Teaching iteration

I’ve written about the class I’d like to teach, but what I’ve been thinking about lately is the class I’d like to attend. Not necessarily now, but when I was growing up. In the 6th grade, let’s say.

I don’t know why people ask me this, but I’m often polled for my opinion on the American education system. What’s my take? What would I do to fix it?

I don’t know, really. “It” covers too much ground to be addressed accurately. Education is delivered at every scale, from an individual reading a book, to a 1:1 tutor, to a small home/classroom setting, to a larger university auditorium-sized class, to online classes that can be theoretically taken by the entire planet at once. From one to 7 billion.

You can’t fix anything that’s so big and so varied. You can, however, fix small parts of things. And hopefully, as the small, fixed parts add up, you have a chance at chipping away at a big problem.

So here’s my one small idea: I’d begin to teach iteration. Iteration as a subject, equivalient to math, science, history, language, art, music, etc. How do you make something better over time? How do you return to something that you’ve done and see it with fresh eyes? How do you apply new perspective to an old problem? Where do you find that new perspective? What trails do you follow and which do you ignore? How do you smash the familiar and reassemble something new from the same pieces?

Once you’re done with school, and cast out into the world, your job is likely to involve iteration. No matter what you’re doing, you’re probably going to have to do something over. And often times again and again. You rarely simply deliver something and move on. You’re asked to refactor, to build on it, to “make it better”.

Making anything better is iteration. When you put something out there, it’ll often land right back in your lap. Sometimes that feedback boomerangs back directly, other times you have to infer the problems by disciphering other people’s behavior when they interact with the thing you gave them. This customer struggled with this, this manufacturing tolerance didn’t line up with that, this printing process looked better on the screen than it did on paper. Or after a certain amount of time passes while working on something, you reflect on what you’ve done and don’t like the reflection.

Either way, someone’s probably going to ask you to take the state of your art, and make it the state of the art.

Now that you’ve got it back, what do you do with it? This is something you have to learn how to deal with. But in school — save for writing a few drafts before handing in the final version — you don’t get to iterate much. You move on from assignment to assignment, rarely getting a chance to revisit your work earlier in the semester. I think that’s a missed opportunity.

So, perhaps for a final assignment (no matter the subject), students should be able to choose something they did earlier in the year and get a chance to improve on it. Make version 2. I think working on four things, and getting a chance to redo one of them would be more valuable than working on five separate things. It would be a better education.

Or another take would be a single assignment for the entire semester. Every two weeks you hand in a new version of it. In time you may slam into diminishing returns, but that’s all part of it too. That would be a better education.

Or maybe you work on something and hand it in. Then the teacher shuffles the deck, so to speak, and hands you back someone else’s assignment. Now you have two weeks to improve on that. And that cycle — improving on someone else’s work — continues for the whole semester. That would closely mirror what work on the outside is really like. That would be a better education.

I don’t know, something like that.

So there, I guess that’s my initial idea to improve the educational system. Teach problem solving through iteration. Bounce things back to people for a second or third try. And then a fourth and a fifth. And so on. Require them to bring new perspectives. Demonstrate how time, space, and chance are on your side — they give you the opportunity to wander around with an idea and take it in new directions. Iteration is evolution. Hopefully what’s next is better than what came before it.

Your struggles can inspire others

Think back to the the last time you struggled mightily with a programming problem. Did you share it with the world?

If you didn’t, that’s totally OK — most of us don’t! Why would we? Nobody enjoys admitting defeat, much less wanting to make a big deal out of it.


But kudos to you if you did share your struggles, because I bet you made a pretty big positive impact on someone. It very well may have inspired them.

I’m speaking from experience. Someone I respect recently did exactly this for me out of the blue. We were chatting a bit when they mentioned how they were struggling with some parts of Kotlin, just as I was.

What an astonishing revelation! I was surprised (and impressed) by this honesty. How could it be that this person, a great programmer whom I admire and has done amazing work, be struggling just like me?!

It’s strange — logically I know that of course everyone struggles and has rough patches. But in an era of highly polished tweets, blog posts, and conference talks, it’d be forgivable to think that programmers out there never struggle with their work.

But of course they do. Which is why when someone you respect shares their real-world struggles with you, it reinforces and crystalizes an important point: there’s no magic to anything we do.

These vulnerable moments are a reminder that all of us are just programmers trying to do our best. That we all succeed basically the same way — by working hard, struggling, learning, and keeping at it with determination.

It also made me realize that while we often share our successes and expertise with the community, it’s much rarer that we humble ourselves and reveal our weaknesses. Don’t get me wrong — it’s amazing to be surrounded with smart people that are gracious enough to share their knowledge with us. A knowledgeable community is incredibly powerful.

But it’s also incredibly powerful and inspirational to share your struggles. Doing so isn’t a sign of impostor syndrome — no, it’s a sign confidence, generosity, and honesty. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such honesty more than once, and it always inspires me to keep at it and have confidence in myself.

So remember, we all struggle. If you’ve hit a rough patch today, don’t fret. There’s a good chance just about everyone else has too. Hopefully they’ll tell you about it soon.✊


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We’re hard at work making the Basecamp 3 Android app better every day. Please check it out!

A shining example of how to teach

I was recently fumbling my way through a programming problem. I couldn’t figure out the root issue, so I cobbled together a shaky solution and posted my ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on Basecamp.

Then Sam Stephenson stepped in to help. I admire and respect Sam a lot — he’s patient, thoughtful, and wicked smart.

He wrote such a well-crafted response to my post that I consider it one of the best teaching moments I’ve experienced.

Here’s his response in its entirety (discussion about why it’s so great follows):


Why do I think this such a great teaching post? Let’s break down it down…

🤔 It’s clear and thoughtfully constructed

Sam’s post was so clear that as I read it, I felt like he was walking me through it in person. This is no accident — he’s an excellent writer.

How did he do it?

Take a look at the structure of the post. He identifies the root cause, outlines a broad conceptual solution, demonstrates a concrete solution, and lastly summarizes. That’s an excellent pattern to follow.

The “design” of the writing is important too. He uses short paragraphs to make the post readable. The words he chooses are clear and simple, and avoid unnecessary complexity. And he makes effective use of contextual elements (quoted text, linked text, and images) to help illustrate his point.

✂️ It’s concise

In a mere 213 words Sam articulates the issue and a potential solution. That isn’t easy — a post like this could easily be 2–3 times as long.

There’s no fat in his post. It’s thorough, direct, and doesn’t wander around non-essential details. He makes his point and gets out.

This is critically important. It’s very difficult to parse out what’s important if it’s buried in fluff. Keeping the post focused is a big part of why it’s effective.

🚦It’s directional, not a direct solution

A great way to teach is to point someone in the right direction, but not give them the exact answer or code snippet. Let them figure out the details and learn from whatever issues come up as a result.

In other words, don’t be Stack Overflow.

In this case, Sam’s given me plenty to work with. But it’s not a direct solution I could lift into our code, and that’s a good thing.

🛣 It goes the extra mile

Sam is Ruby/Rails expert, not an Android developer.

Yet he put the extra time and effort into setting up an Android development environment and working through a proof of concept. Nobody asked him to do it — he just did it!

He could have very easily responded with a one line post saying “Did you try this…”, and we probably would have gone back and forth a dozen times on it.

But he didn’t. He slowed way down, worked through the solution (in an unfamiliar development environment), and posted a thorough response a day later.

In the long run, Sam’s extra effort saved us time (no back and forth discussion), made the app better for customers (I fixed the app in a couple hours) and taught us all something new.


This was an exceptional bit of teaching by Sam. It’s an example I hope we can all learn from and aim for.

Every day we have opportunities to teach others. Often we ignore them or give them only a few minutes of our day. But I hope this example shows how impactful teaching can be when we put genuine effort into it.

I’ll never forget what Sam taught me here — no, not just the technical bits. Really what he ended up teaching me was how to be a better teacher. 🤓


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Teaching is a big part of what we do at Basecamp — we’ve been sharing our ideas and teaching on our blog for many years.

When we’re not sharing and teaching, we’re hard at work making Basecamp 3 and its companion Android app as great as they can be. Check ’em out!

Your ideas are important — share them with the community

Sharing your ideas helps you and others get better. Here’s how to get started.

At least once a week I say to myself, “That’s interesting. I should write something about it.”

And then I don’t. A bunch of excuses fly into my head.


“Lots of people have already covered this. I’m not an expert. Why would anyone care what I think?”

Sound familiar?

I need to constantly remind myself to stop making excuses and that it’s important to share my ideas with the community.

Maybe I can convince you to do the same?

Ditch the excuses

The fundamental flaw in these excuses is assuming your perspective isn’t valuable to others. It’s a convenient excuse to say your viewpoint isn’t unique, so why bother.

But really it’s the exact opposite.

Your perspective is 100% unique — a composite of thousands of life experiences that nobody can replicate. Nothing that’s ever been previously shared has been through your words and the lens of your experiences.

So don’t worry about being original. You already are.

Understand the importance of sharing

You still might be wondering — why should I spend the time and effort to share?

It helps you

Sharing teaches you how to build compelling stories and make persuasive arguments — clearly and concisely. You’ll learn something new about your work every single time you share.

Don’t worry if you’re “just” a beginner. If you make a mistake, the community will offer helpful tips on how you can improve. That’s free advice from a bunch of experienced people that you can learn from!

And don’t forget — you’re simultaneously leveling up your portfolio. Over time you’ll build up a fantastic body of work you can point to at any job interview.

It helps others

Whether you recognize it or not, you didn’t get to where you are alone — you’ve learned and improved with help from a lot of people.

Any time you’ve read a blog post, used an open-source library, or learned from a conference talk, it’s because someone else helped you by sharing their ideas.

So it only makes sense to give back to a community that’s helped you so much already (and will continue to do so).

Don’t worry, it took me a long time to realize this too. But I encourage you to really think about it sometime. It could really serve as strong motivation for you to start putting your stuff out there too.

Get started

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that 1) your perspective is valuable and 2) it’s worth your time.

So how should you get started?

Keep your eyes and ears open for inspiration

I read, watch, and listen to a lot of stuff that inspires me to share my thoughts. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes not.

But the more you consume, the more chances you have to come up with shareable points or counterpoints. Not to mention, simply consuming content is a good way to learn.

Focus on topics that are important to you

I usually loiter at the intersection of learning/teaching, Android, Kotlin, arguing against excessive work, and the importance of teamwork — all things I care about.

Find the subjects you care about, not trending topics. You’ll know you’re on the right track when the ideas are flowing and don’t feel forced.

Find a medium that works for you

For me it’s writing. But there are lots of other ways. Talk at a conference or local meetup. Record a podcast. Shoot a video series. Contribute to an open-source project. Write a gist and tweet it out.

There’s absolutely no shortage of ways to get your ideas out there.

Look at existing examples of sharing that you liked

Read other people’s writing, watch their videos, and listen to their podcasts. What did you like? What would you differently? Use existing content as a model, then make it your own.

Just start!

Inertia is an absolute killer when it comes to sharing, so getting started will be the hardest part. You’ll be a little nervous and overanalyze everything you make. I certainly was.

I wish I had better advice, but you’ll just need to fight through it and get some stuff out there. Once you get past the first couple, it gets easier — and your content will get a lot better too.


I hope I’ve convinced you to start sharing! If you need any help, you can always hit me up on Twitter.

If this article was helpful to you, please do hit the 💚 button below. Thanks!

In addition to sharing and teaching, we’ve been working really hard to make the all-new Basecamp 3 and its Android app as great as they can be. Check ’em out!

My favorite people and resources to learn Android programming from

Keep your skills razor sharp by following these fantastic people and resources in the Android community

One of the best ways to learn Android programming is to surround yourself with people better than you — then watch and listen intently.

So here’s my attempt to help you find the best to learn from. Below is a list of some of my favorite people and resources in the Android community to help in your quest for excellence.

A big thanks to all these people and groups for making us all better Android programmers! 🤘


🐦🌟 Twitter

I’ve really enjoyed following these Android community members on Twitter.

These folks aren’t just knowledgeable teachers and key open-source contributors. They’re also positive-minded, hopeful, and friendly. Those qualities are just as important to me as being an expert in the area.

Chiu-Ki Chan — A devoted learner and teacher, Chiu-Ki does it all. She interviews folks, runs 360|AnDev, teaches on Caster, speaks, draws, writes, and probably does 100 other things I don’t know about. 😉

Donn Felker— Not only an Android GDE, Donn’s got a great blog full of helpful posts. He’s also half of the Fragmented Podcast along with Kaushik Gopal (who’s pretty sharp in his own right). And if that weren’t enough, Donn’s also the head honcho at Caster.io, a fantastic site for video tutorials.

Jake Wharton— Honestly, if you don’t know who Jake is, you might be in the wrong place. Just go here now. 😆

Kristin MarsicanoAn instructor at Big Nerd Ranch, Kristin has a wonderful down-to-earth vibe and is clearly a great teacher. Her recent talk at 360|AnDev on the activity lifecycle is a great refresher for something you probably don’t think about enough.

Ryan Harter— Ryan’s a GDE who’s been teaching a lot lately about how to reduce boilerplate code. He also helps run GDG Chicago West and is an instructor at Caster.

The Practical Dev —OK, this isn’t technically Android specific. But it’s such an informative and entertaining commentary on programming, I had to include it. Sometimes reading general programming posts can be really enlightening (and hilarious).

(Note: It’d be impossible to write about every single person who’s a great Android teacher, but you can find more on this extended Twitter list that I’ll keep adding to.)


📻 Podcasts

You should listen to Fragmented!
  • Fragmented— Produced by the aforementioned Donn and Kaushik, this is probably my favorite podcast. Two independent developers with their unique personalities and perspectives, with a focus on purely technical talk for Android.
  • Android Developers Backstage — The most official Android podcast you can get your ears on. Straight from the people who…well, created Android.
  • Material— Material isn’t a technical podcast, but is a lighter listen and a great way to get your Google news. Great for a Friday afternoon. Voices include Russell Ivanovic (from ShiftJelly, creators of Pocket Casts), Yasmine Evjen, and Andy Ihnatko.

📺 Videos

An example of Realm’s super cool synced video and presentation.
  • Caster.io — Another Donn Felker production, Caster has a over 100 lessons (and growing) of stuff you should know. If you ever watched a video from RailsCasts back in the day, it’s got a similar vibe.
  • Realm.io — I’m admittedly a little confused by Realm. They have a cool database product, but on the side they also host fantastic talks — transcribed with video and slides that are synced up beautifully.
  • Android Dialogs (YouTube) — A fun little video series where the aforementioned Chiu-Ki Chan and Huyen Tue Dao interview a bunch of folks in the Android community.

📰 Newsletters

Android weekly — the best in Android all in one place.

📚 General Reading


🗣 Conferences

To be totally honest, conferences are tough for me. No fault of the conferences — I’m just terrible at striking up conversations with new people! 😶

Of course they do have a ton of value — meeting new people and learning directly from the community is an irreplaceable experience.

Jay Ohms, Russell Ivanovic, Kaushik Gopal, and me @ Google I/O 2016. 😁

Google IO is the only Android-specific conference I’ve been to, so I don’t have much to compare to. The sessions were top notch (logistical issues notwithstanding), and just about everyone you’d want to meet is there. The downside is that it’s so large, it can be hard to get into the sessions you want or meet up with new people you don’t already know.

There are two conferences I’ve never been to but have my eye on: the intimate 360|AnDev Conference (hopefully it’s back next year) and the more established Droid Con NYC (maybe next year I’ll remember to actually get a ticket).


Whether you’re just starting out or are a wily vet of the Android programming world, I hope this article was helpful to you! If so, please do hit the 💚 button below.

And if you have any Android favorites of your own, please share in the comments or on Twitter — I’d love to find even more great people and resources!

Along with learning daily, we’ve been working really hard to make the all-new Basecamp 3 and its Android app as great as they can be. Check ’em out!

The writing class I’d like to teach


During Q&A at a conference I spoke at a few years back, someone asked me “What’s your take on the true value of a university education?” I shared my general opinion (summary: great socially, but not realistic enough academically) and ended with a description of a course I’d like to see taught in college. In fact, I’d like to teach it.

It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.

I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.

Along the way you’d trade detail for brevity. Hopefully adding clarity at each point. This is important because I believe editing is an essential skill that is often overlooked and under appreciated. The future belongs to the best editors.

Each step requires asking “What’s really important?” That’s the most important question you can ask yourself about anything. The class would really be about answering that very question at each step of the way. Whittling it all down until all that’s left is the point.

Maybe one day.

What are questions?

An unexpected answer from Clayton Christensen.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to spend about three hours with Clayton Christensen. Clay, currently a professor at Harvard Business School, is best known for his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. His latest book, How Will You Measure Your Life, has some wonderfully insightful business and life lessons.

His books, thinking, and approach to life, business, — and now, teaching — have influenced me greatly. I recommend reading everything he’s written and watching any videos of him you can find. Clay’s site is a good place to start.

What impressed me most about Clay yesterday was his clarity. He’s a very clear thinker and communicator. His genuine interest for helping other people discover clarity comes through with every patient word.

This one thing thing he said

Spending time with Clay leads to lots of interesting insights, but for me, there was one that stood out among all the others.

You’ve probably heard it said that someone can’t be taught until they’re ready to learn. I’ve heard it said that way too. It makes sense, and my experience tells me it’s mostly true. Why though? Why can’t someone be taught until they’re ready to learn?

Clay explained it in a way that I’ve never heard before and I’ll never forget again. Paraphrased slightly, he said:

“Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question — you have to want to know — in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”

What an insight. He continued to talk about the power of questions. Questions are your mind’s receptors for answers. If you aren’t curious enough to want to know why, to want to ask questions, then you’re not making the room in your mind for answers. If you stop asking questions, your mind can’t grow.

That day had a profound impact on me. It’s so easy to think you know, but most of the time you’re really just being defensive — protecting yourself against the truth about something you think you’ve already figured out. Make room, make room. It’s a life-long pursuit.

(Special thanks to Bob Moesta for inviting me to meet Clay)


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Junior


Why do some families seem so good at passing down success, while others fail?

Today, dog sleds are a bit of an anachronism — a reminder of travel that was important many years ago. In 1925 a diphtheria outbreak occurred in Nome, Alaska. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that was an extremely deadly disease for native Alaskan children who had no immunity.

There was an antidote, but the town’s doctor was out of it. And it was winter. The ports were blocked with ice. Planes couldn’t fly.

Their only hope was to fly 300,000 units of the antidote found at a hospital in Anchorage as far as it could go to Nenana, Alaska which was still 674 miles away.

Dog sleds would have to take it the rest of the way.

So 25 riders, or mushers as they’re called, and 150 dogs relayed across the Iditarod Trail for 6 days of brutal weather to keep the outbreak at bay. Several dogs lost their lives on the way.

Today, the “Iditarod” race helps commemorate that event. A hundred or so mushers take their dogs across 1000 miles. It takes a 1–2 weeks for everyone to complete the race.

And this year on March 15, 2016, Dallas Seavey won the Iditarod. For the fourth time.

Dallas is an interesting specimen of a winner. Not only is he a repeat champion, he also holds the record for being the youngest winner at 25 when he won in 2012. And he set a new record time this year by beating his own previous record from last year! The guy knows how to win.

Even more interesting, Mitch Seavey, Dallas’ father also has two Iditarod wins under his belt and has set his own records. Dallas’ grandfather was a veteran racer too.

Looking at Dallas and Mitch I wonder why is this family so good at racing? Is it luck? Is it something hereditary? Or is there something important we can take from this to help our own kids, students and employees to be more successful?

Or was Dallas Seavey just born to win?


In other news this March, Frank Sinatra Jr. sadly passed away. You probably don’t know much about Frank Sinatra Jr. but you’ve heard his dad’s music. Perhaps the thing Frank Sinatra Jr. is most famous for? Being kidnapped.

Frank Jr. was kidnapped at 19. Some drug fueled kids envisioned kidnapping Frank Jr. as a “business deal” with Frank Sr. They planned on “borrowing” Jr., investing the ransom money and paying back the family. They even refused to take a million dollars from Frank Sr. when he offered it, and stuck to the odd number of $240,000, which was their original ask.

The ransom was paid, and Jr. was returned safely. The kidnappers were caught and sentenced to prison soon afterwards. Rumors however came from another bizarre turn when the kidnappers argued that Frank Jr. had orchestrated the kidnapping himself. Barry Keenan, the mastermind behind the kidnapping, now a wealthy real estate tycoon, has since apologized profusely for what he did and has admitted that Frank Jr. was innocent of the whole thing.

So apart from being one of the most famous celebrity kidnappings, who was was Frank Jr.?

Frank Jr. was a talented piano player, a trained musician, and a gifted vocalist like his dad. But in contrast to Dallas, here’s Frank Jr.’s words about himself:

I was never a success. Never had a hit movie or hit TV show or hit record. I just had visions of doing the best quality of music. Now there is a place for me because Frank Sinatra is dead. They want me to play the music. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be noticed.

I think the disparity between Frank Jr. and Dallas offers an opportunity to learn some interesting things that parents and mentors can use to influence success.


Suniya Luthar is a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. She set out to deeply understand how poverty affects children. In study after study she has looked at the differences between groups of affluent, white, upper-class students and their poor, inner city counterparts. The results were unexpected.

As Suniya peered into their lives, she found that the affluent high schoolers actually suffered from higher levels of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. One argument you might make is that the affluent kids are spoiled and have money to blow on junk like drugs. But as Suniya found, it was more troubling than that. She kept finding evidence of self-medication. These kids weren’t blowing excess money out of boredom, they were using drugs to try to deal with that depression and anxiety. Why is this happening?

One theory that Suniya believes ties it all together is that the affluent kids are simply more alone. From her paper, The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth

Sociological research has shown that junior high students from upper-income families are often alone at home for several hours a week. At an emotional level, similarly, isolation may often derive from the erosion of family time together because of the demands of affluent parents’ career obligations and the children’s many after-school activities

Parents just aren’t around. They’re working hard to improve the careers that brought the affluence in the first place.

I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. But my parents were around a ton. I was in a bunch of activities, and my parents were actively involved even coaching the teams themselves. It was lessons on the field with my dad, or working with my mom at 2am on a science project that helped me learn and achieve.

But now that I feel like I have a pretty affluent peer group, I see different decisions being made. Folks needing to travel to a job or conference, or another late night at the office to make these important careers work. Is the sacrifice worth it?

It wasn’t for Frank Jr.

When Frank Jr. was a teenager Frank Sr.’s career became prolific, on average performing in 2 movies and creating 4 albums every year through the 50s and 60s. As you can imagine, Jr. didn’t see much of Sr.

Jr. would say at some of his shows, “I am now going to devote five minutes to the music of Frank Sinatra because that is exactly how long Frank Sinatra devoted to me.

That’s a big contrast to Dallas’ relationship with Mitch.

Win or lose the race or not doesn’t change the fundamentals of our relationship — that as family and friends. It’s an interesting dynamic to be the biggest competitors and best friends at the same time

Mitch on his son’s accomplishments

Mitch and Dallas spend a great deal of time on family and being friends. As you read Dallas’s own biography,

He grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather Dan and father Mitch

Frank Jr. barely saw his father. Dallas was taught by his.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. -Mother Theresa


A second key point stands out when you read about Dallas vs. Frank Jr. Frank Jr. wasn’t really a Junior. His name was Franklin. His dad was Francis. But at some point, Franklin obtained his dad’s nickname. That’s a tough act to inherit. And inheriting your parent’s legacy isn’t a sure fire plan for success, in fact, it often goes the other way.

Morten Bennedsen, a Professor of Economics and Political Science at Insead Business School, found that firms who pass along leadership to a family member on their departure suffer a 4% drop in value. A drop that’s even more severe for businesses in rapidly growing or highly technical industries.

And not only did Frank Jr. inherit his father’s name. He sang the same type of music. His first professional start was even with the members of the Tommy Dorsey orchestra which had launched his Dad’s career. Instead of Frank Jr. taking a new path, he tried to take the same steps his dad did.

Frank Sr. even had Frank Jr. sing on his Duets 2 album, which backfired for Frank Jr.:

It was the wrong thing to do. The premise of the Duets album was to have Frank Sinatra sing with young artists who were big successful record sellers. I never was. It was nothing but nepotism and it always embarrassed me. I did not belong on those records. I was delighted to do it, but I didn’t belong there.

Frank Sr. also gave Frank Jr. a job. His dad made Frank Jr. the leader of his band when Frank Sr. was aging and couldn’t find a band leader who would work for him any more. “This is my son — his mom told me to give him a job,” Frank Sr. would tell his audience as a ‘joke’. But in the end it was still keeping Frank Jr. under his shadow. Frank Jr. would even wear a dull suit during his dad’s performances and lead the band with his back to the audience all so that he wouldn’t dare outshine his dad.

If you look at Dallas’s career it reads very differently.

When Dallas wanted to finally race competitively he didn’t inherit anything. Instead he spent his own money buying dogs from his father. And his father sold him the b-squad. The “scrubs”. These were dogs that were sized wrong, too big or too little. Dogs who were scared to race, or some that were past their peak or had even been injured. Dogs that Mitch didn’t even want.

It wasn’t easy. It took 4 years before that Scrub squad became competitive and won their first race. And now, Dallas is racing the pups of the Scrubs.

Mitch isn’t giving Dallas handouts, and Dallas isn’t trying to become Mitch or inherit anything from him. He’s trying to beat him using his own unique set of tools.

And that’s an important difference when you think about helping our children succeed. Do you give them opportunities, or do you let them struggle and fight to find their own way?


In the end, Frank Jr. was still a talented musician who eventually found a path and peace with his life. But I still can’t help comparing the differences in how Frank Jr. and Dallas were raised and educated.

And I am by no means an expert of parenting. That’s why I’ll refer to these lessons as I make my decisions and sacrifices around my own career and family, and what my child needs to succeed.

But these same principles can also be applied in companies. It’s easy to get lost in our own focus and priorities. We don’t want to micromanage. But are we really just the absent parent who swoops in every now and then with advice that turns out to be an unhelpful handout? Or do we regularly give our teammates our time and ears, but still room to work out their own ways of succeeding.

Because here’s the thing. Often we think we need to sacrifice time with others in order to keep our own thing going. But I left something out about Mitch.

Dallas may have won 4 times, but he didn’t win them all in a row. He won in 2012, but lost in 2013. Who’d he lose to? His own father. And this year, guess who came in second? Mitch. Mitch even beat Dallas’s record from last year.

By being a teacher and a friend, and helping his son compete on his own, Mitch himself has gotten better. Maybe the student became a master. And the other master got even better.


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