Joyfully Making Tech Better For Us All With Rich Sheridan


In this episode, we talk to Rich Sheridan author of Joy Inc: a case study of Menlo Innovation and Chief Joy Officer: the values of a joyful leader and how to build a culture of joy. We’ll hear about his company’s mission to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.

Rich is the CEO and Chief Storyteller at Menlo Innovations he’s also a speaker and author of two terrific books on how to manage for a better, more productive workplace culture Chief Joy Officer and Joy, Inc.

From kid programmer in 1971 to Forbes cover story in 2003, Joy, Inc. author Richard Sheridan has never shied from challenges, opportunities nor the limelight. While his focus has always been around technology, his passion is actually process, teamwork and organizational design, with one inordinately popular goal: the Business Value of Joy! Sheridan is an avid reader and historian, and his software design and development team at Menlo Innovations didn’t invent a new culture but copied an old one … Edison’s Menlo Park New Jersey lab. Henry Ford’s recreation of the Menlo Park Lab in Greenfield Village was a childhood inspiration!

Some call it agile, some call it lean … Sheridan and his team call it joyful. And it produces results, business and otherwise. Five Inc. magazine revenue growth awards, invitations to the White House, speaking engagements around the nation, numerous articles and culture awards and so much interest they are doing a tour a day of the Menlo Software Factory™.

Rich’s story is inspirational. Based on some extreme ideas, he’s created a software design and development shop that produces beautiful, functional work on time and on budget, without crazy hours or crunch time. What’s more, his team are happy to be there. In a world where about 70% of people are disengaged with what they are doing and the place they are doing it, Rich’s success stands out as a model for us all.


[00:00:08.100] – Rob Brodnick

Welcome to the positive turbulence podcast, stories from the periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to turbuators about their experiences creating positive change.

[00:00:17.250] – Karyn Zuidinga

Hi I’m Karyn Zuidinga, your co-host for the podcast. Today I’m going to ask you to suspend your judgment for a while and tune into an extreme, but transformative, idea. For the so-called knowledge worker the personal laptop provided to you by your employer is a given. After all you need that computer to get your job done, check email etc. etc.. Imagine now, no personal laptop for you. And worse yet sharing your workstation all day, every day, with someone else. When I’ve shared that idea with other designers and researchers I’ve gotten not just no, but an emphatic UGH NO! And yet that’s been an open secret to the success at Menlo Innovations where Rich Sheridan is Chief Storyteller.

[00:00:59.850] – Rob Brodnick

Hi I’m Rob Brodnick. In this episode we talk to Rich Sheridan, author of Joy Inc.: A Case Study of Menlo Innovation and Chief Joy Officer: The Values of a Joyful Leader and How to Build a Culture of Joy. We’ll hear about his company’s mission to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.

[00:01:17.830] – Sponsor Message

This episode is brought to you by College Confident. They will help you avoid college debt and get into the school of your dreams. Find out more at college We would also like to thank Mack Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor.

[00:01:36.850] – Rob Brodnick

I hope you get a chance to see it. But when the team comes back from lunch break, think about a coding shop developers and all that. To see them in action is is very much unlike any kind of coding operation I’ve ever seen before. It’s not that they only write code.

[00:01:54.560] – Rich Sheridan

It beats the stereotypes doesn’t it Rob.

[00:01:57.660] – Karyn Zuidinga

There’s a interesting launching point actually, around the stereotype, because if someone looks at a picture of this they would see an open plan office. And the idea of the CEO sitting among the team, it’s not that unusual anymore. It was a few years ago, but it’s fairly usual now. That is actually one of the first questions I have. Around the idea of this open plan space. How do you balance that with focus? I’m especially curious about how focus happens if you’re sharing a computer with another. How do you get to that focused flow?

[00:02:33.680] – Rich Sheridan

That is the key. The shared computer is what creates the focus.

[00:02:38.610] – Karyn Zuidinga

Interesting. How. Tell me about that.

[00:02:40.890] – Rich Sheridan

So let’s say you and I were at Starbucks, noisy big Starbucks. People everywhere drinking coffee listening to music talking to each other and you and I are just sitting there across the table having a great conversation. What happens? All that background noise just disappears. It doesn’t distract us a bit. We’re able to stay in focus in conversation even with all that cacaphony around us. It’s really funny because I’ll often share our story with people from a keynote stage and after I get done and step off the stage, everybody’s milling about, there’ll be hundreds of people, they’ll all be in conversations and this person will walk up to me and we’ll start having this conversation about this very topic. They’ll ask, how do you maintain focus? I’ll say, just like we’re doing now. They’ll ask, what do you mean? I said, you and I are having a great conversation right now, perfectly focused even though there’s hundreds of people talking around us. And they’re like Oh yeah.

[00:03:39.900] – Rich Sheridan

So it’s actually the pairing that creates the focus. And the other thing we’re looking for — There’s a lot of discussion about flow. I’m not an expert on it. I’m not a researcher on it. But I’ve watched, I’m probably an anecdotal expert on it, because I’ve watched this environment work for 20 years — and we don’t look for individual but we for team flow. This is a lot like a sculling team where everybody has to rowed together as opposed to I’m on the river by myself and I’m rowing by myself. And so, because we’re not only in pairs, but we’re in pods of pairs, so like this table behind me here the team chooses to push the tables this close together. They want to be that close. Because a team forms the space. Because the noise is all consistent It’s about the project they’re working on, the cards they’re working on, the technologies they’re working in. It’s the specific problems they’re trying to solve this week together that that shared noise doesn’t upset the flow.

The brain is this amazing filter. You can be in the middle of a noisy room, maybe you’re all by yourself, and you ignore everything until you your hear your name and then when  you hear your name, your head turns. Your brain just interrupted you and said, hey by the way you just heard your name you should go see who’s talking to you, and you find out oh it wasn’t somebody talking to me but they just said my name. But they were talking to somebody else. Any of us who have raised children know that. Even at this stage of my life my kids are in their thirties now if I’m in a crowded group of small children and someone screams out DADDY! I’m [immediately looking around]. That was actually part of your brain called the reticular activator that’s actually tuned to those kind of things. I think the word FIRE screamed in a particular way, generates a certain response from all of us instantaneously. I think all of those cognitive psychology elements are at work here at Menlo.

[00:05:40.530] – Rob Brodnick

I just I read some research recently that said that people who are on certain kind of production tasks like writing or doing other kinds of things show increased productivity when they’re doing their work in a third space kind of place where you have a crowd but it’s not a crowd that there is there for the person. As opposed to someone being purely isolated in a silent environment. There is something about the way the mind works. It’s almost like the crowd noise becomes some kind of white noise that creates an isolation space and if you’re sitting alone in a quiet room the mind starts to look for distractions and you you’ve unfocused from your task at hand. That was really interesting.

[00:06:20.270] – Rich Sheridan

It is. It’s funny because every time I wrote either of my books I was in a crowded room.

[00:06:27.180] – Karyn Zuidinga

I love that idea of pairing people and one computer. So I’m wondering what would it be like to work there? [I imagine] Day one: Hey Karyn, welcome to the team. You are our UX designer on this project. We’ve brought you in. And here’s Bob. And you’ll be sitting beside Bob all day long. And working on one computer together. I could imagine I would be like, what?

[00:06:56.620] – Rich Sheridan

Excuse me where’s my cube.

[00:06:57.900] – Karyn Zuidinga

[I’d be asking myself] How am I going to check my personal email? This feels uncomfortable. And there all all the human body issues. Right?

[00:07:06.870] – Rich Sheridan

Oh yeah. You’re in my bubble.

[00:07:10.620] – Karyn Zuidinga

And I’m Canadian, so I have a very large personal bubble in comparison to some of my American friends.

[00:07:16.090] – Rich Sheridan

I didn’t realize bubbles changed across national boundaries.

[00:07:21.080] – Karyn Zuidinga

Yeah they do.

[00:07:21.850] – Rich Sheridan

I can imagine in Italy the bubbles are very small.

[00:07:25.300] – Rob Brodnick

Yeah. I don’t think they exist actually.

[00:07:30.370] – Karyn Zuidinga

How does that — I presume during the interview process people are introduced to these ideas — but how does someone who is used to being in this other environment acclimatize?How do you onboard for that?

[00:07:44.390] – Rich Sheridan

I’ll back up a little bit into more of a meta-thought about culture in general and how it works here at Menlo specifically. I think if you want to be intentional about the culture within your organization you should certainly think about the specific practices you use that reinforce those cultures, that cultural intention every day. So, if the poster on the wall says one thing but all the behaviors inside the room say another the behaviors in the room are what defined the culture not the poster on the wall. And so, even backing up to the open space there’s some HB researched article now that just came out that declared open office ideas are probably the stupidest idea ever conceived. They do not work. They’ve never worked and we need to stop this practice as soon as possible. I know this because every time those articles come out people send them to me. I have every article.

If you want to kill an open office idea inside your culture just write me I’ve got every book, read article. But don’t talk to me just have me send you the stuff. We didn’t build an open office. We built an open culture. Our space reflects our deepest held cultural beliefs around transparency, communication, collaboration and, teamwork. And so, there’s a lot of alignment between the space set up in that. But now let’s go down deeper because we pair, an that’s unusual. All of your misgivings are totally on point. Especially if you’ve never worked like that before. It might be intriguing because Rob told you great things about Menlo and you’re like oh my gosh I think that would be amazing. I think it would be amazing. I’m not sure it would be amazing.

[00:09:21.430] – Rich Sheridan

So what we did was we reinvented all of the standard H.R. practices around building our team. How do we recruit. How do we interview how do we evaluate people during the interview. How do we make a selection decision based on all of that. And then how do we onboard new people and what’s the process even after onboarding in the long term? Because we knew that this kind of environment, as you were saying, is unusual. We’re not unique. We’re still rare though particularly for a software shop. And when you put the pairing thing on, again, not unique, but certainly rare that anyone would pair as diligently as we do.

And so what we did was we threw out the standard book. All of the things I used to do as a manager when I was hiring people. Because I hated hiring process quite frankly. So we said well let’s have an interview without questions and without resume review. Let’s make it an audition. And let’s give the people who are interviewing a chance to gain an experience from the interview that would start to acclimatize them to our approach so that when they’re making their side of the decision, because they should be making a selection decision too you know, it should be two way street, they’ve had a chance to directly experience what it would feel like to work here. So that they don’t come in on day one and go Oh my God I’ve made a huge mistake. Rob described it as so much fun but Rob never actually worked there. He visited for a day,  and he said it was the most amazing thing they’ve got this great culture. And then you find out — I made it here and I I sold my house in Vancouver you know my my family divorced me because they didn’t want to move to Michigan — but Rob said it was a really great place to work.

So what we do is we bring 30 or 40 or 50 people in at a time and we do a mass interview. It looks like speed dating because what we do is you pair you with another candidate. So it’s two candidates paired together working on the same task at the same time. Single pencil, single piece of paper, and then we give you the weirdest instructions ever. Your job is to get the person sitting next to you a second interview. Make your partner look good support this stranger who’s competing for the same job you are. Support them and help them. If they struggle, help them out. If you know something they don’t, give it to them. We’re going to observe you so you. You and Robert paired together and in that pairing there’s going to be a Menlonian sitting across from you simply taking notes about what they see so that when they review your behaviors later they’ll remember what they saw.  It’s success oriented. We actually want you to succeed. So we will give you failure modes before you even begin. Don’t grab the pencil out of Rob’s hands. Ask for it politely don’t ignore your pair partner and focus all your attention on the observer. Include Rob in the discussion. Seek first to understand before being understood. Ask questions. Make them feel comfortable if they’re uncomfortable. You’ll do this for 20 minutes and then we switch the pairs because that’s where we work here. No pair ever lasts longer than a week here. And so, we’ll do that three times with you while you’re here. And Rob will also get three different pair partners, three different observers, and then we send you home. The first mass interview takes two hours. 50 people in. 50 people observed. 50 people go home. There would have been twenty five of us who watched the 50 of you and then we talk about each one of you individually and literally that evening make a decision on who we will invite in for a second interview.

[00:13:04.280] – Rob Brodnick

30 or 50 down to what, about a dozen or so or less?

[00:13:07.340] – Rich Sheridan

Usually the first pass is about a 50 percent washout rate. So then what will happen is, we’ll start to do some numerical calculations on how many people do we actually need. Because the second pass is another roughly 50 percent washout rate. Second passes, you come in for a day come in all by yourself, and you pair in the morning with one Menlonian and you pair in the afternoon with another. You’re doing real work on a client project. Much like you were describing earlier. You’re like oh my gosh I mean I’m going to be here with somebody all day long, like in my bubble, chair up right up to me doing work together and a single computer? Yep that’s the way it’s going to work. At the end of the day there’s three more votes on how you did. The two people you paired with, and you. Because you might find out after it, and we pay you for this day, because it seems kind of onerous to have you in for a whole day. But we give you a chance to see what it really feels like. And I will tell you most people go home exhausted after the first day

[00:14:07.820] – Rob Brodnick

I bet. Yeah.

[00:14:08.780] – Rich Sheridan

I remember one time watching somebody just like shuffling out and I said, “How was your day?” They said, “it was awesome!” I said, “You look kind of tired.” [They said] “Yeah. How do you guys do it?’ I said, “what?” [They said] ”  You guys work all day long!” I said, “Yeah you’ve probably never worked eight hours in an eight hour day have you?”[They said] “No. It’s an amazing pace. I don’t know how you do it every day.” And then if that day works, if three thumbs up again, the two people you paired with and you, we will invite you in for a paid three week trial and then you’ll do three weeks — and they don’t necessarily have to be contiguous because you may have something else going on in your life would make that impossible — But we want to give you the best possible chance, again success orientation, to determine for yourself, and obviously we’re doing our own self-determination around this, is can you adapt. We know you won’t be perfect at this because you’ve never done it before. That’s okay. But are you starting to get it? Do you see how this works. Are you starting to understand what the implications of this for you personally? Are you a contributor? Do you support the person sitting next to you? Are you willing to say I don’t know when you really don’t know because that’s a hard thing for people to admit. Especially if they’ve been sort of hoisted up for a long period of time, you know, and they’ve always wanted to be seen as the smartest person in the room and all that sort of thing. So yeah. So we reinvented the interview process to go directly after the concerns you just expressed.

[00:15:37.940] – Rob Brodnick

So the selection process itself is an onboarding and you have lots of opportunity for people to either self-select in, or out, or other filters along the way. I mean, it also seems to be a developmental process and even for people that may not end up working at Menlo. I’m sure they’ve learned a lot about the world having gone through that.

[00:15:58.490] – Rich Sheridan

We had one woman who told us after the interview process, the first one just the three 20-minute pairings, she came up to us and she said I don’t really care if I get the job. I mean I’d like to the interview alone has changed my life and I thought well that’s kind of cool. I like that. And there have been some interesting experiments, our team runs a lot of experiments here, I tell one story in the latest book about Scott who failed the three week trial and the team did reset and did three more weeks and ultimately it worked. But it wasn’t a certainty and now he’s one of the best Menlonians ever.

[00:16:36.440] – Sponsor Message

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[00:16:46.880] – Karyn Zuidinga

I keep thinking about where you might have been the day before you started Menlo and the moment before you decided you know what –because it’s a weird idea only giving people one computer, it’s cost saving maybe…

[00:17:00.930] – Rich Sheridan

Yes that’s right. Because computers are so expensive compared to people.

[00:17:04.570] – Karyn Zuidinga

…Where was the aha the moment? Can you remember that moment? And talk to me about how weird that flipping is: Okay, we’re going to only have half the computers and everybody is going to be paired… Talk to me about how that felt. I had a team and a business for a while and if I had suggested that to my people at the time they would have completely, totally given me the finger and just said screw you Karyn. There’s no way…

[00:17:38.930] – Rich Sheridan

That’s exactly what happened Karyn. That’s exactly what happened after they didn’t make eye contact with me and didn’t say a word…

[00:17:46.320] – Karyn Zuidinga

How many people were working for you at the time?

[00:17:48.610] – Rich Sheridan

That was 14 programmers at the time and another set of people beyond them. And I suggested to them, and I’ll tell you why I was thinking about this because I think that’s an important part of the message as well, but just because you brought up the you’ve got to be out of your mind, Karyn, my team when I suggested to them that I just read this book by a guy named Kemp back on something called Extreme Programming. And in it he mentioned this idea of having two people on one computer. And I said to the team, I said, I’m really thinking hard about this. What do you think? No response. No really, I want to know what you think. Hard stare. You know I think it was one of those where   when you put your heads down you’re like if I don’t make eye contact you’ll go away

[00:18:32.750] – Rob Brodnick

Or I will disappear.

[00:18:33.980] – Rich Sheridan

Yeah exactly. He is dead to me now. And so finally one of my guys raises his hand and I say Gil tell me what you think. Let me tell you: blood, mayhem, murder. That’s what I think. That was his response. And it was the second response, and I’ll tell you about the minute, but let me tell you where this came from for me because it’s really important to understand.

I just had this LinkedIn message coming to me from a gentleman who’s been following me, read Chief Joy Officer, and he’s like oh my god I’m where you were when you were in your 30s. Help me. Can you tell me how to get started? So I get it. I was a dyed-in-the-wool programmer by the time I was just a kid. I was 13 years old, I fell in love with computers. Back then, way back in 1971 there were computers back then, they were a little different than they are now. But I learned to program as a kid. I got my first job as a programmer before I could drive. Eventually came to University of Michigan got a couple of degrees and launched a career in a profession that I thought would carry me for a lifetime. I was good at it. I was passionate about it. I loved doing the work.

It was challenging work but by my mid-thirties I was in a deep trough of disillusionment because everything was going wrong. The software industry is filled with chaos and bureaucracy simultaneously. And I would come home after very long days away from family, sometimes all nighters, and my wife would look at me, she’d say honey you look really tired, did you get a lot done today? I’d be like, Oh my God I got nothing done today. I ran from meeting to meeting, from fire to fire, from phone call to phone call, from problem list to problem list, but got absolutely zero done. It didn’t matter where I was in the managerial chain. I kept getting promotions. Everyone around me told me I was succeeding. And I knew in my heart I wasn’t. And by my mid-thirties I literally wanted out. You’ll appreciate this. I wanted to start a canoe camp in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. That was my escape just below Quetico Provincial Park, right around Quetico Minnesota area. But my wife laughed, to this day, at that suggestion that my girls and her would follow me to the boundary waters.

So I was trapped. I was scared. I was stuck in a profession that I knew I couldn’t do for another 30 years. In that moment I decided there was an opportunity inside this pain. And I started reading books, but not books and technology. I started reading books on organizational design, and teamwork, and management, future, visioning. All that kind of stuff. And I started digging my way out. I am, as my co-founder likes to say, the infernal optimist. I believe when you stick me in a room full of manure there’s a pony producing it, so I’m going to go find the pony. But by 1999 I’d been a VP for two years. Somehow I had mustered the personal energy for about a decade to keep researching and searching. And in 1999 I read a book, this book on Extreme Programming by Kent Beck. Saw a video on the industrial design for IDEO and literally had what Franz Johansson calls a click moment. That moment where everything becomes crystal clear. Not because it was just pure epiphany, because I’d been mentally preparing myself for this moment. I was searching I didn’t know what I was looking for. I only knew I would know it when I saw it. And when I saw what Kent Beck described, and he described working in a big open room, he described working shoulder-to-shoulder, in pairs, at a single computer and, some technical techniques that were very important as well to me. And suddenly it was like, I get it. I see it.

And so then I went to my team and I said let me tell you what I’m seeing. And that’s when I got the blood, mayhem, murder. And clearly they were like Rich we’re not seeing what you’re seeing. Okay, but let’s be honest here guys, you can’t be happy with the results we’re producing. And they got that. But the trouble was they were happy with their individual results. But the individual results never hooked together. And that’s what I needed to do as a leader. I needed all of their work to work together. We can all be cleverly connected to some slice of a tower of knowledge we have and say oh we’re okay. You know, if Rich, if you can get all of them to change I’ll be really happy. But please for God’s sake leave me alone. I’m fine right.

But after that blood, mayhem, murder moment, two of my guys came up to me, kind of off line from the meeting, and they said you know what Rich, we’d like to try this. We’re intrigued. We didn’t want to say it at the meeting because you know they’d be outcasts by their peers. So, I authorized the first pairing experiment for the two of them. Put them off in a room together and three weeks into that experiment, Clare, one of the two guys, Clare and Bob were doing it, Clare pulls me aside in the parking lot on the way to work one day and he says, hey I got a question for you. Are you still gonna pay me to work here? I’m like what? He says I’m gotta tell you, this thing we’re doing, it’s so much fun it doesn’t feel like work anymore. I’m not sure I should get paid. He says we’re so productive,  we’re making such amazing progress. I’m so excited to get to work every day. Okay so now let’s take that and compare and contrast it to blood, mayhem, murder. I will work for you for free. I am getting like three sigmas outside the bell curve of standard response. And I’ve learned when you’re going to make significant change, the energy for the change is going to come from the edges not from the middle. And we have to embrace both of them. I have to address the blood, mayhem,  murder concerns and embrace that positive energy.

[00:24:16.300] – Rich Sheridan

And so I tricked my team for a week into trying it so they could learn a new programming language, Java, back in 1999 that was a big deal. I said, hey guys  it’s just going to be a week. We’re just going to use the week to learn Java. And they are like, YAY Java! Because programmers like to learn new things. And I said we’re gonna use the blood mayhem murder techniques and they’re like, YAY Java!

[00:24:39.320] – Karyn Zuidinga

You know I worked with a guy who called that method, “Look, Cake!”

[00:24:42.680] – Rich Sheridan

Yeah, exactly, precisely. And so they were distracted by the shiny object of Java. And yet we used the pairing and we switched the pairs every day so they could all work with one another. And at the end of the week I pulled them and I said guys how did the week go. Did you learn a lot? And they’re like, oh my gosh! We can’t believe how much we get done. We can’t believe how much fun this was. We can’t believe how much I got to all the people I’ve worked with for decades but I never really knew them until now. And they didn’t know it at the time. I am just reeling them in with every comment. And then I looked at them I said, awesome, this is the way we’re going to work from now on. And all of a sudden no eye contact again. The heads back down again. They were like, NO! I said, guys, what did you just tell me? Mever had more fun. Never got more done. Never felt like you learned as much. Never enjoyed your peers as much. And they’re like, yeah… but NO!

And so it took another six months to change the paths in the carpet. To literally get them to work like this rather than the old way. And I was patient with them, and I was persistent. And all the things you need to be as a gentle leader to get them to try something new. But eventually the patterns changed and I will tell you, one of my oldest programmers, David came up to me in that time and he sat me down closed my door and he says, Rich you had no idea when you started this this was gonna be this successful. And if you look at your life you had everything. You had the title, the office, the stock options, the paycheck. You had everything. Yet you were willing to put all of that on the line for this change you didn’t know at the beginning would go this well. And he was trying to learn about leadership. And he said, how did you do that? And I said, it was actually really easy. And he’s says, seriously, because he was thinking it was courage. I say David, this wasn’t about courage. I decided in that moment that the risk of staying the same was far greater than the risk of change. And so I started running towards safety not towards risk. Because you see, David, you’re thinking about the worldly stuff. I was thinking about my heart for what I did as a profession. I was looking ahead in my life and saying I can’t do this the same way for another 30 years. I had to make a change or I was going to go to the canoe camp. And so for me it was existential. In my career. It was what I was feeding my family, and paying the house payment, and car payments, and taking vacations. And I didn’t want to be that burnt out guy that would come home and kick the dog and yell at my kids and they’d be like why is dad so miserable at work? I don’t ever want to work in his profession. I don’t ever want to work. For God sakes, I love my dad but I hate seeing what work is doing to him. And I didn’t want to be that guy for my kids. I don’t want to be that guy for my wife. And so a lot of this boils down to this fundamental understanding of what, quite frankly, was a selfish pursuit at first for me. I wanted to build the place I wanted to go to every day and it worked. And you know, I didn’t know it would work. But I knew I had to try something. And it had to be big and it had to be different.

[00:27:56.050] – Rob Brodnick

That’s amazing. I remember the first time we met Rich. And I heard a version of that story a little differently. But we were in an environment we were passing around blue slips I remember like different people, ideas, and all that. In fact a couple of weeks ago found a blue slip that I wrote down during your talk and I had three words on it. In fact it was sitting up in the corner here of my work area: RUN THE EXPERIMENT. Those three words have been pretty motivational to me. I think you know backed by your story. But in fact even when Karyn came to me a while back and said hey what do you think about a podcast? And I’m like scared to death about the possibility of how much time, what would we do, would anyone listen to us? And I looked and I saw that card, and it said run the experiment. I don’t know Karyn if you remember that. And I said hey, this guy I know, Rich, said just run the experiment. Let’s do it! And so that’s been inspirational and motivational for me over the last couple of years. So thank you.

[00:28:52.220] – Rich Sheridan

Awesome. Well and I bet Rob that I told that story in the context of the Menlo Babies experiment.

[00:28:59.700] – Rob Brodnick

I think so. Yeah

[00:29:01.130] – Rich Sheridan

That’s usually where I introduce the idea of run the experiment. And KarYn I’m happy to talk about the Menlo babies experiment.

[00:29:07.550] – Rob Brodnick

Talk about the Menlo Babies experiment and then that extends to the Menlo puppies experiment.

[00:29:14.640] – Rich Sheridan

What I will say, in the book I use this metaphor of airplanes, in the new book Chief Joy Officer, I talk about flying in airplanes because it’s a passion of mine. But now when I give talks about the book I actually use a metaphor of an airplane. There’s four forces at work on an aircraft. There’s the lift force that causes it to come off the ground, there’s the weight force that holds it back down, there the thrust force that pulls it ahead, and the drag force that pulls it back down. And for an airplane to successfully fly you need more lift than weight and you need more thrust than drag. Pretty simple equation. Same thing is true of human teams. We need a lift of human energy. We need to have more lift of human energy than we have weight of bureaucracy. We need to have the thrust of purpose. And that thrust of purpose has to overcome the drag of fear inside the organization.

And so one of the things that I believe, and Rob you’ll confirm this now based on the fact that you’re actually doing a podcast, one thing that gets the lift of human energy high is that you didn’t say to Karyn, yeah well let’s have a meeting, let’s invite some people to a meeting, let’s write a policy, let’s form a committee on podcasting, and then we’ll have a decision making process. Because anything you put the committee will die on the vine. The difference in a “run the experiment” mentality and mindset is, take action. Try it. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. What’s the worst that can happen? You know you have a great conversation with three people you really like and you recorded it and you show your grandkids someday, hey look look that was 20 years ago or something. And they’re like wow Dad this is really a cool talk you had. I’m surprised you didn’t share it with anybody. Well we never did that part of the experiment.

[00:31:04.470] – Rich Sheridan

But eleven years ago Tracy had little Maggie. And when she was ready to come back from maternity leave, she and her husband didn’t have viable daycare options. Because the daycare they planned to use was full and grandparents lived too far away to help. She didn’t know what to do. She really wanted to get back to work because we had an exciting new project starting. I had a screaming match in my brain when Tracy presented the challenge to me. In the screaming match went something like this: the dark voice said don’t you dare say what you’re about to say. HR will kill you. You know, the lawyers will freak. The insurance policy will go through the roof. The bright voice whispering in my ear said, it’s your company. You can do whatever you want. You don’t even have an HR department. And so I looked at Tracy and I said, bring her in. I said bring her into work. She said, all day? I said, sure. She said, every day? I said, why not? And then she looked around this big open room. She’s like, Rich, where will I put her? I said, Tracy she’s three months-old. She’s not going anywhere. Put her in the bassinet in the floor next to where you’re working. She’s like, but what if she makes a fuss? I said here, it’s like a noisy restaurant. You’ll never hear it. She said, come on, you’ve raised three girls. What if she makes a big baby fuss? It’ll destroy the ambiance of the whole space. And I said, Tracy, you’re the mom I trust you. You’ll do the right thing. We’ll work it out together. Let’s run the experiment. That was eleven years ago. Just about three months ago…

[00:32:29.950] – Karyn Zuidinga

I’m practically crying here

[00:32:31.380] – Rich Sheridan

It gets better! I’ve had male German engineers come up to me in tears after this story, by the way, so don’t feel that you shouldn’t be shedding tears around this. Because it’s one of the most delightful things we’ve ever done. Just about three months ago Josiah and Flynn finally left after about three months here. Two Menlo babies simultaneously. Which is fun. We’ve been pair the babies now, apparently. They were Menlo Babies, just to be clear, this is really fascinating, they were Menlo Babies number twenty two and twenty three in the last eleven years.

[00:33:04.990] – Rob Brodnick

Wow, that’s incredible!

[00:33:06.210] – Rich Sheridan

This has been a phenomenal experience for us and it is just so heartwarming. We discovered some things. Did the babies fuss? Of course they did. But it was the team’s response we didn’t expect. They were like, no no no it’s my turn to hold the baby.

[00:33:22.720] – Karyn Zuidinga

What a lovely thing! Who woudn’t love to have the babies? You know, it’s better than puppies. I’m just saying.

[00:33:27.440] – Rich Sheridan

Oh yeah, well we got those.

[00:33:30.580] – Karyn Zuidinga

But you know what I mean.

[00:33:32.020] – Rich Sheridan

So that phrase as Rob mentioned has just become burned into the Menlo culture. Whenever anybody says, hey I got this idea. Almost the innate response now is okay, let’s run the experiment. Rather than let’s form a committee, let’s write the policy, and then let’s implement it. It’s like no, just try something. Action orientation versus contemplation orientation lifts the human energy of your team.

[00:34:00.400] – Karyn Zuidinga

Thank you so much Rich. I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.

[00:34:05.720] – Rich Sheridan

I have too. I think we could have done this all darn afternoon.

[00:34:10.490] – Rob Brodnick

So much fun!

[00:34:14.360] – Sponsor Message

This episode was made possible due the generous support from college confident who help students get into college and not into debt. Find out more about college confident at

[00:34:25.890] – Karyn Zuidinga

Thank you to AMI have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many of our guests, and of course the founder Stan Gryskiewcz is also the author of the original book, and dare I say… The Godfather of Positive Turbulence

[00:34:40.160] – Rob Brodnick

AMI is a pioneering non-profit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at And a big thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack Late Night Sunrise.

[00:35:08.640] – Karyn Zuidinga

If you want to find out more about your hosts, positive turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading list, head over to Until next time, keep the turbulence positive.