Posts from life lessons

Streaks

Seth Godin says it so well in this blog post celebrating his 11th anniversary of writing every day on his personal blog.

Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.
Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.

We see this in several of our portfolio companies. Duolingo leverages streaks to encourage people to stick with language learning. Foursquare’s Swarm uses streaks to reward people for continuing to play that game (one I’ve played religiously for over a decade).

And of course my 16 year streak here at AVC is working powerfully too.

As Seth says:

once a commitment is made to a streak, the question shifts from, “should I blog tomorrow,” to, “what will tomorrow’s blog say?”

Bingo

Ignoring vs Not Replying

I had an exchange recently that has stuck with me and so I thought I would write a bit about this topic.

When someone tweets at me, emails me, texts me, tags me, etc, and I don’t reply, they assume I either did not see it or am ignoring it. That might be true but generally, it is not the case.

What is more likely is that I saw it, I got the message, I understand it, and I may even be acting on it. But for any number of good reasons, I have chosen not to reply to it.

There is a very big difference between ignoring something and acting on it, but that difference is not visible to the person sending the message. And so they assume that it is being ignored.

Sometimes I will like the message (if it is on social media) to acknowledge that I saw it. But if I don’t actually like the message (eg “you are the dumbest person in the world Fred”), I might not do that. Or I might. It sort of depends on my mood.

But the truth is I read a lot more and act on a lot more than I acknowledge publicly. And that is the case for many people I know who for various reasons (volume, legal, PR, etc) can’t or don’t reply to many messages.

So my point is don’t assume your messages are being ignored. They may be having the desired impact. But you may not know it.

When Things Just Start Working Again

Several times this week something that was not working magically started working again through no intervention of mine.

I find this to be very frustrating.

I would almost rather something stay broken than magically fix itself.

First, I enjoy fixing things. I’m an engineer, a tinkerer, and I get great satisfaction out of debugging/troubleshooting/fixing things. It is such a great feeling when you figure it out and it works again.

And second, when something fixes itself, you don’t know what did the trick and if it breaks again, you won’t be able to easily fix it.

For the same reasons, when we call an expert to fix something, I always ask them what broke and how they fixed it so I can do that the next time. It isn’t that I actually want to fix it next time, but I certainly want to be able to if I have to.

I know plenty of people in my life who don’t feel this way. They just want things to work and don’t really care why or how they do.

But I am not wired up that way.

Parenting

Parenting is the hardest and greatest job that I have had.

It presents the thorniest problems and generates the greatest rewards.

We had the pleasure of spending most of yesterday with our three kids and their significant others.

The occasion was our oldest daughter’s masters thesis presentation at her MFA program.

She is an artist who works with computer generated imagery and animation.

The work she made for her thesis was a five to seven minute animation loop and I probably watched it five or six times yesterday afternoon.

It was the first time I had seen it and I was amazed at its beauty, its quality, and the emotions it conveyed.

Needless to say, I am proud of her and also all of the other artists that showed their work alongside her.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon with our other kids hanging out and having fun with them.

Then we all got together for a late (for me) dinner that was celebratory and fun.

As the dinner ended, I sided up next to The Gotham Gal, put my arm around her, and said “that was a good parenting day.”

She looked at me and smiled.

I have loved all of parenting; rocking them to bed, the late feedings, changing the diapers, teaching them things, family vacations, the teenage years, leaving home, the college years, and the early adult years.

As I write those things, I also recall the challenges of each of them and the moments where we did not know what to do in certain situations.

But we figured it out and got through it and moved on to the next stage.

We certainly got better at it over time but we have never felt that we have parenting figured out.

Now we are in the phase where our kids are adults and accomplishing things that amaze and impress us.

They understand things we don’t understand, they do things we can’t do, and they are having successes that we have little part in.

That makes me feel so good.

I don’t believe our work is done. I believe we will be parenting for as long as we live.

But I do believe that the work is easier and the gains are richer.

But most of all I am reminded that our best work is done at home and the fruits of it are measured in joy.

The Heretic

I am reading a friend’s book which is still in proofs and so I’m not going to talk about it yet.

But there is one part of the book that really rang true for me and that is when he talks about certain kinds of problematic employees, particularly one he calls The Heretic.

This kind of employee, and we have all seen this up close, is negative about the Company and disses the management, coworkers, the board, the strategy, the workplace, and everything else under the sun. But for some reason the heretic prefers to stay and be miserable than to move on and find another place to work that is more to their liking.

My friend states in his book that you have to part ways with heretics in your company, regardless of how talented they are, how connected they are, and even if they are protected in some way. You have to find a way out of the heretic mess.

I agree with this advice and I have seen this play out in many ways. The worst way is to let this behavior go on unchecked. As painful as parting can be, and it can be incredibly painful depending on the circumstances, letting this behavior stand is worse.

Video Of The Week: Angela Duckworth – Grit

A few years ago, we invited Angela Duckworth to speak to our portfolio company CEOs at our annual get together. It was a terrific talk that absolutely impacted the way these CEOs thought about hiring and managing their teams. Angela’s theory of “Grit” as a predictor of success in education, careers, and life is powerful. If you have not read her book on the topic, you should. You can get it here.

Practice

When I started writing this blog in 2003, I was not a strong writer. Sixteen years later, I am a better writer. Doing something every day is the best way to improve at something.

I’ve been doing yoga for roughly the same number of years as I’ve been writing this blog. But I am not as religious about yoga as I am about writing.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been doing the exact same yoga practice (the Mysore style) three mornings a week and today I noticed that I was able to do some things I could not do before.

I have a long way to go before I can do yoga the way that most of the people in the yoga studio with me can do it, but the mere fact that I am noticeably improving gives me great satisfaction.

Practice means doing something again and again in an effort to improve. But it also means a way of doing something (a law practice). The two are really the same thing. A lawyer who has been practicing law for thirty years is likely a better lawyer than someone who is right out of law school.

It is easy to watch a basketball player like Steph Curry hit three pointer after three pointer and think “that is raw talent” and surely that is true. But it is also true that he has probably practiced those shots for endless hours in the gym perfecting the shot and stroke.

I think everyone can improve at things they are not good at and become competent, even excellent, at them. I am not going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but I can write well and have become a strong communicator by practicing it routinely. Practice really works.

Graduation Season

If you are feeling a little low on energy and want a pick me up, go to a high school graduation. You could simply crash any graduation, you don’t need to know anyone graduating. They are such feel good events.

I went to the AFSE graduation yesterday.

This is the fourth class that has graduated from AFSE and I think I have been able to attend every graduation. It really is such a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I like the procession music, I like the faces on the students as they walk in. It is a mix of apprehension, pride, and excitement.

I like the speeches by the students. I like the speeches by the teachers and school leaders.

I like the handing out of the diplomas.

I like the joyous hugs from proud family members after the ceremony is over.

There really is nothing quite like the sense of opportunity, promise, and achievement that pervades high school graduations. If you have an opportunity to attend one this week, I strongly recommend it.

32 Ans

Thirty-two years ago, the Gotham Gal and I got married.

We had been together for five years at that time.

We have now been together for thirty-seven years.

A relationship that has lasted almost four decades is a special thing.

There is a comfort, a deep friendship, a mind melding, that develops.

At least three or four times this week, one of us uttered something that the other was thinking but just had not said yet.

We are celebrating the day in Paris, one of our favorite places, and pretty much doing nothing, but of course doing everything. Together.

Public Speaking

I don’t do as much public speaking as I used to. Fortunately my colleagues at USV have picked up the slack and we are still out there telling the world what we believe in and why. I think that is critical to building the brand of an investment business.

Because it is Blockchain Week in NYC, I have done a number of public speaking events this week and have two more today. I also did something up at Columbia University last week for a friend and do a fair number of public appearances for the K12 CS Education work I do.

All of that has had me on a stage a lot in the last week and reminded me that there is an art to public speaking. I have also witnessed a lot of people doing it poorly this past week.

I have three main rules that I try to live by:

1/ Be brief. It is possible to make a point in less than a minute. But many take five or ten minutes to do it. In a world where people take their phones out the minute they are bored, you simply can’t take a long time to make a point.

2/ Be bold. Stake out positions that will stimulate debate and get people talking. I am not suggesting that you should take a position you don’t believe in. But I do think it is important to go out on a limb from time to time.

3/ Have fun. Show your personality. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy it. The audience will pick up on that and it will make it more fun for everyone.

I have also taken to doing a lot of interviewing lately. When I get asked to make an appearance, I often ask if I can do the interview instead of being interviewed. I usually turn those into public conversations and that is a lot of fun and, I think, works for the audience too.

I am interviewing Olaf Carlson-Wee, the founder of the Polychain token fund, today at The Token Summit. I plan to have fun and will work to keep it snappy and provocative.