Julie Clow earned her Ph.D. in behavior analysis (psychology) from Auburn University in 2000 and entered her career focusing on organizational psychology. She quickly found her niche in instructional design, producing large-scale training programs for a wide range of organizations, including the SunTrust Bank, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, BellSouth and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Julie served as an instructional designer for Carley Corporation, a woman-owned small business in Orlando, FL for 6 years, where she was also named Chief Learning Officer.
In 2006, Julie took a role at Google, where she spent the next 5 years on various teams with a wide range of responsibilities in the learning and organizational development space. In her last 2 years, she served as the lead non-technical training lead for engineers, focusing on leadership development and organizational design.
In 2011, Julie took the opportunity to start up a learning and development team for a nontraditional financial company in New York, and she simultaneously landed a book contract with Wiley. Her book, The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence For All, is out this week and tells the tale of working as an empowered and autonomous individual for inspired organizations.
What are you working on right now?
Essentially, a full-time job and a book. My job is wonderful; I love what I do and I love the people I work with. It’s a great company and I feel like the work I am doing is important and meaningful. I get to be strategic almost every single day, which is the kind of work that really fires me up. I’ve been filling my weekends and discretionary time with writing my book.
Where did the idea for your book come from?
The day I started at Google, I was in awe of the work environment. I had come from a traditional company that tracked my time on time sheets, asked everyone to show up by 9:00 AM every day on a consistent schedule and expected everyone to wear business casual clothes. The amount of freedom that I had at Google was mind-boggling and yet so obvious. They hire great people; why not let those people set their own schedules? Be stewards of their own time? Essentially, when I was treated like a responsible adult at work and empowered to do work in the way that best suited me, I was awakened. I felt like a new person, like I could finally spread my wings and do great work with very few constraints. I want to share this with the world and I want to change the world so that work isn’t so terrible for everyone anymore.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m not a morning person. At all. So I sleep in every day until 8:00 AM, which is heaven. I live close to where I work in Manhattan, so I walk the half mile to work and roll in at around 10:00 AM. I spend my days teaching classes, meeting with individuals in the organization about career planning, talking with leads about their team and leadership needs and/or planning new initiatives focused on employee engagement and growth. At the beginning of each day, I ask the question: what is the most important thing I could be doing today to create a positive impact? And that’s what I do. My evenings are typically spent out with friends at dinner, which is my major social outlet.
I spend my weekends a bit differently. I sleep in (like, really sleep in), slowly wake up, read The Week magazine and then spend the bulk of my day super-focused on writing or writing-related projects. My weekends are mostly about long, meditative exercise, rejuvenation and passion projects.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First, I get crystal clear on the problem I am trying to solve. I then articulate the parameters and constraints for the solution. One of my favorite Larry Page (or was it Sergey Brin?) quotes is: “creativity loves constraints.” I believe this. So within the constraints, I get really creative about solutions. Once I land on the right solution, my goal is to test the idea quickly–get it out in the fastest and simplest way in order to play with the core idea. Then I follow the line of success, wherever it leads.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m very excited about the movement and awakening around individual strengths and the importance of having a wide diversity of strengths within a team or organization. I didn’t fully understand my own strengths until I took StrengthsFinder 2.0. It was such an ah-ha moment to realize that strategy and ideation (my creative side) were in my top 5, as were activator, achiever, and competition (getting things done). I finally understood why I thrived in previous roles and what specifically about them was aligned with my true zone of genius. I’m thrilled that there is momentum toward these ideas and that people are learning vocabulary around strengths, talents, flow and positive psychology. It’s so fundamental to finding true joy in our work and this is something that any individual, anywhere can articulate to carve out more fulfilling roles at work.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I can’t say I’ve had a bad job, but the role that suited me the least was working in Google’s central human resources group as the manager of learning technologies. It had nothing to do with the role, per se, but rather the mismatch of my strengths for what the role required. I learned that I don’t do well when I am disconnected from the “customer” (in my case, Google employees). I was several layers removed from working directly with business groups and it really affected my motivation. I stuck it out for a year, but then moved to Google’s engineering organization to work directly with engineering teams. I once again found happiness in my work. I gained a lot of self-awareness about what environments and working relationships are best aligned with my strengths.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When I started my career, I thought that the ideal was to take a back-seat role with less responsibility, allowing me to spend the greatest proportion of my life on non-work activities. As it turned out, I didn’t feel challenged and I was miserable. What I didn’t realize was that I actually thrive when I am challenged at work and it’s not about doing as little as possible to create flexibility, but working for an organization that grants me the flexibility to be fulfilled in both work and play. I took my name out of the hat for some meaty roles early in my career because I thought it would limit my flexibility. But now I take on greater personal responsibility for carving out roles that truly excite and challenge me, while also setting boundaries around my personal endeavors to ensure that I have the time and space for both.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Find your authentic core and honor it, even if it means going against the grain. It is so easy to lose your voice or to lose sight of who you are and let it get eroded away by social expectations. Over and over, I have made difficult choices to do things that align with my authentic self, even when it meant disappointing people or defying conventional wisdom. For example, my choice to leave Google, move to New York, start a new role and write a book at the same time seemed absolutely nuts to everyone around me. But it was so obvious to me and utterly aligned with my essential self.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Educational marketing. Often, the biggest barrier to selling your product or service is that your customers don’t understand enough to choose your product or use your services to the fullest (and hence, spend more money). So the best thing you can do is educate them for free. It’s marketing, but much more powerful and empowering than traditional marketing techniques.
Tell us a secret.
I have very little patience for lines and slow cars (or in New York, slow walkers).
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
• Evernote: It would have been impossible to write my book without Evernote. I set up a notebook for each of my core ideas and chapters. I could add any article or website that related to it, no matter when/where I came across it, thanks to the Chrome extensions and Android app. When I sat down to write a chapter, all of my ideas, research and articles were there and ready to go.
• Todoist: This is the best to-do list app that I’ve found and I’ve been using it for years. I love that you can sort your tasks by project, due date and level of importance or by any tag you might make up (for example, I tag all of my big projects with @big).
• Google Apps (obviously): I couldn’t live without Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Maps, and Voice. And I’m an Android user, so no matter what device I’m on, I have full access to my virtual life. What did we do before Google?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman. Sheryl Sandberg introduced this to her Google sales organization (I was lucky enough to be working on the training and development team while she was there) and it remains one of the most influential books that permanently shaped my thinking. Concepts such as impeccable commitments and taking 100% response-ability are core to the way I work and live.
What’s on your playlist?
Bon Iver (greatest morning music ever) and Grouplove (my favorite new band, such energetic music) are my latest obsessions, but I always go back to Ben Folds and Gomez for comfort.
If you weren’t working on your book, what would you be doing?
I’d be surfing and riding my bike a whole lot more. Wait, who am I kidding? I’d probably be knee-deep in a startup idea or a different book project, both of which I’ve been flirting with on the side.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @jenny_blake: I know I’m biased because she’s my best friend and roommate, but she is wise beyond her years. She’s inspired too many ah-ha moments for me to count.
- @gshellen: A former Google teammate and one of the wittiest and funniest men on the planet. I always laugh when I see his tweets.
- @joshallan: A fellow work revolutionary, strengths champion and great blogger.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My roommate, Jenny Blake, is (thankfully for me) also a huge over-achiever, so we rarely have time to watch even short TV shows. We might watch a “whole movie!” once every few months, which is quite a splurge. She recently suggested that one day we might actually make it out to see a whole movie in an actual theater. We couldn’t stop laughing that something so trivial seemed so outrageous and indulgent to us.
Who is your hero?
My sister is my hero. She’s spent most of her career living in enviable places such as Yemen, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (obviously kidding about “enviable”) doing incredibly important work on Middle Eastern issues. Anytime I get dramatic about my stress levels, I remind myself how trivial my work is compared to hers. Plus, she’s the most fearless woman I’ve ever met.
Was is really as great as they say it is to work at Google?
How do you take your coffee?
With soy creamer and honey. And I prefer flavored coffee from Barnie’s, which I have to special order since it’s not available in New York.
The Work Revolution Website: theworkrevolutionbook.com
Amazon Book Page:
The Work Revolution on Facebook:
The Work Revolution on Google+:
Julie Clow on Twitter: @clowjul
Julie Clow on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/julie-clow/3/698/316