Source mentioned in Tim Ferriss’ new book

It was exciting to see Peter Koenig’s Source Principles mentioned in best-selling author Tim Ferriss’ new book Tribe of Mentors (thanks Jonny Miller for alerting me to it.)

The passage is in an interview with Graham Duncan, founder of East Rock Capital who explains that it’s a mental model he is increasingly using in his work with entrepreneurs.

The excerpt begins with a nice introduction to the source principles. For anyone working with founders (like investors) it’s incredibly useful to break through the notion that co-founders started a business together, and instead acknowledge which of the group is the source – the one originating founder. That individual will have a different and special intuitive connection to the initiative which plays an enormous role in the vitality of the initiative as it grows. As Duncan recognises, this is also incredibly important during a succession process when a founder-CEO leaves a business they started and hands over the reigns.

There’s an important aspect that Duncan doesn’t get quite right. He mentions a study which showed that companies perform better when an outgoing founder-CEO completely leaves the board and doesn’t hang around to mentor their successor.

I wouldn’t dispute the data here, however I would reframe the insight. Firstly, it makes no difference whether or not a founder remains on the board formally, or if they mentor their successor. What does matter is whether or not there has been a succession of source from one to the other. This is the deeper level of succession beyond the formal artefacts like job titles and share certificates. Metaphorically, it’s like ‘passing the torch’ for the initiative – a heartfelt handing over of full authority, responsibility and power. If this has happened, a new relationship can be established where the old source can help the new one however needed which could be through mentoring or serving on the board, but the new source will have fully assumed the natural authority that the original founder once had.

I would bet that in the companies where performance suffered after a founder-CEO handed over to a successor yet still stayed around, the real problem wasn’t that they stayed on the board, but that they hadn’t completed this deeper level of succession. Perhaps they didn’t truly want to leave. This leaves the new CEO weak and lacking the intuition which only the source has. So the solution to a situation like this isn’t just to remove the founder from the board, but to make sure that the succession process is completed.

It’s interesting that Duncan mentions Microsoft as an example of this. It’s a story that Peter Koenig, Charles Davies and me have been following with interest. Our take on it is that when Steve Ballmer took over from Bill Gates, he assumed the formal title of CEO, but the role of source was never passed on. Creatively, Microsoft went into decline. Eventually Gates (who from a source perspective had never left) took full responsibility again and this time around there does seem to have been a full succession to Satya Nadella. The company seems to have a renewed creative energy and Nadella seems to have the full, natural authority of a source. Meanwhile Bill Gates is still apparently involved in Microsoft, but now in service of Nadella, not the other way around. This will also be a big help to Gates in freeing up his own creative energy for his foundation (for better or worse.)

Three perfect Steve Jobs nuggets on source

This video show Jobs in action as he starts his second company, NeXT.

Here are three clips which serve as brilliant examples of the source principles in action.

Jobs on the role of source. The importance of one person holding the overall vision.

Recognising the seed of the idea which then grows and blossoms into something large.

Everything has a beginning, then more and more people are recruited in to take responsibility for realising part of the vision.

How money becomes a drain when you focus on it, rather than the vision.

Notice the energy level in the room as the budget is discussed. NeXT (being discussed in this clip) started with millions in capital and ultimately failed, yet Apple started with almost nothing and was a huge success. Perhaps the relationship to money was a factor in NeXT’s failure.

Sourcing vs leadership: Elon Musk, the powerful source of Tesla

Elon Musk is the powerful source at the innovative motor company Tesla. Check out this book extract to see how Musk senses the very high level next steps for the initiative as whole. Focussing on what matters most: ‘whatever your job is now, your new job is delivering cars’; hiring and firing executives to save it from catastrophe; and even selling the company outright (of course with a deal that he remains in charge of the company).

You can also see here a risk of isolation. So obsessed and demanding about delivering on his vision that he’s created a climate of fear. Executives hid the truth from him when things were going badly. That’s a huge problem which could have destroyed the company. A source needs reliable information to be able to make decisions.

There are two jobs for founder to do well: Sourcing, which is sensing and executing the next creative/strategic steps for the initiative as a whole; and leadership, which is all about how you engage the people you have recruited to help you realise the vision. They are distinct activities. Sometimes what you need to do as source is not in the individual best interests of everyone. Decisions can be unpopular and may appear irrational. But to realise a vision, you have to take the next steps as soon as they become clear, otherwise the vision will not materialise, and the passion will drain from the initiative.

It sounds like Musk is a natural source, but perhaps more of an Industrial Age one, leading through fear and command and control. It can certainly be an effective way to realise a vision, but the lack of progressive leadership could become his downfall if he cannot keep the thousands of people working there, helping him to realise his vision, engaged.

Larry Page: The source of Google

Written by Charles Davies. Originally shared by email.

Really amazing article about Larry Page and Google.
It reads like a perfect case study on source.
The only missing bit is an understanding of source.

I’ve gathered together some of the most pertinent quotes below.
I really recommend the whole article tho.

There’s a great bit about Larry Page basically having to leave Google (where his ‘sourceness’ was crushed), turn the Android operating system into a massive success outside the building, reconnect with his ‘sourceness’ (like Jobs did at Pixar) – and then come back and wipe the floor with everyone who was telling him he couldn’t have his own way before he ‘left’. The article attributes it to Page maturing and gaining ‘confidence in his executive abilities’, but I think it’s a far more compelling explanation to see it as him reconnecting to his creative source.

Larry Page is the source (and no one at Google knows what that means)

“Page, then a 22-year-old graduate student at Stanford, was struck in the middle of the night with a vision.”

“By August 2001, Schmidt … became Google’s CEO — so-called adult supervision for Page and his co-founder, Brin. And for a long time, Larry Page was very unhappy.”

“Google hired Schmidt. He joined as chairman in March 2001 and became CEO in August. Page went along with the arrangement but wasn’t happy about it. He fretted about his place in the new hierarchy — his title would be president of products — and even began to wonder if he’d become unnecessary to the company he’d founded.”

“Larry Page is the Steve Jobs of Google… Like Jobs, Page has a co-founder, Sergey Brin, but Page has always been his company’s true visionary and driving force. And just as Apple’s investors threw Jobs out of his company, Google’s investors ignored Page’s wishes and forced him to hire a CEO to be adult supervision. Both then underwent a long period in the wilderness. Steve Jobs’ banishment was more severe, but Page also spent years at a remove from the day-to-day world of Google.”

“Everyone inside Google still regarded Larry Page as their ultimate boss. He approved every hire, and it was his signature on the day of Google’s initial public offering, Aug. 19, 2004, that turned hundreds of people into millionaires — and Page himself into a billionaire. But gradually Page became a more distant, remote figure. To use a metaphor from Google’s earlier years, Page was no longer driving the van. He’d hired a driver and was daydreaming in the back.”

“Google incorporated on Sept. 4, 1998 — two years after the idea of ranking Web pages by their inbound links came to Page in a dream. He made himself CEO, and his best friend, Sergey Brin, was named co-founder.”

“While Google is often thought of as the invention of two young computer whizzes — Sergey and Larry, Larryand Sergey — the truth is that Google is a creation of Larry Page, helped along by Sergey Brin.”

And when the role of source is really working….

One day in late 1998, Google’s first HR boss, Heather Cairns, walked into the company’s garage office and caught Larry Page and Sergey Brin playing with Legos.

“What the hell are you doing?” Cairns asked, in her brassy but congenial way. The contraption on the table in front of Page had robot arms with rubber wheels at the end of them.

“We’re trying to figure out how to turn a page of a book without a human hand,” Page explained. “Someday we’re going to put every publication in the world on the Internet so everybody has access to it.”

“Sure,” Cairns said. “Sure.”

Not long after that, Page spent an entire day driving around Palo Alto with a small handheld camera. He’d drive for a few feet, and then stop and take a few pictures. Then he’d drive another few feet and do it again. He came home and uploaded the pictures to his computer. What he saw convinced him his latest big idea was feasible. Google could put a number of cameras on a number of cars and drive every street in the world, photographing all the way. The result would be a digital, searchable representation of the entire physical world — or the most relevant parts of it — available online.

During the Schmidt years, both the books and the photo project would become popular Google products. Google Books, launched in 2003, has come to encompass 20 million volumes, and it continues to grow. Google Street launched in 2007, and by 2014, made every thoroughfare in 50 countries viewable from almost every Web browser on the planet.”

Here’s the full article.