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The No Excuses Culture

Posted on March 8, 2017 by steveblank

Getting ready for our next semester’s class, I asked my Teaching Assistant why I hadn’t
seen the posters for our new class around campus. Hearing the litany of excuses that
followed –“It was raining.” (The posters go inside the building.) “We still have time.” (We
had agreed they were to go up a week ago) — I had a strong sense of déjà vu. When I took
the job of VP of Marketing in a company emerging from bankruptcy, excuses seemed to be
our main product. So we created The No Excuses Culture.

No Excuses as a Core Value
In addition to customer discovery, creating end user demand, and product strategy,
Marketing also serves as a service organization to sales. It drove me crazy when we failed to
deliver a project for sales on time or we missed a media deadline. And I quickly realized that
whenever there was a failure to deliver on time, everyone in my Marketing department had
an excuse. Making excuses instead of producing timely deliverables meant we were failing
as an organization. We weren’t supporting the mission of the company (generate revenue
and profit), and the lack of honesty diminished our credibility, and our integrity.
I realized that this was a broken part of our culture, but couldn’t figure out why. Then one
day it hit me. When deadlines slipped, there were no consequences – no consequences to my
direct reports when they failed to deliver on time, no consequences to the people who
reported to them – and no consequences to our vendors.
And with no consequences our entire department acted as if schedules and commitments
didn’t matter. I heard a constant refrain of, “The sales channel brochure was late because
the vendor got busy so they couldn’t meet the original deadline.” Or “the January ad had to
be moved into February because my graphic artist was sick, but I didn’t tell you because I
assumed it was OK.” Or, “We’re going to slip our product launch because the team thought
they couldn’t get ready in time.” I had inherited a department with a culture that turned
commitments into vague aspirations. We had no accountability.
I realized that for us to build a high-performance marketing organization that drove the
company, this had to change. I wanted a department that could be counted on to deliver.
One day I put up a sign on my door that said, “No excuses accepted.” And I let everyone in
the marketing department know what I meant was, “We were all going to be ‘accountable’.”
I didn’t mean “deliver or else.”
By accountable I meant, “We agreed on a delivery date, and between now and the delivery
date, it’s OK if you ask for help because you’re stuck, or something happened outside of your
control. But do not walk into my office the day something is due and give me an excuse. It
will cost you your job.” That kind of accountable.
And, “Since I won’t accept those kind of excuses, you are no longer authorized to accept them
from your staff or vendors either. You need to tell your staff and vendors that it’s OK to ask
for help if they are stuck. But you also need to let everyone in your department know that
from now on showing up with an excuse the day the project is due will cost them their job.”
The goal wasn’t inflexible dates and deadlines, it was to build a culture of no surprises and
collective problem solving.
I don’t want to make implementing this sound easy. Asking for help, and/or saying you were
stuck created cognitive dissonance for many people. Even as we publicly applauded those
who asked for help, some just couldn’t bring themselves to admit they needed help until the
day the project was due. Others went in the other direction and thought collective problem
solving meant they could come into my office, and say they “had a problem” and think I was
going to solve it for them without first trying to solve it themselves. As we worked hard on
making “no excuses” part of our culture some couldn’t adapt. A few became ex-employees.
But the rest felt empowered and responsible.
Everything is “priority one”
One other thing needed to be fixed before we could implement “no excuses.” I realized that

my groups inside of marketing had become dumping grounds for projects from both inside
and outside of marketing – with everything being “priority one.” There was no way for us to
say, “We can’t take that project on.” And yet, simply accepting anything anyone wanted
Marketing to provide was unsustainable.
We quickly put in a capacity/priority planning process. Each marketing group, (product
marketing, marcom, trade shows, etc.) calculated their number of available man-hours and
budget dollars. Then every week each department stack-ranked the priority of the projects
on their plate and estimated the amount of time and budget for each. If someone inside of
marketing wanted to add a new project, we needed to figure out which existing one(s) on the
list we were going to defer or kill to accommodate it. If someone outside of marketing wanted
to add a new project before we had the resources, we made them decide which of their
current projects they wanted to defer/kill. If we didn’t have the resources to support them,
we helped them find resources outside the company. And finally, each of the projects we did
accept had to align with the overall mission of the company and our department.
Over time, accountability, execution, honesty and integrity became the cornerstones of our
communication with each other, other departments and vendors.
We became known as a high-performance organization as we delivered what said we would –
on time and on budget.

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

AUGUST 22, 2013

There are three popular explanations for the clear under-representation of women in management,
namely: (1) they are not capable; (2) they are not interested; (3) they are both interested and
capable but unable to break the glass-ceiling: an invisible career barrier, based on

prejudiced stereotypes, that prevents women from accessing the ranks of power. Conservatives and
chauvinists tend to endorse the first; liberals and feminists prefer the third; and those somewhere in
the middle are usually drawn to the second. But what if they all missed the big picture?

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern
between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly
misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men
are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage
that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that
manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for
leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

This is consistent with the finding that leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-
centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders, and that these personality
characteristics are not equally common in men and women. In line, Freud argued that the
psychological process of leadership occurs because a group of people — the followers — have
replaced their own narcissistic tendencies with those of the leader, such that their love for the
leader is a disguised form of self-love, or a substitute for their inability to love themselves. “Another
person’s narcissism”, he said, “has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their
own… as if we envied them for maintaining a blissful state of mind.”

The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that
are much smarter than women. Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to
leadership talent — the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams, and to inspire followers
to set aside their selfish agendas in order to work for the common interest of the group. Indeed,
whether in sports, politics or business, the best leaders are usually humble — and whether through
nature or nurture, humility is a much more common feature in women than men. For example,
women outperform men on emotional intelligence, which is a strong driver of modest behaviors.
Furthermore, a quantitative review of gender differences in personality involving more than 23,000
participants in 26 cultures indicated that women are more sensitive, considerate, and humble than
men, which is arguably one of the least counter-intuitive findings in the social sciences. An even
clearer picture emerges when one examines the dark side of personality: for instance, our normative
data, which includes thousands of managers from across all industry sectors and 40 countries, shows
that men are consistently more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women.

The paradoxical implication is that the same psychological characteristics that enable male managers
to rise to the top of the corporate or political ladder are actually responsible for their downfall. In
other words, what it takes to get the job is not just different from, but also the reverse of, what it
takes to do the job well. As a result, too many incompetent people are promoted to management
jobs, and promoted over more competent people.

Unsurprisingly, the mythical image of a “leader” embodies many of the characteristics commonly
found in personality disorders, such as narcissism (Steve Jobs or Vladimir Putin), psychopathy (fill in
the name of your favorite despot here), histrionic (Richard Branson or Steve Ballmer) or
Machiavellian (nearly any federal-level politician) personalities. The sad thing is not that these
mythical figures are unrepresentative of the average manager, but that the average manager will fail
precisely for having these characteristics.

In fact, most leaders — whether in politics or business — fail. That has always been the case: the
majority of nations, companies, societies and organizations are poorly managed, as indicated by
their longevity, revenues, and approval ratings, or by the effects they have on their citizens,
employees, subordinates or members. Good leadership has always been the exception, not the

So it struck me as a little odd that so much of the recent debate over getting women to “lean in” has
focused on getting them to adopt more of these dysfunctional leadership traits. Yes, these are the
people we often choose as our leaders — but should they be?

Most of the character traits that are truly advantageous for effective leadership are predominantly
found in those who fail to impress others about their talent for management. This is especially true
for women. There is now compelling scientific evidence for the notion that women are more likely to
adopt more effective leadership strategies than do men. Most notably, in a comprehensive review of
studies, Alice Eagly and colleagues showed that female managers are more likely to elicit respect
and pride from their followers, communicate their vision effectively, empower and mentor
subordinates, and approach problem-solving in a more flexible and creative way (all characteristics
of “transformational leadership”), as well as fairly reward direct reports. In contrast, male managers
are statistically less likely to bond or connect with their subordinates, and they are relatively more
inept at rewarding them for their actual performance. Although these findings may reflect a
sampling bias that requires women to be more qualified and competent than men in order to be
chosen as leaders, there is no way of really knowing until this bias is eliminated.

In sum, there is no denying that women’s path to leadership positions is paved with many barriers
including a very thick glass ceiling. But a much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for
incompetent men, and the fact that we tend to equate leadership with the very psychological
features that make the average man a more inept leader than the average woman. The result is a
pathological system that rewards men for their incompetence while punishing women for their
competence, to everybody’s detriment.

Amazon's first checkout-free grocery store opens on

Using ‘just walk out’ technology to end queues, Amazon Go fires a
warning to the high street

Amazon will open its first checkout-free grocery store to the public on Monday, moving
forward with an experiment that could dramatically alter bricks-and-mortar retail.

The Seattle shop, known as Amazon Go, relies on cameras and sensors to track what
shoppers remove from the shelves, and what they put back. Cash registers and checkout
lines become superfluous: customers are billed after leaving using a credit card on file.

To start shopping, customers must scan an Amazon Go smartphone app and pass
through a gated turnstile.

If someone passes back through the gates with an item, his or her associated account is
charged. If a shopper puts an item back on the shelf, Amazon removes it from his or her
virtual cart.

For grocers, the shop’s opening heralds another potential disruption at the hands of the
world’s largest online retailer, which bought the high-end supermarket chain Whole
Foods Market last year for $13.7bn (£9.9bn).

Amazon did not discuss if or when it would add more Go locations, and reiterated that it
had no plans to add the technology to the larger and more complex Whole Foods stores.

The convenience-style shop opened to Amazon employees in December 2016 in a test

phase. At the time, the company said it expected members of the public could begin
using the store in early 2017.

According to a person familiar with the matter, there have been problems. These
included correctly identifying shoppers with similar body types, the source said. When
children were brought into the shop during the trial, they caused havoc by moving

Gianna Puerini, vice-president of Amazon Go, said the store worked very well
throughout the test phase, thanks to four years of legwork. “This technology didn’t
exist,” she said. “It was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and
machine learning.”

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Hans Rosling

Training yourself how to put the news into perspective – practising ‘factfulness’ – will
change your outlook for the better

Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural
disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will
soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in
the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of
the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are
not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go
to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single
year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life
expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made
tremendous progress.

The overdramatic worldview draws people to the most negative answers. It is not caused
simply by out-of-date knowledge. My experience, over decades of lecturing and testing, has
finally brought me to see that the overdramatic worldview comes from the very way our
brains work. The brain is a product of millions of years of evolution, and we are hard-wired
with instincts that helped our ancestors to survive in small groups of hunters and gatherers.
We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce.
But today these cravings make obesity one of the biggest global health problems. In the same
way, we are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of
news and useful information. This craving for drama causes misconceptions and helps create
an overdramatic worldview.

We still need these dramatic instincts to give meaning to our world. If we sifted every input
and analysed every decision rationally, a normal life would be impossible. Just as we should
not cut out all sugar and fat, we should not ask a surgeon to remove the parts of our brain
that deal with emotions. But we need to learn to control our drama intake.

It is absolutely true that there are many bad things in this world. The number of conflict
fatalities has been falling since the second world war, but the Syrian war has reversed this
trend. Terrorism too is rising. Overfishing and the deterioration of the seas are truly
worrisome. The list of endangered species is getting longer. But while it is easy to be aware of
all the bad things happening in the world, it’s harder to know about the good things. The
silent miracle of human progress is too slow and too fragmented to ever qualify as news.
Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
But in online polls, in most countries, fewer than 10% of people knew this.

Our instinct to notice the bad more than the good is related to three things: the
misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling
that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better. For centuries, older
people have romanticised their youths and insisted that things ain’t what they used to be.
Well, that’s true. Most things used to be worse. This tendency to misremember is
compounded by the never-ending negative news from across the world.

Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a
dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And thanks to increasing press freedom and

improving technology, we hear about more disasters than ever before. This improved
reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact
opposite. At the same time, activists and lobbyists manage to make every dip in an improving
trend appear to be the end of the world, scaring us with alarmist exaggerations and
prophecies. In the United States, the violent crime rate has been falling since 1990. But each
time something horrific or shocking happened – pretty much every year – a crisis was
reported. The majority of people believe that violent crime is getting worse.

My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that
everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous. I agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be
very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered
species, climate change sceptics, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in
prison, and girls not getting an education, we cannot relax. But it is just as ridiculous to look
away from the progress that has been made. The consequent loss of hope can be devastating.
When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may lose confidence in
measures that actually work.

How can we help our brains to realise that things are getting better? Think of the world as a
very sick premature baby in an incubator. After a week, she is improving, but she has to stay
in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s
situation is improving? Yes. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying
“things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all not worry? Not at all:
it’s both bad and better. That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

Take girls’ education. When women are educated, the workforce becomes diversified and
able to make better decisions. Educated mothers have fewer children, and more survive.
More energy is invested in each child’s education: a virtuous cycle of change. Ninety per cent
of girls of primary school age attend school; for boys, it’s 92%. There are still gender
differences when it comes to education in the poorest countries, especially in secondary and
higher education, but that’s no reason to deny the progress that has been made.

Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention; that negative
stories are more dramatic than positive ones; and how simple it is to construct a story of
crisis from a temporary dip pulled out of its context of a long-term improvement. When you
hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking: if there had been a positive
improvement, would I have heard about that? Even if there had been hundreds of larger
improvements, would I have heard?

This is “factfulness”: understanding as a source of mental peace. Like a healthy diet and
regular exercise, it can and should become part of people’s daily lives. Start to practise it, and
you will make better decisions, stay alert to real dangers and possibilities, and avoid being
constantly stressed about the wrong things.

Does anyone even know what a millennial is any more?
Jack Bernhardt
Apparently, millennials have killed democracy, marmalade, and now recycling. Can
anyone else smell a lazy stereotype?

Bad news, everyone: those pesky millennials have killed another industry. I know, just
when you thought those bloodthirsty market-murderers couldn’t top topping the
marmalade industry, the motorcycle industry, and the “restaurants where you get to
stare at the waitresses’ breasts” industry, they’ve struck again, like the serial killer in
the movie Se7en (and we can’t even name the actor in that now because snowflake
millennials have killed the “sexual abusers in Hollywood” industry).

This time, in a slightly leftfield move, they’re killing recycling – an area long assumed
to be a pillar of the tedious millennial stereotype, along with quinoa, talking about
inclusivity and not wanting to be shot at school. According to a British Science
Association survey, a fifth of all millennials find recycling too time-consuming, compared
with just 6% of over-55s. It’s one of those facts that makes you do a double take, like the
fact that Emmanuel Macron is just three years older than Macaulay Culkin. Have we
got it wrong all these years? Are millennials killing … the planet?

It’s tempting to create a narrative about disenfranchised and apathetic millennials,

losing faith in the world around them, to the point that they can’t even be bothered to
recycle. Brexit is looming, no one can afford a house, the biggest film of 2018 is probably
going to be Ready Player One – there’s a lot of terrible news about. Who cares whether
or not this tuna can is totally clean when you’ve got the threat of nuclear war, the
chance of a terrorist attack or the prospect of watching Piers Morgan interview Jim

On the flip side, there’s the argument that millennials are too socially conscious to
bother with recycling any more – when you have to think about whether you’re
destroying the rainforest by buying chocolate bars with palm oil in them, whether or not
you’re funding Murdoch-owned propaganda by buying a Now TV subscription package,
do you really have the energy to sort the papers from the plastics?

But before the Daily Mail starts frothing at the mouth and writing pieces such as “Hero
pensioners protect Mother Earth from heartless millennials and also it’s Lily Allen’s
fault probably somehow”, we need a few caveats. First, the word “millennials” is not a
synonym for “young people”. This survey defined them as 25- to 34-year-olds, which is
accurate, but in most representations in the (mostly middle-aged) media, they’re
university students or young adults, albeit ones still listening to music that the (mostly
middle-aged) media considers “young”, like Dizzee Rascal and Rizzle Kicks. The real
“young people” (16-24) are technically called Generation Z (or the “iGeneration” if you
work for Apple and/or are Just Terrible), and I couldn’t find any information in the
survey about how they recycled – unless we’re talking about how they’re recycling
fashion trends from the 1990s (that’s right, Generation Z, season one of Friends called
and it wants its high waistlines and baggy shirts back).

Second, is it really useful to lump together everyone born between 1984 and 1993 into
one group? I was born in 1989 (yes, yes, I am peak millennial, I came out of the
womb holding an avocado trying to get a discount on a train ticket). I tried to talk to a
colleague born in 1993 recently about Snapchat, and before she finished explaining how
the new update had ruined the “story” function, my bones had turned to dust like the

Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I don’t necessarily feel a sense of
“millennial solidarity”, except when millennials are being attacked by tabloids for being
too sensitive (ie showing a level of compassion for people who don’t look like them).

The cynic in me thinks that that’s why these news stories about recycling are framed
that way – people are more likely to pay attention to a survey about whether plastics
can go in the blue bin if you can stoke up some inter-generational warfare between
boomers and millennials at the same time.

“Millennials” are not a singular group – the people who aren’t recycling probably aren’t
the same people who are protesting about palm oil, who probably aren’t the same people
who are killing the marmalade industry. We’re encouraged to see disparate groups of
people as a monolith, to lump them all together and blame them for society’s ills,
because that’s easier than actually tackling issues. I know I do it subconsciously with
older people, and I’m sure older people do it with millennials.

So if this news story doesn’t work with your understanding of the millennial stereotype,
maybe we don’t need to invent a narrative to make it fit. Maybe we just need a more
nuanced stereotype – or, better, no stereotype at all.