Consider the bamboo

Posted by kdow on Feb 6, 2017 10:29:24 AM


“See the bamboo trees up there? Asked Masuro Hayami. “Yes,” Nike co-founder Phil Knight responded. “In one year, they will be one foot taller.”

That was the response to Mr. Knight’s management problem. He had no home-grown talent. People he hired from the outside weren’t working out the way he wanted. Not culture fits, most likely. He redoubled his efforts to grow & coach the talent he had around him. Lo & behold, managers were made within Nike.

That’s the most articulate way to explain how I’ve tried (and often failed) to consider recruitment for my team. Some brilliant people whom I admire greatly spent years moulding me into something half shaped like a leader. The other half is shaped like a madman in nice clothes. No one’s perfect, and by no means am I. Nor will I ever be. You should never trust a person that appears perfect! It’s reassuring to talk to colleagues who, from afar, are unnervingly good at solving complex problems & carrying out hard tasks without breaking sweat, but who open up to denounce the facade of ease. They’re fumbling around in the dark like I am. Whew! Everyone is human, it turns out. It’s a persistent, continuous cycle of fucking up, learning and improving. We are all bamboo trees.

Some theory

And that’s how I’m trying to approach the team that rely on me to not screw up so badly that we end up out on the street. Using my weird little CODE framework and adopting the ideology behind being humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable & transparent will go a long way in ensuring we’re doing the best job we can.

And coaching. Constantly coaching. Constantly being coached. It’s hard to keep ahead of my own will & desire to learn. I read a lot. I blend fiction & non-fiction to broaden my horizons and to put myself in a mad Haruki Murakami inspired world where the real & unreal mix together to create a potent cocktail of baseless confidence in ideas, altered realities, newly gestated passions & endless intentions.

Some practise

One way to imbue this into the folks who work with me is to have some framework that we can reference to ensure that people are improving. We break the necessary skills required to build their career & grow at this company down to 5 essential ingredients (which, if you’re copying this, would differ for roles, companies, and needs of the business — solve for business value first!). Then I plot each individual on that data set out against a benchmark of 1–5. i.e. On a scale of 1–5, how much product knowledge has someone got? Below is two examples of my dozen-or-so direct reports:


This is fairly fluid & requires a bunch of dialogue. Some folks might argue that they’re stronger at this thing versus that thing, but the overall shape of each individual’s strengths tends to be pretty accurate.

This helps me & my team measure the bamboo as it grows, and build people up to be effective contributors to the business. Moreover, it helps them understand & plan for where they want to go in their careers. I wish someone had done this for me 10 years ago!


I’ve no real call to action here. Other than when you work with others, regardless of whether you’re in a leadership role or not, consider the bamboo & it’s growth!