Self-Promotion, First Principles, And Career Strategy

Self-Promotion, First Principles, And Career Strategy

At the conclusion of our recent session, I had the pleasure of welcoming my good friend Bing Gordon as a guest speaker. Bing is renowned for being one of the inaugural Chief Creative Officers in Silicon Valley during his tenure at Electronic Arts. Additionally, he has carved out a significant career as a technology venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and served on Amazon’s board for 14 years, where he notably created the term “Prime” for one of Amazon’s flagship services.

Bing shared his insights on the pursuit of ‚first principles‘ by MIT students, sparking an engaging discussion.

Curious about his encounters with other luminaries in the tech world, I inquired if he had ever crossed paths with Sam Altman, Steve Jobs, or other prominent figures in Silicon Valley, and if he could share any observations about them. Bing responded by drawing a parallel with historical figures such as Thomas Edison, suggesting that those who gain fame are often as skilled in self-promotion as they are in their achievements.

Then he made this interesting contrast between MIT and Harvard:


“MIT people are not as great at self-promotion … MIT tends to be really good at first principle thinking and building up from the molecular level. Harvard students are the best at self-promotion, they kind of recruit for it.”

“MIT students, your job is to always get the first principles,” he added, suggesting that, by contrast, Harvard students are trying to “learn modesty” in pursuit of balancing that self-promotional drive. “You (also) need to embrace self-promotion. And the process of self-promotion has become very technical. So it’s a great time for an MIT mindset to actually get good at it. Because it’s not TV anymore. It’s online media, which is very, very technical in nature.”

For those who don’t know, first principles are an Aristotelian concept of finding axioms or ideas that don’t follow from any other proposition, theory or assumption.

Later, as a former chief marketing officer, Bing used the example of Jeff Bezos’ career trajectory to talk about the politics inherent in the industry. “I’m sure there’s a lesson in persistence or some wise comments that they can learn … and stuff that’s not in the books, that no one knows,” he said. “It’s a top-secret thing.”

He then went into a deep dive on the nature of an executive’s relationship with a board; see if you can follow this line of advice:

“When you start a company, don’t optimize for valuation, optimize for mentors on the board. Most investors are not helpful. And they will all claim to be helpful … (the winning strategy might be to) take a lower valuation, to get people who are going to be helpful.”

Moving further into the dynamics we have seen at fortune 500 firms, Bing didn’t shy away from warts-and-all analysis of executive positions:

“Never hire a CFO who’s smart, but immoral,” he said. “A CFO can use numbers to lie.”

On the other hand, he also described some of the board-think that may play into corporate problems.

“Board members tend to have this concept of ‘adult supervision,’” he said.

“And that’s another way of saying they want to fire you. Board members, when they push for ‘adult supervision’, they hire people with big resumes, who almost always fail.”

Interesting stuff.

This is another one of those moments where our students got this amazing practical, hands-on type of advice from someone with big credentials in the field, and opportunities to think about their careers in a new way. We are going to have more from this class coming out soon here, but Bing’s talk, I thought, packed a lot into just a little bit of time.

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