David Karp - Leadership and InnovationDavid Karp has had an amazing experience, and he is only 26. He is representing Gen Y or Millennial leaders with gusto and results.

Who is David Karp?

David Karp is the Founder and CEO of Tumblr. Tumblr enables people to share text, images, video, and quotes in an effortless way. With over 111 million blogs in Tumblr, it is very popular with younger generations, with about 68% of their users 34 and younger. This may be one of many reasons why Yahoo purchased them for $1.1 billion. This is the second recent acquisition of a company founded by Generation Y and Z.

Brian Solis made this point well:

“Yahoo as a media brand skews toward older demographics. Tumblr is ridiculously strong in terms of engagement among Millennials and to some extent Generation Y.”

A shift to meet the new generation market spend. Yahoo is becoming GenYahoo!

What is unique about David Karp’s leadership ways?

There have been some past interviews with David and provide some insight into his working and leading style. Here are some key leadership points:

Aligned Growth. It is interesting that some of the Millennial leaders come of age as an individual and as a company, bound together. In other words, both grow in sync. In old world terms, we may call this a career path, but it would be inaccurate as careers advance but organizational culture sometimes remains static. In the new world, the individuals and the companies adapt together, learning and changing in positive ways.

Millennial leaders grow as their companies grow, and companies grow as Millennial leaders grow.

Autonomy. Being autonomous was essential for David as well as what he looked for in team members. Some may call it being introverted; others may call it being given space to create and do the work. In all likelihood, it is a mix of both.

The essence of it is trust. David seemed to work hard to gain the trust of others, and he obviously did, evidenced by the “adults” who engaged him and invested in him. It is a mutual trust.

In that autonomy, David seems to trust his team to do the right things for their customers and for their company.

Millennial leaders embrace autonomy for themselves and empower it in others, all based on trust.

Unscheduled. David does not like organized meetings. The only meetings scheduled were formal Board meetings and informal Monday morning all-team meetings. As he said, “I think appointments are caustic to creativity.”

However, being unscheduled doesn’t mean being unorganized. David learned how to sort his email into priority folders, working on the most important items first. He also became a fan of taking notes and an active user of Action Method notebooks.

In the free-form use of time, real work happened along with real creativity and real interaction with other individuals. Moments of getting work done or solving problems were not interrupted by moving to another scheduled meeting.

Millennial leaders focus on solving problems and creating new solutions, unbound by predetermined meeting schedules.

What is unique about David Karp’s innovative ways?

Similar to Nick D’Aloisio, David was enamored with technology at a very young age. This was so evident that his Mom pulled him out of high school and home-schooled him. From working for a family friend involved in a web video production firm to being CTO for UrbanBaby, David was innovating and creating technology solutions at a very early age.

Highlighted below may be some of the innovative ways gleaned from the David Karp story.

Aligned Experiences. David grew up in a digital world. Given that natural tendency and understanding, he was able to see the possibilities of applying new technology to older world ways of doing things. It may have come from frustrations in working with older systems and processes and realizing how newer technologies can drastically change how things are done.

This was evident in his early job in which he convinced the web video firm to be one of the first to market in iTunes. Using and leveraging newer technologies are completely natural, embedded in the way Gen Y creates.

Millennial innovation comes from the experiences and comfort in the digital world.

Open, Lean, Agile. David took a key lesson from Jason Fried and kept very open communication channels with their customers. In listening, it is important to understand what is important and where the momentum takes hold.

Another essential element seemed to be on being cost-efficient. If the operations were lean, it meant they did not have to be distracted with raising money. It also may have kept the path clear from organizational clutter as well as closer alignment with customers and the work being done.

Releasing new features was done in small bites to see what worked and what didn’t. The releases were done while the engineers were around so immediate adjustments could be made as feedback came in. Also, each time a new feature was added, an old one was removed. Remember lean (less to support going forward).

In a hosted solution, there is great value in seeing what new features are being used and which are not. Adjusting quickly by pulling unused features was a key approach. It helped lower maintenance costs but also kept their focus on high-value items, based on customer usage not their own personal biases of perceived value.

Millennial innovation is clearly aligned with customers, quickly developing and adjusting based on immediate feedback and usage patterns.

Community-Oriented. More than just open communication, a sense of community around the product was a key belief and action point. David wanted the company to really align with customers, sensing customer areas of excitement and letting customers know what they were excited about, too. With this diligence to community, a positive friction likely occurred in which the energy of ideas operated at an intense level.

Millennial innovation is fostered through an intertwined, interactive community.

What can we learn from David Karp?

As you read this, you may be thinking “nothing is not that new.” In principle, many principles are timeless. What is changing is how Millennials are taking ageless principles and making them age-appropriate. What I mean is Generation Y is bringing a new mindset and innovation to bear upon solid, tested principles.

As I read through the articles and discovered more about Tumblr and David Karp, I learned a few new things, and my hope is people from different generations will, too. All said, stories like this one are the reasons why I am excited about Millennial leaders.

What changes do you see unfolding with a new generation of leaders? What principles are being refreshed?

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