Chief Product Officer, Paradox.ai
1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?
I grew up in the rural midwest of the U.S. in the 1980’s. We lived on a gravel road about 6 miles from the nearest paved one. My older brother and I created our own fun climbing trees, playing any sport you could play with two people, and exploring our little world. There were many happy times, but I remember being happiest when we were coming up with games that usually involved driving a lawn tractor and something our parents would disapprove of.
2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?
After my first year of college, I decided I wanted to work at a summer camp for the summer to be outdoors and be a bit carefree. I applied to 10 camps scattered in the U.S. and decided I would just go with whoever called me first. I ended up working at a camp in Wisconsin for that summer and 3 more where I met my wife and many of my best friends. I live in Wisconsin again today, largely because of what was a pretty random decision at the time.
3. What habit or behaviour have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?
I’ve acquired many new habits in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. For someone used to travelling 150 days per year, it has brought on day-to-day routines that have been unexpected. I think the clearest habit has been being home every night to read books to my boys, but also more regular planning of daily work activities and a clearer schedule. I think there are some habits around daily structure that will be good to keep even after the pandemic passes.
4. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?
It’s not meant to be political, as he was president before I was born, but Jimmy Carter is someone who I admire and respect.
His legacy will be of bringing people together, of listening to his conscience even when it is difficult and helping others in need. I love that he flies in coach and continues to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity into his 90’s.
I’m drawn to people that exhibit his type of humility and eschew the stereotypical signs of power, even when they have access to them.
5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the top three things they should know?
1) Positive attitudes conquer problems 2) Use logic, but be aware of the impacts of emotions 3) Don’t complain unless you intend to be part of the solution
6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
I’ve been told that I’m too nice by many people in my career that often associate positions of leadership with being rude or tough. But I’ve long held that it’s very possible to be nice and a very effective leader. I think people mistake conflict as being negative, where disagreements, expectations and disappointments can all be communicated politely without having to be rough with people’s emotions. Really, the same goes with negotiations. It’s possible to get what you want and be nice, too.
7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?
I would say that I regularly feel like an outsider in groups, but also that I don’t particularly mind it. I tend to identify more with outsiders than I do people in power, so I tend to learn and grow more from an outsider position anyway. As I was in graduate school at Marquette University, I worked at a central city neighborhood center that served immigrants and underprivileged youth. I learned a lot about the struggles of people and how to understand perspectives vastly different than mine. It was good to both be an outsider in that group, but also to more deeply understand the perspective of people that often feel outside traditional circles of power.
8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?
I think a lot of our environmental policies and actions today will seem crazy to future generations. I think things like not recycling or burning coal that are options today will become taboo as the world’s populations expand and planetary concern grows.
9. What’s your mobile screensaver? Take a screenshot and attach it to your answer!
These are my boys, ages 9 and 6 at a poppy field in Normandy. They love history, so it was one of the best days for them.
10. Cheese or Chocolate?
Cheese. I currently live in Wisconsin, so it comes with the territory.
11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?
Adam’s pub would have two areas that are distinctly different experiences. First, the main bar area would have no TV’s, great beer and designed around conversations. A great place for co-workers, friends, and families to gather around food and drinks without distractions and have casual conversations.
That said, I also know that many people but bond over games and shared experiences. So, further back in Adam’s pub, would be the game room, a place full o, darts, pool, trivia, TV’s and foosball. I love bonding with people over games and activities, and throwing shade at people is a personal specialty.
Add in a great jukebox and let’s get it built.
12. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?
I think I’d start as a home builder, then I’d found a new and improved HR Tech industry. As the dust cleared, we would all have to get back to basics.
My wife and I spent a year building houses for Habitat for Humanity, so likely some of that knowledge would come in useful in building some things.
But eventually, we’d have to find a way to organize workers with software, so we’d get a chance to start over and make intuitive systems from the start.
I deeply believe that HR tech can be impactful in the world, so might as well get started with it after the zombies are eradicated, too.
13. What’s a skill that isn’t on your resume, but former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?
I often say that I really only have two skills – I’m a good communicator and I learn things faster than other people. Everything else changes with the times. I recall early in my career working in HR when someone in marketing that ran Google Adwords and web analytics left the company, I asked if I could take over that responsibility. I watched every video and read everything I could get my hands on about it and ended up getting 3x better results than the predecessors. No one was there to teach me, it was just having the hunger to learn and absorb information. As I think about the pace of change, it’s been the only thing that keeps me going. Almost all the useful things I know, I didn’t know 5 years ago.
14. What decision makes you say, “What was I thinking??” when you look back on your career?
I have a habit of always having a side project and in the mid 2000’s, I co-owned a semi-popular sports humor blog called Bugs & Cranks. I would write on nights and weekends for fun and got pretty good at it, getting links on popular sites like Sports Illustrated, Deadspin and others quite regularly, while racking up a few million pageviews. But after a while it got to be too much work, so I gave my share back to my co-founder. Many of my co-writers went on to write for massively popular publications and my co-founder eventually sold the site to The USA Today. It was a good example of not seeing the future clearly enough and giving up on an idea too early.
15. Who was the best person you ever hired? Why were they so good?
I’ve had the fortune to hire many great people, so I can’t pick just one. But the lesson I learned from hiring Bill Abshire stands out to me. A colleague of mine hired him out of college to do data entry. The job was dull, but he had a great attitude. I was swamped with work, so I asked my colleague, “if I can automate that data entry, can I train Bill to work with me?” So, I spent a weekend writing scapers to do his work and then I taught him all about supporting and implementing HR software. Over the next 5 years he became incredibly knowledgeable and an absolute rock star. He cemented my belief that you can teach people the skills, but you can’t teach them how to have a great attitude, integrity and work ethic. It’s deeply shaped how I hire.
16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?
Shortly after college, I worked in HR by day and volunteered as a firefighter and EMT at night. A friend got me into firefighting and I didn’t know anything about it, so it was a bit out of my skill set. I learned the skills over time, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I found my niche by finding work to do that others didn’t want to do or was too physical for them.
It was great experience to learn about teamwork, handling pressure and operating in emergencies, but I would be just as lost operating the hoses on a fire truck today as I was that very first day.
I had some great experiences as a firefighter, one of which is knowing how it feels to feel a bit out of place.
17. When it comes to our work and our industry: what scares you the most?
I think the “scary” part for me is the acceptance of “good enough” and the complacency by many practitioners. The reason I’m in this space is that connecting a person with meaningful work, and companies with great talent creates net good in the world. A person that is truly engaged with their work can be so happy and productive that it’s inspiring. And of course the opposite is true. There’s a genuine opportunity for practitioners to help people, so my fear is that we get too bogged down with internal politics and change aversion that we don’t actually do it.
18. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked?
Most of the measures that we have traditionally used to measure success in hiring are wrong, misleading or both. We measure time-to-fill, cost-per-hire and advertising source efficiency but those are really quite trivial when it comes to the actual running of a business. We’ve just fallen there because we’re not good enough in most cases to measure the impact of great hiring on a team.
19. Aside from your parents, name one person who has had an extraordinary impact on your career. What did they do and what did you learn from that person?
Sue Marks, the CEO of Cielo. I learned a tremendous amount from Sue in my 9 years working with her, specifically about how to listen, how to let others lead and when to take the reigns and manage hard. I also learned a tremendous amount about running a business and the drive it takes to succeed.
20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?
I’d love to read Chris Forman’s answers – he’s one of the most unique people in our space.
Thank you to Adam Godson for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune