Interview With Scott Berkun: Bestselling Author & Popular Speaker


Scott Berkun is a very well-known speaker on culture, philosophy, business, creativity and culture. He has written many books including “Confessions of a public speaker” and “Myths of Innovation” and has been bestselling author for the same. He has been manager at Microsoft(‘94’-03) as well as WordPress(‘10’-12). He has taught subject of creativity at University of Washington. He has been the co host of CNBC’s “The business innovation show”. He is also the director of short film We Make Seattle.

TaskQue: You have lot of achievements in your career. Tell us from where you started your career? What was exactly in your mind?

Scott Berkun: I started my career in a desperate attempt not to have to move back in with my parents! After college I struggled to find a job and although I wanted to make software I would have done almost anything that gave me enough money to find my own place to live and start my own life.

TaskQue: You have served as program manager in Microsoft, Can you please tell us about some of your memorable experiences. At Microsoft, which personalities has been your inspiration?

Scott Berkun: I was very lucky that my first few managers took good care of me – when you’re early in a career the best possible thing is to work with and for good people. It’s more important than how much you are paid or how cool what you are working on is. Money and cool projects will come later – but if you’ve never been on a well run team you’ll spend your career confused about why work is always frustrating and disappointing. I meet many executives who clearly never got a chance to work for someone who was truly good at leading and managing, and it shows.

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TaskQue: You said in an interview” There are cultures and management styles that allow for innovation at any scale” , can you please few examples from your life where you have witnessed such cultures.

Scott Berkun: When I worked at nearly everyone had access to publish code and write content that went online to millions of people. There were few gatekeepers or fancy rules. The notion was: you are trusted. We hired you because you are smart and will be responsible. It was incredibly motivating to know that the only thing stopping an idea I had was me – if I was willing to prototype it, get feedback on it, launch it and learn from it, I could make almost anything happen. This is the opposite of most organizations, where to even TRY anything requires approval from ten different people, where only one NO can kill the idea dead before it even had a chance.

TaskQue: You have been a public speaker in various subjects including business. What do you think are necessary factors for success of any business?

Scott Berkun: If you know your customer better than your competitors, and you understand the weaknesses your competition’s products have in solving customers real problems, success is a straight line. Many companies don’t dig deep enough into learning about the people they are supposedly doing all the work for and hope to be paid by.

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TaskQue: What are the factors which kill creativity of an employee? How can we promote creativity among employees inside an organization?

Scott Berkun: The primary factor is killing ideas too early. Experimentation is the only way new ideas can develop into good ideas. But if an employee has no margin for error, is forced to always be efficient, they are effectively being told to hold the status quo above all else.

TaskQue: You have also worked with the internet explorer team of Microsoft. How was the experience? Which processes do you think were best at Microsoft?

Scott Berkun: I worked on IE from v 1 to v5 and the team on every version was run differently. The best processes were ones where, like, employees were trusted and empowered.

TaskQue: You book “The art of project management” was one of your career’s best books. Please tell us what are the challenges in today’s world for project managers?

Scott Berkun: (The book is now called Making Things Happen) – project management always hard because it’s in the middle of everything and gets squeezed between management, business and engineering. It takes special aptitude and attitude to thrive in what is a very difficult role – but when it’s done well, everyone in the organization benefits tremendously.

TaskQue: How can we promote innovation among students so that they can contribute more after their graduation?

Scott Berkun: Get rid of grades. Seriously, grades reflect a very narrow idea of what education and learning is. Having students focus on projects where the goal isn’t to get a grade, but to solve a problem, changes their focus and what they will learn from it. Mentoring students to find problems they want to solve not for the grade but because they care about the problem is one of the best lessons they can possible learn.

TaskQue: What do you think are the biggest factors behind failure of a project? How these factors can be overcome?

Scott Berkun: Failure is the NORMAL state. Most projects fail. Any project by definition is trying to put something into the world that doesn’t currently exist and to presume that is easy is the first kind of failure. A good project’s leader understands this and uses their skills of communication, goal setting, making clear priorities and building trust to navigate through the stormy and uncertain seas that all projects are likely to face before they’re finished.

TaskQue: Everyone has its own style of passing leisure time. What are your hobbies and interest?

Scott Berkun: I have three: bourbon, basketball and books!