19 July 2013

Learning to say Yes

Austerity measures in Europe are crippling economies as governments and the wealthy just say No to the social contract. And here in the US - from saying No to protecting black kids in Florida to saying No to Women's Rights in Texas to the big hell No from the Supreme Court to all non-white citizens of the US... We are increasingly living in a world where the default answer to anything is No.

And I simply hadn't realized how negative an impact the pervasive culture of No was having on me. Sure... I've been stressed and frustrated and increasingly disillusioned and disengaged. But I figured that was life and work transitions bringing me down.

It was within this context that I thoughtlessly said Yes to something that has changed things for me.

I was moping about - probably working on a blog post about something I hated. And then three people I love and respect (Thor Muller, Ted Rheingold and Derek Powazek) each independently asked me if I was going to go to YxYY (Yes By Yes Yes).

I (being hopeless at anything cool or hip) said, "what?" And they filled me in. Honestly... as a misanthrope and curmudgeon - it didn't really sound like my bag. I don't go to Burning Man (seeing my co-workers naked on drugs doesn't sound like a good thing to me). SxSW is (for me) just a slightly less awful version of CES.

But these were friends. And they were convinced this was going to be awesome.

So I said Yes.

I'll be honest.
I almost backed out. A few times.
I feared Kumbaya.

But I went.

And it was.... Amazing!

Others have written about the event in far more interesting and emotionally accessible ways than I can. So I will only briefly touch on the event itself to say that:

  1. I've never before understood the meaning of a "safe place" or why it would be important in this context and now I do. Watching everyone open up over the first 24 hours and then seeing their delight when they realized that they truly were not being judged but simply were accepted as they were was truly a priceless experience. 
  2. The combination of a self-selecting audience and a curated audience was perfect. There was rarely a conversation that was not interesting. Think about that statement. When was the last day (much less 2.5 day period) where the majority of your interactions with other people were interesting? Seriously. And in this case more than 75% of the conversations were really interesting.
  3. It's all about the people. Really. You get the people right - they'll take care of the content. They'll take care of the vision and the activities and execution. 

So... enough about the event itself. What I want to talk about is the impact it's had.

First of all... as I've said before, the tech world has a bunch of very fucking loud douchebags. But this event made me realize that this community also has a lot of really wonderful (often quiet) people. Actually... what it's made me realize is that the tech fucking douches are not my community. They are not part of this community period. They are parasites on the community. The community itself is largely filled with pretty awesome folks. But they've been drowned out in any conversation by the assholes - and until YxYY there was no way for this community to self-organize in a manner that wasn't immediately co-opted by the asshats (and was safe and respectful as a result). For me... this realization was a profound one that has given me new hope.

Secondly... there is a lot of talk around the tech scene about folks not focusing on fixing "big problems" but instead working on optimizing small features or engineering a quick flip acquihire. Well... I think that is, again, because of the S/N issue with the loud douchebags because believe me... most everyone at YxYY was talking about solving truly big issues. And the ideas were incredible. But without a voice (and while the fuckers have their Pravda outlets like Pando) it's hard for this community to get heard. My hope is that now that we all know that we're all working on this - and now that we all see there is hope - folks will start speaking up more and start getting heard as a result.

Thirdly... there is no easy way to create innovation within a culture of No. And within a culture of Yes innovation flourishes. That was made extremely obvious to me. As the meta-culture around us continues to shift darker, more negative and more No - if we want to continue to do amazing things and be truly innovative, we are going to need to create a sort of "protective" sub-culture to enable and encourage us. I think that YxYY could in fact become that sub-culture.

Finally... my entire attitude has changed. It's not just the hope I mention above. It's not just the realization that I'm not surrounded by douchebags. A huge part of it comes from a very simple resolution I made for myself while traveling back from YxYY. I resolved to try and make my default response always be Yes. Sure... there would be times where I'd have to say No. But rather than starting from No and requiring that I be convinced to say Yes - I'd take the positive and hopeful view and start from Yes.

And it fucking works.

With every day my attitude is improving. With each new odd discovery or great experience - with all the positivity feeding into my life I feel like we're not all going to hell in a burning 1977 Pinto.

It's so simple.

Just say Yes.

18 July 2013

a minor rant

Dear Startup Proto-Libertarians,

The industry you so adore - the technology and innovation which you champion as the answer to all the world's problems - would not exist without government programs, government spending and (thus) our tax dollars.

The Internet (as we all should know) wouldn't exist without government funding. And Silicon Valley as we know it wouldn't exist without defense contracts and government science and research programs.

So when you talk shit about the government, spending, programs and taxes - I'm left with only two choices. Either you are an arrogant and ignorant ass (aka a douchebag) or you are an ungrateful and selfish tool (aka also a douchebag).

Just stop.
It's making the rest of us sick.



PS. Oh... and just so you know... those unions and their "lazy" members you bash all the time? You might want to do some research into where their pension funds are invested. Odds are they're funding YOUR startups. So be fucking grateful for once, mkay?

02 July 2013

So What Can I Do About These Douchebags?

Ever since Valleywag republished Part 3 of my somewhat epic rant about Douchebags in the Startup World, folks have been asking me what can be done - or if in fact anything can be done.

My response has been the same in all cases.

First - please read the first two parts in the three part series. I'd suggest starting with Part 1. If you work in startups or want to work in startups, this should give you some things to work on that will help you not be a douchebag.

Second - put pressure if you can on Venture Capitalists to stop funding douchebags.

But there is a third thing that folks can do - there is a third way in which we can push for changed behavior in the entrepreneurial community.

You can stop hiring douchebags.

If folks running startups - if managers at startups simply stop hiring douchebags (no matter how skilled they might be or how desperately they might be needed) it will be a huge help. It will be a huge help not just in terms of forcing a change in acceptable behaviors within the industry - but also with your own company.

I'll explain...

I believe it was Keith Rabois at the First Round Capital CEO Summit who introduced me to the "Brilliant Asshole" concept. The idea is that there is no worse hire than the Brilliant Asshole. This is the employee who you make excuses for their behavior because they are so gifted. You hired them (despite misgivings) and figure their upside outweighs the negatives.

The problem is that hiring (and keeping) the Brilliant Asshole demonstrates to all other employees that the rules are not evenly applied. Exceptions are made for brilliant people. You can be a total asshole if you are good at shit.

And people tend to think they are good at shit. And people tend to act a bit like sheep.

Next thing you know the good people are resentful and disengaged. And the mediocre people are all following the lead of the assholes. And the asshole are running the show.

So never hire a Brilliant Asshole.

The exact same is true of douchebags. Once you hire one single douchebag and tolerate their behavior, all the closet douchebags will emerge. All the suppressed anti-social behaviors will emerge. More douchebags will be hired (because like attracts like - but also because good employees don't want to work with a bunch of douchebags).

You hire a douchebag and you are going to be a douche company.

So stop hiring douchebags.

And think of all the stupid, petty interpersonal issues that you won't have to deal with anymore. Bonus!

01 July 2013

WTF is wrong with Tech Media

So I've been working on a draft piece pleading with the media to stop glorifying douchebags. Yeah... tilting at windmills I know.

But at this point I'm abandoning the whole thing.

At this point it is clear that the media is not only unlikely to do what I request - it is in fact all too clear that they are a huge part of the problem.

Exhibit A - Techcrunch publishes 9500 word onanistic screed from entitlement spokesmodel Sean Parker defending his obscene wealth hobbit themed wedding. Note: the problem actually isn't the screed or its length or its insane white whine nature but rather that Techcrunch published it.

Exhibit B - Pando Daily posts third grade level bitchy whine fest from click-bait founder Bryan Goldberg on what "real" journalists should be doing. From what I can tell (honestly... do they not have editors at Pando?) he feels they shouldn't be covering tech in general (and definitely shouldn't be writing accurate critiques of startup companies which lack effective business models). Note: again, while the piece flat-out sucks, the problem is that Pando Daily published it.

So seriously tech media... WTF?!?!?
Are you really nothing more than Personal PR flaks for the rich and powerful?
I'm not asking for good journalism, or even professional caliber writing. But at least have SOME ethics.

Because this is a fucking joke.