AlchemistX: Innovator Inside

E.01 - Mike Dolbec: Venture Industrialist

Published on

April 9, 2021

Mike Dolbec has had a tremendously distinguished career across both institutional and corporate VC, including stints at Kleiner Perkins, Greylock, 3Com, and Orange. Now the former GE Ventures Managing Director speaks out for the first time on our podcast!

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Show Notes & References

Links:
Mike Dolbec on Linkedin
Mike Dolbec - on Strava
Tracks, The 2013 Biopic about Robyn Davidson that both Rachel and Mike enjoyed watching.  
Coffee With Scott Adams - A friend of Mike Dolbec and the Creator of Dilbert.
Calling Bullshit - A book Mike has read recently about dismantling misinformation.
Calling Bullshit Video Lectures - Lectures from the University of Washington covering the Calling Bullshit syllabus.
Fuck Pattern Recognition - A medium blog post from Melinda Byerley recommended to Mike by Rachel
Keep Calm and Log On - A book written to Gillian "Gus" Andrews about how to survive the digital revolution. This one was recommended by Rachel to Mike.
Le Bureau des Légendes and Homeland - French and American Crime Drama series respectively. Recommended by Mike to Rachel. 
The Casketeers and What We Do In The Shadows - Two tonally different Comedy/Drama shows both set in New Zealand. Recommended to Mike by Rachel. 
Intro and Outromusic composed by: www.PatrickSimpsonmusic.com



Rachel Chalmers:

I'm delighted to welcome Mike doll back. Mike has had a tremendously distinguished career across both institutional and corporate VC, including stints at Kleiner Perkins, Greylock, 3Com, and Orange. From 2012, he was the executive managing director of GE Ventures and he's been on the boards of a bunch of deep tech companies I tried to invest in. They include Ayasdi, Predixion, Maana, Mocana and FogHorn. And he's currently a science and Innovation council member for BHP, one of the world's biggest mining companies.
Mike, thank you so much for coming on the show today. 

Mike Dolbec:

Thank you. It's my pleasure. It's great to see you again. 

Rachel Chalmers:

It's great to see you too. Now, without getting all fangirl on you, how did you get so good at this? 

Mike Dolbec:

Well first of all, I really resonated well with your difficulty setting comment. I was thinking of the video games that I try and play. I think I'm on the veteran setting of venture capital. I’ve failed miserably at other games. But to answer your question and kind of boil it down, I guess I constantly find myself pursuing what fascinates me. And especially what I find to be fun. It may sound trivial, but I guess I feel like after you satisfy your basic needs, you pay yourself in   opportunities pursued, risks taken, and in some senses, hassles minimized. Or another way to say that would be assholes avoided. 
But what I’ve learned about myself and my natural personality is that I drift toward a thought partner. I want to sit next to people and help them think through what strategic position they’re in and what options they have. Though, that works for people who want to be helped. Alternatively, I've learned that there's a lot of people that don't want to be helped. Life's too short to work with them. But I get it. Usually people are pretty busy half of the time.
I guess the other thing I've learned about myself is that I’ve never met a new idea that wasn't fascinating. But that has both good and bad aspects because you can find yourself rat-holing on some shiny object. So I have to be careful and discipline myself about shiny objects.

Rachel Chalmers:

I love what you said about thought partnership. I do think one of the privileges of getting to gray-haired status in the industry is this sort of pair programming around strategy. A lot of what I do is just straight up coaching. It's such a pleasure to sit with people and hear about their problems and even be able to pattern match just a little bit with things from our experience. To share and maybe give them another perspective or another insight into what they're grappling with. 

Mike Dolbec:

It can be very frustrating in corporate situations because there's so much going on in the many different cross currents of thought and agendas. But if you can handle lots of conflict and maybe the strategy (and course isn't entirely clear), you can navigate through that. It can be a lot of fun. It can get you down if you take things too seriously. But if you assume noble intent and try and help people through their path; I find it energizing. Really, quite fascinating. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah I know exactly what you mean. So when you look back on everything that you've done in Corporate Innovation in particular, what are you proudest of?

Mike Dolbec:

Boy there's a lot to look back at because I'm an old fart. In a sense, I realized today that I joined Silicon Valley 44 years ago when I came to Stanford as an undergraduate. But if I were to skip the education part and go straight to the corporate part, I think that I can safely say that I've made an impact in every VC and CVC role that I've had. It's been some combination of realization, so financial impact.  Or maybe realizations from acquisitions. But thought leadership, and not just thought partnership, but improving the brand equity of the group that I was part of. Corporate venture capital is often one of the clubs in the golf bag of Innovation. If your company isn't well known or well-connected in that space, than improving the brand Equity was also important. 
I'm also very proud of talent development. Most of the people that have worked for me, or quite a few of them are now in leadership positions elsewhere in Corporate Innovation. Usually they’re in corporate venture capital. And of course there's strategy development. I feel like I have occasionally changed the course of supertankers and avoided hitting some obvious obstacles. But some cases the supertanker still managed to hit something else, but I helped as much as one person could. I feel good about that.

Rachel Chalmers:

Supertankers are to icebergs like moths to a flame.

Mike Dolbec:

Exactly.

Rachel Chalmers:

And on that note, if we gave you one do-over where you can wave a magic wand and change one decision that you’ve made, what would you do differently?

Mike Dolbec:

Well first of all, I wish I had a magic wand that worked more than once. There are many do-overs that I wished I could have done. It's hard to rank and order them. Maybe some of the memorable ones would have to do with investment decisions. The short answer would be that Palm was something that I missed. I knew Jeff Hawkins. I saw his presentation at an investment conference when his idea was a kind of block of wood. He was showing people around and I remember thinking, “What a dumb idea. that's really stupid.” I think the lesson I learned there was that we are all pattern matching machines and a lot of the experience that you pick up in Innovation is recognizing some pattern that you've seen before. But what I learned about myself is that just because I recognized it, doesn't mean that I’ve made an accurate conclusion. In hindsight, there have been many situations like that where I have to check my gut reaction at first and say, “Okay, this definitely feels like a pattern. Am coming to the conclusion based on the pattern I think I'm seeing?” 
But there's Palm and also Microsoft where I also turned down an opportunity. I would have been the 51st employee at Microsoft. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Holy cow.

Mike Dolbec: 

I still have fond memories of interviewing with Steve Ballmer and Charles Simoni. I still remember running into Bill Gates in an elevator and he was wearing shorts and black socks for some reason. I kept thinking “Well that’s a fashion faux pas.”

Rachel Chalmers:

No, that's a very Australian outfit.

Mike Dolcbec:

Is it? Well, he was Australian before it was cool. 

Rachel Chalmers:

It's always been cool Mike.

Mike Dolbec: 

But it was dark socks, sandals, and shorts so…

Rachel Chalmers:

Socks are a famously divisive garment.

Mike Dolbec:

Being that I’m from Southern California, I would have preferred no socks or maybe white socks. But I think that we can go either way on that one. 

Rachel Chalmers:

So you just couldn't join Microsoft because the sartorial standards were too low?

Mike Dolbec:

No. But that’s actually a funny question. But the honest answer is that I interviewed straight out of grad school. I had been working at Xerox Parc. I had many interesting opportunities because of the group that I was with. Microsoft was the least real opportunity at the time. And basically, it was like rushing a fraternity. The second thing that we talked about was when they walked me into the break room and showed me all the free soda, candy, and food that you could have. Which today we take for granted, but back then, wow that was an interesting deal. 
They couldn't wait to finish the formal interview so they could take me out to a bar. It was crazy. And so I thought, “I don't know anything about this company, and It seems like kind of an interesting thing.” They showed me what became the IBM PC, in a locked lab. So maybe that was the one that happened before Palm. But I mean, I just totally missed what that would become. I didn't have enough foresight, I suppose, to join this merry band of disruptors in Bellevue. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I did want to look back a little bit to Palm because I'm hoping some of our listeners will be Millennials and Zoomers and they may not be privy to the glorious history. I loved Palm. I saw Palm early on. Jeff Hawkins is such an amazing thinker. But for our youthful listeners, it was a precursor to the iPhone effectively. And one of its big innovations was that you learned a kind of shorthand to write on it. And so it took advantage of the fact that humans were more adaptable than computers at that point. If you were to learn the shorthand, it became a really powerful tool. We used to call them personal digital assistants. 
I wanted to say that because a lot of times when I'm coaching and I'm trying to impress on folks the importance of customer discovery, they say well, “What about the iPhone? Steve Jobs came up with the iPhone without doing any customer Discovery. It was completely out of nowhere.” That’s absolutely untrue. It harked back to Palm and it harked back to the Apple Newton. It was very much the thing that we wanted to be our tricorder. A music device, an internet device, and the phone, all in one hand held package. 

Mike Dolbec:

I totally agree. First of all, let me say I apologize. One of the problems about getting old is that you forget a lot. I frequently speak in examples or analogies. I also sight music or film or something and you know, you just forget that your audience didn't know about, or doesn't care about, or isn't aware of those things.For instance what Palm was all about. Or I don't know, I can't think of a recent example. But I have had leadership meetings where I say, “It's like that line in this movie”, and they look at me like, “Oh that's in black and white. Why would you watch a black-and-white movie?” I guess I forgot who I was talking to.

Rachel Chalmers:

When we were young, everything was in black and white! Color was a new innovation! 

Mike Dolbec:

They're all these imaginary dotted lines between how far back your experience goes and references that you want to make so that draw comparisons, and your audience's frame of reference. In my case, their frame of reference doesn't go back nearly as far as mine does. So I guess I have to stay current with modern consumer culture so that I can make references people understand. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I think that's part of it. I also think we need to celebrate our history. This industry has been around 60 or 70 years now. I spent a lot of time talking to people straight out of college about things like Fairchild and the traitorous eight because they're so influential on the way Silicon Valley grew up. Nothing about Silicon Valley was inevitable. So much of it was down to the personalities of people like William Shockley and people who rebelled against him and became the founders of firms like Kleiner. Who additionally had this enormous influence on how Venture Capital developed which then had a knock-on influence on how companies like Microsoft developed.

Mike Dolbec:

I totally agree. By the way, one of my other interviews in addition to this tiny startup called Microsoft was with Fairchild. That also wasn't the place for me. But you know, I had a series of interviewing experiences from an unknown, tiny, fraternity like company that created the wealthiest man on Earth for a while. And then these other historical companies. But at that point I didn't have any context to put into place. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I do think that that context is a gift. One of the other things I always bring up with the participants in my accelerators is,  “Did you know that the Facebook campus on one Hacker Way was the Sun campus? And once more, “Did you know that that big sign with the thumbs-up on it, still has the sun logo on the back of it?” This is because Mark Zuckerberg wants you to remember as you're leaving the campus that all of this has happened before and will happen again. Facebook could disappear just as completely as Sun has done. 

Mike Dolbec:

I live several miles away from that sign but I used to commute by it on my way to GE digital in East Bay. I used to count the strange groups of people that would form and take pictures in front of that sign. 
Yeah, there are some landmarks in Silicon Valley to the extent that we have some that have a lot of history. It’s all very powerful. 

Rachel Chalmers:

What you do think makes Corporate Innovation so difficult?

Mike Dolbec:

Well, how long is this podcast? Is this thing on? Hello?

Rachel Chalmers:

We don't have a time limit, we can spend a couple years talking about this!

Mike Dolbec:

Yes, then to be continued on part two of the thirty-six part opus. 
I knew this question was coming and I tried to distill it into again, an analogy. I apologize, but I think this one will make sense. I don't think it's going to lose too many people. At a high level, I think Corporate Innovation and at least the part I've been very active in, Corporate Venture Capital, is difficult because it sets off a natural immune response in the corporation. You know, as much as we joke about the existence of corporate antibodies, I  think there's some truth to that. All too often management views Innovation as the need for change. But only from a theoretical vantage point. “How can my company best survive within this challenging business environment?” Or, “How does it need to evolve and adapt?” But just like any animal, the corporation is made up of lots of individual pieces. Cells and organs, if you will. And each of them have defensive reactions to change or innovation. It's not malicious. Although sometimes if you're the innovator, it can certainly feel malicious. But it is very natural and you need to understand that if you're involved in Innovation.
A friend of mine wrote a book which I'm fond of, but he uses this analogy. It's like, “Imagine one day one of your kidneys suddenly stopped working and decided to work on its own pet project. Your body would freak out and would have to do something about that kidney. Maybe have it removed before you had some sort of renal failure and it affected your life.”  As an innovator, I think you have to put yourself in this position. You think about your own job. What if somebody is placed on your team and their job is to disrupt everything you're trying to accomplish? And they're sincere, and they have good wishes, but all you can see is how the objectives that you get measured on, and the way you get paid, are being thrown under the bus. Odds are, unless that person is very careful and you're very open-minded, you're going to be defensive about that. So I think what makes Corporate Innovation difficult is this natural response to most types of innovation and the fact that people who are promoting innovation, don't necessarily understand the immune response that they’re eliciting. And that there are some tricks and tactics and things to at least know what is going and how to anticipate it.  Too maybe even mitigate it a little bit so that they don't get amputated, as it were, out of the corporate body.

Rachel Chalmers:

And of course growing up as an innovator in Silicon Valley, the last thing you learn is diplomacy. So our instinct is always to go on the attract and to be aggressive, move fast, and break things. And that triggers a much more powerful immune system response so that the corporation gets caught up in this cytokine storm. 

Mike Dolbec:

You’re absolutely right. 
I think this is apropos. One of my favorite quotes, or at least one of my favorite sayings that I learned about Industrial Innovation is that “Novelty is not a strategy to most industrial companies.” Their focus is not on doing things in a new and cool way. Their focus is on getting the same job done. Primarily, making sure nobody dies in a process.  To maximize safety and at the same time achieve some outcome. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I was talking to a Corporate Innovation professional from a very large truck company who said, “Look we don't do much innovation here. We let our direct competitor invest enormously in R&D. We sell a third as many trucks as they do and our profits are much higher. That’s just our strategy, to be a fast follower.” And of course, it's an incredibly effective survival strategy.

Mike Dolbec:

Yep. There are lots of plays in the playbook. Being a talented and clever fast follower and not throwing the Hail Mary pass to try and win the game is for many industries, a pretty reasonable strategy. 

Rachel Chalmers:

It sounds super counterintuitive to those of us who grow up in Innovation, but it's real and it works. 

Mike Dolbec:

I really like your point about diplomacy. I hadn't thought about that. But if I could go back and teach a “hold your tongue” course to certain people, that might have been very useful to their rise within the corporation. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Honestly. I think this is where being Australian and having a Humanities rather than a technical background has been a huge advantage for me my whole career. I've always been an outsider. I've always known that I need to learn the language of the group that I'm trying to communicate with. And I think that's given me a perspective on the metacognition of how work gets done. 

Mike Dolbec: 

I think I learned this lesson when I was at Orange. We were shepherding Andy Ruben’s company, Danger at the time. The one before Android. We were shepherding his company around to various European operators, and I learned that many European telcos naturally assumed that a Silicon Valley entrepreneur was an outrageous, undiplomatic, unrealistic, over-promising, and under-delivering person. But most of the time, you couldn't even get through the front door. But if you did, they just completely discounted what you were saying. 
I'm putting words in Andy's mouth at this point, so maybe you can interview him later. But to my recollection, it was very humbling the first time he went on that tour and nobody gave him the time of day. So after some Charm School of being forced to listen to people get whatever was bothering them off their chest, and additionally, just learning to listen more and say less, adjusted his strategy. He had no choice but to pay attention to the business culture and the geocentricity of a particular organization. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I think this is why when I came across design thinking and customer centric design, it resonated so deeply with me. Because it is about instilling that practice of listening and centering human factors. I think it’s a really fantastic antidote to a lot of the bad habits that innovators fall into.

Mike Dolbec:

I totally agree, but I’d like to strengthen a point that you were making. When you're asking these questions in design thinking, you have to be conscious of your own frame of reference. You could be scaring people by assuming that they're used to taking more risk than you are. Or that they're afraid of taking more risk than you are. When I worked for Orange Ventures and I led that group, I was asked to go to Paris and introduce myself to the senior executives of France Telecom. Which is now Orange. 
I introduced myself in the typical shorthand of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. I described all of my failures and what I had learned from that first. And that's kind of lionized in our culture. “I failed, but I learned.” The news is not what you failed at, the news is what you learned because you failed in that situation. But a Senior Executive who liked me pulled me aside later and said “Don't ever do that again if you want to work for a French Corporation. All of these people got to where they are by avoiding risk and not making mistakes. You just scared the hell out of them because you made more career-ending mistakes than everybody in that room and then bragged about it.”  It just got interpreted in the completely wrong way. 
That's when I asked Orange to send me to some sort of executive business culture training so I could learn about various Global business cultures and how to be more diplomatic. Most importantly, how not to be misunderstood because I was from a risk-taking culture that wanted to brag about it, and everybody else was not. There's a lesson there. 

Rachel's Chalemers:

That's a perfect segway into my next question. How would you distill all of your experience into just a few lessons for our listeners so they don't have to go through all the pain that you've gone through?

Mike Dolbec:

Start volume thirty-seven of the one-hundred volume… 
Okay, at a high level, I've learned a lot of things through trial and error. Through pain and practice. But I have learned that you need to identify what I'd call the anti-innovation survival mechanism that is working against you in your corporation. They're not all the same. Although they kind of fall into various species, you want to figure out what your company's strategy is. I think if you're the innovator or the person that's pushing the envelope, part of your discovery is to figure out what anti-innovation immune response you’re eliciting. 
You need to have a big enough bag of tricks and tips and tools to counteract what comes at you? So what I've learned apparently is that there is a variety of immune responses and a variety of tips and tricks to kind of mitigate some of those. Or at least delay them. I mean, there's no one recipe for success. There are lots of maps that say, “you are here, and if you go over there, you will fall off the world. So don't go those directions, maybe go some other direction.”

Rachel  Chalmers:

I have to say, I wish we would have had this conversation two years ago because I found myself in a similar situation. I discounted the immune response because there was no strategy around it. It was more like, let's not do anything. And in doing so, I completely underestimated the strength of that response.

Mike Dolbec:

You know, in addition to N.I.H. (Not. Invented. Here.), there's also, we're never going to do that here. Which is very comforting if you're the person in charge of the current course. 
I was going to say on a personal level, and it may not come across this way, but I'll say it. Anyway, I've learned that it's important to be humble.  Too hark back to your cultural awareness conversation coming from Australia to stay curious. I am an innately curious person, and so I'm always curious why things are the way they are. This includes things like, why people act the way they do, what they might do next, and so forth. So this is kind of a pithy thing, but be wise. What I mean by that is actually from another famous quote. It goes like this, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers and I think about all the answers.” Which makes me think of all of the answers I get back during a company pitch. But then the quote goes on to say,  “But you can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” And frankly, I find myself thinking of an enormous amount of questions as I interact with entrepreneurs.
I realize though, that maybe some of those are more important than others, and I can't just have a stream of consciousness. I think if you think carefully about the questions that you're asking and what they reveal to you, it can be very helpful. The follow-on to those though, even though I've violated this next principle so far is, “Say less, ask more. And then do much more than that.” What I mean by that is, we had this common phrase at GE called the Say/Do ratio. We would often handicap Executives and joke by saying that their Say/Do ratio is out of whack. “This guy says too much and doesn't do enough of that.” I would prefer to be known as, “Say less but do more.” Or another way to say it is “Under-promise, and over-deliver.” I think if you build up that brand personally, then people are more likely to take a phone call from you that might be an uncomfortable conversation for them. Especially when it’s about disrupting their current plans. You have to earn the right to be listened to, you don't have it automatically.

Rachel Chalmers:

I really loved your thoughts about curiosity. I mean, that's the appeal of playing on the highest difficulty setting. It's what makes hard things interesting and compelling. I'm finding my curiosity to be a very sustaining force during this time of geopolitical uncertainty because obviously it's terrifying and intimidating. But it's also really interesting. It's a fascinating time. 

Mike Dolbec: 

I myself have learned that I'm apparently an achievement junkie. Not that I've achieved a lot, but that I keep thinking of small things to improve on. That’s from seeking out new things to learn to looking for new perspectives to gain that might be helpful later. I find myself with way too much time during this sheltering in place period. So I'm making lists of things to do and things to learn. Lists of lists to do other things. Which eventually turns into lists to stop doing things. Things like that. 
But it always comes back to me asking myself, “How do I channel the curiosity to get the best bang for the buck.”

Rachel Chalmers:

How do you think the pandemic might affect our corporate customers in the long term?

Mike Dolbec:

The most attractive phrase is, “The Great Acceleration.” It’s of course in joking reference to the Great Depression. The great acceleration means that it's forced all corporations to accelerate their digital transformation plans. As an advisor to BHP, one of my exposures to it is when they had to immediately transfer 20,000 employees to remote work over a very short period of time. And of course, still continue to do what they do and extract valuable material from raw Earth. But the vast majority of people were remote. 
All companies are now rapidly considering the idea of, “Okay, I guess some of my people have to work remote.” It's much more of a, “My world has been rocked. I have to figure out how to accomplish what I had been doing before.” I'm speaking as a senior executive. “Somehow. I need technology that makes this easier and doesn't get in people's way. I need to figure out how to manage my affairs and continue to make important decisions that yield important economic results when people aren't face to face. I may not need as much real estate or office space as I used to have. Either because my landlord won't let the people reoccupy the skyscraper they work in, or they can only get in an elevator two at a time.”
But I think senior executives are thinking, “Are my people communicating as efficiently as they could be? Are we automating as much of the important decisions as we could be? Are we automating as much of the interaction with our customers as we could be? Do I have too much office space? There's some right-sizing here that may adjust where I spend my money.” 
Once you do the obvious things like supporting people working remotely, then you start to think about all of the things that a digital first company might have pursued already. “Do I have my data act together? Am I collecting the data in a form that could be used later to make better decisions?” 

Rachel Chalmers:

I wanted to give folks a sense of the scale of a company like BHP. Which they may not be familiar with if they haven't encountered it. Basically, if life were a science fiction novel, Australia would be a mining asteroid. And BHP is literally called the big Australian. To service its sites which are unimaginably remote at a 10-hour flight from Sydney, they will fly workers in from the population centers, and put them up in hotels for four weeks and send them home. A that's how they've traditionally done business. So retooling a company like that to address the realities of the pandemic is a moonshot. It's an unfathomably huge change in direction. 

Mike Dolbec:

Although there was already a nascent effort focused on what they call remote operation centers. The idea was that, “Can we get some of the job done by having a person elsewhere use technology to manage equipment and people that are remote?” The pandemic has accelerated the desire to manage more remotely because they did the easy stuff. And now I think they're pushing the envelope and to ask, “How much further can we go? Can we minimize the number of people that we have to put on a flight? It's more like sending people to work on an offshore rig. When you fly them to Northwestern Australia for a two week shift, you encounter a logistics problem, a productivity problem and on top of their family not being there. Again, I think it's unleashed people's thinking about how much further they can go with remote operation. 

Rachel Chalmers:

But Americans, this Is why when you complain to an Australian that a six-hour flight is long, we think you’re being cute. It’s because it takes us nine hours to go across the central desert. 

Mike Dolbec:

I just watched the TV movie about the woman who trekked across the center of Australia 2,000 miles to the ocean with camels. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Tracks, about Robyn Davidson. 

Mike Dolbec:

I was at the first or second TED Conference when the photographer whose name is just escaping me now, released the book about that. I had no conception as someone who grew up in Southern California and went to Public Schools just how geographically impaired I was. I just didn’t know how large Australia was and how the Centre of Australia is primarily Desert. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I mean, shout out to your mountains. The Sierras and the Rockies are among my favorite high pointy things. We don't have anything steep in Australia for the most part. You can walk up the highest mountain with no effort whatsoever. But we do have lots of empty stuff. That's that's what going we've got going for us.
Mike. How do you avoid burnout?

Mike Dolbec:

if I look at what I do when I'm not working, I do a lot of road cycling. I used to joke and say to my wife, “Hey, this is cheaper than therapy, right? It's good for me, it makes me happy.” And then I counted the number of bicycles I own. And the number of computer-controlled indoor work out things I have. So I can no longer say it's cheaper than therapy. But I can't say that it's good therapy. 
Roadside cycling in Silicon Valley is a bit like golf. You can go alone, and then you have a lot of time to yourself. Or you can go in a group as long as you stay reasonably distanced from each other and talk to each other. These days that is. I have lots of gadgets and lots of software to give me readings on things that I can improve on. For some reason, I find that stress relieving.
The other thing that I find myself doing is coaching, in the general term. I am an advisor to a couple of different Venture activities and to several startups as well as to BHP. I find that because I’m exposing myself to generally, radically different situations, I’m becoming a thought partner in putting myself in the shoes of whoever it is I'm trying to coach. That's refreshing because each of their situations is rarely the same as mine. So I can think about their situation and see it through their eyes. 

Rachel Chalmers:

What is the best way for our listeners to connect to or follow your work? 

Mike Dolbec:

I would say that you could follow me on LinkedIn. Though, I haven't been too active lately. But that is the best way to find me. So you can’t find me this way yet, but I’m thinking about writing a book. I'm very fond of some of the books my friends have written. They’re particularly very funny people and I always wished that I could tell stories better so that I could share these lessons that I've learned over some time. I suppose blogging would be the really cool current way to do it. Or maybe turning a Blog into a book would be another way to do it. I haven't quite got my act together on that point yet.

Rachel Chalmers:

Maybe try it out on Instagram? Be an influencer. 

Mike Dolbec:

That would require taking pictures and things. I am not an active person on social networking apps. I guess this is humble, but I don't necessarily think that my opinion would be that useful in a social context because what the heck do I know? I'm just mostly an observer. Now if it was a business situation, I think I could add a few things. 
So there's a few people on LinkedIn that I'm friends with and we tend to hassle each other whenever somebody makes an outrageous statement to keep each other honest. I like doing that. 

Rachel Chalmers:

What does the future look like for you personally?

Mike Dolbec:

Well, I jokingly say that thanks to my seven years at GE Digital, I now have a postdoc in industrial software and digital transformation. Even inside GE, there are many different situations. Some people were ahead of the curve and some people were way behind. Others rushed into things with open arms and others were actively trying to slow everything down. What I'd like to do is take that perspective and some of the lessons of how the industrial software world is similar but kind of a different parallel universe to the enterprise software world. I want to continue to apply that in Innovation both in investing and in some leadership roles that I've been considering. 
I think that seven years ago, it was a radical concept that industrial companies should innovate and cherry-pick internet technology and bring it into their company and do something useful with it. Now, I think it's a much more interesting topic to them and to corporations and Venture Capitalists. So I think that my currency there Is worth more than it was seven years ago.

Rachel Chalmers: 

What is your rosiest, most optimistic outlook for the tech industry in general?

Mike Dolbec:

I’m looking toward when this current pandemic situation is over. But what I mean by over is when enough people that stop worrying about what is going to go wrong with their business. Whether that be about their customers that they may or may not lose, or business slowing down. So when a critical mass of people shift to thinking, “Thank goodness. That's over.” We can get back to business. I think there will be a golden age explosion in uptake of things that I'm very familiar with and I've been financing. The reception to the Great Acceleration has started because the pandemic has necessitated this, for example, the remote work challenge that I described earlier. But once the constraints of worrying a lot about people's personal safety is removed and we can get back to growth. I think that there will be a kind of unleashing of innovation. So I’m very optimistic about that. I don't know how to time it, but I feel very confident that it’s going to happen. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah, those vaccines can't roll out fast enough. I'd love to see us channel some of this digital transformation energy into cleantech and really addressing climate change the way we've addressed the pandemic. 

Mike Dolbec:

I know that it will. I've also been pleasantly surprised that it's already happening in healthcare. In Pharma, one of my fellow advisors on the BHP Science and Innovation Council was the chief digital officer for Bayer. She's much more familiar with how the vaccine trials have been going. The pursuit of a vaccine that is. And the testing of it. Whether it's effective or not and accessing the risks. 
The whole cycle time of the Pharma industry has sped up dramatically. I don't know enough about why it's taken so long. But they're definitely highly motivated now. I'm not sure they're going to go back to the same way of doing things other than prudence and safety. I think that they've realized that there is some virtue in speeding up some of the things in the way they pursue things. And cleantech is the same way. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah, the risk-reward ratio has changed dramatically and it's not clear that it will change back. 

Mike Dolbec:

Yeah, and I think in Industries where it was once safe to go slow and not be first, the Great Acceleration will present more situations where somebody in your industry did something that you hesitated on. Due to this, they start receiving benefits from that decision and to some extent, you’re suffering because you hesitated. That of course is a thesis of mine. Up until this point, it was a very good strategy if you were an industrial company. That is, to not be first. But now, I'm not sure that continues to be the best strategy. 

Rachel Calmers:

Is there anything else that I should have asked you, and didn't?

Mike Dolbec:

I don't know. What's my favorite podcast that I listen to everyday? Scott Adams is the cartoonist that created Dilbert. I became friends with him last century. I licensed his work for a software product that I was an investor in and so we became friends and stayed in touch. He's an author and just has a way of thinking that I admire. So I like to listen to his podcast, Coffee With Scott Adams. He seems to me to be pretty even-handed. 
Secondly, you could ask me, “What's the most interesting book I've read recently?

Rachel Chalmers: 

Oh, I love asking that!

Mike Dolbec:

It's actually a book, a class at the University of Washington, and a series of Video Lectures. I think they videotaped all the lectures. It’s called Calling Bullshit. I guess in some sense, it’s related to my fascination with Scott Adams. The book is essentially two scientists at University of Washington who put together a class to focus on helping people interpret the many messages they get from media and from data in general. From scientific papers etc. Their goal is to help us to be better consumers of the hidden bias behind everybody's point of view. It's a very entertaining series of lectures. 
In the first one, the two people introduce each other. But the first guy says he’s so and so and then presents his research as well as examples of some papers he’d published. Then the second guy calls him on his bullshit. First he finds it interesting, but then points out that it’s bull because the last slide the first guy had shown was wrong etc. Evidently the conclusions he claimed were made incorrectly. Then the second guy goes on to tell the audience his track record only to be interrupted by the first guy again. 
The whole point is trying to raise the audience's awareness. That you can't believe everything you read or hear or see at first glance. Just because we're pattern-matching animals doesn't mean that your conclusion is accurate. It just means you matched some pattern. That pattern may or may not be useful at all.  This whines all the way back to one of the first things I said in our podcast. The lesson I learned is that just because I recognize a pattern doesn't mean it's the right pattern or that I can draw a useful conclusion. I may need more patterns and maybe I can make a conclusion after that. 

Rachel Chalmers:

So I have a couple of recommendations for you now. Both of which are from the badass generation of women that came up through Linden Lab and have gone on to do many extraordinary things. The first one is Melinda Byerley who wrote a medium blog post a few years ago now with the title of Fuck Pattern Recognition. It went viral. And as soon as I read it, I emailed her and said, “We have to be friends!” And we've been friends ever since. I think you would really enjoy that one. 
The other recommendation is from one of Melinda's colleagues, Gillian "Gus" Andrews, who has a Doctorate in Media Literacy. She just wrote a book that came out this year, which is called Keep Calm and Log On. It's about managing your digital profile in a world of crazy manipulations. I think you'll really appreciate both of them.

Mike Dolbec:

Wow. Okay, last one. This is more of a cultural and social thing. But since we’re all stuck sheltering in place, at least here in the United States, you didn’t ask me about the most interesting TV shows that I’ve been binging. My wife and I have been binging some TV shows and the best one so far that we've really enjoyed is a French series called Le Bureau des Légendes. It's basically the French equivalent of Homeland, if Homeland was less extreme and more intelligent. And maybe a little more broadly traveled as well. Anyway, it's very clever and it's French with subtitles and there's plenty of seasons to keep you busy. 

Rachel Chalmers:

But I have another one for you. It’s on a totally different front. It's on Netflix. It's called The Casketeers. It's about the proprietor and staff at a funeral home in Auckland, New Zealand. Francis Tipene runs the funeral home as Maori. Most of his clientele are Pacific Islanders. So there are Samoan funerals, Fijian funerals, Tongan funeral funerals. It is fascinating, extremely funny and beautifully edited. Which is a necessity to cut back and forth between quite heartbreaking funeral scenes to office shenanigans within the funeral parlor. I've been describing it to people as, if What We Do In The Shadows were real. 

Mike Dolbec:

I was going to ask you if it had anything to do with the team that did What We Do In The Shadows?

Rachel Chalmers:

Only in that it’s set in New Zealand and has very similar sensibilities. 
Mike, thank you so much for your time. This has been a complete delight. It's so great to reconnect. I think we will try and have you on again so we can get to Volume 2 of your insights and perspectives. 

Mike Dolbec:

Sure, that'd be great. I really did enjoy the time. Thank you!

Rachel Chalmers: 

Thanks for carving time out from your road biking schedule. I'll expect to see you on the Loop behind Stanford. I'll be waving from horseback. 

Mike Dolbec:

I look forward to getting out there. 

Rachel Chalmers:

So folks, you have the invitation to connect with Mike on LinkedIn. You won't regret it. He's been such a great companion in this journey with me.

Mike Dolbec:

Or you can try Strava. I suppose Strava.com. That’s probably my most active social network. You can see people hassling me about which ride or climb I did slowly. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Your most active Social Network. I see what you did there. 

Mike Dolbec:

Yeah. There you go. Good to see you Rachel.

Rachel Chalmers:

Great to see you too. Take care.

Mike Dolbec:

Cheers!

Get to know the Team

E.08 - Alan Boehme: Next Stop, Space!

April 15, 2021

"You want to keep them motivated, you want to keep them moving forward, but at the same time you want to make sure that they understand that there are lessons to be learned and they should listen. People get too close to what they're passionate about and sometimes ignore all the facts." - Alan Boehme

Play Episode

E.07 - Cindy Alvarez: Discovering Customers

April 15, 2021

"When you have intellectual work, you're not always going to have good intellectual days. Sitting there and trying to make it happen is just burning out something that we don't have an endless capacity for. If you're not doing great work today, forget it, go for a walk." - Cindy Alvarez

Play Episode

E.06 - Sam Ramji: Seeds of Change

April 15, 2021

"We will slowly uncover what is actually special about being people. I think that's our ability to love, it's our ability to create, our ability to connect with each other." - Sam Ramji

Play Episode

E.05 - Christi Zuber: Innovation by Design

April 9, 2021

"There is purpose in all sorts of things that we do. If you can make someone's job easier, if you can help someone sleep better at night, or whatever it is. Reach out and have those conversations. Understand the context of the people that interact with those products and services." - Christi Zuber

Play Episode

E.04 - Corbett Gilliam: Advancing Technology

April 9, 2021

"I think a big piece of working with enterprises is, everybody knows they need some type of Innovation. And a lot of them think that they are innovating when they're really not." - Corbett Gilliam

Play Episode

E.03 - Louis Stewart: Mr. Innovation City

April 9, 2021

"Everybody has different needs in order to be successful. So trust your gut. If a door opens, give it a shot. Go ahead and take a look inside the door and see if there's something in there that you can learn from." - Louis Stewart

Play Episode

E.02 - Jeanne Morain: Transformation Pioneer

April 9, 2021

"It's important that you find those change agents. Because they exist. In every pocket, in every group. There's always those that aspire for a little bit more." - Jeanne Morain

Play Episode

E.01 - Mike Dolbec: Venture Industrialist

April 9, 2021

"You can't believe everything you read, see, or hear at first glance. Just because we're pattern-matching animals doesn't mean that your conclusion is accurate. It just means you matched some pattern. That pattern may or may not be useful at all." - Mike Dolbec

Play Episode