Silicon Valley sadly lost a respected and revered leader with the death of Andy Grove in March. The co-founder and former CEO of Intel was an inspiration to generations of technologists and business leaders, including me.
Andy had a profound influence on me throughout my career. And while I only met him once, I feel as though I’ve lost a friend and mentor.
When faced with difficult business situations, many times I have asked myself, “What would Andy do?” And most of the time, the answer would appear from applying the disciplined and analytical thought processes that Andy advocated.
I met Andy in 1997 at the Intel worldwide sales conference. Back then, I was working for a small Danish company that was being acquired by Intel. After his keynote, Andy came directly down to our table and asked us what we thought. One of the executives sitting at the table said something flattering and, frankly, vacuous. He then turned to me, and I bluntly pointed out what I thought was an important point he’d missed in his speech. Andy fixed his clear, blue eyes on me for an uncomfortably long moment, and I thought I had ended my career at Intel before it had even begun. But, then, I saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes and knew that he appreciated being told the truth, straight, and had no time for fluff.
That short interaction with Andy has stayed with me over the years, and so has his first management book, High Output Management. In fact, I like it so much that I’ve given out tens of copies to high-potential managers in my organizations. It's still very relevant today.
I’d like to share the most important lessons I’ve learned from Andy:
- Constructive confrontation.The essence of constructive confrontation is about getting the best results through productive dialogs, even in the face of deep disagreement. In other words, fight for what you believe in with respect, passion and intellectual honesty. And when it’s all said and done, be prepared to disagree and commit.
- Outside-in thinking.Business leaders make bad decisions when they get caught up in the inertia of the status quo and the internal company reality. This lesson comes from the classic Intel story from the mid-1980s, when Andy Grove and then-CEO Gordon Moore were struggling to decide how to save the company. Andy famously asked, “If we both got fired and new management came in, what would they do?” The answer was, they would get out of memory chips and focus on microprocessors. That’s exactly what they did, and the decision led to one of the greatest corporate turnarounds ever. Being able to mentally step outside your company and view it dispassionately is vital for making good decisions, doing the right things and staying true to your objectives.
- Good KPIs vs. Bad KPIs. How your performance indicators are designed and implemented can change culture, processes and outcomes -- for better and for worse. I have used the concept of leading indicators for almost 20 years -- and not just for making breakfast!
- Intent-based organizationaldesign. Businesses oscillate between two main corporate structures: centralized and distributed. Each structure has merits. The important lesson here is that the correct organizational design for your company or business unit depends on the market environment and your business objectives.
- Core drilling. Just like with a soil test, Andy was able to sample all the levels of his company and knew the most finite details of his organization, all without micromanaging. This technique allows you to stay in touch with what’s really going on in your organization, and I’ve been able to use it effectively in the businesses I’ve managed.
- Only the paranoid survive. These are words to live by in business, and they became thetitle of Andy’s second management book in 1999. You have to respect your competitors, big or small, and should always be looking over your shoulder at what they’re doing. Also, you need to look constantly for disruptions and nonlinearity in your market. For me, it also means not succumbing to the not-invented-here syndrome and always having a healthy dose of humility, especially when everything seems fine.
A lifelong learner and teacher, Andy was an inspiration to people not just in Silicon Valley but everywhere, and from any walk of life. He will be missed. But his legacy lives on in all the people like me whom he has taught about technology, business and life.