I was really tired this weekend (from the week) and didn’t feel like doing anything other than laying on the couch near Amy and reading. She was also tired, as she spent the week in Wellesley at a board meeting and a bunch of other Wellesley related stuff, so even though the Boulder weather was magnificent, we stayed home other than a quick trip to Boulder to get our eyes checked and have sushi with some friends. Oh, and took really long naps both afternoons.
By Sunday night I was tired of reading (but Amy wasn’t) so I went downstairs and watched Finding Traction, the documentary about Nikki Kimball’s monstrous performance on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. While I’m limited to running marathons, I find inspiration from watching ultras …
The book list started with me finishing a book I’d started earlier in the week. I read mostly on the Kindle this weekend, but John Doerr’s book came in the mail in physical form so I read it that way.
Mastering the Market Cycle: Getting the Odds on Your Side: Howard Marks (Oaktree) is a brilliant investor (and great writer) so I read everything by him I can get my hands on (and there’s a lot of it going back to 1990.) Not surprisingly, I learned a few key things from this book and it reinforced a bunch of others I already knew.
Power to the Startup People: How To Grow Your Startup Career When You’re Not The Founder: There is an infinite number of books now aimed at startup founders and entrepreneurs, but very few aimed at startup employees. Sarah Brown is a Boulder friend (now living in SF) and this is a really good book. There are lots of Boulder stories and people in it, but Sarah does a great job of covering a lot of ground that is generally useful to anyone considering working in, or already working in a startup. It’s the second “startup employee” book that I think is really good, following Jeff Bussgang’s Entering StartUpLand: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Job (which is referenced a few times in Sarah’s book.)
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person: In my effort to read more memoirs by women, I enjoyed Shonda Rimes book. I can’t remember who referred it to me, but it was good and added a dimension to my memoir reading that had a lot more X and no Y in it. Amy and I regularly watched both Grey’s Anatomy (at least the first four seasons) and Scandal (again – maybe four seasons) so Shonda Rimes has entertained us a lot. With this book, she helped widen my perspective on a number of things I hadn’t thought much about.
From Like to Love: Inspiring Emotional Commitment from Employees and Customers: Keith Alper is a long-time friend – we were both on the YEO board in the mid-1990s, spent a lot of time with the Kauffman Foundation when Jana Matthews was there, and have continued to connect on numerous things over the years. This book embodies everything I’d expect from Keith, is a good read and had some fun new suggestions in it. Definitely worth reading if you are a CEO and you like the word “love” in a business context. And, if the word “love” in a business context scares you, then this book is also for you.
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth: John Doerr is well-known as a long-time advocate of OKRs. Today, I hear the word OKR in a lot of contexts where I’m 100% certain the company is implementing them incorrectly. If you are using OKRs, please read this book. And, if you are thinking about OKRs, please read this book.
Ready for Monday? I’m going to start things off with a short run.
Our longtime friend Lura Vernon wrote a really fun book last year titled Cool Dogs and Crazy Cats. It’s a coffee table book that is a combination of hilarious dog and cat haikus along with epic dog and cat photos.
I’m a dog person. During my first marriage in the 1980s, I had a gigantic cat named Tiny. It was evil. You’d be lovingly petting it and it would suddenly sink its teeth into your arm. Actually, when I reflect on it, the cat only attacked me regularly. But then I tossed milk bottle caps across the bathroom which it chased, right into the bathtub, which was full of water. Yeah, I contributed to the dynamic we had.
Fortunately, Amy is a dog person. We currently have two giant golden retrievers (Cooper and Brooks) which are #4 and #3 in our life (Denali was the first, followed by Kenai.) They are the coolest of the cool dogs.
I’m a marathon runner, but not an ultrarunner. I’ve only done one ultra (the American River 50 miler) and the combination of the training, race, and recovery was too much for me. But I love the idea of ultras.
I have several close friends who run ultras so I live vicariously through them. I love to watch documentaries about ultras, like the insane Barkley Marathons.
There are lots of ultra runners in Boulder. While I’m not part of the scene, I follow them from a distance.
Scott Jurek is one of my heroic ultra characters in Boulder. I find his running accomplishments completely mind-bending. He is a great writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his previous book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. So, when I noticed his new book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail while wandering around in the Boulder Bookstore Saturday night, I grabbed it.
I read it Monday and Tuesday night, finishing it last night right before bedtime. I was simply awesome. Jurker (Scott’s nickname) wrote it with his wife Jenny. They used a really fun format – alternating sections within each chapter. The first half of the chapter was Jurker’s view of what was going on (in his voice). The second half of the chapter was in Jenny’s voice. Each of them covered a wide range of experiences during the 47-day journey, including lots of fascinating characters along the way.
I have a secret dream of running the Colorado Trail. Please don’t tell anyone, especially Amy or my parents. It’s only 486 miles (vs. the Appalachian Trail which is officially “about 2,200 miles.”). Since it’s a secret dream, I’m going to keep it locked away there, while reading about amazing feats like what Jurker did on the Appalachian Trail.
If you are a runner, endurance athlete, or just love great human adventure stories, you’ll love this book.
I took Saturday off, slept a lot, and read What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen.
Kate Fagan has written a must-read book for every parent of a high school or college athlete.
The story of Madison Holleran is a heartbreaking one. Maddy was a star athlete in high school, in a big (five kids) happy family with two engaged parents. She played soccer and track and, after almost going to Lehigh for soccer, ended up going to Penn for track.
And, that’s when everything started to go wrong.
Maddy committed suicide a few days after returning for the second semester of her freshman year after trying, unsuccessfully, to quit the track team.
Maddy’s family gave the author, Kate Fagan, incredible access, which allowed Fagan to write a powerful book. Many different themes are explored, against the backdrop of Maddy’s development as a teenage athlete, the internal pressures of today’s teen, the struggle of entry into college and separation from home, and how depression can take hold of someone. While Maddy’s story is central to all of this, Fagan includes her own experience as a college athlete in areas, that make the writing incredibly relatable.
It’s not an easy book since you know the ending when you start it. It’s simple to fall in love with Maddy – she’s a delightful American kid. The joy in her friendships and experiences start off rich and light. You see the turn into darkness happen slowly. And, because it unfolds against the backdrop of Fagan’s analysis and intellectual exploration, it makes it more accessible.
On Sunday, I came across a full-page ad in the NY Times with Michael Phelps talking about his own depression for a new product called TalkSpace. I found a short video for it, which is below.
As a bonus, there’s a section in the book about Active Minds with some interviews with members. This is an organization for mental health in college students, which Amy and I support through our Anchor Point Foundation and that I wrote about in the post Mental Fitness, the NFL, Active Minds, and the Competitive Workplace.
If you are a parent of a teenage or college athlete, read this book. If you want to learn more about mental health and depression, read this book. And, if you want to get involved in organizations like Active Minds, just drop me an email.
I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup last week on my Q2 vacation. In my post talking about the various books I read, I wrote the following about it.
“Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.”
This morning, Amy emailed me a link to an article by Matthew Herper titled Elizabeth Holmes’ Superpower. He strongly recommends Carreyrou’s book and talks about his coverage of Theranos and how he was snowed over the years, partly through his interactions directly with Holmes. In contrast, Holmes never talked to Carreyrou, leaving Herper to reflect:
“Holmes never did talk to Carreyrou, leaving her greatest weapon, her weird charisma, holstered. Now his portrayal of her, put together from other people’s recollections, will define her in the public memory, especially if the planned movie starring Jennifer Lawrence gets made. For those of us she did talk to, at least to me, the book presents a humbling puzzle. Why was what seems so visible now invisible when Holmes was in the room?”
While this is all complicated stuff, Herper’s self-reflection is helpful. At a meta-level, it’s just another example of the challenge of promotion vs. substance. Or, aspiration goals vs. what’s actually going on. Or fantasy vs. reality. Or what you hope to create being articulated as what you have created.
Entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult. Among other challenges a founder has is balancing the vision of what is being created compared to what exists today. At the very beginning of the journey, this is easy because it’s obvious that it is all aspirational. But, as things progress, the substance of what has been created so far starts to matter, especially as the founder needs to raise more money to continue to fund the aspiration goals.
The best founders that I’ve worked with combine a mix of their aspirational goals with a real grounding in the current reality of where the business is. They know that their aspirational goals are goals – not current reality. And they know that there isn’t a straight line to the goals. If they use their reality distortion field as a charismatic founder, it’s to motivate their team to build something, not deceive investors or customers into believing it has been built.
Because, after all, in the end, we are all vulnerable to facts.
Amy and I took a much needed 10 days off in Aspen.
The first five months of the year was intense for both of us. Lots of travel, work, and stuff. Not a lot of self-care, time alone, or reading. And very little running since my calf was injured.
The last 10 days were lots of together time, running, reading, and sleeping. I gobbled up a bunch of books, all of them worth reading.
Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear: I started with a short book by Carl Hiaasen. I’m a fan of his fiction, so this caught my eye in Explore Booksellers (the local Aspen bookstore where we always load up whenever we come here.) It was cynically wonderful, and great advice.
Adjustment Day: Ever since Fight Club, I’ve been a Chuck Palahniuk fan. His fiction is cloudy, complex, challenging, contemporary, and cynical. He’s basically the C-Man of fiction (go Chuck, go …) Adjustment Day was the perfect fictional setup for the next book I read, which was …
Fascism: A Warning: Amy and I have been fortunate enough to get to know Madeleine Albright through our collective relationships at Wellesley. Amy knows her better, but I had an amazing dinner sitting next to her one night where I walked away thinking “I wish she had been born here so she could run for president.” The word “fascism” is once again being used so often as to mean nothing, so Albright spends 250 or so pages walking the reader through real fascism, how fascists behave, what they do to their countries (and societies), and what – as a citizen in a democratic country – to pay attention to. She covers the famous ones, but also some not so famous ones, especially those who came to power in the context of a theoretically democratic society.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.
Imagine Wanting Only This: I love graphic novels. I don’t read enough because – well – I don’t know. Amy bought me this one because she loved the cover. Kristen Radtke wrote a beautiful, provocative, at times extremely sad, but also uplifting story that is auto-biographical. I wish I could write this well. And, when I read a book like this, I really wish I could draw.
The Painted Word: The world lost a great writer recently when Tom Wolfe died. So I bought the Five Essential Tom Wolfe Books You Should Read. I hadn’t read The Painted Word so I started with it. It’s a deliciously scathing criticism of modern art, circa 1975. I loved it.
Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto: If you read one book from this list, read this one, especially if you live in Boulder. Alan Stern, the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, wrote – with David Grinspoon – a riveting story that spans around 30 years. Both Alan and David are at CU Boulder, which plays a key role in the exploration of the last planet in our solar system (there – I said it – Pluto is a planet, the IAU be damned.) This book is a page tuner and will cause you to fall in love with Pluto. And, in late breaking news, Pluto may actually be a giant comet (ah – clickbait headlines …)
Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger: I’m a huge Charlie Munger fan. For some reason, I’d missed this biography of him. I learned a few things I didn’t know and got to travel back in time to a book written in the context of Charlie Munger about 20 years ago.
It was a great vacation. I’ll be back in Boulder tomorrow …
I finished James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership last night. Everyone who thinks or cares about leadership should read it and allow themselves to process it at a meta-level.
I don’t know James Comey and other than seeing his name, photos, opinions, interviews, criticisms, and analysis of him all week, have never really thought much about him. I noticed him during the 2016 election around the Hillary Clinton investigation – both when he announced it, ended it, re-opened it again, and closed it again. I noticed when he was fired and thought everything around it was odd.
I’ve never studied the FBI, know anyone who works there, or have really thought much about its relationship to the rest of the Executive Branch (or the government in general), other than knowing that it is part of the Executive Branch and that the director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General. Beyond than that, most of what I know about the FBI I’ve learned from fictional movies and TV shows, which I know is as accurate as the Fast and Furious movies.
My sense, from all the attention around the book in the last few weeks, was that this would be an important book. I didn’t know how it would be important, but the combination of the extremely aggressive criticism of Comey, the endless ad-hominem attacks on him, the promotion of the revelations that the book held, and a latent curiosity that I had around the dynamics of the director of the FBI before and after the most recent election, caused me to pre-order the book.
I’m going to use the reaction people had to Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley to frame my view of Comey’s book. When I wrote the post Book: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley I was simply writing about my reactions and thoughts after reading the book. Over the few weeks following my post, I had several conversations with men, all who I respect, about the book. In most of these conversations, I was surprised that they had a different, and generally negative, reaction to the book from me. When I pressed on why they had the reaction they had, it always came back to an excerpt that was published before the book was released and the ensuing controversy around the event and whether or not it happened as Emily portrayed it in the book. When I asked the question, “Did you read the book or just the excerpt” each one answered some version of “I’ve only read the excerpt.”
The remarkable thing about some of the criticism about Comey and his book was that it occurred before the book was released. The attacks – both substantive and ad-hominem, have been amplified to a volume of 11.
Comey starts the book off strong by acknowledging his own weaknesses and goals for the book. He asserts that he is focused on defining and describing ethical leadership, using his own experiences as support for the ideas of what he believes (and I agree) is a powerful and important leadership approach. While the book uses the format of a memoir, I think he did an excellent job of putting the reader in the moment of the decisions he had to make, how and why he made them, and the legal context in which he made them. As a result, the notion of ethical leadership gets developed and defined throughout the book.
The criticism of the book that I keep seeing focuses on Comey. It talks about his self-absorption, his need for personal absolution, his inability to see things from a perspective other than “his truth”, and a plethora of other weaknesses, including using his personal descriptions of the people he was talking to at various points in the book.
This is why I encourage you to read the book and reflect on it at a meta-level. There are different ways to be a successful leader. Truth and empathy are powerful, and key traits, of many of the great leaders I know and respect. For these leaders, loyalty is earned rather than demanded. Comey casts himself as this type of leader, but also acknowledges mistakes, misjudgments, and conflicts along his journey. This is another powerful message – leaders are imperfect. And, when you reflect on the various anecdotes Comey describes, from his perspective, one can see this very clearly in all of the leaders he describes his interactions with.
As I need a break from current reality, Sunday’s book will be science fiction …
Yesterday was a perfect Saturday. I decided to do a digital sabbath so on Friday night at 5 pm I shut down my computer. Amy made a nice small dinner of leftover cauliflower soup with farfalle pasta. We then went downstairs and finished off the Burns/Novick The Vietnam War.
I woke up mid-morning on Saturday. I meditated for a half hour. I had a light breakfast of Dave’s Killer Bread and peanut butter with some coffee. I then grabbed my Kindle, got on the couch near Amy, and dug into Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
I stopped for a brief lunch with Amy and went back to it. I was three-quarters of the way through it by mid-afternoon so I went for a three-mile run, stretched, took a long bath, and then went to dinner with Amy and John Wood. We talked about the great work he was doing at Room to Read, being in our 50’s, the Vietnam War, and Fire and Fury, which John hadn’t started reading yet.
We got home about 8:30 pm. I finished Fire and Fury while Amy read New Yorker’s on the couch, and then we went to bed. When I woke up this morning and checked my email, I saw one from John at 1:01 am that said “Fuck, yeah, this book is a great read! Thanks for recommending!”
That’s how I felt. In general, I don’t read books about current politics. I steadfastly avoid all the manufactured stuff promoting candidates, and generally only dive in when I feel like some history. I did succumb to my curiously last week and read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, so I was probably ready for Wolff’s book when all the hysteria around it broke on Thursday, including Trump’s lawyer’s very predictable cease and desist letter.
I thought Wolff did a nice job in his Author’s Note at the beginning of the book setting up the context for how he got the material for the book. He acknowledged conflicting stories, deep background talks, and he dealt with the journalistic conundrums he found himself in. The obvious attack approaches being taken to fully discredit Wolff and the book are shallow and not-credible after you read this section.
There’s a remarkable amount of media on the book, which has already soared to bestseller status on all channels. I found it fascinating to read through some of this media, and while occasionally repetitive, like so many things about this administration, the story of the administrations’ reactions to the story is an important part of the story.
Here are some of the better links I found this morning. Skim if you want, but I encourage you to grab and read the book.
Finally, from a post I wrote in 2015 titled “The Paradox of VC Value-Add” I want to expose one of my deep biases.
“Before I dig in, I need to express two biases. First, whenever someone says “I’m a (adjective) (noun)” I immediately think they are full of shit. When someone says “I’m a great tennis player”, I immediately wonder why they needed to tell me they are great and it makes me suspicious. “I’m a deep thinker” makes me wonder the last time the person opened a book. “I’m a value-added VC” makes me think “Isn’t that price of admission?””
I wonder if there will be a horse named Stable Genius in the Kentucky Derby in the next few years.
Several people recommended Ray Dalio’s book Principles to me. I read it a few days ago and thought it was spectacular. I’ve gone out and bought a copy for each of my partners and I recommend that every VC, as well as anyone who is building an organization of any kind, buy and read it.
Dalio is famous for his extremely successful firm Bridgewater Associates which is known for its goal of achieving excellence in their work and their relationships through radical truth and radical transparency. The TED Talk below is a good summary, but the book is worth reading in total.
As a bonus, watch Dalio’s great explanation of How the Economic Machine Works.
As I get older, I’m reflecting more on the last 30 years of what has worked for me – and what hasn’t worked – as I codify my own business philosophy around the idea of #GiveFirst. As part of that, it’s a treat to soak in books like Dalio’s, as it stimulates a lot of thoughts around this.
While I enjoy a good biography of a historical figure, I love autobiographies of living people. They are hit or miss – either awesome or awful.
Sam Zell’s autobiography Am I Being Too Subtle? was awesome. I was sent a copy by an editor at Penguin Group who sends me books, presumably that he thinks I’ll like. While this was in my infinite pile of books, I grabbed it randomly last night and polished it off tonight.
If you’ve never heard Sam Zell talk, here’s a recent short clip of him talking about entrepreneurship and a few other things.
I don’t know Sam Zell. While I only have second-degree connections to him, I’ve known of him for a while and I spent an afternoon touring his apartment in Chicago as part of a Wellesley Art Tour that he graciously opened his house for. So I had a little sense of him.
Whenever I read an autobiography, I’m always curious about the tone the person takes when talking about themselves and what they’ve learned over their life. When it’s consistent with the view I have of the person from a distance, I value the content more, regardless of what the content is. In this case, Zell’s personal reflection mapped pretty well to my impression of him over different short snippets of content from the last 20+ years.
I loved hearing the history of his entrepreneurial evolution, from his origin story in his early 20s to current time 50 years later. He’s had massive successes, but also some very big blunders along the way. While he’s gotten lots of criticism for specific failures like the enormous take private (via a leveraged buyout) – and subsequent bankruptcy a year later – of the Tribune Company, he doesn’t dodge his mistakes in this book. He takes the good with the bad and has a mantra of never taking himself too seriously, which he calls “the Eleventh Commandment.”
“… the Eleventh Commandment acknowledges that we’re all human beings who inhabit the world and are given the gift of participating in the wonders around us – as long as we don’t set ourselves apart from them.”
Of course, he followed this section by talking about the two stately, well-fed ducks that have their own heated pool and live on a deck outside his office in Chicago.
His love of his early partner, Bob Lurie, who died in 1990 at age 48, really stuck with me. It had an emotional tenor that is similar to my feelings for my partners.
Most autobiographies have some self-deprecation in them, but it often stands out as awkward – almost like the writer was following the autobiography-101 script which says “make sure every now and then you sprinkle in some self-deprecation so you feel more authentic to the reader.” While there were plenty of self-deprecating and even cringe-worthy moments in the book, Zell wove them in with style.
I read autobiographies for the stories, not for historical truth. The stories in this one were great.