Leadership

Nobody cares about you

We’re so good at undermining our confidence. We let imaginary voices water down our true nature. We live in a story where we’re the center of attention. 

There’s an even scarier truth: Nobody cares about you. Nobody is thinking about you. Everyone is too self-obsessed to care about anyone else.

Sure, your family and partner care. Some of your close friends. But even many of them care only to a point. They're too busy worrying about their own stories.

We fear people are waiting for us to trip and fall. Let's say that's true. Maybe 10% of people you know are happy to see you fail. So what? You’re probably happy to see them fail too. 

The other 90% of people? They already forgot your thing ever happened. They’re too busy thinking about themselves to think about you.

Go for what you really want. Nobody cares about you.

Know your job

The other day I had breakfast with a founder. I had recently announced that I was stepping down as CEO of Kickstarter. That morning I learned he was considering stepping down from his company too.

Business is good, he begins. He’s been at it for almost a decade and it’s arguably the best it's been. The metrics are up. People are happy.

But he's not happy. He doesn't feel useful. Things are growing but it's not from his ideas. Instead new leaders are doing well. When he lets them drive, things grow. When he takes the wheel, things stall.

I’m not meant for this job anymore, he says.

I listen. Then I ask a question.

Why are we talking about the failure of your ideas and not the success of the team you’ve put in place?

He raises an eyebrow.

The CEO's job is to build an organization that succeeds. How do you do that? By knowing where you want to go and hiring people who can get you there. It sounds like you've hired the people. Now you need to make sure you know where you're going.

Getting perspective takes conscious effort. You have to create space for it. Regularly. It means spending less time in the office and in the weeds. It means letting the team do their job while you do yours. 

Your job is to see the matrix. There are many ways to start seeing it: talking to peer CEOs, meeting customers, reading books, a weekend of solitude, taking drugs in the woods. All involve time, space, and separation.

Seeing the matrix means you learn to see the world through the lens of where you're going. You learn to communicate, guide, and decide as if your future successful self is looking back on current events. It's not every step and every detail. It's colors, shapes, a direction.

Everything else comes from the team as you talk through the vision together. It's a constant conversation. And when the team and vision come together, the sky's the limit. That's when the future becomes real.

Now's not the time to quit. Now's the time to grow into your new job.

He is smiling. He likes this new way of seeing things. We walk outside. It's a beautiful morning.

It's amazing how different the world looks when we manage to get out of our own way.

How the White House budget threatens creativity

Kickstarter was launched in 2009 — not by a computer science major or an MBA, but by an artist, a designer and me, a music critic. Arts and culture were important to us and we thought a lot of other people, too. It took off. 

When a Washington Post headline a few years later declared "Kickstarter raises more money for artists than the NEA,” I felt both humility and apprehension. We were mentioned in the same breath as the National Endowment for the Arts, an organization whose mission we admire deeply. But I worried our success might be seen as an argument that the private sector alone should address arts funding.

Read in full: Published as an Oped in The Hill

Decisions

There are two types of decisions: ones you’ve made before and ones you haven’t. Every decision starts as one you’ve never made before. It’s only with experience that decisions that would have fallen into the latter category move into the first.

Easy decisions are the first ones you’ll make. Options appear to reason through, and you choose a course based on your values and wisdom.

As time goes on and the easier decisions have been made — or systematized in such a way that others can make them — leaders are left with the hard decisions. Ones that are entirely new in their subject matter, stakes, or the ambiguity of whether a right decision truly exists.

Instinct is the gradual shift of new decisions into familiar decisions. It’s the pattern recognition of seeing how our guidance can shape the world, and an understanding of the fallibilities of our ego, impatience, and fear.

The whole world is a series of decisions made individually and collectively. It’s easy to become paralyzed by a challenging new decision, but take comfort in humility. Decisions of similar scale have been faced before, and it’s unlikely that the stakes are ever as large as they seem. Most likely a decision will simply create further decisions to consider.

When making decisions it’s vital to reflect beyond the situation at hand to what you most value. Imagine a future where your values are realized. What decision at this moment in time makes that future most probable? What could prevent that reality from coming to pass?

As a leader, each day is nothing but decisions. Where experience provides instinct for a decision, use it. Where a situation is entirely new, approach it with humility and care. And be grateful for the experience it will bring to the next decision you’ll be asked to make.