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Entrepreneurs: a Tale of Two Billionaires

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/9229714799Chamath Palihapitiya grew up poor, became a billionaire, but found it wasn’t enough.

As a VC, he is building the kind of real legacy he wants by investing in companies like Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

Compare his attitude to billionaire Vinod Khosla, who blocked access to a previously public beach and now is ignoring a judge’s order to return public access.

Khosla’s actions even spurred passage of a new law that can use eminent domain to force a sale of the property.

Perhaps it’s time to follow an old Roman custom that was used to keep victorious generals’ egos in check; they were required to have a person in their victory chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

It’s definitely time to rewrite the adage, “money is root of all evil” to a more accurate “ego is the root of all evil.”

Flickr image credit: Jason Eppink

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Ducks in a Row: Empowerment Made Easy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


Want to empower your team (spouse, kids, friends, others)?

Try channeling billionaire Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce.com.

When someone shares a problem, skip the advice.

Ask leading questions instead.

The kinds that help the person think through the effects, reactions and repercussions of proposed actions/solutions.

Questions that don’t include what/why/when/how you would do whatever.

The secret isn’t the questions, it’s the fact that Benioff isn’t directing the answers, isn’t even interested in having an opinion and getting his way. He’s also not interested in solving the problem for his employee.

Leading questions sans ego help clarify both the question and the answer.

Amazing how empowering interaction with an authority figure can be when that person gets off their dignity and doesn’t need to vest their own ego in the solution.

Flickr image credit: Rich Anderson

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Ducks in a Row: G&S Combats Ego-merge

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vetlesk/3575715538/Yesterday we considered the dangers inherent when employees start thinking of themselves as an extension of the company/manager, as in ““I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.””

Today we’ll look at why building people, as opposed to making them dependent, is a smart move and three prime things to help you do it.

People building is imperative, because reputation, both the manager’s and the company’s, is everything when hiring, and being known for your great G&S (grow and strengthen) policies and actions will help you attract, develop and keep the best and brightest.

You’ll still lose some now and then when they’re ready for the next challenge and you can’t provide it, but the benefits resulting from their ultra-high productivity and creativeness during the time they’re with you will far outweigh the loss when they do leave.

G&S isn’t rocket science, nor does it have to be costly.

Here are three basic rules to encourage G&S and discourage ego-merge.

  1. Treat everyone on your team and in your company with the same level of respect you want.
  2. Listen to your people. Encourage and assist them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to take their next step—even when it makes your life a bit more difficult.
  3. Always remind them that for all their successes, challenges, and failures it’s “and” not “because.”

Any manager can implement these and other strategies on her own, whether the company supports G&S or not.

However, it’s to a company’s advantage to fight ego-merge and advocate G&S through its policies, then support it by hiring managers who believe in the power of G&S.

But what if you’re a manager pushing G&S down while your own manager is either blind to it or the type who sees ego-merge as a plus?

But what can you do to avoid ego-merge as a worker with no control or leverage?

Awareness is the best protection against ego-merge. Recognize that it exists, understand what it is, know its symptoms and whether you’re prone to it, then monitor yourself, always remembering that the opposite of ego-merge is not arrogance.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Post a watch for the first symptom of ego-merge: when your glow of accomplishment for an exemplary project you did is quickly quenched by negative internal news or media coverage. The greater the offset the greater the ego-merge.
  2. Listen to yourself. When describing a project (successful or not) or coup (large or small), listen to how you describe it and where and how you attribute its success or failure. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Offset and reduce ego-merge in others by publicly giving full credit to those around you at all levels up and down for their contributions.

Flickr image credit: vetlesk

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You are NOT Your Company

Monday, March 25th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/8584948105/How many times, especially these days, at a networking function have you asked someone what they do and gotten the reply, “I’m not working, I’m looking for my next opportunity.”

OK, a lot of people are looking, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Ask again and you might get the same answer, but if your face still has a look of inquiry written on it you’ll get a second answer, “I’m a [whatever].”

It’s sad when people choose to define themselves based upon how they earn a living; worse when, as in the example above, employment becomes the career validation without which the career ceases to exist.

Bad as those are, the worst is when people take another step and subconsciously merge their identity with that of their company—I call it ego-merge.

I coined the term in the eighties to describe a state of mind that is not only unhealthy for individuals, but also damaging to the companies for which they work.

Ego-merge is what happens when “me” and “my company” meld together in the mind of the employee, whether worker or manager.

It’s most obvious in tough times and most noticeable in conversation when people use “because” instead of “and” when talking about accomplishments, thereby crediting the company or manager for their skills.

“I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.”

At first glance ego-merge might actually seem to be a positive for companies—but it’s not.

When employees’ egos merge with their company’s, they often blame themselves for the company’s problems even when they have little power and may not have any line responsibility.

No matter how great their work environment, feeling responsible is a major productivity sapper when times are tough—employees with ego-merge have a difficult time believing that

  • it’s not their fault;
  • their manager doesn’t blame them;
  • they are good enough to help turn the company around,

because in their minds their skills and talent are good because of their manager/company.

Ego-merge affects the best companies/managers, where people are very involved, have high esprit de corps and are passionate about their mission and success.

But it also happens with more Machiavellian managers who intentionally foster the attitude within their organization as a retention tool.

Ego-merge does, in fact, encourage people to stay, but it also cripples them, ruins their creativity, saps their initiative and reduces their long term value to the company.

It’s every company/manager’s responsibility to help their people grow and become stronger, not to subtly cripple them in the hopes that they won’t leave.

In fact, it’s in the best interest of both the manager and the company to become people-builders.

Join me tomorrow for a look at how to recognize and avoid ego-merge, as well as why people-building pays off.

Flickr image credit: Seth Anderson

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Quotable Quotes: Richard Freyman

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_FeynmanIn addition to winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, Richard Feynman was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time by Physics World. I find most of what he says applies easily to the business world as well as my personal world.

“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which ‘are’ there.” Innovators are supposed to see around corners and provide us with things we never dreamed of, but what of all that is and never even noticed as we pass through the world.

“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.” This is so true; I wish more scientists would admit it and stop presenting their efforts, which change so quickly, as “answers,” especially in the medical arena.

Here is another one that should be taken to heart by pharmaceutical and medical researchers, “When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”

That statement leads us to another of Feynman’s insights, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

If you buy that, then this next idea will definitely resonate with you, “The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

Is science a constantly expanding and changing body of information or, as Feynman says, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts?”

I’m not sure how well Feynman would do in today’s world of personal branding and flaunted ego. A guy who says, “I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb” is unlikely to provide sound bites on “lay” matters—especially one who publicly states, “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for introducing me to Richard Freynman

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Ducks in a Row: Worthless Offers

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

That’s right; multiple offers are worthless,.

It only takes one right offer.

Career experts and anybody with more than one job under their belt who can make the mental leap between cause and effect will tell you that culture is the number one reason to join a company, not to mention the number one indicator of how well a person will do.

Perhaps that’s starting to sink in to college dwellers, even those in the rarefied ultra-competitive Ivy atmosphere.

Yalies are a particularly competitive bunch, and nothing delights us more than an acceptance letter (though an open carrel at Bass is a close second). For us, life is a parade of applications, and acceptance is an indicator of self-worth.

During all the years I worked as a recruiter and since in this blog, I’ve spent a lot of effort to help people understand that getting multiple offers should not be their goal, whereas getting the right offer should be.

(In fact, interviewing everywhere just to get offers for the ego-boost can brand you as a shopper; no manager likes wasting time interviewing a candidate whose reputation/history says “shopper” and that reputation got around long before social media existed).

Being in the wrong culture is like being a duck out of water.

Most people aren’t looking for a job they are looking for a home.

They are looking for an environment in which they fit and feel challenged, appreciated and safe.

Isn’t that what you wanted growing up?

Then why is it considered strange that you would crave the same thing in the place in which you spend more than half your waking hours as an adult?

But even when you find the right culture and a job you love it’s worth noting that basing your self-worth on the success of your company is exceedingly dangerous.

Flickr image credit: David Blaikie

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Entrepreneur: Founder Ego on Shark Tank

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

3369027984_55c0b7352c_mDo you watch Shark Tank, the American equivalent of Dragons’ Den in the UK?

For those who don’t, it’s a reality show with entrepreneurs pitching investors on their companies.

Last Friday James Michell, founder of Pure Ayre, was one of the entrepreneurs.

If I had been shown just a clip of him I would have thought it was a put on.

Michell bumbled every question, giving minimum information and forcing the sharks to drag it out of him. He had burned through his seed money, but was responsible for nothing.

Several of the sharks were interested—in the product, not in Michell.

Each offered to buy the entire company as well as pay royalties, but only if he relinquished all involvement with the company.

Michell is a caricature of the entrepreneur who knows it all and can do no wrong—just ask him.

“I was incredibly insulted. They thought the only problem was me. They were making all these assumptions and they weren’t there. It was awful.”

Michell has a severe case of founder ego and it bodes ill for the friends and family that invested in the company.

Watch the episode of Shark Tank, Michell is the last entrepreneur and comes on 30 minutes into the show.

See for yourself; then come back and share your thoughts.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00/3369027984/

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Quotable Quotes: Arrogance

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010


Last week’s Quotes were on egotism and I termed it the co-joined twin of arrogance. In other words, egotism is yin to arrogance’s yang.

Arrogance will eventually crash and burn as many corporate chieftains have proven, especially over the last decade.

Not surprising when you consider the words of Samuel Butler, “The truest characters of ignorance are vanity, and pride and arrogance.”

And they certainly prove the Arabian proverb, “Arrogance diminishes wisdom”

Many of the most arrogant believe the popular unwisdom, “It’s only arrogance if you’re wrong.”

Proving David Hume’s sage words, “When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.”

And Sydney J. Harris offers an additional view, “Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.”

But it is Jorge Luis Borges who puts his finger on the true problem, “…the image of the Lord had been replaced by a mirror.”

It would be nice to believe that all those mirrors on Wall Street were smashed in the financial quake, but that is merely wishful thinking.

Flickr photo credit to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/essygie/3898825852/

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Thoughts on “Ego Out”

Friday, May 21st, 2010

A comment on Ego-merge by Peter Gluck asked for my thoughts on “ego out.” (Peter is a charming fan who says he translats many of my posts into Romanian for his newsletter Info Kappa. How’s that for a great ego trip?)

mirror_mirror_on_the_wallI googled “ego out” to be sure I understood the conversation and here is my two cents—which has absolutely no basis other than my own thoughts on the subject.

First, let’s differentiate between ego and self-esteem.

  • Ego believes that it knows best and ignores any evidence to the contrary, let alone other people’s ideas/thoughts/beliefs.
  • Self-esteem is the belief that one has value and can add value to one’s world. (Note: This kind of self-esteem has nothing to do with the kind promoted in the entitled mentality so prevalent today.)

Self-esteem is good and should be cultivated and nurtured.

Ego, as it lives inside your head, isn’t intrinsically bad, but its application to the rest of the world is bad.

So people say, ‘eliminate ego from the conversation’.

Nice thought, but it falls in the same realm as eliminating junk food and mandating daily exercise to control obesity. As any fool can tell you that just ain’t gonna happen.

What can be done? Let’s look at it a bit differently by equating

  • ego to subjectivity; and
  • ego-out to objectivity.

The first thing that happens with the word change is it eliminates the threat of being egoless—a concept most people cannot/won’t embrace.

Next, change focus and spend energy bulking up and strengthen objectivity.

Third, increase awareness, so that you are conscious of which view you are applying to [whatever]. That heightened awareness will help you keep your subjective/ego view inside your head where it belongs or to plainly state that your words/actions are subjective, not definitive or “right.”

In many cases you want to present your subjective view and in all cases you can have both. For example, Whistler’s Mother is considered brilliant by every yardstick and objectively I can appreciate that, but I have no subjective liking for it.

This blog is another good example. The ideas as well as the commentary on other people’s thoughts, articles, etc. are purely subjective, based on my MAP, i.e., my ego.

I have spent decades developing my objectivity and awareness in knowing which is which, so I have reason to believe it works.

I’ve also found that the stronger my objectivity gets the more it tempers my subjectivity.

And sometimes, I find that ego/subjectivity really adds to the conversation, as long as all parties listen objectively.

Sxc.hu photo credit to: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/582071

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Quotable Quotes: Egotism

Sunday, May 16th, 2010


Seems that leaders everywhere are drowning in egotism; many are going down for the third time and haven’t even noticed. So I thought that I would dedicate today’s Quotable Quotes to egotism—long may it reign rot.

Egotism has to be at the root of the old saying,“He has lulled himself into a false sense of competence.”

Or, as Dan Post said, “Egotism is the glue with which you get stuck in yourself”

Colin Powell warned about a condition I call “ego merge” (I’ll write more about it Tuesday) when he said, “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.” Obviously that doesn’t happen to the Fulds and Thains of the world.

Then, again, they may have learned the truth of Martin Dansky comment, “If you’ve chosen egocentricity for your career path than you’ve chosen to live with the illusion that your surroundings will serve you continuously.”

Have you ever considered that egotism is a kind of anesthesia? No? Bellamy Brooks and Frank Leahy both came to the same conclusion.

Brooks said, “Egotism is the anesthetic given by a kindly nature to relieve the pain of being a damned fool”

But Leahy was more direct, “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”

And since we’re on the subject, join me next Sunday for a quotable look at egotism’s co-joined twin, arrogance.

Flickr photo credit to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrs_logic/3556644715/

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