Saturday, June 24, 2023

Fear, Motivation & Going Too Far

I played football in high school. I wasn't all that great, but I was good enough to play a fair amount. I think my most redeeming qualities were knowing what to do and being willing to give and take a big hit. Anyway, we played in a tough league. Three of the schools were from the Richmond school district in the SF Bay Area. Things may have changed, but at the time, Richmond was a bad place. I think it may have been the murder capital of the world while we were in school. (The murder capital of the world is the city with the highest number of murders per capita.)

The three schools were De Anza, Richmond and Kennedy. We dreaded going to those schools to play.

Kennedy -- When we played there my junior year, the game was played in the afternoon either because they couldn't afford lights or because it wasn't safe to be there at night. Probably both. The game was also played early enough in the afternoon that the Kennedy students were still in school. I suppose the idea was that the students would be too rowdy if they were allowed to attend the game. The field was surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire and you had to pass through a gate to get in. There were a handful of parents from our high school there, and no more than ten students on the Kennedy side of the stands. Despite the low turnout, we still had a couple D batteries rain down on us during warmups.

Richmond -- My freshman year, we beat them by a score of 42-6. As we walked from the football field back through their school to where the bus was parked, one of their players came running out of their locker room with a baseball bat, intent on bashing our heads in. The only thing that saved us was a coach who grabbed him and held him back, shouting, "You don't want to violate your parole!" After that, every time we traveled to Richmond, the police would escort our bus from the freeway to the school and literally onto the field. We'd get off the bus at the 50 yard line.

De Anza -- De Anza was the scariest. They had metal detectors on all the doors of the school to make sure students didn't bring in weapons. The halls were covered in tags from notorious East Bay gangs. On one trip to De Anza, we were holed up in the guest (i.e. women's) locker room, and there appeared to be a bullet hole in the clock on the wall. Seriously, a bullet hole. In the women's locker room. This was not a safe place.

And could De Anza play ball? When we played them my junior year, they were ranked in the top ten in the Bay Area. (Just for context, the #1 team was De La Salle, in the middle of winning 100+ straight games in a row, earning them the title of the best team in the country.) As if that weren't enough, the reigning California state champion 4x100 meter relay team also played for the De Anza football team: Running Back, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Wide Receiver.

We were VERY intimidated when we were getting ready to play them. Our coaches knew it too. We had a good team that year, but they knew we needed a little something extra to motivate us.

In an unusual move, Coach had us fully dressed with pads on before we got on the bus to go to De Anza. We gathered around him in the locker room. His pep talk started slowly and quietly. He talked about how good they were and how they thought they were even better. How nobody thought we could win this game, the rich white kids from the hills going out to De Anza. But he believed.

He told us all we had to do was believe in ourselves. We had to knock them down and don't let them up. And when we've got them down, rip their hearts out...

As he said "rip their hearts out", Coach reached into a helmet and pulled out a bloody heart, presumably a cow heart from a butcher. His eyes widened and spit bubbles formed in the corners of his mouth as he talked faster and faster about what we needed to do. Then, he attacked the heart like a crazed, starved badger. He ripped at it with his teeth as the blood dribbled down his chin, that crazed look in his eyes urging us to do the same to De Anza in the game.

The reaction from the team was a mixture of "Raaaaah. Let's go get 'em!" and "What was that?!? What a joke!" as we filed out of the locker room and onto the bus... for a 30 minute ride to the game, followed by warmups and eventually the game. In retrospect, the timing was maybe a little off, but it maybe worked. We won.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

NYC: Take a Yellow Taxi instead of a Green Taxi

In early 2014, NYC introduced green taxis to provide service above 96th street and in the non-Manhattan boroughs.  In practice, green cabs pick people up all over the place, and if you're anywhere near 96th street, you'll see plenty of green cabs.

I've now taken green taxis a number of times, and I want to share a couple quick thoughts on the difference, based solely on the experiences I've had in the last couple months:

Green Taxis...

  • Think Sixth Avenue extends above central park South. (It does not.  Also, I know it's called Avenue of the Americas, but I refuse to use that name.)
  • Have never heard of Citi Field and don't know how to get there.
  • Don't know how to operate the meter.
  • Ask whether Tribeca is in Manhattan or Brooklyn.  (!!!)
  • Thinks it's OK to interject in a backseat conversation when they have something to add.
Yellow Taxis...
  • Know the city like the back of their hand
  • Know the outer boroughs well enough to get damn near anywhere efficiently
  • Never EVER make a mistake with the meter
  • Mind their own business - until you engage them.  And then they're more than happy to chat.
  • Will return a lost wallet found in the back of their cab and will REFUSE any cash offered as reward.  This happened last week, and I was blown away.
I don't always take taxis, but when I do, I prefer yellow cabs.  You should too.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Minimum Viable Introductions

If you search on Google for the term "Minimum Viable Introduction" in quotes, there are only four results (UPDATE: Mere minutes after posting this, there are now six results.  Two of them are me).  And only one of them (a tweet) is really about introducing people to one another.  I could have sworn that someone in the techochamber had written about this a while ago, but I obviously can't find it now.  So, I suppose it's my duty to write something semi-permanent on the topic.

I've written before about the art of the introduction, but I glossed over the introductory email.  Let's review what generally happens before I introduce two people to one another:

  1. Person A asks me to intro them to Person B.  (Or I suggest to A that they should meet B)
  2. I ask Person B if they'd like to meet Person A.
  3. Person B agrees to the intro.
Now it's time for me to properly introduce Persons A and B.  What should go in that email?  There are many way to handle this, so let's review a few.

Great example from my sister here, introducing me to her friend's younger brother [names have been changed to protect the innocent]:

Bob and Andrew,
As promised to each of you separately, I'm writing to e-introduce you. I'm also copying Diane because sisters rule.

Bob - As I've mentioned to you at least in part, here's some background on Andrew. He went to Brown, from which graduated in [ancient times] with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He minored in frat parties and baseball heckling. I kid, of course, though I assume such degrees are not only possible at Brown, but also attainable with minimal effort. (ivy league humor. hilarious!) After graduating from Brown, he moved to New York, where he... [editor's note: I've removed 150 words of flowery praise from my sister to spare you the gory details]. He's excited about meeting you and talking about your career and generally offering insight and the like, which I assume will involve meeting for a drink and talking about "synergy." I've now exhausted my understanding of his job and of business in general.

Andrew - I've forwarded you Bob's resume, so you already know he's a genius (and of course you know Diane, so you also know he comes by it naturally). You should note that not only is Bob winning college, he is also in a leadership position at a major fraternal organization. My general recollection of his fraternity was [redacted for the sake of all involved], but I'm sure that in the interim it's become a scholarly crowd of gentlemen who respect and honor women. Anyway. I think you two have a lot in common, and I know you're looking forward to being a help now and going forward, so thanks for that, from all of us.

And with that...I'll leave it to the two of you to be in touch. 

Here's an example introduction I sent yesterday [names and specific details changed again]:
Gertrude - Thanks for agreeing to an introduction. Mortimer (cc'd) just joined HotCompanyX a couple weeks ago to run their data science and analytics efforts. We were talking last week, and your old company popped into my head. I thought it would be great if you could share some lessons from your days in the space. Thanks again for being open to that.

Morty - Gertrude was the data science wizard at her old company a few years back, thinking a lot about the space you're in now. She's since moved on to become the Chief Scientist at HotCompanyZ, which sounds like a ton of fun.

Anyway, I'll let you guys take it from here.
And now for my new favorite: 
Again, an example from yesterday:
Thelma/Louise - Consider this your minimum viable introduction.
Or you could shorten that to:
Thelma/Louise - Please meet.
So, when should you use the various versions?  Version A is really only appropriate when you've got some time on your hands and you're introducing two friends you know well.  It's a ton of fun to read and write intros like that, but you have to know that your audience is going to be in on the joke.  They have to know you're being more than a little over the top on purpose.  If you sent this type of intro to the wrong person, they'd think you were an arrogant jerk.  But used appropriately, a ton of fun.

Version B is the one I use most often.  It reminds both people why I'm introducing them, which is always a help when one or the other forgets why they're talking to each other or why they should bother responding to the email.  It's also great to use this when it's taken a while to get the introduction arranged.  It helps re-set the context for all involved.  This is also a fairly professional, but friendly introduction.  There's probably something rigid and formal that should sit between my options A and B above, but I've never bothered.  If you dig deep enough into the MS Word template archive, you can surely find something to fill the gap I've left you.

Version C is also best used with people you're comfortable with.  If they're startup people or familiar with the concept of the Minimum Viable Product, all the better.  I used this type of intro yesterday when I'd already given each person an overview of the other in the previous 30 minutes, and I knew they'd follow up quickly.  There was a low chance that either person would be confused about the purpose of the introduction, and I also knew that they'd appreciate my brevity.  Busy people are generally happy when you get to the point quickly, and the person who asked for the intro won't feel like they've created an obligation to write a 2000-word introduction.  For three busy people, the Minimum Viable Introduction makes things move quickly.

So aspiring networkers, get out there and make it happen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Amber Alert at 3:50am - What Took So Long?

Like many New Yorkers, I was awoken at 3:50am this morning by my phone blaring loudly.  I rolled over and checked it:
Manhattan, NY AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/GEX1377 (NY) (1995) Tan Lexis [sic] ES300
There wasn't much I could do about it, so I rolled back over and went right back to sleep.  When I woke up this morning, there were a couple tweets from friends about it:  "Not cool to scare the bejesus out of ppl with an amber alert at 4am" and reference to "a bunch of people as pissed off as I am that they're awake at 3:50am."

My first thought (and first tweet) was sympathetic to Verizon's situation.  "Imagine being the parent of the missing child when Verizon says 'we won't send the alert for another 5 hours'" when people are awake.  If you're a parent or someone in a position to help find an abducted child, of course you'll do everything you can to get that child back to safety.

Right?  Right?

Well, it turns out that the kid was abducted at 3:05 in the afternoon.  It took Verizon (and the police) 12 hours to send that alert.  What the hell took so long?  Do we really need to give the suspect a twelve hour head start?  How about when we know that the "Suspect is bi−polar and has had recent outbreaks of violence"?  Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg have done an excellent job of making the city safer over the last two decades, but it CANNOT take twelve hours to get an Amber Alert out.  That MUST be faster.

Mayor, Police Commissioner, Verizon Execs -- What took so long?!?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Startup Passover

From my mother: 
"I've read that the sea didn't part for the Israelites until they took the first steps into the water with no assurance of safe passage.  My wish for you is that the metaphorical waters open after each step and show you a way forward as you build your business.  Whatever the outcome, Dad and I are very proud of you."
Doesn't get any better than that.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Time Tracking

My first month at Harvard Business School was a turning point for me.  There was simply too much to do.  There were of course classes to attend and schoolwork to do.  There was my wife and young daughter to spend time with.  There were 900 new classmates I wanted to meet - and 900 second year students too.  There were amazing speakers coming to campus.  There were clubs to join and club events to attend and organize.  There were informational events about careers and entrepreneurship.  There was flag football.  There were professors I wanted to get to know.  Of course, I also needed the occasional moment of solitude, and I needed to sleep.

The advice people give you when you're going to HBS is to pick 2-3 things and do them well.  You can't possibly do everything, so don't even try.  You have to prioritize.  I'd heard that advice. I had listened carefully to friends, mentors, admissions people.

But man, that first month at HBS was overwhelming.  I got buried in all the things I could be doing.  I tried to do too much and I crashed.  These two things got me out of the muck:

  • AGGRESSIVE CALENDARING. I sat down on Sunday night and mapped out my week on my calendar.  What time would I get up each day?  What events did I want to go to?  What classes did I have to attend?  How much work was I going to do to prepare for each class and when?  When was I going to spend time with my family?  When did I have time to socialize.  I color-coded my calendar to make sure I had enough time in each of the various buckets.  And I pretty much scheduled my whole week, from when I would wake up to when I would go to bed.  I didn't always follow the schedule minute for minute, but I knew that each decision I made had implications.  If I met someone for lunch instead of having lunch with my scheduled family lunch, that was a clear decision.  If I was socializing with other parents at the playground instead of doing my work, that was a clear decision and the implication was likely that I wasn't going to get as much sleep.  There were always tradeoffs and having things laid out on my calendar made the tradeoffs crystal clear.

  • DILIGENT TIME TRACKING.  The other big thing I did was that I started tracking my time.  I had tracked my time before business school in order to see how much time I was working - and what I was working on.  But when I re-started tracking my time, I took it to a new level.  I tracked everything.  I had a spreadsheet with a column for every day and a row for every 15-minute increment (although I've since simplified to 30-minute blocks) from midnight to midnight.  I kept track of when I was asleep and when I was watching TV.  When I was comforting a baby at 3am and when I was reading for school.  Everything went into the spreadsheet at the end of the day and got categorized into a few big buckets: School, Work, Career, Family, Friends, Sleep, Other.  At the end of every month, I'd look at those big buckets and ask myself, "How do I feel about this?  Am I spending my time on the right things?  How do I want to change this in the coming month?"  Seeing my time laid out in front of me made me feel like I was in control.  I was deciding what was important to me and aligning my actions (my time) with those priorities in an explicit way -- and holding myself accountable.

After I graduated, I stopped tracking my time as diligently for a while, but I started to feel like something was missing.  That I wasn't in control of my time and my life.  I've now been back at it since August of 2011.  I'm approaching 30,000 consecutive half-hour blocks that have been accounted for.  That is a LOT of data about me.

The thing people always ask me after "Are you crazy?" (Yes, I am a little crazy) is "How much time do you spend tracking your time?"  Well, I've gotten pretty fast.  It's only a few minutes at the end of the day, and I'll usually update my spreadsheet once or twice during the day as well.  It's not more than 5-10 minutes per day, and I'll usually spend 60-90 minutes at the end of the month reviewing the last month's results.

And now people ask me, "So what?  What do you do with all that data?"  Like I said, I look at it once a month and set my priorities.  Where do I want to spend my time?  Am I spending my time the way I want to?  Are there any interesting trends in the data that I didn't see when I was living it day-to-day?

My time is more valuable than anything.  How I spend my time defines who I am.  I want to make sure that I'm spending my time in a way that matches up with my priorities.

What about you?  Do you know where your time is going?  Does your time match your priorities?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Didn't Have Time

I really try to avoid this phrase.  It's total bullshit.  You didn't have time?  Everyone has time. You should instead say "I didn't make time for [whatever]."

No matter what it was, you could have chosen to spend your time on it and you didn't.  Don't cop out and say, "I didn't have time" when what you really mean is, "After I did everything that I wanted to do and that was either important to me or urgent, there was no time left over for the unimportant thing you asked me to do" or more succinctly, "I chose not to."

You could have slept a little bit less.  You could have watched a little less TV.  You could have left work a little earlier or stayed a little later.  You could have cancelled that dinner with your friends.

But you chose not to.  Own it.  Time is the one resource you have that cannot be replaced.  It is precious, and how you spend your time defines who you are.  You are right to be stingy with your time.  Deciding how to spend your time involves making tradeoffs.  It's impossible to do everything.  People understand this intuitively.

So think again the next time you're about to say "I didn't have time."