Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Don't Feel Guilty, Feel Committed

I like to say that I don't feel guilty about things.

For example, I don't bother replying to Christmas cards.  Every year, I receive boxes of cards.  I never send a single one.  And I never feel a single pang of guilt.

Yet even though I don't feel guilt, I'm not a sociopath.  I try to help people, and I feel terrible if I let someone down.



Here's how I draw the distinction:

There's a big difference between guilt and commitment.

Commitment means doing what you promise you'll do.  I'm very committed.  If I say I'll do something, I'll do it.  And if I can't do it, I'll feel terrible.

Guilt means letting someone else make promises for you.  I don't believe in guilt because I don't believe that I have any moral obligation to keep commitments that I didn't make.

Remember those darn Christmas cards?  I didn't ask to receive them.  So I reject society's illogical belief that I need to reciprocate.  That doesn't make me a bad person, just an independent one.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Problem With Populism

As I read an editorial, Americans Need Jobs, Not Populism, by Jack Markell, the Democratic governor of Delaware, I was struck by the following thought about populism--left and right:

The problem with populism is that it puts the focus on feeling good, rather than getting what you want.

Whether you're a Tea Partyer, or you're still mourning the Occupy Movement, participating in populist movement is all about feeling good.  It feels good to fill and surround yourself with righteous indignation.  But what it doesn't do is have a real impact.

Making change usually doesn't feel good.  It usually feels frustrating and boring.  You're constantly swimming upstream, while the rest of the world floats downstream, sitting in a inner tube and sipping on a cocktail.  It's a lot more fun to join a mob so you can shout slogans and high-five the true believers.

Making change is unselfish work.  Populism is selfish fun.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

A Modest Proposal for Saving San Francisco's Bohemian Neighborhoods

I read with some interest this longform piece on how the desire of the wealthy to live in cities is effectively exiling the bohemians who made those communities attractive to gentrifiers:

The essence of the argument is this:
"American bohemians are in a state of slow-motion flight, perpetually facing the threat of exile at the hands of wealthier people attracted by the products of their lifestyle. It clearly erodes the vibrancy and character of the country’s greatest metropolises. And it begs deeper consideration of how we allocate the finite and long-undervalued resource of dense urban space."
While I am firmly and resolutely square, and only venture to San Francisco for weddings, funerals, and business meetings, I can't help but prescribe a solution to the bohemian crisis.  My solution is all the more delicious because it relies on the power of capitalism!

1) Treat bohemian neighborhoods like shopping malls or theme parks.

We can't change the fundamental economic dynamic of wild bohemias, so we need to resort to farming.

In my home town of Santa Monica, the city was only able to revitalize its downtown when developers constructed the Third Street Promenade, a carefully-designed faux-downtown with a tightly controlled and curated set of shops and residences.

Even the Walt Disney corporation has gotten into the act, with "Downtown Disney" at Walt Disney World--a facsimile of city life that is wildly popular with "guests" who have paid a pretty penny to travel from their own cities to a giant theme park in the middle of the Everglades.

Why not apply the same principles to real downtowns?  Heck, this is exactly how Times Square works in New York.

Here's how you could do this:

2) Focus on building mini-neighborhoods.

Building a fake bohemia requires strong central control, either by a real estate developer, or a community association.  The central authority would exert control over and entire block, allowing it to carefully curate both businesses and residents.

Thus, the bohemia-builder would grant below market rents to art galleries and bodegas, then charge through the roof for someone who wanted to bring in a Whole Foods or microbrewery.

Artists would apply for a term as an Artist-in-Residence.  Each AIR would receive subsidized or even free housing for a pre-set term (I'm thinking 4 years), which could be renewed by the central authority.  The AIRs would also provide input on which new artists to bring in as AIRs.

You might set aside 25-33% of the space for subsidized tenants (businesses and residents) that would provide the needed "character," then make up the lost revenues by charging yuppies even more to live in a vibrant bohemia that was also safe and clean.

3) Build a bohemian brand.

One goal might be to build the WeWork of bohemian neighborhoods--a reliable brand that stood for a fun, high-quality customer experience.  Sure, such corporatism might repel bohemians, but the dirty little secret is that most artists would be willing to tolerate a bit of capitalism if it allowed them to continue living in their beloved San Francisco.  They might even enjoy living in well-maintained, crime-free neighborhoods that included art galleries and hipster diners.

To some extent, this entire essay is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the more I think about it, the more lucrative the idea seems.  I wonder who I'd pitch to fund AirBohemia?

In Memory of Dave Goldberg

1. I met Dave when I was raising money for Ustream back in 2007.  At that point, the founders had just launched the site, and it was growing like mad.  But without a clear revenue model for live streaming, we were operating the company on a shoestring.  The founders weren't taking any salary, and the technical operations (hosting and software) were being run off my personal credit card, and I was getting *very* anxious to raise money from other investors.

At the time, we lived in a pre-Angel List world, and it was hard to find people who were willing to risk their money on a raw startup that was competing head to head with what was then one of the most hyped startups in the world (Justin.tv).  We met Dave when he was an EIR at Benchmark.  Fortunately for the founders and me, Dave saw something he liked.

Not only did he write the single largest angel check we took in, he also brought in enough of his friends to give us breathing room.  He was also generous with his time and contacts.  The rest, as they say, is history.

2. I wish I had spent more time with Dave.  Sadly, I didn't stay in touch as well as I should have.  I told myself that I didn't want to bother him, given his responsibilities as CEO of Survey Monkey and as a dad.  This was true, but I also assumed that I had plenty of time to catch with him in the hazy "future," perhaps after our kids were older.  I also thought I might reach out to him since we were probably both going to be in Boston for the Harvard Business School reunion (since I'm Class of 2000 and Sheryl is Class of 1995, our reunions always coincide).  Alas, the future is never guaranteed.

3. I mentioned on Twitter that one of the things I admired most about Dave was his ability to balance being a husband and father with his work.  Indeed, I envied him; I had long since concluded that I lacked the superhuman capacity to take on a CEO role and manage the rest of my complicated life.  Dave made it work, and under challenging circumstances that included being married to one of the world's most powerful (and busy) women.

Given this tragedy, I think we should admire Dave all the more.  With his high-powered career, it would have been very socially acceptable for Dave to spend less time with his family, with the assumption that he'd always have more time with them in the future.  I can't imagine the pain that Sheryl and their children feel right now, but I'm sure that they are grateful that the way he chose to live his life left them with an overflowing bank of love and happy memories.

None of us can guarantee that we'll be around; I'm not that old, and I've already lost far too many friends.  You have to balance past, present, and future.

4. As I get older, I think more and more about leaving a legacy.  In Silicon Valley, that usually means focusing on the products or companies we've built.  I think that's an incomplete picture.  Products and companies (and for that matter, books) are important, but they represent one extreme of one's legacy.  As usual, I believe that you should take a "barbell" approach.  The parts of your legacy you should care about are the extremes--the legacy you leave for those closest to you, and the legacy you leave for the world.  Even though the well-deserved tributes that people will write about Dave will focus on his public legacy, it is the rich private legacy he left for those he loved, and who loved him, which I believe he would care about more.

Friday, April 17, 2015

How To Hack The Learning Process

Step 1: Read books.

For all that we mock the traditional publishing industry, any book that makes it through that process has gone through many quality filters.  If you further limit yourself to books that have withstood the test of time, reading books is the best way to inject concentrated, high-quality knowledge into your brain.

Step 2: Write up your notes each time you finish a book.

Consolidate your knowledge by writing your own summary afterwards.  1) This action "fixes" the knowledge in your brain.  2) You can always refer back to your summary afterwards to refresh your knowledge, and since you wrote it, it will be uniquely accessible to you.

You can find a lot of the books I've read here:
The Book Outlines Wiki

For example, I recently read a book on coaching, counseling, and mentoring to help me in my own executive coaching practice; taking notes will help me retain and apply what I learned:
Coaching Counseling and Mentoring

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Compassion is not a zero-sum game

I always remember one English seminar I took while I was at Stanford.  We were discussing Rebecca Harding Davis' travails, and one of my more militant classmates flatly stated, "Look, she was white, and she had money.  I don't want to hear about her problems."  (You probably won't be surprised to learn that my militant classmate was also a wealthy white woman).

I find this lack of compassion appalling.  The thinking seems to be that we need to compete on our miseries, and that ultimately, we must all defer to a starving genocide victim somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.  I don't believe that compassion is a zero-sum game.

Having problems, even first-world problems, is emotionally draining.  Having difficult choices, even if all the options are enviable, is still difficult.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Life, Death, and Living

I was struck today by the juxtaposition of two different stories on two different, extremely successful people.

On Sunday, Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon passed away at the age of 59.  Simon had been told that he had only months to live back in 2012, but he defied those odds, and lived long enough to give away much of his cartoon fortune, mostly to his favorite cause, animal welfare.

Yet what I found inspiring about Simon is that his illness wasn't a wake-up call.  In fact, Simon had long ago realized the importance of living the life you want, as opposed the the one others expect you to:
"He amassed an extraordinary art collection, managed the former WBO heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster for eight years, and became a professional poker player. And he gave away money. Lots and lots of money, particularly to animal-rights causes. In 2002, he established the Sam Simon Foundation, which rescues dogs and trains them to work as service animals. He started a vegan food bank in 2011. A boat in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s fleet of anti-whaling vessels bears his name, as does the Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters building of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Toward the end of his life, he began purchasing circus elephants, bears from bear pits, and chimpanzees from shitty roadside zoos, so that they could live out the balance of their lives in animal sanctuaries."
When you're blessed with talent, it seems churlish to complain that it can become a curse.  But while Simon was blessed with enormous talent--he was the head writer for the show "Taxi" at the age of 27 (!)--he walked away from his profession long before his final illness.  While he kept working--even as he was dying, he was a consultant on the show "Anger Management," he avoided the rigors of being a showrunner or head writer.  He worked as play, focusing on the experience, not the achievement:

“I get more out of it than they do,” he admitted cheerfully. “It’s really good for me to be able to go someplace once a week and have an office and pitch some jokes.”
When Alex Pappademas, the writer of the piece I'm quoting asked Simon in 2013 about whether he wished he'd stayed more involved in the TV business, Simon replied that making TV shows wasn't his job.  Here's what Simon had to say:
It really takes over your life,” Simon said. “It’s a really hard thing to do. You can’t do it part-time, and I just look back on some of my decisions, and deciding not to work full-time was the best thing I ever thought of. So that means that, you know, since I was 35, I’ve done whatever I’ve wanted and done it wherever I’ve wanted, and with a lot of money to spend and stuff. So, y’know, that’s another reason I don’t feel as cheated by the cancer. There wasn’t all this stuff I was waiting to do. I was doing it.”
While Sam Simon's life was cut tragically short, it was not left hanging.  Simon focused on living the life he wanted.  Was it selfish of him to "deprive" the world of his genius?  My friend Ben Casnocha has written about the difficult choice that our friend and co-author, Reid Hoffman, faces: Do you save the world or savor the world?  It's hard to do both.

Sam Simon did a tremendous amount for animal rights--that definitely fits into the "save the world" column--but he didn't let that stop him from savoring the hell out of his all-too-short life.

Then today, I read Google CFO's Patrick Pichette's announcement of his retirement.  Pichette has had an incredibly successful career, but found himself pondering the same save/savor dilemma:
"A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa - Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer.

And Tamar out of the blue said "Hey, why don't we just keep on going". Let's explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it's just next door, and we're here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef... Antarctica, let's go see Antarctica!?" Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

I remember telling Tamar a typical prudent CFO type response- I would love to keep going, but we have to go back. It's not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google, with my career, so many people counting on me/us - Boards, Non Profits, etc

But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air."
When is it your time?  The fact is, the world is never going to tell you that it's your time.  The world is busy claiming as much of your time as it can.  Recently, I've joked that I'm the hardest-working lazy man you'll ever find.  I'm lazy in that I'm always trying to find ways for other people to do most of my work.  The flaw in my plan is that I then turn around and try to accomplish three times as much.

I'm not as financially robust as Sam Simon (who received royalties on every dollar "The Simpsons" earned) or Patrick Pichette (the longtime CFO of one of the most valuable companies in the world).  But money isn't the barrier.  It's that ongoing choice between saving and savoring.  And the rest of the world always needs saving.  Here's what Pichette chose:
"This summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that "it's really too early to tell" if our marriage will in fact succeed. If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road - celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted."
I've already made a lot of choices in my life to make sure that my family got its full measure of my time and energy.  Yet I am always aware that I could do more.  What if I stopped working and focused on tutoring my kids?  What if I created the world's greatest summer camp, modeled on YCombinator?

I guess part of it is that I do savor my work; as I've long said, my life's mission is to help interesting people do interesting things.  If I wasn't spending time with entrepreneurs, helping to bring new things into this world, I wouldn't really be savoring my life either.

But as the lessons of Sam Simon and Patrick Pichette show, it's up to us to decide how we spend our time.  Saving the world brings a certain kind of fulfillment, but it often keeps you from living the life you want.  Make time for savoring, and even if you aren't given the chance to live the full Biblical threescore and ten, you'll still have found a way to live a truly full life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

People Don't Really Believe in Equality of Opportunity

Provocative assertion of the day:

People don't really believe in equality of opportunity.

In order for there to be true equality of opportunity, every child has to have the same opportunities to succeed.

Yet what parent among us has ever resisted the urge to give our child an advantage?

Move to a better neighborhood for its schools?  That's inequality of opportunity.

Pay for afterschool enrichment and activities?  That's inequality of opportunity.

Inherit money from your parents?  That's inequality of opportunity.

The desire to give your child an advantage is the product of millions of years of evolution.  Genes trump ideology.

That being said, we should strive against our selfish nature to provide greater equality of opportunity.

A social safety net doesn't try to ensure equality of outcomes; its goal is to provide a reasonable minimum standard of living.

The same is true for equality of opportunity; the basic education and services the state provides should be enough to allow each child a reasonable chance at a middle-class life.

Not every child can go to Harvard, but every child should have the opportunity to get a useful education.  The hard part is drawing the line for that minimum standard.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Dataclysm (Facebook) Relationship Test

I finally got around to trying out the Dataclysm "Relationship Test". The theory is that your spouse or partner should be one of your closest connections (more on this later).  What's interesting to me is how my Facebook network reflects the key networks in my life.

The biggest cluster of connections is what I call Startupland.  It's a giant collection of investors and entrepreneurs, mostly from Silicon Valley.  What this tells me is that these professional relationships are wide-ranging and open.

The densest cluster of connections is what I call Team 2000.  This cluster consists of all my Harvard Business School classmates; since I graduated in 2000, it reflects both our intensive use of the Internet, and our desire to stay connected.

The widest-ranging (i.e. covering the most screen real estate) cluster of connections is what I call Greater Stanford.  This represents a union of people I know from my undergraduate days at Stanford, and people I know from the Palo Alto community from having lived here since 2000.  This is the most diverse cluster, since it doesn't focus on the world of business or startups.

There are two other key clusters that are both extremely dense (though not as dense as Team 2000) and tightly focuses.

The first of these "globular clusters" is what I call the Weeklyverse, which is centered around David Weekly.  I always like to say that everyone knows David; this graph proves it.  Coincidentally, David ranks as my most important connection according to Dataclysm (my wife is my 49th connection), but we are both happily married (to other people) so I don't think it will have much impact on our relationship.

The second of these globular clusters is what I call the Unreasonable Realm, which consists of all the folks I've met while mentoring for the Unreasonable Institute, both in Boulder, Colorado and elsewhere.  Like Startup Land, the Unreasonable Realm includes entrepreneurs and investors, but with a primary focus on social impact rather than making "fat bucks".

A couple of surprising things:
  • I was shocked that neither Ben Casnocha or Ramit Sethi made the Top 10 (though both ranked above my wife).  But I guess Facebook can't measure how much people actually talk with each other outside their platform.
  • The biggest surprise in the Top 10 was my old friend Laura Dent, who topped the Ex-DESCO list.  Hope you're doing well, Laura!
  • The person with the most mutual friends is my dear friend Bull Gurfein, which should not surprise anyone considering the combination of A) being at the center of the Team 2000 network, and B) being one of the most outgoing men in history.
  • I should note that a lot of the people who are closest to me appear far down on the list; this probably reflects my age.  My wife, for example, hates Facebook, and still grumbles about how sharing one of my events on Facebook caused her to receive torrents of friend requests, which she assiduously ignores.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman

I was delighted when my friend Ben Casnocha published his essay about what he learned from working with Reid Hoffman.

Ben described the subject of his essay as "10,000 hours with Reid Hoffman," but its roots go back even further.  Ben had long been interested in learning from the massively successful; one of the book ideas we had batted back and forth many years ago was "Right Hand Man," which would interview the various assistants and chiefs of staff who helped the rich and powerful accomplish more.  I'm sure Ben could have learned a lot from any number of people, but I doubt he could have found someone who could teach him more than Reid did.  Selfishly, this essay is a great way for me to learn from a fascinating and incredibly productive partnership.

And even ignoring the fact that these are two of my favorite people and valued allies, the essay did what Ben always seems to do: make me think.  Here are few of the random thoughts and reactions that I had:

Save vs. Savor

Author E.B. White once captured the essence of why. “I wake up in the morning unsure of whether I want to savor the world or save the world,” White said, “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Decision making becomes hard when you want to do both. Which is it today: saving or savoring? Usually you do have to choose. It’s the very rare project that involves close friends and ongoing intellectual stimulation, and change-the-world impact.
The Save vs. Savor question gets at the heart of how to live the "good life".  Assuming that you're fortunate enough to afford the necessities of modern life (food, shelter, and connectivity), you have the luxury of deciding how to allocate your time.  Will you choose to defer gratification and invest that time for future benefits?  Or will you choose to spend that time on something which will deliver present benefits?

I've jokingly said that I'm a "First World Problems Counselor" because I recognize that being rich, famous, and powerful doesn't prevent you from having problems.  Far too often, we dismiss the problems of the successful by saying things like, "I'd love to have his/her problems!"  There's a reason why the rich and famous flock together, and it's not because they're busy plotting how to rule the world.  It's because hanging out with peers is one of the few times that they get any sympathy about their plight.

Having the resources to do anything you wish is a classic example of the tyranny of choice.  As crazy as it may sound, it's harder to be mega-rich than to simply be financially comfortable.  That's because money reduces unhappiness, but doesn't increase happiness.  As Spider-Man teaches us, "With great power comes great responsibility."

The sad paradox is that people who are kind and generous struggle more with this tyranny than those who are selfish and self-centered.  The egomaniac doesn't worry about saving; he focuses on savoring.  But better to struggle with the tyranny of choice than to experience the despair of learning that money can't buy happiness.

My own answer to this dilemma is, like most of my philosophies, simple and unambitious.  Long-term outcomes are difficult to predict, but moment-by-moment activity is not.  I focus on activities that allow me to spend time with people I like, and let the outcomes take care of themselves.  That's why I'm happy to piggyback on the good work of others such as the Unreasonable Institute.


When there’s a complex list of pros and cons driving a potentially expensive action, Reid seeks a single decisive reason to go for it—not a blended reason. For example, we once discussing whether it’d make sense for him to travel to China. There was the LinkedIn expansion activity in China; some fun intellectual events happening; the launch of The Start-Up of You in Chinese. A variety of possible good reasons to go, but none justified a trip in and of itself. He said, “There needs to be one decisive reason. And then the worthiness of the trip needs to be measured against that one reason. If I go, then we can backfill into the schedule all the other secondary activities. But if I go for a blended reason, I’ll almost surely come back and feel like it was a waste a time.” He did not go on the trip. If you come up with a list of many reasons to do something, Nassim Taleb once wrote, you are trying to convince yourself—if there isn’t one clear reason, don’t do it.
I love the simple brilliance of Reid's heuristic.  It lines up nicely with one of the lessons I took away from The Outsiders; these ultra-successful CEOs used the simple approach to make key decisions about acquisitions.  Rather than creating massive spreadsheets to quantify "synergies," these CEOs would create 1-page writeups with simple math and conservative assumptions.

When you focus on "one decisive reason," it's easy to consider the issue, rather than getting lost in arguing over a series of assumptions and values.

Every weakness has a corresponding strength

I sat down with Reid one day and shared a self-evaluation of my work, my goals, and my strengths and weaknesses. When I discussed how to compensate for certain weaknesses, he told me, “Most strengths have corresponding weaknesses. If you try to manage or mitigate a given weakness, you might also eliminate the corresponding strength.”
I'm a big believer in tradeoffs.  Far too often, we act as though the world has a single linear scale of value.  You can see this in Silicon Valley's endless quest for "rockstars," "10x programmers," and "A players."  There's no question that all men (and women) are not created equal.  But a person's value depends on the context; some programmers might be great for a solo skunkworks project, but would be terrible at leading a large, client-facing initiative.  It's also the case that a person's strengths are what drives her value, not her ability to mitigate her weaknesses.  The smart manager finds roles that play to a person's strengths, while avoiding her weaknesses, rather than trying to "fix" people.

I hear echos of this in another Reid concept, which is that it's critical to understand a person's "superpower."  Don't send the Human Torch to fight a forest fire (unless you need to quickly burn a firebreak).  The corollary is that you should figure out your own superpower so that you can share it with others.

The values that actually shape a culture have both upside and downside

One of the reasons people have trouble understanding tradeoffs is that when a situation is suboptimal, you don't necessarily need to make tradeoffs.  Think of this as being in the middle of the performance envelope; you can easily make improvements that lead you to be being better off in all dimensions.

However, once you reach the edge of the performance envelope, you're at the frontier, and in order to advance in one direction, you will almost certainly have to accept a retreat in another direction.

Be clear on your specific level of engagement on a project

Here’s a handy way to categorize different types of engagement on a given project. Reid uses this shorthand.
  1. Principal – You’re driving the process. You’re the man. You have ball control.
  2. Board Member – You’re probably an investor. You’re regularly meeting with the principal. You’re thinking about the project even when you’re not formally scheduled to be doing so. You’re continually up to speed on the latest and greatest.
  3. Investor – You’re a supporter (financially or with periodic bursts of time), but you’re not actively involved in the project. You’ll meet with the principal occasionally. If you’re called to do something, you have enough context such that you can be helpful on a reactive basis, but you won’t have up to date knowledge.
  4. Friend. You enjoy talking to the principal. But the moment you walk away from the breakfast or lunch – that’s it. You’re not thinking about it anymore.
This is another awesome Reid heuristic.  What I especially appreciate is his dedication to setting these expectations appropriately.  Far too many investors promise a greater level of engagement than they're actually willing to deliver; I've even been guilty of this myself, though unintentionally.

I'd add to this by noting that every human being probably has limits on the number of such roles he or she can pursue.  Imagine that you had a limited number of human bandwidth units (HBUs), say 100.  In that case, the relative costs of the different levels of engagement might be as follows:

Principal: 75
Board Member: 10
Investor: 3
Friend: 1

Being explicit about your relationships allows you to track how (over)committed you are, and whether you can take on more engagements.

Don't believe me?  Think of each HBU as an hour of your time; no one can really work much more than 100 hours per week for a sustained period of time.

Sketch three possible outcomes for a project: the likely upside, likely ‘regular’, and likely downside scenarios.

Ben's post talks about how we brainstormed these scenarios for "The Alliance."  It's interesting to see how things played out.  The good news is that we definitely didn't experience any of the downside scenarios; the book was well-received, and sold well.  In 2015, we'll be able to tell whether we'll experience a regular outcome (a bestselling book that provides some brand enhancement) or an upside outcome (turning The Alliance into something many organizations adopt).  The early results are promising!

Trade up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.

I'd actually argue that this should be amended from "competency" to "experience." I don't believe in hiring the incapable, regardless of how much I trust them.  But assuming capability, trust is far more important than experience.  Not only does it reduce risk, it creates a better working environment and thus is likely to deliver better long-term results.

Make people genuine partners and they’ll work harder

[Reid]’s inclusive because he knows when people are personally invested in the public success of a project, they’ll work harder, they’ll care more, and the final product will likely benefit (which also benefits his reputation). I’ve seen Reid do this with partners at Greylock, executives at LinkedIn, and with me in the two books we co-authored. As a co-author instead of a ghostwriter I felt far more committed to the project than I would have otherwise and the quality improved accordingly.
I'll echo and amplify Ben's point.  While I would have worked hard on "The Alliance" regardless, the fact that Reid was dedicated to making it a true partnership meant that I was willing to make great sacrifices (including things like staying up all night to meet deadlines).  Many of the people I talk with about the book are surprised when I tell them how involved Reid was in the writing; they assume that like most rich and famous authors, Reid simply wanted his name on something.  After all, Charles Barkley once protested that he was misquoted in his own autobiography.  The fact that Reid was willing to invest his time and intellectual energy in the process demonstrated his partnership far more than any flowery words.  As I've noted about parenting, kids are smart--they quickly learn to ignore your words and draw conclusions based on your actions.  If you say you love them, but never spend time with them, they won't be fooled.

There is no shortcut to being a genuine partner.

The people around you change you in myriad unconscious ways

The people you spend the most time with will change you in ways you cannot anticipate or ever fully understand after the fact. The most important choice of all is who you choose to surround yourself with.

I feel incredibly lucky to have learned so much from such a special man. May we all have the opportunity to partner with and learn from the special people in our lives. May we all take the time to savor this amazing world. And may we all have the wisdom to try to save it a little, too.
One of my go to quotes is the perfect summary of this point, and of Ben's entire essay: “The principle difference between heaven and hell is the company you keep there.”  I'm glad I got to spend time with both Ben and Reid.