Collaboration moves the world forward

Playing infinite games...

Choose infinite games …

About 15 months ago ago, I attended a conference organized by my friend Marc where Stacey Abrams distilled a compelling framework for how she was able to fail in her gubernatorial runs and yet drive so much impact in several elections. I have been applying this framework in my life and found it powerful in cultivating relationships rooted in high performance and shared value with other investors and entrepreneurs. I wanted to share it with you.


According to Stacey, at the heart of collaboration lies a delicate dance between compromise and confrontation among individuals who possess a deep understanding of their own value systems and are committed to playing long-term games with others. Stacey’s approach underscores the belief that people's values inevitably shape their goals, priorities, and actions. It also demonstrates that when compelled by values, transformative, systemic outcomes are possible, despite personal loss or sacrifice.

The ingredients

Values: Central to effective collaboration is a firm grasp of one's underlying value system, which is often shaped by personal narratives, family beliefs, and significant life experiences. Stacey’s unwavering commitment to equity and representation serves as a poignant example of this principle. Raised in a family that prioritized education and instilled Christian values, Stacey's defining moment came when she, as valedictorian, was nearly denied entry into a governor's mansion event. This experience reinforced her belief that representation, rather than capability, was the barrier to success, motivating her lifelong dedication to addressing this disparity.

Compromise: Stacey presents compromise as a strategic tool for advancing one's causes and goals amidst divergent perspectives. This process begins with acknowledging the abundance of values and diversity of thought within any collaborative endeavor. A robust understanding of one's own values, coupled with respect for others' value systems, lays the groundwork for meaningful compromise. Stacey herself exemplified this approach in her relentless pursuit of combating voter suppression. Recognizing the need to navigate complex political landscapes, she engaged in strategic trade-offs with more powerful counterparts, emphasizing clear communication and documenting agreements to ensure mutual understanding and accountability.

Confrontation: Integral to the collaborative process is the willingness to hold others accountable and call in favors when necessary. Stacey's advocacy for confrontation underscores the importance of leveraging past compromises to elicit reciprocal action. By reminding counterparts of the value of prior concessions and advocating for their return, Stacey demonstrates a strategic approach to conflict resolution and relationship management.

Considerations for founders: A Fairbridge case study

Several years ago, a portfolio company CEO refused to compromise on her values when a conservative buyer demanded alterations to the product to align with his political views. This decision ultimately led to the loss of a lucrative sales contract and revealed a misalignment in values: Our firm’s value system stresses that “the bait doesn’t have to taste good to the fisherman.”

Collaboration: Trust and infrastructure for collaboration within startups must be established upfront and constantly updated. The company didn’t consider Fairbridge an expert in sales so it didn’t seek our feedback. A discussion of our core competencies, how they fit the company’s needs, and how to deliver them would have helped. I have increasingly seen companies send comprehensive RFPs to investors to establish this alignment.

Values: A lengthy “dating” period can help founders and investors understand each other’s belief systems and how they will impact the business. Many matters we consider outputs -- cash burn, product, customer development, social presence/behavior, politics are informed by value systems that lists or standard due diligence won’t capture. In our case, we confused general alignment of a shared mission with values alignment.

Compromise: Clarity on acceptable tradeoffs for critical decisions forms a solid foundation for compromise frameworks. While additional revenue would have increased the company’s runway significantly, the CEO opted to lower cash burn by reducing the team instead. We preferred growth and preservation of the team.

Confrontation: Accountability requires a clear understanding of metrics and measurement of performance vs. expectations. Because of the young stage of the business, we remained open to adjusting expectations for too long. We didn’t draw a clear line and lost the authority to confront the company.

Collaboration drives the world forward!

A deep prioritization of values and building rails to drive collaboration has unlocked stronger collaboration with our companies. By embracing Stacey’s philosophy of collaboration, entrepreneurs and investors can navigate complex challenges, build meaningful relationships, and drive positive change!

I invite further exploration and dialogue on these principles, as we collectively strive to create a more collaborative future.