Ushering in the Future of Collaboration
I had a conversation with the CEO of Evernote recently. Evernote is one of my favorite software tools. Note taking and collaboration software, super cool. I wrote my book using Evernote. I do all of my projects using Evernote. I actually took a video of a screen cap, a screen cast, of me writing my book using Evernote. And I fast forwarded it, so you can see me build a chapter in one minute. So, it's a tool that I really love. And part of what I love about it, is I realize that it, and there are other great tools like this, but it allows me to work the way that I want to work. Rather than forcing me to work a certain way. And the CEO of Evernote, when I met with him, he said this, he said, "The most effective teams need to allow people to work in their own unique ways, and the nuance that matters is honoring individuality. And that's really powerful if you get it right." So I think the future of collaboration, the future of working together, needs to allow for people to work the way th...
at they want to work. To roll the way that they roll, and not decide that this is the way that we do things. I think, that if you get nothing else out of today's lesson, it should be listening for those cues that we're squashing that idea. Listen for, "This is how it's done here." Or, "This is not how we do things." Those are the words that are going to kill the future of collaboration. And I think actually the future of humanity, honestly. If we can pull that out, that the way we do things should not just be one way. We need to honor the individuality. If we get that right, we can become more powerful together. We can get better together. We can prevent the horrible things that could potentially happen to us. And we can become stronger, and change the world. So, I kind of want to end with that. That we need each other. We need each other's different ways of thinking. And we need each other's different ways of working. If we do that, then maybe we change our world, or their world.
If you would just start building a team today from scratch, knowing all the things that you know, how would you go about it? And this probably very involved question, but is there some principal that guides you to make sure you put together the right team?
Yeah. I've been thinking about this a lot, as you can imagine. The people that you start, the early people on your team, have an outsize impact on everything that happens downstream, from culture to everything, right? So I noticed when I started my most recent company, that hiring and firing and dealing with people was the hardest, unexpectedly hard thing, that I had to deal with. A lot of the impetus for writing this book, was when I noticed that my job went from being the guy who builds things and makes decisions and does stuff, to the guy who finds other people to do those things, right? And I was anxious about that, and insecure about my ability to do that. So I did what I usually do when I have something I want to learn about. I explore it, and try and find out the underlying science, and I interview people, and then I write about it. And that metastasized into this project, right? But one of the biggest things is, who do you put in place in the beginning. And I think there's a couple answers to that. There's different phases of a team, that the size of the team, and also the complexity of what you're working on, will necessitate rethinking the team itself. Often, just like that director that cast the same cast for the next movie, we kind of stick with the team we have, and we try to mold it into the new challenges. I think the next time I build a team, I'll actually be much more explicit to everyone on the team, and deliberate about saying the different phases where we're going to, the team will have to change. And that's going to be, you're going to have to be okay with that. And I think setting up the expectation, the freedom in exchange for accountability up front, with that, as a team, and as a team leader, I am going to try and create an environment where you can operate how you want, be who you want to be, work from where you want, as long as you can get your work done, sometimes you physically have to be somewhere, sometimes you won't, and that's fine, I don't care about that, in exchange for doing a good job. And knowing that when the challenges change, then what you do may change. So that's one thing which is hard. I think the thing that I learn is a great breakthrough. Teamwork is a lot harder than we think. It's easy to just sort of coast, but then you're not going to change things. The other thing that I think about is, the first people that I hire, I really liked having co-founders with my most recent company, because despite we had a lot of similarities, I think that led us to starting to work together. We're around the same age, similar backgrounds, went to similar schools, but we did have very different disciplines. Which at early days of, excuse me. Early days of a company, that ends up being some of the more important kind of diversity. We had the business guy, the tech guy, the creative guy. Down the road, we need a lot more complexity than that. But I liked that we had this dynamic where we all had a different angle on whatever problems that we were, whatever mountains we were trying to climb. But, I think more than anything, my business partner who was a tech guy, would always say, "I don't think so." Even if he thought so. He was always saying that. And it drove me crazy at first, until I started thinking of it as really useful. That he saw his role as being the dissenter, which I think helped us to avoid a lot of problems. And so I liked that dynamic. I think that, were I to form a team again, for a business, I would probably, there's a likelihood I would have co-founders, but I'd probably not do co-founders, having learned a lot of things this time around. If I don't have co-founders, I'd want to make sure that the first couple people that I hire are people that can really push me to think differently, and that they're people that feel very comfortable in pushing back on me. And that's going to mean, I think also, I'm going to be very deliberate about picking who those people are demographically, and background-wise. I don't want another white guy from Idaho, with a journalism background. That's not going to help me as much as someone who is very different. I think, also, if I'm building a team in a business setting that I plan on having to get really big, then the other dimension of hiring early people, who are not all like you, the other thing that that leads to, is down the road when you need to hire more people, you want to have role models from different demographics, essentially. If I want to hire talented women in my company, but I have no women in leadership, that's going to be really hard. That's like a dumb move to make. It's a lot harder to fire a bunch of people to make room for people, than it is to do things the right way early on. So those are the kind of things that I think about. I'm thinking about teams, just to handle projects. Which is a lot of the work that I'm doing now, investigative journalism, things like books, then I'm going to think more about how the future of collaboration is this team that forms and then disperses. We have the Battle of New Orleans to fight, and then we'll disperse. Hopefully we won't burn the bridges so we can fight the next battle, right? But the casting exercise of, working on this project, so who's the most interesting group of people I can pull into that project. Or I can pull in to consult with me on that project. So I'm getting a diverse set of inputs, right? And including, in that, I think forming a team of rivals. The whole thing that Lincoln did. One of the most important lessons I've learned in the last few years, is from basically the guy who, destroyed me the worst, publicly, for something I wrote, has actually become, I learned a lesson from this, but he's actually become one of my favorite people for this reason, which I never thought I would say. So I wrote this post one time, that a couple months later, I see this article in the Atlantic that's basically using me as an example for everything that's wrong, basically. And it is really humiliating and painful. And he was right about a lot of the stuff that he wrote. He was wrong about some of the stuff, and that's what I fixated on. And I was mad. And my friends who were getting personal with him, they're like, "He's a jerk." And, "He's a horrible person." And "How can anyone love that guy?" And that's not what it's about, it's about the ideas, right? But after I let that extrude a while, and I let that settle, I sent him an email, explaining my side, my case for why he was wrong about how I was wrong. And he sent me the most humble email back that was like, "Thank you for engaging with this, and for expressing this opinion, and sometime do you want to come to my class at MIT and talk to my students about this. And let's keep this debate going." And it was a super cool lesson for me, but also now, so a few months later, I'm writing another post that I knew was going to be controversial, and I had the thought, "Who's going to hate this? And what are they going to say?" Like, "Oh, I'll email that guy." So I sent him the post before I published it, and I was like, "Will you please tear this apart?" And he wrote back, "With pleasure." And then he did. And then he emailed me, and said, "Hey, would you look at a post of mine?" And so, even though we still have this intellectual rivalry thing, I've emailed him a couple times for help. So I think part of how I will think about team work in the future, in future projects, is kind of that. Don't just seek out the people that are going to help me, because we're all pushing towards the same purpose. But actually include people who are rivals in the process. Use that to get better. So I do think a lot of, And I'm really taking a long time on this answer, I do think a lot of the future of work is going to be around this gigification, or work is going to turn into a series of jobs, right? Everything we do is a series of projects, problems to solve. And a lot of, with the freelance economy, a lot of people are working more independently, or just the way that the internet allows you to form teams and communicate with people that don't need to have desks sitting next to you. I think that I will try to think about the projects I'm working on more as this, casting this movie, let's do it. Casting this movie, let's do it. And include the wildcards, and the dissenters, and all that as part of the process to get better.