07 Jan January 7, 2020 – Kickstarter Co-Founder Yancey Strickler & Hiring Guru Tom Darrow
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The world does get better when people make sure it does.
It takes effort. Every destination is temporary.
Yancey Strickler is a writer, speaker, thinker, and the cofounder and former CEO of Kickstarter. Kickstarter pioneered and popularized crowdfunding for artists, developers, and other creatives, bringing more than 100,000 projects out of people’s dreams and into reality by fulfilling the need for funding. Yancey left Kickstarter in 2017 to pursue a career as a public speaker educating businesses and individuals about the best ways to find and follow their own rational self-interest, a goal he facilitates with his Japanese lunchbox inspired methodology, Bentoism. Yancey has been featured on CNN, BBC, and MSNBC, and in The New York Times, Fast Company, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Wired, and more. He has been recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People, Vanity Fair’s New Establishment, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. He has spoken at the Museum of Modern Art, the MIT Media Lab, Stanford University, the Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals, SXSW, the 92nd Street Y, and many more.
It’s been all about our career, and our life follows that. It should be
the other way around. What is our purpose, our life purpose, and
how does our career support that?
Tom Darrow helps companies and individuals seeking workers and work find ideal placements and develop careers with the two companies he founded: Talent Connections, LLC; and Career Spa, LLC. Talent Connections, LLC specializes in human resources and executive level role talent seeking and job placement. Career Spa, LLC provides career management services to unemployed, underemployed, and misemployed talent in several major metro areas, including Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; and Aiken, South Carolina. Tom also develops the principles and practices that optimally serve employers and employees by devoting his time to the board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals.
Highlights from Yancey’s Interview
It’s my belief that the world today is dominated by an idea I call financial maximization. This is the belief that the rational choice in any decision is whichever option makes the most money. And this, we think, is just how the world should run. And the trick of our belief in financial maximization is that we believe that this is how things have always been. This is how the world has always run, so it’s not something worth questioning. But in the book, I argue that this idea is actually just about 50 years old, and really changed how businesses and society operated in the early 1970s. Today, we are living in a world where every choice, every outcome is ultimately financial in nature. That’s the why behind almost every decision. But I think that we’re reaching the end point of this era, and I think that there’s the possibility to expand what we’re working towards from just financial value to growing other forms of value as well.
I look at this in both a personal and a societal way of thinking. In the book I create something called Bentoism and Bentoism is like a bento box, the Japanese lunch box, but for your decisions and your values. A bento has four compartments. Each one has a different food item. And the bento honors the Japanese dining philosophy of hara hachi bu, which says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full. That way you’re still hungry for tomorrow. Bentoism is the same idea for our self-interest. It says that our self-interest is not just what we want right now, our now-me. You can think of that as the bottom left box of the bento. It’s also thinking about the person we will one day become, the obituary we wish we could have, the future-me. That’s in the bottom right. The top left of the bento box is now-us, thinking about the people that we are accountable to, that we rely on, and who rely on us, our families or coworkers or friends. Finally, in the top right, there’s future-us imagining our children and everybody else’s children too.
The idea is that every decision we make impacts all of these spaces: now-me, future-me, now-us, future-us. But today, we really don’t see anything other than now-me as being rational or real. Those other spaces are emotional, hazy, harder to define. For the bento as a personal tool, my bento box has my values for each of those spaces inside of it. It’s a picture of my home screen on my phone. When I make a choice, I literally just look at my phone screen, and I’m reminded of what it is that I believe in, what it is I want out of life. And it lets me make choices and design solutions that let me live coherently.
You’re deciding whether or not to have a kid, but the choices we make as parents will often conflict with what our professional selves might want and what our consumer selves might want. We’re often put into this place of compromise through all these different roles that we inhabit. Bentoism is an idea that those are all the same person, and all those people should be acting in the same way. That’s what will feel best for your soul, and that’s what will ultimately be best for your family, for your coworkers, for your own personal life. It’s trying to teach that to individuals. I’ve been doing this in workshops and things online; I have a website where people could learn about it.
But it’s also imagining that if our self-interest is bigger than now-me, then there are also other values and ways of valuing that live in those other spaces. It’s possible to create a company that solves now-us challenges or future-us challenges, and it’s working towards metrics and goals just like a profit-oriented company has to do those things. To me, that is the longer-term promise. But Bentoism and this idea really started for me on the personal level of how I make choices each day and how I’m really trying to live in integrity with myself.
I think individually, we do a pretty good job of laying these things out. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. Still, the bento is helpful at an individual level, because it’s easy to forget those things. It’s easy to be selfish, to fall back to that. But where we struggle is doing that on a collective basis. We like the simplicity of the one number we all know how to measure, which is stock prices and financial gain—let’s make that number grow. All the other side effects of that, someone else will have to figure out. And we’re struggling to figure those things out. I think on a personal basis, we know what’s important to us. I think we all struggle to be true to that we have our good days and bad days, and moments that we’re proud of moments that we’re not proud of.
I look at the bento on an individual level. It’s like a loving tool to help us do the things we want to do, but that aren’t easy. The bigger change is on the societal level, where our main metric of success these days is GDP or gross domestic product, which just counts how much money is being spent without asking how or why. So $1,000 spent on a family vacation is equal to $1,000 spent on a divorce attorney, according to GDP. They’re making no quality judgments. They’re just quantifying it. Which makes sense. It’s hard to qualify things. But we are now many decades into this process, and I think that model is struggling on a mass basis, like the notion that financial growth, the performance of the stock market, is any sort of reflection of the health of society. I just think that’s not true. But I agree that individually we strive for these things. We know what’s right and wrong; we can feel it. But how do we do that collectively? It seems we’re stuck right now.
We’re trying to convince ourselves to do the right things using moral and political arguments, and those are things that are always going to get people’s backs up, because people are going to have different beliefs for their own reasons, and those are not things you’re going to be able to change. And so relying on everyone to get woke or whatever is the same way. That’s just tyranny in another form. So to me, I imagine the long term prospect being trying to translate those moral, emotional values that we all agree are important, like the future prospects of our children, feeling close to other human beings, feeling like your job matters. How do we incorporate those things and place those in a rational dashboard space?
I have examples in the book of people trying to do that. One that I really like is Adele, the pop singer Adele, in 2014. She went on tour, and when Adele goes on tour, her tickets immediately sell out, and they go on the secondary ticketing websites for hundreds or thousands of dollars more. So Adele was always playing shows for either very wealthy fans or, worst of all, for people who are spending more money than they could afford to see her play. So Adele ended up funding this startup that had built an algorithm that would measure the loyalty of a fan to an artist. They would quantify this by looking at what songs they listened to and things like that. They’d use this as a way to specially invite the top 30 percentile Adele fans in each market to buy tickets for a cheap price, putting no restrictions on whether they could resell it. But the idea was that by algorithmically optimizing for fairness in this communal event, that everyone would go along with it, and it ended up being true: about 2% of those tickets got resold, and the fans saved millions of dollars for each show. This is an example of Adele optimizing, not for a financial value metric on that dashboard, but for this loyalty metric that she’s working towards instead. That’s an example that will feel initially like a strange as a decision, but our way of restructuring could, I imagine, become more normal in the decades to come.
What are we measuring from the Adele story? The fact of loyalty? Are we measuring loyalty and do we want America to be loyal? In other words, it’s a manifesto for a more generous world. How are we are supposed to be these days as high tech data driven individuals? How do we measure if it’s more generous, and if that’s good? There’s an Indian proverb… Not Indian, maybe it’s Polish, from that Tom Hanks movie. Is it Tom Hanks? No. Anyways, the old story about the guy is something bad happens in a village to a kid, and the wise man says, “I don’t know if it’s bad that that thing happened yet. We’ll have to see.” And because that bad thing happened, he doesn’t get drafted into the army. And the father says, “Oh, that’s so good!” And the wisemen says, “We’ll see.” And because he doesn’t get drafted into the army, he’s at home, and the whole village gets slaughtered. You don’t know the outcomes of these things yet.
Inside each of these bento boxes, in each of the bentos there’s different values that rule. Now-me, what are we driven by? Security, wanting to be safe from harm. We’re driven by pleasure. We’re driven by autonomy, wanting to have a say over what we do. And money is the thing that gets added up as the single metric to encompass those sorts of things. I think about our future selves. What’s important? I think it’s about purpose and mastery. Are you working towards something bigger. Does your job have any larger end than what you’re doing day to day? Is it driving towards the destination that you want to go to? I could imagine a percentage of people whose jobs bring a sense of meaning being a very important thing to track. I can imagine in places where people feel a high degree of purpose in their jobs there are probably really strong communities. In places where people don’t there are probably communities that are struggling.
Now-us space, the examples I give are people or companies optimizing for the now. On this one I gave us Adele using this fairness metric. Another example I gave is Chick-fil-A being closed on Sundays; Chick-fil-A is a financially maximizing company Monday through Saturday, and then on Sundays, instead they optimize for tradition, for people being with their families, and they do that in a very rational way. It’s one-seventh of the time they choose to operate that way. I think in the collective-us space it’s fairness, it’s tradition, it’s community; those are the things that you want to try to approximate.
Then the future-us is what matters to the next generation. It’s the sustainability of our lives; to what degree can the life we live right now continue to exist 30 years from now? Also the future-us is about creating knowledge. During America’s greatest periods, we were investing heavily in basic science research, just trying to further human knowledge. And every component of the iPhone was funded through government R&D funding in the 1960s, and ‘70s. Just being willing to make those sorts of long-term bets of if we learn more about this, this won’t produce immediate returns, but over the long term, this will pay huge compounding dividends. So I think that the future space is about sustainability and knowledge.
What I imagined doing, what I think my job will be coming off of this book is to create the organization that will work with companies and any other type of organization that wants to pinpoint or define or measure a value that they’re not currently measuring. And then over time to try to build that universal database that shows the 50 different ways people have tried to measure social impact, the 30 different equations we’ve seen for limiting carbon emissions or for making employees feel like they have value in what they do at work. And that was enough exposure and just enough history of seeing how different people and cultures and companies approach these things that you might start to get at some universal concepts that are worth building on.
I’m optimistic. I think if you look at the history of how things have evolved, I think it is a process like this one. There’s a book that had a really big influence on me by a man named Thomas Kuhn called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It was written in 1960s, and it’s a history of science. It basically says every field of science operates according to a paradigm—this is where the word paradigm came into vogue—but it had a way of saying here’s what’s true and not true, like chemistry works this way, and you have a paradigm that defines that. Then all the scientists run tests and create theories and operate according to that paradigm. That paradigm will work and it will advance science, but over time there will be all these aberrations that show up, these things that don’t make sense. If you get enough of them, at a certain point it produces a crisis where the dominant mode of thinking no longer seems to produce the results you expected. There you have a need for a new paradigm, a new way of making the things that don’t make sense make sense again, turning the irrational into the rational by redefining how we define reality. The really crucial thing that happens—that he argues—is that when you create a new paradigm, a paradigm shift, the most important work is then what he calls normal science, which is when people try to apply that paradigm to the real world, and discover where it’s true, where it’s not, what its real properties are. That’s how you go from something that’s just an idea to something that is a really useful tool.
I think that we’re at a moment where the aberrations in financial growth as the solver of all problems has reached the too many anomaly stages, and that there’s a need for a way of thinking about the world that allows us to continue to operate and that allows us to continue to grow, but does so according to a way that makes sense for what we know now. And on the backs of that then comes the most difficult work, which is the normal science of trying to define and test out and experiment with what this should be. And that is the work that I plan to do with organizations and with individuals. And it’s a big bet; it’s a big commitment. But if I find a way to make it less difficult for my son to make a good choice in the future… having tools like this would do that. So I feel that sense of responsibility not just for right now, but for the two people having the same conversation we’re having 40 years from now.
I was brought up believing that the world naturally gets better. There’s a line that says the arc of the universe bends toward justice. And I think the world does get better when people make sure it does. It takes that effort. It takes our ancestors saying, “This is great, but we have to keep going.” Every destination is temporary. A part of that human drive that’s so important is that search for satisfaction and that push to always make things better. In the 1980s the number one complaint on an airplane was the food. Today the number one complaint is the WiFi being slow. It’s like, however much we progress, there’s always still something to complain about. I think the challenge we face now… maybe it’s not that half of my kids are going to die within the first few years of their lives. It’s more… I live a life and I don’t know what is meaningful about it. Every part of my life feels hard, and I don’t know where I am. What is this adding up to? Maybe it’s a higher order challenge, but it feels challenging nonetheless.
If you’re making a project to buy a Porsche, I would suggest using GoFundMe, which permits such projects. Kickstarter is focused on people making creative projects. Let’s say you want to write an album about the new Porsche that you hope to buy. Then I would say you should make a video telling your story. People who want to help can send you financial fuel for your next project. If you’ve never written a song before, Kickstarter would not be your first step in your music career. But as you’ve built a following, and you’re ready to take on a bigger project than you could do on your own, then Kickstarter is the way to help those fans get behind you and make your idea a reality.
In the book, I include a blog post that we wrote the day after the site launched about what we hoped it would be. And I kind of cringe reading that now, because it’s so high-minded in what it was working towards. But honestly, I think it’s surpassed it. We were told by so many people that this model of people supporting each other, not out of any economic self-interest, that it just didn’t make sense and it wouldn’t work. And instead, people show great excitement to help each other on Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and all these other places. It’s created a very different kind of economic activity, kind of a post-economic activity in a way that just continues to grow. We always believed it was a good idea; it just made too much sense for it not to work, whether it would be us or somebody else. And I think crowdfunding is a form that’s here to stay.
You could go to my website, YStrickler.com. Or if you want to try out doing the bento by yourself, that’s a site called bentoism.org. And there will guide you through the process of making it.
Highlights from Tom’s Interview
My Rule of 100 is the target company list, and I actually have expanded that. I think I’ve moved it toThe Rule of 200. It’s a career management strategy, not just a job search strategy. Our business career spot, as you mentioned, we work with folks who are unemployed and misemployed. I don’t know if you’ve heard the misemployed term, but that’s basically someone who has a job but doesn’t want their job; they want a new job for whatever reason. As we do that, we teach folks a lot of things, but one of the keys is networking. Everybody knows that the way to find a dream job is networking, but then they don’t know what that means. How do you network? I think the key is to develop a very robust target list of companies, so that’s where the 200 comes in, and looking at companies that meet your criteria for geography, for industry, for size, for reputation, financial stability, etc., etc. And then what you do is you do the research.
You find these couple hundred companies, and then you start working the list. And you get the list of people in your network, and you say, “Hey, who do you know?” I’m sure a lot of folks in the network will have a sister that works here, a former colleague that works there, and next thing you know, you can get some introductions into these companies. It’s really a strategy to get yourself in line for a job before there’s a job. And all through the years the game as a jobseeker was to watch out, look out into the market and try to be the first applicant once an organization posts a job. That’s not the game anymore. Now the game is to get in line for a job before there’s a job. In doing so, you cut out a lot of the competition that now results when a company posts a job, and 500 people are in line in front of you.
Maybe don’t take 200 all at once, right? Do the research and find 200, but then start with 10, start with 20, start with 50, and really work that right. Go to the company website, see what they have posted. If something’s posted that looks interesting, go ahead and apply for it, but don’t stop there. Go out to your network and say, “Hey, I just applied for a job over at ABC Company. Anyone know anyone there that can put in a good word for me and sort of amplify my application?” On the one hand, 200 seems daunting and a lot, but on the other hand, if you take a smaller number… Most people do have a target list. Usually when I talk to people, they have 10 or they have 20. And guess what? They all have the same 10. The same 20 they have are the big brand name companies, but at least in this case, they’re based in Atlanta, Georgia. So they’re all chasing the same 10 or 20.
One of the beauties of forcing somebody toward a number like 200, is it forces them to look under the radar screen and find those organizations that maybe are based somewhere else but have a regional office here. Look at those midmarket companies and look at the smaller companies. It forces you to look for the companies that not everyone is targeting. That in and of itself will reduce some of the competition.
Part of the big criteria in a city like Atlanta is you don’t want to work across town, so you’ve gotta draw a circle around your house on a map for the reasonable commute. Who are all the companies within the circle that could be a home for me? Well, let me get them on the list. Now let me work the list, because the commute every day is a big part of job satisfaction. That’s part of the strategy to try to find the dream job. Part of the dream job is geographical. The other key thing here is that you’re really doing two things, and that’s why I’m referring to this not just as a job search exercise, but a career management exercise. It’s that a lot of these organizations are going to say, “Wow, Jim, you’re great. We just don’t have anything for you right now.” Because you sought out this company, not based on a current opening that they’ve posted, you sought them out based on geography or other criteria, so you’re going to run into a lot of dead ends. But the beauty is you’re going to be planting seeds and you’re going to be connecting with people, people that you’re going to keep in touch with, and you’re not going to land a good job now and be off and running. But two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, you’re going to get that call out of the blue that says, “Hey, you might not remember me, but five years ago we connected. We didn’t have anything for you them but now we do. What are you up to?” And you might be in a job that’s so-s,o and next thing you know it leads to the dream job or the next dream job and you realize that this wasn’t luck. You know, you strategically positioned yourself to get that call. You did it five years ago, you planted the seed five years ago. But that’s part of why I like this strategy. It really is a career management strategy, not just a job search strategy.
Sometimes in the process, you get people testing you to see how much you really want to work for their company, so you have to be prepared. A big part of this is just preparation, and that’s what we teach. That’s career management. For too many people are, just looking at their job search, they kind of go down the river, and they turn 50, and they look back and say, “What in the world have I been doing? I’ve been doing what fell into my lap instead of really going out and chasing my passion.” And I honestly think that a lot of us through the years have had it backwards. It’s been all about our career, and our life sort of follows that. It should be the other way around. What is our purpose now? What’s our life purpose, and how does our career support that? Mark Twain was famous for saying the two most important days of our life are the day where we’re born and the day we find out why. Well, that’s it, why are we here, each individually, and then how does our career support that?
My wife’s been a pediatric nurse for 30 years and it took until a couple years ago to even think about becoming a nurse supervisor. I mean, I know she’d be a great one, probably make more money, probably work less, and have a bigger office. But our answer was no. Because guess what the nurse supervisor doesn’t do? They don’t touch the kids. And my wife—and I’m bragging now—but she’s gifted. She’s called to touch the kids, and she’s really good at being a pediatric nurse. So why would I or her boss or the American dream be like, “You gotta rise up, rise up, rise up until you’re miserable.” That just doesn’t make sense.
I think LinkedIn is a big part of the strategy. But LinkedIn is just a piece of it, because at the end of the day, it’s about relationships. Ideally, it means face-to-face. What you do is you use LinkedIn to connect to new people, but then you have to get in front of the people. If there is a great meeting that’s taking place in a week or two, go to LinkedIn, and who are the one or two or three people that you don’t know yet, but you’ll want to get to know? Well, invite them to be your guest and bring them out to the meeting. You’ve really got to work it and work it by getting in front of people and build those relationships over time. People always ask me, “Tom, what have you done through the years, and how’s your business been successful?” I wish I had a silver bullet to share with everybody, but one of the key things we’ve done is we’ve met everybody in HR in Atlanta for coffee over the years. You have to get out and shake hands and kiss babies like you’re running for office. And so that’s it. LinkedIn is a great tool, great strategy, but it’s more than just sharing articles and being connected.
I could get away for two or three weeks and totally check out, but I tend to take vacations a lot more often than that. But I don’t check out there. I mean, for one, I love what I do, and I feel called to do it again. And most of what I can do, I can do remotely. And we don’t have children, so that allows us to travel a little bit more. But we would love to get away, especially to the Caribbean. I think we’ve been blessed to be on over 40 islands in the Caribbean.
It really was an interesting story, because I fought it. My dad was a corporate guy. I was a corporate guy. And I had a lot of mentors that said, “Tom, you have to go out on your own.” And I thought, what? An entrepreneur? I can’t even spell entrepreneur without spellcheck! I didn’t think I was one. But then I thought, you know what, my grandfather was an entrepreneur. He opened a drug store in the 1930s in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and had it for 50 years. Back then in the drug store, he had an old fashioned soda fountain sent over there. And people went there not just for drugs or medications, they went there for social reasons, and so he knew everybody, everybody knew him, and anyway, I just realized I was a lot like my grandfather. I cannot believe that we’re 21 years down the road now.
What I’d like to share with you is that I had a business plan 21 years ago, and I have now implemented it perfectly through the years, but that would be a lie. The reality is, in fact, I heard somebody talk one time, he said, “You need to have some principles that you’re guided by, but you have to go to the market and listen. What does the market want? What do they need? So I started off doing recruiting or shows. You go to the market with your principles, in terms of how you run a business and your standard and your integrity. But in terms of what services the market really needs and wants, you need to listen. You can’t just go to the market and say, “Well, here I am. Here’s what I offer! Hope you like it.” No, you have to go and listen to what the market really needs and wants.
There weren’t that many recruiters at the time, because at the time, what I did was recruiting consulting, or now we would call it talent acquisition consulting, and 21 years ago, there were not many. In fact, in Atlanta, there might not have been anybody else doing that, and I did it very well. I really enjoyed it for a couple of years. But then we started have clients that said, “Hey, we need a head of HR,” or, “We need a head of recruiting. Can you do a search for us?” Now fast forward, and what we’re really known for now is HR search. We’ve placed about 1200 HR leaders in full time or contract roles. A lot of those folks in Atlanta. Just because we’re based here, we decided to go deep here instead of getting spread thin across the country. We have placed people all over the country, in about 30 states, but 97% of them had been in Atlanta.
We just love to help people, and we realized that when you think about giving advice or counsel to job seekers, who really knows the best practices for how to do a resume or how to interview or how to network? It’s early recruiters, right? They do it every day. They look for candidates, they review resumes, they interview people. So not only were we longtime recruiters, but we knew a lot of recruiters because that’s who we place. So we went to those folks and have gone to those folks ever since to say, “Hey, what are the best practices that we can share with job seekers?” And so we really have seen that what we’re teaching here corresponds with reality. We’ve seen that it’s been effective. So if people really enjoy and embrace the concepts that we’re teaching, work hard to implement them, and work on that, they’ll be successful and landing that dream job.
A lot of people are employed, but that’s how we’ve always looked for passive candidates. I mean, honestly, companies don’t have to pay us a fee, they can just talk to unemployed folks. They can do that on their own. So we’ve always had to have a pulse on who are the top talent in HR who are currently working, but these are folks that have wanted us to get to know them, and they basically say, “If you’re here for a job that looks like this, give me a call.” And you know now, on the current job seeker side, even though the unemployment rate is low, we all know that there are three types of lies, right? Lies, damn lies and statistics. That statistic actually is not completely accurate, because if you look under the hood, a lot of the folks that are “employed” really aren’t in their dream job. They have two or three jobs, or they’re underemployed. They might have been a C suite or VP and now they’re not. Our business is not just to help people get a job, it’s to help them manage their career and optimize what they want to do. It could be an entrepreneurial track, it could be moving up the ladder, it could be moving down the ladder. Some people realize the Peter Principle says that someone rises to their level of incompetence. Well, let’s stop before we get there. They might have to take a step back.
We’re seeing a very strong hiring market. I mean, HR search is somewhat of a leading indicator. If companies are hiring HR leaders, they’re staffing up, they’re getting ready to grow and hire other people. So things are very strong right now. I’ve heard the recession word on TV here and there, but I’ll tell you, we aren’t seeing any signs of it. So now I think is the traditional point where companies look at their staff and maybe do some downsizings and what have you, but that might be more for efficiency and getting new talent more so than a recession. Right now, we’re seeing nothing but positives.
I’m just trying to emulate what a lot of other family and mentors have done for me over the years and it’s a blessing to be a blessing. Our website is talentconnections.net, and career spa is similar. It’s careerspa.net. We’d love to help people and would love to help any listeners in any way we can.