“You really own your career.”Lisa Schlosser, CTO

Welcome to Driving Change where we go for a drive with leading technology executives and dig deep into their beliefs, habits, routines, and influences.

Today we take a ride with Lisa Schlosser CTO of Thomson Reuters FindLaw and discuss a variety of topics from the role of the CTO, Anita Borg Institute, Positive Intent, Balance, and ‘The Power of Habit

In this Episode:

1:47 Thomson Reuters FindLaw
2:20 Role of the CTO
4:46 The speed of change and being right
5:57 Anita Borg Institute and Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
11:28 Advice to your 25 year old self.
12:23 The path to CTO
14:29 Change of views
15:57 Staying on top of information
16:34 Associations: Minnesota High Tech Association, Anita Borg, and STEM.
17:13 “The Power of Habit” By Charles Duhigg
19:44 Running
21:17 Lisa Asks: As a tech leader what was your ah ha moment that transformed your thinking?

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The Interview:

Jeff Martin: Don’t get this on camera. This straw is too big and I don’t want to use it. It won’t go to waste. I’ll take it home. My kids will play with it. ha.

Welcome to Driving Change where we go for a ride with leading technology executives and dig deep into their beliefs, habits, routines, and influences.
Today, we take a ride with Lisa Schlosser, CTO of Thomson Reuters FindLaw, and discuss a variety of topics from the role of the CTO, Anita Borg Institute, Positive Intent, Balance, and the “The Power of Habit.”

Jeff Martin: Hey, how’s it going?

Lisa Schlosser: Good. How is it going for you?

Jeff Martin: Good to see you.

Lisa Schlosser: Nice to see you, too.

Jeff Martin: So today we’re going to take a little ride over to my favorite coffee shop, Dunn Brothers.

Lisa Schlosser: Awesome.

Jeff Martin: And we’ll talk on the way there. We’ll talk on the way back. If we run out of things to talk about, we can
always do some drag racing because we are in a Prius. I’m just kidding.

Lisa Schlosser: I love the green grass sticking out of the snow.

Jeff Martin: Yeah. This is the most unbelievable winter date.

Lisa Schlosser: No. I got to go run this afternoon.

Jeff Martin: Let’s start with Thomson Reuters. You’ve been at Thomson Reuters for quite a long time and you’re currently the chief technology officer of FindLaw. Is that correct?

Lisa Schlosser: That’s correct.

Jeff Martin: Right, so can you talk a little bit about high level what FindLaw is?

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. FindLaw is an organization that does business development for small [unintelligible 0:01:55] so we help bring our customer clients to become their customers.

Jeff Martin: You’re a CTO in other divisions?

Lisa Schlosser: I have been, yeah.

Jeff Martin: Okay.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: What were those other divisions?

Lisa Schlosser: There was one around Westlaw Business. There was one around government, corporate, and academic. I went around content marketplace.

Jeff Martin: I find it interesting there’s a lot of companies that have CIOs and they also have CTOs. You guys are definitely building software?

Lisa Schlosser: Yes.

Jeff Martin: Right, and delivering that, and often there’s a CTO involved when you’re doing that. Have you seen the role change much since you’ve been in the role?

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. One of the things – maybe two things I’d point out is for one thing, data is definitely more prevalent, so there is rarely a recommendation I bring forth that doesn’t have some sort of data or analytics associated with it to back up the recommendation.

Jeff Martin: Yeah, okay.

Lisa Schlosser: The other thing I think that’s really interesting and I see it a lot in FindLaw is that technology is permeating lots of different career paths, so whether you’re in marketing, or sales, or finance, or HR, there is a lot of technology that’s associated in those areas. The people in those areas are much more tech-savvy as well. I think it used to be where technology was one of those things where someone else would take care of it, kind of this mysterious thing and now it’s sort of all over the place. So the role is a little bit different in what are those areas that you sort of maintain and control and govern and drive strategy, and what are those technologies that are great for those disciplines that are okay to sort of live wherever they live.

Jeff Martin: Yeah. How do you define the role of the CTO, your definition or maybe globally what would you say that most people define it as then? Is that different to sort of what you’re doing?
Lisa Schlosser: Yeah, I mean the CTO’s role is really to, and a you said we build software, so the nice part about it is we have a CIO of Thomson Reuters, so I don’t have to worry as much about what hardware stock am I using for my software and things like that. We’re very focused on the business and what type of technology do we build to enable the features and functionality that the business wants to deliver for a customer. And there’s things also around performance and touch automation, project management, and all those pieces that have to come together for us to really deliver that.

Jeff Martin: Everything changes it seems like a lot faster these days. Technologies are changing. The industry is changing faster. Competition is more rapid. How do you know you’re choosing the right technologies and the right methodology and the right tools?

Lisa Schlosser: I think the number one thing is as a technology organization are we wicked fast and are we able to respond to customer and business needs as efficiently and as quickly as possible. I think that’s the number one thing. The other thing I think I’ve been thinking a lot of too is like the right technologies and the right tools are in place if my team is focused on those type of things that differentiate us from our customers. So if I have a team that’s kind of doing stuff that I could pay someone else to do or things that don’t require expertise and so those types of things that I think it’s time to reevaluate the technology and tools to take onboard.

Jeff Martin: So one thing I really want to talk to you about is, I know you’re part of the Anita Borg organization.

Lisa Schlosser: Uh-huh.

Jeff Martin: There is very few women in technology. It would be great to hear more about what Anita Borg is and what you’re learning and what your view on why there isn’t a lot of women in technology and what can we do about it.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. The Anita Borg Institute was the brainchild of a woman named Anita Borg and Telle Whitney. Anita Borg passed away from cancer, but Telle Whitney is still the president of the organization. It’s really about bringing more women into acquiring, attracting, advancing, and retaining women in technology. Their number 1 event that they founded is probably the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and it was in Minnesota about 3 years ago and it’s grown tremendously and when it was in Minnesota, it experienced growth. It was just under 5,000 people.

Jeff Martin: Wow!

Lisa Schlosser: I went to the one in Houston, just in October, and there were 12,000 mostly women that were in attendance at that.
Now coming from technology and having been in technology for a long time, let me tell you there is no other conference like that in the sense of I’ve never been in a room full of that many women technologists ever, so it’s pretty amazing.

Jeff Martin: What’s the reason that they’ve identified that there’s so few women in technology?

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. So when you think about the women in technology, the first thing you need to do is attract them. So one of the organizations that they partnered with is the Harvey Mudd School, and Harvey Mudd College has done some amazing things in trying to attract women into the field. One of the things they did is they renamed their intro to computer science class. Instead of calling it intro to computer science using Java, they named it something like creative problem solving with technology and science leveraging [unintelligible 0:08:24].

Jeff Martin: That’s a very different name.

Lisa Schlosser: Very different name and what they’ve done is they’ve attracted women who never took any computer science courses before, so they’re taking their first one in college and finding that is it’s a very inviting and welcoming environment, that they like it, and they stick with it. So the next thing they did is they said, “Well, let’s send everybody that goes to that course to the Grace Hopper Celebration.” So they paid for a whole bunch of people to go up there through scholarships and such and then finally they do like an internship or research project between your freshman or sophomore years that you can actually apply the things that you learned in your computer science class.

Jeff Martin: Well that’s great.

Lisa Schlosser: You can see immediate application to the types of things that you are learning and they found that their number went from about 10 percent in 2006 to almost 50 percent of increasing the number when they’re getting computer science degrees. That’s fabulous. That’s attracting. Then you want to advance women in technology and there is various things that Thomson Reuters, this has been where our focus has been, so we’ve done things like done talent reviews for the women in the organization. We’ve looked at our job descriptions and said are they gender neutral.

Jeff Martin: Okay, yeah.

Lisa Schlosser: Are they inviting for women to play for them? Sometimes it’s a matter of just really honing in on like tapping somebody on the shoulder or creating communication, hey this job is open. Are you interested in applying?”

Jeff Martin: Is it where women are less likely to apply to jobs or…

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. It’s interesting. The statistics say that women will not apply for a role unless they meet 100 percent of the criteria where men will apply if they meet as much as 60 percent.

Jeff Martin: Really?

Lisa Schlosser: Sometimes a little bit of encouragement gets them applying and get the ability to advance. Finally, once you get them to computer science degree and you’re helping them in their career, you need to retain them. That’s where a lot of women quit and don’t want to work in environments that are non-diverse, non-inclusive, and so companies are really honing in their culture and think about these types of teams that they’re forming are going to have much more likely to retain women.

Jeff Martin: So the environment is more important to women overall than men perhaps?

Lisa Schlosser: That definitely seems to be showing up in the statistics.

Jeff Martin: Okay. That’s interesting.
Looking back, now you’re in the role of the CTO, looking back at your career, think about yourself as a 25-year-old, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?

Lisa Schlosser: Oh, my gosh! So many things! One of the things I learned late in my career was we were doing a retrospective, and I was working with a facilitator. This retrospective had an opportunity to be very controversial, there should be a lot of conflict, and so as I talked to her about what could we do to encourage open honest conversation but create a safe environment where people are going to do that, she introduced me to the phrase, “Assume positive intent.” It was like this light bulb went off because it really set a different context where I started to think about things in terms of the outcome that we want is usually the same thing, so we want to deliver software on time and budget. We want these features, but the approach and how you get there is often where the conflict arises.
That phrase, I wish I would have known about it sooner, thought about it sooner because it really started to make me want to ask different questions or approach things differently. So instead of getting frustrated, or there is conflict or whatever, you start to say, “I’m curious. Why do you think that? Why do you want to approach it that way? What have you learned?” Sometimes, it amazed me something as simple as they are in the wrong assumption that someone came up with or sometimes they think of things in different ways in like I haven’t thought about that. That will be a great idea.

Jeff Martin: So maybe a different angle on kind of looking back, what are some of the things that you did right that helped propel you to the position you’re in now?

Lisa Schlosser: I think having a strong technology background is obviously important to advance in technology. I think one of the things I did over time is I took on I’ll say broadening assignments, so new roles, new opportunities, doing things different. A lot of times they were lateral. It wasn’t necessarily a promotion so you started to think about what are those skills that I want to develop. Is there certain type of technology I haven’t done yet like I worked in a data center environment, I worked in software development, I worked in kind of corporate shared services, and–

Jeff Martin: Yeah. It’s a lot of different areas.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah. You start to drop that map. It’s like, what do you really like to do that you haven’t done yet that would be fun?

Jeff Martin: Yeah. Is there any views that you have on business or technology that may have differed from earlier on in your career?

Lisa Schlosser: I don’t know.

Jeff Martin: Perhaps for me, I’ll give you an example.
Lisa Schlosser: Uh-huh.

Jeff Martin: I thought if you owned the business, it would be very easy. It’s not. It’s not. there’s a lot of challenges in that, but I think a lot of people that I work with and a lot of companies I work with that are earlier on in people’s career, I think they kind of feel like they get a job and they get everything they need. Maybe it’s a younger generation thing, but I feel like you really have to work for it no matter what, right?

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: Versus it’s not going to be all given to you. You’re not going to get all the education you want from your college. You’re not going to get all the education you want from your company. There’s people that probably reach out and go after it might actually get a little bit ahead.

Lisa Schlosser: I mean that resonates with me, too, where you really own your career. I think there are some I think maybe I did have at one point too where well I talked to my manager to see that I’m working really hard or figure out what that next assignment is for me. That’s where I think over time, you learn that no one’s, you own your career.

Jeff Martin: From a role perspective, chief technology officer, and then also being in the industry you’re in, how do you collect your information about and ongoing learning about your industry and ongoing learning about your role in like do your role better, where do you get your information?

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah, I mean I read everything although I think it was interesting. I was reading the other day that something that said you really only retain about 10 percent of everything you read, so now I’m trying to decide shall I read more with the idea that I’ll actually read 10 more or just really concentrate on them.

Jeff Martin: What are some sort of associations that you’re a part of?

Lisa Schlosser: Well, I’m on the board of Anita Borg Institute and the Minnesota High Tech Association on the board there, a lot of the technology-related ones. I also do a lot of stuff with STEM-related efforts, so you know working in schools.

Jeff Martin: STEM is…

Lisa Schlosser: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, so I’ve spoken at schools. I’ve been on panels, and then of course a lot of that one in technology groups. [unintelligible 0:17:10] has a woman meeting in technology group. That’s part of it as well, and it’s really popular.

Jeff Martin: Is there any books that have influenced you or that you’ve gifted most often to people?

Lisa Schlosser: There’s one I really like. When I read books, I more often read like you know serial killer novels my favorite, but…

Jeff Martin: Just like my wife.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah, but I read a book that I really like. It was called The Power of Habit and it is by Charles Duhigg.

Jeff Martin: Yeah, I’ve met him.

Lisa Schlosser: You did?

Jeff Martin: Yes.
Lisa Schlosser: Oh, my gosh!

Jeff Martin: I was part of the first group of people to get that book. I got them from some CEO –

Lisa Schlosser: Did you like it?

Jeff Martin: Yeah, and then I met him a week later. It’s the weirdest thing. I got the book. I was reading it, and then I went with my friend that works at New York Times, where he works. I don’t know if he still works there, and we went to a happy hour and she introduced me to him. I was like, “I just got your book,” and because I guess I put it out to him like a group of people to get reactions from them and great guy. The book is phenomenal.

Lisa Schlosser: I love the book and I am an introvert, creature of habit kind of person in a lot of ways, not always like I like to run. I have a 3-mile route, the 4-mile route. I changed the amount I run but it’s usually the same routes. I started thinking about like I run six days a week.

Jeff Martin: Wow.

Lisa Schlosser: I really am adamant about it. I started to think about when I read that book like the habits that I have that are good, why do they work like what involved them and is there something I can learn about them to apply to the ones that I really like to change, and–

Jeff Martin: Interesting.

Lisa Schlosser: The part I like about the book is you broke down habits into a few things, you have a cue or trigger that causes a routine and then you get the reward at the end of it. I started to think about it in terms of things that I like to change, so as much as I love coffee like I don’t need to drink a latte everyday but I was. It was like every day, I’d go up to Caribou Coffee, had my latte. I started to think about what is about that habit that I like so much and there is something about like I like not walking directly from my car to my desk. That is like a little diversion. I liked sipping a hot beverage at my desk, and so I changed a little something and I said, “Well, [unintelligible 0:19:18] have a cup of tea and I don’t have the caffeine everyday and I still sort of get the reward at the end and stuff. It worked.

Jeff Martin: Some people do activities or go somewhere for inspiration, do something, go somewhere for inspiration, and then there’s activities and places where people go to really disconnect. So thinking where you go to think about work and is that separate place than where you go to really disconnect from work, what are those two different places that are activities.

Lisa Schlosser: You know what, I think one of the things instead of [unintelligible 0:20:12] a few times, I’m a runner like that is really one of the best places that I’ve been able to go and to think. Part of it is it’s just sort of physical and tired, so it takes a different kind of energy out of you, which I like. But the other thing I found over time, too, is that I’m not really thinking about work but I am like there’s times I wish I would run with my phone or pencil or paper, something where it’s like, “Yeah, that’s something we should do. I’d better write that down.” But I’ve come up with some fantastic ideas when I’ve been on the run before.

Jeff Martin: Isn’t that interesting?

Lisa Schlosser: I found out too like there are times when I’m stuck at work, I will get up and just go for a walk, and then there are times when it’s just better to just get away from it where you’re doing something physical and not just focused on the actual problem.

Jeff Martin: The last question I have for you is thinking about other people that might on the show in the future and a lot of tech leadership people that are watching the show, what one question would you have for other tech leaders?

Lisa Schlosser: I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one question. I think one of the things I really enjoyed about meeting other people and going to panels and stuff is really helping, really learning through their experience, so I’m thinking out loud, maybe the question around that sort of that advice similar to what you’re asking. That soon positive internet was so powerful as I was developing my career and understood that I’m guessing that there are others that are sort of that people have had in their career. It would be great to understand when did the light bulb go off for them and what is the situation.

Jeff Martin: Yeah. What is that aha moment that they have, the learning piece.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: That’s great. Well here we are. Thanks again.

Lisa Schlosser: Great. Thank you.

Jeff Martin: For being on the show.

Lisa Schlosser: I really appreciate it.

Jeff Martin: All right. thanks a lot.

Lisa Schlosser: Yeah.

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