[full disclosure – Robert Scoble spoke at MeshForum 2006 in San Francisco. Oh and both he and Mike are friends of mine]
UPDATE – Robert has posted his side on his blog “It is your business“
Though even if I did not count both Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble as friends, I would still find the commentary on Mike’s recent TechCrunch post about Robert’s plans to leave PodTech disturbing at best and more than slightly depressing at the worst.
Reading the comments I was struck by the vitriol of many of the commentators – the sense from them that both Robert and Mike “had it coming” (one commentator called Robert a “liar”). The comments also have a sense of being written about characters – not fellow humans (one comment talked about how Mike and Robert are “real world” friends – implying that somehow the comments and blog posts exist outside of the “real world”.
For most of my career in technology I was outside of Silicon Valley, I only moved here in January of 2006 full time (and spent some time here in the Fall of 2005 but spent much of that time looking for a place to live). The Chicago tech community was (and still is) much, much smaller than Silicon Valley’s. A recent Chicago email subscription I still have showed that that is still the case – the lead article was about how a bunch of Chicago based VCs all called Facebook’s valuation an “aberration”, clearly in my mind not understanding what Facebook is building.
Since moving out to Silicon Valley I have met many of the people who, back in Chicago, I read about. My opportunities to meet them have been at countless networking events, conferences, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Some public events, many others private gatherings of friends. The “secret” to Silicon Valley, however, is that people are friends with each other – the tech world is in many ways a very small place. At almost any networking event throughout the bay area “competitors” can be seen sharing drinks and talking with each other – more often than not individual employees may have gone to school together, worked together at previous companies and usually fully expect to work together again at some future company.
Founders and investors alike know as well that the links that connect people here in Silicon Valley are many and diverse – it is a rare company here that does not have countless ties to other firms across the valley – shared investors, former colleagues, roommates.
Likewise, while in Chicago (and indeed in much of the rest of the US and world) failure is a taint, something which is assumed (again outside of Silicon Valley) to “ruin” you that is not entirely the case in Silicon Valley. Sure, no one – founders, investors, or employees wants a company to fail – but likewise nearly everyone knows that failure is a very real risk with any startup. And there are many different types of failures.
What matters most, though this is something which few (perhaps none?) of the commenters on TechCrunch grasp, is how you fail – and how as individuals you treat others, your investors, customers and partners.
In my observation how Mike Arrington and Edgeio are handling their failure is an honorable way. Yes, it is a bit abrupt but even that is likely better than lingering – especially for the employees who will almost certainly find other employment.
But to get back to my main point and the topic of this post – Remember everyone is human
Yes, this includes the “A-listers”
And yes, even lawyers and VC’s.
Even at the biggest of companies – whether Microsoft, IBM, or newer giants such as Yahoo! and Google – are, in fact, the result of the collective efforts of 1000’s of individuals, fellow humans all.
It is easy for everyone to be snarky, to gossip, to offer commentary and to put down someone else – we all have more than our share of faults.
But I also believe and my life and career keep reinforcing this point over and over again that your expectations about others are usually right but that the causation here is not simple – if you expect others to be jerks, to be untrustworthy, to be stupid, to “not get it”, it is your very attitude which helps that self-fulfilling point of view. In contrast if you approach the world assuming the best of others, assuming that generally speaking people are good, smart and trying hard, and willing to help more often than not you are proved right. Again, your attitude helps shape the world around you – and equally importantly what you focus on and emphasize for yourself.
This is not I should note looking at the world with rose-colored glasses or being naive about business matters. Rather this is about what you focus on, what you spend your time cultivating starting with your own attitude and approach to others.
Starting with how you interact with people in person and most definitely including how you interact with others online.
One of the commenters on TechCrunch whom I won’t name here except to say he (and yes, I am assuming he is male from his writing style on his personal blog) was very active on this post, is also apparently in the midst of seeking funding and partners for a new venture. While I always wish everyone the best, I also have to note that were I advising someone about his venture (an investor for example or a friend considering working for him) I would caution against it. Because of the attitude about others which comes through in his blog and comments – a strongly bitter sense of betrayal and a core assumption that others are idiots, wasting money, doing things in stupid ways etc.
(all while, I should note he is, I think, missing some technical approaches to a problem he is facing)
But. And this is a big but, I would still be happy to meet him, to discuss what he is doing, and very likely even offer my help. I believe in giving everyone a chance.
My view is that you can and do shape reality around you – how you approach others reflects back upon you, shapes how they will interact with you. If, as I have advised in the past you approach everyone starting from the perspective of “how can I help you” when you need help it will be there, likely from the most surprising of people.
I am by other’s accounts a networker – yet the core “secret” I have found to getting things done in the past has been the simple act of asking for the help I need. And if someone says no not just giving up but learning from that – and asking follow up questions such as “can you suggest who could…” [speak in your place, sponsor the event, etc]
So I encourage all of you to think about this when you next read about celebrities – whether “a-list” bloggers, startup founders, or media stars – and remember that everyone is human.