The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up” (1936)
I love Linden Lab. Over the past four years, I’ve poured everything I had into the company. Leaving was a tough decision. But at the same time, it was easy to see that it was time for me to go.
Departure missives are a tricky thing. This is actually my third for this same departure: I said goodbye to the company internally, I posted to the company blog, and now here’s one for my own blog. Why so many?
I’ve studied the art of the departure memo, it’s really quite interesting. The business world sees many comings and goings, and in certain companies, internal communications are destined to get leaked – and you can see that the authors know this. Compare two examples from the same company, Yahoo:
- Stewart Butterfield’s resignation was bizarre, funny, and ultimately a scathing indictment of a place that overdiversified and lost the love of innovation.
- Sue Decker was more restrained, with a classic and classy goodbye that nevertheless could be read as a defensive listing of all the progress made under her watch.
In their own way, each goodbye note took pains to remind people of the author’s special qualities and accomplishments. I avoided doing that in my earlier announcements. It’s not that I’m especially modest – I just didn’t want to muck up messages to colleagues, customers and company commentators with shameless self-promotion. There’s a time and place for self-promotion. Like right here, on my own damn blog.
Ah, but I’ve never been great at claiming credit. I’m struck by the wisdom that one mentor told me earlier in my career, which I’ll paraphrase as:
Success has many fathers, and even more virgins trying to claim paternity. No one who wasn’t there can really understand the full story, and even the ones who were there didn’t see everything. But you’ll know what you did, and so will the people that matter. Let the others play their guessing games.
So then here’s a game to play. When success really does have many fathers, how do people claim any successes for their own? I thought about what successes I’d want to highlight from my time at Linden, and I realized that any of them could have at least two opposing interpretations.
|my would-be claim||one idea||opposing idea|
|key exec in managing company growth from early revenue to profitable phenomenon||can spot and guide a winner||just along for the ride|
|lead exec in many areas through company history: international markets, legal, finance, HR, developer relations, enterprise segment, business and corporate development||multifunctional business executive||short attention span to the point of personality disorder|
|led finance through early revenue, raising $15+ million equity and debt financing, accurately projecting 2+ years of revenue growth within 10%||talented early-stage financier and prognosticator||wild-ass guesser
|early leader of international growth from 30% to 70+% of audience||makes worldwide progress with limited resources||strained the organization beyond its ability to grow|
|established basic legal and regulatory policy and strategies, with humor||insightful thinker on social and governmental issues||paper-pushing policy dork, with wicked streak
|architected Linden Dollar as unique virtual currency and multimillion real dollar business||fearless and creative new product innovator||reckless and dispiriting goon|
|wrote, tweaked, and rewrote the Tao of Linden||sensitive guardian of company culture||feckless appeaser of management fads|
|executive sponsor of startup-within-a-startup initiative for enterprise segment||constant pioneer in new markets and strategy||focus-diluting disruptor
|negotiated and managed acquisition and integration of several businesses||accomplished M&A dealmaker||heartless crusher of helpless entrepreneurs|
|helped recruit and integrate new management team before departure||selfless assembler of talent||ruthless operative in reorg-and-run
Can I claim any of these successes as wholly my own? Where does the truth lie? Would the modesty of my saying that all opposed ideas could be true be undercut by the implication that I would then be claiming a first-rate intelligence?
Ah well, that’s about the best I can do for self-promotion.