillie:

Everybody loves to do the third state, which is okay, you landed on a proposed future state. How did it address those issues and take and, and help you accomplish the opportunities that you identified in step two. That mapping is critical because, and I’ll tell you from personal experience, when I became the chief product officer, the first thing I had to do with putting together a product management team and a product engineering team. And I brought them all in the room and 18 direct reports I think at the time. And I said, okay, it’s time to rethink this organization. I went through the recipe when we were identifying the issues, you know they did yellow stickies on the board and we clubbed them together and we came up with a list of things and you know the deck is filling out nicely. Okay, I’m very clear. And then we sort of started to brainstorm future state, well everybody loved option three. So I said, okay, let’s do it up there. It and addressed about 40% of the issues that we identified. I’m like, well what about reporting analytics? Well, what about documentation for product? Well, what about, what about, what about, and there was, it was just a bunch of gaps. So it’s super important to do step four and make sure that the future state you propose and envision actually is addressing it. Otherwise you’re just swapping one set of problems for the other. That’s right. Yep. And then step five is what is the roadmap to get there? What are the resources, people, money, time, you know, what is your Org chart look like? How are we going to get from current to future? I’m telling you that methodology can be used for Org designed, it can be used for architecture. it could be used for any sort of situation. And, and I’ve used it over and over and over again. So I think that’s, that’s the one I’ll leave you with.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. Figure out and identify all the current state items, look at what are the issues and look at the opportunities. Create a future state, and then make sure step four is important, which is make sure that future state does not have any gaps, that it addresses the issues. And then the important part is how do we get there? What’s the execution plan? What’s the roadmap for us to get there? I love it. It’s simple, it’s logical.

Brian Lillie:

It’s simple, it’s simple, logical, pragmatic and effective.

Career Nation Show:

Fantastic. Brian, you have been so, so gracious in spending the time with us. And as we wrap up the show here, any additional advice that you can give to Career Nation? As you know, we are, you know, folks that are living primarily in U S metros. We were either in tech or working with tech. So, you know, what can you, what can you leave us with today?

Brian Lillie:

Well, I think, I think I would say live with intention. You know, be consciously competent. You know, there’s, there’s people that I think sometimes we can have the potential to sleepwalk from life. You know, don’t do that. Be intentional. And there’s there’s you know, the late plate Christiansen. He, he wrote an article, many obviously many articles, But you know, he said, he said, here, here’s what he wrote that thought was so powerful.

Brian Lillie:

He said, “After 25 years studying innovation, here is what I have learned.” And you can Google this and find it. He stated that “Your decisions about where and how you allocate your precious resources, your time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.” And that I didn’t reading that article, reading that quote was what helped launched me on my year of exploration this past year. It was what do I want my life strategy to be? And so I think I would leave you all with that. I would say, you know, you got one life to live. What do you want it to be? What do you want it to look like? How do you want to live it and you know, you can choose. So I think I’ll leave you with that.

Career Nation Show:

I love it. So meaningful, profound and deep. Like most of our conversation today, Brian, this is absolutely a treasure. You’ve dropped so many value bombs here. As we leave here, you know, our audience might likely have questions for you. How can someone get in touch with you? How can someone follow you? LinkedIn, Twitter?

Brian Lillie:

Yeah, I would be happy to… You know, I’ve thought about, maybe I’ll talk to you about this Abhijeet, about, you know, I’ve thought about sort of, you know, Breakfast with Brian or some sort of forum where we could get together and talk about these things. And I mean, I write a lot on LinkedIn, probably not as much as I could. My Twitter, I try to do it and I love like tiny Buddha. By the way, that’s one of my favorite. You talk about valuable, little life moments. I would say probably Twitter, is second to LinkedIn. I would say probably LinkedIn would be the best. And if people want to link in and just reference that we, you know, that they’re a member of the Career Nation. I’d be happy to connect with them and talk, I’ll do my best. It’s hard to do one-to-one with everybody, but I’d be, I’d be happy to connect and help people where I can. It’s a part of the pay it forward.

Career Nation Show:

Brian, we are so lucky to hear from you. Thank you so much for your time. You’ve been so generous and for anybody wanting to connect with Brian on Twitter or LinkedIn, we’ll have the details below in the show notes. Brian, thank you. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope to connect with you again in the future.

New Speaker:

Thanks, Abhijeet Thanks everybody. Have a wonderful, wonderful day.