Human Compilation Error

Today’s edition was produced in partnership with Justin Irabor. It is a half-fictional essay about startup founders and mental health. We think you’ll like this one. As always, give us feedback about the newsletter
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Bruno Jide was 21, fresh out of school and looking to make an impression. As a result, he was an overeager, overexcited bunch of nerves; he resumed work early and closed late and always wanted to take on more work. He was only three weeks in.

It was December, 2012.

The company was close to closing up for the year and the entire team was huddled together in the largest room in the building (it had a poorly-stocked bar in the East-end, but no one ever drank from it). The room was splashed in a lazy blue pouring out of the projector overhead. The CEO was putting on his strongest act today; it was the regular talk — 2012 in review, highs and lows and plans for 2013.

Bruno was on the edge of his seat. He loved the CEO. He was learning to speak like the man, laugh like him and throw smart quips when he entered a room — just like the man. So far — and unbeknownst to him, he had only so far succeeded in making his colleagues loathe him further.

The talk was over in 25 minutes. No one said a thing. The entire house stared balefully at the CEO. He prodded, any questions?

No one said a thing. Bruno was alarmed. This was a brilliant, beautiful talk. Why is no one saying anything? In his panic, he raised his hand and asked a question, any question, to communicate his personal engagement. The CEO answered, but his heart was obviously not in it.

‘I am disappointed in every one of you,’ he said afterwards. ‘That the youngest and newest member of this team should be the most engaged. I expected better.’ He stormed out, abandoning the projector and his notes.

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Networking Should Not Look Like Networking

Last week in Series V
, we published a half-fictional essay about startup founders and mental health in partnership with Justin Irabor. You can still catch up past editions here.

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If you watch a lot of movies, you probably already have a subconscious guide for if you go to jail: find the biggest guy in jail, and beat him up. Don’t ask why — these are rules. If you can beat up the toughest guy in jail, you become the new toughest guy in jail and no one will bother you after that.

(Unless, of course, someone new who watches a lot of movies gets jail-time.)

This idea is problematic because it seems to be conflating biggest guy with toughest guy. Appearances, as we know by now, are often deceiving, and so if you’re looking for the toughest guy in a room, sometimes it may not be the 90kg tattooed guy lifting weights with a mean scowl in the corner, but the bespectacled bookworm practicing his transcendental meditation during prison lunch break.

Understanding who the toughest guy is — and not relying on the flawed model of appearances alone — is a valuable skill to have in jail, but it is crucial to have in business.

Consider networking events for example.

A recurrent rookie mistake we find people making is pitching to someone who looks like the biggest person in the room, and finding themselves frustrated when the expected progress is stalled. It’s very common for random people to walk up to random people at events, make small talk and exchange business cards. You can often watch them tick a check-box in their heads: yep, ‘networking’ has occurred.

Someone once said that ‘networking events are opportunities for desperate people to exchange business cards with equally desperate people’, and very often we see this play so obviously in broad daylight. I was recently reminded of this when Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights observed that most of the events he has ever spoken at [on behalf of CB insights] have been of no value to the business. His is the most recent example of this problem I remember; whatever ‘synergy’ or ‘opportunity’ you get from attending one of these things is bound to be more the result of entropy than a feature of the ‘platform’.
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