Sharing the spotlight is the fastest way into the spotlight

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I had dinner on Saturday night with my best friends dad.  He is an extremely accomplished Surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, and typically has some nuggets of wisdom if you shut up and listen for a while.  We spent a bunch of time discussing what he looks for when recruiting doctors to his practice, and the overlap in philosophy was striking.  He talked a lot about hiring based on capacity vs. historical performance (which is a practice I employ both when building the team at Hyperpublic, and also when deciding who to invest in at Lerer Ventures).  His reasoning was rooted in a concept that sometimes the real game changers need to enter an environment of increased challenge or competiveness in order to really step on the gas and outperform.  So if candidates demonstrated competency at the lower rungs of their professional development, but showed a strong delta between performance and perceived capacity, they represented something of a “value buy” insofar as a new environment might unlock some pent up talent/performance.

The conversation carried on, and as the parallels between his experience building a team and a career in medicine continued to reflect my own experiences doing the same in tech, I found myself taking notes… I particularly liked his perspective that: “The more you give other people credit, the more likely you are to be successful.” It’s a counterintuitive concept in a world where everyone is trying to get ahead, and build a track record, and get recognized for their accomplishments, but I do think there is real truth to his words.  Some of the most successful people I have met demonstrate the outsized skill of “lifting others up.”  One of my mentors, Hemant, was fabulous at giving credit and recognizing the contributions of others.  His ability to share the spotlight meant that there was always room in others’ spotlights for him.

Dr. Lawrence went on to observe what he described as an “I culture,” where everyone wants to talk about themselves and what they’ve done or are doing.  He said that he finds the most productive conversations to be ones where the word I is not used, and challenged us to start replacing “I” with “we.”  I think I may be guilty of subscribing a bit to an “I culture.”  Social media only amplifies an individual’s voice and nurtures the concept of “I” vs. “we.”  I recently gave a presentation in which one of the slides was titled “I have invested in 40 companies in the last 14 months.”  The reality is that it wasn’t me who invested in 40 companies, it was “us” that invested in 40 companies.  And by us, I mean Ken, Ben, Jonah, Eric, Moot, and me.  In a world where personal branding is an ugly but potentially necessary element of day to day, I’m going to start making a more conscious effort to turn the dial to 11 on “collective (vs. individual) branding.”  Thanks Dr. Lawrence for shedding some perspective on this subject, hopefully others will absorb your words as completely as I did.

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5 Responses to “Sharing the spotlight is the fastest way into the spotlight”

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I think some of the “I” mentality is also from the environment you’re in. You note the “world” as an “I culture” but i think a lot of that is amplified by NYC culture. From my vantage point, NYC is a very self-promotional/self-oriented culture. It’s dog-eat-dog, everyone is largely professional-focused, and everyone’s fighting for a piece of the pie. In other areas of the country, i find there’s more collective-orientation. It’s interesting we find a lot more turnover at NYC firms than we do in other areas of the country, specifically the midwest (when evaluating investment management firms). My point being, i just think a lot of the “me-centric” culture is amplified by the city you live in, which rewards it more than any other in the world

interesting..i see the geographical bias, but I actually think it’s also a tech/startup phenomenon. the “world” i was referring to, was actually the startup world…yet another example, i suppose of an “I centric” mentality 🙂

Think you pretty much nailed this – except in the category of being a patient. In that case we think ipatient really does represent the trend of engaging consumers (patients) with online services that really can help with their healthcare life (Massive Health, GreenGoose etc..). Welcome the chance to connect offline to demo – if there’s interest?



Excellent observation and something I’ve been working on myself of late. Thinking about getting a bit formal with and tracking thanks and kudos I send to help boost the number.


Sorry just got to this now Jord – this is an insightful post, and particularly like the source 🙂 Finding the balance between self promotion and humility I think is pretty tricky. When you are starting out, I think you have to promote more to show people you deserve a seat at the table – no one’s searching you out in the shadows to give it to you. When you establish yourself, you can hang back and refrain more from self-promotion. Other people will do the talking for you. Just another element (seniority) beyond field and geography (I agree with you Dink) that I think plays into this discussion.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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