Responsibility

Whether you’re improving your own work or helping others improve theirs,* it pays to spend time talking about who is responsible for what – and what you hope people will take responsibility for as they grow into their roles.

There are layers of responsibility.

1) Given all the necessary inputs…

Do you take responsibility for getting your job done?

2) If an input is missing…

  • Do you shrug your shoulders and put down your tools?
  • Or do you take responsibility for passing the problem to the relevant person – a colleague, supplier, manager?
  • Do you take responsibility for chasing up the solution?
  • If needed, will you work with the relevant person to make it easier for them to fix it?
  • Will you give thought to whether this problem is likely to happen again – and think about what you can do on your side to fix it (by, say, allowing more time in your process)?
  • Will you take responsibility for the breakdown in communication or process – by talking about it, asking for help, trying something new?

3) If the inputs are fine and the process is working…

  • Will you ask how it could be done better?
  • Will you think about whether you could entirely replace the process, or do away with it entirely?

4) Above and beyond the level of processes…

  • Will you take responsibility not just for the defined outcomes of the process, but for what those outcomes are actually supposed to achieve?
  • Will you set an example of excellence in the quality of your work…
  • Including how you treat people while you do it, both in and outside your organisation?
  • Will you take a degree of responsibility for other people do these things – that is, for setting and improving the culture?**

Basic competence in a defined task is just the start – taking that as given, members of your team become more valuable the further down this list they go.

There’s a world of difference between managing someone where you responsibility for their work, and working with someone who takes responsibility to make sure the right things get done in the right way – and helps you and others to do the same. Find more of those people.

*it’s usually best to think about both at once

**No-one likes a meddler, but most of the time most of us make the mistake of not taking enough responsibility for making things better.

Buckstop (find friends)


You can only carry the can so far.

If you started an organisation or business and the buck ultimately stops with you and no-one else, you need to make it a priority to find some friends to share the load. Find people who will make what you’re doing theirs as well as yours, own it and take responsibility for its continuation and success.

Ideally, you need more than one friend: as Clay Shirky points out in this excellent set of videos about network theory, three people in conversation is fundamentally different from two. If one side of a two-person conversation leaves, the conversation stops. With three people in the conversation (or more), people can leave and be replaced, and the conversation continues. In fact, every single participant can change, and it can still be the same conversation.

If you’re a free-lancer, and one day you can deliver your last piece of work, get paid, and close up shop, then you need friends for a different reason. But if you’re building something bigger than yourself – especially if it’s in service of a cause – you’ll soon have responsibility for other people’s work and salaries, and it will get old fast if you’re alone at the top.

Find friends.

Champion (2)

Noun
2 A person who vigorously supports or defends a person or cause.
‘he became the determined champion of a free press’
2.1 historical A knight who fought in single combat on behalf of the monarch.

Verb
Vigorously support or defend the cause of. ‘he championed the rights of the working class and the poor’

OED

Now this type of champion is worth having. Not necessarily a winner in themselves, but someone who helps someone else to win. They know you – probably including a realistic assessment of your flaws – but know that you, your team, your purpose are still worth fighting for.

Your organisation needs friends, and it needs allies, but it would really benefit from some champions. Champions help you out, tell you what you need and help you get it – often by telling others about what you need and suggesting that they give it to you.

If you’re not sure if you’ve got a champion, you don’t. Ask other people if they’ve got any amazing board members, friends, mentors or supporters, and try to get to a meeting (breakfast of champions?) and see them in action.

Don’t try to convince the lukewarm – find a champion. They’ll fight for your success, and they might just change the game.

If you can find a champion, well… that’s champion.*

*Adjective. British , informal, dialect: Excellent. ‘‘Thank ye, lad,’ the farmer said. ‘That’s champion.’’

Champion, or Ways to Win (1)

There are a couple of types of champion:

Noun 1 A person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition [as modifier‘a champion hurdler’ [OED]

This is the winner, the vanquisher of foes. We all enjoy being this kind of champion – as individuals (probably especially as individuals) and as part of a team (“We are the champions”).

There are good champions and bad ones – heroes and villains, magnanimous victors and churls – but champions are a good thing. It’s fun to strive for something, it’s motivating to compete, and more often than not we like it when someone wins.

It’s also fleeting (“This year’s champions”), and – if you think about it in the wrong way – sets you up for inevitable failure. Sooner or later, someone else will be the champion.

And the things that we can win definitively are rarely important, and rarely satisfying in the long run. They are small, clearly defined, rule-constrained, finite games*.

When we’re striving to win these games, it’s worth double checking what we’re burning up to get there – time, energy, materials, relationships, opportunities – and weighing carefully what we get in return, because ‘fun’ is really the main thing we get from being a champion.

In the morning, life goes on.

All the other rewards of being a champion – prizes, status, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as winners, and what we say about everyone else – take their meaning from other games we play.

More on this tomorrow.

*See this post, or go straight to James Carse‘s Finite and Infinite Games

The hard part: other people

Your work probably has several hard parts, and one of them is almost certainly other people.

If only they would…

… do their jobs properly / be vaguely professional / relate to each other as grown-ups / take responsibility / have a little consideration / not bring home issues to the office / leave you alone …

… you life would be much easier.

But if you didn’t have to work on any of these these things…

… they’d probably be bored / you’d have a too-exclusive team / they wouldn’t be people / they wouldn’t need you.

If you’re a manager or leader, these things are at the centre of your contribution:

  • Helping people do their best work
  • Creating a culture and ways of working that enables your colleagues to manage themselves and each other
  • Knowing them well and supporting them personally
  • Taking time to help them with the abstract and emotional and with the nitty-gritty of their work
  • Finding training, tools, relationships that will help them to thrive
  • Having uncomfortable and very specific conversations about what needs to be done and by when and what is and isn’t working …. and dealing with the fact that people don’t always like being told
  • Doing it regularly – being accountable to yourself for your responsibility

If you’re not having fairly regular “Why do I have to deal with this crap?” moments, you might be very lucky, but it might be a sign that you’re not doing something very hard.

Marc Andreessen: the test

More from Marc Andreessen’s brilliant interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman. This time: how breaking into the network in order to get funding isn’t so much a symptom of cronyism as a test of fundamental attributes that a fundraiser will need to be successful.

Marc: In the financing business, like, we are dying to finance the next great startup. Like, people talk about like venture capitalists; it’s you gotta run on these gauntlets to do it or like it’s so, you know, they fund all this…you know, we’re dying to fund the next Google. Like, we can’t wait. So just for god’s sake, figure out a way to build it and bring it to us. Please!

Brian: Right. Though, to get to you, somebody has to be credibly recommended to you.

Marc: Okay, so then this gets to a concept that I talked… So this goes directly what we’re talking about. So you described the process of getting you to read somebody’s screenplay. And basically it’s they have to be a referral. There should be some sort of warm referral.

Brian: Either a referral, or the only other way is over a period of time, you’ve impressed me somehow yourself.

Marc: Yeah, exactly right, independent of this specific thing that you’re trying to create. So, it’s sort of a very similar thing in venture, which is, I mean, there are certain people where it’s just like, the reputation precedes them, and they want to come in to pitch us, we’re gonna take the pitch. And some of those people, by the way, you discover on Twitter. Like, so that’s a real thing.

But more generally, it’s a referral business. And I figured this out early on, when we were starting, I talked to friends of mine at one of the top firms in the industry that’s now a 50-year-old venture firm, one of these legendary firms and they said, in the entire history of the venture firm, they funded exactly one startup pitch that came in cold, right, over 50 years. Now, they funded like a thousand that came in warm and they funded one that came in cold.

And so anyway, so that’s like, okay, well, again, isn’t that unfair? Like, okay.

So that’s why I get into what I call the test, with a capital T, The Test. And The Test is basically, the test to get to us, to get into VC is can you get one warm introduction? Just one. And in our world, you know, your world is agents or whatever or other creatives — in our world it’s an angel investor, it’s a seed funder, it’s a professor, it’s a manager at one of the big existing tech companies, right?

Brian: Someone you think is smart.

Marc: Yeah, somebody I think is smart.

Brian: And knows people.

Marc: But there are thousands of those people out there who I will take that call for.

Brian: Like, I could call you and tell you, but somebody… By the way, I won’t. Let me just say, clearly, I will not!! <laughs> But you have this world…

Marc: You could. Somebody, like, if a director of — I don’t know, there’s like, 1,000 executives at Facebook; Facebook is like a 40,000-person company, it has like, 1,000 executives at Facebook in decision-making capacity — if any one of the thousand calls up and says, “I got this kid I think you should meet.” It’s like, “Yes, I’ll take that meeting.” So it’s like, and again, it’s just one, right?

And so the test is, can you get one person to refer you, right? And it’s like, okay, like… think of the number of ways you could get one person to refer you, you could go get a job and you could go impress a manager and then that manager makes the call.

Brian: That is an incredibly good test, by the way.

Marc: And if you can’t pass the test, The Test, to get a warm inbound referral into a venture firm, then what that indicates is, you are gonna have a hell of a time as an entrepreneur. You are gonna hate being an entrepreneur because guess what you have to do, once you raise money. We’re the easy — I always say like, we’re the easy part of the process.

Once you raise money from us is when the pain begins. And the pain is trying to get other people to say yes to you. The pain specifically is trying to get people to work for you. And they all have choices, right? And so you got to convince them to come work for instead of somebody else; to try to get a customer to buy a product, and the customers are overwhelmed with new products they could buy… and so to actually sell something to somebody. And then at some point, you’re gonna have to raise money again, right? And you raise money from new people each round. At some point you’re gonna have to go get somebody else to say yes.

And so, if you can’t get a warm inbound to us, how are you possibly going to be able to function in the environment in which you’re now gonna be operating, where you’re gonna have to get all these other people to do stuff for you. And so that’s the thing.

Marc Andreessen and Brian Koppelman

Cut it out, or the impossibility of completeness

Nothing is really complete. That story always needs more context to fully understand, that lesson is inevitably missing something important, that job could always be more polished.

With some things (like painting and decorating), we face the law of diminishing returns: more effort results in less and less improvement. There comes a point where going beyond ‘good enough’ is wasteful.

Other things – presentations and teaching in particular – go beyond diminishing returns to decreasing returns: more content undermines what’s gone before, and reduces the impact you hope to have.

By recognising and accepting the impossibility of completeness – you will never be able to say everything – you free yourself up to focus. Not “What is everything I want people to know?” but “What is enough for today?”

Cut. The. Rest. Out.

Get this right – get clarity, simplicity and focus – and those you’re serving are far more likely to listen, engage and understand. And to come back for the next chapter.

Ben Horowitz on trust and communication in organisations

Without trust, communication breaks down. More specifically: in any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust.

Consider the following: If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever, because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests. On the other hand, if I don’t trust you at all, then no amount of talking, explaining, or reasoning will have any effect on me, because I do not trust that you are telling me the truth.

In a company context, this is a critical point. As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t. Telling things as they are is a critical part of building this trust. A CEO’s ability to build this trust over time is often the difference between companies that execute well and companies that are chaotic.

Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things (amazon)

Easy for you

I love obstacle courses. A lifetime ago I was very-part-time in the army, and I remember a morning on an obstacle course early on in our training. It was great – a little group of us blizted the course and left the others far behind. And as I swung across the final obstacle and crossed the finish line our sergeant-major leant forward and spoke quietly into my ear.

“Wouldn’t it be good,” he said, “If those who found it easy helped the others, so that everyone finished faster?”

Eric Schmidt on the tech scene

Here’s more on ‘scenius’ – this time from Eric Schmidt:

The world is much smaller than it seems. If you’re an outsider looking at our world [the world of tech], somehow you think it’s this vast world, but to me it seems like about a hundred people, and they all know each other, they’ve all been on each other’s boards, they were all working towards a common goal.

I’ve since learned that this is how industries develop. So when you go back to the starting of the automobile industry or the starting of any other industry, it was a small community and everyone benefited by working together even if they were competing.

As an aside, when I first came to Google, I developed a habit of calling Terry Semel, who was the then CEO of Yahoo! who was our primary competitor, to congratulate him for every deal he got. And he developed the habit of calling me to congratulate me for my getting every deal. And the reason, aside from being a good person, which he was, was that we knew that if he got a customer to buy their product, we would shortly follow into that account. And he knew that if we got a customer using this, he knew that he would shortly follow into the account.

So there’s a real camaraderie around the building of these new network platforms … and they’re a relatively small group for much of their time.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google – The Tim Ferriss Show Ep. #367