Sunday, 4 September 2016

Lessons from 10,000 hours with Reid Hoffman

I have lifted this from Ben Casnocha, who was chief-of-staff for Reid for two years, and summarised in my own words. The sixteen lessons that Ben took away from his time with Reid:

1. People are complicated and flawed. Root for their better angels.
Don't be binary about people. Of course, the difficulty is that, in a fast paced business, you dont have time to carefully weigh people's strengths: "Instead of starting with their weaknesses, first ask what’s uniquely excellent about them."

2. The best way to get a busy person’s attention: Help them.
This is simple. Offer value if you want to ask someone for something. "Can I pick your brain over coffee" is a sure fire way you will *not* get the time of the person.

3. Simple and move Fast when conceiving strategies and making decisions.
Reid makes a quick decision based on the information at hand and then will note what information he needs to disprove the decision and go and get that. Most do either one of two things: Wait until the information is good enough to make the decision OR make an intuitive decision without verifying the quality. Too slow is death; too uninformed is pain.

4. Every weakness has a corresponding strength.
Reid's belief that every strength has a counter weakness and so if you try and remove the weakness, you might kill the strength. Reid's example is that his disorganisation lends itself to his creativity and ability to connect the dots. Ben cites Reid's prolific ability to generate ideas.

5. The values that actually shape a culture have both upside and downside.
Reid cites the example of LinkedIn in the early days when he was very transparent with the company both in good and bad times. This allowed the organisation to introspect and solve the problem collectively, but it also affected the morale and some people sold their stock early and left. All cultures come with downsides and costs, so be mindful of those.
Another example, from PayPal: "let the best idea win", introduced analytical rigour but made the culture confrontational and potentially undermine collaboration. This trait also made it difficult for people with experience to prove themselves as they had to re-prove themselves.

6. Understand someone’s “alpha” tendencies and how that drives them.
How much is an individual driven by the traditional markers of status and power? Reid had three groups: Total Alpha (power lust can create bad decision making), Alpha Streaks (has alpha tendencies but can manage them), Repressed Alpha (crave status but is in denial).

7. Self-deception watch: even those who say they don’t need or want flattery, sometimes still need it.
Self-deception is part of human nature. We cast ourselves as heroes in our own life stories. We wrap self-serving narratives around the things that happen to us. We overstate our strengths... So, even powerful people who dont think they need praise, will still expect deference and some signalling that you are not as powerful as them.

8. Be clear on your specific level of engagement on a project.
Reid has 5 levels: Principal (driving the project), Board Member (likely an investor but thinking about the project when not scheduled to do so and likely up-to-speed), Investor (with time and or money), Friend (when you walk away from discussion, that's it)

9. 3 possible outcomes: sketch likely upside, likely ‘regular’, and likely downside scenarios.
Sketch these out. Weigh them. When you align around three simple scenarios, as a team, you can calibrate your expectations and investment thesis accordingly.

10. A key to making good partnerships great: Identify and emphasize any misaligned incentives.
Self-explanatory. Ben cites the interesting example of the book that he and Reid co-authored and published by Random House. Random wanted most sales, Reid wanted to spread the message at almost any cost - even free ebooks in certain instances.

11. Reason is the steering wheel. Emotion is the gas pedal.
Too many people allow emotion to infiltrate their reasoning which can impair decisions. Emotion is very important in being decisive and motivating people to momentum.

12. Trade-up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.
Given the choice of someone less qualified but trusted versus some more qualified but unknown, go with the former. Trust gets you through times.

13. Tell the truth. Don’t reflexively kiss ass to powerful people.
Talented executives really appreciate candid feedback. They are successful because they are constantly looking to improve ("constant beta"). It still needs to be delivered constructively as even the most successful people have feelings.

14. Respect the shadow power.
I call this the PA-rule. An executive's personal assistant is more powerful than those who had never had one understand. And as such, so the people in the orbit of the executive have much greater influence than most understand.

15. Make people genuine partners and they’ll work harder.
Bring people and teams across the line together. Give the people on the project ownership in order to drive the success of the project. When the project does well, give them the praise and limelight.

16. Final: The people around you change you in myriad unconscious ways.
Put simply, you are who you spend your time with. Try and hang around with the right people, whose values are aligned and success is something you aspire to.
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