How Grit, Radical Candor and Access to Information Can Improve Diversity

radical-candor-2x2

This Weekend’s Gossip

If you miss Valleywag (a popular startup gossip blog), this weekend provided some much needed drama. A Google SWE (software engineer) wrote a post about how men and women are inherently different, Google is a leftist / politically correct culture and I’m sure a bunch else that didn’t stick.

I don’t disagree that men and women are different. And, Google definitely is a left leaning organization. For me, I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the musings of this SWE. If forced to pick, I value free speech more than I dislike hate speech (or in this case, perhaps, things I don’t necessarily agree with).

Grit

Regardless, this SWE’s post promoted an elegant response, “The Fallacy of Biological Determinism” from Albert Wenger, my former colleague at Union Square Ventures. He brings in another author we both admire, Angela Duckworth and the work she’s done studying Grit.

But there is more to cognitive differences and the fallacy of biological determinism. Biological determinists like to trot out IQ results. Here too though they suffer a confusion between what is currently measured as a result of the past and what is possible in the future. We have learned a great deal in recent years about the amazing degree to which the brain can grow new connections (even in adults). The brain is highly (re)programmable…I highly recommend Grit by Angela Duckworth, which in addition to great anecdotes also provides lots of statistical evidence on how much can be learned given enough time (and deliberate practice).  

We won’t know for quite some time what people will be able to learn in a world in which we can give everyone access to all the world’s knowledge. That is not the world we lived in until quite recently; where you were born and what your parents were able to afford had a huge impact on what you could learn… Why would we then assume that this is not something we could and should overcome with technology?  

I like Albert’s view, because it argues that even though women do possess different genetics, with all of the information we can access now (and accessing more information is Google’s mission) and with “grit”, who is to say we cannot overcome any mental differences we’d like?

Radical Candor

If grit and access to information can make us better at almost any skill (I argue with my brother about whether this involves me getting into the WNBA), we need one more element for success. The information to understand when we preform well and when we don’t.

Kim Scott, a former Google leader, wrote a book called Radical Candor (framework above and on her site). Radical Candor towards those in your organization trying to improve themselves, as all successful people do, plays an important role. As we try to increase diversity in fields where few women work, we need to offer them the same level of feedback, positive and negative, we offer men. We cannot afford to hold back this access to information. For, as Albert calls out, it is access to more information that will enable us to increase diversity and level playing fields.

In the past few weeks since reading Radical Candor, I practice it with my team. It definitely feels unnatural at times. One suggestion I might give that’s helped me greatly is to explain what I am trying with my team (steps here on how to roll this out). They know when I say, “Can I give you some Radically Candid feedback?” that I care about them personally and am going to give them a specific example of what went well or what didn’t.

Radical Candor, a growth mindset, access to technology and specific feedback can lead us to overcome most of the genetic traits we inherit. So, if the SWE’s argument is that women are fundamentally different based on genetics, that’s totally fine. It doesn’t need to limit women at all.

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How Grit, Radical Candor and Access to Information Can Improve Diversity

Grit

I read Fred Wilson’s post a few weeks ago about a talk he held for the USV portfolio companies with Albert and the author of Grit, Angela Duckworth.

I don’t normally like to read business books, but after a long run of non-fiction focused on poverty, mental health care and race, I wanted something lighter.

My take away from Grit (TED talk here) is that it’s patience that makes us great at something, most of the time influencing success more than talent. Perseverance, consistency and practice contribute to meaningful outcomes more often than luck or pure skill.

At the beginning of the book Duckworth offers a “grit test” to understand your current grit level (55). In explaining results Duckworth points out, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance,” and while passion is important to achieving goals, “passion and perseverance aren’t exactly the same thing”.

In interviews about what it takes to succeed, high achievers often talk about a commitment of a different kind. Rather than intensity, what comes up again and again in the remarks is the “consistency over time” (57).

So, while I recommend you read the book to get the entire picture, I learned that most of success, as proven in Duckworth’s and other long term studies, is simply sticking with the same goal and practicing a specific skill over and over.

On a positive note, we can build grit both inside and out:

Inside out-– “You can cultivate your interests You can develop a habit of daily challange-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost” (269).

Outside in--“Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends” greatly contribute to your grit (269). Duckworth suggests, “If you want to be gritter, find a gritty culture and join it” (245).

Patience is never something I’ve excelled at. My grandpa called me “Ms. Impatient”.

Duckworth’s book, unlike many business books where I feel like I need to change a million things post-read, made me feel like I can become gritter, and it doesn’t seem too daunting.

Practice. Consciously. And don’t give up too easily.

Aside

Option B as a Growth Mindset

Today, I read the entire new book, Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. I enjoyed the copious amounts of data that the book included.

One particular data set on learning stood out around the growth mindset.

One of my favorite, very true, passages from the book:

To be resilient after failures, we have to learn from them. Most of the time, we know this; we just don’t do it. We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets. (144)

In this past year at Google, my first manager especially, made me feel more comfortable opening up about my failures. Yet, still when I get feedback, I go through the phases described here. I get defensive. I disagree. But now, I, sometimes, also pause. Reflect. And know I can decide, even if I don’t agree with feedback or outcomes, that I can learn from the situation.

Interestingly in sharing our short comings, we also realize others may have the same ones. For example, Sheryl and I both struggle with something I think many women in the tech business do. The perception (and, self admittedly, the reality of!) jumping in too soon. She writes:

At Google, my colleague Joan Braddi explained that I wasn’t as persuasive as I could be in meetings because I often jumped in to speak early. She said that if I could be more patient and let others express their views first, I could make my arguments better by addressing their concerns. (149)

So how do we deal with feedback we don’t want to hear more effectively so that we can grow from it versus deny it? Sheryl offers advice from two law professors for, I think, people like me that can feel sensitive to feedback:

You should “give yourself a ‘second score based on handle you the first score…Even when you get an F for the situation itself, you can still earn an A+ for how you deal with it. (151)

Now what type A person wouldn’t like another option at redemption? I want my Option B to to think more about how I deal with difficult news, even if just at the office. Building up that resiliency now and growing from it, according to Sheryl and Adam, will prepare me better to act resiliently in the future.

 

 

 

Option B as a Growth Mindset

Extreme Ownership

The Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, serve as a good time for reflection. What do you regret from this year? Can you apologize to someone for it? How do you want to act differently in the new year?

The holidays coincided with my finishing a book by two Navy SEALs about Extreme Ownership.

Leif and Jocko, the two SEALs that wrote the book, believe that good leaders exhibit “Extreme Ownership”. To me this theme compliments the holidays. We own what we do — good and bad. And, according to both theories, secular and religious, when we make a mistake, we must own it, learn from it.

I want to employ more Extreme Ownership this year. I must own mine (and my team’s) mistakes. Without excuses. Instead of “this happened because…”, I want to move to a place of “I made a mistake with X, Y and Z. Next time I will do A, B, and C.” For example, I sent that email to early. I made a mistake in not fully thinking through its implications first.   

And, as a leader, Jocko and Leif stress that you own not only your mistakes but also those of your team. Did someone on your team do something wrong? If so, the leader owns that as well. The leader didn’t teach them enough, explain the situation well enough, share the higher motivations enough. Example: My team member didn’t meet their quota. I need to teach him or her how to do that more successfully and make sure I do a better job explaining why it’s important. Conversely, when a team member excels, you do not own this. The team member does.

I enjoy the rituals and customs of religion. in some ways, to me, religion to me seems a lot like an older version of leadership and morality books: how to lead better, how to help others, how to connect with yourself.

Extreme Ownership

The Happy Secret to Better Work

One of my favorite things to do is to watch TED talks. I appreciate the fact that I can, wherever I am, whenever I want, in ten minutes, learn about a new field.

My favorite field to learn about is the psychology of happiness. I probably enjoy this field, because I learned that individuals can easily control happiness. And, I like control.

I wanted to share the top 5, easy things you can do to be happier. I’ve tried all of them at some point and can attest to the fact that they work:

1) Bring gratitude to mind: Write down three NEW things that you are grateful for each day

2) Journal: About a positive experience you’ve had recently for two minutes once a day

3) Exercise: Engage in 15 minutes of mindful cardio activity

4) Meditate: Watch your breath go in and out for two minutes a day and

5) Engage in a random, conscious act of kindness: Write a two-minute positive email thanking a friend or colleague, or compliment someone you admire on social media Do these steps for 21 days, and you will begin to see a lasting shift in your mindset towards more positivity.

The talk I listened to today especially piqued my interest because it talked about how happiness doesn’t come from success but rather, in fact, happiness causes success.

Happy people:

  • Are 31% more productive (this one’s my favorite)
  • Have 37% better sales figures
  • Have better, more secure jobs
  • Are better at keeping their jobs
  • Are more resilient
  • Have less burnout

So, try one of these five things for 21 days. Be happy. And a good side benefit is that it might help you succeed too.

The Happy Secret to Better Work

Doing a Search

It seems the summer intern search for business school students gets earlier and earlier every year.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve met with a bunch of almost first year MBAs that are already thinking about their summer search.

I’ve given a few suggestions to them that I wanted to share here as well.

  • Start early. People at attractive companies and firms will be more likely to give you “10-15 minutes” of their time when you’re not the 40th person that’s asked.
  • Consider structure. Start-ups are great, but they don’t have formal intern programs, so it’s risky that you might be twiddling your thumbs or not knowing what you should be doing. Bigger companies will give you a feeling of progress and an understanding of whether or not your successful.
  • Be organized. It’s overwhelming to think through so many possibilities. What helps me is to write them down. I’ve used this spreadsheet for job searches in the past (both summer and full time). It’s public and you can download it to use it for yourself if you think it’s useful.

Please leave a comment with anything else you’ve found useful or any questions you may have!

 

Link

My Advice So Far

One of the things I think I did the best early on in my career was to ask people for advice. I learned that this ultimately got you two things: (1) insights into things you didn’t understand and (2) buy in from the person you’re getting the advice from that you’re on the right path, and thus, potentially more help from them down the road. So while this post aims to help those I can’t talk to 1:1 with the first objective of seeking advice, it’s always better to find mentors you can also meet with in person to achieve both (1) and (2). Caveat: remember, this a quality, not a quantity play. When “advice giving” I focus a lot on the following topics, since they’re what I have the most experience in:

  • Venture Capital
  • Google
  • Tech start-ups
  • Business School

(subtitling the post so you can skip to the portions you want) A lot of the advice I give can also be given on a blog and this is my attempt to do so. As my friend Brittany told me recently, it’s better to just launch it and have it be imperfect, versus not launching at all.

So, here we go. I’ll appreciate any feedback to Jennifer.soffen@gmail.com.

Venture Capital

How do I get into VC?

I’ve hear that VC is one of the hardest industries to break into. I don’t know if I agree with that and, more importantly, I don’t know if you really want to do it. Before you attempt to get into VC, here are a few questions you should know the answer to.

What does a day in the life of a junior VC person look like?

This really depends on the firm. It’s so much different than other jobs – like being an account manager at a tech company or an analyst at an ibank. Every associate job at a VC firm is really different since the partners will have very different preferences on what they want an associate to do.

Later Stage

If you are applying for a later stage firm (Series B and above) modeling and excel skills may be more useful since you may be able to actually somewhat accurately project what success would look like. “Junior” people can be pretty helpful here in helping partners to look at a bunch of different scenarios and gather the information that is needed to go into them.

Earlier Stage

For an earlier stage firm, a lot of the investments tend to be based on the idea, whether or not it’s scalable (not necessarily how you will monetize it and generate revenue but will a lot of people use it) and, most importantly, the team. In my experience “junior” people are somewhat less valuable here, if you want to go to a very good, famous VC firm. Why? Well, entrepreneurs want to raise money from the best firms and so the well connected ones, will find their way to the partners of these firms by way of introduction.

And the good entrepreneurs, the kind you really want to invest in, find a compelling strategy to get in touch with the partners they want on their boards and, in my experience, don’t generally go through the associate or principal to get there. So, as a “junior” person, you will spend a lot of time meeting with entrepreneurs that your firm probably won’t invest in (as the partners do as well), because the best ones will optimize their time and find a direct to partner path.

In my opinion, don’t go to a good seed or Series A stage VC fund expecting to be the one sourcing a lot of the deals that get “done”. Partners are sought out and don’t need someone finding them introductions. Additionally, other good VCs will help them source deals as they want the prestige for the companies they invest in of having lots of good VCs on their board.

If you read the answers to the questions below and still want to get into VC here’s how I recommend you go about it.

  1. Assess what skills / experiences you have that might be useful to VCs.
    1. Do you know a lot about internet infrastructure? Policy? Finance? What makes you unique / interesting that they probably can’t find from someone else?

Find a VC that would care about the things that make you unique. Each firm has a different focus. For example, Lux Capital specializes in physical and life sciences. USV invests in “companies that create services that have the potential to fundamentally transform important markets.” You should be able to show why your experiences make you a good fit to work for that specific firm – not VC in general, and, even better, a specific partner.

  1. Don’t ask for advice or a general coffee chat. Email with a specific question or area that you want to contribute to and ask for ten minutes on the phone. When people don’t know whether or not you’ll be good, they are less likely to commit to 30 minutes with you. It’s a lot harder to turn down a ten-minute phone call with someone that has a specific question or request that cannot be answered by email.
  2. Definitely don’t send a list of questions and request an answer to them. It’s not his or her job to fill out a form for you. A lot of VCs blog. If you are emailing or talking to a VC and have not researched them and read at least ten of their blog posts on the internet before reaching out, you have not done your homework.

Google

How can I apply for an undergrad internship at Google?

  • Read about the internship on the link below
  • Pick one (and only one) person at Google that you know to internally submit your resume. They get $4k if you get hired but only if you let them be the only one that’s submitting you. So, give them the right incentive to push for you and follow up with recruiters etc.

https://www.google.com/about/careers/search#!t=jo&jid=21415002&

What’s the best way to get a job at Google?

  • Get a 3.5 or above in college
  • Position your resume for the job you are applying for. If it’s a sales role, make your past roles seem more sales oriented. If it’s in marketing, do the same for that. You can have the same exact job and pitch it multiple ways.
  • Use metrics in your resume. You didn’t “build a team,” rather you “hired ten people to support the CEO and accomplished a 70% increase in cold call conversions”
  • Pick one (and only one) person at Google that you know to internally submit your resume. They get $4k if you get hired but only if you let them be the only one that’s submitting you. So, give them the right incentive to push for you and follow up with recruiters etc.

Getting a job at a tech start-up

What’s the best way to get a good job / summer internship at a highly respected, VC backed startup?

  • Meet a ton of people, basically you’re a VC, just for yourself.
  • Know it will take awhile.
  • Start-ups are really bad at hiring. They need someone then they don’t. They don’t know if they want an all around athlete or someone with specific skills. You will have a lot of “wasted” time.
  • Take a job based on the team. The role will change. So will the idea. And it will probably fail. Make sure you really really like the people you are going to be working with every day. (best advice I got!)
  • If you can, try to go to a start-up with good, reputable VCs. Since it will probably fail, these folks will be best equipped to help you find another job.

Students

Full time

  • Get in touch with the VC on the board—this info is usually on the VC firm’s website
  • Check out these good VCs sites for jobs

What should I be reading?

Business School

What do I need to get into a good business school?

  • Get a good GPA at a very good undergrad school or a state school (the best business schools don’t penalize you for not being rich enough to afford the ivy league!).
  • Demonstrate, consistently how you want to change the world and show that consistency in your application.
    • Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life when you start your career. It’s just that looking back, you should be able to explain why you made the decisions you did.
    • For example, I choose to work at Google because I wanted to be able to help people in the most scalable way possible and I thought the Internet enabled this. Once I got to Google, I found a project (Google Fiber) that I was interested in and really enjoyed growing that team and project which lead me to want to take on entrepreneurship with more risk and reward.
    • Combining these two experiences, I wanted to use business school to help me combine my entrepreneurial desires with my tech background to launch my own digital solution for internet access and digital literacy.
    • I was wrong in that I didn’t land in internet access but I did end up at a start-up, running marketing.

Essays:

  • Expensive consultants will often offer you a free first hour. I suggest taking advantage of that and reading their free blogs here.  I found them very helpful in deciding what stories I told.
  • Have friends (not parents) read your essays. Ask them to assess with a BS meter. People tend to over embellish here and the Admit Committees know that.
  • Just like in your resume, use metrics. And maybe even quotes. Anything that’s truly concrete is better than a plain description.

Interviews:

  • Come off as confident but not cocky. I think they’re just trying to make sure you are who you say you are and that you’d be a pleasant classmate.

Recommendations:

  • Get respected, good writers and somewhat high-level people to recommend you. Do the work for them. Bullet points (not prewritten) are extremely helpful. They’re busy and doing you a huge favor. Make it easy for them.
My Advice So Far