Building a culture of success

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My son played in a baseball tournament this weekend. His team did well, and finished as the runner-up.  The team that beat them in the finals played really well, but more importantly, it was obvious that they had a strong culture of success.

From the moment they walked on the field, they had a noticeable “bounce”. – they were literally bouncing around with energy and excitement. When they started warming up, it wasn’t haphazard and sloppy, but rather organized, energetic, and purposeful.   It was clear that they had a warm-up routine designed to instill focus.  It was led by the kids themselves.  They had a huddle before every inning at-bat ending with a cheer of “hit!” and boy did they hit the ball well (better than any team I’ve seen all season).  They cheered every kid on in a major way, and bounced in celebration when they scored.  When they won, they posed for a team photo and the coach said “ok, time for your first Legends’ point” and they pointed to the camera in a victory celebration (the club was called the Legends) — teaching the kids that not only were they part of a long-term culture of winning, but that this was just their first step on their path.  Even when they were sitting together before the game eating lunch, they had togetherness and winning baseball in their eyes.  They were having fun the whole time, and it was clear that at every step of the way, the club’s culture was behind it.

I looked through at the club website, and it became clear that what I witnessed was not a one-off moment, but part of a bigger culture.  This club has a practice facility where they do game situation indoor practice all winter long  (with trophies conspicuously mounted).  I saw pictures on the website of older kids doing the same pre-game drills in that facility, with the same intensity.   They have camps, and dinners, and skills clinics.  I can just imagine the youngest members of the club (my son’s age) watching the bigger kids do the drills, and the chants, and the movements & motions.  

Having coached baseball for 10 seasons now (5 years x 2 seasons per year), and having played high school ball on an pretty good team and little league ball on a very good travel team (1989 NYC Federal League champions, 46-5 record — yes, I am still proud of that), I am particularly attuned to the dynamics of winning (and less winning) teams.  

And now, working in the startup / VC world, I see from the inside what winning (and less winning) teams look like.  USV has built a culture of success over the last 15 years, which I am hell bent on carrying forward to the next generation.  

Success is one part ability/skills and one part culture. The skills are the raw material and the culture is what makes it great. So what makes for a culture of success?

This is material for a series of posts rather than just one, but I’ll focus on a few observations & memories here:

1/ Legend & lore — winning begets winning, especially in generational enterprises like companies and sports clubs (just look at the Yankees, or Duke Basketball).  The younger generation needs to look up to the older one and learn what success looks like and how to model it. 

2/ Body language — so much of success is about feeling poised and energized.  Think “power pose”.  The team this weekend had it.

3/ Structure — complex tasks like building a company or hitting a baseball need to be broken down into pieces so they can be understood and mastered. Figuring out how to do this in the right way is the magic of coaching, and it’s not easy.  How can you take an amorphous goal and break it into understandable pieces, ideally explainable with metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes?

4/ Fun — this seems silly but it’s really important. Teams succeed when they are having fun, and they have fun when they succeed.  

That is it for now. I’m heading into my week energized and inspired.

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The Trust Equation

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This week was the annual USV CEO Summit, one of my favorite moments of every year (remarkably, this was my 8th summit, and they seem to get better and better).  The theme of this year’s summit was “Trust”, which, for those paying close attention, is the anchor of USV’s investment thesis 3.0. We have been… Read more »

Setting up a system

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Like most people, I have struggled over the years to comes up with a organizational/productivity system that works for me.  Disclaimer: I do not yet have it down perfectly, and am not claiming guru status.  But I do have a few things that have worked pretty well, and I have noticed some things that others… Read more »

The power of community

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Community is a funny thing. It can sound like a fluffy word or concept, but it’s actually really powerful.  Maybe more powerful than many things. Community is about helping people feel connected and aligned.  When people are connected, they feel warm and good, and part of something bigger than themselves.  When people are aligned, each… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 3): growth

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Picking back up the series on what decentralization is good for (part 1, part 2), today I want to focus on one of the most exciting aspects of decentralization: growth.   In this case, when I say “decentralized”, what I really mean is “open and non-proprietary”.  The two often go hand-in-hand. Ok, so why are open,… Read more »

Changing your life

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Just about 10 years ago, I had a migraine that lasted two weeks.  I have never been in such pain; even an ER visit and a morphine drip didn’t touch it.  Then, 6 months later, I had a stomach pain that just wouldn’t go away.  Finally I went to the hospital, and it turned out… Read more »

Leading vs. following

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Last night I went to see RAIN, a Beatles tribute band, with my friend and neighbor Jeff.  If you haven’t been to one, tribute bands/shows are kind of odd: on the one hand, typically technically/musically perfect (the tribute band can play the entire catalog of the original band flawlessly); and on the other hand, the… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 2): Platform Risk

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Continuing on the theme of what decentralization is good for, this week I would like to focus on one of the most powerful drivers in the near-term: Platform Risk. Platform Risk is is the risk that the tech platform that you build your product/app/business/life on will become a critical dependency, will become unreliable, and/or worse,… Read more »

Unlocking a new skill

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Over the long weekend, I spent a bunch of time with my kids doing outdoor cold weather activities. I love the winter, and I love winter sports — there is something about being outside on a cold, sunny day that gets my blood moving and makes me feel great. Those who have read this blog… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 1): Resilience

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Recently, Simon Morris, a long-time BitTorrent exec, wrote a provocative series of posts on the nature of decentralization, in the wake of BitTorrent Inc’s acquisition by TRON.  They are relatively short and a good read: Why BitTorrent Mattered — Bittorrent Lessons for CryptoIf you’re not Breaking Rules you’re Doing it WrongIntent, Complexity and the Governance Paradox Decentralized Disruption — Who… Read more »

The Octopus Card

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I am in Hong Kong this week for Blockstack‘s Decentralizing the World Tour (more on that in a forthcoming post).   I arrived yesterday and have been exploring the city a bit. The first observation is how awful the air quality is.  Holy cow.  This report from Plume Labs (snapshot from the time when I took this… Read more »

Managing digital addiction

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USV’s book club book for this month is Drug Dealer, MD, by Dr. Anna Lembke, Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford Hospital – so we have spent a bunch of time recently talking about addiction. It is not a stretch to hypothesize that we, as a society, are at a moment of heightened addiction, generally… Read more »

Paying down debt (financial, technical, and otherwise)

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Debt is a complicated subject.  On the one hand, it is empowering — it lets you get a quick start on something, and lets you do things that would not be possible otherwise.  There are times when it is useful, necessary, and unavoidable. I think about “debt” in the broadest possible terms: times when you… Read more »

Google Pixel Slate: first impressions

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For the past week or so, I have been experimenting with the Pixel Slate, Google’s new hybrid tablet/laptop. Here is me typing this blog post right now, on the train to NYC.  For a longer,  more technical analysis, this review from The Verge is good. The Pixel Slate is an odd machine, and I am still… Read more »

A visual guide to the Howey Test

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Disclaimer: I am  not a lawyer, and I am not your lawyer.  I have been in an uncountable number of conversations over the past few years discussing the question of what defines a “security” in the context of cryptocurrencies, cryptonetworks, and token offerings.  Here is my current understanding, including a number of key questions I… Read more »

Crypto fundamentals

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Our good friend Chris Burniske was on Squawk Box this morning. I got up and watched it.  You can see the video here. Of course there is interest in the crypto market right now, as it is falling hard. I suspect there are many out there who are enjoying the drop, waiting for the bubble… Read more »

Getting hands-on

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One of my favorite things to do is get my hands into something and figure out how it works, whether that’s an app, or a gadget, or a house. For example, over the past few months I have been renovating our basement, turning an unfinished, dank storage area into a playroom for the kids.  Here… Read more »

The dangers of unstoppable code

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With real-time, interconnected, self-executing systems, sometimes when things wrong, they go really wrong.  I wrote about this general idea previously here. Yesterday, while I was writing my post on Trusted Brands, I was doing a little searching through my blog archives, so as to link back to all the posts categorized under “Trust”.  In the… Read more »

Trusted Brands

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Today is election day.  I’m on a plane today, so I voted early, a few days ago.  I cast my vote and it felt good. I marked my paper ballot with a marker (for optical scanning) glued it shut into a sealed envelope, and handed it to a volunteer who placed it in a secure… Read more »

Suffering, self, and service

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The massacre in Pittsburgh is heartbreaking and awful, and another example of the extent to which society seems to be fraying. The Pittsburgh attacker spent a lot of time on social media sites that stoked his fear, isolation and anger.  I think about the internet a lot, and while the internet has the ability to… Read more »