I don’t laugh out loud much. I wish I did. These two moments made me laugh harder than anything else I watched in 2020.
I’m stealing these three phases. They came from the a16z podcast, “On Fear and Leadership: Product to Sales CTOs and CEOs” (which you can listen to at the bottom of this post). The prevailing conversation concerns a number of topics that growing leaders in growing startups face: trepidation in hiring an external CEO, all-hands meetings, recruiting talent, handling “title fetishization,” existing without CEOs (“never hire an interim CEO”).
But, to me, the beginning of the podcast outlines how the phases of the company align with the phases of company leaders. Martin Casado, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and inventor of software-defined networking, delineates three phases through which every startup goes; Armon Dadgar, the co-founder and CTO of HashiCorp, contributes the simple-but-digestible metaphorThe metaphor was originally proffered by Robert X. Cringely in his book Accidental Empires as “commandos, infantry, and police” and later popularized by Simon Wardley. that helps to explain what the leaders of a company should look like within each phase.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
My only real rule in putting this together was that I could not repeat artists. Playlist at the end.
“40 Roll – Instrumental”
“ooh la la”
Run the Jewels feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier
Run the Jewels
I can’t let the pigs kill meKiller Mike
I got too much pride
And I meant it when I said it:
Never take me alive
“yankee and the brave (ep. 4)”
Twenty/20 Pyrex Vision
Ask me what I do, I say I hustle for a livin’Jeezy
Plus I got that 20/20 Pyrex vision
“Twenty/20 Pyrex Vision”
Imploding the Mirage
Her mama was a dancerThe Killers
And that’s all that she knew
‘Cause when you live in the desert
That’s what pretty girls do
Milken often spoke to students at business schools. On these occasions he liked, for dramatic effect, to demonstrate how hard it actually is to put a large company into bankruptcy. The forces interested in keeping a large company afloat, he argued, are far greater than those that wish to see it perish. He’d present the students with the following hypothetical situation. First, he’d say, let’s locate our major factory in an earthquake zone. Then let’s infuriate our unions by paying the executives large sums of money while cutting wages. Third, let’s select a company on the brink of bankruptcy to supply us with an essential irreplaceable component in our production line. And fourth, just in case our government is tempted to bail us out when we get into trouble, let’s bribe a few indiscreet foreign officials. That, Milken would conclude, is precisely what Lockheed had done in the late 1970s.Michael Lewis
Liar’s Poker, p. 267-268
That headline is a fancy way of saying you’ve probably felt like you’re missing out on something, that you need to move on to the next thing every other minute of your waking day. It’s most oppressive in media consumption.
“TikTok now has over 850 million users – I have not yet seen anyone try to quantify the billion of minutes viewed/week that converts into, but it’s quite likely that it dwarfs Netflix’s weekly minute view count (which has 195mm users).”Elena Burger
Is This Profitable?
That quote is taken from Burger’s essay on “what we talk about when we talk about eyeballs,” her exposition on the ever-evasive attempt to ratify the true number of viewers in the streaming wars. That bit was tucked away in the coda to her work; it’s where I found the piece to be the most revelatory: when she compared Netflix to TikTok.
As the companies are branded, one is a streaming service, the other a social network. But they’re competitors. It’s an apples-to-apples comparison that shirks the companies’ colloquial characterizations. So much so, Burger also implies in a nearby sentence that Netflix had to adjust their metric of a view from “watching 70% of an episode” to watching “the first two minutes” – and that it might or might not have happened shortly after TikTok exploded in Q1 of 2020 as lockdown force-fed everyone their phones.
Netflix, via their shareholder letter announcing the change, claims the adjustment to the view metric is to internally level the playing field between long-form works (like The Highwaymen, a two-hour-plus movie) and short episodes (like the 15-minute-long episodes of Special). They buttress the move by leveraging the social equity of the New York Times, YouTube, and the BBC: “But this is how they do it!”
They’re not wrong. But it’s also exactly how TikTok does it. Make it short enough and 70% becomes irrelevant. Two minutes becomes irrelevant. You just watch 100% of the video. It’s how Twitter got you to read 100% of a sentence. It’s why some online publications put a hard return at the end of every sentence. (Paragraphs are hard.)
The casualty in all of this is the preimminent, sustained feeling of schizophrenia created as the moments between your A actions and your B actions are becoming infinitely compressed. Burger quotes David Harvey from his book The Condition of Postmodernity (released in 1989!):
As space appears to shrink to a ‘global village’ of telecommunications and a ‘spaceship earth’ of economic and ecological interdependencies … and as time horizons shorten to the point where the present is all there is (the world of the schizophrenic), so we have to learn how to cope with an overwhelming sense of compression of our spatial and temporal worlds.David Harvey
The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 240
That’s the fancy way of saying FOMO because we don’t actually cope with that “sense of compression.” Instead, it’s that abiding feeling when your attention span has shrunk to the time it takes you to watch a TikTok video and your brain already feels like it needs to move on to the next, causing a wake of mental pollution and a guilt of wasted time – you can remember 30 minutes ago when you aimlessly opened TikTok but now your legs have fallen asleep from sitting on the toilet too long. (And, in a previous life, that same amount of time would have been eight minutes longer than a cable-ready sitcom. But cable is already dust.)
I present it without subjective opinion, more so because, for me, it has realized the link in the chain from America’s pasttime of going to baseball games to going to the movies to sitting around a television set with dinner to binging Netflix to sharing a :15 second TikTok video. I don’t like to fight progress; objectively, this is how humanity will move forward. Your mind is your own personal world, but it’s likely you have felt that same forward movement compress so rapidly and felt it overcome so many “spatial barriers that the world sometimes seems to collapse inwards upon (p. 240)” you.
It’s fascinating to think about what will happen when our minds either a) break down, or b) catch up to those gaps in the time horizon and slow it down.
Designers love trying to emulate classic graphics but almost nothing comes close to the real thing.
(T)he Rockets barely went over the luxury tax (just $3.65 million over) in their one season (2015-16) as a taxpayer. The Warriors spent $49.63 million in penalties over the last five seasons, while even the small-market Thunder spent $33.73 million. There was no excuse for Houston to not open up the checkbook. This is a franchise located in the fourth-biggest metro area in the U.S. that has had a superstar in the prime of his career. Alexander sat on his hands while Houston’s rivals went all in, counting on Morey’s ability to use advanced statistics to turn water into wine.Jonathan Tjarks
Humbled to have been tangential to the man who quite literally changed the game forever. R.I.P. the Daryl Morey era in Houston.
“Algotorial,” a portmanteau created by Spotify’s leadership, defines the intersection between machine learning and algorithms with editorial content and oversight. Insight: culture defines momentum, and algorithms can’t proactively determine that.
Longer insight, from Spotify CEO Daniel Ek:
“We try to be thoughtful about how we program content for the listener. We don’t have the data to determine the signals to measure sentiment, as an example, on a mass scale. This can only be determined by how we see culture reflected on our platform via users creating their own playlists or saving songs. A concrete example is the Black Lives Matter movement. How can an algorithm detect that momentum and figure out the most culturally appropriate way to create playlists celebrating Black Culture? The simple answer is: it can’t. At Spotify, that’s an editorial decision. Now, the algorithmic decision is: who sees the content? Is that the right content fit for everyone globally? Is it appropriate that someone who doesn’t even speak English, but lives in America is served this content?”Daniel Ek
My autobiography begins: “Wanting to make it up to Fear, who had now become his friends, Belushi decided to pull some strings behind the scenes on SNL for their Halloween special which ended up being total carnage. What ensued was total chaos.”
I’ve often wondered if I was alone in my thoughts about hiring people and the hiring process. Take, for example, the NFL Draft whereupon millions of dollars in salary and millions more as a football organization are at stake as teams select amateur athletes to become professionals in the first round.
The process is absolutely grueling and, I promise, unlike any job interview you’ve ever had. After being picked over near-naked in a public venue in front of hundreds, you are tested in every aspect of your athleticism and physical body at the NFL Draft Combine. (X-rays, blood tests, EKGs, MRIs, drug tests…) You are interviewed in person for hours, but, with so much on the line, organizations have also taken to interviewing nearly everyone you’ve been associated with since you were old enough to throw a football. It’s a process a private investigator would drool over.
Of the 223 first round picks over the past seven years, 120 have averaged an AV (Approximate Value) of 5 or more for their careers so far; that’s good for a 53% success rate.Vincent Richardson
“First Round Picks Only Have a 53% Success Rate And Other Troubling Draft Thoughts,” The Riot Report
“Hamlet Was Wrong”
The phrase that Hirschman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to ‘prove Hamlet wrong.’ Hamlet shouldn’t have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them. Hamlet took himself too seriously.Malcolm Gladwell
“The Gift of Doubt,” The New Yorker
Your final decision is a coin flip. It turns out Malcolm Gladwell has a similar belief in hiring.
Photo via Revisionist History, captioned by Gladwell: “Hiring nihilism in action.”
Where the battle against an open society gets lost:
“In a society that depends on an informed citizenry to make reasonably intelligent decisions about self-governance, (fake news) is the worst kind of trouble. And the president — who knows exactly what he is doing — is making it far, far worse. His war on the nation’s traditional press is a part of the same scheme: information warfare, meant to mess with reality and sow as much confusion as possible.”
The most effective way to make citizens subjects, divide et impera (“divide and rule”) is ancient, seeing examples before Jesus Christ. Flavius Josephus wrote in The Wars of the Jews (Book I, 167) that Syrian proconsul Aulus Gabinius, in order to suppress Jewish revolt, ultimately parted the Jewish nation into five conventions, so “the people were glad to be thus freed from monarchical government, and were governed for the future by all aristocracy.”
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in the Sixth Book of The Art of War in the 16th Century:
“A Captain ought, among all the other actions of his, endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy, either by making him suspicious of his men in whom he trusted, or by giving him cause that he has to separate his forces, and, because of this, become weaker.”Niccolo Machiavelli
Sixth Book, The Art of War
Edward Coke, 17th Century English judge and politician, recorded in the Institutes of the Lawes of England (Ch. 1, p. 35 [original]): Eritis insuperabiles, si fueritis inseparabiles. “You would be invincible if you were inseparable.”
Photo is Edward Coke attributed to Thomas Athow, after Unknown artist, after Cornelius Johnson (Cornelius Janssen van Ceulen), via the UK’s National Portrait Gallery
When you’re in a university, Gibson and Strachman tell me, you usually learn to think in a conformist way. “The medium is a message,” says Gibson. “No matter what you do, if you have people acting obediently and taking orders over 16-plus years, that’s going to produce a certain type of person no matter what you teach.” Further, he adds, “it’s striking just how biased and far-left universities have become.” Universities talk about “diversity as a value,” Gibson says, but in practice, he believes, they reinforce a strikingly uniform worldview, in which “all of us are to some degree the victims of forces beyond our control, individual initiative is overrated, and history is a long list of grievances (and) of moral atrocities.”From Tara Isabella Burton
“The Gospel According to Peter Theil”
Peter Thiel Illustration By Garry Brown via The Manhattan Institute
An incredibly interesting breakdown of capitalism’s effect on the ego, the identity, and its ability to come to fruition less it self-destruct.
Featuring BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti and his pre-fame essay on Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
We studied the process by which our Sun’s free energy powers blog posts via a transformation of nuclear binding energy to electromagnetic radiation to heat. The photons power the fixing of carbon in CO2 and hydrogen in H2O into C-C/C-H rich organic molecules in plants, which we digest and break back down via a “slow” stepwise combustion in our cell’s cytosols and mitochondria, which “charges” some (ATP) molecular springs, which provide the “umph” that fires the neurons and moves the fingers. Also, any excess energy is stockpiled by the body as fat, so we need to intake less of it or “waste” some of it away on movement to discharge our primary battery and breathe out our weight.Andrej Karpathy,
And did you know that when we lose weight, we lose 84% of it via our breath?
The carbon in that carbon dioxide you just breathed out may have just seconds ago been part of a triglyceride molecule in your fat. It’s highly amusing to think that every single time you breathe out (in a fasted state) you are literally breathing out your fat carbon by carbon.Karpathy
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.John Gall
Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail (1975), p. 71
This is how we took two steps back to take three steps forward.
I work on an incredibly complex product, and, inevitably, bugs were buried and (seemingly) impossible to root out. To hit our deadlines, we had to walk it all back to critical path and begin anew to be successful.
Now, I can see why some aristocrat might find coaching distasteful. People born on top always want for everyone else to just stay in their places. One way to do it is to make fun of people who try too hard and ban any edge that might help them to compete.Michael Lewis
But the old aristocracy is dead. Now everybody thinks it’s good to try. Everybody competes. And the people who take their coaching most seriously? The aristocrats.
“The Unfair Coach”
Against the Rules, S2E6
In 2004, I took an internship at HM Magazine. While there, David Allen was the Creative Director. I learned a lot from him, but he wasn’t tattooing (yet) and he hadn’t doubled down on his artistry (yet).
In 2020, he’s not only a full-on tattoo artist and, well, artist, but he is doing something incredible and beautiful, tattooing breasts post-mastectomy, giving women back control over their bodies.
Years of passion towards one visual goal had me prepared. She was there… ready and willing to trust my view. The weight was incredible, but together we created a work of art. Her scar was concealed, but more importantly, she took back control. I’ll never forget it. What was clinical became beautiful again… we turned sterile into sensual. We took back control.David Allen
My right forearm is tattooed by him, as well. Honored I’m permanently marked by someone doing such good for these women.