Interview with Brian Harp, USA
Hi Brian, where do you gravitate geographically?
I grew up in Wisconsin and, early in my career, worked in Honeywell in Minneapolis. But I tend to gravitate to big bodies of water, and I've lived most of my life on the coasts. I spent almost a decade living in the beach cities of Los Ageles and working at the Information Sciences Institute, which is part of University of Southern California (USC). I also got my masters degree there. After that, I've lived and worked in New York.
Big bodies of water are inspiring. What inspires you?
At my core, I'm about taking an idea that's not yet defined and delivering something practical that people can use, like a product or new digital features on a website. Actually, my job now is to lead digital development projects, which in the end, give people the ability to interact with a business and its products in different ways, to buy online, to pick up conveniently, to use new features on our e-readers and tablets.
Have you always been into Computer science?
I bought all the tools and was a carpenter for a few years
Actually, I started out wanting to be a carpenter, which is practical and tangible and creates things people can use. After high school, I bought all the tools and was a carpenter for a few years. I then decided that it wouldn’t take me as far as I wanted to go, and went to college to get a computer science degree. What I loved about computer science is how it converts something intangible, an idea or a problem, into something meaningful. You start with a goal and end up with a program that does something useful, all with just ones and zeros. That was amazing to me.
I never thought of computer science as "tangible." To many of us, it seems magical.
I enjoy bridging gaps between people and technology
And that's the energy behind technology - it can be and do so many things. I'm not as motivated by pure technology, as I am by the problems it can solve. I enjoy bridging the gap between people and technology. Every role I've had has been about helping people leverage technology and using it in a way that would benefit them.
Is there an element of service in that?
I’m comfortable leading from the back where I can see and guide
Yes, there’s an element of service in the kind of work I do, but also in the general way I operate. My goal is to bring value to my team. I’m comfortable leading from the back, where I can see and guide people versus from the front, where all I can see is what's in front of us. It's about support and collaboration.
Supporting without subordinating your views to others is an intricate balance. When did you learn to do that?
most important lessons are learned from intensely personal experiences
Frankly, the most important lessons are learned from intensely personal experiences. They are usually things you learn as a result of some type of defeat, dissatisfaction or discovering blind spots. I learned those lessons early and, I'm sure, will continue to learn until the end.
What’s your blind spot?
when someone is talking to me, I'm consciously trying to not to problem-solve
Making assumptions or inferences too quickly is what I'm learning to avoid. When I'm listening, I tend to fill in the blanks or make assumptions about what people say. That gets me into trouble at times. So when someone is talking to me, I'm consciously trying to not to problem-solve in my head, or project my views or jump too far ahead when I'm listening.
That's such a valuable lesson. How do you find people generally perceive you?
I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin
I think people receive me quite well. I’ve been told I have a good and well-paced presentation style. I tend to communicate simply and in a way that allows people into the conversation. And that is always my goal vs. demonstrating my own skills. This is likely because I’m a product of my environment. I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin where most people were not educated beyond High School. So I probably come across fairly down to earth.
In talking with you, you're quite authentic, which is a sought-after quality in leaders. Are you interested in moving higher into leadership roles.
I see leadership as a way to bring significant value
My goal is to be a leader in my organization. I don't need to be a CEO, but I want a role where I'm valued for my experiences and style of leadership. I see leadership as a way to bring significant value to the company and people. I recognize that leadership requires a shift from a hands-on operating style to a more strategic decision-making, mobilizing and enabling approach. However, the one constant for me is interacting with people authentically. This has not and will not change no matter the role I have.
What would you say if I told you that "insight into people is the bigger power you can have?"
He navigates the people side masterfully.
I see it clearly with my two sons. One is in high school and one in college. One is really driven to succeed. Works super hard. When he sets his mind to something, he doesn’t let anything stop him. He loves to learn and is now teaching himself about cars because he wants to, one day, design cars. My younger son is much more people focused. He navigates the people side masterfully. And I know he will be just as successful. They'll get to a similar place but in very different ways. One will do it on his own, the other will do it with 50 people around him.
What are you thinking about as you see your two kids on the verge of adulthood?
Focus will be a premium quality.
I love to watch the evolution of my kids as human beings. The way they start becoming conscious of the outside world and their place in it; how intentionally they go after the things they want. They've grown up with technology and it’s going to become bigger and bigger part of all our lives. I think their challenge is going to be balance and the ability to focus with distracting technology all around. Focus will be a premium quality. Don't get me wrong, I love technology, and I am the first to recognize that technology has been a savior during this pandemic. But in our personal lives, we need to be more intentional, and consciously allow it in or leave it out.
What has changed for you since the pandemic started?
You could say that this is our way to keep the lights on.
At work, we've had a significant number of people furloughed. However, we are using technology to stay in touch regularly. We have virtual happy hours to check in every other week. We share what we're doing at work and at home, which helps everyone. We expect people will return and we want to keep those connections and relationships strong. The work itself is also different. With our team much smaller, we're not taking on new projects. We're just keeping things in working order -- sort of keeping the lights on. On a personal front, I miss playing soccer. I usually play twice or three times a week in an organized game. To stay in shape my boys and I go out and do drills. You could say that this is our way to keep the lights on.
Now, I'm going to give you 5 questions, which you have to answer very quickly with one or two words. Ready?
What offends you?
Not much. But mean people annoy me.
What’s one lesson do you feel most qualified to teach another person?
What makes you cringe?
When you're at your best, you're...
In the Groove
What change are you working on?
My habits. Always.
Its' been great to talk to you, Brian. Where can people reach you?
Please visit me at: www.linkedin.com/in/brianharp