187: How to Never be Offended with Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is the CEO and Founder of Particle41, a global software consultancy that offers end-to-end product development services. We discuss ways to ensure you never get offended, why extreme ownership is crucial for business success, and the benefits of using private AI. 

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How to Never be Offended with Ben Johnson

Our guest is Ben Johnson, the founder and CEO of Particle 41, a software company focusing on application development, DevOps, and machine learning. Ben, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Steve. I’m super happy to be here.

It’s awesome to have you and we’ll have a great conversation. You’ve got a really interesting framework that you’re going to be speaking about later on the show. But let’s start with your journey and how you got to be the CEO of Particle 41 and to the founder and how did that come about?

So I was in college right around the dot-com bubble. So I started, my first venture out of college was an online travel agency. So bringing discount travel rates online, air, car, hotel, vacation packages, all that wonderful stuff, transforming a travel agency from over the phone to online. That was a great experience back when you still had to build your own computers, right? You had to, there was no cloud.

And I also did, after that I did a travel media venture called travel ad network with some great friends of mine and learned all about online advertising and data science because we had to take the data that we were learning from online visits and turn those into perfect ad targets. And then did the same thing in finance, a company called Investing Channel. And because of these two online advertising companies, I was an early cloud adopter.

So in AWS, as things were becoming available in AWS, we were trying those things and using them to accelerate business. And then my most recent venture was in legal services, where I built a legal service company focused on a lot of robotic process automation or RPA, and then sold that company to Legal Zoom in 2018 time frame. Since then, we’ve been focusing on Particle 41 and bringing all of that experience to entrepreneurs and business owners, focusing on modernizing applications, managing the cloud well and delivering really rich data assets to businesses so they can make great decisions.

Well, there’s a lot to unpack there. So we’ll try to do that later on the show. But let’s start with your framework, which I mean, I think they had a couple of names for it. It was the Power, you called it the Power Reframe, but you also called it the Victim to Creator Framework, which I think describes it a little bit more accurately what it does, what this Power Reframe does. So can you describe this framework to our listeners?

So basically this is a framework to never be offended. I think a lot of your listeners would love to figure out how they could never be offended. When we’re offended, we’re not productive. And we have this choice whether to take responsibility for situations or whether to be victimized by situations. And you can’t really do both. So for your visual listeners, I’m going to do a quick magic here, a little bit of screen share. And we call this the power reframe, and you’ll understand why it’s that.

When we're offended, we're not productive. And we have this choice whether to take responsibility for situations or whether to be victimized by situations. Share on X

But obviously, all kinds of things happen to us on a daily basis, and we feel frustrated by those things. Somebody rears into you at the intersection. And that’s a particularly interesting example because when we get into traffic accidents, we talk about fault, right? Whose fault was it, right? And I would just say that is unproductive, right? Talking about fault when we’re thinking about moving from victim to creator is unproductive because after that accident, I still have to call my insurance company.

I still have to take responsibility for the reality that I have been rear-ended. So whether it’s the other person’s fault or not, I still have to take responsibility for that and do something about it. So what we is we want to make sure that we don’t stay in that victim cycle. So victims are in a cycle where they are persecuted. Another example happened to a friend of mine is my friend has an employee and that employee comes to a high status in the company, starts general managing the company.

And he gets some feelings of untrust and performance issues and ends up moving that person out of the company. The person that takes over for that person finds out that the previous employee was stealing from them. And so he could stay in this position of saying, I’ve been hurt, I’ve been betrayed. He could stay in that victim mentality, but instead he starts to think about how he could take responsibility for this, right? And then because of that, he actually says, okay, well, how could I have prevented this from happening?

He realized he didn’t have background checks in his employment process, so he does a background check on the previous individual that was extorting and found that that had happened a previous time. So now he realizes that it was his responsibility. If he had done background checks, he could have avoided all of that pain, right? So victims are stuck. The creators take responsibility. So we want to make sure that we move into that creator mindset.

So, I just want to chime in here quickly. So I love this idea of taking responsibility. And actually I read it somewhere, I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds real, that responsibility means responsibility. It’s the ability to respond and the person who is able to respond can take responsibility and it’s up on them basically to take ownership because they are able to respond to it and people who are not able to respond they cannot take ownership. So whoever is in the position to be able to respond like you’re the owner of the business they were in the position to replace that person and to basically change the process and check the backgrounds in future cases. And that’s why they were responsible because they were in a position that they were able to respond.

That’s right. As we’re in that victim mentality, you said it really great. We’re reactive. We feel helpless. We feel anxious. And a lot of times when we’re in the victim mindset over a particular situation, we also have a lot of self-limiting beliefs. And then if we persist there, we’ll be stuck. And so yeah, I think you said that’s a great addition is responsible really means the ability to respond. And so we transition to the creator mentality, then we’re compassionate with ourselves, but we’re also responsible for what matters most.

And that’s what we do going forward from this bad situation. So what I’ve learned, and this was taught to me by some great individuals, what we’ve learned is a series of questions we can ask ourselves about a particular situation. And this is really intended to be generic. So sometimes it’s a person doing something to you, sometimes it’s a situation, an event. So in my explaining of these questions, you’ll get a little bit of that where I’m really trying to make it useful to you whenever you’re in this kind of triggered situation. So first off, usually I do this over some journaling, but I just ask what emotions am I feeling?

You know, and this is really allowing me to just kind of vent and kind of get my feelings out in the open. That’s hard for many folks to do. So we want to kind of stuff our feelings. So this is a good way to just set up for the rest of the exercise. And then what we’re trying to figure out is what is our thought about the emotion? Like what triggered this? So if it’s in the car accident, I think, oh man, that idiot, that rear-ended me. It just really, we probably start to think that they, almost, we question ourselves, did they do it on purpose, right?

And so we wanna check ourselves, is that true? Did they do it on purpose? What’s my particular belief that’s really sinking me into this victim mindset? And then we wanna ask if that belief is absolutely true. A lot of times, you know, with our significant others, if our significant others aren’t available to give us attention, we think they don’t like us, right? Or they think they’re not as, they don’t love us as much, right? We take that, and that’s, that meaning is coming from us.

So the thing that we should hear is that most of the time with situations, the meaning is actually coming from us. If we look at the actual situation, it’s black and white, it’s dry, but we’re giving it that extra meaning. And so we need to figure out what meaning, what belief, are we applying to this situation, and is that belief actually true? And that’s the heart of the power reframe, is figuring out what is that belief that you’re applying that’s kind of making the situation worse, and it’s keeping you in the victim mindset.

And then, if we really ask ourselves, is that belief true, does our significant other really not love us, well, okay, that’s not really true. Okay, then how does this belief affect me or the people around me? Maybe this situation can be turned to good, this negative situation, like my friend learning that he needs to do background checks and he needs to kind of screen the employees and have checks and balances between his accountant and his invoicing system, needs to better systematize his business to avoid risk of being stolen from. Right. So this is kind of turning that around. Right. So we believe that these questions, these power reframe questions to check to see if you’re applying the meaning, and if this meaning is actually true, and then start to take steps away from that belief into a new frame.

I love this idea. So you’re triggered, something happens, it upsets you, you have some feelings, you don’t feel okay about this situation, you feel maybe wrong, and then you express these feelings to yourself to articulate what is really happening, and you say, okay, so I’m a creator, I’m going to own this, I’m going to take responsibility, whatever is happening, the only way I can change it is if I take ownership of it. And then you start to ask some questions, okay, why am I feeling this, and what can I do about this, how can I turn it around, if I got rear-ended, okay, how do I fix it with the least amount of pain, make sure, take care of the police, the insurers, make sure I got the data, and just put it in process, and let’s move on with our lives, kind of thing.

Yeah, exactly, and then as we figure out those beliefs or those meanings that we apply, we can also improve on those things. The final step is how can we take this situation and turn it around for good? What can we learn from this situation so that we improve our lives? And that’s really the tip of the creator angle, right? That’s getting the maximum result from this negative situation, is figuring out how to look at the situation in a way where it better serves us.

Negative situations can be turned into opportunities for growth. Learn from them, take steps away from limiting beliefs, and frame them in a new, empowering light. Share on X

Well, my grandfather used to tell me that there is a candle of good in every bad situation.

I firmly believe that. Even rough situations make you better at handling those types of situations so you’re more prepared for the future.

Yes, exactly. And then you can avoid the bigger problem later. That’s awesome. So it’s a great it’s a great first. We can call it the victim to create a framework or the power reframe. I think I like the victim to creator because it actually describes what happens to you. It’s taking ownership and driving the solution rather than being sorry for ourselves. So let’s move on and let’s talk a little bit about another concept that you mentioned in our pre-interview, which is extreme ownership. So this may be the extreme version of doing this. It may be something else. So what are the behaviors that you would include in extreme ownership?

So I think the best example of extreme ownership is imagine sitting in front of your superiors, right? You’re sitting in front of the board of directors or you’re sitting in front of the executive team, right? You’re at the highest level, but something has happened whereas you’re not performing. The goals have been cited, you agreed to those goals, but the result is less than. It’s less than what was expected. Extreme ownership is in that moment. Do you take responsibility or do you blame?

And I think we can recognize situations where you said, well, I didn’t have the right team, or you didn’t agree to the budget that I needed, or, right, these are all going to reduce ownership, and then your superiors or the people around you, your peers, are gonna go, well, shoot, if he’s not the right guy, then, so that’s the natural reaction.

Extreme ownership is saying, okay, yep, we didn’t achieve it, I didn’t achieve it, it’s my responsibility, and so, and then of course, if you are an extreme owner, you need to have a plan of attack, yeah, how are we gonna do this? Hey, I didn’t, you know, these are the things I could have done better, these are the things I will do to improve. And that gives people a basis for deciding whether they can continue, whether they can move on past this less than result.

So extreme ownership is really a continuation of the victim-to-creator framework where you take responsibility. And I also think extreme ownership is maintaining a veil between your team, because you’re responsible for your team, and the results that your team generates and being the person that carries that on their shoulders. Behind the veil, you’re like, hey team, we had this result, we agreed on this. I need you guys to do your best in your calling balls and strikes, but out in front in public, you’re taking responsibility for the team’s results because you’re the leader.

And ultimately, it’s not just because you’re a leader, but you chose those people to play on the team.

That’s right.

You instructed them and you followed up with them or not. And if they can’t do their jobs, it’s your fault as a leader. It’s your responsibility rather than fault. If they are the wrong people, it’s your responsibility. And if the goal was unachievable, it’s your responsibility. If for some reason they were not motivated, maybe that’s also your responsibility because you didn’t feel the clarity or you didn’t inspire So ultimately, as a leader, you can actually, I think, you can rationalize that all these things, you could have influenced them, and therefore, they are your responsibility.

Yeah, and the reason why we call it extreme is because this is not what you see in a lot of executives. One of the things that a lot of successful executives are good at is this kind of plausible deniability, right? Where things, like the Teflon executive, nothing sticks to them. And many folks are very successful in doing it that way. But extreme ownership is like that never happens, we’re gonna step up and we’re gonna grab the result and we’re gonna make sure that activities equal outcomes.

I think it is a very positive impact on people when they see that their leader is taking responsibility for their mistakes. I mean, you don’t want to let such a leader down the next time, right? It’s embarrassing that they take responsibility for something that you know that you messed up and you don’t ever want to, if you have such a boss that does that, you don’t want to ever put them in a position where they have to do this, right? It’s very inspiring to them, self-correct, when you see something like that.

Yeah, and that’s a great hallmark of a high-performing team, where not only the leader is taking responsibility, but so are the lieutenants, and so are the folks on the line. Like, everybody is saying, hey, I got this. I understand the result that’s expected, and I’m gonna do my part to hit that. And that’s the hallmark of a high-functioning team, where instead of worrying about blame, everybody’s kind of saying, hey, there’s things I could have done better. And we’re all sharing in that to just demand constant improvement from each of us.

A high-performing team is marked by everyone, from leaders to team members, taking responsibility. It's a culture of shared accountability and constant improvement. Share on X

So let’s switch gears here. And let’s talk a little bit about your business and what you do. And you have already built a couple of software businesses. And now you are taking it to the next level. You’re helping other businesses be successful in the cloud. So what is it exactly? What does it mean exactly to be more successful in the cloud and to leverage AWS and other cloud applications to build a business? Maybe it’s a very broad question, but but it was an intentional. So if I’m a business owner, I’m thinking about building a cloud business or taking my cloud business to the next level. What are the levers I can pull to make that happen? Maybe through a company like yours.

So one of the major results we get in this cloud area is stability. So imagine you’re feeling some of your listeners maybe releasing takes too long. They may even be feeling that they’re going down and having stability. They may question the security of their platform. So these are things that we come alongside the business and we help strengthen these areas. So we make releasing, the whole concept of releasing ,go away. So maybe you’re releasing once a quarter, maybe you’re releasing once a month.

Most of my clients are releasing, they measure releases in hours. Whenever something’s ready, they can release. They don’t have to wait till middle of the night to release. We just make releasing go away. It’s happening and we’re able to make change rapidly and safely so that the business can just keep making change. So DevOps is a morphing methodology for rapidly making change. And so in a software business in a digital business, you need the faster you can make change, the faster you can adapt.

And so we want to really embrace the whole change management process. Henry Ford’s assembly line, we want that thing to be just able to kick out the cars. And so DevOps resources or DevOps team needs to really focus on the assembly line, whereas software developers are focusing on features. And so we love to come alongside entrepreneurs and help them get their products into market faster, help them stably make change, and then with our data teams, help them be able to analyze the results and make really excellent decisions.

I love this idea. It reminds me of the concept of Kaiser, the continuous improvement. And I actually, I really believe that to go for big releases or big launches is kind of, can be risky and counterproductive. How much better it is to put the little changes into place as soon as you can, and then you build upon that. It’s like, what do you call it? The interest that keeps accumulating on your investments. So I love that thing. Now, what does it take to get to this point where you have continuous releases? What is the obstacle in front of people that prevents them from getting there?

A lot of it is a mindset of like, okay, this is how we do it safely. And that they just, but there are toolings that we add. There’s essentially in the old way, if you go back to the beginning of my career, we were building computers, right? So the idea of adding a computer was like, okay, we got to order it, got to bring it in. We got to load the OS on there. We got to do all these things in the cloud. Now all of that is gone and we’re able to write right code that represents the entire infrastructure.

So now if there’s a problem, we just delete that thing and recreate it from the instruction set. So everything is code, I think is a quick way of saying it now. And so nobody’s going in and clicking on the screen and making stuff happen. We’re taking all the manual energy out of the system. We’re reducing the, we’re making the system human friendly. So now instead of your developers having to stay up till the low traffic time late at night and push buttons and follow processes, all of that is happening repeatably. And so repeatability is a huge thing in DevOps. And so just spending the time and investing in those things are what businesses need to do to get to that point where they can rapidly iterate.

That’s great. Now, obviously, AI helps to put this on steroids, right? Rapid iteration. So when you have AI, then AI is essentially doing all the iteration or the, yeah, I guess the iteration, the trying to find solutions in real time and without human interaction. So what are, what do you see as AI, obviously, is moving really, really fast. Chet GPT only came out late last year, early this year, and already a lot of people are using Chet GPT and now people are talking about next generations of AI applications. So where do you see us being on this journey towards an AI driven economy? And what are the most innovative use cases that you have seen recently for artificial intelligence?

Sure, so I think first off, there needs to be between a service provider, professional service provider like myself, and businesses we work with, there needs to be clarity. So we need to have a policy document, and we’re starting to agree with clients how we’re going to use AI to accelerate the software development process. So first off, we want to agree to that. We feel we can tell the AI what our coding standards are and have that interrogate us as we code. Or we can get a lot of the repetitive or framework-oriented stuff already prepared for us.

So it’s accelerating time. And many service companies, they do kind of like packaging, project packaging. And so they will just do those project packages faster with AI and the customer will pay the same. We are actually more of a dedicated time and materials based. So the faster we work, that value is then passed directly to the client. So we’re experimenting with all different ways of accelerating the software development process, building data models, AI assisted to try to move us along in a rapid way.

So any of the repetitive tasks are getting cut out and I think over time it’s just going to take less time and even less teammates to develop some of today’s applications. I also hope that it kind of in a way the next step of that will be do we get some additional abstractions so applications are even easier to build and what I’d hate to see is AI kind of taking bad underlying technology and just building it faster so we just get more of the bad, right? I would like to see, I don’t want it to make people less intelligent.

Like imagine if we get a perfect AI for translating language, just you’re hearing me speak in English and you’re hearing it in a different language and we’re having a flowing conversation because AI is then advanced that five, 10 years from now, do we have any bilingual people left? Right? Do we have any, anybody who can speak two languages? So the risk here is that society becomes dumber. And so then that will reduce the advantage of having people who can QA those programs. They know if they’re doing it right.

And then eventually the curve will shift to the next thing where now all those people are gone, all the bilingual people are gone, so the few handful of bilingual people left become the only folks that can make sure the AI is still performing properly. And then their value will then increase. So there’ll be some market dynamic shifts in the supply and demand of certain skill sets, and that I think will be a kind of a rough road as we see the adoption of AI, so the reduction of people who know how to do those skills, and then again the re-emergence of that because the AI will need to be QA’d.

The risk with AI lies in the possibility of society becoming less intelligent if it relies solely on AI for certain tasks, potentially reducing the value of certain skill sets. Share on X

Yes, well, I see your vision there. And it’s also a very cyclical thing that every generation thinks that the next one is going to be dumber. And yes, they may be dumber in certain respects, so there’s certain knowledge that devalues and it’s not that important, like multiple languages. When I was growing up, it was the most important thing that you speak two or three languages so that you actually can communicate with people and the world opens up to you that way and so on, but it’s no longer necessary if you speak English. You pretty much, your word is your oyster.

But I believe that people are channeling that energy into other learnings. I mean, my kids, maybe they don’t speak three languages, but they know a lot of things that I didn’t know at their age and they understand things. So it’s probably going to be just a shifting thing. But anyway, going back to AI, what I’m really curious about is the concept that you shared with me in our pre-interview, which was the private AI, the idea of the private AI. And actually since we talked, I did some investigation and I, you know, with my team, we started using one of the private AI applications that we found. So tell me a little bit about private AI, what does it mean and why is it important and how you can use it?

So I think there’s, there should be a bit of caution. Imagine you’re a law firm, you really don’t want to be having folks put prompts, you know, maybe you put a prompt that says, hey, here’s all the details I know about a case, now write this particular kind of brief. Well, I can’t do that in public chat GPT because I’m giving case files, case data to a public service, I have no idea what they may do with that. And so what we’ve been working with companies to do is create a policy and then for use cases, so this policy might be that we’re going to use Otter or ReadAI for our meeting notes and that’s okay.

So there’s some kind of terms and conditions review done with one of those tools and we say yeah it’s fine we’ll use that tool for for meeting notes. But there may be use cases like this law firm example where no way we need our own private tool that’s hosted in our environment and we have that ready to go. We have chosen Hugging Face as our primary model holder and then we can put different models in there for different use cases.

So the other thing the corporate policy says is hey, if you think of another AI use case that you would like us to experiment, why don’t you send it to this group email here and explain your idea. And so now we can turn our employees into ideators, and we take those in and then the AI team can kind of look at those different use cases and try different models inside of Hugging Face on the same platform.

We just developed a really rapid deployment process for Hugging Face and then we’ll help you with those use cases and experiment with different models. So now ideas are coming from your team, you’re applying the latest, greatest models out in the community to try to satisfy those use cases, and your business is just accelerating through the roof with AI. So we’d love to help people with that and ensure that acceleration can happen so that your competitors aren’t doing this and you’re not.

There’s so many different AI applications out there. Just to have access to the knowledge, someone knows what are the most likely use cases that are applicable to the situation and then find the right applications and create the access to those applications can be extremely valuable.

Yeah, there was also a popular example, most everyone I’ve spoken to has heard of this, but a law firm did that example and had them help with a legal argument. Well, the ChatGPT made up a precedent that didn’t actually exist. So then he was like, so-and-so versus so-and-so, the judge ruled this. And the judge was like, okay, stop. Like, where is that case? I want to see that. And somehow this very astute judge caught that, maybe a detail he could pick up that wasn’t true. And I think the person got disbarred for that, is what I just heard.

So, if that use case exists and you have a private AI, you can insist in the learning model that it only use existing case law that you’ve given it. Like, these facts must be true and they must come from here. And so you just know exactly some of the parameters that exist and not make such grave mistakes.

That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Ben. That’s super interesting about this whole victim to creator, to create a framework, how we take charge of situations and then also your business, how you are helping businesses to grow with continuous releases in the cloud and partners AI. That’s super, super informative. Thank you for sharing this information. And if people would like to learn more about maybe private AI, maybe what you can do for a tech business, a tech enabled business to move faster forward, where can they find you and where can they connect to you?

Oh, please just email me at ben@particle41.com. I’m also on LinkedIn, probably easiest to find me by going to Particle 41 and find me from there. There’s a lot of Ben Johnson in this world, but would love to help.

All right, so reach out to Ben Johnson, the CEO of Particle 41, a software development, machine learning DevOps company. Thanks for coming on the show. And if you enjoyed the information and you would like to learn more or see videos of past podcasts where we summarize the framework in a 45 second video, then visit our LinkedIn page, Steve Preda Business Growth LinkedIn page, and you can follow there or on YouTube as well. Thank you for listening.


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