Careers and Things

Eve asked me some great questions about careers and advice. Not sure I had the best answers, but thought the questions were interesting.


Whatever works for you. Happy to help. We are having stew tonight, soyou are happy to come by if you get this. Sorry we’ve been out skiing with the boys until yesterday.

Questions:
– When have you enjoyed your work the most? What are/were the circumstances?
Well, I’ve been kind of lucky these last dozen years or so. I will say that until 1988, I was a year-a-job kind of guy. Just kept ripcording out of things that I couldn’t see make sense. But I got lucky with Microsoft and now Ignition. What were the circumstances, well they varied, but I would say that there were five aspects. Interestingly, enough, these are the same criteria we use now when we analyze new venture capital investments. I’m not sure what that means, except that maybe I can’t get out of a rut 🙂

1. Domain. Is this an area where I could understand things better than the next person. There is always a competitive market and I’m kind of a believer in the idea that you should be really great going into something. Having just been skiing, this is kind of like doing stuff that you are an expert in. With Microsoft, it was about being a technical guy, but also doing the business school thing. Kind of unique combination at that time for the technology business.

2. The Market: Customers and Competition. Is it favorable. That is high growth. I’m kind of a believer in the idea that even if you are really great, it doesn’t matter, if the situation isn’t high growth. Growth really makes things much easier. Whether it be very fast growth in non-profit donations, the market for low-cost enterprise servers. Usually, there are two factors, lots of eager customers and low or beatable competition. The punch line here is that it means there is high growth and high-profits. Now in the non-profit world there aren’t profits per se, but lets just say there are lots of non-profitable (e.g., they can’t cover costs) kinds of places.

3. The Company: Product and the Play. Well, the motto here is have fun working with great people with offerings that you can love. That is where, there is a unique enough play on your part (a la Sun Tzu) where you know how where you are working can ultimately prevail. I’ve done the best where there is a product or offering where I can just really have a passion for. Ideally, something that is about changing the world.

4. The People. I’ve certainly changed jobs just because I thought the people were yucky. A corollary for this, is finding a place where I thought folks were smarter than me by a lot. Not just people that I can learn from, but the smartest people you can find. Here I kind of thing that there is a progression. Early in life, you can move, you can change jobs, you don’t have many connections. Later in life, hopefully, you develop these, but you also develop a certain ability to choose your situation. Thus, for me, it was go to the Bay Area, then to New York, then back to the Bay Area, then to LA, then to Seattle. Now, in Seattle, it’s been pick the right people to work with. The second aspect is knowing how you uniquely are going to win in the particular job that you are given. Best advice I ever got was from Ken Kelley who told me, “know the three reasons why you are the perfect person for the job and the three reasons why the organization is the perfect place for you.”

5. The Reward. Well, this is all about what’s the game plan. Jeff Raikes once told me that, “every really great person has a plan and can tell you how what they are doing fits into it.” For me, this boils down to finding the place where the learning curve is the steepest. Reed Koch, another sage in all of this, put it this way, “find a job that is hard, but not too hard. Something where your special magic is going to be highly valued. But not something impossible.”

– How have you worked with supervisors who don’t believe in you, or who are otherwise disposed to overshadow you?

You bet, but I have to admit, my main goal had been to get the heck out of there. That’s the year-a-job thing I get into. Although I know there are many people who manage well in these circumstances, it hasn’t been me. I’m a big believer in the fact that most people should take the jobs that they accept. It makes no sense to work for a person you know is going to destroy you. Fact is most managers aren’t that great, so why not go for the really exceptional ones. That being said, no one is perfect, so for me, I try to find situations where early in a career, it is clear to me how I can shine. Later, its about finding positions where you are valuable and you can do things your superiors can’t. I have to admit I’m kind of competitive and it is all about being unique. At least in the circles I’ve run in. I’m a big believer in the fact that a job can be magic and it makes me sad to see folks die a little death every day by compromising what they believe in. Particularly early in a career or when you don’t have to.

– How do you make the most out of a relationship with a supervisor?
Good question. First rule that I’ve had is, think like they do. What do they want, what should the organization want. One little exercise I run a lot is, “what would I do if I were running the place?” and then ask, “OK, given that, where should I be to get that done.” For me, I’ve been lucky not to really work for a person, but to work for the organization. The mission, the dream. Second rule, is to think of your supervisor as someone who works for you. What would you ask them to do. I’m kind of a believer in a good defense is a good offense. Now, I’ve been super lucky, the folks I’ve worked with, have been good enough (or maybe I’ve been picky enough?) that I can say, hey Brad or hey Jim, I think we need to do X, Y or Z, and they say, I agree, when are you going to get it done? For me, this last rule is about staying above the fray. I sometimes imagine myself surfing along. Knowing that if I sink down a little I’m just going to get hammered.

– How have you created opportunities that stimulate you or grow your
career?
See above, but the main way, is decide: a) is this the right place for me, if not, then find a place htat is and b) if I’m going to work here, then what’s the most valuable thing that someone should be doing and then get myself right there.

– What have you discovered is key to a successful working life?
Luck and I’m afraid making tradeoffs. I’m afraid to say it, but I do believe that luck begats luck. That is, if you are lucky enough to find something good, then you’ll do well. This puts you on the hot list, so you can find the next greater, bigger thing. Second thing, is the plain

– What role have mentors played for you?
– How do you work with supervisors who are less talented than you are or
think smaller than you do?
– All of you are men. Why do you suppose there are fewer successful women?
(don’t worry about being pc) From your dude perspective, what challenges,
if any, do you think are unique to women and what advice might you offer?
– How do you promote your work in a competitive environment?
– Can you describe a time when your work was difficult or draining, and how
you got through that?
– Can you share a success story, and what the elements were that created
that success?
– Where do you see yourself going, or want to go, over the next five to ten
years? (including personal growth goals)
– Anything else you’d like to share?

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Thanks,
Rich

~~~ ~~ ~~~~ _o
~~~ ~~~~ ~~ _’|<,_ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~(*)/ (*) biking to tongfamily.com ----Original Message Follows---- From: "Eve Tai"
Reply-To:
To: “Richard Tong”
Subject: RE: The Working Life
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2003 13:38:47 -0800

Rich,
You are the first member of my personal board of directors! You are a really
good guy to do this. I know it takes a lot of thought. Say, if you’re
around on Sat or Sun, I could swing by for a visit and talk with you about
it in person, do an interview type of thing. Let me know if that sounds
appealing.
Thanks,
eve

—–Original Message—–
From: Richard Tong [mailto:richtong@hotmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 16, 2003 11:41 AM
To: etai@tnc.org
Subject: Re: The Working Life

Not like I think that things have gone well, but you ask great questions. I
often tell folks they should have their own “board of directors” to ask
questions and think with them. So, this is just a great idea. I’ll work on
some answers for you. Hope things are well!

Thanks,
Rich

~~~ ~~ ~~~~ _o
~~~ ~~~~ ~~ _’|<,_ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~(*)/ (*) biking to tongfamily.com ----Original Message Follows---- From: "Eve Tai"
Reply-To:
To: “ALEXANDER G. Mcintosh” ,”Jerome Chen”
,”Rich Tong” ,”MARK C.
Sanderson” ,”Eric Jacobs” ,”Dave
Cieslewicz” ,”John McDevitt”
Subject: The Working Life
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 09:24:12 -0800

BlankHey Alex, Jerome, Rich, Mark, Eric, Dave C. and John –

Greetings from your friend/colleague in Seattle – hope all’s well with each
of you.

After working for twenty years (!), it’s finally occurred to me that there
are many ways to do well at work, and many experiences worth sharing with
each other. Being raised to do everything on my own and not bother anyone,
I never thought to ask you, my friends, about your work. I thought it would
be both fun and instructional to tap in to your knowledge and experience.

Each of you has done well in your career, often when circumstances are
competitive, unfavorable or otherwise challenging. If you are open to it,
I’d like to ask you to share what you’ve learned along the way, experiences
that were instructional and hopes that you have for the next twenty (gulp)
years.
Here’s a list of questions to help stimulate some thought. Answer whatever
you’d like. Please feel free to share whatever else you think would be
helpful. This is for my personal use only, so you don’t need to worry that
it will show up in the papers 🙂 I might want to follow up with more
questions or call you.

THANKS!
Eve

**************
Questions:
– When have you enjoyed your work the most? What are/were the
circumstances?
– How have you worked with supervisors who don’t believe in you, or who are
otherwise disposed to overshadow you?
– How do you make the most out of a relationship with a supervisor?
– How have you created opportunities that stimulate you or grow your
career?
– What have you discovered is key to a successful working life?
– What role have mentors played for you?
– How do you work with supervisors who are less talented than you are or
think smaller than you do?
– All of you are men. Why do you suppose there are fewer successful women?
(don’t worry about being pc) From your dude perspective, what challenges,
if any, do you think are unique to women and what advice might you offer?
– How do you promote your work in a competitive environment?
– Can you describe a time when your work was difficult or draining, and how
you got through that?
– Can you share a success story, and what the elements were that created
that success?
– Where do you see yourself going, or want to go, over the next five to ten
years? (including personal growth goals)
– Anything else you’d like to share?

Eve Tai, Gift Planner
The Nature Conservancy / Washington and Alaska
217 Pine St. #1100, Seattle, WA 98101
206-343-4344 x316 / etai@tnc.org

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