Moving forward, I will pay for the news I value.
Like many, I often find ways to log in from another device when I’m notified that my “ten free articles for the month have already been viewed.” Even worse, I’ll often google the headline of the article to get around the paywall entirely. And occasionally I’ve “borrowed” a friend’s logins for a premium service. Everyone does it, don’t they? No longer, for me at least. In this new era of misinformation, an era where we need our journalists and our media to be the Fourth Estate they were intended to be, I will pay for the privilege of fine reporting and journalistic integrity. We all should.
In my opinion, there are two sides to that bargain. I am paying so that news organizations will have more resources to deploy toward solid, hard-hitting journalism. If and when I feel they are letting their readers (me) down, rolling over on issues they should be digging into, I will now have a right to complain and I will do so loudly.
When I’m freeriding, or sometimes even “stealing” my news — what gives me the right to complain about its accuracy or integrity?
These days, it doesn’t feel right to be shouting at CNN reporters on my computer screen — streaming a clip while I’m not paying for a cable subscription at home. It feels dishonest to find a way to get that eleventh NYT article for free despite having reached my free quota for the month.
Likewise, other outlets like The Guardian, while not (yet) enforcing paywalls, are asking readers to donate if they like the content they are getting. I will, because I do.
I’ve now composed a list of all the news outlets I value, and have either subscribed, donated, or found a way to sponsor.
PS — to my journalist friends out there, I’m sorry, but at least I’m coming clean now? Better late than never, right?
We’ve all seen our share of “How to Manage Millennials” posts, with older, “wiser” executives complaining about how hard it is to motivate this generation blah, blah, blah. I see far fewer posts directed at talented millennials who are already managers themselves.
So that we don’t get too caught up defining generations, let’s just say this is a post about managing, but specifically for young founders and managers.
Your product may be tremendous and your company may get the attention of all the VCs — but if you’re not building skills as a manager, then good luck going through the challenges of building, motivating, and retaining a winning team. Managing people will probably be the toughest thing you ever do, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Being a great manager will set you apart and get you noticed by those who you want to attract (i.e. top talent, top investors, your next employer).
I see founders all the time who think that their management problems will go away once they raise their Series A and they can trade up on talent. But it’s kind of like what they say about sharing living space in college: “If you keep having bad roommates one after another, then maybe YOU’RE the bad roommate”. Your problems will continue unless you address the root problem.
Here are some things that you need to know, or should be thinking about on a regular basis:
1) Management is about communicating.
Slack is fantastic. I love it. And there are plenty of great tools which allow teams to assign and handle heavy work loads. But when someone’s not performing, or when they ARE performing and you want to acknowledge them, or when a project they’re leading isn’t working as planned, or when they miss their targets, you should make sure you’re looking them in the eye, giving them real feedback. The next best option, in the case of distributed teams, is that you’re on the phone or on a video call. One-on-one meetings are the highest value investment of time that you can make for your team.
Sure, it’s hard to look someone in the eye and deliver bad news, to ask why someone’s not performing, etc — but welcome to the real world. There are no shortcuts.
2) Transparency is great, but strike a balance.
You have to use good judgement on who gets included in what, and how much you share across a team. Most workers cannot handle the stresses of a founder, a CEO or a senior leader. Share all of your worries with them in the effort to be “authentic”, and watch them scatter. Not that you need to tell them everything’s rosy all the time, while you know the ship is leaking — but there’s an art. Focus on the positives and the goals — and make sure everyone on the team knows and understands their role and their deliverables.
Tempting as it may be to have your team also be your best friends, you must have boundaries. You cannot manage effectively without them. Take away those boundaries at your own peril. You can be super friendly, understanding, thoughtful, etc — but that’s different than best friends. Keep it professional.
Long hours are the norm. But enter your employee’s private life and private issues, and you will quickly erase your abilities to manage them effectively.
3) Know when, and how, to part ways.
The very toughest part — firing. Always in person, always reasons given, always paperwork done beforehand, always professional. No exceptions. Firing people sucks, and anyone who enjoys this or is not struggling to sleep the night beforehand is a sociopath — but it is a skill that will serve you well as a manager. If you’re a good manager and if your company is growing, I guarantee you’ll part ways with a lot of people — and if you do it well, you’ll keep your reputation (and your company’s reputation) intact. It’s likely that you’ll cross paths with some of those people down the road, and if you’ve treated people well and professionally, you’ll be rewarded.
When to fire? You’ve already had several discussions with them about their performance, and given them concrete examples on how that performance can be improved. You’ve been very clear about what you expect from them, whether it is sales targets, client leads, deadlines met, working with colleagues, etc. And you’ve done that face to face (or on a call — see above re: distributed teams). It should never be a surprise when you finally have “the talk”.
This process can take two weeks or two months — but the rule of thumb is that leopards don’t change their spots. If you’ve done your part as set out in the paragraph above, and if they are not doing theirs, then it’s best to move swiftly.
4) You’ll never be perfect.
Management is not an exact science. There’s not always a clear right way and a clear wrong way. Just like you do when you’re building your product, you have to experiment and test which methods work well for you. I’ve seen great managers who are introverts at heart, and also great managers who are charismatic leaders. Learn what style works best for you. Read as much as you can — books and blog posts on management, and even biographies of great leaders or politicians you admire. You’ll inevitably pick up some things that work, and some that don’t work at all, or don’t match your personality. But keep trying and you’ll set yourself up for a great future.
As part of this summer’s reading, I recently finished The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive, by Brian Christian.
It was a wonderful read.
Written way back in the dark ages of 2011, it predates the current AI and bot boom that we are beginning to see in venture capital, which in my opinion brings a nice perspective.
“The Most Human Human is an award given out each year at the Loebner Prize, the artificial intelligence (AI) community’s most controversial and anticipated annual competition. The event is what’s called a Turing test, in which a panel of judges conducts a series of five-minute-long chat conversations over a computer with a series of real people and with a series of computer programs pretending to be people by mimicking human responses. The catch, of course, is that the judges don’t know at the start who’s who, and it’s their job in five minutes of conversation to try to find out.
Each year, the program that does the best job of persuading the judges that it is human wins the Most Human Computer award and a small research grant for its programmers. But there’s also an award, strangely enough, for the human who does the best job of swaying the judges: the Most Human Human award.
British mathematician Alan Turing famously predicted in 1950 that computers would be passing the Turing test — that is, consistently fooling judges at least 30 percent of the time and as a result, generally considered to be intelligent in the human sense — by the year 2000. I decided to call up the test’s organizers and get involved in the 2009 contest as one of the human ‘confederates’ — which meant I was both a part of the human ‘defense,’ trying to prevent the machines from passing the test, and also vying with my fellow confederates for that intriguing Most Human Human award. The book tells the story of my attempt to prepare, as well as I could, for that role: What exactly does it mean to ‘act as human as possible’ in a Turing test? And what does it mean in life?”
It’s a riveting book, which explores what it means to actually be human. Easier to prove at this point in time, but as computers get smarter and smarter, the lines will most assuredly blur.
We have come such a long way since Christian wrote this book, and we are only just beginning to see the way AI will shape our everyday lives.
For the past year I’ve been fortunate to have been a beta user of x.ai, an AI-driven meeting scheduler. My “assistant” Amy Ingram (A.I.), and I communicate multiple times each day via email, and “she” also communicates with everyone I set meetings with. In the past 365 days, she has scheduled over 600 meetings for me, with very few mistakes (far less than a human assistant would make). More impressive, I’d estimate that 8 times out of 10, the people who Amy communicates with do not realize that she is a bot (software that simulates human activity).
Much has been written about Amy. Along with countless other beta users, I find myself writing “please” and “thank you” to her — even though she is just a robot and doesn’t “care” about those words. But to me, Amy such a crucial help to me and my work, and she communicates in such a “human” way that it would feel rude not to treat her the same way I would a human. Likewise, I’ve found that many of my contacts (even those who know she’s a bot) continue to treat her with kindness. There are stories about Amy receiving flowers and chocolates as well (http://read.bi/1J8CsfG).
I find the world of AI and its applications to be most exciting, and I can’t wait for my first self-driving Tesla. At the same time, Christian’s book is a reminder about the importance of continued self-exploration, self discovery, and the limitless potential of human invention.