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Leaving Nokia, Joining MyStrands

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing enthusiastically about joining Nokia, and then about my excitement about working at Nokia on an ambitious new project (related to Context, Content and Community) at an ambitious new lab (Nokia Research Center Palo Alto), but in fact it's been over a year since the initiation of that transition (I believe I'm always in transition, just differentially willing and able to recognize it). I am still enthusiastic and excited about prospects for the project and the lab; I have grown to love the people at the lab and throughout the rest of the organization; I am grateful for being given the opportunity to pursue the work I love in a supportive environment (instigating a new generation of proactive displays). All of which creates strong mixed feelings for me as I think and write about my decision to leave Nokia, but as I've noted before, this blog is first and foremost a platform for entering and working through my discomfort zones.

While I am sad about leaving Nokia, I am very excited about the new position I have accepted with MyStrands, a social recommendation and discovery systems company headquartered in Corvallis, OR, employing approximately 100 people in a dozen sites throughout the world. I have chosen the title, and will play the role, of Principal Instigator (which was my unofficial title and role at Nokia), starting up a new lab in Seattle - a startup within a startup - that will help design, develop and deploy new technologies to help people discover, relate to and better enjoy the other people, places and things around them. I am very enthusiastic and excited about joining MyStrands and creating a new lab, and will write more about that in a bit (and in subsequent posts, once I officially start with that company). For now, I want to acknowledge the joy I've felt at Nokia, and the sadness I feel about leaving some of that behind.

A year and a half ago, when I ran out of runway (as my entrepreneurial friends like to put it) for my startup company, Interrelativity, and started having discussions with various people in research labs about re-entering the research world, Nokia was one of the few places where my entrepreneurial endeavors were truly valued. Most research managers I spoke with saw a gaping hole in my publication record, and didn't understand why I wasn't writing conference and journal papers while I was trying to start a company. Even though my startup didn't succeed, Nokia - in particular, Henry Tirri - recognized the risks I had been willing to take ... and was willing to take a risk in hiring me. I, in turn, was thrilled to be able to apply some of that entrepreneurial energy in what is, in many ways, a startup within a large company with a long history that includes many generations of dramatic changes.

Some of this energy has been applied in traditional (or perhaps non-traditional) research channels, but much of it, especially early on, was channeled in far less tangible ways - contributing to the co-creation of a new culture, forging relationships with people and organizations, and attracting world-class talent to the lab. Nokia has an internal process for employees to define - and seek explicit managerial approval for - their own "individual incentive plans" which can include such intangible activities. I've been very fortunate to have a manager, David Racz, who has explicitly supported these activities, and who has empowered all the members of his team to assume leadership roles in activities that benefit the team, the lab and/or the organization ... as well as the team members themselves. I have learned a lot about management and leadership (and technology, economics, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, to name just a few areas) from David, and hope I can effectively apply some of these insights and experiences in my new role.

Our team has grown from 2 to 12 over the past year, and despite - or perhaps because of - the diversity of people, I feel a strong personal connection with each of the members, above and beyond the professional dimensions of our relationship(s). In fact, it is these personal bonds - that also extend to many other members of the lab (which, under John Shen's leadership, has grown from 20 to 50), as well as people from other parts of Nokia - that I am saddest about leaving. I know from past experience that some of these relationships will persist well beyond the termination of my employment (January 25) ... but I also know that many of them will fade over time. I am grateful to have been a part of the Nokia family in Palo Alto, and to have had the opportunity to connect deeply with many people in ways that transcend "work".

Having recently written about the importance of aligning talents with roles in creating a high performance team, I can honestly say that I have never worked in an environment where I felt my talents – the things I cannot help but do (or, more formally, “recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied”) – have been so well supported, or where I felt I could contribute so easily and effectively by simply doing what comes naturally to me: winning others over, connecting, relating, ideating and adapting (my top 5 talents, according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder).

So, one might wonder, why have I decided to leave such a supportive environment? In a nutshell, it is because my conversations with key members of the executive team at MyStrands lead me to believe that I will be similarly well-supported in engaging my talents there, and that my new role in setting up and coordinating the activities in a new lab will enable me to make even more significant contributions at MyStrands than at Nokia, through practicing what I’ve been preaching about leadership, innovation and – of course – helping people relate to the people, places and things around them ... and doing so closer to home, enabling me to strengthen relationships with my family and friends in the Seattle area.

Essentially, I am leaving the best job I've ever had for another job I believe I will love even more.

In making my decision, I've applied the No-Lose Decision Model from Susan Jeffers' book, Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway. I shared this model in a blog post during my last major transition (when I decided to join Nokia), and want to repeat it here, because I've found it very useful (again) ... and it may prove useful to others:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

So, once again (or perhaps I should say "as usual"), I'm not sure what to expect, but I have high hopes that this new chapter of my career will unfold in ways that offer significant benefits for everyone involved. My experience at Nokia exceeded all my expectations, and I look forward to opening up new dimensions at MyStrands through which unexpected opportunities can be identified and embraced - by me and others.

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