Ben Casnocha

Co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON August 19, 2015

Discussion

Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
Greetings! I'm Ben Casnocha. I'm an entrepreneur and author in San Francisco. I'm co-author of The Start-up of You, and The Alliance with Reid Hoffman. I served for two years as Reid's chief of staff at LinkedIn, and have founded many different companies in Silicon Valley. I'm also interested in politics, books, philosophy, and travel. Ask me anything! PLEASE REFRESH PAGE TO SEE LATEST ANSWERS
Andreas Klinger@andreasklinger · Tech at Product Hunt 💃
At LinkedIn did you have a (mental or explicit) framework to decide if a person is a fit for the overall company? What kind of compromises did you have to do or where accepted? How did you define/share ownership on this decisions?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@andreasklinger I'm not speaking on behalf of LinkedIn here. But I will say that in any organization as large as LI you will see as many cultures as there are managers. Sure, there are overarching values and principles that Reid and Jeff set, but there's so much diversity within so many different groups, that "fit" will really depend on the specific circumstances. It's key difference between 5 person startup and a BigCo. All that said, my personal take on LinkedIn values generally is that there are a lot of nice people who work there -- big hearts -- and so assholes tend not to survive long. LI employees for the most part are driven, competitive, super smart, etc. but *also* compassionate. This stems first from Reid's huge heart and also from Jeff's belief in compassionate management. It differentiates Linkedin from a lot of other tech firms in terms of values and the makeup of employees.
Brad Feld@bfeld · Managing Director, Foundry Group
How do you write? What's your process?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@bfeld I do not get up at 5am every day to write, as so many other writers do... I do my best writing at night -- night owls, unite! Another key difference for me is I tend not to place a lot of stock in outlines. I don't thoroughly outline my thoughts before writing. Actual full prose writing is the process of figuring out what I want to say. Thus, there's a lot of revising and editing and scrapping old stuff. Outlines are overrated -- how do you know what you want to say before you say it?! I think Joan Didion or someone said something like that.
AJ@alanaut24 · Engitrepresigner
@bencasnocha yay for night owls! My family thinks I'm crazy because most of my work is from 10pm - 5am.
Jessie A. Young@jessieay · Developer, 18F
In the career advice space, the million dollar question is “What should I do with my life?” What do you make of that question and how do you guys talk about it in Start-up of You?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@jessieay When it comes to the question "What should I do with my life?" you often hear three different common pieces of advice. Some say "play to your strengths." In other words, figure out what you're good at, and go do that. Some say "follow your passion." In other words, figure out what you like to do, and build a life around that. And then others say "figure out what the market needs and go do that." This is the Tiger Mom approach. I.e., there’s a nursing shortage in California? Go become a nurse. What’s problematic is that each of these common pieces of advice, when taken on their own, is insufficient. What if your passion is playing the violin or something else that’s awfully hard to monetize? Or what if you’re not passionate about what you’re good at? And if you just pursue a career based on what the market needs, you may not be able to do it for very long because you may not enjoy it. This is why in The Start-up of You we talk about developing a competitive advantage by intersecting all three considerations — your assets (strengths), aspirations (values, passions, etc), and the market realities. Fit those three puzzle pieces together to arrive at a smart Plan A for your career. How can you leverage your strengths to achieve some of your aspirations while navigating the realities around you? You'll necessarily have to trade off on some things along the way. For example, I love writing and am decent at it, but it's so hard to monetize writing ability on its own, so I integrated that skill/strength into an arena where the market realities are more favorable (business). Finally, the answers to any of these questions will change. Your assets change. Your aspirations change. The market changes. You always have to iterate on your plans to account for these changes. There's no one right, permanent answer to the question...
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@bencasnocha I do think there are however more true answers than right ones. The latter is an intellectual exercise, often based on meetings others' judgement. The former is you looking at the mirror. A warning if one leans too heavily to the latter -- tho good Socratic advice can help that mirror conversation! :)
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@cmschroed Agreed, though sometimes looking at the mirror can prompt confusion or uncertainty as well. Self-knowledge doesn't come naturally to many people!
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@bencasnocha Hey Ben. You wrote a great piece on what you learned spending 10,000 hours with Reid Hoffman. What did he learn spending 10,000 hours with you? Phrased another way, or perhaps this is another question, what is your core competence? What are you uniquely best at? http://casnocha.com/reid-hoffman...
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@eriktorenberg You'd have to ask him. :) I'd say one core competence is how to distill and communicate complex concepts to a general audience. For a lot of the initiatives we were working on, this came in handy.
Sagar@cigardubey · Founder
@bencasnocha How can one learn this? What's the hardest thing you've had to breakdown?
Karen Marie Mason@karen_marie_mason · Founder of Artist Launch label services
What are you ideas and views about tech and start ups in Africa.
Caroline Fairchild@cfair1 · New Economy Editor, LinkedIn
@bencasnocha, what's your take on the contract worker debate? Do we need a third class of worker for the on-demand economy?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@cfair1 I liked Simon Rothman's piece on Linkedin on this topic. :) https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/r... I do think we'll see an evolution of the laws around employee classification. But I'm not optimistic this will happen soon. And so I suspect companies will wrestle with the traditional 1099 vs. W2 issue for some time. It's a risk point in any business that relies upon these sorts of workers.
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@cfair1 I liked Simon Rothman's piece on Linkedin on this topic. :) https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/r... I do think we'll see an evolution of the laws around employee classification. But I'm not optimistic this will happen soon. And so I suspect companies will wrestle with the traditional 1099 vs. W2 issue for some time. It's a risk point in any business that relies upon these sorts of workers.
Christina Kehoe@christina_kehoe
What compelled you to write The Alliance? What was the moment you knew you needed to get it in ink?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@christinaakehoe After The Start-up of You came out, Reid and I heard from a lot of companies asking a simple question: How do we attract and manage employees who are thinking entrepreneurially? Who embrace the principles in that book? And we realized that companies needed a whole new framework for relating to talent if they wanted a chance to effectively recruit and manage someone who's an intelligent risk taker, network builder, adapter, etc. So we wrote a piece in HBR describing this "new employer-employee compact," and our theory around tours of duty. The feedback was so positive and overwhelming that we expanded our thinking into a book. Now, we're helping companies walk the walk on the ideas in the book. So far the results are very promising.
Christina Kehoe@christina_kehoe
@bencasnocha Thank you for answering my question. Back in April, you came to speak at my company, Infusionsoft, that talk has impacted many conversations here since regarding leadership and the idea that employees take tours of duty in their careers. Thank you for writing The Alliance. :)
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@christinaakehoe Awesome to hear! Thanks Christina.
Benjamin Schroeder@benrschroeder
What advice would you have for a young person who wishes to become an effective member/manager as I enter the workforce?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@benrschroeder Study those people you admire, deconstruct their successes and failures, and try to articulate the generalizable lessons that you can incorporate into your own life. Let those who've come before you be a guide... :)
Satyajeet@iamdeveloper · iWonder
@bencasnocha Hey! Any advice for young college dropouts, who are interested in Tech?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@iamdeveloper First, don't call yourself a wantrepreneur. :) Self-defeating self-talk is not a good starting point! I would identify some people you admire who are a notch or two ahead of you in their career, and reach out and offer to add value for free. Do free work. Start showing you can add value as a side project volunteer. Try to break in that way.
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@bencasnocha there's been a ton of banter on the nytimes amazon piece. Is it a good thing/bad thing/even accurate. I have a different question. From the alliance perspective what is the right way for an organization to handle a piece like that? What honors the contract between employee and employer?
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@cmschroed this is a great question
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@cmschroed I can't say how accurate that piece was. Most people I know who work/worked at Amazon love it. From an Alliance perspective, honesty and transparency is key. If an employee signs up for a tour of duty expecting to work long hours in a fast paced, competitive environment -- then that's fine. It was the agreement. My sense is that this IS the compact at Amazon -- and it works for them. What's problematic is if either side is not honest about their expectations, time horizons, etc. As you like to say Chris, "no surprises!" That's one essence of an Alliance compact. I would also add that I think Amazon's explicit compact with employees is premised on the joys of innovation and professional growth, NOT perks and lifestyle, like a lot of big tech companies.
Morgan Beller@beller · Corporate Development, Facebook
@bencasnocha - What are 3 ideas for potential next books you might write?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@beller Here's a book someone should write, but not me: The Four Hour Body for sleep. Spend a year trying everything with respect to sleep -- take every pill, try every mattress, every sort of black out shade, eye masks, etc. Plus study the research and talk to every expert. Weave it all together. There's no killer book on sleep yet, and it's such an important topic and at the heart of what makes us happy/moody etc.
Christina Kehoe@christina_kehoe
@bencasnocha Sounds like a task for Tim Ferriss
Abi Tyas Tunggal@abityastunggal · Special Projects, Spaceship
John Lilly@johnolilly1
Ben! What's next for you? More thinking about the Alliance? New book? More work with organizations? Something else??
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@johnolilly Figuring out how to spend more time with you John, for one! About half the time now is on helping companies adopt the Alliance -- really walking the walk and changing the culture. Learning a lot. The other half is incubating new startup ideas / investing / doing crazy side projects. One macro path is a focused life and the other macro path is more a portfolio life. Right now I'm operating portfolio and debating whether I should lean back into focused. This will be the subject of a forthcoming essay!
Julia Schroeder@juliacschroeder
Being an entrepreneur appears to involve facing and moving past a certain amount of skepticism/rejection/etc. At the same time, the Startup of You seemed to suggest that entrepreneurs have to be willing to "pivot" readily from plan a to plan b. How does one know when to persist with an idea and when to move on to the next one?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@juliacschroeder When to pivot and when to persist is THE question! I use my network for this. When I begin to lose faith in a certain thesis, I cross check the assumptions that I had with people in my network who I trust, to get feedback on whether it's time to pivot.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey Ben! What's something you've changed your mind on recently?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@ems_hodge I used to think "wanting to change the world" -- commonly heard from entrepreneurs -- was rational and clear and intuitive. Now I'm not so sure. :)
Stockbuyer2015@stockbuyer2015
@bencasnocha whats the most interesting thing working with Reid Hoffman?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@stockbuyer2015 Reid is a firehose of ideas. The creativity is astounding. Idea after idea after idea. Rapid fire pace.
Sagar@cigardubey · Founder
@bencasnocha thanks for all the great stuff you've written Ben - what are your future plans?
Ryan Holiday@ryanholiday · Author, Ego is the Enemy
@bencasnocha What book are you reading right now?
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@ryanholiday I'm reading "Far From the Tree" by Andrew Solomon, about parents of kids with disabilities. It's a remarkably sensitive book that's teaching me a lot about subcultures like the deaf community. Apparently his TED Talk is amazing, too.
Sagar@cigardubey · Founder
@bencasnocha I'd recommend his work on depression
Guillem Carbonell@ubikretail · Ubik.bz
@bencasnocha Hi Ben! What should be the role of graphic/UI/product/UX designers in the decision-making process of the organization? Should they accommodate the CEO's opinion or rely on their own criteria? Thanks.
Nikola Stojic@zeusoft · Developer of Ubuntu Budgie/Blogger
@bencasnocha Hey Ben! What's your opinion on management/marketing focused startup for startups? In my opinion taking care of pr,marketing,management,hiring,connecting with investors, and letting startups focus on work seems as plausible business model. Looking forward to your answer :)