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Supporting startups with capital and sprints. Co-founder and general partner at Character. Author of Sprint and Make Time. Former partner at GV.
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The pursuit of innovation is inherently risky. Innovation is about creating value by doing new things, which implies a built-in risk that the new thing won’t work as well as the old thing.

For me, this is a helpful connection to keep in mind when I’m evaluating or working with startups.

The question I try to answer is: What type of innovation is this company betting on?

From that answer, I can understand what type of risk they are taking.

When I understand the risks, I can:

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The other day I wrote that startups are learning machines, and shared some of the most common techniques I see startups using to learn.

(Dave Ambrose reminded me of a great quote from Josh Kopelman, from his interview with Patrick OShaughnessy: “A startup’s job is to learn.” Yep!)

That post prompted a couple questions, about whether this always true, and where the types of learning change at all as a startup evolves.

Here’s the simplistic way I look at it:

Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

The best early-stage startups are optimized for learning — about their customers, whether their product will work, how to get people to use it, etc.

Oh sure, there’s plenty of other stuff that startups have to do. And like all businesses, they exist to create value for their shareholders, customers, and communities (ideally 🙏).

But none of it matters to a startup if they can’t figure out what’s going to work. And… “figuring out”? Well, that’s just a folksy way of saying “learn.”

There are lots of ways for startups to learn. Here are a few that almost everyone uses:

When I’m doing a live video keynote or facilitating an online workshop, I want my video and audio to be better than what I get from a typical webcam and headset microphone.

If you’re a speaker, teacher, or facilitator, you probably want the same thing.

A relatively simple tech setup can give really high-quality results. Look, I’m not a camera guy. I’m not a photographer or videographer. Everything I’ve done here I learned from reading blog posts and online reviews over the past few weeks.

And before we dive into the fun tech details, it’s worth a reminder that A/V…

Illustration: Andrea Chronopoulos

You vs. Your Inbox

All the productivity bells and whistles only make things harder

Everyone has their own “distraction kryptonite” — the thing that irresistibly pulls them away from spending their time on activities they care about. For some, it’s the aspirational images of Instagram. For others, it’s the global pulse of Twitter. Some find the lure of breaking news or niche discussion boards impossible to look away from.

For me, it’s email.

I know how lame that sounds. But here’s why: Since I no longer work at a big company, virtually every email I receive is intended for me. I never get copied on big threads or added to team updates. …

It’s all about creating the perfect template, then using it the right way

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Sometimes I fantasize about an empty calendar. No meetings. No obligations. Nothing but time for my work, myself, and the people I care about.

Then I remember: I’ve already lived that dream, more than once. I had an empty calendar in 2015, while writing my book, Sprint. I had it when my wife and I were traveling in Central America and our only commitments were to each other. When we first moved to Milwaukee, there it was again — an empty calendar. Nothing but possibility.

And then I remember something else: The reality of an empty calendar does not live…

Spending all my energy on the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy has given me new appreciation for what’s at the top

Credit: Jonathan Evans/Getty Images

Two years ago, my wife and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. We had full-time corporate jobs, a car, and a busy life full of friends and work.

Today, we live on a sailboat. For the past 18 months, we’ve been sailing and traveling in Central America. We’re fully responsible for our health, safety, and comfort. If we don’t feel like cooking dinner, we can’t grab a phone and order delivery. Instead of a paycheck, we live off our investments, supplemented by income from writing and other projects.

A lot of big stuff hasn’t changed. Michelle and…

Two and a half years ago, when we published Sprint, I thought to myself: “Cool, mission accomplished.” The Design Sprint recipe — based on Jake’s work at Google and our years of experimentation together at Google Ventures — was out in the world, described in enough detail that anyone could pick up the book and run their own sprint. (Indeed, many teams have done just that.)

But I had a blind spot. Because we had done so many sprints at GV—about 150 after five years—I forgot what it was like to have never done a sprint before. I didn’t think…

Here’s what is really necessary for making good use of your time

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

I’ve been sitting in front of computers since I was about 10 years old. In that time I’ve designed a thousand newspaper pages, built hundreds of software prototypes, hacked together who-knows-how-much code, written probably a million words of prose (including two books), dabbled in video editing and audio production, and created a surprising number of spreadsheets 🤔

I’m feeling reflective, so I’ve been thinking back on all those years and all that work. Here’s one thing that stands out: I wasted a lot of time and attention obsessing about my workspace.

For example, at Google, I worked at a desk…

Step one: fake the sunset

Photo by Ahmet Ali Ağır on Unsplash

Co-authored with Jake Knapp

According to a 2016 study by the University of Michigan, Americans spend around eight hours in bed every night, as do folks in Britain, France, and Canada. But despite what seems like a decent amount of time in bed, most of us still don’t get enough sleep. What the heck? Sleep quality is more important than quantity, and our world is full of barriers to getting good sleep — from screens to schedules to caffeine.

When you don’t take care of your body, your brain can’t do its job. If you’ve ever felt slow and uninspired…

John Zeratsky

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