Penalties and Rewards for Behaviors

Many people write to me about what it’s like to live in Silicon Valley. I am no expert here. Truth to be told, I haven’t been here a year just yet and I still don’t know, and I may never know. Given that disclaimer, I do always share one morsel of knowledge I’ve gleaned: Whereas the penalty for failure in a startup or an investment is close to zero, the penalty for being an unhelpful, selfish jerk is very high.

Let me explain, briefly.

For those who have helped found and or build companies, they deserve and rightfully receive lots of credit. Some of those ventures work, the majority don’t. Lots of stress is generated, family time is lost, beers are guzzled, and passions fly. But, at the end of the day, the penalty for trying to found and/or build a company, even if it fails, is close to zero.

However, the penalty for acting like a jerk is very high. Like all social networks, people talk and word spreads fast. People know who others are, and they know if someone is genuine, helpful, and gets things done. Those who act like jerks are noticed by others quite fast, and word spreads about them, too. I believe it is what keeps the Valley humming along. Many people like to say it’s a meritocracy — and it certainly is, more so than any other place — but assuming everyone is talented in their own way, the wildcard is personality, that hard-to-quantify art of following up, being courteous, extending a helping hand, making introductions, going out of your way, rolling up your sleeves, talking to the not-cool kids, and being a friend to those who risk so much to be here. Those are the behaviors that, at the end of the day, are rewarded.