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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Problem Solving Versus Empathy

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A classical relationship problem is the dichotomy between solving a problem and providing empathy. If you really want to understand this, spend two minutes and watch the awesome “It’s Not About The Nail” video below.

Amy and I have figured this out extremely well in our relationship. We talk about it in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur using the example of the scene from the movie White Men Can’t Jump to frame the situation.

There’s a delightful scene in the movie White Men Can’t Jump. In it, Billy Hoyle (played by Woody Harrelson) and Gloria Clemente (played by Rosie Perez) are in bed together. Gloria says to Billy, “Honey, I’m thirsty.” Billy gets up without saying word, goes to the kitchen, fills up a glass of water, brings it back to the bed, and gives it to Gloria. As Billy is crawling back into bed, Gloria tosses the water in his face. Startled, Billy says, “What?!” A long conversation ensues, which can be summarized as, “Honey, when I say I’m thirsty, I don’t want a glass of water. I want empathy. I want you to say, ‘I know what it’s like to be thirsty.’”

But this isn’t limited to personal relationships, or the difference between men and women (lots of men need empathy, even if they don’t know how to ask for it.) I see this all the time in my interaction with entrepreneurs and CEOs. I see it in the board room. And I see it in the way a CEO works with her leadership team.

The natural reaction in many of these cases is to immediately jump in and solve the problem. Granted, this is male-centric, as the ratio of men to women in these meetings at startups and entrepreneurial companies is very high. But it’s also CEO and entrepreneur-centric behavior; most CEOs and entrepreneurs are heat seeking problem solving missiles.

If you are an entrepreneur, CEO, or VC take a moment and think. Do you ever focus on “empathy” rather than “problem solving.” If you want to see an example of this in action, watch Jerry Colonna’s brilliant interview with Jason Calacanis. There’s a lot of incredible things on display in this interview, including plenty of empathy.

Floating In An Isolation Tank

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Yesterday I floated for an hour in an isolation tank at Cloud Nine Float Center. It was awesome.

When I was in college, I spent a summer floating. I had recently seen the movie Altered States and was fascinated by it, but uninterested in drugs. I found an isolation tank in Dallas where I was living with my parents and working 100 hours a week at Petcom writing oil and gas software. Twice a week I’d go spend an hour floating. I loved it and it helped me chill out and recalibrate my brain which was deep in code most of the time.

After I’d float, I’d have this incredible calmness for the rest of the day. I generally floated at the end of the day and then took the evening off. Sometimes I’d go out to dinner with my girlfriend, sometimes I’d lay in my parents hammock and read a book, and sometimes I’d go for a run. When I crawled into bed a few hours later I would always have an incredibly deep sleep.

For some reason that I can’t remember why I stopped doing this after the summer. I think I never found a float center in Boston and just let it slip away.

Yesterday I rediscovered something that I did 27 years ago and loved. I floated from 5pm – 6pm. It took about five minutes to settle down – I had 55 minutes of extreme bliss and calm. I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go and whenever I started thinking about something too deeply I’d just listen to my breathing until I stopped focusing on something. I have no recollection of what I was actually thinking of during that hour. When I got out, I was in a calm state unlike anything I’ve felt recently.

I went home and spent the evening with Amy. I was very quiet and it was hard for her to pry words out of me. I ate a light dinner, did a little end of day email, and then watched a few more episodes of Revenge. I walked Brooks twice. And I fell into a very deep sleep around 10pm.

I will be floating a lot more.

Abstainer vs. Moderator

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I love summer – it’s by far my favorite season of the year. While the summer solstice (6/21) is the official beginning of summer, I always view summer as being bookended by Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. So – for me, summer has begun.

As I was walking Brooks this morning for his early morning poop, I pondered the dynamic of “abstainer” vs. “moderator” which Amy pointed out to me comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I’ve never known how to moderate particularly well, in any aspect of my life, so I’ve always been an abstainer. For example, I’m afraid of drugs, so I simply don’t do them – I abstain, since I’m concerned that if I started I wouldn’t know how to moderate.

Another example is my struggle with eating. I’ll use sushi as an example. If I’m part of a group sushi experience, I don’t know how to moderate. I’ll eat whatever is in front of me until it’s gone – sometimes a legendary amount of sushi. So – the only way for me to control myself is either to have a separate order to myself (e.g. abstain from the group plate) or use extreme effort to moderate and only have a reasonable amount. Same with bread or tortilla chips – if they are on the table I eat them all. My only way of not doing this is to abstain completely.

This applies to my work. I’ve always struggled to moderate – that’s part of why I chronically have gone through my annual boom / bust cycle where I completely wear myself out by the end of the year and have to abstain for a while. My Qx vacations – quarterly weeks off the grid – are a version of abstaining. My daily schedule is another example of this – and something that I’ve recently started approaching very differently as I’ve grown weary of being schedule from early morning to the end of the day.

Most recently, Digital Sabbath is another example of this for me. I’m now shutting down completely from Friday night at sundown to Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for few months and think it will become a rest-of-the-life habit. It’s been fantastic for me and Amy. No phone, no email, no work. Just living for a day a week. Yesterday we slept late, wandered around Boulder a little, had brunch at Snooze, binge watched the rest of Season 1 of Revenge, had dinner with friends, and just lived.

I know that I don’t know how to moderate, whether it’s food, work, relationships, sports, communication, or something new. I’m all in and the only way for me to manage the total load is to abstain from some things and create specific times where I abstain from most everything.

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How do you think about this?

Discover Some Awe This Weekend

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It’s the beginning of summer. That is a good thing. Spend three minutes watching the amazing video below and get inspired to open your eyes and breath in this weekend.

As I come out of my depression, I’ve been systematically changing many of my tactics and habits. Simple things like deciding not to wake up with an alarm clock. Having a digital sabbath (no email / phone from Friday night to Sunday morning). Talking to Brooks the wonder dog when I take him for a walk, rather than have my thoughts wander around in my head.

This video reminded me to break that patterns that my brain has completely assimilated, in a search for awe, inspiration, and innovation. Thanks Anthony for pointing it out to me.

An Unexpected Night In The Hospital

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First things first – we are fine. Amy had an emergency appendectomy last night. She’s recovering extremely well and feeling great, albeit a little sore, this morning. We’ll be going home in a little bit once the doctor gets here.

Yesterday was a typical Monday. Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion. I went for a run. My partners and I had sushi for lunch. I did a bunch of email and phone calls. I walked 20,000 steps on my treadputer. I gave a talk with Jeff Clavier for one of our LPs (AMG) at Frasca to a bunch of their clients. Normal stuff.

While hanging out at Frasca, I got a text from Amy that said “I might have appendicitis. Getting ready for IV and scan. Can’t find vein, as usual. I’ll keep you posted.” Well – that’ll throw a guy off his game. Amy wasn’t feeling well in the morning and had gut pain – I told her to make sure she went to the doctor if she didn’t feel better by the end of the day. I headed over to CU Boulder to interview David Cohen as part of the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged event, knowing that I could get textus interruptus at any time.

Five minutes after I started interviewing David, I got a text from Amy that said “It’s appendicitis. I will need surgery at Boulder Community tonight. Boo.” Fortunately, there was another Brad around (Brad Bernthal) who quickly stepped in for me as moderator as I exited stage left to go get Amy and take her to the hospital.

Amy went to urgent care at 5:30. I picked her up at 7:00. She was in surgery by 9:00. She was out by 11:00. We were asleep in our cozy hospital room by midnight, romanced to sleep (her in a hospital bed, me on a cot) by the six second repeating hum of the IV machine.

I’ve never spent the night in a hospital before. I certainly didn’t expect to do it last night. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Boulder Community Hospital and their staff is just awesome – and as the sun comes up on another day we begin again, reminded of our priorities.

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