Published in UT San Diego, January 13, 2014
The Performance Review. It is that time of year when companies all over the world take a moment to tell their employees what they think of them. These can be dreadful exercises in flattery, followed by being fired two weeks later. They can be vague and short (“Good job, Betty, now get back to your desk”) or in-depth (two hours of explaining how the boss likes his papers stapled), again followed by being shown the door.
All leaders serve at the pleasure of the board of directors, and in this case the board is our readers. So as we begin 2014, I have decided to do some soul-searching and present my credentials for one more year of your readership.
I serve that role at a company that I believe is on the cusp of greatness while also being quite close to complete disaster. Odds of keeping the job are 50-50. Grade: B+. Tendency leans toward the infamous “take this job and … ” But like the Woody Allen line in “Annie Hall,” “I would tell my brother he is not a chicken, but I need the eggs.”
I have attended panel presentations, inhabited multiple incubators and screened multiple companies. My goal is to be supportive and helpful, but I have been faulted for delivering my words with an inadequate amount of sugar coating. Tough love might work for drug addicts but needs to be modified for young entrepreneurs. I am not Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth.”
I funded three startups last year. All are still in the hunt, are funded and appear to be headed for greatness. But the jury is still out. One is my son’s company, so I am probably blind to reality on that one. (However, if Mark Zuckerberg offers a billion on any of them, we are taking it.)
I had one good idea for which I was able to recruit a team that has a good chance. My good fortune is that the other co-founder is charming and competent and connected. Grade: Lucky. Remember Dan Kahneman. Luck is not random; it is a force of nature and like a train it comes through the station at unpredictable times. You need to be standing on the platform, and when it comes through, get on. But do not leave the station.
All I can say is that Ms. Bry has not yet elected to exercise the nuclear option. Grade: Incomplete.
2013 was a tough year in that area. My children are gainfully employed but it is clear that the era of giving advice that is both desired and followed has passed. Going forward my plan is to bite my tongue and remember that you do not tweet and you do not even know how to download an app. Grade: Guilty as charged, but nolo contendere and will throw myself on the mercy of the court.
I believe in Rule No. 302: More money is lost through neurotic behavior than through bad business decisions. In keeping with this rule, I have signed up for my 22nd year of psychoanalysis. However, at this point in the therapy, every third session, I sit in his chair and help him when he gets confused. (He thinks he wants to be an entrepreneur — yikes!)
So, welcome to 2014. May it bring all of you everything that you want. The trick in that sentence of course is knowing what you want. (My shrink has an opening on Thursdays.)