“When did you do your tour of duty?”

Edit Aug 14th: Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator just wrote a post on the United States Digital Service

I just got back from Washington DC, where I got to spend the weekend at the first ever Presidential Innovation Fellow reunion. You can see some of what happened with the hashtag #PIFHomecoming2015 and the official PIF handle. Continue reading…


Curator vs Committee Selection

We’re all members of certain affiliations or groups and one way to think about what that membership means is through how you were selected for that group. 

For institutions like college, grad school, a Fortune 500 company, a startup accelerator, even a fraternity/sorority, you were probably selected by a committee. There were a group of people who are in charge of choosing new members – admissions, recruiting, partners. Because there is typically a set of required attributes or performance criteria and you are compared against a pool of applicants, your membership can be a signal to the outside world. When you work at Google (or graduated from Penn State, or were also Sigma Nu) and meet someone who has that same affiliation, you are more inclined to like and trust that person. Other people may associate certain things good or bad to you.

There’s some borrowed trust when you are part of a committee-selected group but it’s also likely to be a pretty large group and so that trust only goes so far. I’ll be honest, I don’t like someone that much more just because they are a Stanford alum.

Then there are curator selected groups. This might anything from a birthday party to small speaker series to a wedding to a themed event. I know a number of entrepreneurs who regularly host intimate events (often dinners, sometimes drinks) where everyone is selected and known by the host.

In these events, the group is smaller, and more in the current moment. Also it’s unlikely that the outside world knows or cares about this affiliation. But the connections you make here are instantly closer. If you are in a wedding party, you are instantly bonded and have many reasons to like and trust the other people in the party. Same for being a guest on a panel.

A lot of people focus their time on earning a place at committee selected affiliations. Obviously where you go to school and work matter when it comes to the kinds of people you’ll meet and the connections you build. But don’t forget about the curator selected groups too. A few deep relationships often do much more for your career and life than a pile of contacts. 


Try Something Different

I love thinking about behavior change. Specifically, how people get themselves to adopt new attitudes, habits, ways of living. Hell I even taught a Skillshare course to 150 people on the science of willpower and behavior change.

One thing I’ve realized is that it’s actually a lot easier to be shaped by external forces than by your own hand. People can and do change themselves, but it takes patience, sustained effort, and creativity. Continue reading…

Startup Stock Photos

Until You Ship, Communication is the Deliverable

I’m a big fan of the Heath Brothers (Chip and Dan) who co-authored Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive, each one a fun and highly useable book on an interesting topic: Marketing, Behavior Change, and Decision Making, respectively. They have an email list where they very occasionally share updates on their work, ask questions, and offer up awesome nuggets.

Some time earlier this year they shared a list of seven books that they recommended. These books had to be well-written, provide some kind of useful / practical knowledge, and not be very widely-known – a great combination. Continue reading…


The Difference Between Having Connections and Having Conversations

When I was in DC working as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, one of our objectives was to drive adoption for President Obama’s Executive Order to make all government information open, freely accessible, and machine-readable as the new default. That EO was backed up by a memo from the Office of Management and Budget known as M-13-13. Broadly this entire initiative was known as the Federal Open Data mandate. Continue reading…