The Economics of Being Nice

I recently attended the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurship program at Wharton’s San Francisco campus. My favorite part of this trip (as with most any trip) was meeting interesting people. One of these people made a simple statement about the attitudes of people around Silicon Valley. It resonated with me, and I would like to expand on it a little bit.

Generally, people are friendly, helpful, and open in Silicon Valley. It’s a highly competitive area, but also highly collaborative. One might assume that people are incentivized to hoard their resources from other market participants/competitors in an effort to succeed or prevent others from succeeding (I don’t want to make this post about Game Theory, but if you’re interested in learning more about why people make certain choices, I recommend reading a little bit about it.).

People have seen the guy who was sitting next to them one day become Mark Zuckerberg the next. The realization that there is so much talent and potential for success around them does wonders for the collaborative environment. Here’s the thing, you don’t want to get a bad reputation for having been a dick to the next [insert successful businessperson here].

From my perspective, this look into the human psyche should benefit us in a few ways. I’m going to try to extrapolate some (probably far-flung) conclusions here based on these realizations. Utilizing our innate understanding of social hierarchies, if we can create an environment where everyone has a great opportunity to move up in the world (I’ll let you define what that means in your own life.) through learning and implementing their ideas– technological or otherwise, we may be able to improve relationships across society (i.e. gender, socio-economic, race, etc.).

Many of the speakers at the program emphasized how helping others, with no expectation of anything in return has helped them tremendously down the road. I hope I can learn this lesson, and I hope society can take more from Silicon Valley than just the next messaging app on their phone.

I’ve been very fortunate to meet some amazing people–some of the most talented, intelligent, and dynamic people you could think of– in all sorts of different fields. I find the ones that really have staying power, the people I want to be around, are generous and genuine regardless of who you are on the totem pole at your company or what you can offer them. If you want a quick judge of character, watch how they act toward those whose job it is to serve them (waiters, employees, etc.). I realize it’s not a foolproof way to judge character, and I also am not foolish enough to think people don’t treat me differently because I play in the NFL. I hope that I can practice what I preach, because some day I won’t be Coby Fleener, the NFL player. I’ll just be Coby Fleener.

Parent-proof Computers

If you’re like me, you’re the first person family members call when they’re experiencing a technological problem. By “technological problem” I mean, “Something just popped-up and covered what I was doing… I think the computer is broken.”

If you’re busy with work, and would prefer not to repeatedly call your Mom to talk her through a Teamviewer setup (I highly recommend this as option #2), I would suggest buying a Chromebook.

Chromebooks are a wonderful choice for parents or grandparents who struggle with computers for a few reasons:

1. They’re (relatively) cheap. A laptop that costs under $300? Think of it like an app developer… you only have to give up 100 cups of coffee.

2. Security/Updates. No need to close the annoying anti-virus expiration reminder anymore. Due to cloud storage, a lesser-known OS, and automatic updates that constantly improve your computer, there is a very slim chance at a security breach.

3. Cloud Storage. If you’ve ever dropped your computer, you know the pain of wondering when your last backup was. With a Chromebook, your images, documents, etc. are all stored in the magical cloud, meaning they are automatically backed up, and instantly accessible from any other computer (including Macs and PCs).

There are a few negatives that I should point out, but really aren’t problematic for most:

1. Wifi needed. This actually isn’t totally true anymore. Chromebooks are useable without the internet, but are limited.

2. Specific software. If your older relatives love designing things using CADD software or playing World of Warcraft, they won’t do too well with a Chromebook. Don’t expect to install much outside software. Chromebooks are designed to take advantage of the internet, not your local hard drive.

3. Initial setup. You’ll need to help set up a Google account and connect them to their wireless router. Relatively painless stuff.

You Can’t Win Them All

Most driven people tend to see their work as a winner-take-all scenario, in which the only favorable outcome is a win. A “win” could mean a successful sale to a big customer, it could mean securing funding for your company’s next round, or it could mean winning the upcoming football game. The benefits of winning greatly outweigh those of losing in almost every scenario, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say that there are positives that come from every loss and negatives that come from every win.

Positives of Losing:
1. Reality Check. It is human nature to want to believe all the wonderful things people and the press say about you or your company. Instead of riding the rollercoaster of emotions that go along with defining yourself by the current opinion of others, put your earplugs in, your blinders on, and your nose to the grindstone. Ultimately, the strength of your product will determine how successful you are, not the positive stories on a website or the negative tweets from some creep in his mother’s basement.

2. Friend or Foe. With each success comes more bandwagon fans. Friends and coworkers that are there, and willing to improve after a win or a loss are the ones you want to keep around.

3. Tax write-off. Some losses have tax implications. I couldn’t think of a better number 3 at the time of this writing.

Negatives of Winning:
1. & 2. Group Think & Resting on Your Laurels. “Whatever has worked in the past will continue to work in the future.” You’re probably right, but it will be progressively less effective as competitors improve. Any forthright financial advisor will tell you that past performance does not equate to future success. Learn. Improve. Grow. Innovate. Evolve.

3. It’s easier to overlook mistakes when you win. “Winning makes everything better.” The quote is true… until you lose. Don’t change your attention to detail or your willingness to correct mistakes because of the outcome.

It’s difficult to talk about winning and losing without listing millions of cliches. I’ve been trained in cliche-use since I began organized sports, so forgive me, but it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game (and how you learn from it afterward).