Lighthouse Leadership Weekly #75: Lessons on Humane AI Pin Culture Fails, A Study on Hybrid Work, and more…

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Quiet and consistent. That's what the best team members are often like. They simply deliver great results, while flying under the radar.

Who would think a major CEO could do the same?

Yet, I was as shocked as anyone on my team to find out just how big a success Satya Nadella has been since he became CEO of Microsoft.

In today's edition, we talk about cultural lessons from the Humane AI pin, a new study on hybrid work, lessons from Satya Nadella, and a new poll on meetings.

Let’s dive in…

Table of contents:

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🥘 Food for Thought

"What went wrong with this product as a whole is pretty simple. It's one word: Trust.

Everything about this company now makes me feel like I don't trust them to deliver a product that I'm going to love, and the place they came from Apple is the exact opposite. We trust them." - Hiten Shah, founder, investor, and serial entrepreneur on the failure of Humane AI pin.

Many years ago, I worked with Hiten Shah at KISSmetrics, and I've been following him on Twitter even longer. When he launched his new podcast/video series, I knew he'd have some interesting takes, especially on products.

This week's Food for Thought is one of his videos, because it crosses over into some great leadership lessons:

A failed launch.

If you haven't followed this new tech closely, Humane was a pin that you could wear that promised to help with various AI-driven tasks like real time translation with someone you're talking to in another language, answering questions via voice control, and providing summary updates of apps and notes it has access to.

Unfortunately, it failed at launch. I'll spare you the harsh articles and reviews, but it was universally panned, because it didn't work very well.

Now that we know that it failed, the leadership lessons are about understanding why it happened, and what Humane could do to turn things around.

1) It Starts with You

"What would I do now that I'm in this mess, if I were CEO...Number one thing is I would go figure out how we screwed up.

What is it about my company [and] our culture that let us ship this
 thing in this way? ...I would be really hard-pressed on getting that answer and then I would make all the changes related to the problems that led up to this kind of product [launching] in [the] market."

As a leader, this can be hard, but you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself how your culture contributed to the problems you face now.

And once something bad has happened, you have to resist playing the blame game:

  • It's not the customer's fault for not understanding your product.
  • It's not any individual team member's fault for everything.
  • It's not a specific team's fault for everyone's failure.

The problems at Humane are systemic. Many, many people were involved in making the decisions, signing off on parts of it, and building the components that didn't work well enough together.

That's why real leaders always start with themselves.

You played a part in the issues, and in creating the culture that led to all of the problems.

No one likes taking the blame for things, but when you accept some responsibility, you make it much easier for everyone else to admit their roles in a failure, too.

If Humane is to succeed going forward, they have to start with the people at the top looking hard in the mirror and taking some responsibility here.

2) What messengers were ignored or shot?

"I will bet there are team members that either said something, or wanted to say something, and for whatever reason didn't do anything about these issues.

...nothing survives the customer, especially the first exposure to customers, so 
I'm sure there are team members [that] are pretty bummed out right now, because they they knew this.

For some reason they couldn't help and they couldn't help fix this, so some of them might have left."

Too often in the process of working on a project that ultimately fails, there were missed signs.

An overlooked report, a downplayed concern, a key test skipped over.

And as Hiten describes, usually there are at least some people who raised concerns.

Those people are HEROES in your company, IF you let them be.

Yet, too often, messengers who raise such concerns are shot. They are told to stand down, simply ignored, or told they're a trouble maker.

The truth is, if you ignore or punish the people who raise concerns, you will be setting up your team or company for disaster. Those people only raise warning signs so many times before they give up, you fire them, or they quit.

Then, you have no warning system and no one to help hold the quality bar high.

This is the difference between building a phenomenal product like the Humane Team did when they were at Apple, and the disaster that became the Humane AI Pin.

Who are the messengers on your team that raise important concerns? How you treat them can be the difference between success and failure for your projects.

3) Work as a TEAM to survive a crisis

"Galvanize a team around this problem and make a commitment to solve it hell or high water. That's the only way out of this."

Hiten jumps into the meat of the issue with these lines.

As Winston Churchill famously said, "If you're going through hell, keep going." And in this case, the only way out for Humane (other than shutting down, or selling) is to figure out what went wrong, make the hard changes, and start working on rebuilding consumer trust.

Yet, that's MUCH easier said than done.

It takes a lot of swallowing of your pride to accept that something went very poorly. It takes even more to say it to your team. And then it takes the most ego surrender to let your team help you solve it.

Too many leaders want to be the HERO with all the answers.

It may make for a good inspirational speech, or a great scene in a movie, but the truth is that whether it's a turn-around or a crisis you're trying to survive, you need everyone on your team to help.

A determined message from the CEO of Humane to their team, along with a detailed audit of everything that needs fixed is the only path forward for them. They need to take responsibility for both what happened and fixing what caused their culture to let so many things go wrong.

If they do that (and that's a big IF), then they stand a chance of turning things around. A lot of smart people are there, so the answers are likely there if they're willing to bravely look at them and work hard to fix them.

But there's nothing harder than being a leader in a crisis, so I can understand if they end up selling instead.

If you want to avoid a similar fate, we have two great posts to help you in a crisis:

📰 News & Reports for Managers

📌 Some work from home time can improve retention by 33%

I came across this tweet from academic Adam Grant and it got my attention:

I found the original study, and it's very interesting:

  • Structure: "A six-month randomized control trial investigating the effects of hybrid working from home on 1,612 employees in a Chinese technology company in 2021–2022."
  • Results: This proved to have a big impact:
    • "Hybrid working improved job satisfaction and reduced quit rates by one-third."
    • "The reduction in quit rates was significant for non-managers, female employees and those with long commutes."
    • "Hybrid working did not affect performance grades over the next two years of reviews."

If you're in favor of remote and hybrid teams, this is quite promising.

The only issue I have with it is that it was done in China. I've read rumors of 6 day work weeks and extremely long hours being the norm there, so I'm not sure how much those factors and a different culture may have impacted the results.

However, I'm cautiously optimistic the results would hold up in Western nations, because the same people you would expect would benefit most from remote/hybrid work here benefited there ("non-managers, female employees and those with long commutes." )

The Lesson for Managers: Flexibility can mean a lot to your team members, especially when they have extenuating circumstances like long commutes, family obligations, etc.

🗓️ Ready to Conquer Your Calendar with Mastering Meetings?

You asked, we listened.

Based on the popular vote from our recent poll, in July we'll be launching our newest Lighthouse Lessons program all about helping you reclaim your calendar and bring sanity back to your work schedule.

The program will focus on fixing the dysfunctions that plague so many of us managers:

  • Too many meetings overloading your calendar,
  • Meetings that drift off plan or lack a clear purpose,
  • Invites to meetings you don't really need to be at,
  • and the dreaded, "this meeting could have been an email."

Plus, we have a lot more we're considering as we work to make this the best, highest impact program possible for you.

That's why I need your help.

I want to speak with a few managers to learn about your biggest pains, what you'd be looking for in a program like this, and get your feedback on what we've planned so far.

If you're interested in this program, and want to share your feedback and perspective to make this program awesome for you and other managers, please schedule a call at a time you prefer here.

As a thank you for your time and input, we'll give you a discount on the program when we launch.

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Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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