What I’ve Been Reading: Smart People Should Build Things

13 Oct

Screenshot 2014-10-13 13.45.32I recently finished reading Smart People Should Build Things, by Andrew Yang. I’ve rarely found a book that offers as many succinct versions of some of the opinions I have grown into over the years (the foundations of which are probably recognizable on this blog from years prior). So I’ve shared a few:

“it’s a lot easier to take risks if you’re part of a group whose members will look out for one another”

This could seem simplistic, but I believe that the magnitude is not to be underestimated. Risk taking is a root of learning, innovation, growth, and even progress. However, it is an endeavor that takes courage and is often avoided (due to our inane and DEATHLY fear of failure, which is in turn due to our societal framing of failure as the root of all evil and losing at life, which is the subject of another post sometime). Likewise, the potential benefits of risk taking are enormous, as they ripple far beyond the individual. So the lesson here is: we need these groups, or communities, to support, empower, and enable our risk-taking.

“it’s not about an organization’s legal or tax structure; it’s about a company’s leadership, how it creates value, and how it conducts itself”

When looking at business school, I decided against going to a school where I could align with a formal “business is good for society” institution. I didn’t want my beliefs or opinions to be bucketed by my affiliation with a specific institution or concentration. This is because I believe, quite simply, that good business is good business – and by extension, good leaders and good managers do good business. I wanted this foundation to be as valid as those of my peers in the classroom, and not relegated to representing something outside the mainstream.

And to me, good managers manage with intent, good leaders are strong, and good business is aware of its value, its impact from all angles (incl short-term, long-term, and externalities), and is attentive to all stakeholders. This means – the how matters. Sure, it’s good to be proud of what you do, but to be proud of how you do it – that takes effort.

“being in the army vs being an arms dealer

In his book, Mr. Yang is himself recycling this metaphor, so I’m passing it along even further. Here is the idea: The arms dealer benefits from supplying both sides, so it doesn’t matter who wins. Here, these are the services (financial, consulting, etc). The real innovations and progress come from leaders who develop ideas and organizations to fight for the emergence and survival of these ideas. So, are you a fighter?

On a personal note, this illustrates a tension I felt during my final year of business school. To me, the framing was between consulting and being operational. Both have their appeals to me, but one thing I love about BizCorps and my current engagement is the perfect blend of both.

“we should set up human capital allocation goals for startups, growth companies and innovation the same way we do the number for science, tech, etc…we should embrace the language of value creation and reward those who train and direct people to build and develop our economic frontier.”

This one is pretty self-explanatory, and a good summary of what we’re working to address with BizCorps. One of my big takeaways from our training in DC was the overall accord for this need from some of the leaders in the space, including ANDE, Dalberg & the Omidyar Network.

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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


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