Saturday, January 11, 2014

I Am Not My Talent

One of the perils of living in Silicon Valley is the way it encourages us to develop a fixed mindset.

Our vocabulary uses the language of traits.  Someone is a "Rockstar Engineer," or an "A Player."  Companies like Google scrutinize candidates' resumes, discarding those who didn't attend the right universities.

Even successful entrepreneurs aren't exempt.  An entrepreneur who hits a home run on her first time out is then scrutinized endlessly when she tries again.  When Color failed, Bill Nguyen was run through the ringer, despite his previously long and successful career.

The danger lies in believing that our worth depends on those traits.  My friend Jody Sherman may have taken his own life because he couldn't live with the failure of his company, Ecomom, after all the praise and buzz it had received.  More recently, Jon Mills of Motionloft was so intent on maintaining the trappings of success that he defrauded his friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We define ourselves by our talent, or our accomplishments, or our reputation.  All of these are examples of relying on external validation for our self-worth.

I am not my talent.

Sure, I like to think that I'm talented, but my sense of self-worth doesn't depend on the regard of strangers.

I am the decisions that I make, the people that I help, and the experiences that I have.

If you need validation, look inside.  The most important voices aren't the loudest or most public; I'd rather feel good about my actions and the life I lead than worry about what others think of it.

No, Because

I'm always looking for ways to apply insights from other disciplines to the startup world.  The other night, I was at a parenting seminar, when the presenter (Kirk Steupfert) talked about the importance of "No, because."

What me meant was that when you're a parent, it's very tempting to respond to your children's constant requests with a gruff, "No!"

For those of you who don't have kids, you need to understand that the average child asks for something every 30 seconds or so.

Worse, as soon as you answer one question, your response is likely to trigger multiple follow-ups.

But Kirk's point is that simply shutting down a child's questions teaches that child that you don't care what they think or feel, and that whatever you're doing is more important than their needs.

"If I don't have a because," Kirk said, "I shouldn't say no."

"No, because" forces you to stop and actually think, rather than simply reacting.  It also demonstrates that you care enough about another's concerns to listen, understand, and then make a decision.

Many of the same concerns that apply to parents apply to entrepreneurs (and doubly so for entrepreneurs who are parents): You have too much to do, too few resources, and precious little sleep.

And like parents, entrepreneurs are probably tempted to say "No!" rather than "No, because..."

One of my old mentors, who spent some time as the CEO of a publicly traded, multi-billion dollar company, told me about how his team eventually bought him a baseball cap with the acronym "JFDI" in honor of one of his favorite phrases (translation: "Just F--king Do It").

But all those pressures are precisely why entrepreneurs and CEOs need to adhere to "No, because...."

The only one keeping you honest is you.  If you don't treat your people well, they're not going to sit you down and carefully educate you.  Unlike children, they can--and will--leave.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fight Cancer in 2014

For the past two years, I've ridden in the Cycle for Survival cancer fundraiser, and you've helped me donate thousands of dollars to cancer research (CFS donated over $14 million to cancer research last year).

Cancer is a devastating disease that will eventually impact all of us, either directly, or via our family and friends.  I've lost two grandparents, one uncle, numerous friends, and my beloved dog Kobe to cancer.  Most of you have had a similar experience.

It's a fight we all need to take on.  That's why I'm riding for a third time.

I'll make the same offer that I do each year year--everyone who visits my Cycle for Survival page and donates gets some of my time:

$20 Donation: I will answer any one email you send me
$50 Donation: I will have a 20-minute telephone conversation with you
$100 Donation: I will meet you in person at my office (San Mateo, CA) or in Palo Alto
$500 Donation: I will take you out to a leisurely lunch (Peninsula only)

All proceeds go to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (all expenses for the fundraiser are covered by donations), and are 100% tax deductible.

Just visit my Cycle for Survival page and donate. The website will send me your contact information, and I'll email you to schedule your appointment.

If you've ever lost someone to cancer, it's time to fight back.

UPDATE: Kai Chang is helping out by giving Exploratorium tickets to any donors.  Let me know if you're in the SF Bay Area and have the opportunity to use them!