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Archive for May 2012

Be Greedy; Be Patient

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“People need to be more greedy and more patient” –
Roelof Botha

Some interesting words from Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia Capital

Be more greedy.  Greed has a pejorative connotation.  Here’s the dictionary definition of greed: An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

But what if everyone stopped thinking, dreaming, inventing, producing, and creating when they had enough to satisfy a basic level of subsistence living?  Who would be around to invent the steam engine that ignited the industrial revolution, invent radio that gave us global communication, or invent the airplane that gave us domestic and international transportation in a matter of hours?  What if Bill Gates was satisfied just being a computer programmer in his basement?  What if Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were satisfied with computers as a hobby among friends and never created a company called Apple?  Why should any company not be satisfied with just “breaking even”?  If you can pass your high school or college courses with a grade of C or D, then why put in the extra effort to get an A?  Do you really need an A to pass that course?  Perhaps in going after that A you are showing … “An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs…”  In general, why do more when you can get away with doing less?

Let’s look at the definition of greed again

An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

Then we should all be greedy.  Let’s call it ambition, or vision, or as Jobs might say, be greedy enough to put a dent in the universe.

If someone’s greed (read: desire, vision, ambition) creates value for someone else, or society in general, then the more greed the better.  What’s at the opposite end of greed?  Mediocrity?  Complacency?  If we had more of this, would that be better?  What about average?  Is average, “good enough”?  Do you marry an average person and make them your wife of husband?  Average products for average people is exactly what Steve Jobs never wanted to produce. Why?  We could do with less.

When I heard Botha’s quote I was reminded of the club scene between Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker in the movie The Social Network.  The YouTube clip is below and the dialog important to this posting is below…

SEAN takes a sip of his drink…
SEAN (simply)
A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond wants to buy his wife some lingerie but he’s too embarrassed to shop for it in a department store. He comes up with an idea for a high end place that doesn’t make you feel like a pervert. He gets a $40,000 bank loan and borrows another forty-thousand from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria’s Secret. He makes a half-million dollars his first year.
He starts a catalogue, opens three more stores and after five years, he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limited for four million dollars. Happy ending, right? Except two years later the company’s worth 500 million dollars and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh-highs, you know?
Was that a parable?

Yes, the meaning of the parable is this – don’t sell out too early.  Be greedy.

The Take

Last week the Facebook IPO generated 100 billion dollars.  Facebook has 800 million active users.  What would have happened if Zuckerberg was not greedy and not patient and sold Facebook when the next growth increment was “A hundred schools by the end of the summer.”  If you have a good thing, be patient, be greedy – that’s the message of Sean Parker to Zuckerberg and the message from venture capitalist Roelof Botha.

Here is the constraint on greed.. This comes from Jim Collins book:  “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All”

So, why do people follow them? Because of a deeply attractive form of ambition: [they].. channel their ego and intensity into something larger and more enduring than themselves. They’re ambitious, to be sure, but for a purpose beyond themselves, be it building a great company, changing the world, or achieving some great object that’s ultimately not about them.

Who would say that Zuckerberg’s greed (read: ambition/vision/commitment) and patience did not result in a good thing (Facebook) for the people on this planet in general?  And it made him wealthy far beyond his needs in the process.  So what’s the problem?

As long as greed is not about personal self-aggrandizement, and is about ambition, intensity, vision, and commitment that ends up generating value for other people then the more greed – and the more patience for greed people have – the better for all of us.

See more

An interview with Roelof Botha – here

The club scene from the Social Network …

Who can forget the famous quote from Gordon Gekko from the movie, Wall Street

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.

Adam Smith from the 1776 book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”

…every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

Read more about the “Invisible Hand” here

Written by frrl

May 29, 2012 at 2:59 am

Why (Can’t we) ask why? Questions over answers

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Seth Godin came up with a good list of questions (read the blog entry)

Why ask why?

“Why?” is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.

Hint: “Because I said so,” is not a valid answer.

Why does it work this way?
Why is that our goal?
Why did you say no?
Why are we treating people differently?
Why is this our policy?
Why don’t we enter this market?
Why did you change your mind?
Why are we having this meeting?
Why not?

That’s a good set of questions.  Those are questions you ask inside an organization.  How about some questions that you ask about an organization and what it does.  Here are few that comes to mind, not asked nearly enough.  They are about positioning, structure, and assessment.

  • Where is our industry headed?
  • What are we / can we be the very best at?
  • What should we invest in?
  • What is the best operating model that supports this?
  • Who are the best leaders to put in place?
  • What are the best metrics of our success and how do we measure them?
  • What compensation and incentive systems support this?
  • How do we continually monitor our progress and make adjustments?
  • ( rinse, repeat – often, according to the clockspeed of our industry/business – the world)

In Seth’s set of questions, if you hear “Because, I said so” it’s a clear giveaway that you are in an environment dominated by political decision-making.  In these environments it’s more important that someone gets their way as opposed to linking the decision to some measurable goal of the organization.  In short, it’s about the demonstration and exercise of power rather than making the right decision for the organization’s stakeholders. (Why do some people make decisions to their own benefit when they know they undermining the organization’s stakeholders in doing so?  Read some insights from clinical psychologist Martha Stout Ph.D regarding the “organizational bully” here. )

The second set of questions isn’t about political power, it’s about positioning.  These questions are not asked frequently enough in a world of continuous change and opportunity.  (One of my favorite answers from an entrepreneur when asked about his business model…. “You know that blind spot that you have when you’re driving.. that’s where we are”.  Perhaps Borders Books and BlockBuster should have paid more attention to their blind spot to discern the likes of Amazon and Netflix.  But now, this ability to see the blind spot or to “see around corners” is no longer needed by those companies – they are out of the race. Read more)

Teaching answers – not questions.

Today in schools we teach kids to show up on time, leave on time, memorize facts, be able to recall those facts on standardized tests, and to not question authority.  It seems the perfect factory process to turn out factory workers that … show up on time, leave on time, do their work and only their work, and not question the boss or the company.  The perfect factory education for the early 20’th century Industrial Age.

But what do we need now?  Perhaps a focus on a new set of skills.  What moves the world?

Can Innovation be taught?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to be innovators as opposed to factory workers?

Gregersen and co-authors Clayton M. Christensen (professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School) and Jeff Dyer (professor of strategy at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School), believe that roughly two-thirds of the skills it takes to innovate can be learned. They point to historical research findings that concluded 25-40% of human innovation stems from genetics as evidence.

What are the skills for innovation?

In their own research involving hundreds of innovators and thousands of entrepreneurs, managers and executives from around the world, Gregersen, Christensen and Dyer boiled the formula of innovation down to five key skills:

  • Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
  • Observing helps innovators detect small details — in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies — that suggest new ways of doing things;
  • Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
  • Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
  • Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields — is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

The take

Do we teach any of the above in schools?

When I was a kid I used to watch Jeopardy.  At the time, me and everyone else thought that those folks on Jeopardy were the smartest people in the world.  But were they?  What they could do is memorize a vast collection of facts and recall them on demand.  Did we think that was intelligent or smart or showed a capability that would make them successful in the world?

What about today?  Today everyone has a vast collection of facts at their fingertips – for free – on demand.  We can ask Siri almost anything and get a raw fact-based answer (not an insight, not a deduction, not an induction, not a connection or association among facts) in a few seconds.  The ability to recall facts is not smart or intelligent.  You can imagine the trajectory of Siri and similar systems in the future of facts on-demand.  It can only get better.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus more on the skills above?

The fist skill in the list is Questioning… challenging the status quo and consider new possibilities…

Perhaps if we taught kids the skills above then the questions that Seth posed above would be asked naturally by everyone – and Seth would lose a posting idea.  The ability to challenge the status quo would reveal the power and political dimension of organizations that undermine outcomes for stakeholders and reveal the blind spots that exist in every organization that hide opportunities.  The unique capacity of humans is imagination and the development of the skills above.  So let’s use ’em.

Read more from Forbes

More from Seth on Education

Stop Stealing Dreams (free Audio edition)

Written by frrl

May 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

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Saturday Night Live on Amateur Radio

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A thousand television channels and nothing to watch?  A million movies on Netflix and nothing interesting?  Every track of music every recorded available to you on-demand and nothing you want to listen to?

Why not listen to the Amateur Radio Liberty Net?  Don’t have a radio?  – not a problem.  Not available when it’s on live on Saturday night? – not a problem, you can listen to recordings of past Liberty Nets anytime.

Check out The Liberty Net – live on Saturday night.  Not a ham?  That’s good, listen anyway.  Participate over the internet via live chat.

The rise of wireless also set off a popular movement to democratize media, as hundreds of thousands of “amateur operators” took to the airwaves. It was the original blogosphere. “On every night after dinner,” wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, “the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery.”

Here’s your chance to listen to the legacy of the  wireless “whispering gallery” of Amateur Radio that Collins wrote about 100 years ago.

Written by frrl

May 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

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What I learned about people, commitment, and quality from playing Zynga’s Words with Friends

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Social Games

There has been a spate of recent IPO‘s in the social space.  One of these is Zynga.  Zynga creates social games.  Zynga makes money by selling virtual goods and through advertising.  The Zynga stock at IPO was $10.  At the time of this writing, Zynga is trading below its IPO price. Zynga’s IPO raised about $1 Billion dollars.

So what’s the attraction of social games?  Well, I surely understand it – intellectually.  But what is the experience of it?

I thought I’d give Zynga games a try.  Zynga’s Words with Friends seemed to be my speed.  I tracked down an expert scrabble player from my social network.  I asked if she ever tried Words with Friends.  Well, she did.  And so we decided to play a few of the social games from Zynga.

The Play

When we started playing Words with Friends I was making quick moves to move the game along – experiencing the game, as was my intention.  My opponent beat me and she beat me by a lot of points.  We played another games – she beat me again.  So now it was not about “experiencing social games’.  It became something else.

There was an asymmetry in the game.  She was giving me a good game with some spectacular words in multiple dimensions.  I was not returning the favor.  That is, I was not matching her commitment to a good game,  So I changed my effort, and my commitment, and the level of play.  What were once quick moves with little consideration turned into extended studies of the board, the discovery of a strategy for play including planning the next and perhaps subsequent moves, and choosing the best option to play considering the alternate moves and point scores.

The validation

I didn’t learn anything new as much as I validated, in a very clear way, what I already knew and what I’ve observed in many corporate environments for many years.

Folks who have made it through the 1,000+ pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged may remember this exchange with Rearden, the creator of the strongest steel – Rearden metal.

You have judged every brick within this place by its value to the goal of making steel. Have you been as strict about the goal which your work and your steel are serving? What do you wish to achieve by giving your life to the making of steel? By what standard of value do you judge your days? For instance, why did you spend ten years of exacting effort to produce Rearden Metal?”

Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

“If I told you that I understand it, but you don’t—would you throw me out of here?”
“I should have thrown you out of here anyway—so go ahead, tell me what you mean.”
“Are you proud of the rail of the John Galt Line?”
“Because it’s the best rail ever made.”
“Why did you make it?”
“In order to make money.”
“There were many easier ways to make money. Why did you choose the hardest?”
“You said it in your speech at Taggart’s wedding: in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”
“If that was your purpose, have you achieved it?”

“to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”

It’s interesting to observe teams.  The best teams develop a commitment to each other and this sort of commitment – “my best for your best”.  In the play of Words with Friends I surely got the idea that I was not doing my best to her best.  Of course, Words with Friends has some easy moves.  All you really need to do is form a legitimate word to send the game on its way.  But just forming any word will not win the game nor will it make the game interesting.  There is a direct analogy of this to teams of individuals working on projects.  Some give their best and some just do the least required to move the project along.  Those who do the least are often not embarrassed by their poor performance.

The Real Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson wrote an excellent book on the life of Steve Jobs.  It was published shortly after the death of Jobs.  Before Isaacson’s book there was “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs“.  The reality of this is that there are no “secrets” of Innovation.  It’s not about secrets, it’s about choices among options that are clearly visible. As regards the leadership style of Steve Jobs and what made Apple so successful you don’t need to be a genius.  The genius has already been accomplished and demonstrated to the tune of more than $300B in Apple’s market capitalization.  What you need to discern are the choices that Apple (Steve Jobs) made that positioned Apple for its amazing success

Isaacson says as much in the April 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.  The lead-in to  the special article on Jobs’s Leadership style is this… “Six months after Jobs’s death, the author of this best-selling biography identifies the practices that every CEO can try to emulate

The article lists 14 practices.  One of them is… “Tolerate Only “A” Players”

Jobs was famously  impatient , petulant, and tough with the people around him.  But his treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his desire for perfection and his desire to work with only the best.  It was his way  of preventing what he called “the bozo explosion,” in which managers are so polite that mediocre people feel comfortable sticking around..  “I don’t think I run roughshod over people,” he said, “but if something sucks I tell people to their face.  It’s my job to be honest,”  When I pressed him on whether he could have gotten the same results while being nicer, he said perhaps so.  “But it’s not who I am,” he said,  “Maybe there’s a better way – a gentleman’s club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet code words – but I don’ t know that way, because I am middle class from California”

The Take

Why do some people do their best and why do some people just go through the motions?  In Atlas Shrugged, Rearden wanted to make money – but he did it in the hardest way possible.  Why?  It really wasn’t only about the money, it was about the commitment to the exchange, in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.  Money comes along for the ride just as Steve Jobs stressed by placing a priority of products over profits.  If you make insanely great products the profits will follow.

Does “my best for your best” exist only in an idealistic world that does not exist in reality?  In a sense, you need to create and maintain such a world.  This gets to Jobs’s leadership practice of “Tolerate Only A Players” to guard against what he called the “bozo explosion” of mediocre people.  Hire the best people in the world and maintain the culture by the disciple of straight talk and confronting people.

Perhaps social games are a stealth way to measure commitment.  These games are essentially meaningless.  The best people do the best they can no matter what it is.  And if you ask why perhaps the response from Rearden in Atlas Shrugged should suffice.  Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

As far as investing in Zynga and the potential for monetizing social games… The jury is still out.  But in testing the experience of social games I was glad to get yet another confirmation that there are folks out there that always do their best – no matter what it is – and they can still take me along for the ride.

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Written by frrl

May 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

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