10 years ago, I bled purple.
On the Yahoo! campus, we had purple couches, purple cows, and even purple sprinkler heads.
We had a Yahoo! running team and a Yahoo! cycling team, thanks to the generous support of my friend David Filo, who at the time was the richest man in the world under 30 and co-founder of Yahoo!
That was 2005 and Facebook was only a year old back then.
I was also 135 pounds and could still run 3 miles in 15 minutes flat.
But I digress.
Arguably, at Yahoo! we had the best engineering team in the world.
Just ask Google, who took many of our folks– the best money could buy.
Or just ask Facebook, who took many of Google’s people, including their head chef.
Then again, much of the IPO-chasing tech talent has left Facebook for the next latest thing, making disloyalty cool.
But in consensual sex, is there a crime if both parties are in agreement?
Old-timers like me can reminisce and regale you with “back in my day” stories of walking uphill both ways.
But what is worth observing is the shift from teamwork to the cult of personality.
The superstar enters the arena
You see this in the NBA where there are now a few superstars.
You see this in Elon Musk– a singular figure who gave life to Tesla and SpaceX.
You can substitute your own Steve Jobs or Barack Obama.
Why is there such increasing emphasis on the superhero?
Some will claim that it’s what the public wants, so Yahoo! hires Marissa Mayer.
I believe the public looks to a messianic figure when there are problems, a larger savior for larger problems.
“Because I’m proud to be an American, cuz….”
Chicken or egg, the unemployment problems and decline of the United States are real.
To admit this doesn’t make me unpatriotic– I’d argue I’m more American for wanting to solve it.
And it will take more than a village.
When I joined Yahoo!, I was still in my mid-20s.
I want to say the average age was 24, so I was right in the middle of the pack.
And when you’re that age, you have time to work crazy hours to do crazy things.
By the time I left, the average age was 30, so you’ve got young parents, people buying houses, and doing life sorts of things.
That’s not bad. It just meant that the company had transformed into a stable, employee-based culture.
Most folks had 5-6 meetings a day and left at 5 pm.
We used to have only hallway meetings and stayed late to get stuff done.
There were no content marketers or social marketers.
We created content and were social as a by-product of our passion.
Is this a glorified view of technology where the teenage “brogrammers” hold disdain for the older generation?
If you’re in the viciously competitive tech space, you better be working hard-– disrupt or be disrupted.
But for the 99% of folks that are in companies not in hyperactive growth, this model doesn’t apply.
What it’s like living in the crucible
The early folks at Yahoo! and other such companies would agree with me that they got the most work done between 6 pm and midnight.
After a day crammed with meetings (others won’t let you escape from their meetings), you finally have time to actually work.
I can see the number of virtual heads nodding, thinking this is true in their companies.
I’d usually hang out at the Yahoo! cafeteria, called Url’s since the food was good and subsidized.
Google’s food was free, but I didn’t want to bike the 5 miles up the road to Mountain View.
And in the cafeteria, I’d also see Filo, Jan Koum, Stuart Butterfield, and these sorts of folks, on their laptops plugging away.
The company was less than 2,000 people, so it was easier to collaborate.
When Yahoo! grew to 12,000, the number of layers created crazy politics.
And not to mention the influx of B and C-quality players– we weren’t sure how these people snuck in.
It was easier to get money and you’d be less likely to offend people if you spoke your mind.
Full circle back to academia and government research
Most of us know that the Internet was not created by Al Gore.
But it was government funding that led to DARPA.
And the collegial research environment was what spawned great ideas, creating incubators like Xerox PARC.
I wasn’t old enough to see those days, but I was fortunate enough to meet some of these folks, like the folks who created SABRE and ran American Airlines.
It was partly why I went to Yahoo!, because I could work with super-talented people who were still team players.
My fear is that the public focus on larger-than-life personalities is destroying the teamwork necessary to build truly mission-based companies.
No amount of Asana, basecamp, or co-working will make up for venture-funded mentalities to groom startups to be sold.
Some will argue about Silicon Valley now glorifying the A-hole— they’re just mad at the perception, however accurate.
You could blame the media and late-night infomercial marketers for advancing the illusion of overnight, easy success.
I doubt the “Social Network” movie did anyone any good, but that’s Hollywood’s angle to sell more tickets.
We’re living in a drought… of teamwork, love, and knowledge
Somehow we have to get back to collaboration in business, where people aren’t afraid of sharing.
Yesterday I spoke to someone who runs a successful agency– he couldn’t do content marketing because he was scared of sharing secrets.
If you believe there’s not enough to go around, you’ll hoard what you have and treat others with suspicion.
And then conferences devolve into vendor pitch fests since nobody wants to share.
There is such pessimism among the millennials and older folks alike.
My goal is to find the optimistic in the crowd who believe that giving doesn’t mean you have less, but actually more.
The systems and training we build will enable certification and job creation for young adults to spread their love and knowledge.
Cold-hearted people cannot be effective content marketers.
Imagine a system that weeds out people who are not team players.
We’re building it.
Those who want to be superstars on stage or the big bosses giving orders to their peons– will want personal branding, too.
But real personal branding is what people say about you– and the only authentic version emanates from a servant’s heart.
I wonder how many businesses will make this transition: to be stuck in traditional “blast” advertising or to nurture their community.
No amount of tools will be able to mask a marketer who doesn’t truly care for his customers.
You could outsource your marketing, which is increasingly technical, to an agency for a variety of plausible-sounding reasons.
But your customers recognize the voice of their shepherd and only you can guide authentic marketing.