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The Difference Between Successful vs Failed Attempts at Personal Change

Editor’s Note: I’m on a two-week trip to Peru! Follow on me on Twitter for updates. I had a little down time after an exhausting surf lesson and wanted to share one of my favorite pieces on change research. – Jason

We can learn a lot from the lessons of other people. This is why we always ask older people what they regret most in life: by hearing their perspective, we can hope to avoid their mistakes.

It’s a new year and many folks are thinking about goals, resolutions, and habits for 2014. I’d like to offer a resource from a great study done by researchers at Dartmouth and Harvard that analyzes 119 stories of either successful or failed attempts at “major and sudden change”.

“Personal Accounts of Successful Versus Failed Attempts at Life Change”

Todd Heatherton (Darthmouth) & Patricia Nichols (Harvard) Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 1994 Continue reading…

A Little Angry, A Little Cocky

angry and cocky

I was talking to some folks about applying to Y Combinator [1] and preparing themselves to found a startup more generally. One point that I found myself talking about, especially in terms of timing, was the two distinct emotions that I that many founders seem to posses, especially in the early days. [2]

They have an intense dissatisfaction with something in the world and an irrationally large sense of confidence about themselves.

As any founder will tell you, doing a startup is hard. Being passionate about the market you’re tackling, having a love for building great products —  that’s all well and good. But when push comes to shove, there are few things more motivating than being a little pissed off.

When you’re mad, you work harder, you hold out longer, you move faster. You might be mad at the big players who are screwing over consumers, mad at your old boss who turned down your promotion request, mad at all the investors or media people who don’t get what you’re doing.

And that anger is fuel.

Paired with the anger is thinking you are the shit. To take the plunge and do a startup is to implicitly say:

“Despite the fact that most startups fail, I think I can succeed. And thus I believe I’m smarter, more capable, more persuasive than the majority of founders.”

It takes some cockiness to say that. Think about Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Paul Graham, Jack Dorsey. [3] In their own way, each had a tremendous belief in themselves: their vision, judgement and abilities.

When I started Ridejoy, I had a chip on my shoulder, in part because the CEO of the startup I worked at once told me I was “a bit junior”. And yet he had dropped out of college to start that company and was the SAME AGE AS ME.

I’ve always had a unreasonably large amount of confidence and I did believe that I was better than other founders. Getting into Y Combinator certainly supported that thesis. [4]

By no means were these qualities “everything you need” to be a success. In fact, you’ll still most likely fail. But if you were thinking about making the leap asked me if NOW was the time to start your company, I’d ask: “Are you feeling a little angry? And a little cocky?”


FOOTNOTES

[1] If you don’t already know, I’ve written a 92 page guide to applying to Y Combinator – you can get it for free if you sign up for my email newsletter

[2] Clearly this is anecdotal evidence —  and yet our brain is wired to respond to stories and data of this nature. Take from it what you will. [3] Same deal as [2] – correlation doesn’t prove causation, but sometimes it can suggest it. [4] I say that at the risk of sounding like an douche, but I’m just telling the truth. When you’re in the top 7% of thousands of teams who apply to YC, you start to feel a little special.

Cronyism is alive and well (or why relationships matter)

presidents laughing

We tend to imagine that we live in a Just World. Especially in the field of technology and startups, we want to believe that the skilled, insightful and dedicated are rewarded and the suckups and sycophants are weeded out.

But people do not sit rows on a giant spreadsheet, with the best ones easily identified via a quick “sort-by” function. We are social creatures and treat those we know and like, better than strangers. Relationships matter.

And when considering people we don’t know, we are more likely to favor people similar to ourselves, often because we share the same race, social group, alma matter, or membership in a particular group, among other qualities.

I know someone who was hired a while back in an exciting new role at a large technology company in Silicon Valley. The guy who hired him was in member of a certain fraternity and confided that he was planning to fill his entire team with fraternity alumni. [1]

Is this fair? No. It’s complete bullshit. Do things like this happen all the time? Yes.

You can respond to the fact that cronyism [2] exists in two ways:

  1. Rail against it as unfair and stupid. Refuse to play games or get involved in politics. Struggle to gain influence over others and limit your potential.
  2. Realize that this is human nature, and make it work for you. Have coffee meetings with influential people, build social capital by making great introductions, create weak ties by working at companies like Google or joining startup communities like Hacker Dojo.

When I was younger, I fell into the first camp, hoping to avoid gamesmanship and stay ‘principled’. I eventually learned that to be effective with people, you have to enter the fray. Favors, friendships, fame — these things matter if you wish to enlist the support and involvement other people.

Lest someone misunderstand this article, let me be clear: the more we can operate in a world where positions are filled with the most qualified people, the better. We should do our best to bring about this kind of a world and avoid perpetuating corrupt practices. However, I believe that by refusing to play any kind of politics, one writes oneself out of the opportunity to gain any sort of power and thus will have little ability to influence the system toward becoming better.

Play the game, but don’t let the game play you.

[1] Now this newly hired person could be a fantastic fit and the best qualified person for the job. But because the hiring manager indicated a clear bias for an arbitrary quality in his team, the true qualification of the entire team could be called into question.

[2] The appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority without regard to qualification

How to Be Charming: Highlights from The Charisma Myth


Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

I recently read a book called The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. She’s an executive coach who trains people on developing powerful social skills to influence and connect with others.

I thought she brought up some really interested ideas about charisma: specifically that it’s a skill not an innate quality, and that it’s the confluence of three elements: power, warmth and presence.

One of my goals in 2012 2013 is to develop different forms of media, so I’ve put together a slide deck with some of the key highlights from the book. You can see it below, or click here to view the deck directly. You can find the book on Amazon.com here (referral link).

Rebounding from Setbacks: a step-by-step guide

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Setbacks are a pillar of an ambitious life. If you’re looking to do big things in 2013, you will encounter obstacles and challenges and may find yourself moving farther away from your goals, rather than closer to them.

Big setbacks can be a lot to handle. They can be discouraging, exact damage to our bodies, bank accounts and social status, and getting your groove back may take a long time and never be fully complete.

While I’m very grateful for the life I’ve lived thus far, it was not without setbacks. I’ve encountered them as an athlete (injuries and training plateaus), entrepreneur (investor rejections, unhappy customers, hiring difficulties) and human being (missing flights, trouble with the law, arguments among friends).

I was recently talking with two people – a parent of a young child, and a former coworker about dealing with setbacks and thought I’d share some thoughts that might be useful for anyone who has recently faced a difficult setback.

13 Steps to Rebounding from a Big Setback

  1. It’s OK to feel bad.
     It’s completely natural to feel strong negative emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment and humiliation. Don’t deny these feelings or take them as indication that you are a failure. You’ve hit road block on your way toward a goal and that never feels good.
  2. You won’t feel this way forever
    We tend to project our current state into the future. If we feel good, we think we’ll always feel this good. If we feel bad, we think we’ll always feel this bad. Realize that like how the pain from stubbing your toe subsides over time, the strong negative emotions you feel from your setback will subside with time, allowing you to heal and move on.
  3. You are not alone
    Because failures and setbacks are not broadcast the way successes are, we tend to think that no one has ever dealt with the situation we’re dealing with. But chances are —  whether it’s a divorce, a criminal charge, a job loss, a public failure, the death of someone close to you, a huge debt or a natural disaster —  someone you know has dealt with it before.
  4. Continue reading…