Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Shift #5. Principle: Alignment

From yin (let’s-create-together) to yang (WIN-AT-ALL-COSTS!!!) to yin/yang

Francis Pedraza
Invisible
Published in
5 min readAug 28, 2018

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There’s soccer. And then there’s soccer. Think about the difference between The World Cup and the neighborhood kids playing a pick up game one afternoon in a back alley.

The World Cup is as fiercely competitive as it gets. It is very yang. Each individual player is straining to perform their best. Even on the same team, every player is competing against every other player. If they don’t perform their best, they won’t get paid as much, and they’ll lose prestige. But, although there is intense intra-team competition, there is also intense team collaboration. Because, if their team doesn’t win, they won’t get paid as much. That is, there are dual incentives: individuals are incentivized for individual and for team performance. Each team is straining to perform its best.

So a fascinating politics emerges. If you’re not a team player, you don’t get passed the ball. If you don’t get passed the ball, not only you don’t perform well, but your team doesn’t perform well either — so you’re doubly fucked. You’re incentivized to be a team player, and to pass the ball to others, so they pass it back to you. If they don’t pass it back, they’re fucked — because if they’re not a team player, they won’t get passed to either.

This tit-for-tat game theory results in a hierarchy: the players compete in a feudal power struggle to be the alpha. The alpha that emerges is not always the best player: sometimes what marks an alpha is their alignment ability. How well are they able to use persuasion, incentives, punishment, story, and other political skills to align individual interests with team interests? Alphas build quasi-stable talent pyramids that optimize for stability and performance over time. The more intense the reward/punishment incentives are, the more pressure there is on the alpha and on the pyramid… and the harder it is to maintain alignment and stability.

So we see that Yang is about competition, yes. But it is also about collaboration; as the most effective yang players are master collaborators — they’re “leaders”; and that mysterious set of qualities that we call leadership is what helps them win this incredibly sophisticated competition, by achieving the optimal outcome for their team, especially given its balance of individual interests and power dynamics. If Yang isn’t just about competition or about collaboration, what is it about? Yang is all about WINNING. Speaking of Yang in the leadership sense: Yang is the leadership of WINNING.

In contrast, the neighborhood pick up game is not very competitive. The kids might not even be keeping score. They play every day. They’re more interested in learning tricks, testing each others’ skills, learning from each other, having fun and laughing a lot. It’s very yin. The yin attitude is: let’s create together. Let’s play together. Let’s spend time together and make some memories together. Let’s be a team. Let’s be friends. We’re a tribe. I like you. You like me. You win today. I win tomorrow. We take turns winning. Have you learned how to do a flip kick before?

You see, the energy is very different. Both games are soccer. But The World Cup is a finite game. You’re a winner or a loser. There’s a clear outcome, overwhelmingly determined by game theory. And the neighborhood pick up game is an infinite game. There’s no set outcome. The point of the game is to keep playing the game.

In our culture today, we glorify yin and demonize yang. But perhaps that is because our cultural-reality is reacting against our political-economic reality, which is very yang.

WTF IS THE POINT OF THIS EMAIL FOR INVISIBLE?!?!
THE BOTTOM LINE IS: We have to be BOTH.

Sometimes I feel like we are too yin. And I start pushing people to be more yang. More competitive, more collaborative, more intense — to push, push, push, go, go, go, now, now, now, WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN — TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION!!!! We need this warrior spirit, this urgency, this vigilance and orientation to strategy and tactics.

Sometimes I feel like we are too yang. And I start pushing people to zoom out, to take a broader perspective, to focus on growing the pie instead of fighting over slices, to relax and brainstorm a bit, to listen to each other more, to remember that we’re all on the same team, and we’re here because we want to be here. We also need this.

My own energy vacillates between yin and yang. The first six months of this year, I was VERY yang. Now I’m in more of a yin space. I find that my moods are contagious. Sometimes I like that, sometimes I don’t.

, and , for example, are VERY yang, although they understand yin too. I am glad that they can be yang even in moments when I am yin. We balance each other. And that is The Middle Way. Others on the team… like , , , , and — are more yin. They’re more even-keeled team-players focused on the long-term and on building an awesome culture and doing awesome work together. We need both.

What should we avoid?

We should avoid being out of balance. If we’re all yang and no yin, that’s bad. We’ll destroy each other and become like Goldman Sachs or something; very sharky environment. If we’re all yin and no yang, that’s bad — we’ll probably just fail as a company at this point. Startups do NEED to tend yang in the beginning, until they scale up and become a big enterprise, and then they can afford the luxury of more yin. But even in the beginning, if they don’t have any yin to balance them out, they’ll probably just blow up.

We should avoid THE FALSE MIDDLE. The false middle is being neither yin nor yang, but kinda of nothing. Like, meh. Lukewarm people just don’t contribute much. Don’t be filler and noise. You need to contribute strong energies… This doesn’t mean you need to be loud. You can be quiet and introverted and still have strong yin energies. The engineer who sits quietly and writes line after line of beautiful code can operating in yang mode, if oriented towards winning and making Invisible win. Or even in yin mode, oriented towards making the team proud and honoring the trust placed in them and enjoying the craft. But the point is… the energy is strong.

We should seek THE TRUE MIDDLE. The true middle comes from harmonizing yin and yang. From being both. From going to the extremes of both. Both as individuals finding the balance in ourselves, and as a group, balancing each other.

If you see someone who is being too relaxed and casual… maybe push them to be more yang. If you see someone who is being too aggressive and stressed out and pushy… maybe tell them to chill and be more yin.

Great companies balance and harmonize and fully express both their yin and their yang. They repress neither. But they’re aware of and cultivate both.

If why this is extremely relevant to you right now is not immediately obvious…
Think about it.

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