Humour

I recently watched this wonderful video of a lecture by John Cleese on creativity. Full transcript here. I'd really recommend watching it in its entirety.

Here's a part I particularly enjoyed:

So, here's how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going.

One: Allow subordinates no humour, it threatens your self-importance and especially your omniscience. Treat all humour as frivolous or subversive.

Because subversive is, of course, what humour will be in your setup, as it's the only way that people can express their opposition, since (if they express it openly) you're down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let's get this clear: blame humour for the resistance that your way of working creates. Then you don't have to blame your way of working. This is important. And I mean that solemnly. Your dignity is no laughing matter.

During college I was interning at a law firm. I remember the exact moment when I realized this wasn't going to work out for me. We were being shown around the (very large) offices by one of the partners, who commented "During the 60's this building actually used to be a factory". To this I jokingly replied "I guess some things never change!" I was quite proud of myself but apparently this kind of humour was quite taboo. Throughout the rest of the internship I never did quite figure out what type of humour wasn't taboo. I did however figure out that I couldn't function in environments where a sense of humour wasn't valued.

(For more thoughts on humour PG talks about it in the context of good design in his essay Taste for Makers, search for "Good design is often slightly funny").

Rejection

PG recently posted an email I sent satirizing a VC passing on investing in a startup:

We'll be Circling Back
(Rapgenius version)

I sent the YC partners an email saying I was growing increasingly impressed with one of the startups in the current batch and asking what they thought of them, and Harj Taggar replied with this brilliant piece of VC boilerplate.

From: Harj Taggar
To: Paul Graham

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your note and sending ⟨startup⟩ our way, we really appreciate it and always enjoy meeting with YC founders. Keep 'em coming!

We loved ⟨founder⟩ and are impressed by both his background and the progress he has made thus far. It's exciting to see entrepreneurs tackling "real-world" problems in important areas, which aligns well with our investment thesis.

However it's currently a little early for us to step in here. We'd like to see ⟨founder⟩ show a few more proof points and validate a couple of the core assumptions underlying the business. We've offered to introduce him to a few value-add partners, within our network, who we think could really help him work through and shape some of the strategic issues he'll face in the coming months. We plan on keeping in close touch and will be circling back once he's at a more appropriate stage for investment.

On a separate note, I feel like we could be doing more to help YC companies. We're in awe of what you've built over there at the Y and we'd love to grab a coffee and talk more about how we could be helpful to both the companies and you.

Best,

Harj

Writing rejection emails is hard, it's definitely the least enjoyable part about working at YC. They don't have to sound like this though. Here's a real email from an investor (with company/investor specific information removed), explaining why they were passing on a company:

Here are some candid notes on the Company X pitch as experienced by one prospective investor (us) -- may be helpful for future pitches --

  • It doesn't work to start the pitch by saying "we are experts in virality" and then not be viral.
  • Given lack of virality, need some #'s from marketing experiments and some theory on cost of customer acquisition and lifetime value.
  • Need more numbers beyond # of installs... # of actives, cohort data, etc.
  • A bottoms-up market sizing/segmentation would be good, as opposed to the very broad top-down market sizing they gave. Very vague on how they think about the market and which segments to go after first.
  • Need a better/fuller competitive analysis particularly given how competitive and superheated the whole "____" space is.
  • Need an articulated plan of what's going to happen with the money raised in the new round.

Overall it seemed that the right thing would be for their existing investors to bridge them until either (a) they get viral or (b) they generate experimental data on cost of customer acquisition (at least).

Investor

It takes more time to write something like this but it'd certainly be better for everyone if it became the standard.

Quotes about education

"Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. In college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand could get you anything - from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it." - Robert M. Persig (Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance)


 "Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more 'respectful' teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many 'well-adjusted' adults are bitter, uncreative, frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that's what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing." - Keith Johnstone (Impro: Improvisation and the theatre)

 

"And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.” – Steve Jobs 

eminem's best verse

allright lets pretend Marshall Mathers never picked up a pen
lets pretend things would have been no different
pretend he procrastinated had no motivation
pretend he just made excuses that were so paper thin they could blow away with the wind
marshall you’re never gonna make it makes no sense to play the game there ain’t no way that you’ll win
pretend he just stayed outside all day and played with his friends
pretend he even had a friend to say was his friend
and it wasn’t time to move and schools were changing again
he wasn’t socially awkward and just strange as a kid
he had a father and his mother wasn’t crazy as sh-t
and he never dreamed he could rip stadiums and just lazy as sh-t
f-ck a talent show in a gymnasium bitch you won’t amount to sh-t quit daydreaming kid
you need to get your cranium checked you thinking like an alien it just ain’t realistic
now pretend they ain’t just make him angry with this sh-t and there was no one he could even aim when he’s pissed it
and his alarm went off to wake him off but he didn’t make it to the rap Olympics slept through his plane and he missed it
he’s gon’ have a hard time explaining to Hailey and Laney these food stamps and this WIC sh-t
cuz he never risked shit he hopes and he wished it but it didn’t fall in his lap so he ain’t even here
he pretends that…