I recently attended a useful talk by Scott Walker
on the biggest legal mistakes start-ups make. I had been exposed to many of these concepts before, and it was useful to hear someone talk about them in depth. This was part one of a two-part series of talks. The following is not meant as legal advice; it's just notes I took on Scott's talk.
1. Your employer has ownership to your IP
-If you're using your employer's facilities
-If your outsourced development company keeps your IP and doesn't properly transfer it to you
2. Choosing the wrong entity
-If you need venture funding, you really should be a corporation in Delaware.
-S or C corp is the only decision to make.
-"Qualified small business stock": if you start as a C corp, you get a big tax break (0 capital gains up to $10M if hold the stock for 5 years). You can't get this if you convert to a C corp. This is from IRS Sec. 1202.
-Use an S corp if want to put in your own money for a while and want to take tax losses early on.
-If you're bootstrapping, an LLC can be fine.
-Sec 1244 gives $50K of deductions for C corps.
3. Splitting equity foolishly
-Equal split is the most common and biggest mistake.
-It should depend on levels of involvement in past and future and value each person brings.
-Biggest business decision you'll ever make: who is your co-founder (Scott said 2 is the best number of founders; he said YC and TechStars require it)
4. Not setting up a vesting schedule
-Done through a Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement
-Typically vest shares over 4 years on a monthly basis
-1 year cliff: nothing vests if fired or leave in the first year
-Can sometimes pre-vest or accelerate in certain circumstances
-VCs will always set up vesting schedules for the team
-Your accountant needs to file an 83b election with the IRS.
5. Not complying with securities laws
-You can't raise money on social media.
-You can't advertise or solicit.
-You must build relationships directly.
-Investors want to see resourcefulness and tenacity of an entrepreneur in networking.
-You must get "accredited investors."
I recently had the pleasure of reading Decoded
by Jay-Z, his cross between an autobiography and "decoding" of his rap lyrics. I was lucky enough to read the AV "enhanced" Kindle version, which featured several videos of Jay-Z talking about the songs and bringing the stores in the book to life. (I only wish it had more "behind the scenes" of his actual singing and music videos, but just hearing him speak and riff on the lyrics was cool too.)
Jay-Z says he had three goals with the book. The first goal was to make the case that hip-hop lyrics (not just his lyrics, but those of every great MC) are poetry if you look at them closely enough. (I got a kick out of reading that because I've been telling my friends that for a while myself.) The second goal was to tell a little bit of the story of his generation and show the context for the choices they made. The third goal was to show how hip-hop created a way to take a very specific and powerful experience and turn it into a story that everyone in the world could feel and relate to. All three messages came across clearly in the book.
The book alternated between prose and lyrical decomposition -- breaking down line by line (and often word by word) with footnotes describing the double and sometimes triple meanings behind the lyrics. I was amazed to see so much that I had missed from more cursory listening.
I also learned a lot of interesting things about Jay-Z's life. His dad left his family when Jay-Z was very young, and though he did reunite with him, it was a very traumatic childhood. He saw his first murder at age 9 and would routinely wake up to the sound of gunshots in the New York Projects housing where he lived.
He grew up hustling (selling drugs) on the streets and traveling all over the state to make a living. While doing this since a young age, he would write rhymes almost non-stop, stopping in the middle of crosswalks and noting down rhymes on paper bags. He couldn't stop the rhymes from coming into his head. He spent considerable time traveling around and rapping for others too, trying to get his break into the music industry, which never treated him well.
In the end, he became a true entrepreneur. He risked all his capital and resources and pooled them with a friend to start his own label (Roc-A-Fella). This was the only way he could produce the music he wanted. He did the same thing for clothes. He saw what a large effect rap was having on the sales of other goods (like Cristal champagne), and when he wanted to team up with brands to cross-promote, no one would support him. He did the same thing with clothes as he did in music: he went out on his own and started Roc-A-Wear, a highly successful clothing company.
Throughout the book, Jay-Z points out how people are naive and take his lyrics at only a surface level, thinking that all he says is true and how he feels. He says that he writes songs like authors write books and screenwriters write movies: they are stories meant to convey a message. In the same way you don't expect Matt Damon to be a spy in real life, the stories that Jay-Z sings in the first person are similarly pure narratives meant to grab attention but not actually cause you to believe every word.
There was a lot of awesome stuff in the book, and below are some of my favorite quotes:
- If the beat is time, flow is what we do with that time, how we live through it. The beat is everywhere, but every life has to find its own flow.
- A lot of street cats come in to the music game and expect a certain kind of honor and ethics, even outside of contracts. But in business, like they say, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. So I mind my business, and I don’t apologize for it.
- He knew that the key to success was believing in the quality of your own product enough to make people do business with you on your terms.
- To tell the story of the kid with the gun without telling the story of why he has it is to tell a kind of lie. To tell the story of the pain without telling the story of the rewards—the money, the girls, the excitement—is a different kind of evasion. To talk about killing niggas dead without talking about waking up in the middle of the night from a dream about the friend you watched die, or not getting to sleep in the first place because you’re so paranoid from the work you’re doing, is a lie so deep it’s criminal.
- For any image or symbol or creative act to mean something, it has to touch something deeper, connect to something true.
- Art elevates and refines and transforms experience. And sometimes it just fucks with you for the fun of it.
- The highest level of giving, the eighth, is giving in a way that makes the receiver self-sufficient. [In reference to different levels of anonymity in charitable giving and philanthropy]
- It’s hard to beat the entertainment value of people who deliberately misunderstand the world, people dying to be insulted, running around looking for a bullet to get in front of. [In reference to his critics]
- This is one of the things that makes rap at its best so human. It doesn't force you to pretend to be only one thing or another, to be a saint or sinner. Having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other is the most common thing in the world. The real bullshit is when you act like you don’t have contradictions inside you, that you’re so dull and unimaginative that your mind never changes or wanders into strange, unexpected places.
- Identity isn't a prison you can never escape. The way to redeem your past is not to run from it, but to try to understand it, and use it as a foundation to grow.
- Competition pushes you to become your best self, and in the end it tells you where you stand.
- If the price is life, then you better get what you paid for. There’s an equal and opposite relationship between balling and falling.
- Going back to poetry for a minute: I love metaphors, and for me hustling is the ultimate metaphor for the basic human struggles -- the struggle to survive and resist, the struggle to win and to make sense of it all.
- It's like a metaphor for itself; if you can say how dope you are in a completely original, clever, powerful way, the rhyme itself becomes proof of the boast's truth.
- Poets make words work by giving them layers of meaning, so you can use them to get at complicated truths in a way that straightforward storytelling fails to do.
- It took me a long time to realize how much courage it took to work at McDonald's, to walk through the streets past rows of hustlers wearing that orange uniform.
- You learn to compete as if your life depended on it. That's the lesson I brought with me to the so-called "legitimate" world.
- Everything that hip-hop touches is transformed by the encounter, especially things like language and brands, which leave themselves open to constant redefinition. With language, rappers have raided the dictionary and written in new entries to every definition: words with one or two meanings now have twelve. The same thing happens with brands (Cristal).
- We gave those brands a narrative, which is one of the reasons anyone buys anything: to own not just a product, but to become part of a story.
- This is what the streets have done for us, for me: they've given us our drive, they've made us stronger. Through hip-hop we found a way to redeem those lessons, and use them to change the world.
- There's enough of whatever you love to kill you. That kind of sudden change can destabilize even the most grounded personality. and that's when you lose yourself--like the Eminem song says, "superstardom's close to a post-mortem."
- There was a real tension between the power of the story we wanted to tell and just how desperately some powerful people didn't want to hear it.
- What's the meaning? That's the question rap was built on from the beginning and, through a million different paths, that's still its ultimate subject.
- There's wisdom in all kinds of religious traditions--I'll take from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, whatever. The parts that make the most sense feel like they're coming from the same voice, the same G-d.
- For hip-hop to keep growing, we have to keep pushing deeper and deeper into the biggest subjects and doing it with real honesty. The truth is always relevant.
- Rap, as I said at the beginning of the book, is at heart an art form that gave voice to a specific experience, but, like every art, is ultimately about the most common human experiences: joy, pain, fear, desire, uncertainty, hope, anger. Love, money, and power don't change you, they jut further expose your true self.
This is my last post in the series about my classes last quarter. It's about my main takeaways from my HR elective class on pay and rewards in organizations. The course surveyed empirical research studies on a variety of topics including executive compensation, pay for performance, start-up compensation, and pension plans. A lot of the points below are taken from the articles or studies that we looked at as well as our professor's notes.
We learned that pay is determined by three main forces: the labor market, business strategy, and employee motivation/culture.
One research model we studied suggested the following tips:
- Avoid fixed performance contracts (as they can be gamed)
- Evaluate and reward relative performance (not fixed/absolute)
- Use a few, simple, transparent measures
- Align rewards with strategic goals
- Reward team performance (not individual)
- Align rewards with interdependent groups
- Don’t use rewards to “motivate” people (people motivate themselves; find people who are self-motivated)
- Make rewards fair and inclusive
We also went over several dangerous "myths" about pay from another article:
- Labor rates and labor costs are the same thing (ignores productivity)
- Can lower labor costs by cutting labor rates (ignores productivity)
- Labor costs constitute a significant portion of total costs (varies)
- Low labor costs are a potential, sustainable competitive advantage (easily replicable)
- Individual incentive pay improves performance (undermines teamwork)
- People work for money (meaning in work is more salient)
We next covered the various research frameworks that can be used to analyze how pay practices can best align with business strategy. We covered several types of rewards that are available.
- Diverse co-workers
- Compatible boss
- Work location and environment
- Interesting, challenging work
- Job autonomy
- Job rotation
- Work-family life balance
We also studied how profit sharing with employees positively affects perceptions of trust in management and organizational commitment and reciprocity.
Delving into employees' intrinsic rewards, we looked at how the practice of "job sculpting," where employees will stay with and be retained by organizations only if their jobs match their "deeply embedded life interests." These do not determine what people are good at; they drive what kinds of activities make them happy. These deeply embedded life interests are mostly the following:
- Application of technology
- Quantitative analysis
- Theory development and conceptual thinking
- Creative production
- Counseling and mentoring
- Managing people and relationships
- Enterprise control
- Influence through language and ideas
People can sometimes concentrate on one or a combination of these life interests, which ultimately determine which jobs make them happiest.
The seven “HR Best Practices” (or high-performance work system practices) we studied were the following:
- Employee continuity
- Team-based work
- Decentralized, selective hiring
- High pay contingent on organizational performance
- Business information sharing
- Training and development
- Low status differentials
In terms of work-life balance, it turns out that organizations that follow the above practices have employees with higher perception of work-life balance in the organization. Other elements that are positively associated with a sense of balance are an understanding supervisor, child care services, organizational commitment, and several categories of intrinsic rewards. This was based on extensive survey data.
In terms of executive compensation, we learned from the research that the use of long-term contingent compensation results in significant windfalls for CEOs and is not consistent with the idea that such compensation exposes executives to risk; in addition, cash compensation for CEOs is not reduced when contingent compensation is granted (thus the latter is a perk); and in the end, firm performance is lower among firms that heavily use long-term contingent compensation for CEOs. The remedies to this include requiring reduction in CEO pay when options are paid and shifting to more emphasis on annual cash pay adjustments (as well as finding CEOs more motivated by themselves than through compensation).
The class was informative, and I found the discussions about employee culture and motivation (as well as how compensation can be used strategically in start-ups) to be the most interesting.
One of my favorite classes this past quarter was called "Thinking on Your Feet." It's taught by a psychology professor and researcher who specializes in memory. We applied a lot of psychology research and different thinking techniques to solving business problems and becoming more effective "thinkers" within a business context. Below are some of my key takeaways.Physiology
- The oldest part of our brain, shared with many other animals, is the brain stem, and it's responsible for lots of automatic actions like breathing and vomiting. The next oldest is the limbic system, responsible for emotions. The very newest, and relatively much, much younger and less developed, part is the neo-cortex, which is in charge of rationality and logic. Our limbic system is much more dominant than our neo-cortex, explaining why we can so easily get caught up in our emotions.
- The conventional wisdom is that we don't make new neurons, that the brain's functions are immutable, and that memory resides in just one part of brain. We learned that all of these myths are wrong. Handicapped or injured people re-purpose their brains to compensate, and memories reside throughout the brain and physically alter it as new connections are formed.
- Brain fuels (good for you): choline (acetylcholine), glucose, B complex (niacine, thiamine, B12), water, and omega 3. Go, fish!
- Brain drains (bad for you): aspartame (fake sugar), alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, and nicotine. No smoking!
- Other things that affect brain biology and thinking ability: stress, sleep, diet, mental exercise, and physical exercise.
- SMART (v1): Be Specific about your goals, Measure (not just what's easy; beware of perverse incentives; yardsticks we use bias how we interpret information and the conclusions we draw; beware of choosing yardsticks that make us look good), Seek Accuracy, Seek Relevant information, Find ways to Track progress
- “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.” -George Bernard Shaw
- SMART (v2): Sense of purpose in life (know how vs. know why), Meaningful goals, Asking And then what, Being Realistic, Situating goals within Time
- Chaos can be good (especially for creativity): Start with Divergent Chaos (questioning, generating ideas), end with Convergent Chaos (funneling down into answers, truth)
- “It is not the strongest in the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” -Charles Darwin
- Adaptive processes are often better than rigorous long-term planning: taxicabs operating in distributed fashion as opposed to centralized control. Key is to document and broadcast.
- Bring the future to the present: Experiment with different jobs, talk to mentors, get data from potential customers. (Lean start-up methodology!)
- Tyranny of OR: Sometimes when faced with a binary decision, you can find ways to do both or neither. Instead of deciding between "yes" and "no," say "YO!"
- Seek simplicity: Think “familiar”; think “progress, not perfection”; engage everyone; small changes add up!
- Positive deviance: When seeking to make a change, identify parts of life where you're already effective and learn from those small examples. Focus on what's working as opposed to what's not working.
Dealing with Biases
- Events don't cause you to "feel" anything. Your thinking and labeling causes you to feel things.
- Activating Events trigger Thinking which triggers Feelings and Behaviors.
- Ineffective thinking #1: Catastrophic thinking/awfulizing. This is when you hate on yourself and say your world will end if you don't perform a certain way.
- Ineffective thinking #2: Absolutist thinking/shoulding/always/never. This is when you "should all over yourself" by saying you should have done this or that and that you always fail in one thing or another.
- Ineffective thinking #3: Rationalization/excuses. This is when you come up with excuses for doing or not doing something or why something turned out one way which you didn't like (as opposed to facing and learning from the truth).
- Constructive comebacks: Honest, emotional responses to events that acknowledge your feeling but also allow you be firm with your needs and wants and learn from the experience.
- Healthy emotions: Generally people's vocabulary is very limited in the names of emotions they speak about or attribute to themselves. Finding ways to expand that and be able to be more descriptive will allow you to be more honest with others and yourself about how you feel.
- Satisficing vs. maximizing: Humans go for what's "good enough" rather than maximize and think rationally in all decisions.
- Anchoring, Priming: You can be influenced a lot by suggestions in the environment, other non-related words in a discussion, and the first offer in a game or negotiation. The preliminary design of a project can greatly affect the final design. Thinking about this and finding ways to not judge things too early is important for creativity.
- Hindsight bias: It's easy to understand after the fact why something happened as it did even though it was unpredictable beforehand.
- Sunk costs, regret: Humans are constantly worried about the money they paid in the past and the effort they put into something, even when it's not relevant to current or future decisions. We also have greater regret for acts of commission than acts of omission.
- Loss aversion: We care more about losing a sum of money than gaining the same sum.
- Pre-mortem: Try to use the hindsight bias to your advantage by thinking of all the ways a project could fail beforehand; imagine yourself doing the post-mortem and brainstorming all the ways the project could fail (in order to prepare and address those when actually doing it).
- A great way to remember a list of items or a group of people's names is to start with the first, then the second and the first, and continue to add on names and repeat all the other names that came before it. Through this pyramiding repetition, you can remember a large quantity of information.
- Context effects: Context in which you learn something affects context in which you can remember it. Taking a test in a classroom where you learned the material, for example, turns out to produce better scores than taking it in a different room. Even the level of sobriety under which you memorize things affects which level of sobriety you're most likely to be able to recall them (matching levels of sobriety do best).
- Spacing: When practicing memorization/recall, spacing out practice achieves better results than cramming.
- Mental images: Create vivid, personal, animated, interactive mental images for something you need to remember to bring or do in certain locations or times.
- Memory mnemonic for lists of things: peg system
- Flashbulb memories are memories you have after big life events or traumatic occurrences. In these, you remember vividly your location, what you were doing, the source of the information, your emotion, and the aftermath.
- False memory syndrome: Research shows it's possible to plant false memories by getting an insider to speak with the subject and plant seeds of doubt and an alternate story. This was very eerily reminiscent of Inception.
- Memory and age: As you age, you're less able to time share/multi-task, and storage and retrieval slow down. However, research shows that elderly who have purpose and must remember to do something themselves (like water a plant) live considerably longer.
- The availability of memory is influenced by the information's structure, recency, media attention and repetition, and emotion.
Beware the bullwhip (effect)!
I enjoyed my operations class this quarter because the professor was fun and engaging, and I finally had the chance to be in a full, real class with the rest of my section.
While most of my operations classes at Stanford focused on theory, such as around production systems design and supply chain management, this was a general course on operations management -- putting into practice through cases various higher level operations analysis techniques.
A lot of this wasn't new to me, but it was nice to see it in a different context and more from the perspective of a general manager. The objective of the class was to teach us how to use operations in an organization as a competitive "weapon" and not as a burden or friction to minimize.
Below are my biggest takeaways from the course.
- Companies fulfill their business strategy through operations. A company's goal is to make money, and it does this through its value proposition in one or more of the following areas: price, quality, time, and variety. The mix of these four determines the operations strategy that best aligns with the business strategy. For example, if variety and quality are key to producing some very customized product, a job shop manufacturing process with flexible, independent cells and scheduling would make sense, whereas if price and time are more important, such as in producing some commodity good, a continuous flow or assembly line process is a better fit.
- Manage by the bottleneck. We studied various quantitative techniques of process analysis and read The Goal to learn that the first area of attack when aiming to improve a system is the bottleneck. An hour lost on the bottleneck is an hour lost for the entire plant, whereas an hour lost on a non-bottleneck is a mirage.
- The bottleneck should be the most expensive resource. Otherwise, if the bottleneck is a cheap resource, it would be silly not to purchase additional copies of the resource until the point where it is no longer the bottleneck. We learned that at Amazon the bottleneck is an extremely large and complex sorting and box-filling robot; this is its most expensive piece of machinery, and the company does what it can to make sure it is operating at full capacity to meet demand.
- Don't optimize for efficiency, but for your goal (profit). Looking at localized efficiency (like the utilizations of labor or specific machines) is what many people do, and this leads to inferior global performance. As long as the bottleneck is at maximum utilization and running at a pace that matches sales, it is irrelevant how much of your labor or other machines you're utilizing (to a certain degree). You should make decisions that maximize profit, not ones that make your plant look "efficient" in as many areas as possible.
This is a similar lesson to what I learned in my Thinking on Your Feet class this quarter, which I'll post about later: the difference between productive and effective thinking. You can be very productive and efficient in taking care of lots of tasks or brainstorming lots of ideas, but if you're just doing that to be efficient with your time rather than actively working towards a concrete goal, this is often time and energy that's wasted. This now reminds me of the w4w lesson from The 4-Hour Workweek: "work for work's sake" as opposed to work that's globally required and productive.
- There are many non-manufacturing (such as service) applications for the Newsvendor model. This is a simple model we covered in class that allows you to decide how much inventory or capacity to build up in order to deal with random demand and differing underage and overage costs. I thought it was neat how we applied the model to service industries (like hotel and flight overbooking) and even to web advertising inventory planning.
- The psychology of waiting lines: We read some research that presented some common findings about lines that I've definitely thought about or personally experienced before.
-Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.
-Pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits.
-Anxiety makes waits seem longer.
-Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.
-Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.
-Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.
-The more valuable the service, the longer I will wait.
-Solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.
In class, we studied ways that queue waiting times can be minimized (analyzing various queue structures under Markov/Poisson/Exponential assumptions), and when they can't, there are ways to use the psychology results above to make waits "seem" shorter (providing entertainment, making the wait seem like it's an in-process wait, explaining waits, etc.).
- When redesigning queue layouts, minimizing actual service time by employing better servers/employees is more effective than employing multiple servers. In other words, one server who is twice as fast is better than two servers at half the speed. I thought this was an interesting result and shows how training and staff selection can be more important than simply hiring more people.
I took my second negotiations class ever this quarter, and it was nice to revisit some of the things I learned before, looking at them now from a new perspective. Like the first class I took at Stanford, this one centered on simulations that we performed in class and then debriefed afterwards.
The main framework we covered in class was the one from the book Getting to Yes
. Below are the main points in this framework:
- Focus on underlying interests, not positions. Ask many questions at the start to ascertain what people truly care about underneath and longer term. Also, there are often unsaid interests and preferences that people think might not be related to the negotiation at hand; by uncovering those, there may be ways to incorporate them and create better outcomes.
- Seek integrative, not distributive, outcomes. Negotiations happen all around us, most in informal settings. In "formal" negotiations, the focus is often on one variable, like price, and the situation is viewed as a distribution of a fixed pie, a zero-sum game. We learned in this class the importance of considering multiple issues at once in a negotiation in order to reach integrative outcomes ("win-win"). From a game-theoretic perspective, these are outcomes which are Pareto efficient (helping one person without hurting another). This occurs when people have different preferences or sensitivities to various issues, such that improving one party's situation in one issue does not hurt the other.
- Jointly brainstorm many options up front without criticizing. This is pretty similar to IDEO's brainstorming creativity rule of seeking quantity not quality when generating initial ideas.
- BATNA: Consider your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement. This will determine the bargaining zone (area of potential agreements) and give you a clear indication of when it's better to walk away from a negotiation. Money and time invested in improving your BATNA will improve your results in negotiations in more than one way.
- Evaluate options according to mutually agreed upon external criteria. It's very difficult to agree to something when each person uses their own internal criteria. There are many outside criteria that the parties can brainstorm and consider valid for evaluating a deal's fairness and acceptability, and often a mix of these criteria is the best way to compromise when the two parties have pretty different interests.
The types of negotiation simulations we did in class were two-party, multi-party (fun and hectic), employment/salary, inter-cultural, organizational (partners in a business), and collective bargaining (watched a documentary on the UAW/GM Canada negotiations in the 80s). My biggest takeaways were the following:
- Preparation and feedback are really important. As compared to my "real world" negotiations, I spent a lot more time preparing for the in-class simulations. I think that allowed the class exercises to proceed smoothly and for me to get more out of them. I should seek to prepare more in that way for real-life negotiations. In addition, post-negotiation feedback and constructive criticism allowed people to improve and get candid mini-evaluations weekly. I think that sort of feedback could be helpful in real life too.
- Multi-party negotiations require a lot of coordination. Not only are there more interests and opinions involved, but there is the added challenge of finding commonly free time, letting everyone's voice be heard, and coordinating multiple parties' preferences. By agreeing to a system and process up front that meets these goals, that part of the headache can partially be relieved.
- Every culture has a different way of negotiating. I learned that in Japanese there is no direct translation for the word "negotiation." That says many interesting things about the culture; perhaps negotiation and haggling are considered disrespectful. In addition, we surveyed research by Hofstede into different cultures' styles and compared them on several axes: power distance, masculinity, individuality, and uncertainty avoidance. Though it's impossible to fully generalize, and all individuals are certainly unique, I did enjoy being able to get a rough picture of how various cultures differ in their styles as compared to Americans.
I look forward to considering these lessons and preparing more carefully for negotiations I'm a part of in the future.
No, that's not the official title of the course, but it might as well be -- not in the sense that the class is bullshit, but the opposite: the class exposes
all the bullshit happening in corporate organizational contexts and suggests a completely different paradigm of thinking about teamwork.
This quarter, I haven't kept up with posting about lessons learned in each of my classes weekly, so I'll try to do one overarching recap post for each class over the next few days. This is my first post in the series.
The bullshit class I'm referring to is officially called Leadership, Motivation, and Power
. In the class, we read books written by our professor, one of which provides the namesake for the class: Beyond Bullshit
In the class, we debunk a lot of myths about people in organizations and expose the daily lies and bullshit that gets floated around boardrooms and teams all the time. We use case studies and stories from the professor's personal consulting experience to consider various topics, such as psychology and motivation, corporate politics, power dynamics, and communication.
The following are my major takeaways from the class.
- Trusting Relationships: According to the professor, this is the most important factor for success in any team. Every goal or other consideration should be subordinated to the relationships and trust between team members (and between boss and employee). Accomplishing anything of significance requires working closely with others, and this work is most effective (and sometimes only effective) with maximal trust.
The professor taught that you should love your teammates and employees and trust them until the day you let them go. If you have to do that, you need to be upfront, honest, and say something like, "I'm not getting from you what I need. I know you tried, and there's a better place for you elsewhere." In this way, you can maintain respect and trust even after a separation. But until that point, you should do everything possible to create and maintain trust, and if there are difficulties, to deal with them as they come up, always operating from a trusting perspective. Similarly, when hiring, you should welcome a person into a company and completely separate the discussion of pay from the merits of the person. If you want to hire them, you can applaud their merits, but avoid conversations that seek to quantify a person's skills or equate pay to merits; pay is driven by market forces and budget, and any other discussion quickly becomes bullshit.
- Alignments and Mindsets: Every single person has a unique experience and perspective. 10 people can see the same exact event and all claim that something different happened. This is because each person lives life in their own brain and has a unique mindset. By conducting a special type of interview as we did in class, one can learn a lot about a person's mindset and personal alignments (thoughts, goals, life wishes, ways of operating, childhood history, etc.). Understanding these things (which people often skip over) is critical to getting as much information as possible about someone to improve communication. The only to know what got communicated to another person is to ask them what they heard, which is often quite different from what you said.
People live their lives to fulfill their life goals. People want to succeed at life, not at work or a job. Jobs for people are vehicles to succeeding towards some larger goals or needs, and people's family situations and desires outside of work are almost always more important to them than work. Therefore, thinking that "you leave your problems at the door" when you go to work or come back home from work is completely impossible. At work, people are choosing projects, team partners, and customers based on who will get them closer to their goals. This is corporate politics, and this is totally natural. It's a result of every person having their own alignments and operating in the way they think is right. Every person thinks that the way they work is the best they could possibly be working. Telling someone to work harder or promising a huge bonus is going to have little effect on the real way that they will work because this is determined much more by their own goals and desires than the work needs.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Mind-set Management.
- Empowerment and Leadership: Leadership is about doing everything in your power to allow your employees to succeed. There's no such thing as "empowering" people. People empower themselves if they want to (if it fits their alignments). As a leader, you can choose people who motivate themselves and provide them the resources, support, and advice to help them succeed how they want to.
- Bullshit and Straight Talk: In class, we covered about 50 definitions of bullshit. We all know what it is when we see it, and as businesspeople, we are all trained to be able to produce it quite successfully and quickly. In fact, the professor argues that bullshit is the corporate etiquette of choice in America. In some situations, this is required and useful, such as to alleviate certain social tensions or avoid subjects that can get people in trouble in certain rigid organizations. However, it's not ideal.
What we don't know that well is straight talk, which is the alternative. Straight talk is about being honest and upfront about one's underlying goals and preferences (using "I-speak," or talking about yourself rather than using loftier phrases like "what the company needs"). It's also about being transparent with others about how you take in their feedback and suggestions and make decisions. Often, superiors will pretend to solicit feedback but not give it weight. The professor says that hierarchy in decision making is required, but it's all about how the boss explains his viewpoints and takes into consideration others' opinions that matters.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Beyond Bullshit.
- Two-sided Accountability: The norm in organizations is "one-sided accountability," or boss-dominated relationships. Employees are accountable to superiors, and if they fail, the boss will punish them. The professor argues for an alternative: two-sided accountability where both parties are accountable to each other for following through on promises and helping each achieve the goals that they and the company need.
Hierarchy in decision making is often required for organizations to function; hierarchy in relationships is not. In class, we learned a different paradigm: where decisions are made hierarchically but relationships are not hierarchical. This is not easy to achieve in real life and requires trusting relationships, straight talk, and understanding each person's alignments.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Don't Kill the Bosses.
- Performance Reviews: The professor is a very outspoken critic of performance reviews and has helped many prominent groups get rid of them in favor of a better approach (performance "previews"). There are so many problems with performance reviews, especially 360 degree reviews, that we studied in class. A brief list includes the fact that once or twice yearly is not sufficient, the two-sided bullshit that results where both boss and employee feel compelled to participate in the awkward conversation, the fact that pay and performance are said to be linked but in most cases cannot be, and the general dislike of the process that's shared among most professionals. Performance reviews destroy trust, create fake/bullshit conversations, and are an example of one-sided accountability (boss reviewing employee). 360 degree reviews, when anonymous, can often be even worse, as anonymous feedback also destroys trust and removes the human element of giving feedback directly.
Performance previews are about discussing what's working and not working throughout the year, project by project, as issues or questions come up. It's about using straight talk where boss and subordinate tell each other what they each need, how each one is feeling and moving towards his or her goals, and what can be improved from each one for future projects.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Get Rid of the Performance Review.
- Win-win-win Politics: When two people in an organization are trying to make a decision, there are often three circles of interest: my needs, your needs, and the company's needs. When my and the company's needs overlap, that's a "win-win" solution. That's how individuals operate within a corporate context. But when multiple people need to work together and there is no triple overlap in needs (no "win-win-win"), it creates very difficult and often bullshit-ridden conversations where people try to exert power to get their way. The goal should be win-win-win outcomes that are good for team members individually and for the company overall.
- Power Dynamics: We studied several modes of operating power, such as power giving, power taking, power withholding, and power sharing. People operate in different modes at different times and with different people, and this is often driven by their own personalities and alignments. Power sharing can often be the best way when one cares about creativity and flexible organizations.
The class was definitely eye-opening and a lot of fun thanks to the professor's straightforward, no-bullshit manner, honest advice-giving, and of course his jokes and nostalgic clip-art presentations.
When most people think of the chihuahua
, they think of the Taco Bell dog
. That certainly made the breed a lot more famous, and I heard it unfortunately created an oversupply of the breed which still exists today.
But Taco Bell wasn't the only place in pop culture that featured this rat dog. Consider Beverly Hills Chihuahua
. Though the movie definitely jokes about ultra-luxurious living for dogs (comfy suntanning lounges by the swimming pool, manicures and massages -- how could a modern dog live without these necessities?), it actually does do a bit of justice to the long history and richness of the breed that eludes the eye (which is usually just overwhelmed by the cuteness of the face).
There's a scene in the movie where the dogs meet the powerful, wild chihuahuas that represent the grace, beauty, and fearlessness that the chihuahua contains inside. This is obviously for cinematic effect, but there is some truth to this. Every time my chihuahua is annoyed (such as by being put into a rabbit costume or by having its teeth brushed), it displays the meanest and fiercest set of fangs that are better suited for a lion than a rat.
It is true that the breed possesses a long history and is named after the state
in Mexico of the same name. Chihuahuas were the favorite companion of the Toltec royalty and were bred to be small and cute. They are perfect examples of the "toy dog" category.
When I first interacted with a chihuahua, I thought it would be a stupid, small dog (for chicks to carry in their purse). As I spent more time with the breed and got to bond with one closely, I realized that the cuteness was a front, a facade. They use their cuteness to get into your heart and your arms and use you for food, shelter, warmth, and love. Chihuahuas are in fact devilishly clever; I was surprised to see how incredibly smart they are. Their love for people and social nature makes them happy to meet anybody and to play, but each dog has a very unique personality. I can say that there are only 2 things in the world that my chihuahua cares about, so making her happy is very easy: food and being petted. She has mastered several circus animal tricks (she reminds us of Abu
sometimes) which she uses to be rewarded with extra treats and petting.
Another part of the animal that I think is neat is its ears. Though they're not as soft, large, and easy to pet as a Neapolitan Mastiffs, they are clearly strategic tools in the limited arsenal of self-defense mechanisms of the chihuahua. When the dog hears something, one or both ears can turn to help it analyze the sound. When it runs, it can slide its ears back into what I call "aerodynamic mode" sort of like a Batmobile changing shape to minimize air friction/drag. This is obviously instinctual and unconscious, but I still think it's cool.
I also think the dog's eyes are deep and full of life. At first, it may appear that they are black, lifeless orbs. In fact, the dog's face and eyes look very similar to monkeys'
, and even camels'
. In this way, every facial expression the dog makes immediately invokes a smile due to its cuteness. However, upon closer inspection, it's clear how deep and complex its eyes can be and how it uses its eyes to convey emotion and excitement (like for food).
Overall, I've enjoyed getting to know this breed and appreciate its more subtle points much more than when I first met it.
First Neo: Mario
My first dog ever was a Neapolitan Mastiff
, and I've fallen in love with the breed ever since. Though I currently live with an amazing (but high-maintenance) chihuahua
, I wanted to dedicate a quick blog post to the breed that first stole my heart.
My first dog was Mario, a Neapolitan Mastiff we rescued. Since then, my family has rescued two other Neapolitan Mastiffs one after the other. I named Mario after my favorite video game
as a kid and because the breed is Italian. We decided to keep Mario's memory alive through Marcello's name, and similarly through Marceza's name, our family's first female Neo.
As you can see from the photos, Mario and Marceza feature the grey color, whereas Marcello the brown color. Those are the two main colors the breed sports. Also, all three dogs feature fairly full tails and ears. It's a tradition to chop off the tails and ears to conform to the official Italian breed style, but we didn't do this. I find that the ears are one of my favorite parts of the dog. I think the dogs would agree, based on how loudly they snore with pleasure when their ears are massaged.
Second Neo: Marcello
The breed is very old, with its name originating from Naples. The history is very rich, with the dog featured in cavemen drawings and playing important roles in both World Wars.
You can read all about it online
, including finding tons of photos
(I especially love how cute the puppies
are). Though the breed is not that well known or popular, it has quite a devout following of admirers. What I want to focus on in this post is what I
personally love about the breed myself.
Third Neo: Marceza
Here are the top 5 reasons I love Neapolitan Mastiffs:
1. Super smart: They are incredibly smart and can learn almost anything. All of our dogs have been trained, and though they do have strong personalities at times, they will behave and listen to commands. They also pick up on every nonverbal and situational clue around them, such as when you get dressed or are in a bad mood; they will clearly respond intelligently to this, and that fascinates me.
2. Fun: Though they weigh typically 100-200 lbs., they are extremely fun to play with and not aggressive. They can be aggressive against strangers who surround the home without invitation, but for family and friends, they are extremely fun and gentle. They love to chase balls, play tug of war, chew bones, and perform tricks, like giving a high five or standing up and resting their paws on your shoulders.
3. Loyal and protective: They are extremely protective of their family and will be a great deterrent to anyone considering trespassing. From what I've read of their history, they have helped shepherds and farmers protect their livestock and homes for centuries.
4. Ears: As I mentioned before, their ears are amazing. Oh yeah, they also have great sense of hearing (and smell/nose).
5. Flews: I just learned this word, but apparently that's the name for their mouth/snout/muzzle (the flaps of skin hanging over their lower jaw out of which their whiskers grow). The flews are extremely cute and a hallmark of their look, but they are a double-edged sword. This cuteness comes with a clear price. Though the flews can be very cute while flapping in the wind while the dog is running or sticking its head out of the car window, they are like leaky kitchen sinks after the dog takes a drink of water or is sweating/breathing hard. We keep rags all over the house just to wipe the dog's mouth every time it drinks. It's ok: this price is definitely worth the cuteness.
Overall, I really love this breed and hope others can appreciate it too. Though most people's reaction may be one of hesitancy or fear (because of the dog's size or look), a deeper study and any time spent with the breed will immediately convert you to a lover of the Neapolitan Mastiff for life.
A while ago I finished reading The End of Lawyers?
by Richard Susskind
, at the recommendation of a friend.
The author has a lot of experience working with and studying attorneys of all types throughout the world, though most of his own experience is in the UK. From the time he was still a student studying the usage of AI to create legal expert systems to his current posts as advisor about legal technology issues to many prominent groups including the UK government, Susskind has established himself as a proponent of using technology to allow lawyers to be more effective and to bring better access to legal service to the masses.
The key piece of the book title is actually the question mark. Susskind does not use the book to argue why lawyers will disappear. He analyzes the legal profession as being affected by 9 major disruptions in technology or process and predicts what types of legal work will disappear (low-value, repetitive, and suitable for automation and outsourcing) and what types will carry on (high-value and based on individuals' unique experiences).
In the book, Susskind does not actually recommend or suggest that people make any specific change or adopt any specific attitude. The book presents a fairly level-headed analysis but does give the author's opinions and predictions as to what he thinks will win out in the end in terms of the major trends affecting the legal industry.
The 9 disruptive technologies studied in depth in the book are the following:
- automated document assembly
- relentless connectivity
- the electronic marketplace
- online legal guidance
- legal open-sourcing
- closed legal communities
- workflow and project management
- embedded legal knowledge
A common theme in the book is the analysis of a pair of related forces that Susskind argues will fundamentally transform legal service in the coming decade and beyond: a market demand for increasing commoditization of legal
services and the widespread uptake of information technology.
Susskind also presents an interesting "schedule" for the process by which he thinks legal services will evolve through (to various degrees or speeds depending on the service):
Susskind suggests to his clients that there are three basic options open to a law
firm and its practice areas (with respect to these changes and adoption of technology). The first is the option to lead the way: to pioneer and play the role of first mover, enjoying the benefits and potential risks. The second option is to invest enough to be ready to respond in the event that a competitor or a new entrant jumps in more strongly later on. The hope is to avoid being left behind or to become a "fast second." The third option is to resist any move in adopting. This third option, Susskind argues, is "commercial suicide."
Susskind also spends time analyzing who is driving innovation in the major areas of legal technology. Some of this is coming from law firms themselves and some from companies creating internal systems for their own use. He points out several times in his book that there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs outside of the industry to really take on the challenges of innovating across the entire spectrum of legal technology.
It's impossible for me to do justice to the book in one relatively short blog post, so I hope you check it out yourself if you're at all interested. I found it a really interesting and well-written text, suitable for people with any level of expertise in the area.