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December 2022 Menlo Bits


Wishing You Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

COO James Goebel (left) & CEO Richard Sheridan (right)
2022 is coming to a close and we want to wish each and every one of you a heartfelt Happy Holidays -- especially you, Arnoud! May the year 2023 be full of joy and treat you kindly. Thinking back on the last 12 months, as well as everything that's happened since the pandemic started, there's certainly a lot that we're thankful for here at Menlo. To round out the year, CEO Richard Sheridan shares his thoughts on Menlo's recent journeys below:

"As we approach the holidays and reflect on 2022, I am filled with gratitude. The last three years have been such a wild ride for Menlo and the world. From our best year ever in 2019, to the business plunge of 2020, to back to our even better best year ever this year, it has been a wild ride. As we wrap up 2022, we find ourselves in a new location with beautiful windows looking out on lovely downtown Ann Arbor. Much of the team is back in the office and we are again experiencing the hum and human energy that comes from working together in our collaborative space. We have enjoyed our thousands of virtual visitors since 2020 and are embracing once again our in-person classes and tours.

We were forever changed by the adaptations required, but we remain the same joyful Menlo Innovations."

- Rich

Follow(er's) the Leader
Following is an underrated form of leadership

Whenever a new movement or system succeeds, the person who starts it often gets all the credit. And while it's true they play a key role, this undervalues the crucial leadership role of the so-called "first follower".

In his 3-minute TED talk, Derek Sivers addresses this by sharing commentary on a video starring a so-called "lone nut" who is dancing alone on a populated hill. When another person joins his random dancing, Sivers asserts that the lone nut transforms into a leader and a movement is born! By joining the person who's dancing alone, the first follower takes a risk and becomes a leader in his own right, particularly as new followers will emulate his behavior to learn how to be followers. Soon, almost everyone is dancing!

There's a few lessons to take away from this video:

1.) If you're the leader of a movement, remember to embrace your first followers as equals! Your movement is about you (plural), not you (singular)!

2.) If you really care about a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. Especially if (metaphorically speaking) there's a lone nut you believe in that's dancing alone.

Here at Menlo, we encourage our team members to run experiments of all kinds. This means that at any given moment there's probably several lone nuts somewhere in the building, as well as several opportunities to become a first follower.  This video is a great reminder that both of these roles require leadership, and that experiments can only succeed with both!
Watch the full 3-minute TED Talk by clicking here!

The Term's Over: It's Report Card Time
Why traditional performance reviews aren't the best way to give feedback

As the year comes to a close, many of our favorite things come out to play again: cozy sweaters, mall Santas, holiday lights, and... well, maybe one not-so-favorite thing: the annual performance review.

If your response to that thought is either dread or a groan, you're not alone. As it turns out, HR surveys have shown that annual performance reviews generally fail to motivate (and often even demotivate) employees, while having the added bonus of being an unpleasant experience for all parties involved. In Philip Chard's article, he highlights that performance reviews are thinly veiled adult versions of a grade school report card, with a given employee and their manager essentially taking on the roles of child and principal respectively. This mental hurdle -- in addition to the feedback being given so much later than the situations it's coming from -- results in a failure to drive performance in employees..

So, if quarterly or annual performance reviews don't work to motivate employees and improve their output, what can? In Chard's article, he offers that the best results have been shown to come from frequent, situation-specific feedback presented in an encouraging manner along with the flow of work. Here at Menlo, regular feedback from everyone you work with is a key tenant of what we do! While we do have a version of a 360 review process to assess level changes (come check out our free Prosperity Panel to see how it works), we've found that constant communication does in fact yield the best results!

Curious about more of Chard's thoughts? Go read the full article!


Holiday Spotlight: The Menlo Cookie Exchange
Our team hires, promotes... and feeds the team!

Ethan and Nehemiah enjoying Cookie Exchange treats :)
'Tis the season! This month, Menlo hosted its traditional cookie exchange. A number of Menlonians brought in homemade cookies and swapped them around with the only rule being to take out no more than you took into the office! After a few holiday seasons without a full office and with social distancing, it was nice to be able to share joy with each other in the form of a sugar rush. Once the big lunchtime swap was complete, there was only one question left to be debated... were Nehemiah's or Emily's Lemon Ricotta cookies the king!?

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Author: Jake Knapp

Recommended by: Stephanie Nagy, Software Developer & High-Tech Anthropologist®

Jake Knapp from Google Ventures has captured a five day process to jump start problem solving that has been used by Lego, Google, Harvard, The New York Times, IDEO, Slack, and thousands of others. During a brainstorming session, an engineer asked Jake, “How do you know brainstorming works?” Jake followed up on the success of earlier brainstorming sessions and discovered that they weren’t as profitable as he had thought. Armed with the notion that his best work came out of having “a big challenge and not quite enough time,” he iterated on a process that ended up becoming a five day Design Sprint.

The Design Sprint can be used on anything from software to physical products, and use tools that are familiar at Menlo: whiteboards, markers, sticky notes, dot stickers, and paper, and tape to stick artifacts to the walls. A charming case study from the book was about Savioke’s Relay Robot valet used to deliver items to hotel guests. Their Sprint focused on exploring how the robot should communicate with guests and if it should have a personality.

After setting up a space, inviting a small team to participate, and blocking off five days of time, the Sprint follows a specific plan for each day.

Monday: Discuss the problem space, invite experts to share information, capture requirements in the form of “How might we…?” notes, then vote on the notes to choose a place to focus.

Tuesday: Everyone uses design tools like crazy 8s (sketch 8 solutions in 8 minutes) and three panel storyboards to sketch solutions for the top voted ideas

Wednesday: Vote on the best ideas and make a hypothesis about the top 1-2; make a storyboard showing workflows that will be used to plan the prototype.

Thursday: Create a realistic prototype using quick tools like Keynote or PowerPoint, the point is to have something realistic enough to get feedback, but not build out a full working prototype.

Friday: Have one team member interview and run the test with representative users while the rest of team watches, review the results at the end of the day, look for patterns, decide how to proceed.

The results of the testing will facilitate a decision about whether to invest more in a solution or to try something else. An efficient failure demonstrates that the hypothesis was not true. That is great information to have before spending months to build out a full prototype or product. The testing might reveal a flawed success, which could lead to another Design Sprint to refine the idea and expand on the parts that worked. Often, Sprints lead to an outright success and verify that an idea is ready to head to production.

I thought Sprint was a fantastic book. It inspires testing ideas quickly in order to get concrete feedback. I think the Design Sprint process can to be a great tool to help decide whether a hypothesis is worth pursuing.

Get a copy for yourself here!

Menlo's "In-Office vs Work-From-Home" Board Experiment
Return-to-office is hard and, like many of you have probably experienced, requires some trial and error. As the Menlo team deals with this transition, we've definitely had to run a number of experiments; one of our current experiments revolves around this large homasote board. On the right side you can see the first iteration of the experiment, which had team members writing their initials on a piece of paper and stacking them by a given day of the week to show whether they'd be work-from-home or in the office. At the top we have strings showing a calculated 60% and 80% in-office attendance. On the left-hand side is the second iteration of our experiment, with defined lines to create even spacing between team members' slips of paper as well as a more dedicated area for those who will be "out" on a given day.

The reason for this experiment is to track two primary metrics:

1.) When do team members plan to be in the office
2.) What portion of our team will be in the office or at home on a given day

In relation to the first point, having team members put their names on the board helps us with seeing who will be reachable in the office on which days and who will be virtual. In relation to the second point, the in office attendance percentage lines help team members figure out which day(s) they can plan to be out of the office, as we don't want everyone to work from home on the same day and leave Menlo empty.

While we're unsure if we'll stick with this method long term or what the the final iteration is going to look like, we're excited to run the experiment! Iteration three is already in the works, with a whiteboard, popsicle sticks, and magnets making their first appearance.

Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.