Our tours of Menlo Innovations' factory floor have now gone virtual. We'll spend 90 minutes together sharing Menlo's history, values, culture and practices - and how we've transitioned to where we are today.


Click here for more information

Take one of our virtual Factory Tours!

Learn More Read More Close

100 Restless Nights and the Return to Joy: Coping with Our Own Swiss Family Robinson Ordeal (Part 2)

August 11, 2020
I can’t say life was “normal” on our little remote island in the middle of nowhere, but there was life. There was food, shelter, and camaraderie. We’d all made it safely here. Clearly, many ships had suffered a similar fate and there was no easy way to ‘rescue and return’ any of us … there were just too many stranded on their own islands as we were. There was no search and rescue, but thankfully there were transport planes dropping large containers of food, supplies, medical equipment, and some books and magazines for entertainment. When ours arrived, there was cheering as we opened the container to find out what was inside. There was plenty for all of us to live on for at least two months. Surely, that would be enough time. We’d all be rescued by then!

After about 100 days I needed a different mental model for the future. My initial thought that this would last a short time and ‘we’d get back to normal’ was starting to look almost silly at this point. Life had changed and we weren’t ever going back to the way things used to be. While we had embraced remote pairing for the last seven years with our clients, and with one of our team members who had moved with his Russian wife to Moscow, it had never been something we’d consider for everyone, all the time. Now my mind was starting to shift. Perhaps our next office move would be into a smaller space, not the larger one we had imagined. Maybe there would be many remote partners every day, not just every now and then. We should consider how our classes and tours could be offered remotely but effectively.

My newly developing mindset brought optimism for the first time in a while. We constructed a sequence that would lead to our rallying cry during this period: Thrive again! To get there would require a series of important steps:

Survive -> Adapt -> Sustain -> Emerge Stronger -> Thrive again!

In late 2019, we had already started a new, energized and consistent effort to increase sales and marketing outreach. We had been reading Chris McChesney’s book, "The Four Disciplines of Execution", and it had dovetailed so nicely with our other daily/weekly cadence and visual management techniques, that it just felt normal and natural to apply this thinking to the overall growth of the business. By late January it was all working really well. Our lead measures were being tracked visually and the team was paying attention to the numbers and the efforts required to hit them. We were beginning to see the sales success we were pursuing. Then, of course, it all came to a dead stop.

Throughout the early pandemic (the first three months), we only paid lip service to the formerly working system. It was indeed turning into a memory of another ‘something’ lost. However, as the reality of how long this would last and how devastating it would be for the business, there became a renewed effort and energy behind it all. Energy bred effort. Effort started a new kind of optimism. We were heavily into the ‘adapt’ phase (from above) and it was starting to feel like sustain was going to be possible. We were running LOTS of new experiments to both land new business, and to be creative with the business we did land. Electronic versions of visual management of lead measures were put together. Consistent and increased effort on relationship-building, outreach to old contacts, and asking for help from our friends. And they responded! It was so gratifying to hear how many people in the world wanted to hear from us, hear how we were doing and really wanted to know we were going to be ok. Many friends offered very direct help. They were thankful we asked and reassured us there was no shame in that directness.

We began to establish assigned chores, daily routines, and sent out some exploratory parties to see what else our new island home had to offer. We rescued a lot of what we needed from the ship and the container provided even more, but it started to become clear it wouldn’t be nearly enough to sustain us until we were rescued. It was also becoming clear that rescue and return may not happen for quite some time. (Could this be our new home forever?) We no longer heard planes delivering containers to other islands. We accepted that we shouldn’t expect a second container. We had to make do with what we had, build off of what we could find and what we could improvise from our new isolated home. It was also clear, from what we could see, that the storm was not abating and may return and rattle our little world.
looking out over an empty beach from a hut
The fear present in the early days gave way to acceptance of our fate. The establishment of predictable routines helped move from acceptance to a feeling of normalcy. We added a weekly all hands gathering to share everything we were learning and experiencing. We were busy enough that we didn’t necessarily see each other every day which was a good thing as it kept boredom and monotony at bay. The families with children struggled in unique ways but they were making it work too. Our island home was starting to feel like home. Temporary structures were giving way to ones that felt (and looked) more permanent and reliable. We also began to create a store of food and goods to see us through. The island and the sea would provide some sustenance, but nothing like we were used to. It may not be enough for all of us if this lasts too long.

Our daily standups weren’t enough, by themselves, to reinforce the sense of strong relationship we had by being all in the same room together every day. Our virtual standups are fun, playful and informative … they feel like Menlo, just not enough, at 15 minutes a day, to keep lines of communication wide open. The team asked to see James and me at least once a week in a more open exchange of information and ideas. This made sense since the casual interactions that happen so easily in the office were now but a faint memory. We added a Thursday ‘Lunch with Rich and James’ where the main topics were whatever was on the team’s mind that week. This is a new ritual and it helps keep us connected and talking. The subjects have often been quite serious … sales and revenue, pending furloughs, #BlackLivesMatter, COVID procedures during rare visits to the office, and general discussions of how we are doing.

But something was still missing and we all knew it.

One of the strongest features of Menlo was established in our earliest days. We would open our doors to the world and teach others what we had learned about creating a great culture to create great software. We specifically decided we were not going to keep anything a trade secret. We were going to export “the Menlo Effect.” We were determined to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology by returning joy to the process and the results that process produced. We knew the problem was so much bigger than us, so we felt we could teach others to help us accomplish our big mission. People would travel from around the world, stay in hotel rooms near our office and visit us for days to take tours and classes. Many returned several times over the years. We set a goal for 2020 to have a record 5,000 people visit us. We made so many good friends through this outreach and found many of our best clients this way.

By December of 2019, tours were slowing down fast as companies were restricting employee travel to “essential” only and a visit to Menlo was not deemed essential. By late January, all current tours and classes emptied and we took them off our calendar. In February, there wasn’t a single outside visitor. We kept classes for June, July and August in place (surely this would be done by then!). We had many sign up in advance. As the pandemic progressed, all classes for 2020 came off the calendar. We weren’t even sure WE would return to the office in 2020, let alone be able to host a visitor safely.

What would we do without this component of our culture? Visitors brought us joy, energy AND business. My sleeplessness went from days to weeks to months. Apparently, I wasn’t alone as “insomnia” was becoming one of the leading Google search terms.

There were difficult decisions ahead, of that I was sure. We would also need more than what we’d found so far on our island home. Our current stash of supplies would not last for the long term. Our ability to adapt would be tested in ways we had never before experienced. I had confidence in our hearty team, but more tangible discoveries would be needed.
Continued in Part 3.
Photo credit: "Zanzibar Hut" by Francesco Pesciarelli is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/