Benchmarking Success: Ensuring A Well-Founded Reputation With Ken Goldman

Ken Goldman is the president of Hillspire, LLC, a family office responsible for financial and administrative functions, along with real estate, aviation, and maritime activities. In this episode, Ken joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to talk about ensuring a well-founded reputation and getting out there to network and become relevant. Get to know Ken a bit more and the principles he learned throughout the years as he shares about his time at Yahoo! and setting up the family office he is currently running. Diane and Ken also discuss the global health issue and its economic impacts from Ken’s perspective as a CFO. Ken further dives into the importance of benchmarking for success and why you should look to leverage this for yourself and your business.

TTL 703 | Well-Founded Reputation

 

We have Mr. Ken Goldman. You probably know Ken as the former Chief Financial Officer at Yahoo. He’s the President of Hillspire, it’s a family office. He has a background in many different companies such as Chief Financial Officer for Fortinet. It’s going to be a fascinating show because we’re going to talk about some of the things that we’re dealing with COVID-19, but also some past experiences he’s had with Yahoo, and what he’s learned that he’s putting forth into what he does running a family office. It’s going to be great.

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Benchmarking Success: Ensuring A Well-Founded Reputation With Ken Goldman

I am here with Ken Goldman, who’s the President of Hillspire, a family office responsible for financial and administrative functions along with real estate, aviation, and maritime activities. He’s the former Chief Financial Officer of Yahoo where he joined in 2012. Throughout his five-year tenure, he was responsible for Yahoo’s global financial functions. Prior to Yahoo, he served as Senior Vice President of finance and administration and Chief Financial Officer at Fortinet. I could go on for quite a few years of this. I am going to tell you that Ken Goldman has the most amazing background in finance. This is going to be such a fascinating show. Welcome, Ken.

Thanks. It’s interesting, someone said, “You don’t have to worry about what you look like for a radio show.” I’ve been in many Zooms that I was thinking I might have to clean up a little bit more. I said, “This is radio. I don’t have to do that.” I’m sitting outside while I do this here in the San Francisco Bay area.

I get to get up there once in a while to see our mutual friend, Keith Krach, who’s a friend of the show. We’ve served on some boards together. You were on the board with me and a lot of others at DocuSign. I know we’ve had chances to talk about some of your work at different meetings and things, but I wanted to get a little background on you. I watched one of your presentations at OPEX and some of the stuff that you talked about. A lot of people could learn a lot from your experience at Yahoo and in general. I know I told a few things that you’ve done, but more of a background on how you got to this level of success would be great.

Success is maybe in the eyes of others. I think of a couple of things. One is, I’m an undergrad. I went to public schools originally. I grew up in the Greater Boston area. I went to engineering school and business school back East. I decided to come out here in the mid-‘70s because I felt that this area even back in the ‘70s, is where technology would bloom. I also was looking for great weather. I always told people to pick the location you want to work first and foremost because it will somewhat define you as you go forward. That was one of my key decisions.

I had the opportunity to work in a couple of great technology companies. I got an early chance to become a CFO at an early age at VLSI Technology, which just had started. It was one of the big breaks in my career. I’ve always remembered that I got a great reference from someone I worked for. He gave my referral to one of the startup CEO at VLSI Tech. That’s how I started there. I was there for the ‘80s and another summit company called Cypress. I got another good opportunity. The only job I got through a recruiter when I moved from hardware to software is at Sybase. I had a good run there.

Those companies always say remember your referrals and references. John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins. He was on the board of VLSI with me. He was on the board of Cypress. He helped me after Sybase to @Home Network as the CFO there. I was there in the late ‘90s. We had some changes and so I decided to move on to Siebel Systems and work for Tom, which was fabulous. He sold the company and then I had another chance to go and do another startup called Fortinet, a network security company. Collectively we did a nice job getting it public. The company has gone up into the light while I was there and since I left too, kudos to that team. I went to Yahoo when Marissa Mayer called. I did not know her but she found me through some references of people I’d worked with, including banking and legal stuff.

Before we go into some Q&A here, I always suggest to people, think about the references and referrals you have. Every CFO job that I’ve received, seven of them, other than one was through my own contacts. Every board seat I’ve been on, probably 40 boards collectively over the number of years, have all come through my own references. Think about your references and your body of work. Think about your reputation and how you ensure that’s well-founded and so forth because that will further you in your career over and over again.

You think about your career and the importance of networking and all that. We met through Keith Krach, who’s the king networker. He knows everybody. He knows a lot of people who are important. You went to school with Cornell and Harvard and being around the kind of people you go to school with can be such a huge network for you later. It’s important to get on boards and do a lot of the things that you do. Did you take three companies public and bid on ten boards that have gone public or is it more?

It’s definitely more. It’s probably more like 13 or 14 companies have gone public. Keith is incredible. He has a skill that I don’t have. He’s a phenomenal extrovert. He lights up a room. He brings people phenomenally with him. You can’t help but like Keith and be brought along. I’m a little bit quieter. I’m more of an introvert than him. I can talk to people that I know well and mingle, but I have a harder time going out and meeting people that I don’t know as well. Keith is phenomenal. He has repurposed his career several times, a number of CEO jobs, now in government.

I hate the word give back because it’s a hackneyed term. The thing I am trying to do is think about how I can utilize some of my skills and resources and time in other areas. I’ve gone on a few nonprofits that I enjoy a lot. Frankly and hopefully, they have some good impact in the world we live in. It’s hard to tell exactly where we are in the pandemic as we take this. I want to reiterate the ability to help think about helping people that are less fortunate than us. One message that you take from this is some of us are more fortunate. I try to think about both in terms of the resources I have, the time I have. The nonprofits I get involved in and how we can be way more helpful to people that need help in today’s world.

By the way, that is not an issue of which I always hear, taking from some and giving to others. The reality is, what people want is the dignity of a good job, a well-paying job. They want to earn their way through. They want to feel part of the economy. The most important thing we can think about is making sure people have good jobs. Look at the people that do landscaping. Look at the people that may go and get something to eat. I look at the people that may have washed my car. All these people, they would rather do that than get a handout. Over and over again, I reiterate that.

TTL 703 | Well-Founded Reputation
Well-Founded Reputation: The mother of invention is when you really have to do it. A lot of the great companies started in the worst of times.

 

It’s important. I love hearing that you’re doing some of the nonprofit boards. I saw that you’re in Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Foundation.

I was but I’m not on that board now. I was there for two terms like eight years. The three I’m on is quite different given my experience. The three nonprofits vary. One is the RFK Human Rights, which is run by Kerry Kennedy in the legacy of Robert Kennedy and thinking about that. Another one is SASB, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which is all about E, S and G, particularly E and S, thinking about climate and so forth. We put a lot of standards together. The third which is my favorite is called the Peninsula Humane Society. In which we handle adopted animals and find homes for every healthy animal.

That’s important to give back. I know that you do a lot of different things and you serve on a lot of different regular boards of directors. You do all these different things that draw on your background with finance. You mentioned you’re an introvert, which goes along with being in finance sometimes. It’s an interesting area when you have to run a family office. I want to talk about that before we go into Yahoo because you hear a lot about family offices but you don’t hear a lot about who runs them and how they run. I was listening in your OPEX talk that you said you had a couple of hundred people working in that office. Did I hear that correctly?

Yeah, we have more. I’m going to be generic because I don’t necessarily talk too much about it. I would say it this way. I’m somewhere in the back end of my career. You never quite know where you are and so forth. I decided to do this. I run the family office. I’m not just doing finance but I’m running other functions as well. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. We have smart people and dedicated people. The thing I would say to others that are thinking about family offices and working with them is that they’re all different. There are some that do the investments for maybe a few people. There are some that may do investments in some of the foundations and may do some of the charitable work.

We do it all. We handle all of the family’s activities. It’s how the family decided to organize it. There are different ones that I’ve seen. We have more than 200 people. There are others that I know well that are big in terms of assets but only have a few people because they just handle the investment side. They don’t handle some foundation and charitable work. One of the aspects that is important is we are extremely mission-driven. Charitable work is an important element to what we collectively do and why we’re able to hire, recruit, and retain strong people.

Do you have a relation to the Golden State Warriors?

That was fortuitous. That came years ago. Everyone knows Joe Lacob and Peter Guber put it together. I went to see Joe. I knew him from Kleiner. I knew he’d have to sell his piece of the Boston Celtics. I haven’t lived in Boston. I was interested in maybe buying a piece of his piece of the Celtics and he said, “Why don’t you buy a piece of the Warriors instead?” That was a great move because the benefit of being involved in a team is going to the games. I enjoy that. I’m enjoying reminiscing because, on the local channel, they have all the old finals games of the Warriors. I watch those at night. My son hasn’t quite figured out why but it’s fun to see where I’m sitting and see the team and see how much fun it has been. Hopefully, we’ll figure out how to get back into sporting events and witnessing those because it is one of the things that we enjoy globally and in the US. Sports is a global activity, whether it’s soccer, basketball, football, rugby, it could be whatever. It’s a global area for entertainment. I’ll be going to the 2020 Olympics and I’m looking forward to that as well.

It’s such a strange time. I can’t fathom what you would see from a financial aspect since that’s not my forte. My background is not in financial aspects. I’m curious, what do you think this overall impact of COVID is going to have on the economy in general? You got to think people reading this are not going to be CFOs but in general business people. Do you think this stimulus is a good idea? I’m curious about your perspective.

In the ‘08, ‘09, it was clearly a stimulus because you had a lack of demand. Unfortunately, it’s not perceived as a stimulus because you don’t have a lack of demand. That’s not the issue. The issue is salvation. A lot of people that have been forced out of work not because of anything they have done but because of the government shutdown. You’re talking about putting money in people’s pockets that otherwise would not be able to eat or have money for rent or stay in business. This is keeping small and medium-sized businesses around. It’s allowing the restaurant workers to be able to live. It’s called care.

The reality is people want the dignity of a good job, a well-paying job. Click To Tweet

How do we care for employees? How do we care for human systems in this time of crisis? How do we care for workers? It could be everything, governments, hospitals can’t do elective surgeries, the airline business is 90% down, airports, hotels, you name it. Through no bad actions they took but because of a pandemic. One of the things that’s interesting, we all look at risk factors and so forth. I happened to be at the Davos World Economic Forum. It was not even a subject. The WHO said there was not anything serious. If you look at all the company risk factors, you’ll probably never find this in any risk factor that any company put together, and yet it’s crippling. It always says, “Be aware of risk factors.”

I was listening to a webinar and they were talking about how this is going to reduce the value of the dollar inflation and all the things that could go along, that it will put more focus on Bitcoin and other types of currencies like that. Do you think that that’s going to have a big impact on cryptocurrency?

I don’t follow it closely. The last time I did, I heard Bitcoin was weighed down in value so I don’t know. The US dollar has gone up dramatically. I do follow Mexican currency because I have a home there. The Mexican currency has gone way down. It’s 25 to 1 the last I looked versus more in the high-teens. I can’t speak for crypto. It’s not my area of expertise at all. What it’s doing is it’s advantaging strong countries, strong currencies and large companies. The big tech companies will be hurt so much from an advertising-driven model. I predict the large tech companies doing quite well through this activity. If you go back to the ‘16 time frame where we had a little bit of a hiccup. The ‘08, ‘09, big hiccup, ‘01, ‘02. You see a lot of great technology companies get started. The mother of all inventions is, do I have to do it?

We’ll look back a few years and say, “Look at these great companies that started in the worst of times.” You’re seeing some big changes. You’re seeing an emphasis on how you work from home, whether it’s video conferencing, whether it’s Slack and some of those opportunities, Microsoft Teams. You’re seeing a number of products. There will be a lot more emphasis on robotics and think about that. Working from home, you need high speeds or 5G. It will be pushed a lot, AI and so forth. If anything, this will usher in even more and more innovation.

It’s going to be interesting to see how people adjust. I’ve worked from my home for more than 33 years. The virtual thing isn’t as challenging for some of us who’ve done it. When people are thrown into this, there have been a lot of companies that have had to all of a sudden increase what they’re offering. Zoom, for example. Amazon is getting tasked. They’re all getting tasked with all this extra. It’s going to make some interesting case studies. I’ve taught many courses and business. We look at all these companies to look at what they did right, what they could have done better. We use them as a roadmap.

You were often mentioned because of your connection to Yahoo and what you did there. I want to talk about that because a lot of these interviews I use in my business course is for my students so they can learn a little bit from each person I interview. It’s important to look at what Yahoo did well and what they could have done differently. I was wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about what your experience was there and what you think went well and what you wish you could have done differently.

Marissa and I had a great rapport. She found me through some referrals. It took a while for us. She is a first time CEO. She had a successful career at Google and learned how to be a CEO and how important numbers were in everything you do. We set expectations that it would take longer than we had expected to do some of the reshuffling of the company. For example, when we got there, there were ten people on mobile or maybe twenty. I was hiring anyone. Mobile was clearly a future of all content in terms of how you deliver it. We had no mobile content strategy. We probably should have been a little more cognizant of the time it would take to doing necessary steps to reposition the company in some of the new growth and important growth areas. That was key.

The challenge we had a little bit was getting a board that we could work well together and there was the line with management. Originally, it was good. Over time we had a lot of activists that destroyed the vibe and the board, and the consistency between the board and management. It became sometimes more adversarial than it had to be. It still weighs on me and how some activists are constructive and some I don’t believe are constructive at all. I tend not to want to be part of an activist driven board. That’s not who I am.

There were a number of things. We probably should have taken some class-actions a little earlier to get ahead of the curve a little bit more than we did. I would probably look at doing that a little bit quicker. The reality is we did some good things. We were supposed to sell a large part of our Alibaba stake. Marissa had negotiated certainly a lot less than we had agreed to sell, which turned out to be worth billions and billions of shareholder value. I don’t remember exactly what went there. The stock was somewhere in the mid-teens. When I left it was in the mid-50s. It’s not a bad return at all for the five years we were there.

TTL 703 | Well-Founded Reputation
Well-Founded Reputation: It is good to have fresh talent, but it’s also always good to have institutional knowledge from people who have been on the board for a number of years.

 

In terms of the results, we had strong profit profitability when we left. We have some great assets in terms of Alibaba and some of our other stakes in terms of Yahoo Japan, which we furthered. We did a lot of things quite well. We created a lot of shareholder value and it was ultimately sold. Unfortunately, we sold the operating part of the business to Verizon, which was ill-advised in my opinion. It wasn’t something I would have preferred. I don’t think it’s worked out well for anybody.

Yahoo is often compared with Google and your relationship with Eric Schmidt. I’m wondering if you guys ever discussed how things went with Yahoo and Google.

No, it’s not apropos.

It’s challenging when you start in a company that maybe has culture issues. You said that there was some negative culture when you got there. What kinds of things did you have to turn around?

I didn’t necessarily say it was a negative culture. Marissa created a great culture driven by innovation and technology. Over time, she initially had some people that she had to change out because they weren’t the right culture for us. In the end, we had a phenomenal great culture. We had great people. She had a great leadership team. We worked exceedingly well together. We enjoyed each other’s company. She was true to words. She was authentic. We all worked well amongst us and teams. We worked well with some of the board members. I’ll probably leave it there. At the end of the day, we collectively made a lot of money for people because the stock was somewhere in the mid-teens when we got there. It was over in the 50s when we left.

Some of these companies with young cultures like that, a lot of them are trying to improve their innovation by encouraging curiosity. How did they do that at Yahoo? You know how Google was known for letting people work on pet projects and things like that. Did they have something similar at Yahoo?

We didn’t do as much of that because Google was in a much better position. They were doing exceedingly well. We had a lot of work to do to get our company and get Yahoo back where it should have been. We had to have all hands on deck. We were not as much focused on that aspect as what we needed to do to right the ship and reposition it. I use one example in terms of the lack of a mobile strategy but there were others. How do you drive more expertise in our sports or search or finance? How do you differentiate our search? We had done a relationship with Microsoft, which we had to figure out how to make the best of that. For us, we’re different from Google. Google was in a good position and we had a lot of work to do to get ourselves repositioned. It was time to have all hands on deck.

You mentioned the Verizon purchasing and that type of thing. I did some videos for Verizon because they’re focusing on building curiosity. Their CEO is much into that. I am interested in how the culture at Verizon compared to the culture at Yahoo.

I was only there for a little bit of time. As soon as the acquisition was done, I left. I was there for some time in which we were doing the M&A transactions. The challenge for Verizon is they’re not steeped in media. If you read their annual reports, they don’t talk a lot about media at all. They’re a New York-based firm or at least East Coast based firm. Historically, they’ve run the media business also out of New York as opposed to the West Coast. I don’t know if that has changed because they hired someone who used to work at Yahoo to run the combined media group. The challenge for them is how to get leverage between their huge mobile business and their media businesses. I’ll leave it to them to figure that out. That’s not my calling. From reading the public articles, it’s still taking them time to figure that out.

You talked about one of the things for success is benchmarking. What kinds of things are you talking about when you talk about benchmarking?

We did a lot of that. In our case, I had worked with McKinsey and some of the people there when I was in Siebel. I have the utmost respect for McKinsey and some of the work they did. We brought in some people there. The thing that they were able to do for us that we couldn’t do, particularly for some of our functions is they have their own database of benchmarks. You don’t necessarily see the companies but you know. You can look at marketing. You can look at customer service. You can look at finance. You can look at all these functions and they can compare you to best in class, both cost-wise, organization-wise. We could not do that because we didn’t have the data.

They were extremely helpful in some of our marketing strategies. They helped us refine our customer service strategies and what we should do. I’m a big fan of benchmarking, using that to help you achieve best practices. The key is they have smart people. I said McKinsey. It could be a number of others. We happened to use McKinsey and they were great. The key is they have a database. They have people that have seen other companies and they have a good sense of other companies in what they do. That was the data we didn’t have.

When you were talking about some of the things that worked and didn’t work, you mentioned boards. I know that boards often have former CFO. I’m sure you’re in high demand for boards. In California, they have that law that they were controversial, whether they should have more women on boards. Are you seeing more women on the boards? Do you think that they should have more diverse boards that aren’t financially focused? You need the finance people, but do you need culture experts? Do you need other types of experts? I’m curious what’s your opinion.

If anything, this crisis will actually add even more and more innovation. Click To Tweet

Getting a diversity of boards is helpful. Diversity comes in all flavors. It could be male and female. It could be ethnicity. It could be your experiences. It could be functions. Some of my boards were doing a phenomenal job. If you look at a GoPro’s board, we’ve had some challenges but we have an extremely diverse board, no matter how you look at it. Diversity could be tenure. How long have various board members been on the board? It’s always good to have fresh talent, but also it’s always good to have institutional knowledge from people who’ve been on the board for a number of years as well. Diversity comes in a lot of different flavors. It may be beneficial to have people who have been in large government or military backgrounds that have great leadership roles as well. Diversity is helpful.

You’ve gone through many different areas. You mentioned all these companies and this board of directors, GoPro and all the things that you’ve mentioned that you’ve worked with all these groups. I’m curious, if you weren’t working in a family office situation, would you go back to another Yahoo or large organization like that as a CFO or have you been there, done that?

It’s not something I have in mind. I never say never to anything. I have a lot of experience. I’ve enjoyed what I do. The key is to stay engaged and relevant, but also be able to have a perspective and balance in what you do.

You do have a variety of things you do. I was surprised to see you’re a big windsurfer and kiteboarder. Where do you do that? Isn’t it cold up there? Where do you get the chance to go kiteboarding and windsurfing?

I haven’t been into it lately at all. I usually do it in Maui, but Maui is quarantined away so I can’t go there.

It’s not up in San Francisco, I imagine.

No. I don’t like cold water.

You have a fascinating background. I know that you’re dealing with real estate, aviation, and maritime. You have many things that you deal with what you’re doing. I thought this was going to be such an interesting conversation and I appreciate the time you took to share it with everybody. If somebody wanted to find out more or reach you, do you do speaking? Do you do different things like that or are you on social media?

I’m glad to give my email, KGoldman5@Gmail.com or simply KGoldman@Hillspire.com. I try to be responsive to emails. If anyone wants to reach out, I’m more than glad to connect.

Thank you. This was interesting. I enjoyed our conversation. I hope to see you at another one of these events where we met originally. It was nice of you to do the show.

It’s my pleasure and privilege. I enjoyed it. The last thing I’ll say is I always remind people, even in my own organization and boards, to get out and be relevant and network. I’m on a number of Zooms where I listen to a lot of board best practice as well as I get invited to those and CFO best practices. I always encourage not just sitting in your four walls of your offices, when we get back to offices, but get out and about and be engaged in the broader community.

I love that, be curious. Thank you so much, Ken.

I enjoyed talking to Ken on the show. I wanted to have him on the show because I’ve had such great interactions with a lot of people like Ken that I met through some of my board of advisor roles that I’ve had throughout my years. Ken and I met through DocuSign, which was when Keith Krach was the CEO and Chairman there. Keith is the ultimate personality guy. He puts together these groups of people and everybody’s more interesting than the next. He’s more interesting than everybody else. You learn so much when you’re in these groups. Many people can get the advantage of having these groups around them to network. I love that Ken brought that up because a lot of us don’t network until we realize we need it. This is something we have to be more proactive about, getting out there, socializing, finding the people with whom you have great connections, and helping people by giving them content that is helpful to them without even requesting anything in return. I do a lot of that with the show. A lot of people could get a lot out of having a show like this.

TTL 703 | Well-Founded Reputation
Well-Founded Reputation: It is good to have fresh talent, but it’s also always good to have institutional knowledge from people who have been on the board for a number of years.

 

I have to say, I never had any intention of doing this show for any other reason than the fact that I found it interesting to meet many great people like Ken or Keith or all the people, Steve Forbes. Everybody who’s been on my show has been amazing. The fact is if you can do something where you’re helping somebody and not asking for anything in return, you make a great connection that you don’t even realize. It’s been fortuitous that things have come from having this show. I would’ve never probably served on several of the boards I’ve served on had it not been through connecting and meeting people and thinking, “I’d love to help you.”

A lot of the boards I serve on, they’re volunteer situations and we need to do more of that. We’re seeing that in this COVID situation. There are many people who could be helped by having connections and realizing that there are other people with whom they can interact and have someone to go to for questions and advice and perhaps even a job. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote about curiosity because we need to do more exploration. We need to get out of status quo thinking. A lot of people are stuck in the old ways of doing things. I’m curious to see if we’re going to have that as an outcome from all of this. Everybody gets the benefit from this even though it’s such a horrific situation. It opens up our minds to being more proactive, having foresight and asking more questions and not just doing things in a status quo way, because we’ve always done it a certain way.

Nobody could have foreseen this other than Bill Gates in his famous video. He did foresee this. In general, more people out there had no idea. The ramifications of where we are. My husband being a plastic surgeon for example, it’s something I would have as a foresight teacher even considered would be in peril based on this situation. It’s hard to have all the answers for what’s going to happen. You have to try and be as proactive as possible. Have plans in effect for disaster situations. I don’t think a lot of people are that prepared. I know I’ve had a lot of people talk about that crisis management on the show. A lot of it wasn’t necessarily aimed at a virus situation but now that we know this, it adds so much more to what we need to be prepared to do. That ties in well to developing curiosity.

I talked to a lot of organizations on the show. We mentioned Verizon and I’ve worked with many others, Novartis and big organizations that see the value in exploring curiosity. I am doing some research studies that look at how this is impacting engagement, innovation, idea generation and all these things, because if we can allow people to explore and ask questions, there’s so much more that can be discovered in terms of what their interests are. Maybe they would be better aligned somewhere else. Maybe their skills are being overlooked. There are many people who go in. It reminds me of the old Dunkin Donut commercial, “It’s time to make the donuts.” That was a famous commercial in the ‘70s. Every day it was the same day. We’re seeing that people are capable of doing many other different things. People are learning to be more adaptable and more flexible. Having to work virtually is one of the things that they have to do that no one ever anticipated perhaps.

Companies are being stressed to the max. Zoom has had more than they probably ever could have anticipated. Amazon, some of these companies who were successful in their own right have been put into the spotlight even more. Some of this was hard to foresee. The time will never ever go back in some respects to how they were because you can’t unsee what we’ve seen. This has been a challenging time. This is a good time to spend developing your curiosity while you’re at home, while you’re reading things like this. What’s holding you back?

I do this with people in my training sessions. I have them write down on a piece of paper the things they fear of why they don’t give answers or ask questions in meetings and why they don’t suggest different things that could be helpful to the company. When you write down some of these things, you’ll see what’s holding you back. A lot of it is rational and some of it is irrational. Some of it is based on our past experiences. That comes into our environment. We’ve had leaders who may have shut us down in the past, didn’t want to listen to what we said or even current leaders.

We’ve had our parents who have directed us in certain directions, our teachers, and you name it, everybody around us. As we write down our fears, maybe write down what things in our own environment may have impacted our desire to maybe take this class or research this thing or pursue something different. A lot of it could be your family had always wanted you to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever it is that the family always was. You get pushed in a certain direction and maybe pushed away from something that could have been more interesting to you.

I focus on these four factors that inhibit curiosity. We mentioned fear and environment but there are also the assumptions, the things that we tell ourselves. They can be influenced by our fear and by our environment. You might tell yourself, “I’m not interested in studying that because I didn’t like it when I was young. Nobody in my family studies that because they made fun of me if I did. This is something that sounds too hard. I don’t have enough time.” We have plenty of time. It’s hard to get the motivation sometimes because of how we’re feeling. There are a lot of things that if you write down what it is that’s stopping you, you can see the things that you’re telling yourself that could be holding you back.

Also, we need to look at technology if we over or under-utilize it. Sometimes we have this over-reliance on it. Think of a calculator. If you never knew how to add anything other than to push buttons on the calculator, you might have been the most incredible math wizard in the world but nobody ever taught you the foundations behind it. That’s what I’m talking about over-utilization of technology. Sometimes we need to go back to the basics and understand the reasoning behind why it works the way it works, how we can improve ourselves, and take advantage of the technology.

For those of us who under-utilize it, there’s so much that you can do with technology that if you don’t understand it, then that’s another problem. You might be the greatest programmer in the world and you’ve never been exposed to taking programming classes. You may also go back to the assumptions that you make. You may talk yourself out of it. Think of the words you tell yourself. Are you telling yourself, “I took that training for the last version. I don’t want to go through it again because they’re just going to give me a new version. Why go through it?” There are certain things that you tell yourself. There can be frustrating times. Don’t get me wrong. Everybody has their moments where you think, “Do I want to get the next iPhone because I have this one. Do I want to learn the next version?” Whatever it is the technology that we’re looking at.

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If you don’t keep up, you’re going to get behind and then you’re going to be more frustrated. Sometimes it’s easier to take things in incremental baby steps than to try to take big bites at a time. With curiosity, you’ve got to look at it that way as well. It’s not about learning everything you can about programming or it’s not learning everything you can about teaching or being a lawyer or whatever it is that you want to look into. It’s learning a little bit more about something different every day. The way they talk about Steve Jobs taking a calligraphy class and how it changed fonts forever. Taking one little class that he even didn’t get credit for, he just sat in. Those kinds of things. Read a different section of the newspaper you would never have read. Take a different route to work and look at things that you’d never looked at. A lot of it boils down to thinking about what you do is repetitive. I don’t think that a lot of people recognize that.

As you write down those four factors that inhibit your curiosity, which are Fear, Assumptions, Technology, and Environment. In that order, it’s easier to remember them because it makes the acronym of FATE. Write down the things that are holding you back under each of the categories and then create little miniature action plans for how you can overcome them. Maybe if you fear looking stupid in a meeting, create a simple question to start with and start making the questions more complex as you go along. If you’re a leader and you’re trying to create an atmosphere of curiosity in your company, you have to be able to model it so others can emulate what you do.

A lot of leaders fear looking dumb like everybody else. You will have to go through the same types of training programs within your own issues that you have just as everybody else does. If you can start your meetings, start your interactions with, “Normally I wouldn’t even ask this question but since we’re trying to develop a level of curiosity here, I’m going to show that I don’t know everything.” You then ask your questions. When you preface what you want to say or ask with that awareness that you know that this could be a vulnerable subject and that you recognize that other people might look at it in a certain way, it disarms somebody who might criticize you. It shows that you’re fearless and that is what you’re trying to instill in your corporate culture.

All of this is important as we discuss all the things that Ken has dealt with in making companies successful. He looked at benchmarking and different ways of looking at how you compare to other companies and how you’ve done versus in the past. All of that requires a certain level of curiosity. Some of the people I meet on this show are all curious. That’s how they get on the show because they’ve explored and they’ve reached out and searched and sought out new ideas and new information. For a lot of the people who are reading this and they’re thinking, “I haven’t reached that level of success yet. I don’t know how I am going to get there.” A lot of it is asking questions. A lot of it is overcoming these four factors that are inhibiting you.

If you’re holding on to status quo thinking, you’re not going anywhere. You’re repeating that Groundhog Day sometimes and that can be boring. In this time when we’re locked in our homes because of the COVID situation, this is our time that we can explore some things that maybe we never have had the time to explore. I hope that you take this time to learn from people like Ken and other people like Keith and everybody else who we talk about on these shows. Go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com. Look at probably close to 1,000 people I’ve interviewed. There are many people doing many amazing things. They are not held back. They’re not holding on to status quo thinking. You can do the same.

There’s so much information about curiosity you can get on the site. It’s also CuriosityCode.com. It’s a good time to think about the types of things that are holding you back from curiosity. There’s a reason that my work was nominated for Thinkers50 for 2020 radar, because curiosity seems like such a topic that you should know and everybody talks about it. It’s a common word, I should say. We’re starting to see the value of it and how it ties into innovation, engagement, motivation, creativity and drive. You think of all the factors that lead to productivity, which means more money for everybody. This is a time that we need to catch up. I hope you take some time to become more curious, to check out shows like Ken’s and this one and others. You can learn something from everyone. In this time of trying to find things to do, you’ll find 500 hours of reading on my site. There’s so much to learn. Take some time. Search through some of the shows because there are many amazing people on the show. I want to thank Ken because he’s such a great guest. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please join us for the next episode.

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About Ken Goldman

TTL 703 | Well-Founded ReputationKen Goldman is the current president of Hillspire, a family office responsible for financial and administrative functions, along with real estate, aviation and maritime activities. Goldman is the former chief financial officer of Yahoo. He joined Yahoo in 2012 and throughout his five-year tenure was responsible for Yahoo’s global finance functions, including financial planning and analysis, controllership, tax, treasury and investor relations. Prior to joining Yahoo, Goldman served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer at Fortinet, a provider of unified threat-management solutions, from 2007 to 2012. Goldman also served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer of Siebel Systems. During a professional career spanning more than 40 years, Goldman served as chief financial officer of multiple public and private companies and helped take three companies public. In addition, Goldman’s experience includes board director, audit committee chairman and financial advisory roles at more than 40 corporate boards, of which over 10 have gone public while he was a board member. Goldman currently serves on the board of directors of NXP Semiconductor, Trinet, RingCentral, Zuora, GoPro and the SASB Foundation; other, nonprofit boards include Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Foundation Board and the RFK Human Rights Board.

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