Last week I got to spend time with a friend I’ve known & worked with more than 10 years. He’s trying to sort out some things about how to think about his job & career, so we spent a while getting caught up then he asked my advice.
I said something to the effect of, “Well, you know what I’m going to ask — it’s really the only question I ever ask when people ask me for advice, and it’s this: What do you want?” When I’m in advice mode, everything else follows from that question. It’s broad & vague, but you can dial it into near term or long term, and the answer is always telling and useful (even when you find you don’t have an answer — that’s important, too).
Then later in the week I was talking with an entrepreneur friend who’s learning how to manage a group for the first time, and I told him that little vignette, and he was excited because he’d written down in his notebook “What do you need?” — a question he’s found super useful as he builds his team and figures out how to make them even more awesome than they already are.
And then I realized that it’s really those 2 questions: What do you want? and What do you need? that I really work everything else around as I’ve led organizations and now as I work with entrepreneurs every day. (And the obvious follow up question: How can I help?)
Asked together: What do you need? What do you want? How can I help — those three questions are about all you really need to lead and manage people.
What do you need? is a question that’s really about getting someone all the tools and time and permissions they need to be able to do the work for the company.
What do you want? on the other hand, is more about what a person’s longer term goals and aspirations are, and really fall along the lines of what a company can do for that person.
How can I help? is useful for obvious reasons, but also because it helps you understand how someone is thinking about problems, whether they’re breaking them down into things they know how to do and things they don’t, and whether they’re thinking in terms of all the resources available to them.
Anyway, was a nice couple of conversations that helped me crystallize pretty well the main tools I’ve used over the years.
And for whatever it’s worth, they’re questions I ask myself pretty regularly as a way to reflect on where I am and what I should be doing, too.
I’ve been thinking about the situation with Yahoo suing Facebook regarding some older patents, and observing the reactions online in blogs and on Twitter. I’ve been struck by how unanimous it’s been, and the emerging narrative that Yahoo has somehow crossed a line, that Internet companies don’t sue each other over patents, etc etc.
But that’s not right at all: some of the companies we love the most, including Apple and Amazon (most famously, for their aggressive licensing of “One Click Purchase”) and virtually everyone else applies for patents, defends them, and often go offensive with them.
Without knowinganyparticulars of this current situation, I don’t think that the reaction against Yahoo is really about the actual prosecution of patents at all. But rather that it’s an old, non-innovative company that’s trying to extract a vig (at best) or impede the progress of (at worst) companies who actually are innovating.
As Keith Rabois put it, the companies that we love and give a pass for being aggressive with patents “…actually launched innovative products, [and didn’t try] to create a revenue stream for non-innovation.”
That’s the crux of it. The patent system is, to pun a little bit, patently busted. Hasn’t kept up with software, and you can argue whether it was just misguided from the beginning. (I don’t know this area of history well enough, honestly.)
Again, I don’t know any of the specifics of Yahoo’s claims, so don’t have any comments on that.
But this reaction, like others, isn’t really about that. It’s about hidebound non-innovating companies who, instead of being like Apple, and somehow finding a way to turn the clock back and rediscover the innovation that made them great by enabling a culture that helps new innovators at their own company — instead of that, they’re trying to dredge up the ghosts of innovators past. But ghosts is what they are, and ghosts won’t move us forward, and they won’t help dying companies become strong again.
[And: watch this space, because this is going to happen again and again. Intellectual Ventures is a great case in point.]
I just had an illuminating conversation with a coworker of a close friend — a very very smart & talented guy who’s a couple of years out of one of the best technical universities in the world and has spent the time at Google doing some amazing things. He’s recently been thinking about whether or not to go to business school (a topic for another post, but not the decision that I want to focus on right now).
He said that a number of execs there have asked younger folks “What would make you leave Google in 5-10 years?”
I immediately responded by saying “WTF?? Why would you possibly stay 5-10 years?”
I think this illustrates a clear difference of perspective — I don’t mean to pick on Google here — it applies to any big company. But the idea that the default is for young, awesome talented people to stay at a company for a decade and that getting rid of reasons to leave is the main goal — well, I think that’s ridiculous — an example of thinking that’s a decade out of touch, at least.
Because here’s the thing: we’re in an amazing, amazing period where with the Web, then with mobile, tablets, cloud, touch, and on and on, we are reinventing the world. Everything is changing, everything is in play.
And it’s easier than ever for tiny companies (by historical standards) to be the ones who make that change.
So in my view, big companies asking the question “What would make you leave?” is a backwards, outmoded way to think. Asking “Why would you stay?” against the backdrop of incredible, unbounded opportunity to remake the world — that’s a question that’s more worth asking.
In some of my thinking lately about living more intentionally, one of the themes has been the difference between being a producer and being a consumer.
(Honestly, I think the word “consumer” is outmoded given the fact that most of our “consumption” these days is bits, not atoms, so they don’t really get consumed so much as processed, synthesized, etc. But an idea for another post.)
Anyway, one of the things I want to do aspirationally is what Clay Johnson talks about in his new book: he suggests that every morning when you get up, before you do anything else — before you check your mail, before you read the news, before you go to the gym — to take a few minutes and write 500 words. About anything. He’s suggesting that the act of writing — a thoughtful, innately productive activity — will change your posture to the day, will transform you into a producer more than a consumer because you’re starting the day with an attitude towards thought and action, as opposed to reaction.
My sense is that he’s really onto something here, and I’m planning to do it, and have been over the past couple of weeks.
But even though I write, alot,I’m having trouble doing it. When you try to do it, you notice really quickly how all of our systems are geared towards dealing with incoming signals, for reacting to news. Pick up your laptop or iPad or phone to create something in the morning and there’s a cascade of new messages and notifications about things that have happened in the night — it’s nearly impossible to avoid them. So you’re a consumer by default.
There are some obvious ways to combat this — using, say, a notebook and pen to write your thoughts — but once you try the exercise it just becomes so unbelievably obvious how everything in our lives is really geared around reacting to stimulus, rather than creation.
Amazing to me that even before really starting the 500 words practice I’m learning a lot about how my infrastructure and life are so oriented against it.
At TED, I’ve found there are overall themes of each conference that speakers keep coming to again & again — often not the official theme, but a reflection of where the mood of the community is. And then I’ve found that wherever I am personally, I get coherence in different ways. For me this year, and for many of the folks I’ve talked with, the theme is intentionality: how to figure out and live a life that you want to live, instead of taking the one that comes to you.
As a friend said last night, it feels like there were maybe a half dozen talks about just this thing. From Sherry Turkle’s worry about how devices are making us alone, together; to Jen Pahlka’s excellent thoughts on becoming better and more involved citizens; to David Kelly’s thoughts on creative confidence and how to nurture it; and to Bryan Stevenson’s unbelievable talk about how he’s made a difference, and the people in his life who have helped him “keep his eyes on the prize.”
I’m coming to view intentionality, depth of thought and connection, and the power to focus as the central developmental challenges of our society today. We’re going through an incredibly rapid transformation into an always connected, real-time, perma-entertained, ever stimulated world — and it’s becoming clear to me that, somewhat ironically, it’s the people who can take advantage of all of that, while also ultimately staying within themselves, will be the ones who make the most profound and positive changes in our world.
So that applies to all of us, and implies much about how to think about living our lives, interacting with each other, and teaching our children.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months — or really probably the last year or so — about how to be more intentional in my life — i think this week has catalyzed some of my thinking, so I’ll plan to write about a bunch of different aspects of it as I work through my own re-intentioning of my life.