A Silicon Valley luminary finds a new approach to defining success.
Published on 05.31.2018
When we think about business goals, most of us think along quantitative lines: hard facts, data-driven targets, and fastidious timelines. So it’s jarring to hear entrepreneur, investor and all-around goal-guru Bing Gordon emphasize everyday experiences—the small stuff—as a benchmark of success. For Gordon, success is about separating minutiae from what really matters, then measuring it. His “forever OKRs” (Objectives and Key Results) are the aspirations that endure beyond boardrooms, daily actions that turn ambition into achievement.
Gordon is a highflier in the world of Silicon Valley investing—a partner for Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers who's sat on the boards of companies like Amazon, Audible and Zynga. He speaks in full paragraphs, with the same intensity that characterizes his popular talks on strategic innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2011, Gordon received the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award, highlighting a passion for technology that continues to inform his approach to startups.
Gordon’s meteoric rise is impressive even to those outside the business world, but it’s his time at Electronic Arts (EA) that stands out. Over the course of a 26-year long tenure that culminated in a 10-year long stint as Chief Creative Officer, Gordon helped develop EA’s pricing strategy for package goods and online games, created EA’s studio organization, and contributed to the design and marketing of many EA franchises, including John Madden Football, The Sims, Sim City, Need for Speed, Tiger Woods Golf, Club Pogo and Command and Conquer.
During his time at EA, Gordon began to evolve his use of OKRs to focus less on a rigid structure and more on nuanced ideas of accomplishment. (Having majored in theatre, Gordon, often uses pauses and punchlines alike for dramatic effect.) For example, Gordon suggests an end-of-meeting review, where participants rate the meeting from 1-5 and then discuss what could have made it better. The next time around, participants start by reviewing their previous score and identify how they’ll make the current one better. Gordon is equally interested in non-quantitative metrics: success of a board meeting determined by board member energy and management engagement (as demonstrated through calendaring of ideas) and personal leadership development as measured through evidence of maturation and skill development.
OKRs have been an ingrained part of Silicon Valley finance culture since Andy Grove introduced and taught them in the early days of Intel. Historically and contemporarily, they’ve been oriented toward the long game—eye-on-the-prize, annual profits and so forth. Gordon has expanded the usability of OKRs in his own life—instead of narrow scopes with long term focus, Gordon’s application of OKRs centered on the day-to-day.
As part of this nuanced vision of objectives and results, he ranks each day on a scale from one to ten. An enriching conversation, solving a knotty problem or delivering on a big target might be a ten, while less productive days may hover around a six or a seven. The crucial step is to look at overall trends across a set period of time, which can help to identify any gaps in potential and achievement.
If setting OKRs feels too ambitious at the start, this check-in approach can work to build capital, strengthen relationships and boost productivity. “It’s important to keep in mind that short term measures like corporate quarterly earnings, or day-one movie box office sales sometimes don’t correlate with longer term success,” reminds Gordon. The true test is in setting appropriate goals, then calibrating them as needed, so that the days ultimately add up to something meaningful. Sweating the small stuff might, in fact, be the way to go.
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