Harry Max is an executive player-coach with a long trajectory in Silicon Valley. Through his consultancy, he helps senior leaders and their teams realize their visions by zeroing in on pragmatic solutions to complex challenges. And on that note, Harry’s written a new book, called Managing Priorities, that teaches leaders how to do just that.

You can buy Harry’s book from Rosenfeld Media. Use discount code INFORMED20 for 20% off until July 30, 2024.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Harry’s book from Rosenfeld Media for review purposes.

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Jorge: Harry, welcome to the show.

Harry: Hey, great to be here, Jorge.

Jorge: I am so excited to have you on the show. I’ve known you for a long time. You and I met in real life, like they say, about 20 years ago at an information architecture retreat, and I’ve been a fan of your work ever since. I consider you a friend, and I’m really bowled over to have you on the podcast. We were just talking before recording that I’ve been wanting to get you on the podcast for a long time, but we have a really great reason to do it now, and I’m excited to get into that. A lot of folks listening in might not be familiar with you and your work. How do you go about introducing yourself?

About Harry & Managing Priorities

Harry: First, I’m Harry Max, Silicon Valley guy. I am an executive player-coach at this point in my career, which means that I’m a fractional executive, and I do executive coaching typically from within those fractional roles. I also do regular executive coaching as well, typically product design, product experience, customer experience-related stuff.

I’ve been involved — either as a founder or as an early contributor — in startups. I’ve worked in mid-size companies. I’ve worked in large companies like Apple and DreamWorks, Hewlett-Packard, Rackspace. So I’ve got a broad range of experiences as an individual contributor, as a manager, as a leader, and as an executive. And really, at this point in my career, I’m just trying to be of service in whatever way I can be.

Jorge: I think you might be burying the lede. One of the ways that you’re being of service most recently is you’ve just published a book. I would love for you to tell us a little bit about that.

Harry: So, the book Managing Priorities, here it is in my hot little hands. Managing Priorities: How to Create Better Plans and Make Smarter Decisions is the culmination of insights that I’ve had over many years in a long discovery process. Once I realized that nobody had written the book on prioritization, which seemed absurd to me, I took it upon myself to go investigate the topic, and I wrote the book. And it failed. So I set it aside and went back to the source material, spending years trying to understand what it was about the topic that was so tricky. Finally, I baked that into this new book. This is really the first holistic look at prioritization for business — how organizations ought to be thinking about prioritization, how to think about teams inside those organizations, how to think about the individual contributors as part of those teams. The book breaks apart the process from what it means to prioritize as an individual, a team, or an organization, and hopefully does it without any of the fluff of a regular business book.

Jorge: When I think of prioritization, the place or the book that comes to my mind is something like Stephen Covey’s book First Things First, right? But that’s very much a book for individuals. Like, I remember reading that and having it help me think about how I prioritize for myself. But you’ve made this distinction that this is a book about prioritization for business. How is prioritizing different for businesses than it is for individuals?

Harry: Prioritizing at scale is a collective, it’s a collaboration process. It’s a collective process that really is very much the same meta-process, right? The overarching process of prioritizing is roughly the same for individuals as it is for teams and organizations. However, at scale, when you’re in an organization, the levels of abstraction make it significantly more difficult. The types of conversations that need to happen have to be orchestrated and choreographed and sequenced in a way that makes it more like a game that has tournaments, as opposed to an activity that you sit and do by yourself. It’s one thing to play solitaire; it’s another to play Mahjong or a really sophisticated, complex game at scale. And then you add the level of what it means to do it virtually, across cultures, time zones, and different functions—it gets very tricky, very quickly.

Jorge: One of the things that I appreciated about the book is you provide several frameworks that can help people going through these prioritizing exercises. But what I really loved about this book is that it is informed very clearly by real-life experiences and is replete with real-life cases. You don’t pull any punches there. You hinted in your intro that you’ve had a long career working in Silicon Valley, and this book is filled with real-life case studies. I was hoping that you’d tell us about one, maybe as a way into illustrating some of these games that you’re talking about. Tell us about your experience with Virtual Vineyards.

Harry: That’s a story that a lot of people don’t know about, and Virtual Vineyards was… It became — let me start with the punchline — it became wine.com. Virtual Vineyards was a startup. I was the third founder, and I was the guy who designed and built the website and user experience, both inside the company for the catalog management and for all the interactions that happened for customers.

But what we did is we ultimately sold wine online. It became a wine and specialty food shop online. What was cool about Virtual Vineyards is we launched on January, I think it was the 24th, 1995, and that was almost seven or eight months before Amazon launched. So, that company, not in its original form, is still around, but I deployed what amounts to the first usable, secure online shopping experience.

Prior to that, online shopping was something that you either picked up the phone and did, or you did through a paper catalog. Or if you did it online, you did it either through a single-page form or by waving a rubber chicken over your head and using PGP. It was complicated, and the Virtual Vineyards experience was very much about being incredibly clear about what we were trying to accomplish, which was to make shopping online a possibility at scale for the future. It was about opening up a new type of channel for consumers to have access to information about specialty products because that information wasn’t available through traditional channels, which is why specialty products often don’t make it into big box stores.

Ultimately, I ended up leaving Virtual Vineyards after about two years. Once the system was alive, launched, and stable, the other two founders and I, Robert and Peter, ended up kind of diverging in terms of what our priorities were and how we were approaching building the store, building the business, and building the technology. So, the Virtual Vineyards story goes back to, in some ways, the beginning of a part of the commercialization of the internet. It looks at what we were trying to do, where we did things well, and how our visions started to come apart and how the priorities that fell out of those differing visions ended up, I think, setting the company on a course to not be what Amazon is today.

Jorge: I had heard you talk about this experience before reading the book, and in reading the book, the idea that came across to me was that the founders of this company — you and your co-founders — had visions of what the company was setting out to do that kind of got out of alignment in some ways. I’m gonna try to name it and correct me if I’m wrong here, but the impression I got was that some of you thought that what you all were doing was building a platform to sell specialty goods online. The idea was to make a platform that was replicable, and increasingly, one of the co-founders started going down the path of really going deep into the original product that y’all were selling, which was wine plus, I think, gourmet foods and stuff like that, right? So, it’s a difference of some co-founders thinking we’re going horizontal, we’re going for breadth, and one of them thinking we’re going for depth. A lack of communication happened, where the founder team became misaligned. And there’s a question here, I promise. The question is: is prioritization in this case a kind of MacGuffin to talk about strategy?

Harry: I think that’s a great way of thinking about it. I also appreciate your painting the clearer picture of the platform versus the more product-specific or service-specific angle that we went down because that is right. We started the company with a vision of templating specialty retailing online, which was a platform vision. And we did end up ultimately going down the very specific wine and specialty food path. The thing about priorities is that I talk about them like Eastern European nesting dolls — there are littler ones inside the bigger ones and smaller ones inside the littler ones. At the highest possible level, the biggest priorities really come from the convictions of the topmost leaders, and those convictions are integrally linked with strategy. If you take a vision and translate that into a mission — this is how we’re gonna accomplish it — and you translate that into the goals, right? Each of those is effectively embedded with a set of convictions, and they imply a very strong set of priorities. Where this gets interesting is people talk about using OKRs for things. Where do the OKRs get selected? Those OKRs are reflections of priorities, right? If you create your OKRs and you aren’t clear about your priorities, you are very strongly implying a set of OKRs, and all of that is how you think you’re gonna win, which is effectively your strategy. So, yes.

Jorge: Yeah. It’s funny, you used the phrase “how you’re going to win” because the image that came to my mind while you were talking was Roger Martin’s choice cascade model for strategy. Folks listening in, if they’re not familiar with this, Roger Martin, who was former Dean of the Toronto School of Business, has this model for doing strategy that consists of these five sets of strategic choices that an organization needs to make. One thing that I found really interesting in reading his book with AJ Lafley about this, which is called “Playing to Win” — that’s why I chuckled, right? — but one of the interesting things about that model is that in the book, they talk about it not as a two-dimensional thing but as a kind of three-dimensional matrix where the strategic choices get made at different levels in the organization and they need to feed both upward and downward, right? So, the choices that units make in the organization need to be informed by choices made at the highest levels and vice versa.

Harry: That’s right.

Jorge: Does this all imply that what we are talking about here is basically communication?

Harry: Absolutely, no question about it. The thing is, communication is an overloaded term in this context, right? Because it’s about communicating the context, communicating through conversation, communicating commitments, managing those commitments, unpacking communication into what it means to be communicating up and down in a much more dynamic way, and communicating specifically what’s important and what’s not important. When you get to the stuff that’s in between what’s most important and what’s least important, where trade-offs have to get made — this is the magic of prioritization, right? That’s where trade-offs get made.

The DEGAP Model

Jorge: You have, in the book, a framework. I’m gonna call it a framework. I don’t know if that’s the word you use, but you have a framework for doing this, right? The DEGAP model.

Harry: Yeah, I call that a process model.

Jorge: Process model. Okay. I would love for you to tell folks about it. DEGAP is an acronym, right? What does it stand for?

Harry: DEGAP is an acronym for decide, engage, gather, arrange, and prioritize. Decide whether or not you’re gonna do it. Engage in the process. Gather the information about the items or potential priorities and how you’re gonna evaluate them. Figure out how you’re gonna compare and contrast them with whatever methods. De-duplicate. Do whatever you’re gonna do there, and then actually execute the prioritization process.

And the thing is, I didn’t invent this. I discovered it, and it was after talking to a lot of people over a lot of time and looking at my own process for prioritizing that it occurred to me, the process of prioritizing is not about the act of prioritizing. It is a sequence of phases or processes that all link together where the final act, if you will, is the act of prioritizing. But you don’t do that until you have the items that you’re going to prioritize. And you don’t have those until you’ve gathered enough information and meta-information or criteria by which you’re going to evaluate them. And you don’t do that until you’ve talked to people, stakeholders, and you don’t do that until you’ve determined whether you have enough time, because sometimes you don’t.

And so this decide is really about making sure that the benefits of prioritizing intentionally outweigh the cost of slowing down to go fast later. And then identifying in the engaging or engaged process phase, identifying the stakeholders, whether they’re people that are outside, in your organization, or they’re your customers or partner suppliers, or folks inside the business, or even if they’re inside your own head, right? If you’re gonna go buy a new electric bicycle, are you gonna talk to your inner CFO versus your inner speedster? Are you gonna get the one that goes fast? Or are you gonna get the one that’s less expensive? So getting clear about your stakeholders in the engage process and so decide, engage, gather, arrange, and then prioritize.

So the book in theory, is all about the last P. I spend two-thirds of the book talking about E, but it makes no sense to talk about prioritization and the process of prioritizing and what priorities in fact are without helping people understand what it means to decide, engage in the process, gather the information, and then figure out how you’re gonna arrange it.

Jorge: An analogy that came to mind as I was reading it was, it’s a little bit like talking about fine cuisine, right? You’re gonna get a really good dish at the end. But, you know what, if you’re gonna do this at the highest caliber, mise en place matters, and this is in some ways a book about that. About, what do you need to get in place in order to actually get to what you want, which is the really nice meal at the end, right?

Harry: That’s exactly right. And I love the fact that you pinpointed the mise en place because I definitely read the book, and I’m struggling to remember the author’s name right now, but I absolutely loved the book that unpacks that philosophy and tells stories about how to think about it and looks at that as a topic.

Jorge: The DEGAP model, the way that I’m reading it, and the way it came across in the book, and now hearing you talk about it as well, feels to me that it’s quite sequential, right? Like the decision piece needs to happen before the engagement piece. That needs to happen before the gathering piece, etc.

So the source, the thing that gets the thing moving is the deciding part of it. And to me, this implies that this is a leadership activity. These earlier stages are where vision and leadership come in. And this came across in the book. I was hoping that you’d tell us a little bit about the role of leadership in this process, particularly as we try to bridge the gap between these kind of very abstract, high-level visions and the day-to-day stuff that people need to do to actually get that vision to become a thing in the world.

Harry: Yeah, that’s a great question because, of course, the natural answer would be that it’s about leadership, and we’re talking about leaders. But in fact, I actually think about it quite differently. I think about it as we all have to decide if we’re going to be leaders in our own lives and leaders in the groups of people that we’re with. How are we going to show up? Are we going to show up as leaders for ourselves, for our teams, for our families, and for our organizations? It doesn’t mean that we’re going to tell people what to do. It means are we going to create a safe space for people to do their best work?

And when I think about leadership, I often, as an executive coach, joke around. What is the only thing a leader needs? The only thing a leader needs is followers, right? People who are willing and able and then actually do what they say they’re going to do. Right? Followers who are willing and able and then do what they say they’re going to do.

So yes, prioritization is clearly a leadership activity, but it isn’t a leadership activity like somebody is a VP. It’s a leadership activity. Are we going to lead in our own lives? Are we going to lead with the teams that we’re in? Are we going to lead in organizations? And to the extent that we understand that part of us has a job to lead, it depends on the scale and scope of responsibility that we have in terms of who’s following us and how we’re going to set up the conditions for them to be successful.

Jorge: In hearing you talk about it, what was emerging for me was the idea that in some way, leaders create followers in that you put yourself out there, you put some vision out there, and if the vision is compelling enough, you might get folks to follow along with you. But then, it’s not enough to have followers. You also need follow-through. That’s what I was hearing there, and I totally get what you’re saying and feel strongly that it’s important for people to realize that leadership is not a job title that is bestowed upon you. It’s a responsibility that you take on, and it’s a personal decision whether you want to lead or not.

In the context of setting priorities, and now I’m thinking like whether it’s in a business or in a family unit or whatever, you have to find ways of making space for others to contribute to the vision. And I think this is part of the engage stage. I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit to that because, again, you mentioned it earlier, some of this stuff can be a little abstract, but I think that it has very real implications. So how does one negotiate this kind of tricky balance between, “I have this vision of where we’re going, but I also need to bring people along, and maybe the other people in the team have visions of where things should go that are also valid, and that should also inform these priorities.” How do you navigate those tricky waters?

Harry: First off, I would say that the trick of the book was figuring out how to move it from abstraction to being concrete. And I find when I’m speaking about it, it is more challenging to bring it back down to the level that I was able to distill in the book. Given that caveat for a moment, what I will say is so much of it has to do with effective listening, period.

What that means, however, is understanding who you need to listen to and understanding how you are engaged in listening. Then, quite apropos to the book that you wrote, how you’re going to capture and reflect that back. How you’re going to make what you’ve heard, the insights that you have, and the information that you gathered useful and something that people can engage with.

Because one of the central themes of the book is that people will tend to go along with you if they feel like they’ve been part of the process, if they feel like they’ve been heard and if you give them some kind of way of understanding what’s happening. And so the answer to this in so many ways revolves around the idea of creating a context for people to understand how they can move through a space that is the gap between a current state and a desired state. And that’s partly why I call it DEGAP: it’s about removing the space between an “as is” condition and a future desired condition. The book provides the tools to think about that, that go well above and beyond the mechanics of prioritization.

Jorge: In some ways, what you’re doing is you are articulating a space of possibilities in ways that are legible to people. You open the book with a very real-life scenario of a situation you went through at Rackspace when you were at Rackspace. I’ll let you tell the story, but the impression that I had in reading this was that people going through that situation might lack clarity of direction. There might be fear and panic involved in not knowing where we’re going next, right? Like the future feels uncertain.

And what I’m hearing here is that part of the role of leadership, and again, this is not necessarily a reflection of the hierarchy of the organization, but part of the role of the person who is helping clarify priorities, might be to kind of lay the cards on the table and make the possible futures more tangible.

Harry: Before I dive into that, I will say I really like the way that you talk about it because it is fundamentally about helping people orient. It is helping people understand where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’re going. In saying that, of course, I realize there’s a fantastic story that is not in the book that I could tell you about if we have time for it.

But the Rackspace story was, we basically got to the point of launching the open cloud, and it had been a grueling number of years. I mean, very long days. People worked extremely hard to figure out how to build a cloud technology that echoed the spirit of Rackspace, which was fanatical support. It wasn’t just about taking technology and throwing it out there. It was really about trying to provide something to Rackspace customers that was going to be spiritually consistent with the philosophy of the company.

When things stabilized enough, my boss and friend Mark suggested that I take some time and go through some leadership training in Tacoma, Washington. I was excited to do that, take a little breather. After I landed in Tacoma and got a good night’s sleep, I received a phone call from Gigi Geoffrion, our VP of Quality Engineering. She said that Mark, my friend and boss, had just been removed from his position.

That was super emotional. I was like, “What do you mean he’s out? That doesn’t make any sense to me.” And she goes, “No, they’re replacing him.” She said, “You have to get back here. Things are going to come unglued.” This was a thousand-person org that we were running inside of Rackspace, which at that point was about 6,000 people. It was a very large org, and I was essentially responsible for the glue layer as the VP of Experience Design. I had a horizontal function that crossed every single piece of the product organization, and I was responsible for the prioritization effort.

We had literally spent months wrangling all of these priorities across every possible function in this product org to get everything stable so that we could create a predictable, consistent operating model to run the product organization. In a phone call, I knew it was going to be thrown out, and I was the person with the knowledge on the files. I knew what all the items were; they were in giant spreadsheets, right? I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be crazy.” Gigi said to me, “Look, you’ve got to come back here.” I’m like, “What am I going to do?” And she goes, “I have no idea.” She said, “But you keep people calm.” I’m like, “Keep people calm? Do you have any idea how much espresso I drank to do that?”

So I got on a plane and flew back. I took the model that we had been using, which was this prioritization pyramid that I invented, which I talk about in the book. It helps unpack the different time horizons of priorities across different major categories of work: new features and capabilities, process automation, experience defects, and so on. I had to realign all of the work we had done in these complicated spreadsheets and get them plugged back into this visual framework so that we could start debating where we were going to make changes. This allowed people to see and understand, “Look, here’s where we were. This is what we had agreed to, this is what we were focused on, and this is what leadership had ratified.”

We couldn’t assume that’s all true now, but let’s talk about what’s most important and least important in this new context. What are the criteria we’re going to use for evaluating each of these things across the time horizon of now versus the future? How are we going to connect these two things with peanut butter and jelly in the middle of the two layers of bread? Then we had to socialize that to the point where we finally stabilized the situation enough that the people who were freaked out and were going to quit left, and those who were thinking about quitting decided to stay and started calming everybody down. They helped them see, “Look, there’s a path forward. It’s not all that different from the path we were on, but we’re going to have to make some major changes.”

Jorge: I can imagine how that would have a calming effect on people because you go from the situation where the sky is falling to a situation where the sky might still be falling, but you know that it’s not the end of the world, right? There’s at least some plan forward. I wanted you to tell the story because I think that folks listening might have gone through similar situations. I know I have. One question that sticks in my mind is when going through something like this, if you go through the exercise of reprioritizing things so that you can take the next best action as a team, how much disruption can you expect given the fact that you have just lost your leadership and new leadership might be coming in? The next person coming in might have a different vision of where they want to take the team. Is there a way to assuage that? Is the new vision compelling enough that the new leader will go with it? How did that play out in the Rackspace example?

Harry: In the Rackspace example, we were super fortunate because the person coming in was one of our own, so he had been one of my peers, someone we trusted. Even though he was given new direction, we already had a relationship, so there were no great surprises. But the magical answer to the question you’re asking has to do with the fact that we didn’t need to have an answer for the future. We needed an answer for now. We needed to say, “Look, these are the priorities until we change them. These are the criteria by which we’re evaluating those priorities. This is the process we used for getting here. Let’s all remember that.” Okay, we’ve got some changes we’re going to institute now, and as we go forward, we may make changes to the content of the model, the items in it, the criteria, or the process.

At least people were re-grounded in the process again. The process before was like yesterday. No one remembered any of that, and the new version of reality they were living was a reflection of that. But they didn’t have that to grasp onto to know that was going to help them stay above water and be able to breathe. Once we were able to say, “Look, this is how it’s going to be for now. We may make changes, but let’s deal with now. We have a model. It’s stable. We may very well make changes to it, but we’ll talk ourselves through those changes and work together as a group to make them.” Does that make sense?

Jorge: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. What I’m hearing is that basically, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Especially in times of great turmoil and transition, you can’t foresee the future oftentimes, and you have to focus on the next best step you can take. Having everyone run screaming with their hair on fire in different directions is definitely not the next best step you can take. If you can get everyone aligned around a direction, perhaps it’s not the best direction because you don’t know what the future is going to hold, but at least this keeps some coherence in the team and some alignment, some esprit de corps. This idea that we still function as a unit that is ready for whatever is thrown at us next. Is that fair?

Harry: That’s exactly right. Your comment about alignment and esprit de corps gets to the heart of what it means to have teams synchronized. If they’re synchronized and operating together, even if they’re not operating the most efficiently, then at least the system is working. The goal was to keep the system working and not have it fly apart because of the disruption.

Jorge: I have so many things I want to ask you and feel like we could spend hours talking about this subject. Alas, we’re running short on our time here.

Recommendations for Better Prioritization

Jorge: I’m wondering if, as a last thought, maybe if someone listening in right now is going through a situation that calls for better prioritization, maybe they are in a confusing place at work. Maybe their environment lacks the sort of clarity and alignment that we’ve been talking about. What is the best step that they could take, even if they are not in a position of leadership?

Harry: Yeah, so my strongest recommendation would be, not surprisingly, to pick up a copy of the book and read the two chapters on team prioritization and specifically the chapter on Speedboat, the framework for identifying what might be impeding your team’s progress. It is such a powerful metaphor. It’s a visual framework that has four quadrants in it. It’s a metaphor of a boat moving through the water. One of those quadrants is the anchors, the things that are holding you back. One of those quadrants is the rocks, the things you’re trying to avoid, and one of them is the propeller, the things that might make you go faster.

And the reason I’m suggesting that you read through that and understand it is that Luke Hohmann developed that. It was in his book Innovation Games, just an absolutely stunningly brilliant book. He was the person who wrote the foreword to my book Managing Priorities. And the thing is, it’s not about getting the right answer. It’s about getting on the same page. And that framework and the process for Speedboat at a team level are about getting together with people and saying, “What’s holding us back?” It might be fear. “Okay, what are we gonna do about that?” It’s figuring out what’s slowing us down, figuring out what it is we’re trying to avoid, and then prioritizing that stuff and then maybe prioritizing how you’re gonna deal with that stuff, whatever those remediations are. That’s a very powerful place to start.

Jorge: Clarity and alignment, right? So you’re getting stuff out there, making it tangible. When we were talking earlier, you hinted at a story that is not in the book, and I don’t think I can let you go without hearing what that is.

Harry: It is a fantastic story. I’ve told it a couple of times. But you mentioned “the sky is falling” when you were talking, and the experience that people have. And what I would say is, it’s more like a satellite is falling. It’s not “the sky is falling,” it’s more of an impending doom where there’s a lot of uncertainty about where this thing that might be hurling at you is, is flying at you through space. But it reminded me of a funny story.

I was flying back from a consulting gig in Austin, Texas, back to the Bay Area on the Nerd Bird, right? The American Airlines early morning flight. And they call it the Nerd Bird, of course, ‘cause there’s just a lot of tech people flying back and forth. And I sat down next to this guy. He must have weighed 450 pounds, and it was three seats. He was in the middle, like he took up a lot of room, and he was dressed in black, like black leather and lots of tattoos and piercings. He just looked like a total Hell’s Angel kind of guy. And we were on the taxiway, and he was futzing with his phone, and the folks mentioned, “Please turn off your phones.” And I said to the guy, “Hey, would you mind turning off your phone?”

And he looked at me and he just said, “What’s it to you?” And I was like, “Oh, that was the wrong thing to say.” And I said, “I read the Carnegie Mellon report on low probability but high severity incidents having to do with cell phone interference on the plane.” This was many years ago, right before everybody did it all the time. And he’s just like, “Mind your own business.” And I said to myself, “By the time we land, this guy’s gonna be my best friend, and I gotta figure out how to do that.”

We took off and we got to 10,000 feet. Ding. The little bing went off. And I said to him, “What do you do for a living?” And he looked at me and he said, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” just flat, and just went back to doing what he was doing. And I said, “Oh, come on. What can you tell me?” And he goes, “I fly satellites for a living.” I was like, “You fly satellites for a living?” I laughed. And I go, “What does that mean?” And he goes, “I really can’t tell you about it. It’s a secret.” And I said, “You’ve gotta be able to tell me something.” And he goes, “You know those blue cubes on Highway 237? These big, like, four-story cube buildings that are painted powder blue on 237 by Moffett Field in Silicon Valley?”

I go, “Yeah, of course, I drive by them all the time.” And he goes, “I work in there.” And I said, “Oh, okay. What do you actually do?” And he said, “I sit by a red phone with a light.” And I said, “Okay, and what does that mean?” And he goes, “If the phone rings, if the light goes on, I pick up the phone, and they tell me where to fly the satellite.” And I said, “Oh, so you work for the Air Force?” And he goes, “I can’t tell you.” And I go, “What can you tell me about flying satellites?” And he said, “Satellites are interesting because, of course, they have a very limited amount of fuel, and they’re flying around the globe at thousands of miles an hour, whatever they’re doing. And we get a call with a set of coordinates and a set of instructions, and we have to have the satellite at that exact set of coordinates at an exact time, and we have to do the thing they’ve told us to do, whether it’s take a picture or whatever.”

And he goes, “It’s really hard. Because the first thing we have to do is figure out which way the satellite is facing. Is it facing backwards? Is it facing forward? Is it up? Is it down? We have to figure out which way it is flying. We’ve gotta do all this math to calculate getting it to this exact place at this exact time. And then we have to execute those moves with incredible precision in order to save fuel on these satellites, ‘cause once the fuel is spent, that’s the end of the satellite. It just plummets back to Earth.” And he said, “So flying satellites is about understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, being crystal clear about that. It’s about knowing how you’re oriented. It’s about knowing whether you’re speeding up or slowing down, about which direction you’re going, and then about executing the thing that you committed to.”

And I said, “That’s exactly like my job!” And he goes, “What do you do?” And I said, “I’m an executive coach.” And he goes, “What is that supposed to mean?” And so we had a conversation about the fact that I work with people all the time where I have to figure out which way they’re facing. I have to figure out whether they’re speeding up or slowing down, where they came from, where they’re going, what they’re trying to accomplish. And we had this great conversation. And when we got to the ground, he gave me his card and he said, “Let me know if you ever want to talk further about this.”

Jorge: That’s amazing. That strikes me as an incredible metaphor for the subject of the book. And it seems like a pretty good place to wrap up the conversation.

Harry: Yeah.


Jorge: Where can folks follow up with you, Harry?

Harry: Yeah, the best place is my website, harrymax.com, and on LinkedIn. You can hit me up there, Harry Max, and send me an InMail. I also have a business site, peakpriorities.com. You can reach me there as well.

Jorge: Fantastic. And I’m obviously going to encourage folks to buy the book, and I’m going to encourage them to do so from Rosenfeld Media, which is your publisher, and they’re my publisher as well. It’s a small company run by really great people, so I would love for folks to patronize Rosenfeld Media. Thank you, Harry, for your time and for writing the book and sharing it with us.

Harry: Thank you for inviting me onto your show. It was really great to be here.