Learning Graph + Reputation Graph = Massive Disruption in Higher Ed?

crackHere’s an outline of a thesis I’m working on that was also my suggested topic for my application to speak at TEDxSFED:

Higher education is on the brink of massive disruption right now. The “cost” of learning has never been less expensive as the Web is flooded with amazing content, tutorials, discussion boards and more. At the same time the cost of credentials (i.e. degrees) is sky-high (out-state tuition alone at a UC school is now $35,000/year…that’s for a public school!) and rising at a rate of 8% per year. The disconnect between these two feels quite unsustainable. So what could be the disruptive factor in this space? In my opinion, the combination of a learning graph and a reputation graph could massive disrupt higher education as we know it.

First, let’s define a learning graph. I think I first came across the term on Kirsten Winkler’s blog. In my mind, a learning graph is the roadmap of all of the things we’ve ever learned. But more than simply a “check the boxes” listing of all the concepts we’ve studied and mastered, it’s a dynamic and fluid measure that includes the rate at which we learned specific things, when we learned them and how much difficulty we encountered along the way. The usable end product of the learning graph would be a dashboard where anyone could abstract the data to end up with clean and concise view of what a person knew and their relative level of mastery.

Sound like Sci-fi? There are a host of people working on building on the learning graph right now. Early pioneers in the space included companies like DreamBox Learning. Recent entrants into the space include Grockit, Knewton and TenMarks (if you have the time, this 7-minute video from Knewton gives a pretty good sense of what the learning graph could look like). Each of these companies is trying to build a platform that will allow students to receive a personalized learning experience that is tracked over time.

Fast forward a bit and you can imagine a university looking at a student’s Grockit or Knewton dashboard when trying to decide whether to admit them to their school. Fast forward a bit more and you can imagine a company looking at a prospective employee’s dashboard to determine whether or not to hire someone. It’s a bit out there but I think it demonstrates the power of the learning graph. In a conversation today with my good friend Ranjit Mathoda he mentioned that if he was trying to figure out how smart someone was one of the first things he would do is find that person’s account on Quora. Indeed, sites like Quora, Stack Overflow, Namesake and others could end up playing major roles in the learning graph.

So why is a learning graph so important and potentially disruptive? I think a major reason is that it could eventually replace assessment. After all, if you’re tracking everything a person is learning the notion of stopping to test them on a particular piece of knowledge seems less important. In fact, it seems like the only real reason we need to test is to track how much a person has learned. The learning graph threatens to put an end to testing and assessment as we know it.

And why that’s disruptive is that educational institutions derive much of their power (and hence, their ability to charge large sums of money) from their ability to assess. Pop quizzes, mid-terms, final exams…it is these things that make school today what it is. But what would the world look like without discrete testing and assessment? Well, my feeling is that in such a world it might matter less where you went to school. Or even whether you went to school at all…

But wait, before we get too far ahead it’s important to realize some potential failings of the learning graph. It can’t measure everything. It does an especially poor job of assessing the “soft skills”. Is someone a good communicator? Are they creative? Do they work well within a team? The learning graph doesn’t tell us much here. I might be able to see from someone’s Quora account that they know a lot about entrepreneurship. Would I want to start a company with them? Not necessarily.

Education, especially at the post-secondary level provides a strong filtering and sorting mechanism for society. There’s a reason why some companies will only hire Ivy League graduates. And it’s a big part of why the top schools have incredible pricing power. But what if you could develop an alternative signaling mechanism that rivaled or even eclipsed what schools currently do? I think that’s precisely what the reputation graph could become. It’s still way early but I could see the reputation graph ultimately playing a very important role in decision-making about people.

Neither the learning graph nor the reputation graph alone could disrupt higher education. However when you put both together things start to get really interesting. The learning graph gives someone great insight into what you’ve learned throughout your time in school. In fact, it probably does a better job than GPA or any of the other rudimentary measures we use today. The reputation graph helps to dramatically strengthen the sorting and filtering piece of the puzzle. It gives us insight into who is the smartest, the most creative, strong communicators, best team players and so forth. Put those two things together and you start to question whether degrees are even important. At a minimum, we can envision a world in which the power of the degree is dramatically weakened.

Just to be clear, a built-out learning graph + reputation graph scenario is many, many years away. But I think it’s interesting to start to talk about what that might look like. To follow the companies who are potentially building the learning graph and those that are playing a role in the building of the reputation graph. And of course this is an over-simplification of matters. Schools serve many other roles (not the least of which is providing a social network for each of its students) and it would be foolish to argue that they’ll be going away anytime soon.

Instead what I see rising up are alternative ways to prove to the marketplace that you’re competent and credible. Historically, universities have had an almost monopolistic grip on that (especially for younger people). I think we’re moving into a world with much more diverse mechanisms for determining who truly is a rock star. And I think that’s actually a very good thing.

11. February 2011 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Reputation Graph | 31 comments

Reputation Graph vs. PeopleRank

flamingoLast week TechCrunch ran a great post on Quora’s development of an algorithm to determine and rank user quality. In it, they used the term PeopleRank and credited my good friend Shervin Pishevar with the coining of the term (Go Shervin!). A number of people have asked me whether I think PeopleRank is the same thing as the reputation graph and so I wanted to write a short post explaining what I feel the differences are between PeopleRank and the reputation graph.

PeopleRank is, according to Shervin’s definition, a measure of influence. The classic PeopleRank company is Klout, which is attempting to measure the degree of social influence a user has. It’s still early for Klout (and measurement of social influence in general) but I think there is a huge amount of potential here. Marketers for years have been trying to figure out who has influence and to effectively reach them and services like Klout help dramatically with this. I see this on a daily basis with my wife as she runs marketing for one of the top video game franchises in the world. Tools like Klout are starting to have a very big impact in the world of brand marketers.

Quora’s PeopleRank has the ability to provide an even deeper set of data about a person’s influence. Quora will have the ability to start sorting expertise in the different verticals. Want to know who has the most knowledge about venture capital? Oh look, it’s Keith Rabois, Michael Wolfe and Mark Suster. Now those guys aren’t necessarily the three absolute smartest people on the planet when it comes to VC but most people knowledgeable with the industry would rank them pretty high up the list. And as more people join Quora and answer more questions a fairly accurate influence hierarchy in many verticals will be built.

So how does PeopleRank interact with the reputation graph? In my version, the reputation graph consists of all of the things we know about the people who we know. Who’s smart? Who works hard? Who is a slacker or dishonest? PeopleRank appears to be both a superset and a subset of the reputation graph. It’s a superset because PeopleRank attempts to build a global hierarchy of various forms of influence (e.g., who is the smartest in the world when it comes to advice for training for a marathon) whereas reputation graph is a more local measure that refers to what you know about the people around you. It’s a subset because a lot of the items in the reputation graph are not forms of influence. For example, Quora or Klout probably aren’t the best vehicles for determining who the most creative people or most effective salespeople in your hometown are. That will likely come from other people who are building the reputation graph as those aren’t really measures of influence or topic-specific knowledge.

This isn’t to say that hierarchies won’t emerge from the reputation graph though. Where it gets interesting is when social circles (and hence, reputation circles) overlap. I think it will be possible to build hierarchies across a wide range of dimensions (indeed, some people are already starting to do this). The hierarchies that could be built from the reputation graph will more likely be bottom-up rather than the more top-down nature of the hierarchies emerging from PeopleRank-based systems like Quora or Klout.

So in the end, I think PeopleRank and the reputation graph are two highly correlated concepts but not one and the same thing. PeopleRank is an extremely useful and powerful way to measure influence on a general or topic-specific level while the reputation graph is a mapping of some or all of the things that people think about the people who are in their social graph. Companies like Klout and Quora are the best examples of PeopleRank while companies like Honestly, Mixtent and CubeDuel are the best examples (at least at the moment) of the reputation graph in action.

26. January 2011 by Jon
Categories: Reputation Graph | 11 comments

Reputation Graph Part 2: Who’s Building It

skyscraperA quick follow-up to my first post on the reputation graph (which btw, is now the #1 result on Google for the search term “reputation graph”…) I had a few people in the comments talk about companies that were starting to build the reputation graph so I thought I’d highlight some of them here. It’s still way too early to say with any certainty who the companies are that are likely be building this (or whether the reputation graph will even be built) but I thought it would be fun to start a list of who’s doing what that may relate in some way. Please feel free to chime in more in the comments with others you have seen.

honestly_logoHonestly.com – I really love the potential of Honestly. The big challenge is avoiding both the “all good reviews” challenge (which LinkedIn Endorsements suffer from) and the “race to the bottom” slams that have hurt some anonymous review sites. Honestly is on a good path with “anonymity tied to identity” which is the right approach I think.

mixtent_smallerMixtent – Mixtent, and a similar site called CubeDuel, ask you to compare people within your social graph (both of these sites use LinkedIn’s APIs). This is smart as it avoids asking the user to do a lot of work (e.g., write a review or even rate a person). Think of these companies kind of like “Facemash for business” (will make sense if you’ve seen The Social Network). (Update: Interesting thread on CubeDuel on Hacker News. Someone else mentioned the “Facemash for the office” angle.)

kloutsmallKlout – Klout is a business that I think will be huge. Obviously others do as well as well as these guys just closed a monster funding round. One major difference between Klout and the three companies listed above is that it is relying on already existing data to determine influence. However, it seems like it’s not too big of a leap for Klout to get access to proprietary data in the future. Another business in the same vein as Klout is PeerIndex.

quoraQuora – Quora is another business that will likely be gigantic someday and it could potentially play a big role in the building of the reputation graph. There’s already a voting system in place for quality responses and they also have the beginnings of topic-specific leaderboards. Another company along the lines of Quora in this area is Namesake which is also focusing on conversations between experts and no doubt will end up building some portion of the reputation graph.

There are a whole host of other companies who could move into the reputation graph space. LinkedIn and Facebook are the most obvious candidates. They have incredible data already about individuals and what people think of the people around them. But it’s still a very small percentage of the data that’s out there. I think it will take a lot to pull this data out of peoples’ heads. As several of the commenters on the previous post mentioned, there are a host of challenges including the ability of people to game the system and a questionable incentive structure.

It’ll be a fascinating space to watch unfold and I’m looking forward to seeing how people address these challenges. And again, if you know of other companies that are actively building the reputation graph, please list them in the comments.

13. January 2011 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Reputation Graph | 13 comments

Reputation Graph: One of the Web’s largest opportunities

4915106328_c9bc700cf3_mI recently replied to a Quora thread with the question of “What will come after social networking?”. My answer was the reputation graph. It ended up creating a fair amount of discussion including the question “What is the reputation graph?”. I listed my definition that the reputation graph is, in its simplest form, what people think of the people they know. Then for fun I Googled “reputation graph” because I was pretty sure that I had heard the term reputation graph from someone else but couldn’t find anyone talking about this in the same way that I’ve been understanding it. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to further flesh out what I mean.

In our everyday lives we make an extraordinary number of decisions about people. These range from who to hire for a specific job to who to let into a certain college. Billions of dollars are spent daily on making decisions about people and the costs of poor decisions are tremendous. And yet, the “science” through which we make these decisions is far from perfect. College admissions committees use GPA, SAT scores, applications and a whole host of other data to try to do the best job possible and yet everyone who attended a university can names scores of people who shouldn’t have been there. And anyone who has spent anytime inside a large company can think of numerous example of colleagues who have no business being in the organization. These situations arise from vastly imperfect data about the people who we are making decisions about.

Now let’s turn to another example: Senior “Superlatives” in High School. These were those questionnaires you probably filled out at some point during your Senior year that asked you to name the Class Clown, Best Dressed, etc. There is one in particular that fascinates: Most Likely to Succeed. I’ve never seen a study done but my guess is that if you took the average lifetime earnings of someone voted Most Likely to Succeed and compared this average to the lifetime earnings of their classmates you’d find the earning of the person voted Most Likely to Succeed to be dramatically higher (perhaps an order of magnitude higher) than the average of their classmates. What does this tell us? That even way back in high school we knew a lot about the people around us.

And that’s what’s at the heart of this opportunity, the fact that we have an insane amount of data in our heads about the people around us. When Quora launched, one of the things that Charlie and Adam said was this:

The way we think about this is there’s actually a lot of information that’s still in people’s heads that’s not on the internet. And when you think about it you would say that probably 90% of the information that people have is still in their heads, not on the internet.

I’d offer that’s it’s actually much higher than this. In fact it’s something I blogged about here and here a couple of years ago. And when it comes to Reputation Graph data (again, what we know about the people around us), it’s actually a much lower % of information that’s online. Certainly well less than 1% of what we know.

So here’s why I think this is important. Just as Google and others were able to make our ability to access information dramatically easier and open all sorts of opportunities for people, I feel like the companies that build the reputation graph will have an amazing opportunity to make the process of making decisions about people (again, something each of us do every single day) incredibly more efficient. Better fits for jobs, schools…heck, even who you date or pal around with on the weekends could make peoples’ lives dramatically better.

This is probably a long ways off. Or maybe not. If you’re working on the reputation graph I’d love to hear from you. :)

07. January 2011 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Reputation Graph | 50 comments

Nutrition books/audiobooks

A buddy recently asked for recommendations for good nutrition audiobooks. I’ve probably read and/or listened to 300+ books on the subjects and while I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I probably know more than most. One of my recommendations is to listen to nutrition-related stuff when you’re fixing meals. It’s a great way to reinforce good habits. So here are a few that I would recommend:

Ultraprevention – Mark Hyman’s books are among the best I’ve read/listened to and Ultraprevention is a great place to start. His Ultra Mind Solution is another excellent title for understanding the impact of nutrition on the brain and emotional well-being.

The China Study – I think there are some flaws with The China Study but on the whole it’s a worthy listen. For those looking to reduce or eliminate animal products in their diet, The China Study provides the best layman’s evidence as to why this might be a good thing.

You: On a Diet – Dr. Oz’s books are surprisingly good for a mainstream “guru”. As with most reads in this area, I don’t agree with everything but after you’ve read or listened to a half-dozen good books on the subject you should be able to do a pretty good job on triangulating around what a healthy diet consists of.

Eat To Beat Cancer – If you don’t have cancer why would you worry about “eating to beat cancer”? Well, I think it’s fairly obvious that learning good habits that might help to prevent cancer would be something everyone would benefit from. I listened to this one a while back and was very impressed.

Living Health – Tony Robbins is nothing if not entertaining and Living Health definitely influenced the way that I thought about health and energy. Some of Tony’s strategies have changed over the years and like a lot of other health recommendations from self help folks, he does have a line of products to pitch which clouds the message a bit but I do think this title is still a very worth investment.

On the reading front the three books that I’d recommend (that have not been recorded on audio yet) that have most influenced me as of late are Good Calories, Bad Calories, Primal Blueprint and Fantastic Voyage. I think you’ll find all three very enjoyable.

I hope this helps!

15. July 2010 by Jon
Categories: Nutrition | 16 comments

Updates from a memorable month

It’s been three months since I’ve blogged and so I wanted to check in with some updates as it’s been an exciting and very memorable month. So here’s what I’ve been up to (in chronological order):

eduFire is now a part of Camelback Education Group – In June eduFire.com became a part of Camelback Education Group, a higher education holding company in Phoenix, Arizona. The blog post on eduFire has more details but I’ll add here that I’m excited about the future of eduFire as a part of Camelback, a company that I think has the potential to be a huge player in the online education space in the future. I’ll be helping with the transition but also starting to look at what my next career-related adventure will be. I am incredibly thankful to all of the people who’ve supported eduFire since we started it in 2007. I’m very proud of what we accomplished and very grateful to all those who helped make it happen.

spindletop-wedding-29810Carrie and I got married! – On June 19th Carrie and I tied the knot in Lexington, Kentucky. It was an incredibly special week for us as we got to enjoy it with ~200 of our family and closest friends. We were married by our great friend Mark Dowds and one of our all-time favorite musicians, Rob Costlow, played at the ceremony. Oh, and there was a rap. All in all we could not have asked for a more amazing experience and are humbled and awed by how blessed we are. Thank you to all of you who traveled from places far and wide to be there with us in Kentucky. It meant so much to us!

Dubai and Ethiopia – For our honeymoon we went to Dubai and Ethiopia. Dubai was first up and was a really interesting experience. I kinda think that Dubai might be the world’s biggest start-up. You drive around the city and see all the cranes and skyscrapers and it’s hard to fathom that most of this didn’t exist a few decades ago. Really, a very audacious place. From the world’s tallest building to the world’s biggest (and most impressive) mall to ridiculous man made islands, this place screams “larger than life”.

DubaiIt certainly isn’t a perfect place. Far from eco-friendly and the whole “slave labor” accusations thing is more than a bit troubling. But on the whole I have to say that I loved Dubai because of how entrepreneurial it felt. Similar to Bugsy Siegel rolling into Nevada in the 40s and envisioning Vegas, Dubai is really the product of an insanely bold vision and imagination.

After Dubai we traveled to Ethiopia. We wanted to incorporate some service work into our honeymoon and my parents lived in Ethiopia for a year when they were first married so we decided to follow in their footsteps. Simply put, it was a life-changing experience. It’s one thing to hear about people who live on less than a dollar a day. It’s another to actually sit with them in their homes and talk to them and play with their children. The range of emotions that a place like Ethiopia evokes is overwhelming. I wish that everyone could have the experience that we had at least once in their life.

EthiopiaWe spent several days working with orphans in Debre Zeyit, a town about an hour outside of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital and largest city). Carrie and I will never forget those kids for as long as we live. Many of them have lost parents to HIV and some of them are infected with HIV themselves. Their lives are poor and destitute and it would be easy to pity them. Until you realize what they do have. Huge smiles. A sense of community like none that I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. An unbelievable spirit. On one hand you want to help and do whatever you can to help lift them out of poverty. On the other hand there’s a huge part of me that felt that anything that disrupted their incredibly strong social fabric would be a tragedy. As I shared with many people after first going to Africa in 2003, nobody in the world smiles as big or as easily as Africans do. (By the way, if you haven’t already check out the documentary I Am Because We Are. It was similar to our experience although the situation in Malawi is even more dire than Ethiopia.)

To sum up, it’s been an incredible last few months and I’m left with both a huge sense of gratitude for how blessed I am and also a stronger sense of urgency than I’ve ever had before to go out and make the world a better place. I’ve been reminded several times in the last few weeks of Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of RFK. You really should watch the whole thing (often) but this passage in particular does a pretty good job of bringing it all together for me.

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

08. July 2010 by Jon
Categories: Personal | 12 comments

If you were 24 and had $200k in spare cash, how would you invest it?

This question was posted to Quora recently and I decided to hop in with a fairly lengthy answer since I was in a very similar situation about a decade ago. Since Quora’s still behind a wall for most people I thought I’d repost my answer here.

If you were 24 and had $200k in spare cash, how would you invest it?

I was actually in a very similar situation to you a decade ago (sold my first company at 24) so I can offer some of my thoughts in terms of what I did and what I would do differently knowing what I know now.

#1 – Absolutely do invest in yourself professionally. I’d recommend three things here.

First, consider any/all education opportunities that would allow you to build your network. While college or grad school is totally overrated from a “what you learn” perspective it’s a phenomenal place for getting to know other high achievers. If you can get into an Ivy League school or grad school that’s a really option to consider (since you’ll have enough money to live on for a while).

Second, consider moving to a big city if you aren’t there yet. The opportunities for advancement (personal and professional) are typically greater in a place like NY, SF or LA. Money prevents many people from going but it shouldn’t in your case. I made the move to Cali at 27 but wish I would have done it sooner.

Third, use the money to build your network. Go (selectively) to conferences where you’ll meet interesting and ambitious people. Attend a lot of events. Take a job with a start-up company where you may or may not cash out big but you’ll be able to meet other entrepreneurs and interesting people.

#2 – Invest in yourself personally. Spend some time studying health, exercise and nutrition. Investments made in these areas when you are young pay huge dividends later in life in terms of increased energy, less sickness, better quality of life, etc. The reason many people don’t spend the time they should in these areas is because of time or money. You have both which is a great opportunity.

#3 – If you are making any financial investments try to invest in things that have intangible benefits. Rather than trying to 100% maximize your financial gain (you’ll have plenty of time for that), focus instead on the overall benefit of your investment. For instance, if you think you might be interested in working in another country then invest in some stocks of companies in that country or in that country’s currency or bonds. Doing so will cause you learn more about the country and be that much more prepared if you do indeed make the move. Same thing is true for industries. Thinking about starting an education company? Buy some stocks of education companies and study their 10-Ks, S-1s, etc. You’ll learn a lot more about the industry and if you make money on your investments that’ll be gravy.

#4 – (Adding this one a day later). Travel. When I was 24 I had never left North America. Between 24 and 27 I visited Europe, Africa and Australia. Those experiences were awesome and I’m very glad I took the time and money to do that. I’d highly recommend setting aside a portion of your money for traveling. Specifically look to visit places that will play a big role in the global economic landscape. China and India would be the two musts on my list.

Meaningful travel where you can spend a lot of time in a given place becomes more difficult as you get older (things like kids, mortgages, etc. make this so). If you’re young and have the money and time to do it, traveling can be one of the best investments you could ever make.

#5 – Finally, give some of it away. :)

I hope this helps a bit. This is only my personal viewpoint based on my experiences and values. However, I *so* wish I would have read something like this 10 years ago. Not that things turned out badly by any stretch… :)

09. April 2010 by Jon
Categories: Personal | 10 comments

The Hardest Working People on the Planet

Atlas-StatueAs entrepreneurs working hard is a given (if you want to be successful that is). Of course, there’s always a question of just what truly is working hard. I’ve found that most entrepreneurs, if compared to the average office worker at a big company, work extremely hard. However, just because you’re working harder than your buddy at some Dundler Mifflin clone doesn’t mean that you’re actually working hard. Instead, you need to be comparing yourself to some of the hardest working people on the planet

To help with that, I’ve assembled some inspirational stories of hard-working entrepreneurs with some non-business folks mixed in for good measure. Two caveats. First, hard work is completely irrelevant is you’re not working smart and being productive. Second, hard work is also counter-productive if you’re sacrificing your health to an extreme degree and if the increase in quantity of hours worked is leading to a decrease in your creativity (often the case!). With that being said, here’s some stories of people who’ve worked about as hard as a human being can.

Jeff Immelt – A few years back I read a story about Jeff entitled The Bionic Manager which reset my thinking about what hard work is. Here are a couple of passages from it:

Immelt, 49, says he’s been working 100 hours a week for 24 years. That does not take him back to his 1978 graduation from Dartmouth, where he was football team captain (as offensive tackle) and a fraternity president who liked to party….Most hard-charging types have put in a 100-hour week or two. But month after month, year after year—is that even possible? Let’s do the math. If you worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, you’d still be two hours short of 100 hours. If Immelt has been working that hard for 24 years, then he has already done 60 years’ worth of 40-hour weeks.

Here he is on a recent swing through San Francisco: The first meeting is with institutional investors at 7 a.m. Then he addresses some 200 retail investors at 8:30, standing comfortably for 25 minutes with his left hand in his pocket and his right hand holding his PowerPoint remote; after his talk, he answers questions for an hour. Then it’s more institutional investors, followed by GE salespeople in Burlingame, a presentation to customers, and finally a big reception for customers and top salespeople. He seems as energetic at the end of the day as at the beginning. He had run virtually the same routine in Los Angeles the day before.

cubanMark Cuban – Cuban has written some posts on his most excellent blog on the subject of hard work and loving what you do. Here is one of my favorite excerpts:

The edge is getting so jazzed about what you do, you just spent 24 hours straight working on a project and you thought it was a couple hours. The edge is knowing that you have to be the smartest guy in the room when you have your meeting and you are going to put in the effort to learn whatever you need to learn to get there. The edge is knowing is knowing that when the 4 girlfriends you have had in the last couple years asked you which was more important, them or your business, you gave the right answer…The edge is knowing how to blow off steam a couple times a week, just so you can refocus on business…The edge is recognizing when you are wrong, and working harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again. (from The Sport of Business)

Steve Pavlina and Seth Godin – These guys have written millions of words in their relatively young careers, authored books, spoken at conferences and started companies largely as one-man shows. They do more in a year than most people do in a lifetime and are well worth learning from!

Steve sums up his philosophy towards hard work pretty well in the aptly titled post “Hard Work“:

Hard work pays off. When someone tells you otherwise, beware the sales pitch for something “fast and easy” that’s about to come next. The greater your capacity for hard work, the more rewards fall within your grasp. The deeper you can dig, the more treasure you can potentially find…Your life will reach a whole new level when you stop avoiding and fearing hard work and simply surrender to it. Make it your ally instead of your enemy. It’s a potent tool to have on your side.

Seth has a similar post entitled “Labor Day“:

Your great-grandfather knew what it meant to work hard. He hauled hay all day long, making sure that the cows got fed. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes about a worker who ruptured his vertebrae, wrecked his hands, burned his lungs, and was eventually hit by a train as part of his 15-year career at a slaughterhouse. Now that’s hard work…Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.

kanyeEminem and Kanye West – These guys have legendary work ethics. Witness:

It is a little-known fact that the only book Eminem read as a child was the dictionary. He pored over it, searching for words that rhymed with each other that could later be pulled out of the bag during the freestyle rap “battles” that provided his education in hip-hop. The years spent studying the English language lie at the core of his technical brilliance. They turned him into the greatest rapper of his time. But they did so at a personal cost: for Eminem could be uncharitably described as an anorak. His life starts and ends with music. He writes constantly, scrawling lines on sheets of notepaper in a crabby handwriting. When he’s not composing new verse, or messing around in a studio, he’ll be listening to hip-hop. “The guy’s a studio rat,” says producer Terry Simaan, the owner of Oh Trey 9, one of the Detroit’s most influential hip-hop labels. “If he feels like it, he’ll spend 12, 15 hours a day in a studio.” (From Eminem: The fall and rise of a superstar)

But West initially had trouble convincing Roc-A-Fella execs to let him make his own album as a rapper. He was able to change their minds only after the accident that inspired his breakthrough single, Through the Wire. Exhausted from working around the clock, West fell asleep behind the wheel of his Lexus and got into a crash that nearly killed him. He was back in the studio three weeks later, recording that hit song with his broken jaw wired shut. (From Genius Is As Genius Does)

(Note to self…take a cab or have someone else drive you if you’re working your tail off!!)

Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods – While these guys haven’t exactly been choir boys the last few years they’ve definitely worked their tail off to get to where they are. Here are some of my favorite articles about them:

Commuting to Staples Center with Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s well-honed killer instinct

It’s 1995, and Bryant is the senior leader of the Lower Merion team, obsessed with winning a state championship. He comes to the gym at 5 a.m. to work out before school, stays until 7 p.m. afterward. It’s all part of the plan. When the Aces lost in the playoffs the previous spring, Bryant stood in the locker room, interrupting the seniors as they hugged each other, and all but guaranteed a title, adding, “The work starts now.”

(Don’t miss Spike Lee’s documentary about Kobe either!)

Tiger vs Phil Part Two: Work ethic.

I refuse to let anyone outwork me. That’s the reason I log so much time on the practice range. Besides, hard work is the only way to maintain a competitive edge, and I enjoy the process. The key, though, is to practice with a purpose.

Tiger’s Daily Routine and Workout Regimen

The Beatles – Gladwell made their Hamburg-era work ethic famous in Outliers. Here’s the passage in case you missed it:

“All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. … Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.” (From this blog post about the band)

yolandagaricYolanda and Rogelio Garcia Sr. – You’ve never heard of these two and I hadn’t either until I stumbled across this article talking about how they put their kids through college:

For 21 years, the Garcias have supported their family by picking through garbage, often cutting their fingers on broken glass while searching for cans and bottles. Late at night they make their living on the darkened streets and back alleys of Los Angeles, recycling other people’s trash for cash. They’ve collected more than 8 million cans and bottles to help put two children through college. Their youngest is still hitting the books, so Yolanda and Rogelio still hit the streets every night.

OK, perhaps this doesn’t fit the definition of working as smart as possible but nevertheless, reading stories like this reminds us that our “hard work” probably isn’t as hard as we think.

Who’d I miss? Let me know in the comments! :)

30. December 2009 by Jon
Categories: Entrepreneurship, Inspiration | 28 comments

Presentations for entrepreneurs from my eduFire classes

As many of you know I’ve been teaching a series of courses related to entrepreneurship on eduFire. I wanted to post links here to some of the presentations I’ve used in case you find them helpful. Enjoy!

A Decade’s Worth of Entrepreneurial Advice

Entrepreneur Bootcamp: Your Idea
Financing Your Venture

How to Build a World Class Team

How to Create A Defensible Product

Plus a whole lot of other interesting articles and documents in our eduFire Content section. Check it out!

18. December 2009 by Jon
Categories: eduFire, Entrepreneurship | 13 comments

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

determinationThere are two kinds of “quit” in this world. There’s the smart quit. The one where you know you’re not doing the right thing with your life. The kind of one David Allen did. The one that intuitively feels right in every kind of way.

And then there’s the other type of quit.

The quit where a huge part of you wants to give up. The quit you make when you the world is against you, when you’re sick to your stomach half the time and when all those who told you it was a dumb idea to begin with are now reminding you that they told you that it was a dumb idea to begin with. The quit that just feels easier.

So what do you do when feel that kind of quit coming on? Simple. Never give up. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. So here’s what you’re going to do when you feel that kind of quit coming on (and I’m going to say “you” but it’s really “we” because these are the things I’m going to do as well when I feel this kind of quit coming on!).

#1 – You’re going to read Evan Williams’ story in Founders At Work. When Evan was at Pyra Labs they ran out of money. He laid off the team (actually just stopped paying them). Everybody hated him. He worked alone for a year in what I can imagine were far from optimal conditions. And what happened next? He sold his product (a little thing called Blogger) to a hot start-up (a little company called Google). The rest is history. And I’m pretty confident there would be no Twitter today if Evan hadn’t persevered back in the day.

#2 – You’re going to read Paul Graham’s essay The Anatomy of Determination.

We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination.

Got that? Not talent. Not intelligence. Determination. Thank your lucky stars you’re facing adversity. How the hell would you be able to show that you have what it takes to succeed if you weren’t?

#3 – You’re going to listen to Joe Liemandt’s story of the starting of Trilogy. Trilogy was dead. Dead as in $500,000 worth of credit card debt dead. But this story is a prime example of entrepreneurial will (even if it will likely make every financial advisor cringe). Joe and his team didn’t give up. They believed in what they were building and they had a vision for the future that they clung to even in the darkest of days.

#4 – You’re going to read the story of Steve Genter in Friday Night Lights. Genter was supposed to competed in the Munich Olympics in 1972. One small problem. His lung collapsed before the Olympics. He swam anyway. Without painkillers. You gotta read the whole story but if this doesn’t make you re-think quitting I’m not sure what will.

#5 – You’re going to watch Jimmy Valvano’s (the former basketball coach at NC State) speech at the 1993 ESPYs. At the time Jimmy was only 8 weeks away from dying of cancer. This speech is intense. Some of his closing words? “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” (8:30 in)

#6 – You’re going to read the Three Feet from Gold story in Think and Grow Rich. Often when you’re faced with the prospect of giving up you’re simply three feet from gold. The world is full of people who were building what could have been the next Facebook or the next YouTube but stopped just a bit short. Don’t be one of those guys at the bar telling you the story of how he almost succeeded. Be the guy who gives it everything he has and has no regrets. Indeed, in your bleakest hour you’re usually three feet from gold.

#7 – You’re going to read this insanely cool collection of stories of people who simply did not give up. Reading through these almost makes you wonder if there has been anyone who has achieved something of lasting value who didn’t suffer rejection and defeat. My guess is that the number is pretty close to zero. Peoples’ failures often don’t get publicized but rest assured, pretty much anyone who’s ever risen to great heights has experienced more than a few Dark Nights of the Soul.

#8 – Finally, you’re going to realize watch the video below and realize that the greatest joys in life come precisely because you’ve been willing to go through the lowest of lows to get there. That’s exactly what makes them so sweet. One of my favorite professional athletes in Kevin Garnett (we had season tickets to Timberwolves games as kids). Kevin went through just about every form of hardship you can imagine. The Wolves sucked for years. Malik Sealy, one of his best friends on the team, was killed by a drunk driver (I was on the same road that same night so that one hit close to home).

All sorts of bad things happened. But he persevered. And last year he won his first NBA championship. Watch the pure joy:

That’s what you’re going to feel when you don’t give up. When you pull through and grow your company and get that big fat acquisition offer. When you ring the bell one day on the New York Stock Exchange. You’re going to remember those days when you wanted to give up and quit.

How sweet it’s going be.

‘Till I Collapse – Eminem

17. December 2009 by Jon
Categories: Entrepreneurship, Inspiration | 31 comments

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