Leadership + People: Episode 31 - Jeff Lyman - Part 1 of 2

In this episode Jeff Lyman revisits his experience working with LeBron James and the success and lessons from a decade at Nike. Lyman shares how to work with and overcome weaknesses instead of ignoring their existence.

Show Notes

  • Creating peace of mind and saved time for homeowners with greater connectivity [00:10]
  • How putting LeBron James literally on a throne taught Lyman to listen to the consumer [05:54]
  • After years of LeBron James acting as a silent figure, creating a new ad series using LeBron’s skills and attributes that connected with consumers [07:43]
  • How insight and DIG sessions can resolve challenges across the board [14:04]
  • Do not predict the needs of consumers, ask them and be open to learn [16:15]
  • Encourage team members to play devil’s advocate in search of alternative ideas [20:14]
  • Do not pretend you don’t have tumors, instead embrace them and get over them [22:12]

Show Audio


None of note

Jeff Lyman part 1-09

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: April 24, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

[Omitted from the recording]

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JL: Welcome to Leadership and People. I’m Jess Larson. Today on the show we’ve got Jeff Lyman. Jeff, thanks for making time.  

JEFF LYMAN: My Pleasure. Happy to be here.

00:10 JL: So, you’re at Vivint these days. You came from 10 years at Nike. Tell us why Vivint is going to take over the world. Well for A: for people around the country who may not know that you’re basically making the smart home thing a big reality. What exactly Vivint’s play is there? And where you see it going?

The Smart Home Progression

JEFF LYMAN: Sure. Yeah, it’s a really fun time in our category. As kind of the internet of things, explosion here over the last 4 or 5 years that has affected so many businesses. You know one of those forerunners of that movement was bringing all of these sensors and connected capabilities into the smart home. So we started seeing, even as early as, you know Vivint started doing this as in 2010, 2011 with connected thermostats that you could control with your phone, and connected locks, and garage door control. It just started working its way through the various kind of vital organs of the home. And you started to see groups like Nest, which was purchased by Google in 2014. And Samsung Smartthings. Really a pretty huge kind of crop of investment really from some of the world’s largest companies. Certainly consumer tech brands getting in to the space. And early on it was really just about building a gigantic remote control for your home using your phone. Think like the old universal remotes that worked, you know- like from Logitech that work with all these different things. That I think was sort of the early endeavour in this category. But over the last, I’d say, 24-36 months, the connectivity with basically anything in your house that can be connected, locks, lights cameras, thermostats, everything else, is now really a solved problem. Now the opportunity is to build the self driving home. It’s not only to be able to have a homeowner control everything. But actually have the home be intelligent enough, to control itself. And that isn’t like a total robot is taking over your home. But anything that can deliver back to the consumer time and peace of mind and money is real value. And for a lot of things in the house, they are just hassles. They are all the things that when you were a renter you didn’t have to deal with. And then when you become a homeowner they’re all like your problem. That’s the future of smart home. Who’s going to solve all of those problems using sensors and connectivity and AI capabilities. And so, that’s where our organization is focused now. The connectivity and the placement of the sensors and sort of the market dynamics, I think we’re close to north of 1.3 million customers now. Those are… those are things that we really feel like we’ve solved. The big opportunity now is how do you take all of this data and this connectivity and wrap it together into really valuable autonomous solutions for customers. And that’s what makes this catogetory right now a really really fun place to be.

03:46 JL: Yeah. No kidding. How are you finding things changing in the consumer world with like, the Teslas of the world and these people maybe changing old buying habits?

Selling to Educated Consumers

JEFF LYMAN: Yeah. So many ways to attack that. One; consumers are just incredibly knowledgeable when they buy anything. They love… They come into any purchase now, especially anything that is significant like north of a couple of hundred bucks, really knowledgeable. And the internet is replete with research sources. And so it sort of built opportunities for companies such as True Car and you know, lots of other services that sort of say ‘Hey. We’re going to be a really powerful research tool for you and then we’ll simplify the actual transaction process’. We see that in our category as well. By the time we’re interacting with a potential customer, whether it’s in a Best Buy store where we have shop and shop or its over the phone or online in person, in like an in home consultation. They already know our category pretty well. And they already have a pretty good sense of the types of problems that they want to solve. And that’s new. That is… Even two to three years ago we felt like we were breaking the category, and introducing the category. Now the category is pretty well understood. And customers are just about trying to find the right match of capabilities that they’re familiar with that are going to meet their needs now but also as their life stages progress. So that’s been fun. I feel like a lot more of our sales interactions I’m doing a lot less through my various kind of marketing channels. I’m doing a lot less explaining what the heck smart home is. And a lot more about Vivint’s particular approach. It’s really the best way to go.

05:54 JL: Yeah. And I’d be interested to hear, you know, a decade at Nike, you got to be apart of bunch of cool things. I’d love to hear what you got to do with LeBron. How did some of those Nike experiences translate to leading a team this direction now a days?  

Misdirection in LeBrons Early Career

JEFF LYMAN: So Yeah. Very early in LeBron’s career, he started in the NBA in 2003, I started working on his business in 2004. And sort of worked up through 2007 and those were kind of early days for him. For a pure basketball fan you’ll remember he kind of came in with insane amount of hype. Those were the days you could come into the NBA straight from high school. You can’t do that anymore. And he was, you know, on the cover on all the magazines and kind of deemed as this kind of chosen one. And Nike signed him to, I actually have a copy of the contract. A super lucrative shoe contract for a young person who had never won a college basketball game, and you know, had kind of won an Ohio State championship game. And that’s… and you start throwing 15 million bucks at someone like that for 7 years. It was really a big bet. And so we went to market with LeBron those first few years and if anyone remembers some of that advertising, you know, we bought this gigantic billboard in New York City on the corner of 34th and 7th. Just kind of this major hub over by Penn Station. And we put LeBron on a throne with a pair of lions. And it sort of to told this story that the king had arrived.

07:43 JL [laughs]

JEFF LYMAN: This chosen one. And basketball is its own unique subculture. And it is the truest meritocracy that you can imagine. And so, kind of the culture of basketball reacted to that saying ‘ok you’ve put him on a throne, but he really has not won anything yet. He’s playing in Cleveland Ohio for a lottery team. And, you know, this isn’t Michael Jordan and six titles and gold medals and mvps. This is a rookie. Shooting 38%’. And so those early years there was definitely a little bit of a mismatch. And so Nike as its brilliant at, decided to go really deep into, really the target customer, specifically like the 17 year old athlete. And understand what they were thinking about him. And LeBron was just as much of a product as any shoe we were shipping. He was actually more significant in that respect. And so we needed in those early days to understand why the product wasn’t landing. And we saw that in sell of the shoes and really great products. Some of the shoes are even brought out now as retros and they sell through really really fast. But in those days it’s just wasn’t happening so fast. So I can remember doing this huge, we used to call them ‘digs’, deep insight gathering. We sort of digged across multiple cities all over the world. And you’d sit with these kind of 17 year old kids and say ‘let’s talk about LeBron’. And they all knew about him. They all were aware. And the feedback was pretty fascinating but also very consistent. ‘Hey you put this guy on a thorne and we don’t really know him yet. And he hasn’t really won anything yet. And we aren’t in a hurry to go buy anything from him yet simply because he’s been deemed by the authority of Nike to be the King. He has to kind of earn that from us’. And 17 year olds can be fickle. And they demand a lot. And so we kind of went back to the drawing board as a team and said okay we ‘ve got to… well one, this has all sort of come out in the years since. Lebron is actually one of the more charismatic individuals you’ll ever meet. He lights up a room. He engages and galvanizes with groups of individuals and teams. He can break the tension in a complicated meeting. He has some kind of Magic Johnson like interpersonal skills that weren’t coming out when he was silently sitting on a throne staring back at 17 year old kids. As a matter of fact if you watch the advertising of his first couple years of which Nike spent 10s of millions of dollars to do, he actually never uttered a word in his first 2 years of advertising. So he was kind of put in positions as a kung fu fighter, some young rookie. Or there was this one amazing ad where he shows up in the middle of this church of basketball, with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and all the greats of the game. And it turns into almost like a religious revivalry that’s happening around basketball and here’s LeBron flying through this church. And through all that he never spoke. And so we sort of went into that third year saying ‘how can we bring to life the characters and attributes of him, such that people can really feel’. And I think authentically what makes him special, not just as a player on the court but actually as a leader and as a person.  And so the outcome really threw the brilliance of Nike’s you know 30 now 40 year advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy was a series of spots that ran for multiple years called the LeBrons. It was kind of patterned after what you would think is like a sitcom like the Cosby Show, you know Friends. Except there were 4 different versions of LeBron that lived together. Kind of like the show the Nutty Professor. And there was this wise old LeBron that was kind of funny and crotchety.  But he was sort of indiciitive of when LeBron was playing the game of basketball even as an 18 year old, it was as if he had been playing it his whole entire life. I mean as a 40 year old wise old bet. He kind of had that and it was pretty nuanced. There was young athlete LeBron that kind of represented sort of this, the kind of physical superhero. This guy who could jump from the freethrow line. He was the fastest player in the game. If you stood next to him you realize he is chiseled at 6 foot 8 to play this game. You know, there was this kind of young immature LeBron who was called Kid LeBron. It sort of said that even with all these attributes this guy’s still just a kid. And still as youthful and vibrant and in some ways immature just as any other kid who’s 18 years old would have been. Then there’s one we called it All Business Lebron. He had this side of him that was very… almost like vindictive. If he was really going to be challenged he would lock in. And take on any challenge. In a way it was really inspiring. So we took these four characters and wrote lines for them and then spent days shooting them down in California. The outcome was a series of spots you can still find online called the Lebrons. And even after 17 years of advertising with that athlete, are still the most memorable spots that people talk about.

14:04 JL: Can I ask about this for a second. I think for a lot of listeners it’s easy to discount and be like ‘well yeah you’re Nike. You’ve got Wieden + Kennedy. You can do anything. You guys are superman.’ Right? But as I’m listening I’m hearing like a depth of concern and understanding and just like intuitiveness about your customer that doesn’t have anything to do with Nike that all the rest of us can learn from. And specifically like now that you are doing it at Vivint.  For anybody who’s listening and would like to do this with their team. Do you have any insights for those of us who feel like ‘oh that’s overwhelming. You can only do that because you’re big giant Nike.’? Any lessons for like, as you’re trying to teach people to do it now at Vivint or for the rest of us who are trying to teach our teams to do that. That level of thought. I mean like, you can hear the emotion in your voice as you’re reliving as you built that campaign. Like you knew that inside out and backwards.  We can tell just listening to you.

Gaining Insight into Consumer Needs

JEFF LYMAN: It’s really all about insight. And you know lots of companies mission statements will sort of claim a customer’s centricity. You know, Nike has it at a whole different level. And those were the formative years of my career. So I’ve brought that with me wherever I go. Do you truly understand, not at a really function level, even a Clayton Christensen “jobs to be done” level, a deeply emotional level what it is that you’re delivering to the customer. And once you can find that truth, matching what is kind of the deep seated need that they have. And how your product is particularly attune to really solve that. A lot of your marketing challenges, or your messaging challenges, or sometimes even your sales challenges evaporate over time because you nailed the inside of what your consumer was really looking for and you’ve peeled away the drouse and the sort of superfluous parts of your offering, and really gotten to kind of what that core sort of really is.

16:15 JL: Okay. But I want to ask about that. Because it’s pretty easy for you know, I’m the new guy working for Jeff Lyman to say ‘no no I’ve got it’. How do you help people measure; how do you help people become objective about knowing that they understand at that emotional level verses just giving themselves a pass? ‘Oh yeah, I know all about them. I’m sure I know them at an emotional level.’ Any kind of tells or any kind of milestones, that’s like ‘yeah this really lets us know that we actually know. We aren’t just lying to ourselves.’

JEFF LYMAN: Yeah. I think It does really start from an instinct that’s just born out of experience and obsession. And then you, you then refine that instinct objectively with data. And you know, you can… and so we started building a doorbell camera four years ago. And you know, we had some premonition about what we thought consumers wanted. But we had to go through kind of the same kind of deep insight gathering exercise to really understand how consumers thought about their front door. And really what was happening outside of the envelope of their house. And you know, I think we went into that project thinking, yeah, let’s just let them see and talk to people at their front door. And we realized it was probably a little something a little bit deeper. And what was deeper was that for many customers, especially when they’re home, their home is their sanctuary and it’s this, for some people it’s actually where they keep the world out. And so you know we’ve started to index higher in our experience than we actually thought we were going to do-how do we as quickly as we can present to the homeowner what’s going on in the front door. And then sort of give them all the optionality to decide to take action but most importantly to decide not to take action. And, you know, that’s everything from presenting the thumb nail on the push notification and all these different layers where we saw that consumers would get a notification if someone was at their front door and choose to like, overtly ignore it because it was either they want some time to themselves or they were away from the house. Or it’s their kids’ friends and their kid is not home. So they could open the door and say “Hey Jeremy. Sorry Josh is at band practice right now”. Or they could skip that entirely. So we thought that the doorbell camera was going to be all about creating connections to people. And it’s like wouldn’t you want to see and speak with everyone at your front door. The answer was actually that it wasn’t. It was about providing the peace of mind and giving them the awareness to let them confidently ignore the front door.

19:25 JL: Yeah, yeah.

JEFF LYMAN: That’s a very different insight that we sort of learned in that whole process.

19:27 JL: But I love this being open to information instead of just shoehorning your data into your preconceived notion. And I think my question there is; how do you help your team want to embrace the possibility they could be wrong? And being open to that data instead of just filtering it through to the answer, they’d like to get?

JEFF LYMAN: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. And one that probably plagues a lot of companies. One; I think as a leader you have to create a culture where you not only like, welcome counter groupthink and counter opinions but you demand them. So…

20:14 JL: So like what’s an example? Cause, I like where you’re going with that, but how could that play out in the staff meeting or in the product review meeting?

Creating a Team Culture That Will View Ideas from Every Side

JEFF LYMAN: When you’re a leader and you learn to read signals without people saying anything, you can tell what they’re thinking. Or you can tell they are not aligning with what people are saying. They may not even have their reasons why they’re not aligned, fully baked in their head and ready to make some articulate comment, but you can see it. And as a leader you have an obligation to actually pursue those signals. And say ‘hey are you aligned with that?’ Or actually ask someone to play devil’s advocate and say ‘I think these are great points but does someone want to argue the other side just to make sure we are being thorough here’. And that person whose thinking those thoughts, they’ll go like ‘Oh yeah. I will.’ And they become actually… it takes all the pressure off of them because you pulled them into it. And now they aren’t expected to be perfectly ready. But you’ve made it organic and you pulled them into and said ‘Dan, just argue the other side. What do you think?’ And they may kind of take 30 seconds or a minute to work their own thinking or point of view out. But that will sharpen at least as the instincts are being formed and the insights are sort of being thrown out there to be solidified. And then when you go to do, you know, sort of your empirical validation here, you have a better chance of not being totally biased to everywhere the groups was kind of… going in first place. And that’s kind of the art of…. kind of running a staff meeting where you are pulling out of people what they aren’t naturally going to vomit out. If that makes sense?

22:12 JL: Well, and I know we’re coming to the close of part one of the interview here. But maybe a good place to end is; you know most of us in leadership we didn’t get here by being a doormat, right? There’s some ambition, there’s some follow through, there’s some like you know, some adaptation to overcome, kind of gene being activated right? So I’d love to hear any tips you have for the rest of us of like, just how to help ourselves be a little more humble as leaders and to, you know, not just do that once but be able to build that into a routine of; hey I think this is great. Everyone else thinks this is great. How do I bake it into our DNA to be more humble just because I have this emotional feeling about this doesn’t mean I’m done. Let’s pull back. Let’s pretend the boss saying ‘let’s do this’. Any advice on becoming more humble as leaders and setting that example for the team?

Acknowledge Your Tumors and Embrace Them

JEFF LYMAN: Well, one; you have to start embracing that every leader sort of evolves from being super, deeply knowledgeable about a few things, to slightly less knowledgeable about a lot of things. So everyone comes in; every CMO either comes in with a really strong brand background or a strong analytics background. And they probably had to learn the other side of that. And that’s kind of, sort of the great craft of marketing, is you have to nail everything related to the soft skills, in you know, making that really meaningful visceral connection between the consumer and the brand and your offering. At the same time you’ve, you know, you have to really love to be a storyteller. But at the same time you better love data, and be, you know, veracious about it. And so anyone who sort of comes to that position you have to embrace what they aren’t particularly good and don’t pretend. And sort of seek input and hire around you in ways that help you not avoid your weakness but actually embrace them. And then two; you know there is an art in I think asking for feedback from peers, and from even people you report up to or even people who report to you, where you can create an equal footing relationship. You know, rather than saying ‘I suck and you’re great. So can you tell me how I can get better?’ That’s not the way you go into a feedback session. But you can, I think, in the right moments engage ‘Hey, I think we’re making progress. I feel really good about xy and z. But I need your advice on how I can do better here. And where are other places where I can dig in because I want to be great.’ And when people hear that, one; it gives them a license to probably give you the feedback they would have to otherwise create a scenario by which they give it to you. But it also you know… I’ve always kind of felt if you have a tumor and someone else knows you that you have a tumor, pretending that you don’t have a tumor doesn’t help anybody.

25:33 JL: [laugh]

JEFF LYMAN: And so, some people in their leadership or interpersonal or functional skills just have tumors. But so often in the workplace environment, we just pretend that we’ll just deal with it. We’re not going to embrace it. And actually the most valuable thing for a person is to say; ‘Hey, this is the thing that we’ve got to figure out how we get past cause I think you have a ton of potential but only if we can overcome this thing.’ It’s just… there’s .. the thing is and this is what I’ve found. When someone knows that they have a problem; they know it. They just don’t quite know how to ask to get help. You know. So it’s the most successful people in organizations that I’ve worked in are not people who sort of came into the organization perfect, but they’re the people who were the fastest at embracing what they sucked at and the most open and confident about just seeking real feedback about having this and how they can close the gaps. And they turn that cycle much more frequently with many more people rather than going years without someone telling them they have a tumor. So that’s the advice that I would throw out.

26:45 JL: Love it. Well let’s end this episode there. And everybody tune back in for part 2. We’re going to keep asking Jeff about lessons from Nike and inventing the future over at Vivint. Jeff thanks for making time.

JEFF LYMAN: My Pleasure.

END [27:00]