How Other People’s Choices Influence Our Own

This is an excerpt from my book, How to Get What You Want (a primer for ambitious people).

We all know that teenagers are highly susceptible to peer pressure. That’s why parents are often concerned when their children are hanging out with “the wrong crowd”. But eventually we grow out of that phase, and learn to make decisions on our own right?

Not quite. Consider something as simple as purchasing a snack or a film on an airplane. Continue reading…


Create Moments of Victory

We make comparisons between business and sports all the time. We talk about hitting a home run, taking more shots, playing defense. But one of the challenges of business, compared to sports, is the rarity of the unadulterated victory. Whether it’s a friendly pick up game to a state title to the Olympics, winning a competition offers something pure and simple. A true win. Yes, the victory may be temporary – next round, next game, next season – but it’s still very real, very tangible. Continue reading…


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?”


[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