The Fall Of The Alphas

Fall of alphasI read a book this weekend. It is called The Fall of The Alphas. It was written by my friend and former colleague Dana Ardi. Dana is a corporate anthropologist. She studies what makes management teams work. She has also been a writer, a recruiter, a coach, a VC, and a private equity investor.

There is a change afoot in the global economy that is impacting every institution, every market, and every business. Hierarchies are giving way to networks. At USV we have turned this observation into an investment thesis.

Dana has seen the same change impacting management teams, managers, and the companies themselves. Her book is about this change and in it she explores how the iconic Alpha CEO is giving way to a new kind of leader/manager that she, naturally, calls the Beta CEO.

Unlike many business books, this one is not boring or hard to read. Dana tells stories to make her points. Her language is light and airy but the lessons are clear and actionable.

If you lead a company or a team inside a company, you ought to read this book. It will change how you think about leadership and leadership styles.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Wow, a definite read. It reminded me of a great line in Rand Fishkin’s recent slideshare on lessons learned, while building a team:”Don’t let your role define your influence. Let your influence define your role.”(from Sarah Bird)How did Dana manage to stay under the radar with only 84 Twitter followers so far. I’m sure this will change pretty soon.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think she was a twitter type until she published her book and they told her she had to tweet to get publicity πŸ™‚

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup, I’m sure she will.Nassim Taleb previously erased his original Twitter account, then when Antifragility came out, he’s been tweeting constantly and has now 46K followers.

      2. jason wright

        ah, so it is a sales channel.

    2. awaldstein

      Interesting line…way more aspirational than true of course.I like it but its not really how group dynamics grounds itself.

      1. JamesHRH

        Totally agree. It is really quite naive.The counterpoint is that no one – no one – can be effective when they report to 2 levels of incompetent management. 1, yes; 2, dust off the CV.

        1. awaldstein

          Hierarchy does break into networks but influence and celeb status certainly surface as the behavior on networks as well.One doesn’t negate the other but groups just work that way.

      2. William Mougayar

        But I think that’s the new reality on the ground.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Depends. I don’t think that networks are new. They have always existed. The ID of them, and the deliberateness of going about setting them up has changed because we know they contain value. They can create exponential value if set up… has been studying networks for a long time. His initial research took place inside corporations. That lead to social ecosystems.Networks, once established are extremely hard to break up. To this day, the original human networks that were set up to trade bond contracts at the CBOT are unimpeachable by competing technological networks offered for free. The CBOT got smart and established electronic networks, but their existing human network easily moved to it.Another example is charity. In most US cities, you go to male business leaders to get charitable causes off the ground. In Chicago, you go to the women. Those networks were established by Bertha Palmer in the late 1800’s and they still remain.

          1. William Mougayar

            But now the networks are gradually increasing their presence and penetration of our lives.

          2. pointsnfigures

            they have always been there. But, brokers have been able to constrain supply and demand and create value for themselves off of them. It’s becoming tougher for them-and they have to add real value now.

        2. awaldstein

          Sorry my friend…can’t agree.The idea that authority and leadership is earned is a good one. I’m a believer.A wonder when it is true, and yes, the world provides more opportunity for that to happen today than prior. Without a doubt.But to state that the norm is that authority is earned is like saying that earned media is the only kind there is.The stuff of Hallmark honestly.

  2. JamesHRH

    This is absolutely a spot on trend.My question is whether people actually prefer being led by Alphas or Betas or if there are cultural, demographic or other axes that would work as a break out divider. Vladimir Putin and the Russian psyche come to mind.The issue with influence – for me – is that it is not always capability based. Lots of unethical people have influence – but, I guess, a lot of unethical people have command & control.

    1. Brandon Burns

      “My question is whether people actually prefer being led by Alphas or Betas.”That’s a very good question.Startup culture tends to put certain qualities on a pedestal, and not give validity to others. One being the “entrepreneurial” employee who doesn’t like authority, but will do wonders for your business if left to do so.What about that brilliant employee who has no interest in steering the company, but wants to simply contribute a marvelous piece to it? Is that non-entrepreneurial person who responds well to authority and needs extra guidance all of the sudden worthless?Some people will always prefer, and perform better under “alpha” managers. And others with “beta” managers. That doesn’t make one better than the other.

    2. Branden

      good question james. as someone trying to build a team in russian speaking ukraine…i’m discovering that leading with an iron fist often garners more respect (to your point on psyche).perhaps alpha dominance provides a certain assurance that we humans need?philosopher alain de botton points out that, for the first time ever, we’re faced with the responsibility of finding our own place in the world. such “decisions” are new to us as a species and a point of massive anxiety in modern life.those decisions were previously decided for us either by our faith, in the form of a religious figurehead (alpha), or by our bloodline (caste system). Alphas.some will argue that this prescribed structure is something that we humans need or sub-consciously desire. “everything will be ok, just follow me!”

      1. JamesHRH

        Maselow’s Hierarchy of needs: Survive, Belong, Be.Some people do not have the tools to rock the top tier. I believe. They do not want to expose them selves to the risk of decision making.The safest place in the herd is the middle, after all.

  3. John Revay

    “corporate anthropologist”Did not know that there were such a thing.Minor typo above – Corporate

    1. fredwilson

      thanks. typo fixed. i love community based copy editing

      1. pointsnfigures

        Steelcase/Turnstone employ about 15-20 of them to study how we work.

        1. Anne Libby

          The USMC also has this role.

          1. pointsnfigures

            That’s because the USMC is a bunch of knuckle draggers compared to other civilized branches of military service. (I am just making a joke here)

          2. Anne Libby


        2. ShanaC

          Google hires a number of people in the field to to figure out how to manage performance.

  4. jason wright

    is this new, or is this just coming around again in what seems to be a ‘new’ guise?

    1. JamesHRH

      Jeepers. good question.I almost knocked off a quick answer that it is new, but maybe it is not.It is, absolutely, the highest form of leadership. Great leaders have always had great ‘buy-in’ & great influence outside of their direct line of responsibility.

    2. Cam MacRae

      I haven’t read it the book, but from the blurb it certainly sounds a lot like the heterarchy and responsible autonomy models posited by Gerard Fairtlough in his Triarchy Theory.

      1. jason wright

        never heard of him.the models sound like the sort of thing, but a bit ‘lofty’. he needs to parachute out of his academic tower before it crumbles.

        1. Cam MacRae

          ha. he was chief executive of shell chemicals. no parachuting to be done regrettably as he fell off his perch some years ago.

          1. jason wright

            ah, a fossil in the making. poetic.

  5. Carl Rahn Griffith

    We are Sigma.

  6. SallyBroom

    We’ve been debating this a lot recently so really looking forward to reading Dana’s book, thanks for the recommendation

  7. Brandon Burns

    This is merely a surface level trend. The underpinnings of leadership haven’t changed one bit.The Amazon description of the book says that now, “savvy managers learn to lead through influence and collaboration rather than authority and competition.”I will not debate the benefits of influencing action through collaboration (which I happen to believe in), but I also won’t throw authority and competition out with the bath water. Since when are these bad things? How can you push an off-track project on track without the authority to make everyone move in a new direction? How do you construct compensation scales without some sort of rating system, which is by default competitive?A leader can and should lead through “influence and collaboration” but that leader still has authority and still works in a competitive environment, as least if s/he is going to be successful. Because, in the end, a leader has to **lead** others, which by default means you have authority over those others; and should the others want the authority, they’ll need to compete for it.The rest is just smoke blown up assess. Its startup jerk off b.s., proclaiming a “new” culture that’s so much better than the old. It’s part recruiting tool, part masturbatory self-praising. In the end, leading is leading. There may be more in vouge ways of executing it β€” and I’m sure this book has some great stories that will help people understand how to do that β€” but the nuts and bolts of leadership are the same. Authority and competition have gone nowhere, nor should they.

    1. JLM

      .Nice to see you come out of your shell, Brandon.I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.JLM.

      1. Brandon Burns

        I’m allergic to these kinds of false prophesies. Just because Jack Dorsey has a desk next to yours and treats you like a buddy in meetings doesn’t mean he lacks the authority to do what he wants with you in his company. Hell, Marissa Mayer is known for practically being a dictator; people have quit her teams at both Google and Yahoo left and right because of how strict she is β€” but many, many more have stayed and excelled because of it. Let’s not fool ourselves, here.That said, I’m still probably going to buy and read this book to take in the real-life examples and stories. I’m sure there is still much to learn from it… if read through the right filter.

        1. jason wright

          which tells us that there are different kinds of pawn in the game.

          1. Cam MacRae

            there are 8 in chess, historically speaking. a whole village square of the buggers.

        2. JLM

          .Tell me whether Jack is your “buddy” when you see the equity split.I will wash your car if I can get all the equity.JLM.

          1. LE

            when you see the equity split.Being raised by someone who was in a concentration camp (and never told me a single story about it nor did I ask) I have learned much about human nature by observing that person and his group of friends and how they relate to the world. Needless to say when push comes to shove people always do what is in their best interest, at least 99% of the time. Same in business. Or in dating or relationships. (Although I wouldn’t say dating is anywhere near 99% as many people stay in a bad relationship because the barrier to leaving is so difficult).I remember when I first went into business a salesman told me about an established competitor. And his words were “Lenny – he’ll cut your balls off”. (Was said in admiration.)

        3. Dave W Baldwin

          Or is it shades of gray? If you have bigger firm with middle management, you end up with folks twisting reality to protect their jobs. This is where the firm alpha vs. beta from top down would be tricky.

          1. Brandon Burns

            In the end, everything is in shades of Grey, no?But in response to the reality twisting, in my experience, the smaller the team, the more destructive the twisting of reality when it happens β€” because you have fewer places to hide, and fewer tools to dig yourself out of holes.Small teams is also where I’ve seen the lack of leadership be the most destructive. Because you depend on everyone so much more, when they’re not working to all move in the same direction, you feel it more.I’d bet that the Lean Methodology is wrong β€” most startups don’t fail because they’re building something people don’t want, they fail because they can’t figure out how to operate, and have a leader help pinpoint what it is the one thing that their customers want, and make everyone march to that beat.

          2. Dave W Baldwin

            Agreed and that is then true definition of leader, take responsibility, show path and not be afraid to take advice if something can be done better and get it done.

        4. JamesHRH

          Jack is a bad example – from what has been excerpted, he appears to play the ‘influence’ card pretty well, from a political angle, anyhow.

        5. LE

          this book to take in the real-life examples and stories.As entertainment, sure.But keep in mind that any story (of the past) can be spun any number of ways depending on what the person telling the story (or writing the story) is trying to achieve. In that sense it could be dangerous to draw clear conclusions from the stories related in the book.

          1. PhilipSugar

            Remember time smooths all memories. When you tell somebody a bad story you can almost see them recoil in shock. Nobody likes hearing I fucked that up lost all my money and my investors money and screwed that company right into the ground. Especially when there are no happy endings.

          2. LE

            Nobody likes hearing I fucked that up lost all my money and my investors money and screwed that company right into the ground.(Well not said that way for sure!)And maybe in Pa/NJ/DE/MD you wouldn’t want to blast that (worded better of course) anymore than you would brag that you got failing grades in school.But in certain parts of CA/NY it’s doesn’t appear to be a big deal, right? Or perhaps with any venture gamble investing.See that’s the difference.Just like the casino doesn’t make you feel bad about losing all your money there because they want you to come back and keep gambling.Except that in startup land the gamble (on the part of the individual) is not money but time. So the investor is eager to encourage the entrepreneur to gamble more of their time in order for another idea that might work. If they didn’t do that I would guess there would be less people that would take the chance.Not only that but you can be Andrew Mason of Groupon with stock that lost between 60 and 80% of value, get fired, and be able to not only start a new company but become a quasi partner at YC.

      2. JimHirshfield

        “Nice to see you come out of your shell, Brandon.”Well played @JLM:disqus , well played.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      > masturbatory self-praising.Now, now, now, so cruel, how can yoube so cruel?Instead, how about, maybe, “intellectualself-abuse”?

      1. Brandon Burns

        But “masturbatory self-praising” has so much fire and brimstone flair!My commenting here is as much about sharing opinions with the community as it is about figuring out provocative ways to say things that get attention. Fire and brimstone, rightly or wrongly, often times does the trick.But I’m a fan of “intellectual self-abuse” for sure. It’s very subtly unsubtle. I’m going to adopt that term and use it.

        1. LE

          as it is about figuring out provocative ways to say things that get attentionJust would like to point out that when you go about manipulating the press (in the future) it’s not a good idea to tell them what your game is. It’s ok if they suspect it and it’s ok when they figure it out but you don’t want to tell them upfront what you are trying to achieve. Some of them will feel like schmucks and give you less publicity and attention.

          1. Brandon Burns

            point well taken.though i think many people use AVC to guinea pig the reception of thoughts and ideas. i don’t think i’m in the minority, here. my game’s not all that unique. :-)but maybe i’m just blowing my cover again like you said πŸ™‚

          2. LE

            Well the thing is (and your point is taken) when a comedian plays small clubs they see the reaction of the crowd. So that is why they try the jokes at small clubs first. I think.On AVC there isn’t as much of a feedback loop. You can say shit and get little reaction many times.One of the good (and the bad) things about HN is that there is a feedback loop.You can totally (specific to the topic you are discussing) get enough feedback on what and how you write to learn from that feedback.AVC of course is a great canary in the coal mine for Fred obviously because people always feast and go to town on what he says.

    3. ShanaC

      this is true of most business books – very few are great

    4. JamesHRH

      Brandon – I generally support your point of view, but sometimes you cannot fight the tape, as they used to say on Wall Street.The Echo Generation TOTALLY subscribe to this ‘new’ philosophy, to the point that they are anti-hierarchy & authority. If you don’t give them what they want, they leave. They have learned from their parents that this is the one leverage point they have (the larger the organization, the more the organization needs to develop and train quality people).This is where you get the ‘I am only 28 but I do not see why the CEO does not want to near my PoV’ attitude. It almost of if they are, as a generation, throwing sand into the gears of large organizations, refusing to commit to anything other than their own self importance.As a Baby Buster, part of me is envious of their moxie. But, to be honest, most of me thinks they are……(deleted by an internal editor πŸ˜‰

      1. Brandon Burns

        I think there are shades of grey here.There are entrepreneurial types that needs to feel no restrictions at all, there are creative thinker who wants to know the borders of the sandbox but be allowed to go crazy within it, and the executer who wants a clear set of orders.I think the current generation entering the workforce is the first one to pump out large numbers of people who fit into the first bucket, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t folks in the other buckets. In the end, there are choices for leaders, and they need to hire the kinds of folks that work well for them.It’s a struggle for me, personally. I have several people working for me now in various part time capacities, and I’ve been considering fulltimers and a potential co-founder. To fill those roles, I am drawn to people in bucket #2 β€” I have a pretty clear vision, and I’d rather not debate it every two seconds with a bunch of people who all want their hands on the steering wheel. And I assure you, people in bucket #2 exist. In fact, they majority of people I know are in that bucket (and under the age of 30) I can’t even tell you how many amazing smart and accomplished people I’ve connected with over the years who would be absolutely perfect folks for my company β€” but they have no interest in joining at this stage because they don’t want the chaos of a startup; they, instead, want stability (both financially and tactically) and would love to join and do what they do best… once whatever that is becomes clearly defined. They are in no way looking to be entrepreneurial. They want to get paid for their expertise and go home, stress free. And, really, I like those kinds of people. But that’s just me.In the end, there are options for the kinds of people you can hire and build a team with.

      2. LE

        This is where you get the ‘I am only 28 but I do not see why the CEO does not want to near my PoV’ attitude. It almost of if they are, as a generation, throwing sand into the gears of large organizations, refusing to commit to anything other than their own self importance.Easy for someone to be “Mr Big Balls” if the can go home and live with mommy and daddy if they leave their job.It all depends on what the downside risk is to taking that action. Even if no parents if you don’t mind living on the street you can say fu to any job and crash at your friends house I guess.My guess is that for people who were raised in comfort it might be a bit easier to slum it for some time anyway.[1][1] Like if I have the A/C set to 68 on a day when it’s 99 degrees out and I go outside it’s like “oh it feels ok out here” (but it’s not like I’m spending a ton of time in the hot weather it’s only temporary).

      3. PhilipSugar

        With unemployment where it is the Echo generation is learning what an echo is, it is the sound of your unemployed ass getting yelled at by your Mom down the basement stairs.

    5. LE

      The rest is just smoke blown up assess. Its startup jerk off b.s., proclaiming a “new” culture that’s so much better than the old. It’s part recruiting tool, part masturbatory self-praising. In the end, leading is leading. There may be more in vouge ways of executing it β€” and I’m sure this book has some great stories that will help people understand how to do that β€” but the nuts and bolts of leadership are the same. Authority and competition have gone nowhere, nor should they.Agree in part denied in part! (With much praise for the way you wrote this I can’t stress that enough).So here’s the story.Anytime you have a group of people that have no history in something and anytime you take something new and unzip their heads and drop it in they don’t really see how that fits into the big picture and how unimportant it is.Then that reality that you dropped in becomes real to them and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Because the newbies are not jaded. And they are all like “ok so this is the way it’s done”.I could come up with many examples. But since you are into graphics somewhat I will give you this one from back when the Mac and Macpaint and Pagemaker 1.0 came out.What ended up happening was you had all these typography and graphic things that the new guys did with their new tools that the old timers would never do. Then that mode of graphic presentation (mixing weird fonts together (remember “ThirtySomething”? placing bold lines and boxes here and there)) became commonplace. Wish I had a better way of saying this but I’ve seen this happen anytime something new comes along and a group of newbies takes it as their own and runs with it. And the old timers fall by the way side.

      1. Brandon Burns

        Totally true.I’ve had many people approach me about joining Wander & Trade (thanks for the nudge on the name change, btw). They usually, sooner rather than later, try to show how smart they are by suggesting an idea for the business. The most popular is collecting products while traveling, and selling them as some sort of curated gift box, possibly via a monthly subscription. I look at how people respond to my response to this very closely.I usually tell them its a great idea (even though I’ve heard it dozens of times) and talk about its merits (because I really do think its a great idea)… but that, unfortunately, we’re not going to do it anytime soon because we’re a marketplace, not a retail operation. What they’re suggesting would involve buying, storing and shipping our own inventory β€” not only are we not physically set up to do that, it’s against our business model.Most people go on and on about how I’d be missing a great idea with that point of view, and say that we should start implementing the subscription boxes as soon as possible. They insist. They put up a fight. I ask them to tell me how to do it under a marketplace model and, since its probably impossible, they just protest.These people are basically telling me that they’re not folks I want to work with. They’re trying to ***fundamentally*** change my business model!!! And they won’t listen to the clear, sound reasons why I’m not jumping up and down to implement their idea. And then they get demotivated, because their precious idea (that everyone else had, mind you) was killed. I don’t have time for that kind of bullshit. I don’t care how smart you are. And I don’t care how many startups foster this kind of behavior. Keep it out of my house.Note: I still leave the door open for “influence and collaboration.” I say, “It doesn’t work because of this, but here’s a chance to retool it if you can make it align with the vision.” But I still have the authority to say, “Oh? You didn’t make it work? Forget about it and move on.” Either you’re down with me calling the shots and we may have a future together, or you’re not and you can peace out.

        1. LE

          I’ve had many people approach me about joining Wander & Trade (thanks for the nudge on the name change, btw).Here are some additional strong suggestions. If you are using Wander & Trade as your domain you also need (at the very least)…less important but still a good idea:tradewander.comPersonally I think “Wonder & Trade” might be better simply because of the drawbacks of saying “wander” even though it relates more to what you are doing. In any case as a typo you definitely need it.Also, someone has both and looks like it could be bought even though it is a site ( is parked).

          1. Brandon Burns

            All have been added to my domain list on Shopify (they seamlessly purchase and integrate the domains with your store… so nice) looks interesting. The girl running it clearly has a similar vision, but also clearly is far off from being about to execute it.

        2. LE

          What they’re suggesting would involve buying, storing and shipping our own inventoryWhen you are ready you can test that with fulfilled by Amazon. [1]By the way all of what you are saying is correct. The only caveat I would have is to recognize that even if something doesn’t fit with your business model or thesis don’t have blinders on to a good idea that changes your business model either that someone else comes up with.[1] Not trying to be “one of those people” but I wonder if you could effectively use Amazon to stock the goods (for a small charge that the maker of goods pays for) and not carry any expense by having the producers make and consignment the goods which Amazon would fulfill. So you operate the website and platform but the guy who makes the cute thing ships it to Amazon to fullfill and covers Amazon’s small cost. You just are the conduit. After all bookstores and many other merchants (done with Jewelry) stock their retail locations with consignment goods.

          1. Brandon Burns

            Your take on the idea is the closet I’ve heard to executing it without needing Wander & Trade to get to knee deep into retail mechanics. I’m more than open to that.And that sums it all up right there for me. When a leader puts says, “we can only do things if they meet these requirements,” it forces people to meet those requirements. As was just done here.A strong “alpha’ vision using “beta” tactics to leave the door open for new things sounds like a winning combo to me.

          2. LE

            “it forces people to meet those requirements.”The key is listening to your “objection”. Which any good salesman should do. And we are all selling one way or another. The people offering you ideas don’t want to put in the effort to understand what you are saying.You said:What they’re suggesting would involve buying, storing and shipping our own inventory β€” not only are we not physically set up to do that, it’s against our business model.So what I addressed was what appeared to be your main objection. “buying, storing, shipping”.That’s one of the reasons that (conversely) when I am trying to get rid or a salesman (that is trying to hard to sell me something) I simply think up some objection that he can’t find a solution for.

    6. PhilipSugar

      This has been around before most people here were born:…Bill Gore called it the Lattice System of management in 1967 and wrote about it. What did JLM say about sex?Brandon, I liked your comments and agree I will read the book.Just like reading sales books you can pick out some good points and call bullshit on the rest.I agree completely that just because I sit next to you and just because I try to give you enough leeway to take the initiative and do things your way, and listen to your input, and really take all of that into account…….When it comes to making payroll, raising payroll, who gets paid what, and removing the few poor players that are not in the right spot, you are correct….saying everybody is bullshit.Because the bottom line is sometimes there are hard decisions that have to get made, and when you have to make one of those and you have been espousing that would never happen….people feel totally betrayed.

      1. JLM

        .Listen carefully because this is what the voice of experience and wisdom sounds like.Well played, Phil. Well played.JLM.

  8. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    “The coming of the Betas”would have been more positive title …IMHO.

    1. Richard

      The publisher writes the title. Lost of data on what makes a book sell.

      1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

        Yep. and same goes with the picture….be noble or be notorious….both sells.

  9. JLM

    .Old wine, new bottles. Screw top v cork?Nonetheless, still worth it for no other reason that it gets one thinking.This reads a bit like “hey, I just discovered sex” kind of gee whiz I’m a corporate anthropologist new age nonsense. Did not mean to be quite that rude. Sorry.Let’s remember first that 75% of all startups fail, so let’s be careful about embracing the leadership and management techniques of enterprises which typically fail.Having been a CEO and founder for over 33 years and still not absolutely sure I ever really knew what I was doing, I can tell you that people like a strong vision.You can debate how it is communicated but the first thing people want to know is — who’s in charge and WTF are we doing here?If you have the vision and leadership components down tight, then folks want to know the Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, etc and when it “takes” a certain Culture rises from the primordial swamp. Now you’ve wandered into management.You don’t ever compromise on Vision and Values — you can collaborate on the balance of things.There is no argument that the Internet provides for superior collaboration and communication and that leaders and managers can use it to ensure that the plan is better communicated than ever before. This is a phenomenon of better tools not better ideas. The same amount of effort casts a much larger ripple on the pond than ever before. This is a change.Witness our collective collaboration right here on An awesome community woven together with digital thread. No question that the “network” is here to stay. Companies don’t have just clients, they have communities with current clients and future clients and lurkers all present.Flat organizations with powerful collaboration have existed for years. Witness a Special Forces A Team in which the titular leaders (Capt and Lt) are the least knowledgeable members of the Team — though nominally in charge — and everyone can do at least two other members’ jobs. Everyone possesses the same information and when the shit hits the fan the succession is as smooth as silk.This is important as the military is widely identified as a strict hierarchy but in this example is really not. Hell, they’re “special”.If you have ever seen an A Team operate, it is a thing of beauty. No raised voices, no drama — run by hand signals and battle drill.I applaud anything that gets folks thinking about these kind of issues because companies are like organisms developing different capabilities and strengths. The discussion is more important than the conclusions but this generation did not invent sex or business.JLM.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Conversely, there is a time for a centralized cult like approach to management. (Apple is a cult) You just have to fit management culture to the business. Mrs. Fields cookies is highly centralized. But, that mgmt culture fits their business model. Certain companies highly centralize some processes, and decentralize others by building a culture that rewards out of the box thinking and accountability. Ritz-Carlton is an example of that.

      1. JLM

        .Horses for courses.As soon as one figures out how to do something they discover that the exact polar opposite also works sometimes.Horses for courses.JLM.

    2. Anne Libby

      We only have to read Shakespeare to know how much human nature has not changed.

      1. JLM

        .Shakespeare and the Bible pretty much cover it all. Drucker is icing.JLM.

        1. fredwilson

          Adding Sun Tzu and Machiavelli to your list

          1. JLM

            .Be an entertaining dinner party, no?Jesus, Shakespeare, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Churchill?You, me.Love to see the fight for the check.JLM.

          2. fredwilson

            We could throw in your man DDE so we could have an even eight

          3. JLM


          4. JamesHRH

            Holy cow, I would pay to watch a live stream of that.

          5. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

            Now you have to choose your pawns πŸ™‚ and the opponent team….

          6. JGallardo

            Well at least you could all order water and have it turned to wine for no extra charge

          7. JLM

            .I would ask Arnold — @awaldstein:disqus — to specify a suitable vintage.Hey, Jesus, if it’s not too much trouble how about a nice, mischievous pinot, no? Arnold will know what to ask for.Haha.JLM.

          8. panterosa,

            Art of War translation by R L Wing is on my desert island list. His I Ching great too.

          9. Anne Libby

            Bhagavad Gita, too.

          10. ShanaC

            Also aristotle’s politics and plato’s the republic.we should have a classics for business book club.

          11. Anne Libby

            Aww, who would downvote this one?

          12. ShanaC

            beats me. Probably someone who never read Politics?

          13. Donna Brewington White

            or someone that was trying to scroll on their mobile and accidentally swiped it — have had to undo an accidental downvote many times

          14. JamesHRH

            Trout & Ries?

        2. ShanaC

          I really wish more people were like my former professor in college – very few can teach about the literary human beauty of the bible from a pure humanist perspective.And we need more than that

      2. sigmaalgebra

        Maybe Fred should have a post on this, butwhat did you get from Shakespeare on humannature?King Lear? He was naive about how to workwith his daughters?More generally, duplicity, self-deception.More?Likely I had some Shakespeare eachyear from the ninth grade through thefirst two years of college, but I didn’t get much from Shakespeare. If youdid, let me know!

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Maybe that or Cliff Notes!

        1. LE

          Fascinating!Totally what I would have expected since you tend to be very binary and exact and this type of shit is totally analog and fuzzy, touchy feely.So more or less proving my point (that I was making somewhere) that if you get it you don’t need to read it (not that it wouldn’t be fun or confirm your thoughts) and if you don’t get it you aren’t going to get much by reading it.Everyone’s brain is wired differently. And everyone appreciates different things.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Here ideas and information should be the subject,not details about individual people. If a personcan get some stuff done, terrific, with it lessrelevant just how they did it and less relevant whatelse they can or can’t do. But, yes, I raised thepoint about me and Shakespeare.I was not lacking talent or interest in thehumanities. E.g., I ‘got it’ in classical music onmy own. That I concentrated on math and physicsdidn’t mean that I couldn’t understand people.On people, I found E. Fromm, D. Tannen, fast, fun,and easy reading, and informative.On Shakespeare, I was stuck by four things: First,the old version of the ‘poetic’ English language wasdifficult to parse. Second, with the illusions andmetaphors, it was difficult to be sure what wasmeant. Third, in live performances the actorscommonly were so wound up and dramatic that I couldnot understand the actual words. To have liked alive performance I would have had to have studied inadvance; it worked for me in operas in Italian andGerman. Fourth, in school, in math and physics Icould be sure I was correct and sure that then theteachers would give me an A no matter how much theyhated doing so, but in the ambiguous humanities theteachers could nail me to the wall and sometimesdid. So, basically in Shakespeare where I could notbe sure of an A or be sure I could defend my selffrom the teachers nailing me to the wall, Ibasically just gave up.In strong contrast, in plane geometry, a subject Iloved, the teacher was the most offensive human I’veever known, and once with great pleasure I nailedher to the wall in front of the whole class. Gee,how’d I know she didn’t know how to do that problem?I’d given her about 20 minutes. When I started tohelp by showing her how to do it, she didn’t want myanswer and shouted “You knew how to do it all thetime!”. Of course I did; I’d been doing everynon-trivial problem in the book and certainly wouldnot ask for help.But, gee, math can be useful in the ‘humanities’!One day in trig class I beat the “most intellectual”guy in the grade. Then between classes, a very nicegirl my age, I liked but had not shared even oneword with for three years, when we talked at herparty where she wore a sheer, pastel, floral printdress all tied up with satin ribbons (gorgeous),came up to me in the hall, stood close, looked up (Iwas about 6′ 3” and she was a doll), and said, “Iheard what you did in trig class.”. Yup, ‘appliedmath’! Maybe that meant that she wanted me tofather her kids? Maybe Mother Nature did! Hey,guys; sometimes the chicks want you to show your’muscle’ in trig class! Who would’a thought!Now successful nerds can impress chicks!

          2. LE

            On Shakespeare, I was stuck by four things: First,the old version of the ‘poetic’ English language was difficult to parse. Second, with the illusions and metaphors, it was difficult to be sure what was meant. Third, in live performances the actors commonly were so wound up and dramatic that I could not understand the actual words. To have liked a live performance I would have had to have studied in advance; it worked for me in operas in Italian and German. Fourth, in school, in math and physics I could be sure I wa correct and sure that then the teachers would give me an A no matter how much they hated doing so, but in the ambiguous humanities the teachers could nail me to the wall and sometimes did. So, basically in Shakespeare where I could not be sure of an A or be sure I could defend my self from the teachers nailing me to the wall, I basically just gave up.This is why a good attorney spends so much time on jury selection. Or why a salesman needs to know who they are selling to and how they think. So he can tailor his pitch.An argument that would work with me “illusions andmetaphors” would not work with you.Likewise I usually don’t like things that are presented in rapid fashion as facts and figures something you no doubt could easily digest and process.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            > An argument that would work with me “illusions andmetaphors” would not work with you.Such an argument can work if (1) it is somewhatclear just what is being claimed and (2) theallusions and/or metaphors are quite clear and dosupport the claim. With the lack of precision, inEnglish class, I was afraid of the teachers tellingme I was wrong. Eventually I concluded thatShakespeare was only good for, and only intendedfor, light entertainment, and for that I would beless critical. Then I upchucked at “Shakespeare isgreat. He is the greatest writer ever of theEnglish language. Shakespeare is the greatest.””Gee, teacher, can I now remove my nose from thefloor and ask a question? Just what is it aboutShakespeare that is even good at all? E.g., is heup to, say, the comic book level? I’m not joking.I’m lacking evidence. I want evidence. Can I havea clear answer?” No, I can’t have a clear answer.Six years with a lot of Shakespeare each year, andstill no clear answer. And in those six years, onlytwo years of physics. Bummer. For Englishliterature teachers, maybe I can make “A ModestProposal”! Bring out the KC Masterpiece!”Uh, teacher, for understanding people, I thoughtthat Fromm and Tannen were good. E.g.. Frommexplained his version of ‘the fundamental problem oflife’ and four approaches to solving it, one ofwhich was love of spouse and a lot on how thatworks, and Tannen explained why girls gossip. HenryJames (my wife read ‘The Golden Bowl’ quickly, forfun; I could barely parse the sentences) was toughto take, but maybe his brother William Jamescontributed to understanding people. Apparently inplaces the Bible does. In Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’, thewitch is nasty; Elsa is sweet but gullible; and poorLohengrin failed to understand Elsa very well andasked too much of her and told her too little; thelessons about the witch, Elsa, and Lohengrin aresomewhat ‘universal'”.Okay, in Shakespeare King Lear was naive. Got somemore? Got some real insight, comparable with Fromm,say, really explaining Katherine in ‘The Taming ofthe shrew’?Got any analysis with some predictive value? E.g.,from Fromm see a couple where (1) they don’t telleach other what’s between their ears, (2) don’tdeeply care about each other, e.g., how safe orhealthy they are, (3) don’t respect each other,e.g., maybe she had contempt for him, (4) don’trespond to each other, e.g., maybe she asks himsomething but he mostly ignores her, then ‘short’the marriage. It’s right there in Fromm.And this observation is not “binary” andmathematical but ambiguous and humanistic.”Uh, teacher, I did think that there was a greatwriter in England in the 1600s — Newton. Why?With two prisms, showed that the individual colorsof light could not be further subdivided and thus insome sense were ‘elemental’. Invented the calculus.Invented the second law of motion and the law ofgravity. Used the calculus and his two laws toexplain planetary motion, e.g., Kepler’s laws.Supposedly made contributions to accurate timekeeping at sea and, thus, the solution to the’longitude’ problem. Now, just what did your buddyShakespeare do?”> Likewise I usually don’t like things that arepresented in rapid fashion as facts and figuressomething you no doubt could easily digest andprocess.No. Before the facts and figures, or at least alongwith them, should be clear about just what the heckthe claim, the point, is. Then show how the factsand figures support the point.E.g., it’s standard in graphs in the mass media,when they do use graphs, just to put the graph upwithout being clear what the claim is or how thegraph supports it. In addition the media flatlydoes not know how to draw a graph, e.g., they failon good annotation on the axes. The media regardsgraphs as just artistic decorations.Yes, maybe with Cliff Notes I could find some goodinsight in Shakespeare. But, mostly I can’t parseShakespeare’s English. I mean this quite literally:I not only can’t get the ‘deep, subtle, profound’stuff, assuming that there is any; I can’t evenunderstand the simple stuff. For me most ofShakespeare might as well have been written inRussian, and there I don’t even know the alphabet.Literally.In school I was expected to take a foreign language;in high school I tried French the teacher’s way,writing, then reading, then, maybe, speaking, and itjust didn’t stick; in college I tried German and theteacher was the best teacher of anything I ever had,speaking first, reading second and writing maybethird, and it did stick, so well that in half timein one semester he taught me enough German to getthrough two years of college German, read somedifferential geometry in some stilted, pretentious,old academic German a German math exchange studentsaid was hard reading for him (the math was easy;the German was grim), have an accent good enough tofool some native Germans, and easily pass theforeign language requirement for my Ph.D. I couldread some Goethe in German; the libretto to’Lohengrin’ is not too difficult (e.g., “In fernemLand”), but I couldn’t read Shakespeare.E.g., in modern terms, Shakespeare would get a gradeof flat F in eighth grade English grammar andspelling. I know the English language quite well,thank you; I don’t know what language Shakespearewas writing in, but it wasn’t the English I know.Again I don’t know much German but Goethe, Wagner,and Mozart (e.g,, ‘Die ZauberflΓΆte’) in German areeasier for me to read than Shakespeare in English.By the way, I really don’t much like the Germanlanguage; it is short on subtlety. E.g., its mainmeans of making new words is to string together alot of old words; English, however, gets new wordsby borrowing from other languages, French, Italian,Spanish, German, etc. This makes English a pain tospell and learn, but there is a lot of subtlety.My ‘insight’ into Shakespeare is that pretending tolike it was, in old England, like knowing someEnglish history, a means of security and power from”membership in a group” (Fromm), that is, theEnglish upper classes. Then Shakespeare was taughtin the US public schools as a way to let the commonman in the street break down the walls of thosegroups. Similarly for knowing Latin. Maybesimilarly for knowing plane geometry.

          4. Farhan Abbasi

            Hell yes on the last paragraph

      3. LE

        If you spend enough time around people you can understand and know the lessons of Shakespeare without ever even reading Shakespeare.Because of essentially what you are saying.What Shakespeare did was observe people the same as you and I do over time every day. All Shakespeare did was pay attention the same as everyone can and should do everyday and draw conclusions from those observations about human nature. (Similar to Freud same deal).One of the most popular books is Dale Carnegies “how to win friends etc.”. All based on observations Carnegie had from his own interactions with people.Carnegie could write this book because he actually did shit and paid attention to how people reacted and then drew his conclusions. Anyone who is in sales (or deals with people) and pays attention doesn’t need to read Carnegie to learn these principles. And if they interact with people and don’t learn these principles they are probably not going to have an easy time even after reading them.His first job after college was selling correspondence courses to ranchers. He moved on to selling bacon, soap, and lard for Armour & Company. He was successful to the point of making his sales territory of South Omaha, Nebraska, the national leader for the firm

        1. Anne Libby


      4. matthughes

        Or the Old Testament.

        1. JGallardo

          The Book of Proverbs is a gold mine

      5. Donna Brewington White

        But context makes a huge difference. There is a reason that we have to not only translate the language but also exegete the cultural norms and the situations to get at the heart of the story.BTW, I would be interested in what you think of Dana’s book if you read it. I always appreciate your insights into leadership, management and the interworkings of people working together.

        1. Anne Libby

          Thanks for your kind words, Donna.My point — and also @sigmaalgebra:disqus’s question elsewhere in comments — we’re human. Context changes. Our basic wiring hasn’t.We love, we want to take care of our families, people misunderstand one another, we tend to seek some kind of security, there’s always some guy who wants to manipulate the situation, and there’s another who wants to do the right thing…(To @JLM:disqus and @matt_hughes:disqus, yes on the OT, too.)

      6. laurie kalmanson

        edith wharton, virginia woolf

        1. Anne Libby

          Joss Whedon.

          1. laurie kalmanson

            collected astro boy dvds

          2. Anne Libby

            That sounds like something I should binge watch.We’ve been telling the same stories since we started painting on cave walls…

          3. laurie kalmanson

            oh yes, yes, yesi was explaining it to a friend the other day — good triumphs over evil, kindness wins the day; never mistake gentleness for weakness. also, robots.

    3. Brandon Burns

      “Let’s remember first that 75% of all startups fail, so let’s be careful about embracing the leadership and management techniques of enterprises which typically fail.”#truth

    4. sigmaalgebra

      > Having been a CEO and founder for over 33 yearsand still not absolutely sure I ever really knewwhat I was doing, I can tell you that people like astrong vision.> You can debate how it is communicated but thefirst thing people want to know is — who’s incharge and WTF are we doing here?> If you have the vision and leadership componentsdown tight, then folks want to know the Mission,Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, etc and whenit “takes” a certain Culture rises from theprimordial swamp. Now you’ve wandered intomanagement.So, when apply such leadership, how the heck to knowthat there was the intended effect or any effect?And when suspect little or no effect, what the heckto do about it?E.g., one can guess that some of the peoplereceiving the leadership, for various reasons, willfind following that leadership from difficult downto impossible. My guess is that in the generalpopulation, the fraction of such people issurprisingly high, maybe 25+%. How to detect andhandle such people?

      1. JLM

        .One of the most important things I have ever learned to do is what I call the “brief back”.After I discuss something I ask people — OK, what did you hear me say?I cannot tell you the number of times they have gotten it wrong. Sometimes huge wrong.If they get it wrong — that’s on me and how can I hold them accountable when they never got it in the first place?This comes right from Ranger School in which a patrol leader — ambush, raid, recon — briefs his patrol and then quizzes each man on what they heard.Communication is not tested by what I said but rather by what you heard.I am never afraid to ask folks what they heard but also do they agree. I like to hear whether they agree and I am not afraid of an anonymous company survey to smoke it out. I have always had a revelation from such an exercise.If you honestly want to be the best you can be then you have to dine out on feedback. Feedback the breakfast of champions.”Honey, does this dress make my ass look big?””Like the freakin’ Queen Mary, baby.”JLM.

        1. Pete Griffiths

          ‘brief back’I like it.

        2. LE

          “Honey, does this dress make my ass look big?”Case 1: Doesn’t ask if ass looks big. Great, don’t say anything. Go out and have a good time.Case 2: Asks if ass looks big, listens to answer, thanks, and takes action. Good. Makes change go out and have a good time.Case 3: Asks if ass looks big then gets mad at the answer. Shit. There goes the evening.Case 4: Asks if ass looks big, doesn’t hear an answer, then gets mad as well (infers a negative from the person trying to avoid conflict.) Same as 3.I feel for anyone who regularly deals with 3 & 4.

        3. JamesHRH

          I picked up this trick from someone who said, religiously, ‘play that back for me’.What I said.What you heard.What I meant.

          1. JLM

            .Yep.Well played.JLM.

          2. panterosa,

            +10 Keeper. Tweeting.

        4. sigmaalgebra

          > One of the most important things I have everlearned to do is what I call the “brief back”.Likely inThomas Gordon, ‘Parent Effectiveness Training: TheTested New Way to Raise Responsible Children’, NewAmerican Library, New York,or ‘PET’, that is called “reflective listening”.I didn’t know that the Army did that.> quizzes each man on what they heard.”Each” — wow.In part this may work due to some case of ‘groupdynamics’, that is, each soldier hears that all theother soldiers got the message so is influenced alsoboth to get and accept the message. So, in businessor family life, this might work better on smallgroups than one on one.> I am never afraid to ask folks what they heard butalso do they agreeWow. This may be something like the ‘sign on’ tothe task illustrated inTracy Kidder, ‘The Soul of A New Machine’on the building of the Data General MV8000, in a madrush, where each team member ‘signed on’ to do theirpart correctly and on time.Asking if they agree may be more powerful than Iwould have thought.I never tried being a terrifying, authoritariantyrant, but I may have underestimated the power of’brief back’, ‘reflective listening’, asking foragreement, and asking for anonymous feedback.Also in all of this, the leader has to have clearlyconceived, formulated, and articulated the messageinstead of just hoping that a message will be heard,understood, and acted on, which in my experience itusually is not. Indeed, at times a leader canassume, “Of course, everyone already understands themessage.”, which has to be rarely true.You seem to be implying that my estimate of 25+%that just can’t play their role is too high.Gee, the Army caught on to all of this. Yup,another place where somehow the DoD did well, so notjust stealth, JDAMS, GPS, Keyhole, SR-71, adaptive,phased-array sonar!

          1. JLM

            .If you are on patrol and get overrun, you have a “rally point” to which to flee.As the patrol leader, you tell the men — 500 yards, 9 o’clock. You do this in the original patrol order. That means run 500 yards at due left of the direction the patrol is moving when the patrol leader decides to flee to the rally point.For well trained troops, it works like a charm and is a good way to break unwelcome contact.You get it wrong, you could die.Brief back is very important.JLM.

    5. LE

      This reads a bit like “hey, I just discovered sex” kind of gee whiz I’m a corporate anthropologist new age nonsense. Did not mean to be quite that rude. Sorry.Bolded part acts as as padding to the original thought. Much as “with all due respect does”.Let’s remember first that 75% of all startups fail, so let’s be careful about embracing the leadership and management techniques of enterprises which typically fail.People are always searching for the formula.But the formula is 10% (arbitrary) what you read or someone tells you and 90% your effort and how smart and ingenious you are.As well as luck [1] (which could also cover someone you meet that tells you something or something you happen to read). Obviously.But people always want hope or “the answer” and that’s what motivational writing or fuzzy advice gives people. [2]Simplistically what makes a good leader? Well remember the teachers in school who the kids didn’t respect vs. the ones that the kids did respect? It has to do with not only what is said but tone, presentation, presence and a whole bunch of things that are really fuzzy and not easy to emulate if you don’t have them to begin with. Now every now and then someone is so super spectacular that they can not have this and still make it all happen. But that’s the exception and a rare occurrence. Like maybe if you are a Kennedy or have a big halo for one reason or another.[1] Part of your luck of course is the fact that you sound and look the way that you do. That goes a long way in getting people to listen to what you have to say and to follow your direction and instructions (along to be sure with many more things but it’s one reason it’s harder for a woman to get ahead.) I saw that when I watched Rohan’s interview that you did. Even noted (iirc) what your eyes did.[2] Same as with the “how to cure your depression” articles and books that people with depression are always looking for “the answer” or “the thing” that will make the difference and help them get better. Or “how to lose weight” books.

    6. William Mougayar

      JLM- who said that book or message was oriented towards startups? Were you extrapolating? Fred said it will change your thinking about leadership styles. If people are changing their behaviors, you need to change how you lead/manage them.2nd beef with you is that startups failures are not typically related to management failures. What works for running tiny, risky, bold, fast organizations is not the same as what works for larger ones. Maybe at 50+ employees, you start to see some signs of calmness and normalcy. A tech startup as small as it may be is not the same as a running a stable small business.

      1. awaldstein

        Don’t companies fail because they either can’t find or can’t hold onto the market?There is no way to parse that that I know of to figure out whether it was product, management or marketing that was the cause.There is no normalcy in hyper growth regardless of size. It’s just that hyper growth happens way less often from a larger base.

        1. William Mougayar

          I agree with that!

      2. JLM

        .I did not mean to imply that the book was about startups. Fair play to your comment.The leader of any organization has a job description that has as the base of their job description — “I am responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen…” so the notion that there are failure mechanisms that are somehow unrelated to the management does not get much sympathy with me.Not a hard or provocative position but in a small enterprise the boss is responsible for everything.As to size where chaos is transformed into order, 50+ is very large. I have started businesses in which the first subordinate to the founders begins to leave a trail of order behind the chaos of the founders.In almost every failure I have witnessed in the last few years I have seen an absence of planning on same basic level.It is a bit Old School to trumpet Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture wrapped inside a business plan and a clear business model but there is also nothing new about failure.There is a lot room for well reasoned disagreement and there are no absolutes but the fundamentals continue to be fundamental.JLM.

        1. William Mougayar

          Good discussion JLM. There are 2 sides to every coin, and that’s what makes it a currency.

      3. LE

        2nd beef with you is that startups failures are not typically related to management failures.I’m guessing because the following comes into play with a startup success.If you are on the dartboard (I mean if whatever your style is isn’t a total fuck up) then “a rising tide floats all boats” meaning if things are going well there is enough going on and cheddar around to paper over and get the others involved to fix things and make them work (the rising tide). [1]What helps with that is the fact that once you get to a particular point you are sitting on a pile of money that you can use and not really worry about losing your shirt.If you are not on the dartboard then any amount of great style isn’t going to really do much.So being a startup showing great potential with adequate funding gives you much latitude and leeway to get it right. This is in a sense what happened with Twitter and why all those fail whales didn’t sink them back in the day.[1] Kind of in the same way a parent will expend plenty of effort to remedy problems with a child that appears brilliant even ignoring their other children.

        1. William Mougayar

          I think the word “management” applies differently to a startup than to a stable company. Managing a company typically means management its people. Managing a startup means managing to survive, and managing to grow it til it’s stable.

    7. awaldstein

      Screw top vs cork is actually an oxygen control issue balanced against the odds of cork taint. Artificial vs natural cork is really the analogy! :)Military analogies aside (which I usually jump over) I agree with you in general and a great comment.

      1. ShanaC

        i’m seeing more screw tops on decent wines….they work

        1. awaldstein

          Yes, lots.If you are going to drink wine in a month from when it’s made–cardboard juice type boxes work just fine.Beyond that it’s a matter of oxygen control and aging.Buy hey, most of what comes out of Austria and quite a few of the more astute natural winemakers in Cal use screwcaps.And they are cheap!

        2. Donna Brewington White

          I used to avoid the ones with screw caps thinking they must be mediocre. Have had to change my tune on that.

          1. awaldstein

            If you are buying wine by the type of closure Donna…you need a much better place to shop at!

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Ha! Caught! I was hoping you wouldn’t see that comment. πŸ˜‰

          3. awaldstein

            You have a pretty well developed palate Donna. You know what you like.Find a local retailer or maybe I should start a wine club just for you!

          4. Donna Brewington White

            Yes! With a freemium model. ;)I will drink whatever you tell me to. You have never steered me wrong.

    8. Donna Brewington White

      Are you saying that you don’t see a shift in the general perception of what makes an effective leader?

      1. JLM

        .Everyone has to find their authentic leadership style. They are all subtly different.There is almost nothing new under the sun as it relates to how people relate to each other.People want to follow authentic, committed and visionary leaders. Isn’t that how Pres Obama got elected?JLM.

    9. SubstrateUndertow

      “Old wine, new bottles. Screw top v cork?”True, collaboration and communication have always been just important elements in a much larger leadership skills set.Isn’t the point hear that cheap, ubiquitous, new network-effect communication technologies are radically reshaping our culture around a whole new, higher order, set of collaborative possibilities.Given a little time, collaborative-synchronicity operating at this order of magnitude represents a disruptive new platform for all human ideas and activity, a disruption that will be pivotal even to the execution of more traditional leadership skills.The internet network-effect, like the phone network-effect and the printing press network-effect preceding it doesn’t fundamental alter underlying ideas, it just gives those ideas new legs. These new Internet legs however so extend and accelerate collaboration as to transmute collaborative-quantity into a new platform of qualitatively-altered collaborative process.More importantly the internet network-effect not only extends but also qualitatively alters the recombinant collaboration of ideas to encompass unlimited, recombinant, automated-synchronization of both local or distal processes all dovetailed with unlimited local or distal human or automated-sensor orchestrated execution.Surely this magnitude of collaborative network-effect-remix defines a fundamentally new cultural-platform with which all traditional leaderships skills must engage and evolve.

  10. JimHirshfield

    It’s hard to be authoritarian as a startup CEO when you’re trying to figure everything out yourself…when you don’t have the answers, and you’re still looking for product/market fit and traction. So, collaboration is a natural fit for startups.

    1. JLM

      .This is why serial founders and entrepreneurs have a better chance of things. They have already lived through that experience.JLM.

      1. JimHirshfield


    2. awaldstein

      Collaboration is a must at all levels but decision making and authority with startup or not, is invariably top down.

      1. JimHirshfield

        For sure.

      2. ShanaC

        what of the valve model?

        1. awaldstein


          1. ShanaC

            outside of a very small amount of corporate officers with limited power, there are no bosses, not corporate heirarchy, nothing.…Github i think also works similarly.

          2. awaldstein

            Decisions get made how?

          3. ShanaC

            beats me, basically very old school athens republic court system style (everyone gets a vote)

          4. awaldstein

            Totally non starter to me.Business is all about making decisions. No interest in decisions by the majority as leadership.

          5. PhilipSugar

            For tough decisions the founder says this is how we are going to do it.

      3. JamesHRH

        One of my greatest startup regrets involved someone I respect greatly (not in authority at the time, on my level) who said:’how do we make decisions?”who is the customer?’Those two queries cleared the wheat form the chaff pretty quick. Awesome guy.

    3. andyswan

      Good thing alpha and authoritarian have little to do with each other.

  11. JLM

    .We all have different kinds of leadership and styles. The big question is — is it authentic? Is it real?In the military, I stumbled on a lot of fire breathing commanders who had the Old School military manikin down tight. One was Gen Schwarzkopf who believe it or not was a Mensa member.His WP roommate was a guy I worked for Leroy N Suddath, Jr when he was a Colonel commanding a brigade I was in. Later head of US Spec Ops and a MG.I had a combat engineer company and Col S did not know exactly how to deal with engineers who had to know how to fight like Infantry but also had to be able to handle demolitions. I was always blowing stuff up.Suddath was as clever as could be. He never really understood what we were training for but he was always wandering around and watching and learning. We had a great relationship and while he was always in charge, he never really gave me any weird orders. I respected him very much.I used to go fishing with the MG who commanded the post we were on, so Suddath always had it in the back of his head that there was something odd about me. Long, long story.The unit I commanded had been a disaster and I turned it around and they made a 100% on their ARTEP, the highest in the US Army that year. Suddath got the credit for getting out of my way but never really being absent. He was shrewd that way.When you met Stormin Norman and Leroy at the O Club, they were still a couple of West Point roommates — smart as Hell — but when they took to their jobs, they had different styles. I drank a bit of their beer and listened to their tales and learned from them.Those were good times.JLM.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Schwartzkopf was a great commander. He was a true leader. But, WP is supposed to turn out people like that.

      1. JLM

        .I always had a high opinion of WP senior officers and a fairly low opinion of WP junior officers.Too many politicians.JLM.

  12. Richard

    She may be correct for some companies, but for most companies the leader is the machine that knows where you are, how long you have been there, what work product you produced, and how long it took you to produce it. It sets off flags and alarms, determines your bonuses, and your survival.

    1. awaldstein

      An example where decision making is from the bottom up, not the top down, earned or not?

      1. Richard

        Is the “corporate network” the bottom or the top?

        1. awaldstein

          Who makes the decision is what I’m driving at.

  13. Guest

    I saw the image attached in my LinkedIn Feed and then popped over to AVC to catch up on what’s been happening here……..And I continue to believe that putting people into boxes and quadrants:* Are they Alpha / Beta?* Are they a star, cash cow, problem child or dog?* Are they ENTP / ENTJ / ENFJ………INTP / INTJ / INFJ?is helpful but not THAT helpful.The use of the pawn on the book’s cover is interesting. In chess, it’s when the pawn converts to a Queen or is holding down a square defensively so the other side can’t mount an attack that the pawn is at its most powerful.Generally, though, the pawn plays a support rather than a leadership role.In my experience, the best leaders are smart, dynamic, inclusive, have personal integrity, empower people to assume responsibility, are magnanimous in crediting individual and team efforts and WALK THE TALK.I’ve been lucky enough to work for people like that so I actively choose not to work with dictators and egomaniacs.

    1. ShanaC

      I actually dislike the cover. I think it is not descriptive.I have to say the following: We design our work culture to perform better with egomaniacs. Switching away is a long time coming, and will only happen if more workplaces come into a Valve type model.

      1. Guest

        I agree, Shana, there could have been a better cover.For example, a more anthropological one rather than the chess abstraction would be to show two Alpha lions fighting and bloodying each other in the foreground whilst in the background a “Beta” lion(ess) is leading the rest of the pack towards sunny horizons.

  14. Nick Grossman

    I like the idea of being a “proud beta male”

    1. Nick Grossman

      … and I’d like to see that in t-shirt form

      1. BillMcNeely

        So the Kickstarter project will be up this afternoon?

    2. Brandon Burns

      I see the Time cover already. “The Beta Male β€” How feminine instincts have turned men into better leaders.”Which, lets be honest, is exactly how it’ll be spun.

      1. Nick Grossman

        TotallyWith a picture of a skinny geek in a t shirt–http://nickgrossman.ison the fly

        1. Brandon Burns

          What would be funny is if that skinny geek were David Carp.And then the subsequent article: “The Alpha Female β€” How women have beat the boys at their own game” with a photo of Marissa Mayer’s iron fist.Oh, the irony…

          1. Nick Grossman

            i was picturing david when I wrote that πŸ™‚

  15. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    Alphas are ..Confident, Visionaries, Smart, Dynamic, Aggressive, Dominant, Decisive, with Integrity, go-getters, adaptive ….and so on and so forth…What you want to do is add “co-operative and collaborative” to that ENDLESS LIST and not replace with betas and pawns….pawn is a pawn.You can’t put yellow and black paint and make a house-cat into Tiger…both belongs to cat family but Tiger is a Tiger and Tom-cat is a Tom-cat.

    1. JLM

      .When I debate the future of America with my 95-year old Father, easily the smartest and toughest SOB I have ever met, he always says:”The sons of tigers are tigers.”His corollary of that is — “If you are a tiger, think and act like a tiger.”The second corollary of that is — “Not everybody is a tiger.”We get into this discussion when we try to decide whether the Greatest Generation could ever be equaled by the current stock of men in America.On one hand he thinks the current leadership would not make a good corporal in any outfit he ever served in and on the other he thinks that if we have the right crisis, the tigers will come out of the jungle and lead.We never seem to complete the conversation. It has been going on for decades.JLM.

      1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

        Your father is right… if you keep the tiger well fed, tame it … it listens to the ring master. Keep it hungry and then meet him in the ring then to see the real-tiger.I am not saying America should suffer … I lived in U.S.A only for 2-years (1997-99) and what I felt was people have taken it for granted what their fore-fathers have done left for them. Again don’t think I am anti-any-human being.

  16. panterosa,

    Lead from within.

  17. andyswan

    Watching feminism jump the shark daily at this point.Give me an alpha woman in the office and let’s go rule the world.Sharpest teeth still gets the meat, despite utopian visions.

    1. ShanaC

      How is feminism jumping the shark?

  18. BillMcNeely

    I think going forward leaders will be graded on how well their organization operates without them after a period of time.In addition, leaders will be graded on what members of that organization do when they leave.Think PayPal Mafia or Xgooglers here is a chart mapping that success.…The flip side to that would be if you had to go into the marketplace and compete and defeat said network. You can’t attack it like you would the old IBM hierarchy.That’s what GEN Stan McCrystal realized he was up against in Iraq he had to reorganize his outfit into a network so he could defeat Al Qaeda’s There was a great article in Foreign Policy called It Takes a Network outlining how he did it.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Gee, with satellites, drones, F-16s, awashin other electronics and INTEL, he was eventuallymaybe slowly on the way to communicating aswell as a bunch of largely illiterate, barefoot guys withrags wrapped around their heads, rusty AKs,and some commercial cell phones.Nice going Stanley; keep it up, guy; you’ll get there eventually!

  19. bfeld

    “Hierarchies are giving way to networks.” – 2008 was the tipping point. The hierarchies still don’t see it coming, and won’t until it’s too late for them. One by one. Love, the Machines.

    1. jason wright

      they never see it coming. history confirms this.

  20. csertoglu

    I think the same wave will hit politics, soon. Note Russell Brand’s recent interview, or the genuinely (alpha) leaderless occupy movements or the turkish gezi park protests. Very interesting. Looking fwd to reading the book.

  21. Pete Griffiths

    This kind of thesis is old style link bait.There are and always have been a million ways to lead. What makes leadership effective is a compatibility between leadership style and organizational culture and these can take so many effective forms. This variety is a good thing otherwise our opportunities to excel would be rather limited, wouldn’t they? Because we have all seen that the kind of person who succeeded in one company does not necessarily succeed at another.Part of the ‘trick’ at succeeding at an individual level is finding a compatible organization.

  22. markslater


  23. Donna Brewington White

    I very much enjoyed Dana’s guest post last summer and look forward to reading her book. I can appreciate some of the comments questioning her premise, but until I’ve read it, I can’t assess.Leadership is a critically important topic. Everything in the world depends on it. And the world is changing. For better or for worse, or both.

  24. Donna Brewington White

    She has also been a writer, a recruiter, a coach, a VC, and a private equity investor.What a career! That combination in itself makes me very interested to read her findings and impressions. (The combination makes a lot of sense to me.)

  25. JGallardo

    >Unlike many business books, this one is not boring or hard to read.But what about the book added value?

  26. Kevin Doherty

    This may be a little off topic (if it is, I’m sorry) but as soon as I read this paragraph I immediately thought of how useful this could be when applied to creating pitch decks or when speaking to customers:”Unlike many business books, this one is not boring or hard to read. Dana tells stories to make her points. Her language is light and airy but the lessons are clear and actionable.”reworded:”Unlike many pitches, this one is not boring or hard to read. The team tells stories to make their points. Their language is light and airy but the lessons/benefits/roadmap/path to profitability are clear and actionable.”

  27. John Wiseman

    This is a great post… just wish more founders/CEO’s in tech (or in general) paid heed to its thesis.