I’m daily consumer of The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, mostly for its entertainment value, but there is also often real business intelligence there — even if, sometimes, you have to read between the lines and reverse-engineer huge doses of irony to get it. (We posted on Fake Steve’s School of Management: The 10 Commandments of Fake Steve Jobs.)
Today fsj, a.k.a, Dan Lyons, has a good piece of advice for all founders: beware investors and advisors with the ‘one pair of glasses’ syndrome. Fsj picks on VC Bob Metcalf and a recent CNET story in which Metcalf says he thinks we can solve global warming by applying lessons learned from building the Internet. (Metcalf is famous for co-inventing the Ethernet.) Fsj believes such myopic thinking is potentially dangerous. He’s probably right.
… like Andy Grove says the way to fix the pharmaceutical industry is to follow the example of the chip industry. And Nicholas Negroponte thinks the way to solve poverty is to hand out laptops. I call it the “one pair of glasses” theory. You see it all the time. People know one thing and they think that this one thing can be applied to every problem, because it’s the only way they know how to look at the world. They’ve got one pair of glasses.
It isn’t that Metcalf, or Negroponte, or Grove (or anyone for that matter, including you) ought not to apply valuable knowledge based on past successes to new realms to solve new problem — it’s just that context matters, a lot.
The point is, Ethernet is great stuff and was a big breakthrough — in 1974 — and we’re all grateful for it. But the fact that some guy invented some computer networking protocol thirty-four years ago doesn’t exactly make him an expert on anything else. In fact I’d say Bob has no more standing on global warming or climate science than he does on brain surgery or black holes or the mating habits of silkworms….
You know what they say on Wall Street: past performance is no indicator of future performance. So be vigilant of the “one pair of glasses” syndrome when you’re considering advisors or investors — which is hard enough. Don’t be swayed by windowdressing or history. Make sure that the people who are helping you can do so in a way that is relevant to your needs today.
As FSJ concludes, referencing his own ‘semi-real BFF’:
I’m pretty sure Larry thinks the way to win the America’s Cup is to apply the lessons he learned at Oracle. And you know how well that’s worked out.