Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reid Hoffman and Greenspace

Another great read in the May 2009 issue of Inc. magazine, the "How I Did It" section features the story of Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. I'm a huge fan of LinkedIn -- I'd say it's the most relevant and useful of all the social networking sites. You'll notice my LinkedIn profile link on the right-hand column of this blog, and you can also find my profile by clicking here.

At Stanford University Hoffman studied symbolic systems, which he describes as the combination of artificial intelligence and cognitive science. He worked at Apple and Fujitsu Software before launching Socialnet in 1997. He left Socialnet in 1999 to join Paypal before it was acquired by eBay, and then launched LinkedIn in 2002.


"The trick to doing well with these things is to be in a place where people are saying, Hey, that's a crazy idea. If you're right, there's the opportunity to produce something really big. You
want to be one to three years early. You want to start before others think it's an easy idea. It's much harder to be successful when 10 similar things are being financed."

There's analogy to this philosophy in coaching soccer. To get the team to advance the ball to the goal, often the best opportunity is the play the ball to an open area -- "Greenspace" -- where your attackers can gain possession of the ball and continue the attack with many more options for creative play. Unfortunately, many inexperienced players will play at the nearest available option -- whatever appears safe, because the player in control of the ball can visualize the next steps. It's often not particularly productive, because your opponent sees the same scenario and can react accordingly. That's why trust and confidence in your teammates is so important in sports -- you want to be able to exploit the skill and creativity of your teammates to go somewhere and do something the other guys didn't think was possible.

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