Econtalk on The Alliance and Future of Work

masthead_econlibHaving raved about Econtalk just the other month, and as a long time listener, it was a particular delight to be invited to go on the show and talk, with Reid and host Russ Roberts, about The Alliance and the history of LinkedIn. We also talked about whether you can explore the meaning of life while in the working world, and I predicted that the ethics of cognitive steroids will be hotly debated in the years to come. The show is an hour long.

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The Alliance is on the New York Times bestseller list for the fourth straight week. Thanks for the support. If you’ve read the book, please leave an Amazon review.

If you work at a company and are thinking about how to implement the ideas in your organization, drop me an email and join the LinkedIn group.

Book Review: Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff

51A5HB0xY6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Some months ago, I was driving, listening to the audiobook of Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff, a collection of short stories. I got home and pulled into the parking space for my apartment. It was nighttime and quiet — all the neighbors were asleep. I turned off the engine but kept the key in the ignition so the battery would power the audio system in the car. I switched off the headlights. I sat in my car, engulfed in darkness, and took in the rich voice the narrator until the story came to an end. They is. They is. They is.

The story, “Bullet in the Brain,” which ends that way, is one of the best in the collection. It’s funny and tender, and in how the message is delivered, quite innovative I thought. Your life flashes before your eyes–Wolff transforms this hackneyed thought into something original.

Another favorite is “Down to Bone,” about a son tending to his mother on her deathbed. He darts out for a couple hours to tidy up the agreement with the funeral home. When he returns, the mother has so deteriorated that she thinks he is her father. “Daddy,” she says. “It’s all right,” the son says. “I’m here.” Realizing that “he no longer knew how to be a son, but he still knew how to be a father,” he tells her: “Everything’s fine, sweetheart. Everything’s going to be fine.” She whispers back, “Daddy…You’re here.”

Tobias Wolff is one of the living giants of American literature. Here’s my review of Old School. Here’s one of my favorite parts of This Boy’s Life. Here’s my rave of In Pharaoh’s Army. Here’s a quote of his about how everything comes to an end from a list of some other favorite lines of books. Here’s how Wolff has complimented George Saunders

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I like short story collections in audiobook format. If you’re not digging a story, you skip to the next. In a normal book, if you listen to it as audio, and you lose interest, it’s hard to swap out to a new one. The big downside to audiobooks is you can’t underline or take notes. For Our Story Begins, I bought a paperback edition so I could do that, after I had listened to it.

Charlie Rose on The Alliance

Reid was his usual brilliant, friendly self on Charlie Rose the other week. It’s a good 30 minute conversation about The Alliance, Silicon Valley, biology, and more.

Movie Review: Boyhood

Boyhood, the new movie out from Richard Linklater, is now on my all-time favorites list. It’s an extraordinary film for several reasons. First, as a practical matter, it was filmed over 12 years with the same actors, shooting a few days each year. To see a 6 year old boy grow up on camera to the point where he heads off to college — along with the maturation of his parents over those formative years — is something that’s never been done before. (7 Up is a documentary, which has a similar setup, but that’s a documentary.) I can only imagine how difficult it was to finance and orchestrate the logistics for such a production. The payoff was huge — the benefits of a long term vision and long term investment.

Second, it’s a story in which “nothing happens” — life just unfolds. No one gets killed, no one wins a prize, no one undergoes life-alterting highs or lows. Instead, the characters simply grow up, and confront the trials and tribulations that characterize normal middle class life. It’s not a blissful existence, to be sure. Adolescence is hard. Divorce is hard. Earning an income is hard. Empty nesting is hard. Linklater captures just the right moments to refresh our understanding of childhood and of growing up. The moments are subtle, but deeply moving.

Third, I had a great deal of cultural nostalgia watching the film. If you grew up in the 90’s, lots of little things resonate, from the songs that are played (Sheryl Crow, anyone?), to cultural events (like the release of the Harry Potter books), to the general post 9/11 pre-Great Recession milieu.

All in all, highly recommended.

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Other good movies I’ve watched recently:

  • American Beauty. A classic for so many reasons. As relevant a take on the doldrums of middle aged suburban American life as ever.
  • Like Crazy. The most realistic portrayal of romance I’ve seen in a long time. Sad, tough, moving.
  • Side Effects. A gripping thriller on an important topic: physiatrists and Big Pharma.
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. Good documentary on eco-terrorists. I wasn’t familiar with the history of the ELF so I found it both informative and ethically provocative.
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Beautiful scenes of India and an affecting portrait of how one can spend one’s golden years.

Talking with Jeff and Reid About The Alliance

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of facilitating a conversation with Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner (CEO) at LinkedIn, in front of employees. We talked about The Alliance and took questions from the audience.

Here’s a full video of the chat. Here’s the 25 minute highlight reel (and embedded) below.

“The Must-Read Book of the Summer”

Two weeks in, here are some of the interesting reviews of The Alliance:

  • Mike Bloomberg: “The Alliance offers useful strategies for combating this kind of complacency and creating environments where innovation flourishes. As the authors explain, it all comes down to people.”
  • Arianna Huffington: “The Must-Read Book of the Summer That Could Change the Way We Work…What’s also great about The Alliance is how it gives concrete ways to implement these ideas.:
  • Josh Bersin (Deloitte): “The big value of the book is that Reid and team clearly make this point: 21st Century Management is different. We need to engage people from the very beginning of their work life, tap into their collective intelligence even after they leave the firm, and build alumni networks to create an extended network as our ‘alliance workers’ move on.”
  • Daniel Pink (Author of Drive, Whole New Mind, Free Agent Nation): “A smart, fresh, (and occasionally bracing) look at the evolving relationship between the bosses and the bossed. It’s a terrific and accessible read that provides business leaders with both insights and tools to handle a world in which talent is paramount.”
  • Brad Feld (VC at Foundry Group): “The book, and the concept, is tightly written and extremely readable. The book is an appropriate length – there’s no fat here – just substance.”

If you’re a manager or work with managers, would love to hear your feedback. And thanks for picking up a copy at Amazon, B&N, Hudson’s bookstore in the airport, or anywhere else!

Visual Summary of The Alliance

We published a 60 slide slideshow that expresses the essence of The Alliance and Tours of Duty. Check it out on Business Insider. The combination of visuals and text works really well, I think. It’s already trending heavily on BI (500,000+ views).

Thanks to Ian Alas for all his hard work on creating this deck.

Update: Here’s the deck on Slideshare and embedded below. More than one million views on Business Insider.

Your Company is Not a Family

Reid, Chris, and I wrote a post on HBR.org about the myth of company as family, and explained why in The Alliance we liken companies to pro sports teams. Here’s how it starts:

When CEOs describe their company as being “like family,” we think they mean well. They’re searching for a model that represents the kind of relationships they want to have with their employees—a lifetime relationship with a sense of belonging. But using the term family makes it easy for misunderstandings to arise.

In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance: “We’re sorry Susie, but your mom and I have decided you’re just not a good fit. Your table-setting effort has been deteriorating for the past 6 months, and your obsession with ponies just isn’t adding any value. We’re going to have to let you go. But don’t take it the wrong way; it’s just family.”

Unthinkable, right? But that’s essentially what happens when a CEO describes the company as a family, then institutes layoffs. Regardless of what the law says about at-will employment, those employees will feel hurt and betrayed—with real justification.

Read the rest at HBR.org.

How Do You Get Employees to Open Up?

One key concept in The Alliance is “mission alignment”: managers and employees ought to  define a mission objective that aligns the employee career goals and values with the company’s. A far cry from the “company man” era, where a notion of an employee’s individuality and autonomy was nonexistent.

In an interview with Chris and me at Inc.com, we explore some of the practical things managers can do to create the space for honest conversation about what your employees really care about. Here are are two excerpts:

2. Forget the notion that you and your employees must have 100% long-term alignment. ”The key,” says Casnocha, “is to have sufficient alignment to get this particular tour of duty to work out.”

The phrase “tour of duty” is a term the authors borrow from the military and use throughoutThe Alliance. “The metaphor conveys the key concept that both military and business tours of duty have in common,” they write. “Focus on accomplishing a specific, finite mission.”

What might that mission be? For employees, it could be developing skills or gaining connections that help them transition to a different industry or job type. As a leader, it’s in your power to help your employees with their missions. Think about how much more motivated your employees would be, if they knew you actually wanted to help them make a career transition–even though the transition would mean that they’ll be leaving your company one day.

4. Depersonalize the key questions. Yeh suggests approaching your employees by saying something like this: “It’s my job to help you overcome bottlenecks and all the things that are in your way. What things are preventing you from accomplshing your mission, and how can I solve them?”

Phrasing the question this way enables you to emphasize the mission, rather than the employee himself. It allows the employee to describe what’s wrong with his job, without feeling like he’s critiquing his own performance or ability to adapt to challenging circumstances.

Casnocha says he learned a great conversational tactic from Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University. The idea is another form of depersonalizing questions: Ask an employee what “most people” think of a certain situation. Usually, the employee will tell you what most people think. But in doing so, she will also provide a glimpse of her own personal feelings. Specifically, Casnocha suggests these conversational cues:

  • How is everyone feeling about what’s going on in the office?
  • What do you think people are frustrated about here at work?

These questions allow you, as a leader, to follow up on whatever topics arise. But you can do so delicately, without pouncing on the employee who–even in sharing what “most people” think–has just displayed a great deal of vulnerability.

Impressions of Italy, 2014 Edition

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(Beginning a long bike ride at the top of the Basilica of St. Frances in Assisi.)

I was in Italy last week for a wedding. It was my third time to the country. What more can one say about Tuscany? It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the world. A few general impressions:

  • Food. I’m trying to minimize bad carb intake. This makes Italy challenging. I ate more pizza in a week than I have in a long time. Italian pizza has few toppings on it — bread, bread, bread — but on the plus side, it is cheap. For one dinner we ordered 23 different pizzas and it cost less than 200 euros. The pasta and mozzarella was delicious, per usual.
  • Driving. For the first time, I drove a bunch on Italian highways, from Rome airport through Umbria and eventually to Florence airport. Italian drivers are, as the stereotypes suggest, quite aggressive. The tailgating is insane. One of the funnier things we noticed while driving was that there were frequently signs on the road that showed the name of the city you were leaving – crossed out.
    • The 20/euro/day fee for a GPS device from Hertz in the car was well worth it, given that I didn’t want to turn on data on my U.S. phone.
  • Electric bikes. I biked 6.5 hours from Assisi to Bavagna in central Italy. It was an amazing ride; it was mostly on custom built bike paths that were well marked. Highly recommend biking in the area. A special novelty for me: electric bikes! Felt and rode like a regular (albeit slightly heavy) bike. Pull a button as you pedal and the back wheel accelerates. This made treacherous hills accessible, and allowed us to cover more terrain in less time.
  • “Free” healthcare. An old, rusty fence slashed my leg on a hike and I went to the hospital in Siena to get a tetanus booster. The emergency room experience was a delight. Best of all, it was totally free! I signed a short form, they took my passport number, I got the shot, and left. Thanks, Italian taxpayers.
  • Side of the road prostitutes. Prostitutes advertised their services in the most random of back roads. Given that the trade is illegal in Italy, I suppose they’re optimizing for roads that see traffic but are not frequently visited by the police.

Bottom Line: Tuscany is Tuscany: one of the most beautiful, pleasant places in the world. And as is the case for a lot of Europe, when I’m there, I feel like I’m living in a museum.