Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 18, 2022
by Neil Senturia
I have a dilemma, and I am turning to the crowd for guidance. The issue revolves around a disappointment in someone and what is the proper rational response.
The fact set is that I have recently made a few people a fair amount of money from a company that I co-founded. I went to a few of these same people to solicit an investment in my newest, latest and greatest scheme and was rebuffed. I puzzled that they must have short memories.
I then checked with two other startup founders and I got similar stories. Your best friend ghosts you, while someone you met at a bar turns out to be your ally. The founders got assistance from unlikely places, from people with whom they had only tangential relationships, and from the ones where there was a long history and a perception on their part that they would be there for you baby, they were stiffed.
So, the human question is, just exactly what right do you have to assume that you are entitled to a positive response, that you are “owed”? It seems arrogant. But what about the infamous unspoken quid pro quo. Do you have any juice, have you been relegated to the sidelines? And that leads to a discussion of power.
For a look at the nexus of between expectation and “power,” I turned to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford professor, who says, “if you are going to get anything done, you have to have power.” Relationships are all about balance, and whether tech or politics, the pendulum can swing quickly.
He goes on to say, “acquiring power means breaking rules.” No one hands you power, you grasp it. Pfeffer is known to border a bit on the outrageous, but if he is correct, then the renegades will rule the roost. Consider some of the tech titans.
He says “self-confidence is crucial — even when it is unwarranted.” If you claim competence, and no one calls you out, then by process of elimination you now have competence. This is crazy. He goes on to say that “appearance and body language really matter.” The default mantra is he looks good in a suit, so he must be a genius. That is ridiculous. Outrageous you say, but maybe he is correct. Elizabeth Holmes looked good in a black turtleneck. Adam Neumann is striking and tall.
I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I am not that strong on the power curve anymore, and I have not worn a suit since the early ’90s. I am short, and we all know about tall, beautiful people and promotions. And now, if we just flip the gender, you can imagine the exponential challenge for women, or for founders of color, and so the story goes on and on. You don’t have to look too far or too hard for disappointment.
Now I challenge you. Is the right behavior to bite your tongue and soldier on, or do you call it out? Do you confront and present your feelings, or is it better to forget, even if you can’t forgive?
Recently, I was on a panel and was asked about why some teams are better than others. I said that the great ones had a magic
of not letting the other members down, of not
disappointing, but that
the chemistry was always fragile. Shifting tides,
because my view of loyalty may not match someone else’s.
A possible initial reaction to deep disappointments is the Kevin O’Leary sentence, “you’re dead to me,” but then my better self tells me to understand and to lower my expectations and my perceived rights, and finally, to forgive.
I puzzled this discussion to a formerly incarcerated man, who had done 10 years in prison. He understood being rejected and dismissed and disappointed in people in a deep way, and he has risen above it. His relentless grace challenges me to do better.
When the human surprises come from people you least expect and have no right to a claim on their goodwill, we are all moved to a higher plateau. You weren’t owed or entitled to anything, but you got a gift. When that happens, acknowledge it, say thank you. And that might also be the perfect time to consider “re-gifting.”
Senturia is a serial entrepreneur who invests in early-stage technology companies. Hear
his weekly podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship at www.imthereforyoubaby.com.
Please email ideas to Neil at [email protected]
Rule No. 721:
Try not to disappoint.