My name is Spencer Lazar. I am a venture capitalist at General Catalyst. I grew up with the internet, spend my life thinking about how it can make our lives better, and work with world-class entrepreneurs to affect that chanage. NYC is my home. This is my blog.

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Curated Optimism: The Things We Think, But Do Not Say

A couple days ago, Jon Steinberg wrote a blog post entitled "Acquaintances" wherein he calls attention to the growing semantic trend in which some individuals opportunistically refer to others with whom they have tenuous social connections as "good friends."  His frustration is one I share.  

People portray an overly optimistic representation of their import or relevance to individuals, organizations, and experiences to advance their own social or commercial agenda.  This is particularly true of junior people in an industry.  Without a tremendous amount of history and hard-earned reputation to work off of, people adopt this behavior as a means of bridging their experiential divide - particularly when interacting with relatively more successful people (either entrepreneurs or investors).  I try to avoid it, but every once in a while fall into this trap.  My apologies if I ever come off this way.

His post, however, got me thinking about another form of disingenuous behavior which has infected the business and tech worlds: curated optimism - or as Jerry Macguire called it, "The Things We Think But Do Not Say."  

It is the phenomenon whereby business professionals (and often times investors) disproportionately represent positive experiences with people, products, and businesses over their very choppy reality.  We see this a lot in the social media ecosystem - the most accessible way of publicly communicating and branding oneself these days.

My problem is not with what is said (things like "congratulations @blank"...or "loving @blank"...or "can't wait for @blank"), but with what isn't.  So rarely do you see a person at any level of seniority express frustration via twitter, blogs, or other online channels with anything.  The whole concept of customer service, for example, exists for corporations to respond to the reality that patrons are often times left unsatisfied.  This is true of relationships beyond those of person/product or person/service.

This behavior is rooted in one of the first principles of business - the preservation of option value.  From the entrepreneur's perspective, expressing frustration or dissatisfaction could some day (a) hurt their ability to make a key hire; (b) limit their chances at scoring a desired investor; or (c) piss off a potential acquirer.  From an investor's perspective, saying something negative could result in (a) a soured relationship with a portfolio company; (b) a pissed off LP; or (c) an increased perception among entrepreneurs that the GP is a bully, tough to work with, or worse - unapproachable.  

This is a hard behavioral attribute to systemically change because of how firmly ingrained it is in each constituency of the business community.  But just as Jon is frustrated with people who disingenuously elevate their stature via their social network, I am put off by people who suggest that all people, products, services, and companies are fantastic.  The absence of negativity is dishonest.  Bad experiences happen to all of us.  It would be nice if more people presented themselves as such. There are a few that do and they are remarkably more trustworthy.


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Reader Comments (3)

I like the blog! Keep it up.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShane Jerome

Great post Spence. Keep musing away. M x

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMehreen

Thank you so much for your post. But PLEASE remember that there's another side to this, too. We oversell because customers DEMAND it. It's not just techies, either, who blatantly oversell. It's politicians, it's medicine, it's appliance salesmen, it's the goshdarn barber these days for crying out loud. (Yes. Really.) But the customers (or voters, or patients, or users, or old ladies in the barber chair who want to believe that a haircut can make them beautiful again)... they demand it.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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