October 2021 Newsletter: Adversarial views and interviews

In this month’s edition:

  • Adversarial interviews
  • Hiring people you know
  • Who gets the best bang for the buck?

Adversarial interviews

With blogs, podcasts and social media, more people are becoming journalists. Journalists who traditionally worked for companies are increasing working for themselves. This is the first year where I’ll have paid more for subscriptions to independent newsletters/artists/entertainers (e.g. Byrne Hobart, Matt Iglesias, Vivienne Aerts) than to large companies (e.g. Financial Times, Spotify).

This trend gives us all a much wider variety of sources. However, I find there is a tendency for these independent types of content (including this newsletter) to lack a presentation of – and interaction between – opposing viewpoints.

Much content today is either a soliloquy or has a soft interviewer allowing the interviewee to present their views without much pushback. One of the most successful recent podcasters is Joe Rogan, who is highly skilled at interviewing in a supportive manner that makes guests comfortable presenting themselves in a more unfiltered form than they otherwise would. This kind of interview is valuable – and Joe Rogan shouldn’t change his style – there is a place for and a lack of more adversarial content within independent media.

As two pieces of high quality adversarial content (and I mean adversarial in a helpful way), I suggest the following:

  1. Tyler Cowen’s recent interview with Amia Srinivasan on the topic of feminism & sex work.
  2. A recent debate on Bankless between advocates of Bitcoin and advocates of Ethereum (technical).

In addressing a topic, we often look at who stands on each side of the issue and what is their political persuasion (I tend to do this too). Rather than engage with the issue, we assume that the answer to a problem comes down to our preferred philosophy. This makes progress difficult and is where adversarial content can help.

Hiring people you know

Over the last three weeks I’ve been looking for a coder to help build a tax/accounting tool. After interviewing about 10 candidates from a combination of AngelList and http://www.gun.io (a kind of recruiting service), I made a hire based on a recommendation from a Celo community member I’ve gotten to know well over the past year.

It is well known that referral systems are effective for hiring. Hence, many large corporates offer bonuses – sometimes over $10,000 – for employees who make referrals. My takeaway from this recent hiring experience is that – even when you think you have fully mined your network – mining your network even more is probably still more effective than trying to use hiring websites or recruiters. This is because referrals capture a lot of the long-term risks and benefits that interviewing cannot owing to the short term nature of any interview process.

Side note: Recently, hiring people you know has become somewhat of a bug rather than a feature. If a company only hires people its employees know, doesn’t that result in a monolithic pool of employees in terms of views and backgrounds? Yes, I think this can happen. However, a further question to ask is whether it’s the “hiring people you know” that is the problem or whether it’s the existing employee pool or culture (and it’s narrowness of network) that’s the problem. When starting a business, the networks of the initial employees really matter, because this is the starting direction for the future network of the company.

Elon Musk: Who gets the best bang for the buck?

You may have seen this crazy tweet early this week:

The cynical view circulating is that Elon Musk wants to sell some of his Tesla stock at the peak in order to diversify his holdings, and he is using this poll to get public approval to do so. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. When Musk made his first eight figure fortune from the sale of Paypal (of which he was a founder), he put that money into an electric car company, a solar company and a space rocket company. That’s not the kind of thing you do if you are optimising for diversification.

The more interesting question to me is who gets the best bang for the buck when it comes to spending money? In this case, spending money to tackle the energy transition from fossil fuels.

Elon Musk put $70M into Tesla originally and today Tesla is worth over $1 trillion. One can argue that Tesla is massively overvalued, but it is harder to argue with the impact that Tesla has achieved. In June 2021, the Tesla model 3 was the top selling car in Europe. All of the next nine top selling cars are petrol/diesel.

What Musk can do with $1 is probably 10X to 100X what the US government can do with $1 in terms of impact. This is not a criticism of the US government or of governments in general. Governments and entrepreneurs can be complementary. The point is that there are individuals (and also groups of individuals) that are extremely effective in what they do. These kinds of people will play a very important role in tackling challenges like transitioning from fossil fuel and bringing up the living standards of the poorest parts of the world. As an entrepreneur, I think it’s sad so many people feel Musk should have to sell his shares here. I think it is shortsighted for overall progress. The request, but more-so the sentiment, is a deterrent to entrepreneurship.

Side note: I think there is an argument that governments should be spending more on targeted R&D initiatives, like was done for the Manhattan project (but not for making nuclear bombs). Given the choice between spending $4 trillion on a general welfare program and giving $400 bn each to 10 different project managers (that are given very high autonomy), my sense is that general welfare does better in the long run in the latter scenario.

That’s it for this month! Cheers, Ronan

P.S. Each Friday I post a list of links to interesting articles from the past week. If you’d like to get that list by email each week, you can subscribe here (this is a separate mailing list to my monthly newsletter on ronanmcgovern.com).

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