How Companies Get Creativity Right (and Wrong)

Beth Comstock, the first female vice chair at General Electric, thinks companies large and small often approach innovation the wrong way. They either try to throw money at the problem before it has a clear market, misallocate resources, or don’t get buy in from senior leaders to enact real change. Comstock spent many years at GE – under both Jack Welsh’s and Jeffrey Immelt’s leadership – before leaving the company late last year. She’s the author of the book Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.

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Use Your Everyday Privilege to Help Others

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I often forget I am straight.  I just don’t think about it much.  When asked what I did this weekend, or when setting family photos on my desk at work, I have no reason to wonder if what I say will make someone uncomfortable, or lead to a “joke” at my expense, or cause a co-worker to suddenly think I am attracted to them.  Our culture is set up for straight people like me to be ourselves with very little thought. But for some gay colleagues, a simple question about the weekend or a decision of how to decorate the workspace carries significant stress—how to act, who to trust, what to share.  A recent study found that 46% of LGBTQ employees are closeted in the workplace, for reasons ranging from fear of losing their job to being stereotyped.  Unlike me, a non-straight person

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Big Data and Machine Learning Won’t Save Us from Another Financial Crisis

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Ten years on from the financial crisis, stock markets are regularly reaching new highs and volatility levels new lows. The financial industry has enthusiastically and profitably embraced big data and computational algorithms, emboldened by the many triumphs of machine learning. However, it is imperative we question the confidence placed in the new generation of quantitative models, innovations which could, as William Dudley warned, “lead to excess and put the [financial] system at risk.”

Eighty years ago, John Maynard Keynes introduced the concept of irreducible uncertainty, distinguishing between events one can reasonably calculate probabilities for, such as the spin of a roulette wheel, and those which remain inherently unknown, such as war in ten years’ time. Today, we face the risk that investors, traders, and regulators are failing to understand the extent to which technological progress is — or more precisely is not — reducing financial uncertainty.

Two

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Predicting Your Pipeline

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Looking at the sales pipeline means both qualifying and predicting your company’s future… every quarter. This video shares how founders can estimate in-quarter pipeline, without a crystal ball. You can watch this entire series of snack-sized …

A 4-Step Plan to Make Your Q&A More Audience-Friendly

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The Q&A or fireside chat has become a popular format at events like conferences and employee town-halls, replacing more-formal presentations and panels. The one-on-one format can create a more conversational, interesting, and intimate experience, and has the added benefit that the CEO or luminary being interviewed theoretically doesn’t have to prepare as much.

Despite how effective interviews can be in theory, however, they are often difficult to execute in practice. As a result, audience members are often left feeling disengaged and unsatisfied while guests struggle to inform and engage in a way that resonates.

In our Essentials of Strategic Communication at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, we’ve begun including advice on how to handle this format effectively to help our students become more confident and compelling communicators. We offer four steps — easily remembered by the acronym FIRE — derived from our teaching and coaching experience.

Framing. In

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Disruptive Startups Get Funding More Easily, but Less of It

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In the start-up world, the disruptor is the cool kid on the block, the one who’ll change the world — or at least the products you’ll buy and how you buy them. She takes on the grown-ups in suits and shows us all how dumb they are. Customers love her because she makes them feel like rebels (with a cause), suppliers love her because she makes them look smart, and — most importantly — investors love her because she makes them feel they’re putting money into tomorrow’s big player.

That, at least, is what the hype around disruption would have you believe. A new product or technology sells better to all stakeholders if people can be persuaded that it will disrupt the status quo. But does the evidence bear out this belief?  Specifically, does presenting yourself as a disruptor really make it more likely that your startup will get

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How to Get Better at Reading People from Different Cultures

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Body language varies significantly across cultures. What is considered rude or foolish in a Nordic country may be welcomed as warm and friendly in an African one. What a Canadian businessperson would perceive as arrogant, an American executive may see as healthy confidence.

But what remains consistent across all known cultures are microexpressions. These brief, involuntary flashes of facial expression reveal our true feelings about another person or situation.

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Photos courtesy of the Center For Body Language.

People might try to hide or obscure them in different ways informed by culture, but to a practiced reader the true emotions are always visible. Consider the contrast in expressiveness between Filipino and Japanese people. In the Philippines, showing emotion — both positive and negative — is a sign of openness and honesty. In Japan, the opposite is true. Visible negative emotion is seen as rude or hostile, while expressing

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Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway

This post is jam-packed with conflicts. It is about not one, but two, of USV’s portfolio companies. The more the better in my view.

Our portfolio company Cloudflare announced yesterday that they have launched an IPFS Gateway.

IPFS is an open protocol built and supported by our portfolio company Protocol Labs that facilitates a peer-to-peer file system composed of thousands of computers around the world, each of which stores files on behalf of the network.

So why is this a big deal?

Well, here are a few reasons. You can all add more in the comments.

1/ Cloudflare is a massively scaled infrastructure company. By offering a hosted IPFS gateway, none of us need to download and run IPFS software on our computers anymore. Cloudflare will do it for us.

2/ IPFS is awesome. It decentralizes file hosting, which has historically been a centralized affair on the internet. The Cloudflare

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The Final Close for WLV Fund 1-The Opportunity Costs of Fundraising

The other day, I saw a tweet from my friend Samir Kaji on how much VC’s are paid.  I laughed because it is heavily skewed toward industrial venture capitalists with a series of funds, not micro VCs.  Micro VCs are not in the game for the management fee. We are in it because we are passionate about founders, ideas, and long term returns.

A lot, if not most of the industrial venture capitalists can snap their fingers and generate a new fund full of cash from existing LP’s on their wait list.  It’s not tough. They are going to make a lot of money even if they don’t return their fund.   Micro VC doesn’t have a staff.  You are the bottle washer, the rainmaker, etc.

We aren’t a lot different than the founders we invest in.  They only make money on exits, same with us.

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a16z Podcast: Tesla and the Nature of Disruption

In another of our hallway conversation episodes, Benedict Evans and Steven Sinofsky talk all about Tesla — and more broadly, the nature of disruption overall. How disruptive is Tesla really, and what exactly are they disrupting — from the dashboard …

World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom

NOTE: The following excerpt is the introduction to the third part of my book World After Capital.

Part Three: Enhancing Freedom

The second major goal of World After Capital is to propose an approach for a transition to the Knowledge Age. The challenge is to overcome the limits of capitalism, by moving past a society centered on the Job Loop towards one embracing the Knowledge Loop. Part Three will propose changes to regulation and self-regulation that increase human freedom and let us unlock the promise of the Digital Knowledge Loop. There are three components to this:

  1. Economic freedom. We must let everyone meet their basic needs without being forced into the Job Loop. With economic freedom, we can embrace automation and enable everyone to participate in and benefit from the Digital Knowledge Loop.

  2. Informational freedom. We must remove barriers from the Digital Knowledge Loop that artificially limit learning from existing Continue reading "World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom"

Let’s Do Less Dead-End Work

From the Women at Work podcast:

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Women are expected and asked to do thankless tasks — order lunch, handle less-valued clients — more than men, and research shows that doing those tasks slows down our career advancement and makes us unhappy at work. We talk about why we wind up with so much office drudgery and how to get some of it off our plates. Guests: Lise Vesterlund and Ruchika Tulshyan.

Could you take notes? Would you mind ordering lunch? We need someone to organize the off-site event — can you do that? Whether you’ve just started your career or are the CEO of the company, if you’re a woman, people expect you to do routine, time-consuming tasks that no one else wants to do.

We

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Book: How to Meditate

Over the past few years, I’ve incorporated meditation into my daily routine. I started by using Headspace, shifted to using Insight Timer, and now do whatever I feel like doing.

A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.

Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to

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The Best-Performing Emerging Economies Emphasize Competition

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Development economists over the ages have puzzled about why some emerging economies perform much better than others over the long term. We have been looking at the same issue in our latest research, and find one element that others haven’t tended to focus on: the often intense competitive dynamics that can be found in the best performing emerging economies—a competitive mindset that has spawned a new generation of productive and battle-hardened companies that aspire to be global champions.

That finding may seem counter-intuitive: don’t many emerging economies nurture and shield their national champions from competition? The short answer we find from our research is: No. In fact, by some measures, the best emerging-market firms are more competitive than firms in advanced economies including the United States and the United Kingdom.

For our research, we looked at 71 emerging economies and identified 18 that achieved rapid and

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Protecting Company Culture Means Having Rules for Email

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A new study out of Virginia Tech University confirms something that just about every knowledge worker already knows: Dealing with after-hours emails produces anxiety that is damaging not only to the worker, but to their family.

One particularly striking finding of this study is that it’s not just the amount of time taken up by reading and answering emails after work that’s stressing out employees (and their partners). In fact, what’s creating more anxiety is just the expectation that an employee will be available for work outside the office.

Take this example: A manager does not expect employees to return her emails during off-hours or while they’re on vacation, but she never explicitly says this. Instead, she assumes they “just know,” and therefore thinks there is no harm in sending messages during these times, because she figures they’ll just be waiting for the employee when he returns.

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How Customers Come to Think of a Product as an Extension of Themselves

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Businesses are constantly vying to capture the attention of potential customers. It’s not easy to do. People are inundated with different brands as they stroll through the streets, scan through their social media newsfeeds, and binge television. The average American is exposed to more than 4,000 ads every day.

A simple concept can help businesses cut through the noise. It’s called psychological ownership. That’s when consumers feel so invested in a product that it becomes an extension of themselves.

Companies that encourage psychological ownership can entice customers to buy more products, at higher prices, and even to willingly promote those products among their friends. But if businesses disrespect this feeling, sales can suffer.

To build psychological ownership, companies must use at least one of three factors: control, investment of self, and intimate knowledge.

Enhancing customer control

One way is to allow customers a hand in forming the

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Sales Force Productivity: How Do You Know?

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How do you accurately assess your sales force’s productivity? What’s the optimal mix not just of sales reps meeting and exceeding quota, but of reps deployed across your sales territories? This video shares the fundamentals startup …

The Theatre of the Absurd

Lately our society has become the theatre of the absurd.  I just don’t understand it.  Here are a few things but there are plenty of others.

  • The “okay” sign, you know the one Teddy Roosevelt us rumored to come up with where you touch your thumb and forefinger is not a sign for white power.  Yet, crazies think it is and the fringe believes them.
  • SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh is being held up for a couple of days because of a he said/she said letter written by someone he knew in high school.  Should we ask him if he played “boys chase girls” in grade school?  Should we think about the actions of Ted Kennedy, President Clinton.  Seems like there is a massive double standard.  No matter what you think of Jeff Flake, he isn’t very intelligent.  Maybe it’s absurd to think people in Congress are at least intelligent.
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How Companies Can Take a Stand Against Bribery

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In 2016, the International Monetary Fund estimated that corruption amounted to roughly 2% of global economic output — between $1.5 and $2 trillion globally. Consider that in India in 2016, nearly seven in 10 citizens reported paying a bribe to access basic public services such as public schools, public clinics or hospitals, access to official documents, and utilities, according to Transparency International. And despite the many laws against corruption, and increases in enforcement of those laws, bribery in particular continues to thrive and the costs to business and to society continue to escalate.

Since having laws on the books isn’t enough, anti-corruption and anti-bribery efforts need further traction from the private sector. Business needs to play a more powerful role in supporting responsible practices throughout every aspect of their operations. After all, those that find themselves embroiled in bribery scandals, for example, face a host of

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Calm Before the Storm…in Hong Kong

While in Hong Kong this past week, it appeared that there were only three stories that the newspapers wanted to cover. Quite clearly, the first and by far the most important was Super Typhoon Mangkhut which made landfall the day after I headed out. It was forecasted to be the worst storm to hit the colony in recorded history, graded a level T10 which is the highest possible level. And it did not disappoint.

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Growing up in Hong Kong, I had become somewhat accustom to significant tropical storms battering the island. In fact, Hong Kong has become quite resilient to these storms, and as devastating as Mangkhut was, there was very modest loss of life (initial counts point to less than five fatalities in Hong Kong, although there was significant carnage in the Philippines). All the focus on the typhoon underscored how impressive the Hong Kong healthcare system is but also Continue reading "Calm Before the Storm…in Hong Kong"