What This CEO Learned After Writing More Than 100 Blogs in 2017

2017 Brian de Haaff blog

I have a hard time slowing down. A voice in my head always says, “Why wait? Keep going.” So, I almost never stop. I quickly move forward from finishing one project to starting the next. Always focused on the next big goal, the next big step for our company. It has worked for us so far. Aha! is one of the fastest growing software companies in the U.S. — and yet…

All that constantly-moving-forward work makes it hard to stop and appreciate the “now.” And this is something I need to do more of — we all do. But how? We each need to find our own way. For me, daily writing helps slow me down, in a good way.

Over the past year, I have worked hard with our team to craft more than 100 posts for the Aha! blog. This writing process allows me to say “later” to that pushy voice in my head and it gives me the space to focus on the “now” — both in business and in life.

Writing forces me to think deeply about what I believe in and reflect on what I can do to improve myself, our company, and our communities.

I am fortunate to have a meaningful platform to share my thoughts — with more than 270,000 social followers. The fact that more than a quarter of a million people are interested in following our story is validating. But it also means that I take each word that I write seriously. And I am glad that you often care enough to share your own thoughts back with me. The agreements, the disagreements, and the “What were you thinking?” comments.

Writing this blog and reading your responses to it have opened up my mind in new ways. It always reveals a series of humbling paradoxes — introspection and proclamation, courage and vulnerability. It is a centering exercise.

Here is what I have learned in the process:

Strong points of view wanted (sometimes)
I am opinionated, just like you. But I am also fairly reserved in social interactions, so my strong points of view are not always immediately apparent to people when we meet in person. Writing gives me the chance to refine my ideas and present them with vigor and, hopefully, clarity. People often comment back that they appreciate this… until they do not. I always hear from people when my views conflict with their own — but with much stronger words.

For example, I made an argument earlier this year to eliminate sales commissions. You can bet that brought some heated remarks. This does not bother me. In fact, I see it as an honor that people are engaged with my writing and want to spark a discussion. Strong points of view and respectful dialogue are needed to break through the fog of hateful speech we are experiencing today.

Uncertainty is certain
Earlier this year I wrote that 2016 was the year of “what!?” and that 2017 became the year of “now what?” Uncertainty in the world is nothing new, but it is a reminder of an age-old lesson: We cannot control everything in the world around us, but we can control how we respond. It is not the uncertainty and fears that matter — it is what we do with it. This is what the most resilient people and companies focus on.

But herein lies one of those paradoxes: Uncertainty is certain and we can only control our own response — but what should the response be? At Aha! we are guided by The Responsive Method, the framework for personal and business success that we pioneered and live by. For us, it always circles back to our belief that sustainable, lasting success and happiness originate in respect for and service to others.

Greatness is a choice and innovation is just a word
Why be good when you can be great? This is a question I posed to our team a lot this year. We can all achieve greatness — the challenge is making the choice every day to do just that. Even in the face of chaos. This year has taught me how much those everyday choices matter. So I choose each day to make room for meaningful work and give opportunities for others to do the same.

Leading companies are choosing greatness too. They are no longer simply talking about needing to innovate and redefining how their teams think about effort — these organizations are transforming how they work. And the good news is that product managers are often leading the way.

Product managers are in the best position to understand what customers actually want and are expected to create better experiences as part of the role. Leading companies know this. These companies also know that their strategic roadmap holds the future, so it must link strategy to the team’s day-to-day work. Talking about innovation means little. Actually innovating is a conscious choice. 

People want to work remotely (desperately)
We founded Aha! on the premise and promise of remote work. It has brought so much to our team — greater flexibility, more time for family and friends, and even better health. But so many companies get this wrong and blame remote work for internal issues. Why? I think it is mostly because of leaders who are contorted by fear. These leaders think that work is a place, not an outcome.

Blaming remote work for poor performance is not only wrong — it exacerbates the real problems. So I wanted to share how we have found remote work to be freeing for employers and employees. And wow did I get a response. Most people really want the flexibility to work where and how they will be their best. This topic has sparked more comments than almost any other on our blog, with one reader noting, “Can’t agree more, flexibility helps to balance out everything.”

No-drama teams rule
I am proud of the impact that Aha! has made in our customer’s lives. But I am most proud of our team at Aha! — our team has a no-drama rule. We always have, but this year more than ever we grew really, really fast. Rapid growth can bring organizational challenges, but we choose to face them head on and still be great in everything we do. Great teams can achieve lasting accomplishments and develop deep relationships and team spirit.

I wrote about this a lot this year because it is important to throw credit. And our team deserves it more so than any other team I have worked with. We continue to focus on what really matters — being great for ourselves, for each other, and for our customers. Big success does not need to create greed, infighting, and hidden agendas. No drama is the antidote to dysfunction. It is about believing in our company, the people we work with, and what we are trying to accomplish together.

Love and business can co-exist
Integrity, hard work, and perseverance. These are the traits of great companies. But there is one more that might surprise you: love. This is a message I felt so passionate about this year that I did more than blog about it — I wrote a national bestselling book about it. But it all started on this blog.

This past year I have written that company builders should look to the past and reject the growth-at-all-costs mentality that seems to dominate businesses (technology companies, in particular) today. Maybe we should look to how our grandparents dreamed and worked — how they valued a human-centered approach to life and doing business. This is what inspired me to write my book, Lovability. It is about building a business that people love and a workplace where employees can be their best.

Some of my greatest lessons in 2017 came from writing, sharing my thoughts with you on this blog, and reading your thoughtful comments.

I will promise you this: I will keep writing in 2018. You can expect some new topics from me too. As Aha! continues to quickly expand, we will pursue new opportunities and face new challenges. I will be thinking and writing through it all.

What topics would you like to see me tackle in 2018?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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Comments

  1. Cindy Vanover

    As I sit here on New Year’s Eve day and ponder what 2018 will hold, I really appreciated this post. I’ve recently rediscovered Aha!, these blogs and your book and am cautiously rekindling my optimism that there are companies and leaders that truly live the values that inspired me when I first embarked on my career. In these days of true uncertainty when integrity seems scarce, and drama & hyperbole have taken main stage, it feels like many companies have been caught up in aimless, chaotic momentum without true vision or purpose only to rescind on promises and commitments to clients and employees alike when the going gets tough.
    Thank you for bringing into focus a picture of what could be when a company takes the time to create a shared vision, commit to a a fundamental set of ethics and agree to work together to avoid ‘drama’ and finish strong. I appreciate the dose of optimism and hope it is a trend! Best Wishes for 2018.

    Reply

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