Mangosteens, Adhocracy and a Working Life – an interview with Christian Buckley (3rd of May 2006)

Introduction

I chanced upon one of Christian’s articles (see below) and hopped over to his site to have a look. It was a completely different kind of site to this storytelling site. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about how this interview would turn out as the kind of work Christian does has nothing to do with storytelling per se; however, as you’ll see it’s a fascinating read. Without further ado, please let me introduce to you, Christian Buckley …


Aneeta: Christian, thank you for agreeing to this interview

Christian: Happy to participate.

Aneeta: Please, let’s start by you telling me a little about yourself, your family, where you live and so on.

Christian: I was born and raised in the San Francisco East Bay, but just recently moved to Washington State. When not working or writing, I spend every waking moment with my wife and four children. As a family, we love watching movies, taking long road trips, and exploring as much of the west coast as we can.

Aneeta: Christian, I understand that you are one of the Principals in a consortium called Red Hill Partners. Please explain what it is this consortium does.

Christian: I co-founded RHP back in 2002 with several partners to work primarily with entrepreneurs and startups, providing advice, mentoring, and consulting services. Our specialty was to help them define their intellectual property (IP), establish product development best-practices, and to build sales channels. About half of our clients were pro bono – we offered our services free to those companies with business models or technologies that interested us personally. We’ve worked with dozens of companies in this capacity.

More recently, however, RHP has evolved, assisting clients with their go-to-market, operations and sales objectives, and helping them expand their presence in the U.S. market. They work extensively with multinational firms looking to expand into the US by helping them establish sales and partner networks, and can even act as an outsourced sales and business development team.

Since joining Microsoft this past month, I have officially stepped down as an active partner and now work with RHP in an advisory role. While I enjoyed working with RHP, I am very passionate about collaboration technology, and could not turn down the opportunity to work at Microsoft to help develop and deliver the next generation of collaboration tools and services.

Shortly after founding RHP, I also helped co-found a non-profit (501c3) called the East Bay IT Group (www.eBIG.org) in late 2002. This forum provides networking, user groups, training, and mentoring to anyone interested in technology and business in the San Francisco East Bay. In two years, I managed several user groups and drove membership, helping eBIG grow from zero to 4500+ members, with sponsorships from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, XO Communications, EMC, and various other local companies and municipalities. eBIG is still growing and doing well today.

These days, I do have one very active side project – I am a distributor of a mangosteen health supplement called XanGo. I had been using the product for over a year with great results, and decided to start a small company to market the product. You can find us at www.sendmethejuice.com. We just started running television and radio ads in California, and will expand soon. It’s good to do something on the side that is different than your primary job – as a way to fill the occasional lulls that come with any job, and to keep the creative juices flowing.

Aneeta: Of course, I was attracted to the kind of work you do because I chanced upon a post your blog, Life is Work entitled Interviewing is about Storytelling. For the benefit of my readers, can you please explain why interviewing is storytelling?

Christian: Both hiring manager and job candidate have a story to tell. The interview is just as much about the hiring manager telling a compelling story about why the candidate should want to come to work for that company, as it is about the candidate wanting to tell a compelling story about why she should be hired. People need to do more than answer simple questions, and provide basic responses – they need to provide a narrative around their experience. They need to engage the listener, express some passion, and make it a memorable experience. Whether interviewing for a job, talking to potential investors about your company or idea, or conducting a project meeting within your company – make sure your story is compelling, and people will pay attention.

Aneeta: I understand that you’ve written/co-authored two books:

Secrets of the Change Agent: Strategies for Software Development

The Art of ClearCase(R) Deployment : The Secrets to Successful Implementation (Addison-Wesley Object Technology Series)

[Note from Editor: click on the title and you’ll be taken to Amazon.com where you can purchase the books if you so wish.]

Now, from the titles alone, it’s pretty obvious that these have nothing to do with storytelling, per se. Nevertheless, one of the things I’ve learned is that a simple way to explain very technical stuff is sometimes to use storytelling. Is this what you’ve done – maybe not in your book but in the seminars you conduct? And if so, is it permissible for you to share an example of how you did this?

Christian: Actually, that was exactly our approach behind these books. Yes, they handle a very technical topic – software configuration management. But our books are filled with stories. They started as articles, in fact, written for various magazines and online portals, and only later were expanded into books. So they have that storytelling quality. Each chapter could stand on its own – they promote an idea or problem statement, include personal experiences, and then walk the reader through the technical aspects of solving that problem. When we considered writing the books, we thought to ourselves “Why do technical books need to be so boring?” We set out to write something other than yet another dry, boring text book. I think we achieved that.

Our third book, Implementing Rational(R) ClearQuest : An End-to-End Deployment Guide (IBM Press, to be released August 2006) follows this same model.

Aneeta: I see that the topics you speak on are as follows:
• Life in an Adhocracy: Learning How to Make Decisions
[Note from Editor: Please refer to these two articles:

• Visions of a Defunct Startup:
• Why the Best Ideas Don’t Always Succeed, and How You Can Change That
• Avoiding Rust-Out: Keeping Your Team Motivated and Productive
• Making Collaboration Work – Multi-Site Team Dynamics

Christian, what is ‘adhocracy’? Also, please explain these topics briefly, please.

Christian: An Adhocracy is an organization that makes decision on impulse rather that through planning. They “shoot from the hip” because they feel they need to be fast and flexible, and because they feel that following any kind of process would limit their creativity. The problem is that without proper planning, they have no measurement of success – and they often find it difficult to identify the return on investment (ROI) on any of their initiatives. We’ve all heard it: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Many of my articles center around this concept – and as someone who has spent a large portion of my career in Project Management and consulting roles, I am a huge proponent of planning and measurement. The processes you employ do not have to be massive and unwieldy. Quite the contrary, your processes should be about best-practices, rapid iteration and prototyping, and should provide a clear link between measurements and benefits.

Many of my articles focus on the needs of the entrepreneur. As someone who has started several ventures, I know all too well the issues surrounding the startup culture, including team building, bootstrapping, raising investment capital, and marketing your ideas. It is a space I am very passionate about, which is why I remain an advisor to Red Hill Partners – so that I can keep one foot in the startup world.

Aneeta: Well, Christian, I think that’s all I have to ask you. Do you have anything else to add? Maybe some specific advice for storytellers?

Christian: The only way you’ll perfect your story is to keep telling it. There are so many channels available to the writer, the entrepreneur, and the storyteller. Write a blog. Write a whitepaper. Start a lens on Squidoo. Do whatever you can to get your story out there, and to get people participating and providing feedback. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or of revealing too much. People can tell when you’re being genuine, and are always willing to provide input…so you have nothing to lose.

If you’d like to see some additional examples of my writing, check out these links:

Aneeta: Thank you.

Christian: Thanks for the opportunity, Aneeta.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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