Friday, December 5, 2008

I Want You To Win

At Microsoft, the structure of performance reviews is a zero-sum game. If you and I are in the same group, that means that in order for me to win, you have to lose. In fact, if I'm your boss or you're my boss, we're competing with each other. If I give you a better review, it may mean that my review score goes down, and vice versa. I've heard that this has changed somewhat since I left, but I've also heard that the overall attitude hasn't:

In order for me to win, you have to lose.
Unfortunately, I've seen this same attitude migrate outside of Microsoft in some (but not all) companies founded by ex-Microsoft people. But, when your whole company only has five people, you're all in the same boat. You're all going to sink or swim together -- you can't afford to compete with each other.

The really great news is that I've seen a lot of the opposite attitude in the Seattle startup community, with people not just collaborating inside companies, but helping other people and companies. The discussions on the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list are a great example (and, in fact, this post was inspired by a recent discussion).

Case in point for me. I had a meeting today with someone with a great product. I can't tell you what the product is, but I think it's really neat. I would use it myself. Meanwhile, one of the things that I've been looking for is a CEO for Groupthink -- I need a business partner who knows all the stuff that I don't. It turns out that the guy at lunch has the exact same need. After my meeting, I sent him a bunch of my contacts, despite the fact that we're basically in competition. But, the fact is, if I've got a great CEO candidate who turns out to be a better fit for somebody else, who am I helping by keeping that contact to myself? Not the other company, who would miss out on the candidate. Not the candidate, who misses out on an opportunity that fits better. And not me, either, if I end up with a CEO who would be happier elsewhere. So, sure, I'll give away my best contacts. In the end, I lose nothing. And maybe I'll get a contact back that I wouldn't have had otherwise. And who knows what else an come from a mutually supportive relationship?
We can both win.
Project update for today: whittling away, but the curve isn't looking quite as nice as it did a week ago. I think I'm going to take the weekend off, spend time with my family, and try not to go crazy.


Bryan Starbuck said...

I fully agree with this approach. My startup is in a very specific vertical (recruiting and hiring). I've had a great experience meeting with employees from other recruiting companies early on.

Even though we are competitors, we are often very supportive of each other. There is something satisfying about helping other people out, it's a feeling or removing entropy when you could possibly save someone time or effort.

A startup comes down to execution more than idea. This means success is less competition with others and great performance from yourself.

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