An alliance with this type of individual can be an excellent foundation for a long-term, trusting partnership, so the relationship should be nurtured. The key to this kind of relationship is communication, talking explicitly and respectfully about what the boundaries of the relationship are, and how you can invest in each other, professionally or otherwise. When there’s a communication gap, or one of the parties is not quite sure of the signals, you will run into trouble. If one person believes that trust has been violated, or that the other has misrepresented what he or she intends to bring to the relationship in the long run, all bets are off.
4. “I’ll invest in this relationship because it is the right thing to do.” These individuals have no explicit expectation of return. They are providing great value with only the knowledge that they are improving the relationship and the satisfaction of having helped another person as compensation. These people seek out relationships with others who share their values and goals, and they believe that helping the other person will advance those values and goals. Underlying these relationships is the assumption that when the right people are involved, an alliance is extremely valuable in its own right; we partner with each other to change the world. This type of alliance can ensure a successful, long-term, satisfying outcome even if the personal rewards are limited or curtailed. To reach this optimal level of exchange requires a very high level of trust. Once you have earned that kind of trust, the relationship can move mountains.
I have seen the value of this type of exchange many times in my career. For example, in my new book I tell the story of how, some years ago, I formed a partnership with Mark Pincus (now CEO of the game company Zynga) to buy a social networking patent called Six Degrees. About a year after that, I was presented with the extraordinary opportunity to invest in Facebook. My initial response, like that of any intelligent investor, was to make the entire investment personally. But on reflection, I realized that given my relationship with Mark, the right thing to do was to give him the option of taking half of it. Mark and I had no agreement to bring each other any investments. But because of our collaboration on Six Degrees, we were implicitly allied across our shared professional interest in social networking companies. I felt the only honorable thing I could possibly do in that circumstance was to present the opportunity to Mark. I’ll admit, this wasn’t purely selfless; I was also aware that if I opted not to do so, the deal would create a conflict of interest that could threaten the relationship, as Mark’s interests and my interests in how to deploy the Six Degrees technology might sharply diverge. Mark’s interests could even become fundamentally different from my own, and that would make it difficult to continue working together.
In the end, I communicated to Facebook that we needed to split my portion of the investment with Mark. Yes, I knew that decision would cut the investment’s financial value in half for me, but I also knew the return on the investment of trust and mutual commitment would be infinitely more valuable in the long term. And it was. Later, when Mark formed Zynga, I invested and joined its board; we continue to work together in building huge companies, as deep allies.
I use this same framework whenever I am deciding whether to work with or hire new people. First of all, I listen closely not just to what people say, but also to the questions they ask; this can speak volumes about how they will behave in the relationship. For example, if the first question out of a job candidate’s mouth is about the promotion schedule or compensation package, I know this is an untrusting individual who is unlikely to invest much effort without the explicit promise of immediate reward. On the other hand, if the candidate asks how his or her skill set can be deployed to complement those of colleagues, this is clearly someone who will make a trusted ally.