Phuket beach (credit

Commando Culture — “Big Head”​ — Total Ownership / Part 2

Commando Culture — Total Ownership, aka “Big Head”/ Part 2

4th post in the series. The previous ones are:
Lead by example
Smile to Change
Big-Head -Total Ownership/ Part 1

“Big Head” — total ownership — If you see something broken, make sure it is fixed, even if it’s not your job.

I was looking forward to the 2005 New Year vacation. Target destination Thailand, starting with the islands down south, enjoying the sun, the food, the beach and the sea. Thailand is definitely one of my favorite destinations. Just before Xmas I got from California to Tel Aviv, for some meetings before the vacation started. The trip was well planned and everything was ready.

Sunday, early morning, Dec. 26, 2004, I woke up and was about to go for the morning run, I turned on the TV and watched the news. Not good. The reports about a tsunami in Asia started coming in. It became clear very quickly that this vacation is not going to happen. The hotel I booked for the first few nights was on the beachfront in Phuket. I later found out it suffered a direct hit by the tsunami and was closed for a while due to substantial damage.

But my vacation is not really the story. The story is about the 2 guys who were on shift in the NEIC (USGS National Earthquake Information Center), celebrating Christmas at work. Their uneventful shift was disrupted. They received an alert about a massive earthquake, 9.1 in magnitude near Sumatra Indonesia. They knew that there would be a tsunami. They checked who they should report to. The procedures did not say who should be alerted when there is a tsunami in South-East Asia. They went back to their desks, telling no-one. As far as they and the “system” were concerned, they did everything right.

230,000 people died(!).

In this situation, an employee with a “Big head” attitude would have called CNN, or some other news outlets, would try to get the word out, maybe call the US embassy in Bangkok, do something! Someone with total-ownership would go out of his or her way to warn whomever possible. There is always a way! esp. when the stakes are so high. Maybe most people who died would not have gotten the message in time. But at least some would…

The Jewish Talmud says “whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world”. I would like to think that my soldiers and employees would go above and beyond their duty to do the right thing, even if there is no procedure in place that tells them exactly what to do in an unexpected situation.

Big Head culture can save the day on many occasions, especially in startups that are always short on people and procedures, and even in bigger companies.

Years ago, when I was the CEO of Qlusters. I interviewed a field engineer from RedHat, a very smart and capable guy. He told me that he visited a customer that had a problem with RedHat Linux. He knew what needed to be done, fixed it quickly and the customer was very happy. When he got back to the Redhat office he was almost fired.

“Why?” I asked. The candidate explained that to fix the problem he had to touch the Linux kernel, something which was out of his “jurisdiction”. The Kernel team was upset (to say the least) that a field engineer touched something he was not supposed to touch. Regardless of the fact that it was a minor change, and the customer was super happy.

I told him that had he been working for me, I would have fired him for

Not fixing a problem he could fix, even if it was not “his” problem.

Process and procedures are very important, companies cannot grow without them, and Israelis are not as strong as Americans or Germans when it comes to proper process and planning. Nevertheless, in unexpected situations, and when resources are scarce, total ownership can make all the difference. Combining these 2 approaches in your company’s culture is very useful and powerful at any size.