Categories
Culture

Day 700 and Focus

I’m noticing a latent fear in the startup management classes. How do we know if people are focused? Maybe it started with work from home skepticism. But now it’s become an all encompassing yet amorphous fear that nobody is focused anymore. And I have a theory.

It’s all projection. The fear is coming from inside the house. The world is so chaotic everyone is struggling to stay focused. This includes your manager. This includes your manager’s manager. Even your CEO is struggling to shake off the clinging entropy that emerges from constant crisis. And because shit rolls downhill everyone is now flailing around attempting to show they are doing their jobs even as they know they are failing. Even though it remains unsaid because it’s impolite to tell your boss he can’t focus.

The constant chaos that is tugging on our collective capacity to focus is quickly eroding our entire social contract. Not because no one does their jobs anymore. But because we want to be set up to succeed. Because “doing your job” is a point of pride for most people. We like to reliable even if we know there are limits to what we can deliver. So collectively we are hyper vigilant for fraud even as we lack all accountability to each other because we’ve got to protect ourselves first. Self care right?

I don’t see how we get out of this state of fight or flight without a significant changes to culture. Surveillance capitalism isn’t very effective at driving value. It is very good at exacting any drops of it from people attempting to maintain their own dignity. See for instance the railroad workers who have no flexibility in their scheduling. Now with added Congressional oversight!

Categories
Medical Startups

Day 696 and Edge

I’m enjoying a migraine this weekend that was both strong and as of yet unbeaten. Perhaps I overdid things on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. But I’ve been stuck in bed in a dark room for the last 48 hours or so.

While this sounds a bit miserable, I can assure you it is also part of my edge. When my physical works shrinks my cognitive capacity unfurls. I very much liken it to the traditional super hero dilemma of being gifted with something that makes living a normal life a challenge.

I may be stuck inside struggling with light, noise and smell but I can still do most of my core deep work. I can’t take calls or go to meetings but I can be on my phone and my Kindle. I can intake information and I can synthesize that information when I’m in darkness.

And that is 90% of my job. Be informed and make the best decision you can. Those decisions are generally done when you are calm and fast. And I get the benefit of being in rest and digest as often as possible as it’s what keeps me alive.

I’ve got a generalized theory related to finding one’s edge. It’s pretty simple. If other people perceive it as a weakness but you understand how to wield it as a strength then your got an edge. People dismiss you sure. But being underestimated is one hell of a way to get on the better end of a trade.

And so while I’m here looking like I might not be worthy because of some set of heuristics that’s have typically worked well for you I’m actually the one that has a leg up on you. You would do well to think about all the ways in which you can leverage talent and insights that trade below their value. You can make a lot of money betting off of truly underestimated viewpoints.

Categories
Culture

Day 695 and Pareto Focus

Perhaps one of the odder aspects of millennial culture is our enthusiasm for embracing middle age. The excitement of passing into one’s middle and late thirties is palpable on Twitter in particular.

Our Boomer parents still think of themselves as “young at heart”, while millennials are grasping at any semblance of stability that comes our way. Buying a house, watching your children grow up, and acquiring items like minivans are luxury life events.

As culture and civilizational mores careen towards ever more swift changes, millennials are caught between a desire for the stability of previous types of adulthood while also being forced to constantly adapt to new expectations. You are being buffeted by changes that are swift and unrelenting. It is chaotic. You wish fervently to get out of constant fight or flight to the safety of being middle aged, even as the firmaments of past social stability are going down around you.

I believe this is contributing to a serious tension in our work lives. I’m tentatively calling it Pareto Focus to synthesize two concepts. The first being that 80% of the output is from 20% of the work (more commonly known as the 80/20 rule). “Focus” because we have little incentive to grind out focus on the remaining twenty percent of refinement if the rules of the world are changing too fast for expertise to ever be rewarded.

I see this in myself to some extent. I’ve done the work to become a competent working expert in several overlapping fields. I’ve worked in the desire trades including luxury, fashion, and cosmetics.

But I’ve not seen any point in pursuing them to the logical extension of specialization because the chances that the world shifts has always felt too great. Better to understand his desire and attention drive the larger market and refine those skills so even if the winds shifts I will still find work.

This has had a lot of positive effects. I focus on inverting as it allows me to apply the vast array of Pareto knowledge I’ve acquired. And it lets me continue working to intake the 20% of the new so I can I’d enjoy the fruits of the 80% of results.

Obviously I’m simplifying this a great deal. I am genuinely expert in many areas and hold myself to high standards because I’ve met the specialists who have done the long hard road to refinement. And I know where their paths have diverged from mine. Some of it is simply personality driven. Generalists and specialists are needed in any system.

But I do think Pareto Focus might be a phenomenon that’s driving labor allocation and focus in a wider generational way. If change continues to accelerate, you cannot blame people for doing the math on what it takes to survive.

Categories
Emotional Work Finance

Day 683 and Goverance

I’m not a big fan of early stage venture investors meddling too much in the day to day of their portfolio companies. Asking for too much reporting and too frequent board meetings can be a huge source of momentum friction.

But I am a big fan of corporate governance. Even right from the very start. You should have agreed upon avenues for settling issues and disputes from the moment you have assets bigger than an Ikea couch let alone a 32 billion dollar valuation company. A lack of governance structures can lead to deeply destructive behavior even if you aren’t a sociopathic rich kid bent on committing fraud.

As much as it may seem irritating to set up formalities like a full board and agreed upon voting rights structures, you will regret not having it if something goes wrong. And something will go wrong. I’d go so far as to say Murphy’s law is an immutable law of the universe. What can go wrong will go wrong.

The intense pressure of a startup is what turns the lump of coal that is your vision into the diamond that will be worth something in the open market. And pressure is often destructive. People who otherwise respect and trust each other can slowly find themselves deeply at odds.

Just think of your worst breakup and imagine that intensity playing out in ways that impact everything you’ve worked to build. If you’ve ever gone through a divorce I’m sure you understand. Let me tell you a little story about one of my breakups to illustrate why you should set up governance right form the start.

My easiest personal breakup was also one of my worst. We’d moved in together and devised an elaborate set of budgets and savings protocols. We’d combined belongings. We even set up a shared bank account. He was a corporate governance lawyer at a very aggressive firm. I was working a lucrative corporate job but preparing to go back to startups.

While he wasn’t a contract lawyer, he did have enough common sense to suggest we write up a relationship contract complete with dissolution protocols. I thought this was absolutely brilliant which I’m sure tells you a lot about how I operate. Absolutely all of our friends thought we were nuts. Including a colleague and friend who would go on to be one of my board members down the road.

I was in Colorado for my mother’s wedding. I’d expected my boyfriend to join me. But we’d been discovering that all our good faith attempts to arrange the perfect relationship structure was nothing in the face of widely disparate personalities and risk tolerance. No amount of mitigating structure could overcome those differences.

When I came home he’d triggered our breakup clauses and moved out. Everything was done by the governance protocols we’d set out. If I’m absolutely honest I was relieved. My biggest annoyance was losing the Vitamix blender that was his property. As furious and heartbroken as I was at the time, I didn’t have any avenue to engage in my worst most defensive reactionary emotions. Neither did he. Which was extremely valuable as I hadn’t at age 26 gone through the therapy that helps me productively channel negative emotions now.

My ex-boyfriend and I are still friends to this day. Sure it took a few years for us to come around but we’d avoided a scorched earth situation despite the significant risks we’d engaged in by moving in and combining our lives and fortunes after a relatively a brief period. The damage was mitigated by a shared understanding of how we’d manage downside protection and whose rules we’d consider binding.

While I’m sure this sounds a bit weird, I do think it’s a helpful illustration of why even the most optimistic scenarios benefit from guardrails and mutually agreed upon avenues for pursuing a dissolution or change in status.

No matter how calm and rational you think you are, there will be scenarios that trigger deep emotional patterns. If you vomit up those childhood coping mechanism emotions, you need to clean it up even if it feels shameful and embarrassing.

I’d also say it probably tells you a lot that I’m telling you a deeply personal story about a breakup in a personal relationship and not my actual board experiences. There are some secrets you take to the grave and how you failed your business partners tends to be one of them. How they failed you is another. I’ve had reason to be grateful for corporate governance guardrails at all of my companies. Because that is human nature.

So no matter how early it is in your startup journey you should be considering how you’d handle tough times. Set up a board to help you work through and arbitrate disputes. I know you cannot imagine it now but you won’t regret it.

No one is ever fully immune from disagreement (or even disaster) and you owe it to yourself and your partners to set up fair resolution issues from the start. Plus if you happen to have partnered with a sociopath you will appreciate the modicum of protection offered by binding contract law or consensus mechanism contract execution. And if you really want a Vitamix make sure you put that in the contract.

Categories
Biohacking Emotional Work

Day 676 and Fall Back

I was up and out of my bed like a shot at 6am. Fall back time chances were in full swing and I was excited to hit then the ground running. My trackers told me I was about 90 minutes short of my average sleep and warned me I would need a nap as I was only partially recovered.

But my overall recovery felt fine. I went about my business of making a cup of fancy coffee and filling out my to do list. I felt motivated and enthusiastic. I was excited for Monday energy.

I had one of those mornings where my focus was total. I knew my priorities and I was excited to feel like my goals were achievable. Maybe it was the change in schedules. But I was ready.

I plowed through my morning like I was young, healthy and full of joy. Which is a bit ironic as a number of my goals were explicitly designed to bolster any weaknesses in my physical body. I take supplements and remedies. I meditated. I did some movement and mobility work. I did the work in my body so my mind could be sharp and fast.

I had three full blocks of deep focus work where I didn’t even feel a moderate temptation to open my phone or check social media. My energy went into shaping my work to the desired outcome.

When I looked back over my to do list I realized I’d been working for six straight hours. It was time for lunch. I could feel hunger and a bit of fatigue come over me.

I was lucky enough to have my afternoon block cancel on me. I climbed back into bed seven hours after waking and promptly fell asleep. My joy and focus were rewarded with the kind of perfect deep sleep nap you wish were possible all the time.

Maybe I’m too sad to be on Twitter and I’m having to do more of my zeitgeist work by hand through each newspaper and blog. But falling back into a deep work slow pace actually speed me up.

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 673 and Balance

A boyfriend who loves to game once called me a glass cannon. I didn’t know what he meant at first. A glass cannon is an archetype in gaming representing a character with high offensive status but little to no hit points or HP.

When a class cannon goes crit they go off. Boom! When facing a glass cannon you’d better hope you kill them before they rock your world. They hit so hard that if they cycle back for another hit you are fucked. Glass cannons are hard to kill despite the appearance of weakness.

Day 409 and Glass Cannon

I like to hit hard and I like to hit fast. And I’d really prefer to recover quietly by myself to bring back my stats.

There are, of course always, things you can do to recover your capacity. If you are in a game they will find little ways speed up your energy bar. Maybe it’s special armor or equipment you need to wear or training branch that improves your stats once you’ve researched it. But what about in real life?

When I have gone “crit” I like to sleep it off. But I also find that time with my therapist speeds up my process. Activities like meditation and mobility work like stretching and yoga also help. Watching trashy tv rests my mind. Taking a short walk outside near our mountains. Reading quietly in bed helps.

There are things that don’t recover me quickly. Having our with friends is only restorative if we share some of the same interests. I love to go down an autistic interest rabbit hole. Going to event like concerts or sporting activists is exhausting. Doing things is my nemesis.

I am being gentle and affirming with myself this week as I recognize that balancing my recovery is important. And I’m proud of myself for not giving in to the desire to go faster. I’m not criticizing myself for impossible standards. I am balanced between my intensity and my recovery. And wouldn’t you know it I’ve gotten a lot done.

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 672 and Self Confidence

My therapist yelled at me this week.

How are you so good at being objective about business but so bad at being objective about yourself?”

Dagmar

My therapist is not what you’d call the warm fuzzy type. She’s more of an old school “dig deep into your childhood trauma to overcome your self limiting beliefs” type. She’s also in her mid-eighties. They really don’t make them like they used to.

My inner child is still fighting the battles of pre-rationalism where everything is about core emotions. Do I feel love? Do I feel fear? Do I feel shame? And my adult needs to parent her with the comforting objective reality that she has nothing to fear and is deeply loved.

I did not feel loved as a child. Without getting into my parents particulars, there was a belief I absorbed that that the path to secure love was through improving myself. I wanted authority figures to see how hard I worked and how dedicated I was to fixing my flaws. It’s hard to imagine someone as brash as I am as a good girl archetype but I was a Daddy’s Girl.

Nevertheless it is true that I get caught in self improvement loops. I’ll fixate on my trackers and personal data and fuss and futz about how things could be better. And I have to consciously remind myself that outcomes are what matter not “trying really hard.” Ironically I have no problem with reaching challenging specific outcomes. I have problems rolling back my inputs to only what is necessary to achieve my outcomes.

Now my therapist is no slouch. She’s one of the smartest and best connected women I know. She is more than qualified to rate my mental acuity and processing power. And she’s now on a mission to remind me of the fact. She wants me to have self confidence in the objective reality that I can achieve my desired outcomes.

And she is correct. I am not being rational in my assessment of my own capacity and talents. I let my inner child’s fears well up and her illogical viewpoints do my adult no favor. In reality I’m competent, capable and absolutely good enough to compete in the arena.

I have an uncanny sixth sense for future market moves and social trends, a numerate mind with a literate education, and all of the skills necessary to source and invest in early stage startups thanks to years in the trenches as an operator and angel investor. If you’d like to invest with me I am objectively very good.

Categories
Startups

Day 645 and Progress

I was recounting a few pieces of work that have been ongoing to some family last night. Both items were the result of choices and trends I’d been following and cultivating for well over two years. One of the items was even set to debut next week. I had some demonstrable proof points that I was right and right long before anyone else took any notice.

I was extremely pleased to recount the long arc of work that had gone into these trend lines and how they were manifesting in successful investments and media attention now.

Usually when someone asks me what I do I have a tendency to stumble around a few more or less goofy bits. I am retired from working in propaganda. I am a house wife that manages the family budget (this works only with stay at home mom or high net work wealth managers). If I’m feeling chatty I explain the Thursday Styles Problem. If I’m not feeling chatty I’ll just say I’m an investor. Occasionally I will make an attempt to explain the founder to angel investor to venture capitalist career arc.

It’s not actually that easy explaining work that involves years of waiting. If you work for an established name brand venture capital firm it’s probably easier than being an angel investor with a small syndicate or seed fund. But even if you are Sequoia it still takes a decade on average to prove out your bets.

I’m thrilled to have concrete examples to point with any of my investment thesis points. I’m lucky that I have exposure to media so I occasionally get the chance to share what I work on online and in print. Not everyone has the skills to be as visible as I am. But it sure felt great to make some progress. And yes I promise I’ll share publicly when I can.

Categories
Culture Politics

Day 644 and Status Equivalence and DAO Leadership

Capitalism has largely been a triumph of hierarchy as an organizing mechanism. As we evolved from mercantilism into corporatism, appointing and holding accountable a single point of failure in a chief executive officer has become an effective shortcut for managing complexity when deploying capital. Leadership is responsible for the outcome.

The aphorism “failure is an orphan but success has many fathers” abuts against the reality that while we love to lavish praise upon executives, monarchs and other singular nexuses of responsibility it’s often not reflected in reality. Our bias in the post-industrial revolution has been towards leadership via individual even as post Enlightenment values valorize democracy and community participation. It’s been a tension for since the Industrial Revolution. America exemplifies this as the country most committed to both participatory federalism and corporate capitalism.

I am particularly interested in this tension as I believe we may be on the crux of larger organizational needs and are seeing them begin to coalesce in crypto. As decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, make an attempt to become the new corporate governance structure in Web3, it seems worth studying the question of whether leadership is a singular or collective exercise for humans.

What does the historical and anthropological record have to say about how we organize? What are we evolved to prefer and are we capable of evolving further?

The bias we operate with now is great man theory. But what if that is not just wrong but not even the predominant form of human organization through history? Critics of cooperation might do well to explore this in particular.

I came across a Rob Henderson blog post which is an extended overview of a piece of sociology Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by the UCLA anthropologist Christopher Boehm. According to Rob’s post, the main question of this work is whether humans are by nature hierarchical or egalitarian. And it turns out our hunter gatherer forefathers were mostly egalitarian. The bulk of our history is egalitarian.

The anthropological record along with research on extant modern hunter-gatherers suggests that for most of human history we have been egalitarian, defined as “status equivalency among the decision-makers of a group.”

Rob Henderson reviews Hierarchy in the Forest

If you extrapolate this into a modern corporate context, the C-Suite or executive team, or perhaps even the founding team, are roughly the status equivalent decision makers. Maybe there is a first among equals in the CEO or founder but they can, in theory, be replaced by a board. But what if instead of a C-corporation you are managing a cooperative like a DAO? What then?

Apparently we humans are rather good at maintaining status equivalence. Richard Wrangham’s Goodness Paradox discusses how humans have self domesticated to avoid too much resource and power aggregation.

Over time, early humans eliminated those who were overtly aggressive. They killed or ostracized upstarts hungry for power; men with aggressive political ambitions. Other men would quietly organize to commit collective murder of troublesome male

Rob Henderson on Goodness Paradox

Moral communities evolve and punish those who deviate from acceptable standards. If you are too ambitious as an individual we swoop in as a species. It seems a bit miraculous in that light that we live in an era of kleptocracy and power consolidation given our tendency to murder upstarts. Great man theory isn’t all that sustainable. Or is it? Perhaps it’s that we asset influence obliquely. I’d wager any woman would agree.

Oftentimes, headmen display “self-effacing” behavior. Headmen and informal leaders usually obtained their roles through talent in hunting or warfare, storytelling ability, or congeniality. They rarely assert direct authority.

Rob Henderson on Boehm

If indirect authority is a sustainable organizational preference in the anthropological record, perhaps corporations are more amenable to reconstruction as DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) through the principle of status equivalence.

The autonomous part seems the trickiest, but decentralized authority inside tribal organizations are at least recognizably human. If as a group we disliked a status or resource hungry “great man” we leaned on the leadership preferences of status equivalent equals and forced you out.

I see no reason we can’t write in similar parameters into a smart contract as an experiment. At the first hint of a rug pull let the burning begin! We are already seeing political battles for resource allocation inside bigger organizations like MakerDAO. Crypto may be a worthy space for experienced leadership to show that figureheads like CEOs or founders are not the crucial lynchpin for progress and stability we believe.

Which would be quite a balm to me personally as I’m deeply skeptical of authoritarianism as a solution for our technical and social problems. I’d much rather we explore the wisdom of past tribal knowledge to guide us than look to a mythical great man to save me.

Categories
Community

Day 639 and Act Local

I grew up in a hippie college town that was fond of bumper sticker activism. Showing off your sense of humor and your political priorities was a fun thing to do with your Subaru Outback in the late nineties and early aughts before Facebook and the rise of social media.

A classic of the genre was “Think Global, Act Local.” I found this example on Etsy. And no I’ve got no idea what charity it ties back into.

Think Globally, Act Locally Bumpersticker

Maybe it was just less cringe to have this sort of thing on your car before we all spent half of our days yelling at strangers on the internet. I personally remember thinking Visualize Whirled Peas (a band from Austin) was a hilarious way to protest American war mongering as a teen. Of course, I still wrote Amnesty International letters at the time.

Now I’m not even sure who to donate money to at the end of the year as institutional trust continues to break down. Thinking globally is often the source of much anxiety. Currency collapses and the threat of nuclear war from Russia might be throw backs, but doomscrolling and feeling helpless is too modern. What is old is new again but in more potent anxiety inducing form.

So it was a bit of a relief to enjoy the “act locally” part of the classic bumper sticker this morning. Our local volunteer fire department had a pancake breakfast. Now as an adult my husband and I live outside of a completely different college town in the wider surrounding Gallatin Valley.

The rural (as opposed to city) county fire departments operate with a lot of local good will. They have a professionally trained but all volunteer force and cooperate with other districts through mutual aid frameworks. Practically, that meant a lot of college students taking advantage of living at the fire station to offset their costs while deepening ties to the community. A pretty ideal set up for a tight knit rural community. We get talent and they get skills and housing during their college years.

But calling them volunteers makes it sound less professionally run than the reality. I was impressed with not only the depth of knowledge of the entire department but also just how well maintained all of the equipment clearly was. Sure they probably cleaned stuff before letting their neighbors come in for a visit but everything was so shiny and new. I came away feeling a lot more secure about making a 911 call.

Now maybe that’s just function of meeting the fire chief and chatting with EMTS. And that’s probably exactly why they host these pancake breakfasts. But after two hours of touring equipment, and talking to everyone from the Medivac helicopter pilot to the youngest college kid on the squad, I felt like this was a team that has its shit together.

Now I’m actually excited to vote for a bond issue to get another fire truck or two! But in the meantime we dropped a few twenties into the boot on the table.

Pancakes and a fire boot for donations to the county fire department.