NewCo Shift Forum 2018

‘If You’re Not Doing Something About It, You’re Part of the Problem’

Valley legend Reid Hoffman in conversation with policy legend Janet Napolitano

John Battelle
Mar 26, 2018 · 16 min read
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A highlight of last month’s Shift Forum was a conversation between Valley legend Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and prolific investor, and Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California system and former head of Homeland Security (and former governor of Arizona).

Why pair these two? Well, Hoffman and Napolitano share a passion for policy and the intersection of technology and government, which of course was a major theme of the Forum. In the video and edited transcript below, Hoffman and Napolitano cover sexism in the workplace, immigration, gun control, and the future of work.

Janet Napolitano: Good morning, everybody. Reid, nice to see you.

Reid Hoffman: Nice to see you.

I want to start by talking a little bit about LinkedIn. Why did you decide that a website like LinkedIn was needed? When you started off, who were your greatest supporters? Where did you meet the greatest resistance?

Part of the design of LinkedIn was to understand where the modern world was going where everyone would have a public identity, and that this changes various aspects of your life. How do you navigate your social life? How do you navigate your work life? LinkedIn obviously targeted that.

To do so, we actually had to work against some cultural changes. For example, are you disloyal by having essentially your CV, your professional identity online? Is that an OK thing to do, etc.?

That actually makes the world work a lot better, because while we’ve already made a huge impact in the world of hiring and the world of talent, also any professional who goes and reaches out to other professionals on a weekly basis basically looks at LinkedIn as the most fundamental tool for their job.

We’re also trying to get people to realize that there’s a lot of expertise out in the world that helps you do your job better. There’s a lot of finding someone who knows something about what you’re trying to do. It’s a way of, not just having search for documents but search for expertise, search for who should I ask a question about.

We’re just at the very early innings of that. In the early days, what we tended to have is a lot of people who are really enthusiastic networkers, and it was like, “Oh, it’s a networking site, and it’s about going to a conference and handing out your business cards.”

That’s fine. That’s OK to do. The actual thing is the practice of how do we work together, how do we share information, how do we share expertise, how do we learn what’s going on in the world of work, and how do we make the right business connections in order to facilitate work?

What kinds of changes have you seen occur as a result of LinkedIn and its evolution?

I think there’s a number of industries now, the tech industry, but I think there’s others as well, that basically say, “What’s most relevant is do you have a LinkedIn profile?” For example, you have academic researchers who’ve done the work to say that that there’s less errors in your LinkedIn profile than there are on CVs.

I think that the question about how do you cross domains…for example, we have this huge technology revolution going on in all industries. How do you understand that technological revolution? What is the new world the of data mean? What is the new world of artificial intelligence, machine learning?

How do we connect to these tech trends in a way that’s business strategic across all of the industries? We’ve this thing called the economic graph, by which we map all of the relevant items in work. It’s skills, job opportunities, business opportunities and people, and so forth. How do you get the right matching in that? I think those are all the things that we’ve seen and we’re seeing.

You have a new podcast as well, for entrepreneurs. You have a rule that half your guests will be women. Why did you do that for a podcast for entrepreneurs?

The funny thing is we actually set that rule without any intention of ever announcing it. We did actually set the rule. The reason we set the rule is because there’s actually a bunch of amazing smart and accomplished women entrepreneurs who have the same kind of sharing of learnings and experiences the men do.

As a group, there’s more higher brand — like the front page of a magazine — set from the male side. There’s as much talent, as much learning, as much content, and as much like, “I’ve learned how to run this race,” within women entrepreneurs. We wanted to demonstrate that.

We just decided it. The reason is there was there was a Woman’s Day thing that happened to coincide with when we were launching. We were like, “Maybe we should be public about our 50–50 commitment.” We had just done it, not without intention of saying, “We’re announcing it, but just doing it.”

You can see there’s a whole group of stunning content from a lot of very interesting women entrepreneurs who have done things at scale and have been key to inventing new forms of technology and new forms of business across the podcast.

Silicon Valley doesn’t have a great reputation where gender issues are concerned or diversity is concerned. Why do you think that is? Perhaps more importantly, what is being done about it?

Definitely, the tech industry, the venture industry is legitimately being beaten up and as they should be, because that’s part of how change happens. I welcome the dialog, as painful as it is, in various ways.

The tech industry has always styled itself as an ideal meritocracy. When you look at it, talent is, broadly speaking, distributed equally in large groups of people — men, women, races, the whole thing. When you look at a broad set, there’s imbalance is on the top. You know that you don’t have a perfect meritocracy. There are problems.

This is roughly one of the things where everyone needs to get to the recognition that there is a problem. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Part of what’s happened in the last year which has been very good, especially on the Me Too and the question of gender relations, has been, “We can’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re a meritocracy. It works out the way it works out.’” We actually have to work on this. We have to try to improve it.

There needs to be an intentionality about it.

Yes, and an awareness that there is actually a problem. If you’re not doing something about it, you’re part of the problem.

The things that I find has started happening is people started going, “Well, what are the ways that there is systematic structure that causes differential opportunity for men and women? What are the ways that we can change that? How do we get more women in the venture capital? How do we make sure that the conversation around entrepreneurial pitches isn’t the thing that is gender biased implicitly? How do you deal with hidden bias?”

One of the ways that my partnership at Greylock did, once we looked at all these stuff, we were called to action by this story from The Information, I then wrote this post called the “Decency Pledge.”

We’ll say, “Look, we should go and try to help the industry. But let’s first really cross-check ourselves. Let’s first look at what we can do.” We all did hidden bias training. I actually learned some things around certain subtleties of language, certain questions about how you prep against an unconscious bias in a hiring process that I didn’t know before.

I had already been doing things, but I learned new things. That openness to, “We can all do better,” is really important. The whole partnership did that. For example, in the venture world, at least following the Rooney Rule, which is to say, you’re going to hire a partner, make sure that you’ve interviewed diversity candidates in serious earnest before you make any hire.

At least, do that. It’s a first step. It’s not the complete thing. It’s a first step. That thing is the thing that we’re seeing much more across the tech industry, which obviously is a great thing.

I’ve read in some pieces that there actually may be pushback to the Me Too movement in the tech industry and other industries, and a reluctance to hire or to mentor because of what could occur. Are you seeing that?

In any group of people, there’s idiots. [laughter]

They’re evenly distributed.

Exactly. I definitely have heard some of the comments, which by the way, I exhort all because it usually happens around men and men-only environments, for men to lean in and say, “Boy, I won’t just be in my office mentoring a woman, because who knows what will happen.” I am like, “Deal with it.” [applause]

The whole point is, be part of the solution. For example, what my partners and I do is we make sure that we’re putting in extra effort into…Like when we see, “OK, this is a women entrepreneurial theme or women entrepreneurial…” make sure that we are doing everything we can possibly do.

One of the weird things in VC is you get 600 to 800 pitches. You finance zero to two deals a year. It’s a very weird business in that regard. Nevertheless, you can still help. Try to put in that help and do that.

That’s one of the really important things I think that men who go, “Look, I’m worried about a false claim.” Look, those happen. Those are so rare. Worry about driving them the highway first.

Like, “Get over it.” Right?

Yeah, “Get over it.”

It raises another question, which is I think the tech industry and the VC industry are more commonly being drawn into public issues. It can be the issue of gender bias. It can be issues about immigration. Now, issues about guns and gun control. To what extent do you think it important to stick your head above the field and take positions that may have some impact in the end on the bottom line?

We’re all citizens first. I think that one of the problems I have with the general (idea that) the only responsibility of companies is to return profits to shareholders, is that we’re citizens and we’re moral beings first.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a serious responsibility to return profits, to be good to the shareholders, good to employees, good to the customers. You must do that.

Similarly, to anything from how are we together as a civil society and a democracy to what’s the impact in the environment, you can’t say, “I’m gonna do the immoral or do the wrong thing, because by the way, that’s what returns profits.”

You have to consider how you’re doing good things. Now, we live in a diverse society from political standpoints. We live in a diverse society from…I’m very unsympathetic to the anti-science people.

If there’s a bunch of anti-science people, I will argue with them and so forth, but you say, “Look. When we construct the morality around what is the responsibility of business leaders, you have to recognize that there is this diverse set.”

Nevertheless, if you think you’re a leader, speak up on some key things that are good for society. Do not say, “Well, I’m just a business person. My only goal is like I sell my product or service, and that’s it, and that’s the only thing.”

It’s like, “No, no. There are things that matter.” You may not choose the whole battlefield. You may not do everything, because that is what an individual does.

As a company, you may say, “These are the things that align with our mission. These are the things that I’m trying to do, and so this is the social good thing that I am most focused on also in aligning my brand with my company.”

It’s a good thing that the tech industry is being asked to speak up more. It’s a good thing that the tech industry should figure out how do we contribute more positively across a set of fields. That dialogue is a very good thing.

It gets complex when, for example, there’s only a little bit of what the last panel is the way that we navigate the question of what editorial voice do we express can be much more challenging.

If, for example, a tech platform is saying, “Well, we’re taking a really active editorial voice,” you go, “OK, so are you trying to mind map, change the country in doing that?”

You have to try to figure out what that balance between dealing with truth, anti-election hacking, a way of cohesion of discussion of coming together towards truth without being the…We’re just trying to do subliminal advertising across the country.

One issue that is prominent today where the tech industry’s voice is aligned, I think, with good public policy is on immigration and immigration reform. We see that with respect to H1B visas and overall reform.

This is an area where there seems to be a broad coalition. You can be an immigrant rights advocate. You can be in the business community to an increasing degree that evangelical community, all aligned in support of immigration reform. What’s the disconnect between what the public wants and the Congress?

One of things that I learned from the last election was that there’s a broad swath of the country that hears the classic American dream, the Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty of being in favor of immigration, they hear that as “I don’t care about your future. This is anti-you and you’re having a problem, figuring out the future of your economics, the future of children’s economics.”

I’ve now gone to, first is, we do care and we should do something about that. We should start there, but then you also get back to what does the American Dream stand for. The vast majority of people here all descended from immigrants. We’re all immigrants.

The Native Americans are the only ones. It’s a very small percentage that are “We’re not immigrants. We were here.”

I think that staying in the right moral place is important, and then also understanding the economics. I think that we need to be investing in the future of the middle class, in a number of different states that have economic challenges.

I don’t think it’s Mexicans that’s causing the problem. The whole world thing, as an Anti-American and, for my mind, piece of rhetoric that is super damaging, but I understand the pain of, “Wait, my community is breaking. We need to help,” so we should help with that.

But we should maintain the classic American ideal, both for moral reasons and for economic reasons. And maybe for even American identity spiritual reasons, to say that’s part of the society we aspire to be, the part of the compassion of people we aspire to be.

Always try to be our better selves, not our worse selves.

It does raise the question, take the Dreamers where every poll says 70 to 80 percent of Americans think that they should be allowed to stay and didn’t have a path to citizenship. Yet, Congress gets wrapped around the actual. What explains that?

This is more your expertise than mine. I think that there’s an obvious set of ways in which politics has become hostage to various more extreme perspectives, whether it’s in the gun side and the NRA, and after Sandy Hook, there’s like, “While we shouldn’t have guns being registered.”

You’re like, “Well, we register cars. Why shouldn’t register guns? Perfectly fine for a hunter to register their gun.” It’s mind-boggling to me. It’s five people or seven people out of 10 who kinda care about an issue versus the one who, like, will do everything possible (to stop that issue).

The intensity.

The intensity. Our political system is not well-adjusted to that. I wish that more of our leaders in Congress wouldn’t be invertebrates and would actually, in fact, lead, but if wishes were fishes.

Yeah, indeed. Let’s switch gears for a little bit. I’m the President of the University of California. Go Bears. What is your impression of young people entering the workforce? Are they being educated appropriately? Indeed, how do we imagine what the workforce of the future, what kinds of work they will need to be prepared for? How is that changing?

My first book is called the “Start-Up of You.” It was actually based out of the commencement speech that I gave to my high school, trying to say, “Well, what from my universe would be useful to everybody?”

It’s not like, “Everyone go start a company.” Everyone’s going to have to be the entrepreneurs of their own careers, which means being — one of the phrases we created in the book — is being “in permanent beta,” which is you’re constantly learning.

I think there’s a number of evolutions that need to happen throughout the educational system including all universities, not just the great public universities in the UC system. Roughly speaking, not all learning teaches you how to learn to learn.

What really learning how to learn is cross disciplines.

For example, when I’ve been asked for radical ideas for universities, I say, “Well, get rid of disciplines. Do it all multidisciplinary.” The learning how to learn is how do you cross disciplines versus how do you learn just specifically the tools of one discipline? How do you learn this set of tools can also be applicable over here?

That’s an instance, not necessarily the right solution, maybe an idiotic idea. That change of learning methodology to say, “What we’re actually in fact primarily teaching is that learning how to learn as you get to new areas, not areas where it’s necessarily the apprenticeship model, which is we teach you this thing and you know how to do this one thing. You know how to do this thing really well, but actually, in fact, you’re going to be crossing domains.” That’s how I would somewhat shift the focus overall in terms of thinking about it.

Now, obviously, normally technologists say, “No. There’s gonna be a whole bunch of tech. We’re gonna do online.” That I think will happen although it’s slower and more difficult as you know, again, a thousand times more than I do, to actually get the right kinds of tools and the right kinds of new technologies to also aid the learning curve into the system.

That’s right. The insertion of technology into higher education has had some fits and starts. It started with MOOCs, Massive Online Courses. It turns out that the educational outcomes were not very good.

People didn’t complete the courses. They didn’t pass the exam, etc. Now, it’s moved to more interactive, more personalized. One of the things that happens there is that the notion that the MOOCs had of being a silver bullet to eliminate costs of a higher education. And it disappears because it’s just as costly to do an interactive online environment as a MOOC overall.

Although it will iterate over time. One thing is never to…The first iteration of tech always has many more problems than you think. The thing that everyone should always track is you, dynamically.

I’m positive on the future. It’s just the future will take longer and it isn’t like two years from now, “Oh, it’ll be a whole bunch cheaper.”

How do you think the nature of work is going to change? What kinds of work will this generation can anticipate?

There’s a theme that technology…It’s a “Star Trek” feature that AI robotics and everything else is going to be collapsing jobs. I actually still think that over the next 30-plus years technology will be creating a bunch of jobs.

I do think that one of the things that we have to work on is to make sure it’s enough quality jobs. It’s enough jobs that support the middle-class regime. I don’t think that necessarily just naturally plays out.

I think there may be some work on that. For example, I exhort technologists and economists to figure out how do we also have the right kinds of incentives for building technology that amplify people.

This is part of, of course, what we try to do with LinkedIn. It’s find the best possible opportunities, learn the new skills that are relevant as you’re transferring.

I do think that the notion that is still too often preached, which is you go to college, you discover your calling, and that’s your job for the next 50 years, that’s gone. That’s not the right thing to do.

As opposed to thinking about this as a career ladder, a career escalator, to think of it as more of a career jungle gym, that you’re actually going to be changing around in terms industries. The exact shape of certain different job professions will change, and that you need to be adaptive with that. Many people find that scary, because they go, “I’d like safety and security. I like to know that I’m on base.”

I think we need to try to provide that, but it will be a dynamic changing environment. That’s part of the reason why would I overall advice to universities, also to workers, to constantly be learning and to be learning new things. Some of them by taking ongoing classes but some of them also by doing, and talking to people and finding out what the relevant things, and then tracking what’s going on. If you’re in an industry, you should say, “Well, how is technology changing my industry? How do I learn that?”

That’s not learn to code. People frequently, from Silicon Valley people hear, “Oh, learn to code.” You’re like, “No, some people should learn to code.” But technology changes your industry. How do you see that change coming? How do you learn the skills that are part of a modern industry? Everyone should be paying attention to that. LinkedIn’s obviously one solution, but there’s others as well.

To close out this conversation, what do you see is the future of LinkedIn?

There’s one of those now part of Microsoft and public companies. Future statements are always vague. I think one of the things that has turned out to be great and exactly as predicted in the joining forces between Microsoft is LinkedIn’s mission was how do you make individuals have the greatest possible economic opportunities both in finding them and in realizing it.

Microsoft is about making organizations and individuals productive. In putting those together in this way, that is playing out exactly as we had hoped.

We’re still in the very earliest innings of how do we say, “Look, upgrade your individual work practice so that you’re looking for experts that are outside your organization potentially, or outside your particular workgroup in order to work better and use the network to find that”?

Also, be constantly thinking about every year, “How am I adding to my skill set? How am I staying adaptive?” It doesn’t mean to have a heavy burden. It’s not like, “Oh, my God. I need to spend all my time doing that.”

If you do it a little bit in increments — every month and so forth — just some, then you just keep learning. I think those are the things that we’re going to see more from LinkedIn in unbiased, very positive ways.

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since…

John Battelle

Written by

A Founder of NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since the industrial revolution

John Battelle

Written by

A Founder of NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since the industrial revolution

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