Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 2, 2022
by Neil Senturia
The New Year. Let’s look at the bright side. If you are reading this column, then you are still alive.
The holidays are over and your in-laws and out-laws have left. Peace and tranquility have returned, except you remember that one night when finally you had to end the conversation with Uncle Harry by saying, “Look, I get it, but for now let’s just agree to disagree.”
Most of us like to avoid conflict, but it turns out that “conflict and disagreement can be quite beneficial,” says Harvard professor Francesca Gino. She calls it productive sparing, being “receptive to opposing views.”
In the best of all possible worlds, I understand her point of view, but let me tell you, that “understanding” takes a lot of effort. It requires patience and discipline, when what I really want to say is: “You must be kidding, are you out of your mind, this conversation is now over.” I work at it, but like all of us, sometimes I just can’t get there.
I have a family member who is a Trumpster, and I am forced at family events to “agree to disagree,” otherwise, I would end up with the potato salad in my lap. When you are angry and tired, it is exponentially more difficult to listen and participate without resorting to “knives out.”
Gino opens an interesting door, which Elon Musk is now walking through with his own brand of flame thrower. Instead of opening up collaborative channels of communication, the new Muskian mantra is, “I am the boss and your pleasant and well-reasoned disagreement with me is fine but put a lid on it and get back to work.” Quietly and privately, the Silicon Valley elites are applauding.
Some of those folks are finally saying that the inmates have taken over the prison, and it is time to get back to the old ways. Bring back Jack Welch.
I recently had an interaction with a potential customer for my little startup. The team had prepared, we were organized, I thought this was an obvious no-brainer, it was the second call, it was supposed to be the infamous done deal.
But the call starts and in the first two minutes, I can see that the answer is going to be “no, not now, we are afraid, too much risk, we can’t, perhaps in a couple of years, etc.” My inclination at that point was to say OK, no problem, good luck, your loss, call over. My cohorts choose to stay on the call for another 25 minutes, as their customer team found 37 different ways to continue to say no. There were no overcoming objections, let’s just agree to disagree.
Which raises the question — how quickly should a biz dev team pull the plug? For aficionados of the television show “Succession,” there is a certain undeniable pleasure when Logan Roy ends a conversation with his magical two words.
Finally, I turn to David Von Drehle, Washington Post, who dares to say what many of us are thinking, “How long till people stop falling for ‘founder hype’?” Von Drehle says there are two interconnected issues. One is the incorrect assumption that “only young people can perceive the next big thing,” and two, “the more mysterious the product, the more credible the business.”
The last couple of years are littered with failures that stem from those two assumptions. Dare I say SPAC or Theranos or WeWork or FTX. Warren Buffett is famous for not investing in stuff he can’t understand.
But a new year needs hope and optimism, and a quick story may provide some relief. A friend was shopping a deal for a year, no takers. Finally, he gets an offer, not a great one, not even a good one, but any port in a storm. And he says yes, and asks them to send his lawyer something for him to sign.
While waiting for their lawyers, he goes to New York for fun, and like in a movie, meets another company and in 48 hours, he inks a vastly better deal.
Luck and timing. No algorithm for them, but for sure I know they are real, and as the new year launches, you need to allow for them to show up — unannounced of course.
Rule No. 743:
Only 51 weeks to go.