Business & Money
At my last company, the kitchen was filled with snacks. There was a ping pong table in the middle of the main workspace and beer constantly on tap. Sleeping around with coworkers was not only fair game, it might as well have been encouraged. We also had paintings of the company spirit animals on the wall, each of which represented a core value. These were values like “be open and authentic” and “do more with less”. Basically the typical things you would expect from a mid-late stage startup. This is where I first began developing my conception of what it means to have a company culture.
At my current company, snacks are an endangered species. We have beer on tap, but it’s locked until 5 pm. We don’t burn copious amounts of cash on unnecessary travel or lavish parties. We’ve just hit 200 people, and our CEO is just now thinking about formalizing core values. Based on my old conception, you might even say we lack a company culture.
But then I started to think more deeply about this. Over time I realized that there is a difference between culture and perks. Snacks and free lunches are perks. Unlimited expense accounts, massages, yoga… Same story. Even formalized company values, while seemingly the most overt example of culture, often solely play lip service to it.
What I’ve come to realize is that company culture is not about what perks are offered. It’s not even about what the core values proclaim. It is more about the decisions you make and what you do on a daily basis.
Take my current boss for example, our SVP of sales. When I started almost two years ago, I shadowed him to a lot of meetings. I generally arrived early, but he was always there first. After the meeting, a follow-up email was always sent within a few hours. It doesn’t need to be said out loud to convey that punctuality ranks high in his mind, as does customer follow-up.
Or take our chief strategy officer. I used to think she was cold and mean during meetings. What I realized over time is that she’s just brutally efficient with her time. While a normal person might block off an hour for a meeting, she often skips the pleasantries, gets straight to the point, then walks out of the room before you’ve had a chance to confirm next steps. I’m exaggerating slightly, but I’ve never met a more efficient human being in my short 28 years.
The way people carry themselves, the way they respond to disrespect in the workplace, the way they speak to one another, how they prioritize, how they deal with poor performance, how often they communicate with the rest of the company… These are the things that make and define a culture. And whether or not you write them down or shout them from a mountain top, they will persist and pick up momentum as the company grows. As our friend sir Isaac Newton said, any object in motion will remain in motion.
There is an area of computing known as HCI, or human-computer interaction. This field describes the interaction of an information processing system (e.g. a computer) and the outside world, often a human being. For most of the history of computing, input methods have been limited to mouse and keyboard. While these 2 inventions were revolutionary in their own right, they’re also defined by major limitations. I’d say the most notable of these is input speed. All the sources I’ve checked say that average professionals type somewhere between 40-50 words per minute. If only I could type as fast as I can think or speak.
This partially explains all of the hype today around voice interfaces. We have Amazon (Alexa), Google (Home), Apple (Siri), and Samsung (Bixby aka Viv Labs) all competing for supremacy in this category. And with good reason. While none have nailed a killer application, the potential for speech dictation combined with natural language processing is massive.
More interesting than voice, though, is computer vision. Here we have “intelligent” cameras as the input method connected to powerful computers for information processing. And the amount of data that ingested via a camera, as supposed to text or speech input, is greater by several orders of magnitude. Let me provide 3 examples of really compelling computer vision applications:
1) The most mainstream example would be autonomous vehicles. And it’s clear why. Computers can recognize problematic driving conditions and respond appropriately with much greater speed and accuracy than a human being ever could. That’s why Uber, Tesla, and all the incumbent car makers are all competing to incorporate computer vision systems into their cars in an effort to not be left behind when self-driving cars become a reality. Intel, one of the major pioneers in chip technology has even jumped in the ring with it’s recent $15 billion dollar purchase of MobileEye.
2) Remember VIC 47 when I spoke about selling shovels in a gold rush? Computer vision is the gold rush in this example and applications will be frequent and far-reaching. Enter Clarifai. They’ve built a computer vision API so that other developers can quickly integrate computer vision into their own applications.
3) What about baby monitors? It turns out you can find out far more information than whether or not your baby is crying with computer vision enabled baby monitors. Nanit brings baby monitors into the 21st century by tracking sleep patterns, movement, breathing, and much more using advanced cameras and machine learning.
Before we know it, we might all be living in the Minority Report.
A few days after the recent snow storm in NYC I was walking on 23rd street behind a family of 3. It was 2 parents and their young daughter pushing her own small baby stroller. The path through the snow on the sidewalk was not very wide which didn’t allow much room for passing. I became a bit frustrated as the families progress down the street was slow-going. As a glanced to the right and left for glimpses of an opportunity to make my move, my frustration only grew.
When I finally saw a break in oncoming pedestrian traffic, I quickly sidestepped the dad, hurdled a small ice mountain and was safely in the lead. Then I hit a group of tourists who were gazing upwards at buildings and taking pictures. Great! As a dodged selfie sticks and foreign phrases, I made little progress. When I finally made it through the mayhem I was at the next traffic light. I looked to my right and realized that the family I made so much effort to pass, was arriving at the same moment. All that hard work for nothing.
When the light turned green I decided to switch to a leisurely pace, walk contently behind the family, and gaze around at the beautiful snow-capped trees in madison square park.
Why had I been in such a rush? I wasn’t late for a call or meeting and no one was holding their breath waiting for me to return. It wasn’t uncomfortably cold out and I wasn’t being chased by a maniacal homeless person. As it turned out, there were a grand total of 0 reasons to be in a rush.
As I reflect on this more, I’d say we’re often in a rush due to the modern cult of busyness. We’re always so busy. As I glance over at my phone now there are 5,335 unread emails (most of which will never be opened). My to to-do list grows every day with many items that will never be crossed off.
It seems likely that it would serve us well to occasionally appreciate the architecture of the city, to take in the myriad sounds and smells, admire the beauty of our fellow human beings, laugh at the silliness of the child in front of us as they march through the snow.
In the words of Omid Safi, “when did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?”
My Latest Discovery
2016 was the year I discovered email newsletters. I’ve told you all before about Revue (the platform I use to send this weekly newsletter), but I thought I would share a collection of my favorites in case you’d like to check them out.
Letter from Loring Park is a weekly digest from Krista Tippet. Here’s a recent sample (you can subscribe via the link in the top left corner). Krista is incredible and this weekly digest “opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.”
Fortune CEO Daily is a daily digest from Allan Murray at Fortune. It’s the must-read business news of the day for anyone hoping to keep abreast on major issues facing the enterprise.
Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View is delivered every Sunday as a finely curated collection of top news and stories withing the realm of artificial intelligence.
Howard Lindzon is a fintech (financial technology) investor and entrepreneur and has been neck deep in this space for over 20 years. His daily updates are simultaneously witty and insightful. They’ve become a much loved part of my morning commute.
Question Of The Week
I came across a Dale Carnegie quote this week.
“Success is Getting What You Want; Happiness is Wanting What You Get.”
Every wise person ever has explained that, the more you strive for happiness, the more elusive it is. You need to let go of the striving itself in order to truly be happy.
Sure, I’ll buy that at face value. But ambitious people would be hard pressed to give up striving altogether. With the goal of building value for others, and simultaneously capturing some of the value for oneself, it would seem that some level of striving is necessary.
So, my question is, how do you reconcile these two? How do you effectively relinquish striving while maintaining some ambitious pursuit?
With Love! ❤️️