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What We Look for in Founders

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

In “What We Look for in Founders“, Y Combinator principal Paul Graham lists the top 5 traits that his vulture capital investment company looks for in a would-be entrepreneur:

  1. Determination
  2. Flexibility
  3. Imagination
  4. Naughtiness
  5. Friendship

While writing about “determination”, Mr. Graham says:

“We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That’s the myth in the Valley.”

Note that the following traits that pervade toxic corpocracies everywhere are not on the list:

  1. infallibility
  2. arrogance
  3. entitlement
  4. image
  5. bloodline

Delusions of Grandeur

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

In “Founders At Work“, Jessica Livingston interviews a boatload of company founders about their personal experiences with regard to starting their companies from the ground up. Paul Graham, who co-founded “ViaWeb” and sold it to Yahoo 3 years later for a cool $45M, was asked about his search for a CEO in the early days. Here’s what he said:

The problem with all of them was that they had delusions of grandeur. This was the beginning of the Internet Bubble, remember, and I think all of these guys saw themselves as some kind of grand CEO, while we programmers labored in the kitchen cooking the food and washing the dishes. If the deal were simply that the business guy would be the public face of the company, but we would be allowed to do what we wanted and make sure everything worked right, that would have been OK. But we were worried about what might happen if one of these guys wanted to actually be the chief executive officer and tell us what our strategy should be. We’d be hosed, because they didn’t know anything about computer stuff. – Paul Graham

Ornament And Substance

When you’re forced to be simple, you’re forced to face the real problem. When you can’t deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance. – Paul Graham (Hackers And Painters)

Mr. Graham’s quote explains why the higher one goes up in the corpo chain of command, the more jargon-filled and superficial the communications bestowed upon the adoring DICforce below. This ornament/substance conundrum is also true for DIC to DIC communication when one DIC is a highly credentialed complexifier and obfuscator. You see, when people don’t know what they’re freakin’ talkin about and they feel the egoic need to appear infallible and all-knowing, they’re compelled to cover it up by attempting to make others feel inferior and dumb.

Alas, don’t lose your faith in humanity because it’s not the individual ornament-deliverers that are “bad”. It’s the ancient pyramidal class system that they’re an integral cog in that weaves that behavior into the fabric of their being. Because the ornament/substance dichotomy is a blind spot to them and the system automatically provides them with power and riches (at the expense of the whole), the system’s designers and maintainers have no incentive to blow up and redesign the system for optimal performance of the whole. Plus, virtually every other corpricracy is structured as a CCH, so it must be right, no?

What Without How

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

In “Hackers And Painters“, the great essayist Paul Graham states: “asking for what without knowing how is asking for trouble“. I’m on board with that because BMs do that all the time and I’ve seen the wreckage of that approach many times over the years. The higher up the BM, the less he/she knows about the “hows” but the more he/she demands the “whats“. The real damage comes from front line BMs who stop learning and let their “know how” skills atrophy because they’ve been promoted up from the cellar. Hell, they’ve “arrived” and there’s no need for keeping the sleeves rolled up and wrestling in the muck of challenging work that requires continuous learning and sustained immersion.

“The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” – Robert Frost

But what about when a group suddenly discovers that it needs to try something new to survive and thrive? In this case, everyone may know “what‘s” needed but nobody knows “how” to do the “what” – because it’s never been done by them before. Unless the group can hire outside expertise that has done “what” needs to be done before and therefore knows “how” to do it, the “how” must be learned on the fly in a typical high speed sense-act-reflect-correct feedback loop. Sadly, but expectantly, no time is ever “allocated” for training/learning “how” to do something new by institutional BMs; it costs money, consumes time, and it’s unspoken but expected that everybody knows “how” to do “what” at all times.

Categories: management Tags: ,

Don’t Say It!

One of Paul Graham’s brilliant essays in “Hackers and Painters” is titled “What You Can’t Say“. In it, he analyzes the question: “How do people in power determine what you can’t say in a given historical time period?” He goes back to the Galileo era and cites the fact that what was taboo to say in one generation became trivially “OK” to say in subsequent generations. It’s sad because over the ages many people were persecuted, tortured, and killed because of what they said in one generation, only to have their deaths become senseless in the subsequent generation(s).

I think Paul’s answer to the “what you can’t say” question is pretty much right on:

“The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true.” – Paul Graham

How do I know that Paul is close to ground zero? Because when I get mad those are the reasons that trigger the madness. Mr. Graham’s conclusion aligns closely with the following GBS assessment.

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.” – George Bernard Shaw

If I was GBS, I would have stated it as:  “All great truths begin as blasphemies that, when stated before it’s appropriate to do so, will get you censured, fired, tortured, killed, or all of the above.”

Strongly Typed

February 25, 2010 9 comments

In “Hackers and Painters“, one of my favorite essayists and modern day renaissance men, Paul Graham, states his disdain for strongly typed programming languages. The main reason is that he doesn’t like to be scolded by mindless compilers that handcuff his creativity by enforcing static type-checking rules. Being a C++ programmer, even though I love Paul and understand his point of view, I have to disagree. One of the reasons I like working in C++ is because of the language’s strong type checking rules, which are enforced on the source code during compilation. C++ compilers find and flag a lot of my programming mistakes prior to runtime <- where finding sources of error can be much more time consuming and frustrating.

Driven by “a fierce determination not to impose a specific one size fits all programming style” on programmers, Bjarne Stroustrup designed C++ to allow programmers to override the built-in type system if they consciously want to do so. By preserving the old C style casting syntax and introducing new, ugly C++ casting keywords (static_cast, dynamic_cast, etc) that purposefully make manual casts stick out like a sore thumb and easily findable in the code base, a programmer can legally subvert the type system.

C++ gets trashed a lot by other programming language zealots because it’s a powerful tool with a rich set of features and it supports multiple programming styles (procedural, abstract data types, object-oriented, generic) instead of just one “pure” style. Those attributes, along with Bjarne’s empathy with the common programmer, are exactly why I love using C++. How about you, what language(s) do and don’t you like? Why?

Some Of My Heroes

September 29, 2009 3 comments

“We’re just two wild and crazy guys” – Yortuk and Georg Festrunk

Wild And Crazy Guys

Unlike the quote above, Joe Walsh’s “I’m just an ordinary average guy” fits me to a tee. In spite of this, I’d like to think that I’m open to new ideas and thinking. At the moment, here are some of my favorite, inspirational, weird, and forward looking (but pragmatic) thinkers:

Check out what one or more of these whack jobs have to say if  you’re yearning to explore and discover new opportunities that may crack the  concrete in your brain and challenge your same-old, same-old mental models of the world. If you think there is an “edge” to my blarticle posting style, then you should give all the credit to those dudes.

Who are your favorite thinkers, visionaries, and potential status-quo busters? What, you don’t have any? Why not?

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