Friday, January 21, 2011

Time Allocation > Goal Setting

Every personal productivity guru preaches the importance of goal-setting. But of you're like me, your problem isn't a lack of goals. It's a lack of time.

I often feel like I have too many goals, all clamoring for my time. Setting all those goals becomes counterproductive. Rather than wasting my time drawing up yet more goals, I should be getting things done.

Too often, productivity becomes an excuse to fiddle with the tools of productivity rather than simply being productive. It's like the hoarder whose desk is a mess because it's covered with books on how to organize one's life!

Don't focus on what you have to get done; instead focus on optimizing how you allocate your time.

You only have so many hours in a day. If you clearly define how you want to spend those precious hours, you can focus your efforts on whatever really matters for you.

Like investing for retirement, goals matter, but allocation is how you get there.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Self Awareness & The 2008 Election

Over my vacation, I read "Game Change," which tells the story of the 2008 US presidential election. Not only was it a compelling page-turner (it really was an incredible narrative), the book is also instructive in how important private strength is to public success.

Of the main characters in the drama--Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, it is no coincidence that the eventual winner makes the best impression. What is less obvious are the reasons why. While Obama is rightly credited for his remarkable oratory, what stands out is the strength of both his self-awareness and his relationships.

Both Clinton and McCain deal with major issues that stem from their troubled marriages. Both Clinton and McCain end up firing old friends from their posts as campaign manager. In contrast, "no drama" Obama draws strength from wife Michelle and maintains a calming influence over his campaign. When he does intervene, it is gently but purposefully.

The contrast in terms of self-awareness is even greater. Both Clinton and McCain have a difficult time understanding how others perceive them, and an even harder time accepting unpleasant truths. Clinton agonizes over her stance on the Iraq war. In contrast, Obama deals briskly and decisively with his own issues, whether with originally pledging not to run in 2008 to repudiating his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I think one of the main reasons he is able to do this is that he seems to have a clear sense of who he is (a trait that in the book sometimes comes off as arrogance) which means he isn't driven by a constant battle to define himself or be something he isn't.

Ultimately, both Clinton and McCain were far more experienced than Obama. But while he was able to deal with his experience gap, neither of his opponents found an effective way to combat the character gap.

Even today, after all his missteps as president, I wouldn't want to bet against Obama. He seems to have the capacity to learn and change his tactics, using his self-awareness and relationships to keep himself grounded even as he shifts to more favorable ground.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Wisdom of Bill Draper

In case you didn't catch this last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a great interview with Bill Draper, one of the fathers of the VC industry (and incidentally, the father of VC Tim Draper).

Here is some of the wit and wisdom of this living legend:

On working with entrepreneurs:

“When an entrepreneur has a first board meeting, we called that the ‘Oh sh—meeting.’ That’s when the VC finds out the bad news he didn’t know when he made the investment. How the VC reacts to that defines the relationship – it either becomes more brittle or closer.”

On timelines:

“We often tell (entrepreneurs) they have underestimated the timeline” – toward becoming profitable or becoming an exit candidate, for example. “They’d say, ‘No, we’ve doubled the time we think it will take.’ Then we double that timeline, and very often that’s not enough.”

On pulling out of Zappos:

"We had a convertible debenture, and when the two years were up, we said, ‘We’ll take our money back.’ It later sold for a billion dollars to Amazon. If a VC looks you in the eye and says he hasn’t made mistakes, he’s lying.”

To Make Money, Be A Garbageman

Plumbers and garbagemen make a good living despite their lack of PHP coding skills. That's because they're willing to do the necessary but unpleasant.

Basic economics teaches us that prices are determined by supply and demand. Scarce skills like being able to throw a baseball 100 miles an hour are highly compensated. But talent isn't the only source of scarcity. Sometimes, scarcity is a matter of popularity. Jobs in glamorous industries like Hollywood or videogame design often pay like crap. That's not because they don't add value. Rather, there are so many people who want those jobs that employers don't have to pay well. Conversely, employers have to pay very well to get people to do the jobs that are unpopular.

Everyone wants to be a developer at Google. The company is basically the World's greatest resort for programmers. But do you know whom Google pays the most? QA.

You see, Google wants its QA function staffed with the same kind of top talent as the rest of its operation. But few top developers want to do QA. Google solves this problem through the simple expedient of bribing them with way above market salaries. Think of them as Google's garbagemen.

The real insight here is that these jobs are necessary, unpopular, and unharmful. We're not talking about coal mining (a profession that provided many a high school dropout in West Virginia with a six-figure income and an early death from lung disease). Walking through sewage is unpleasant (and malodorous) but safe.

Nor is this principle limited to jobs and individuals. The same holds true for companies. If you find a way to deliver the necessary and unpopular, people will pay you for it.