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.

Simplicity

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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Trust In Process, Not People

Even if we've moved on from the "Great Man Theory" of history, the very human desire for simple stories with clear protagonists continues to affect us today.

I was reminded of this fact by a Fast Company story on how Jeff Bezos and Amazon designed and launched the (at this point) unsuccessful Amazon Fire Phone.  Austin Carr (presumably not the former professional basketball player) wrote a fascinating, carefully-reported piece on how Bezos drove the project, and the (apparent) mistakes he made along the way, such as demanding a premium phone with innovative technology like Dynamic Perspective, as opposed to building a "value" product.

(I'm hedging all of my descriptions because, regardless of the thesis of this essay, I'm still terrified that Bezos will somehow make the Fire Phone a monster success and make me look as ridiculous as the analysts who predicted the iPhone would flop.  That's how much I respect his abilities.)

There's a particularly telling passage that describes how the Fire Phone team was skeptical about Bezos' chosen product direction, but felt they had to give him the benefit of the doubt:

"When it came to the Fire Phone, says one former product lead, "Yes, there was heated debate about whether it was heading in the right direction. But at a certain point, you just think, ‘Well, this guy has been right so many times before.’"
Therein lies the mistake that most of us (including me) are guilty of committing.  We focus on the people, rather than the process that they follow.  Focusing on people just feels good and right--there's a reason we make movies about heroes, and not macroeconomic forces.

When someone has made as many good decisions as Jeff Bezos, we assume that he is a good decision-maker, as opposed to thinking that he follows a good decision-making process.  Yet even geniuses can make mistakes, especially when swelling overconfidence causes them to believe in their own omniscience.

Smart people are especially prone to this mistake--just ask any Hacker News reader who believes he knows the answers to the world's problems, or any technology tycoon who believes he knows more about journalism than its practitioners.  Even the late, great Steve Jobs, perhaps the greatest business savant Silicon Valley has ever known, probably cost himself years if not decades of healthy life by opting to treat his cancer with an all-fruit diet rather than surgery.

Evaluate ideas based on evidence, not provenance.  Just as "because science" isn't a valid explanation, neither is "because Bezos," "because Jobs," or any other such invocation of sainted authority.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Dangerous Conflation of Money and Self-Worth

One of the big dangers that entrepreneurs (and everyone else) face in Silicon Valley is the temptation to conflate money and self-worth.  I was reminded of this by an entrepreneur that I'm coaching, who has been dealing with the whipsaw effect of fluctuating net worth and income.

Making money and/or getting a big payday through a liquidity event feels great.  And I'm not arguing that you shouldn't celebrate such good fortune.  I love to see hard work rewarded.  But you need to remind yourself that the money doesn't change who you are, even if it changes how other people treat you.

Tying your self-worth to your net worth feels great when your net worth is skyrocketing.  But it sets a dangerous precedent because net worth (and any associated adulation) are extrinsic motivators, rather than intrinsic, and people who focus on the extrinsic have been shown to be much less happy than those who concentrate on the intrinsic.  It also moves you towards a fixed mindset ("this result proves my worth") rather than the healthier growth mindset ("I'm glad that my hard work resulted in this financial success").

This is not to say that money is irrelevant; it is a tool, a useful metric, and something that eliminates a certain class of worries.  But it does not change who you are.  Even people who feel that money has “changed them” are simply dodging responsibility; they changed themselves in reaction to the money.

At a time when 50% of conversations in Silicon Valley are about "unicorns" and the other 50% are about the extreme cost of real estate, it's a good idea to keep reminding yourself that your self-worth has nothing to do with your net worth.

UPDATE: Now that I've gotten her permission, I can reveal that the entrepreneur who prompted this quote is Felicia Spahr, who is a wildly successful communications trainer who can help you be more charismatic and develop better social skills.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spreading the ideas of "The Alliance" with Allied Talent

Dear readers,

I'd like to ask for your help.

This year, I realized a lifelong dream when Harvard Business Review Press published The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age, the book I co-authored with my friends Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha.  The book became a New York Times bestseller (on the advice list, but hey, it's still the Times!) and had a warm reception from critics, and most importantly, actual managers.  If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, you can download an excerpt for free (or buy a copy) at the book website:
http://www.theallianceframework.com

The gist of The Alliance is that employers and managers need to rebuild the relationship they have with their employees.  Rather than free agents, employees should be treated as allies, in a relationship of mutual trust, mutual investment, and mutual benefit.

To help leaders and managers adopt the ideas in The Alliance, I've co-founded a new consulting firm, Allied Talent ( http://www.alliedtalent.com ).  So far, we have developed two workshops to help build more adaptable, innovative organizations.

One workshop teaches managers how to strengthen their relationships with star employees.  We teach them how to have better career conversations and to organize each employee's work around a personalized mission objective with a specific expected timeframe.  Achieving the objective transforms both the company's business and the employee’s career, and provides a springboard for defining a follow-up mission.

The other workshop teaches managers how to coach their team to develop professional networks and leverage them both for career development and for solving business challenges.

In short, we’re developing managers for the 21st century, which my friend Reid has dubbed the Networked Age.

We're already working with a number of organizations, including several fast-growing startups, as well as non-profit organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation, to help them attract, manage, and retain the top talent they need to achieve their missions.

Now I need your help to change the way managers and employees think about work by spreading the ideas of The Alliance.

Of course we're looking for clients, but we are also looking for venues to build thought leadership: writing, speaking, interviews, webinars, etc.  I, my co-author Ben, and Allied Talent's CEO Chip Joyce are all available for these opportunities.

The ask:
  • Would your organization -- or an organization you work with -- be interested in learning more about The Alliance and our training programs?

I'd love any and all introductions, suggestions, and well-wishes you're willing to provide!  Here are a couple of resources you can share with folks who might be interested:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Risk and Race: A Modest Proposal To Encourage Investing In Minority Entrepreneurs

Fast Company put out a fantastic package of stories covering the role of race in Silicon Valley.  The centerpiece is a deservedly glowing profile of Tristan Walker, but my favorite was an interview with a group of African American startup folks titled "An Honest Discussion of Race in Silicon Valley."

One thing that I failed to appreciate before, and that this story made clear, is the interaction of risk and race:
In many African-American households—since we don't descend from centuries of wealth in this country—parents want their kids to be a lawyer or a doctor, or go to Wall Street to make a lot of money so they can come back and take care of the family. Is the African-American community too cautious for tech and its "fail fast" mantra?

Erwin: Black folks like me have to take care of family members at home, so jumping into a startup is very risky when you can make it either on Wall Street or do something more stable in finance. If my company fails, the people who are counting on me also fail.

T. Gauda: You have to have a very high risk tolerance, and we are traditionally risk averse. As it is, just being who we are is extremely risky.
The two key points are that a) simply being African American increases the level of risk in your life.  Logically, the principle of risk compensation would call for African Americans to take on less personal risk.  Layer in the socioeconomic effects of historical discrimination, and the magnitude of the effect would grow further.  B) Coming from a less-advantaged background, a potential African American entrepreneur might feel compelled to "play it safe," so that he or she would be in a better position to help the rest of the community.  The cost of failure is far higher for such an entrepreneur than for a wealthy Caucasian male.

Given these headwinds, it is all the more important that we encourage the minority entrepreneurs who take on these increased risks.

Another key passage tackles the issue of networks:
"I hear about bootstrapped rounds and angel rounds and friends-and-family rounds, and I just think to myself, Man! There are people who just know and are related to folks who can write $50,000 checks all around them! It's in their ecosystem."
As an investor, I take the stance that an entrepreneur ought to be able to be able to bring a product to market before raising money from professional investors, either by bootstrapping, or by raising a friends and family round.

But I'm guilty of unconscious bias in that filter--how can an entrepreneur bootstrap a company or raise money from friends and family if she comes from poverty and doesn't have any friends and family who can write a $50,000 check?

That being said, investing in pre-product startups tends to be a bad bet; I'd be hard-pressed to make money with that investment strategy.

Encouraging Investing In Minority Entrepreneurs: "Greed Is Good."

I believe the answer is to set up some kind of matching fund to encourage investing in underserved minority entrepreneurs; if my check were doubled or tripled by a foundation (and I got the equivalent equity to compensate for the increased risk), the financial incentives would encourage, rather than discourage investing in those entrepreneurs.  Investors would see investing in minority entrepreneurs as *less* risky, and minority entrepreneurs would see starting companies as *less* risky.

When it comes to getting people to change, I always bet on appealing to their sense of self-interest, not their sense of responsibility.  And the idea of using risk manipulation to solve a problem that's created by risk has a certain ironic appeal!

Now we just need someone to reach out to the appropriate funders to create this program....