10 Things to Learn From Best of Rivals: Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the Inside Story behind the NFL’s Greatest Quarterback Controversy

imageAs a kid, I had a Steve Young poster hanging beside my room. (actually, that poster is still there) Everyone loved Joe, but I fought for Steve (this was before he became the starter) – I thought Joe should have been nicer to him. When Young finally took over for the 49ers, I hated that he didn’t get the respect he deserved – he could run and pass, come on! It wasn’t his fault! Over time, as I grew older and better understood human dynamics, I empathized with Joe.

However, I was always curious about the details of the rivalry behind the quarterback controversy. Best of Rivals: Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the Inside Story behind the NFL’s Greatest Quarterback Controversy gives us that behind-the-scenes coverage but also provides us information about how each player grew up and what molded them to become Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Ultimately, Young is still my NFL favorite player of all time, but he just wasn’t as a good as Joe. I always felt he should have won a second Super Bowl.

Here are 10 things to learn from the book about Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the 49ers:

1) [About Joe] Abramski also wanted the quarterback there to strengthen a scrawny, 6-foot, 165-pound frame. “He was a frail young man, but as frail as he was . . . I’ve never seen a guy with a vertical leap ever that that kid had,” said Chuck Smith, a teammate and Ringgold lineman. “The thing that I remember most about Joe was how he threw the football. He just had an accuracy.”

2) At the urging of the franchise’s scouting director Tony Razzano and vice president John Ralston, Walsh grudgingly selected Montana. “We kept going back and forth, and Tony kept insisting on Montana,” Ralston said years later. “Bill yelled at me and said, ‘Get me one more recommendation on Joe Montana.’ I called Dan Devine, the coach at Notre Dame, and he said, ‘John, if I had Joe Montana, I’d still be head coach in Green Bay.’

3) “Bill never would get close to his players because he’d have to cut them, and you want to be able to make an objective decision and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the team. He would say that too often too many coaches keep veteran players one year longer than they should, and it hurts the team,” said Guy Benjamin, a quarterback who played for Walsh at Stanford and with the 49ers.

4) “First of all, they made the football argument that behind Ken Anderson in Cincinnati he would sit,” Leigh Steinberg remembered. “And [with the Express] he’d be able to play immediately, he would have coaching with the best quarterback coaches available, he would have a great line, he would be able to flourish and learn at the quarterback position. And Steve was all about participation. He didn’t want to sit behind anybody, because his life was about participation.”

5) Express agreed to pay Young an intricate four-year $40 million contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million tax-free loan, and an annuity starting at more than $30 million.

6) “People always think that we fought,” Young said years later. “We never had a cross word, never had an argument, and I’ve always said to people that it went as well as it possibly could with two hypercompetitive people. But it wasn’t easy; it was difficult, difficult for both of us.” “It’s not that there was bad blood,” Montana said in 2011. “I guess the only way you can explain it is if you go to work every day in an office . . . you’re not always best friends with the guy sitting next to you. You’re friends, but you’re not best friends. And while we were friends, we wouldn’t hang out together. . . . It had nothing to do with the game or the competition; it’s just our personalities are different.”

7) “I’ve been in the playoffs enough to know whether you’re hot or not doesn’t make a damn bit of difference,” Montana told the media. “It’s how you play that next week.”

8) “Steve irritated Joe,” Paye added. “Steve’s very hyper, and Joe is ‘Joe Cool.’ Steve’s hyperness, whether it was on the field where he needed to play and sweat or . . . when we played on Astro Turf, he didn’t like the feeling of AstroTurf because it wasn’t real football. So he would take a cup of dirt and he would get his hands in the dirt so he could grip the ball better to throw, so all those little things. Steve had this superhuman athletic body, and he was anxious to run or throw, and Joe was more methodical, Joe Cool.”

9) “Bill [Walsh] always had the adage, ‘Get rid of a player a year early rather than a year late,’” Carmen Policy later said.

10) [in 1994, in which the 49ers would later win their 5th Super Bowl. I remember this game vividly] The 49ers disastrous home loss to the Eagles in Week 5 stunned the Bay Area, so much so that KGO-AM (the 49ers flagship station) radio host Bernie Ward conducted an on-air poll asking listeners if George Seifert should be fired and replaced with former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson. More than seven hundred people called in; 85 percent were in favor of the move.

10 Things to Learn from The Monk and the Riddle [Entrepreneurship]

imageRandy Komisar’s The Monk and the Riddle is a great book discussing the reasons for entrepreneurship, weaving lessons he learned during a successful career at companies including Apple, WebTV, and LucasArts within a (fictional, I assume) story of helping an entrepreneur who struggles with securing funding for his business idea. I really enjoyed the book as I kept challenging my own business idea and motivations through what was being discussed. While the book was written over a decade ago, its lessons absolutely remain relevant today.

Highly recommended, and here are ten notable things I would like introduce from the book, with my notes in[]:

1) VC’s like to target markets with big potential, especially tiny markets growing quickly into big markets, like the Internet. If it’s a small market, the chance for a portfolio-levitating reputation-making home run isn’t there. A VC’s portfolio return is an average of all its investments, so he’d rather have a huge winner and some no-ops than a bunch of minor successes.

2) The principal use of the plan [for new startups pitching their ideas] comes at the beginning, I explained, to show that the founders are intelligent, capable of structuring the business concept and expressing a vision of the future. Later the plan can help track problems that may reflect on the startup strategy itself.

3) [This is true from my experience in Vietnam] …most VCs (even if they insist otherwise) simply don’t have the time to give close management attention to the companies they’ve funded. In addition, in contrast to the original VCs, who often gathered years of operating experience prior to becoming venture capitalists, many partners in today’s firms have no executive management experience. They could be working on Wall Street as easily as on Sand Hill Road.

4) You have to be able to survive mistakes in order to learn, and you have to learn in order to create sustainable success. Once the market is understood and the product is fully developed, then move fast and hard.

5) Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do. [I must work hard to make lots of money and be financially secure for my family] If you know nothing about yourself, you can’t tell the difference.

6) Entrepreneurs, in my experience, don’t like to be told they’re wrong. It isn’t in their dispositions to sit and listen to that kind of critique. That’s why many ideas in this Valley happen against all common sense. It’s good when entrepreneurs are a little bit deaf and blind, but if they’re completely deaf and blind – and many are – they’re unlikely to learn enough from the market and their advisors to make their vision a reality.

7) Management is a methodical process; its purpose is to produce the desired results on time and on budget. It complements and supports but cannot do without leadership, in which character and vision combine to empower someone to venture into uncertainty. Leaders must suspend the disbelief of their constituents and move ahead of even with very incomplete information.

8) This was a quintessential “Brave New World” company. Despite its rapid growth, WebTV’s business model was still largely undefined. No one knew how it would finally make money. The hardware was far costlier to make than our wholesale price to distributors. Profits would have to come from services provided through the box, but which services and at what price were still unclear.

9) Where’s what I tell founders in the companies I work with about business risk and success, and what Lenny needs to understand: If you’re brilliant, 15 to 20 percent of the risk is removed. If you work twenty-four hours a day, another 15 to 20 percent of the risk is removed The remaining 60 to 70 percent of business risk will be completely out of your control.

10) Work hard, work passionately, but apply your most precious asset –time- to what is most meaningful to you. What are you willing to do for the rest of your life? does not mean, literally, what will you do for the rest of your life? That question would be absurd, given the inevitability of change. No, what the question really asks is, if your life were to end suddenly and unexpectedly tomorrow, would you be able to say you’ve been doing what you truly are about today? What would you be willing to do for the rest of your life? What would it take to do it right now?

10 Things to Learn from Working at the Ballpark [Baseball, Sports Jobs]


Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers by Tom Jones should be first on the list of books to check out if you would like to work in the sports industry, and most especially, baseball. It’s the sports equivalent of It’s a Living by Dr. Gerard Sasges, which discusses the working lives of Vietnamese.

Almost any job you might imagine, from the famous (ball player) to (seemingly) mundane (ball boy), is in the book as Jones interviews people across multiple baseball clubs about their jobs. Interviewees simply talk about what their working lives are like, and overall, two things stand out – 1) they love their jobs 2) working in Sports is long hours.

The book serves as a listing of all the things you could do in Sports, with the interviews providing insights on what day to day life is like, the pros and cons, and also implicit tips to consider on how you might want to differentiate yourself when applying. I really learned a lot from the interviews with specific coaches (do you know the full extent of what a bench coach or 3rd base coach does?) as well as team staff such as the Director of Entertainment (Baseball is entertainment today, not just a sports game. The ball park is like an amusement park with lots of side attractions for the family), Groundskeeper, and the Traveling Secretary.

To list the 10 best things to learn was a bit difficult since the book covers so many jobs, but I hope you’ll still gain some insights and check the book out. I’ve added job descriptions in [] to clarify each excerpt.

1) [Managing General Partner] “Baseball teams are small businesses. We’re not talking about General Motors here. We’re talking about $150 million or so in revenue. That’s not a real big business. The profile we have is so extraordinary that it’s a great platform for representing the city, and leading other businesses in the sense of corporate citizenship. Many people think that professional franchises are one indice of municipal status. So in that sense, I think it’s more of a quality of life issue than it is an economic, or standard of living, issue. I think baseball, and other professional sports, do have an economic impact, but I think it’s far surpassed by just the psychic benefit that’s derived from a city from being associated with a successful professional franchise. It can be an economic catalyst, but more importantly, I think it can be a cultural societal leader.”

2) [Senior Director of Player Personnel] You’re risking years of your life trying to get to the major leagues, and you are not really getting there because of the money. You’re getting there so you can say that you’re a major leaguer. If you’re not going to be one of those guys that really makes the money, you’re risking possibly ten years of your life. You’ve got a good chance of coming out of high school or college and being twenty-eight, twenty-nine years old, and really have no skills for the job market.

3) [Pitching Coach] The lowest batting average in the history of baseball is [against] the down-and-away strike. All the great pitchers own that part [of the strike zone]. When you own down-and-away, that allows you to go to all the areas of the strike zone.

4) [Manager] nobody should ever beat you mentally. I think that’s the thing that separates the good teams from the mediocre teams. How do you cultivate that? You just have to talk about it a lot, especially in extra-innings games where you get into a tough spot, then you really see guys bear down. They get through it and come out on the other side and win the ballgame. Then you point to it and say, “We were mentally tough tonight.” It becomes a part of the culture.

5) [Player] about the pureness of trying to hit it right. I like to hit, but the end-all is the feeling of when the ball is hit perfect—just like a golf shot if you smoke one right down the middle of the fairway with your best drive. That’s the physical feeling. What that feels like is the same in any sport: same with a tennis racket, same with any ball-striking sport. What that feels like is what it’s all about. That’s what I’m after. A home run is the one that is the ultimate. But the fact is if you strike it, it feels the same on a home run as it does when you strike it square on a low liner. That feeling is indistinguishable to me.

6) [Umpire] I guarantee you very few people actually know the rules. There are some that are tough enough where it would take four umpires together to make a decision. Let’s take interference for instance. In the rulebook, it says, “No runner shall advance or score on interference.” It’s plain and simple. There it is. Four pages later, there’s a situation where there’s interference and a guy can score. Well, wait a minute; you told me no one could ever score on interference on page ten, but on page twenty-two a man can.

7) [Ticket Reseller] They used the term “ticket scalping.” When I said, “This is wrong. I see what you’re doing here,” they came after me. So I’m in court, and it was “Scalper-this, John-scalper that.” I stood up and I said to the judge, “Listen, that term is a racist term. It doesn’t belong in your court-room. It’s denigrating to the American Indian. It’s like calling an Irishman a ‘bogtrotter’ or a Jewish person a ‘kike’ or a black person a ‘nigger.’” I said that he shouldn’t have that kind of a term in his vocabulary.

8) [Writer / Journalist] So, yeah, what often happens in sports is you will quote players accurately and you will quote them in context, but then they’ll get grief from their teammates or from the organization, and they’ll come back and claim that they were taken out of context or that was supposed to be off the record. It really is smart if you’re talking to a player on a touchy subject to lay the ground rules, “Is this off the record? Is this on the record? Is this on the record, but not for attribution?” Just to make sure that you’ve got your bases covered with the player.

9) [Groundskeeper] Once the game starts, it’s in the umpires’ hands. The umpires make the call. Any other time, it’s up to the general manager and the groundskeeper. Most of the time, the groundskeeper decides, “Am I gonna put it on overnight, or not?” If we have a chance of rain overnight, and you don’t cover the field and you get to game time and your infield’s too sloppy to play—but it’s not raining—then you lose the game, and it’s the groundskeeper’s fault. You don’t want that to happen to you. You could lose your job whether it’s in the minor league where you might have five thousand dollars at risk, or whether it’s in the major leagues where you have over a million dollars at risk. So that’s always on your mind. People say, “Luke, why don’t you put the tarp on every night just to be sure?” Well, if you do that, the grass will die. You’ve got to really manage it properly. When you put that tarp on, especially in the summer, it’s creating like a big incubator dish for disease, and the next thing you know you’ve get a big square dead spot out there that’s 170 feet by 170 feet. My rule of thumb was: If there was a 30-percent chance of a quarter inch, or more, I would put it on; if there was a 20-percent chance of an eighth of an inch, probably not. That was something that I was used to, but always dreamt about the Southwest and how those guys didn’t have to pull the tarp much.

10) [Director of Entertainment] One of the things about baseball that I feel, and I think that many people feel, is that it’s so different than any other sport because of the pace of the game, which is criticized a lot. What it allows is for you and your family to come to a game, and be able to converse while things are going on. To relax and enjoy the company of each other while still being able to follow the game, whereas, in hockey and some of the other games, you can’t do that.

10a – BONUS!) [Director of Merchandising] Like most retailers, we do a large amount of our business in the last quarter of the year, so we’re continually selling Indians product. We sell everything from shot glasses, keychains, pins, plush blankets, throws, T-shirts, hats, foam fingers, pens, pencils to three- to six-inch Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner bobbleheads. We carry authentic merchandise for authentic fans. I mean, you can go to any other retailer and find a T-shirt or a hat, but you can’t go there and find a set of poker chips and playing cards, or golf balls. You can’t find vintage pieces like a Satchel Paige figurine in motion, where he’s actually throwing the ball. We pride ourselves on doing the things that are outside the normal retail chain.

10 Things to Learn from Poor Economics (by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo)

imagePoor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty from Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, has a very simple theme: every thing you thought about fighting poverty and people in poverty is wrong. They do not actually state this in that way, but over the course of the book, I realized that every blanket and lazy assumption I had ever thought (the poor are poor because they are lazy, the poor cannot be given things for free, the poor are too poor to pay for things) was wrong.

What is important, however, is that Banerjee and Duflo discuss in detail, when these certain assumptions or theories can work, and with whom, and why they do not work. From the book, you get a detailed understanding of their endless cycles of “why?” something happens, and then why the following something happens, using statistical examples all over the world. There’s no time wasted on endless armchair-at-home theory, it’s just real world testing providing proof.

My recommended takeaway from the book is never accept a blanket theory or simplified solution from a politician (or other economists) regarding poverty again. There are many things that can help, but none is a genius solution. Every single thing you can think of can probably help, but instead of choosing the cool one of the day (microfinance! government subsidies! education! first world aid!), we must realize that these are all required to slowly help people from their poverty traps. Beyond this, embrace a more empathic understanding of the poor all over the world.

Here are 10 things to learn from Poor Economics (these are quotes with my comments in []):

1) Economists (and other experts) seem to have very little useful to say about way some countries grow and others do not … But the truth is, we are largely incapable of predicting where growth will happen, and we don’t understand very well why things suddenly fire up.

2) … although we have no magic bullets to eradicate poverty, no one-shot cure-all, we do know a number of things about how to improve the lives of the poor. In particular, five key lessons emerge.

First, the poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things are not true [examples: benefits of immunizing children; value of education, even just a few years; what politicians actually do; how HIV is contracted] … Citizens who vote in the dark are more likely to vote for someone of their ethnic group [reasoning that at least someone of the same group may provide a little help], at the cost of increasing bigotry and corruption … an information campaign must have several features: It must say something that people don’t already know … must do so in an attractive and simple way … must come from a credible source.

3) Second, the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the “right” decisions are made for you. The poor have no piped water, and therefore do no benefit from the chlorine that the city government puts into the water supply. [think of this as, in the United States, you are in forced to live a certain way and pay taxes for it. You have clean, running water, fluoride to protect your teeth, mandatory immunizations, taxes to cover Medicare and Social Security retirement. You have to participate in these programs, and in some ways, these protect you from being completely screwed. The poor do not have these programs and suffer in productivity because of extra disease and risk when something bad happens]

4) [Third] The poor get a negative interest rate from their savings accounts (if they are lucky enough to have an account) and pay exorbitant rates on their loans (if they can get one) because handling even a small quantity of money entails a fixed cost. [The people who need financial help the most are most unable to get it. 20% interest loans would be considered fantastic to the poor, but theft to the non-poor; credit card rates are 20%. Despite this, it is difficult for financial institutions to support these institutions because of the risk, admin work, and relatively low returns involved] The market for health insurance for the poor has not developed, despite the devastating effects of serious health problems in their lives, because the limited insurance options that can be sustained in the market (catastrophic health insurance, formulaic weather insurance) are not what the poor want.

5) The mistrust of free distribution of goods and services among various experts has probably gone too far, even from a pure cost-benefit point of view. It often ends up being cheaper, per person served, to distribute a service for free than to try to extract a nominal fee. In some cases, it may involve ensuring that the price of a product sold by the market is attractive enough to allow the market to develop. For example, governments could … distribute vouchers that parents can take to any school … It is important to keep in mind that these subsidized markets need to be carefully regulated to ensure they function well. For example, school vouchers work well when all parents have a way of figuring out the right school for their child; otherwise, they can turn into a way of giving even more of an advantage to savvy parents.

6) [Four] Many of these failures are less to do with some grand conspiracy of the elites to maintain their hold on the economy and more to do with some avoidable flaw in the detailed design of policies and the ubiquitous three I’s: ignorance, ideology, and inertia. … The fad of the moment (be it damns, barefoot doctors, microcredit, or whatever) it turned into a policy with any attention to the reality within which it is supposed to function.

7) A small revolution can be achieved by making sure that everyone is invited [explicitly] to village meetings; by monitoring government works and holding them accountable for failures in performing their duties by monitoring government politicians at all levels and share this information with voters … [the book mentions that just by having political voting, even if it is considered pre-determined, can improve things by creating an early level of accountability]

8) [Five] Finally, expectations about what people are able or unable to do all too often end up turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. Children give up on school when their teachers (and sometimes their parents) signal to them that they are not smart enough to master the curriculum; fruit sellers don’t make the effort to repay their debt because they expect that they will fall back into debt very quickly; nurses stop coming to work because nobody expects them to be there …

9) Small changes can have big effects. … Kids in Kenya who were treated for their worms at school for two years, rather than one (at the cost of $1.36 USD PPP per child and per year, all included), earned 20 percent more as adults every day, meaning $3,269 USD PPP over a lifetime.

10) Poverty has been with us for many thousands of years. If we have to wait another fifty or hundred years for the end of poverty, so be it. At least we can stop pretending there is some solution at hand…

Sheryl Sandberg, You’re Wrong [Lean In]

imageForgive the provocative title – I actually liked Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In quite a bit. If there is anything I look back on with pride at my time in Vietnam, it’s that I treated men equally to women. I feel very confident about my track record in making sure that women and men were paid equally to each other, and that they also had the same opportunities to advance and improve themselves.

Back to the book, Lean In gives a great perspective about the issues women face in the workplace, and reading it can provide the empathy to understand the interpersonal dynamics that may be occurring around you. My wife Ha has found it very insightful for her as well as she has just started her MBA at IE Business School in Madrid and many of the situations explored in Lean In are those that she faces in class on an everyday basis.

That said, this one excerpt at the beginning of chapter 4 bothers me:

About a month after I joined Facebook, I got a call from Lori Goler, a highly regarded senior director of marketing at eBay. I knew Lori a bit socially, but she made it clear this was a business call and cut to the chase. “I want to apply to work with you at Facevook,” she said. “So I thought about calling you and telling you all of the things I’m good at and all of the things I like to do. Then I figured that everyone was doing that. So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?

My jaw hit the floor. I had hired thousands of people over the previous decade and no one had ever said anything remotely like that. People usually focus on finding the right role for themselves, with the implication that their skills will help the company. Lori put Facebook’s needs front and center.

At first, reading this particular passage excited me – it was exactly what I was looking for and I ask people this all the time. My work history had been to always do what was needed to help the company succeed. I personally do not care what I do as long as I maximize my impact. Over the years, I have gone from customer service to ecommerce logistics, to sales and business development, to marketing and digital product management.

Yet, when I was at UC-Berkeley, I failed presentations by refusing to do them, not showing up (I remember letting some classmates down, which I still feel guilty about), or simply reading my notes face down. I absolutely hated public speaking. Who could have imagined that today, as along as I prepare, I am a pretty decent public speaker? I have spoken in front of hundreds of people and taken their criticism, complaints, and questions without fear. I have pitched digital campaigns, sought funding for my companies. Public speaking was something I never imagined I could do, nor was it something I ever even aspired to do. I developed the skill once I started working because it was necessary for the success of the company.

Thus, as a veteran of multiple startups, I recently looked to take Sandberg’s advice and see what kind of demand there was for a flexible manager unafraid to focus on a company’s greater good to create success. Someone, like her friend, who would be happy to do whatever he could to create the most value. My work experience proved that was exactly what I had done in the past, spanning multiple industries and countries.

The verdict, from talking to friends, successful startup founders, recruiting managers, and even staff at Facebook over a few months time? You need to be specialized, you need to say what you want to do, and you need to create a story that shows you know how to do that. Without fail, even when I mentioned Sandberg’s story, no one bit. Kind of like, “sure, that sounds great, but what is it you want to do exactly?”

I then looked to contact Sandberg myself or see if there was a forum for the book to discuss this point. I couldn’t find a good way to do either – I wanted to learn if others had been successful where I had not, and how they had done so. No success.

This is why I believe Sandberg is wrong. Yes, if you happen to know Sheryl Sandberg, this approach could work. But you probably don’t know her. And that’s too bad (for us).