MARIANA REGO is a Co-Founder of Leadwise.email, a new initiative from Ricardo Semler, which helps modernize management practices at companies across the world. We talk about how they run their team of all-remote employees. Specifically, how they know what each other are doing, how they build trust, design thinking, and how they are reengineering corporate leadership.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great and we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I am interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely and today on the line, very exciting, I have Mariana Rego and you’re in Miami, Florida. You’re the co-founder of Leadwise which is a new initiativefrom Ricardo Semler and you also run the design thinking meet-up in Miami and you’ll tell us about your 12-week design thinking course that also just came out. So welcome and thanks for being on this podcast.
Mariana: Thanks for having me.
Lisette: And I want to start with the first question which I always start with which is what does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Mariana: So, I think all I need to get my work done is my computer and a pair of headphones and then I can pretty much do work anywhere. I think that’s probably true [unintelligible – 00:57] a lot of people who are listening today, right? As long as you have both and good Wi-Fi, you’re able to get your work done. I recently spent a month travelling in Brazil and I was in like 5 different cities and that was all I needed to be able to get my work done.
Lisette: Okay. So I want to…let’s learn more about Leadwise and talk about that and then I want to talk a bit more about how you work because like you say you just need your laptop and an internet connection and you’re plugged in. So I definitely want to get into that but tell us about Leadwise. What is this?
Mariana: So Leadwise is a new initiative that we started with Ricardo Semler who is one of the leaders of the democratic management movement. He, for those of you who might not have heard of Ricardo, he’s written several books about peoplecentric management and he was one of the pioneers of taking his factory in Brazil in the 1980s and giving power back to the employees, treating the employees like they are adults instead of children who need to be supervised and his company then experienced a lot of growth and very low employee turnover because of these policies that really worked. So, he is an incredible person who’s done a lot to change the way that companies run and are managed and give us examples of what is possible and it’s really a great honour to be able to work with him and learn from him and to create Leadwise, which is an educational experience, I would say. We’re creating right now…it’s a…we’re a start-up so it’s very much a work in progress but what we want to do is we want to help people transform the way they lead in the age of wisdom which we believe we’re coming…we had the industrial age in the 1800s of industrialisation, we’ve had the information age in the latter part of the 20th century, and now in the 21st century, it’s not only about information, it’s about leading wisely and managing wisely and living wisely. So we believe that in this transition, there are different ways of managing and working and we want to be playing our part in that and help people that want to go through that transformation.
Lisette: And do you think that the remote working is helping to…is remote working helping to cause the shift in leadership? I mean, is that…I mean, that probably amongst many things is what’s driving this initiative but how do you see that playing out?
Mariana: That’s definitely crucial. In the past, it was less possible, things that people such as Ricardo were positing in the 80s were less possible because you weren’t able to work remotely and now that we have this possibility, greater freedom is possible. The whole Leadwise team, we’re all remote. We have people all over…mostly in Brazil and the United States at this point but some people just…they travel so they might be in Europe, they might be anywhere else. So we all work remotely. We’ve never all been in the same room and our meeting room is Zoom and our office is Slack. So we manage to get a lot done and it’s really great and we are an example of something that’s been created through remote work.
Lisette: And why is it that you guys decided to work remotely yourselves?
Mariana: Because the team that was put together, the best people for the team were in different places. So it doesn’t make sense to move people and get them all in one place if they are happy with their lives and, you know, working on what they think is interesting. It’s not necessary these days, right? It’s nice. It’s nice but there’s so much…there’s the possibility of…I’ve had this surreal experience of actually meeting with people I have been working with for months lately recently and then I meet them and I’m like it’s not any different. Like, I already know you and we already gelled so well that it’s not really much…any different than being in person or being in a Zoom room with you all the time.
Lisette: Right. There’s probably that initial weirdness of first meeting and then as soon as we’re over that, it’s just the same as if you were [unintelligible – 05:04].
Mariana: It’s normal. Yeah, yeah. It’s great and you know I’m working with people…the Leadwise folks and then, as you mentioned, I do have a class design thinking 12-week program that I’m teaching here and that is in conjunction with a colleague in California who is a part of the Stanford University design school community and we’ve been talking for…we were talking for months creating the class all over Skype and over video chat and then when I finally met him in person when we launched it, it was like, oh, hey, there you are, you know?
Lisette: [You might be] taller or shorter than I expected.
Mariana: Yeah. Like, you’re really tall. You’re really, really tall but, otherwise, great, you know. We already know each other and we already work so well together.
Lisette: That’s funny. So, what challenges did you guys run into as a team when you were working…I mean, I’m sure we’ll get into like clearly it’s working well because you’re doing it but what were some of the things that you guys struggled with?
Mariana: Yeah. Setting deadlines and like making sure because everybody…we run ourselves as a democratic company as well. So people are responsible for their own deliverable and figuring out what needs to get done and running with that and figuring out what’s the best way so we have a structure that everything’s delivered when it should be in a timely manner. That was I think our biggest challenge but we figured it out. We have deliverables that are due on Wednesday, for example, and some that are due on Friday and we figured out that we have one big deadline and then people are free to figure out how to do the little things that are needed to accomplish that.
Lisette: Okay and how do you know what each other are doing on the team?
Mariana: We’re on Slack all the time. That’s pretty much it and it’s fun. I mean, I personally…I communicate visually a lot so, for me, I think being remote, that’s one of the challenges so I installed several gif keyboards on Slack so now we’re able to convey emotion and stuff through different gifs and we can always hop on Zoom team room if anything. So we frequently do that. Sometimes we actually will just work together for hours. We started doing that recently, just turn the cameras on and just work together and, you know, pipe up when there’s a question or something like that but then you really feel like you’re not alone and that really helps to push us and propel us and keep us focused.
Lisette: Interesting. So I’ve heard of people doing this, having these sort of group work sessions. I know in the programming world, they call it pair programming but that’s usually just two people working together but these sort of group work sessions seem to becoming more and more common. It’s a really good idea, I think. So how do you guys do it? You leave the video cameras on? How many are there when you’re doing these kind of sessions? What does it look it?
Mariana: Three to four people. Between 2 and 4 people, I think. I wish that Zoom which is the tool that we use that I think is becoming more and more popular, the only problem that I have with it is that the camera doesn’t stay on top if you change the window so you can’t see the people anymore unless you’re like sharing a screen but that’s the only issue I have with Zoom. Skype, if you click out of Skype, you can see the person that you’re talking to still. I wish that Zoom would do that as well. That way you can be working on something and still seeing the people you’re talking to instead of having to click back and forth.
Mariana: Yeah but that’s the only issue we have with that but yeah we will just turn the camera on. Sometimes we use the [unintelligible – 08:33] if we need so…
Lisette: Love it. Love it. And let’s see. So what do you think is stopping people from working this way? Because you guys are really talking about a new way of leading, a new form of management for, I think, you called it the age of wisdom. What is it that’s blocking most people from going in this direction? Because it sounds really good, right? All the freedom and the working and the…so why wouldn’t somebody do this?
Mariana: I think there’s several reasons, right? Basically, I think we…humans, we all have the same set of needs that need to be met and I think we prioritise…different people prioritise different needs in different ways, right? So I think that some people really prize the security and safety of having a corporate structure in an office that they go to and having a boss that tells them what to do. Some people actually really like that and enjoy that and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that necessarily…like, I just don’t. I didn’t find it satisfying in the long-term for me and my corporate career so that’s why I’m here today and I think a lot of people don’t but some people do and that’s great for them, you know. It can be exhausting also to always be making decisions and can…some people I think can experience decision fatigue. You read about that a lot in, let’s say if you’re reading about some cases about, let’s say, [unintelligible – 10:09] you hear that come up that people are constantly having to decide this or that and sometimes people just want to be…to have that security of knowing what needs to be done. If there’s too much ambiguity, maybe that’s just not the right environment for some people but I think on the manager’s side, I think that some people, maybe they can thrive in this environment but their managers, you know, their managers worked hard to get promotions and to get the status and to get the office and all of these, you know, attributes and the regalia of, you know, corporate life and they don’t want to give that up, understandably so, you know. It’s markers of success to them and to society. So I think that there’s definitely…I see those two sides of it. I think that maybe it’s…some managers want to keep the power and don’t want to…or they don’t understand it. I think a lot of people also jump immediately to say why it wouldn’t work. I think that you probably run into that a lot, right? Like a lot of people just think that there’s no way this could work and you’re like, well have you tried it? Have you seen examples, etcetera, right? So I think there’s that resistance. There’s a resistance of the managers and then there’s…maybe it’s just not for some people. Some people would prefer to have more of like a structured, know what to do, it’s exact and it’s very concrete and it’s just this and this is my boss. This is hierarchy and that’s comfortable for me and that’s what I want.
Lisette: Yeah, yeah. What do you like especially about working remotely? You personally.
Mariana: I hate being micromanaged and I like being able to say…it’s just healthier for me to be able to say, I’m going to go make lunch now and actually make a meal if I have the time as opposed to grabbing something, you know, crappy on the street and to be able to say, hey, I need a mental break. I’m going to go for a run or something like that. I really enjoy that. I think that it frees my creativity and enables me to…and then, I realised also, I feel when I worked in corporate life, there was this pressure to the face time pressure of being there all the time and being in front of your computer and most of it…a big chunk of the time when you’re in front of your computer, you’re not necessarily being, quote unquote, productive. You might be staring…I have, oh my God, this is hilarious. I have a friend. He created a…I’m not going to say who he worked for but he worked in the financial world in New York and he created a screensaver that was a screenshot of a spreadsheet. So if his computer went dead, it looked like he was working on a spreadsheet.
Lisette: Awesome. Clever.
Mariana: Clever so but it’s like you’re not really being productive so why don’t you go and go get inspired, get out of the room, go take a walk, go see something else, you know[unintelligible – 12:53].
Lisette: Right. Clearly he has ability and motivation because he built the screen saver so clearly he’s a clever guy and wouldn’t it be great if the motivation was actually on what are you producing rather than are you in your seat between the hours of 9 to 5? I think that’s…
Lisette: I mean, that’s what I find so…I love that remote working…I love it mainly because it focuses the motivation in the right place for everybody. Even the company wins if we’re all focused on results over 9 to 5.
Lisette: What I really like is this idea because…well, when you say, you know, people need to think for themselves and they’re professionals and I really like that. It speaks to me because when I worked in an office, just a few years ago, I took an office job for a number of reasons but one of them was to experiment with it and we had to show up by 9 am and I found it so limiting. I just felt like, wow, I’m a 40-year old woman. I feel like I’m in kindergarten that I’m not allowed to show up after 9 am. What if you want to run longer or what if, you know who knows what, you know maybe you want do your emails at home. I just hated it. So this idea of this Leadwise initiative sounds so appealing because it treats people as if they’re the adults and the professionals that theyare, that they can make the decisions themselves.
Lisette: So I want to ask a little bit about your design thinking background. Tell us what design thinking is exactly?
Mariana: So, design thinking is a way of solving problems more creatively. It is many things but the simplest way I think to think about it is it’s a set of mindsets and tools that have been put together and are presented to people as a way to solve human problems more creatively. It’s a set of tools and mindsets that is used by several of the world’s leading companies including AirBnB and Nike and Apple to create solutions to human problems that are more than just a thing that does something. I think that there’s a misconception about design. I think a lot of people think that design is putting something, a prettyaesthetic on something when really design is the act of thoughtfully solving problem, especially human problems, right? Problems that have to do with people and how people interact in the world and usually design thinking is great for solving what we like to call [wicked] problems, so problems that are…you don’t understand necessarily what the root cause is. If you asked three or four stakeholders, they would have a different theory. So you have to spend some time…the idea of [design thinking] is you have to spend some time and actually going and running and solving a problem, which is what we learn in school to say what is two plus two, it equals four, or like write apaper on this, you just go and you go with your first idea. You spend some time trying to understand the people and see what they’re not telling you and try tounderstand what the actual problem is they’re trying to solve so you’re not running it around and solving four different things because the four different stakeholders had four different visions of what the problem actually is. I love the example of…I come from an…way back when, I come from the engineering world. I studied industrial engineering and all my internships and everything were either manufacturing [your service] engineering based and in the engineering world, we’re really taught to think about technology and how to create an [unintelligible – 16:27]technology but when I was in engineering school, we were starting to get more about…that’s where I learned about design thinking, about let’s really think about the humans, especially in industrial engineering, really thinking about human factors engineering and ergonomics and how humans interact with machines. One of my favourite examples to point out the difference between approaches to solving problems if you just going to take the traditional approach, everybody travels, right?And then, you go on an airplane and most of the time, depending where you live in the world, you have to check your bag. You cannot take a bag that’s more than like five kilos on a cabin. So you have to check your bag and then you get out of the plane and you go and youwait by the carousel. It always takes forever for the bag to come, right? [At] a person who’s solving that person linearly night think, well, the problem is that the bag is taking a lot of time to come. So let’s go and try to shave off the time. Let’s create a new process and try to shave 30 seconds, whatever. The thing is is that people are really terrible at perceiving time. We don’t really have a really good way of perceiving like time shifting and passing. So the person in the end might still be unhappy if it comes 30 seconds laterbecause it will still feel like their time was wasted. And that’s the thing. The problem is not how long the bag are coming…are taking to come. It’s the perception oftheir time being wasted. So a lot of airports, what theystarted doing is that if you take that human-centered approach instead of technological approach, they’ve rerouted so that it takes people longer to get to the belt, to get to their carousel, and then they get there and they walked for longer. They were doing something and maybe it even takes longer but they’re happier because it appears to them that their time was useful, was purposeful.
Mariana: So I love that so much because that’s the thing. What was the problem? Was the problem that the bags were taking too long or what’s the real problem that people were unhappy in feeling that their time was wasted.
Lisette: Right. It sounds like a really creative approach to looking at things in a different way. Like, you could compare apples and oranges but actually you could compare apples and bananas too and it’s kind of coming up with that third option.
Lisette: Or fourth option even.
Mariana: Yeah and iterating and going past your initial idea is something that we really encourage in…go past the obvious. Get all those obvious ideas out but really try to create…go crazy, you know, when you’re [ideating] and that mindset and in that space, create…and then see if you can learn something from the crazy idea, you know, and then try to bringit down to something that can be real and useful in the existing constraints of the world but, yeah, because if you’re just going to solve problems in the most obvious way, you just going to keep getting the same solutions and maybe you’re not really solving the problem. So, that’s what I really love about it.
Lisette: I can imagine and I can imagine this comes in very handy when working on a team, especially with a remote team as having the sort of…I mean, I can imagine it comes in handy anyway whether you’re co-located or remote, but especially on a remote team, when you’re doing this, applying this with your remote colleagues…what do you guys use for brainstorming?
Mariana: So, I think that the best rule to keep in mind when you are brainstorming is that first you really should understand…understand the problem and not try to come up with solutions why you are working on the problem. I think that that is really difficult for smart people and I know that everybody that’s listening to this is a smart person. It’s difficult…we want to jump…it’s like you go to the doctor. You start telling them your symptoms and they diagnose you right away. Wait,but you didn’t hear the whole thing. Try to listen. Try to have that beginners mindset and hear what the person is telling you so you don’t misdiagnose them and keep your smarts aside. Everybody knows you’re smart and then try to remove yourself from the equation and really put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re designing and solving for, right? So I’m not creating a solution for me, necessarily. I mean, granted with Leadwiseit is for me, you know. I am one of the people in demographic but we’re really thinking about what about somebody who’s never heardabout this before? What do they need? What about the person somebody told…one of my customer research interview, somebody told me I feel like I’m standing in front of this mountain and it looks so glorious and amazing but I just have no idea how to climb it and I just keep that message in my head and then when we are in the ideation space where we try to be…don’t be judgmental, really listen to the crazy ideas, and don’t get attached to your own ideas. That’s the problem with good ideas, right, is that you become emotionally attached to them and then you want it to work and people don’t want to hurt you so you start getting human psychology and that’s how sometimes awful things are launched, right, because things…and I say awful like they don’t solve the problem that they’re aiming to because they’re about like oh but I really like this idea and I want to go with it as opposed to actually solving the problem. So it’s really hard. You have to be kind of Zen I think is the best thing for brainstorming ideation.
Lisette: Right. Detach yourself a bit and just throw things out. Yeah but…it comes back to then also having a safe environment with your colleagues where you can feel free to be silly and to fail in front of them and to come up with really bad ideas and to still vocalise them and I can imagine that’s pretty scary in general. How do you guys keep the culture on your team positive? How do you give each other feedback? What does that look like for you guys?
Mariana: Oh, man. Keeping positive. So, we…it’s so easy to just get sucked in and just work, work, work all the time and I think that as silly as it seems but like the gifts, like, most mornings, I try to send a good morning gift to the team and be like, something silly and different and that really helps and then Ithink also we started doing when we have a deliverable that on finishing, we have a beer summit where we all turn on our cameras and we’re like we’re finishing it, it’s done and then we all toast the beer. We take a screenshot of it. We share on theSlackfor whoever couldn’t make it and then we just drink beers and like talk. You know? Just chat with, you know, and get to know fun things about your colleagues and that don’t…that are not necessarily work-related because I think if you’re not around people in that physically, right, when you’re working remotely, it can be difficult to have like the glue, like the personal…to build the personal relationship. I think I don’t have that problem because I tend to bring the person [onto] everything I do. Like, I always bring my whole self to everything so I’m always like, what are you doing and I’m always trying to find out about people and what they are but I know that some people have more of their professional persona and it’s a little…if you’re not seeing people down the hall, it’s difficult for you to have those little side conversations that really build relationships. So I think having the beer summit and [out] when we have a deliverable, something that really helps. Like, I found out, for example, that one of our colleagues on the team found out he was a junior like world beach volleyball champion or something when he was in high school.
Mariana: [unintelligible – 24:01]What? That’s amazing. [unintelligible – 24:02] athlete on the team and you find out these things that, you know, if you’re just working remote and just focusing on the deliverables, you’re not going…I love the idea of the beer summit that comes from one of our colleague’s other companies that he founded and I think it’s amazing and if we forget it, we’re always lie, wait, wait, wait. We haven’t had a beer summit. Let’s have one this week or something like that. I think that that really, really helps and when I’m in cities where there are people that are part of the team, I obviously meet them. I go out at night. I try to, like, grab dinner with them and meet their families and things like that so…but those are the two things, I think.
Lisette: Yeah. I think I hear a lot that you have to be deliberate and you have to really invest time in your team mates because it’s so easy to just start checking tasks off the list and keep going like, okay, video on, meeting [had], check, noted, okay, gone, next thing, that you have to actually take the time to just hang out with each other which…
Lisette: …yeah, which…it’s just a little bit different because in the office you bump into each other…
Lisette: …but online you have to invest somehow. Yeah. A little less natural. A little less natural. I think once you get used to it, you probably find that it feels kind of natural and maybe it’s weird to the people who are around us who are just watching.
Mariana: [unintelligible – 25:51].
Lisette: But to the people doing it, it’s totally fine.
Lisette: So, what advice would you have for people who are just starting out or who would want to try this? What would you tell them?
Mariana: Man. So, I’ve lived the solopreneur life and I thinkthat that can be really rough because it can…it’s so easy to not even notice you’re isolating yourself, especially let’s say if you’re working in a home office, for example. Like, I tend to work at home most of thetime. Like, I’ve joined co-working spaces and in the end, I just want to stay in my pyjamas or yoga pants and work at home. So I think that it’s easy for you to isolate yourself if you’re…especially if you’re not a part of a team. So it’s important to seek out those people that are in the same boat and maybe form a collaborative or something like that where you can have that support of people going the same…going through the same thing as you. When I was doing the solo…mostly solo thing, I mean, I [have] partners but they were both doing different things and it was…I was more involved in the day to day, I felt like I was going crazy sometimes, like nobody understands what I’m feeling. So for those of you out there that are in the solo world, form a team somehow. Find the companionship of people that are also going the solo thing or maybe, you know, go and join a quirky space. Just get out of the house. I find that sometimes, because I am mostly I enjoy just staying at home and just not commuting, I sometimes forget to leave. So, last Thursday, I was like this is ridiculous. I just left and went to sit and look at the ocean. Like, I live in Miami, Florida. Why am I indoors all the time? So, I needed that so much and I felt so inspired when I came back but I’ve seen what’s it like to work when you have the supportive people and maybe if your project or your company is just you and you don’t have that online support of people, try to be around people and I don’t think being in a coffee shop really does it necessarily because of the personal connections. Like, do invest in a co-working space with other people or join a collaborative…we have some here in Miami, like a collaborative of freelancers. I’m sure there are and they co-work together and I’m sure there are other even more amazing thing in other places but I think that just being holed up on your own is…you don’t even notice that you’re isolating yourself and it’s important to remind yourself to step out.
Lisette: Right. I have the same. I love working in my home office and every one in a while I think, how long has it been since I’ve actually encountered another real person, like, quick get out of the house. Even if it’s just for a walk, it can be good but you’re right. It’s very easy to isolate one self and now there’s so many meet-ups and you can even co-work online and…but getting out is easier and easier but you’re right. Finding the balance, I think, is something a lot of freelancers struggle with. Especially when we work on things we like because then, it’s even harder to stop because we really don’t want to. It’s sort of you have to force yourself to stop. So great advice and let’s see. Oh I want to talk about…one last thing before I ask the last question which is virtual team management because Leadwise is really…it sounds like it’s really for management and for leaders. What would you say to people who want to manage or lead a virtual team? What do they need to know?
Mariana: A lot.
Lisette: A big question, I realise.
Mariana: Let me…I think that number one thing is that the regular…and this is remote or physical working together in the same spot. I think, in general, the employer-employee relationship comes from a…has a lack of trust inherent on both sides and that’s why people are not treated…employees are not treated as adults. Like you said, why do you have to be here at 9 and things likethat. I think that starting from a place of trust and trusting your people is important. You have to make sure you have the right people on the team and if they’re not the right people, there will, you know, they’re not going to be on the team and that’s fine. I understand there’s challenges around that but I think that you have to start from a basis of trust with everything that you do, especially since you’re not around people if you’re managing remote or like just working remote. Like, we don’t, you know, we’re a very flat structure and I think that most remote teams are flat structures as well. If you’re remote, it’s easy to misinterpret sometimes things that people say or why they didn’t do something because you don’t get the full context, right? So, [unintelligible – 30:33] is really important and not, you know, assume the thing that there’s anything negative is really important always coming from that place of trust and positivity, and then I would say also like always be asking why about everything. That’s just a good life lesson in general but why is the question and always ask why this, why that is I think the most important thing. I don’t really see much difference between this and Zen to be honest [unintelligible – 31:08]?
Lisette: Are you there again?
Mariana: Hi. I’m back.
Lisette: I’m still recording. How strange. We just zipped out and zipped back on so you were saying that you didn’t see much difference between this and Zen and I was just about to agree with you in terms of there does to be a lot of overlap. So assuming positivity and getting context and asking questions and being curious. It does seem like there is a lot of overlap. So, really good, not only remote lessons to learn but also just life lessons in general and ways of behaving. So I really, really like that. So I guess the last question is before our tech luck runs out, not sure what’s happening on the [tech] side but always something with remote working, right?
Lisette: This is just one of the things we have to deal with…is what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you and to learn more about Leadwise and design thinking?
Mariana: So, to learn more about Leadwise, you can go to leadwise dot email. That literally is our URL. leadwise.email and then you can just….that’s our page and you can find out more about it there and then you can just register your email and you’ll receive more information on email and to get in touch with me, the best way is to reach out to me is on Twitter. It’smarianac, as in [unintelligible – 32:34]Rego and then you can ask me questions. All my links to all the…to the design thinking Miami and the Leadwise and everything else social are on there. So I think that’s the best way to get in touch with me if anyone has any questions about any of that.
Lisette: I hope they do get in touch with you. Please let me know when you do. I like to hear that movement has happened through these interviews. It happens a lot so that’s always very nice.
Mariana: [unintelligible – 32:59].
Lisette: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today. [unintelligible – 33:03] I could go on and on but thank you so much today. I really appreciate it.
Mariana: Thank you for having me. It’s been amazing to get to know you and share my experiences and I can’t wait to hear what everybody else has to say about this awesome topic that I really care about. So thank you.
Lisette: It’s very clear you really care about it. Love it. Alright, everybody. Until next time, be powerful.