Podcast Thoughts: Masters of Scale

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For those who don’t know, Masters of Scale is, “an original podcast hosted by LinkedIn Co-Founder and Greylock Partner Reid Hoffman showing how companies grow from zero to a gazillion. The series unfolds like a music-infused detective story as Hoffman tests his theories with famous founders. Masters of Scale is the first American media program to commit to a 50-50 gender balance for guests.”

[That last part isn’t expecially relevant to this post, but I felt that it was important to include, and kudos to the team for committing to that balance.]

I started listening to Masters of Scale at the strong recommendation of Dave Caputo; I’ve listened to a few episodes so far, and I have mixed feelings…which I explain below.

Let me first say that I definitely find Masters of Scale to be enjoyable and interesting.

However, here’s my concern: there’s a very real risk that Hoffman is overblowing the significance of particular anecdotes and experiences.

In each episode’s introduction, Hoffman says, “I’m going to test one of my theories about…”

In each episode’s introduction, Hoffman says, “I’m going to test one of my theories about…”; from there, through interviews with various business leaders and by relaying his own tales, he presents experiences and anecdotes that support his initial assertion.

OK, fine so far, and the stories are great and illustrative…but he said he was going to test his theory.

And here’s my beef: he never does.

He keeps saying, “I have a theory”, but he never actually puts his theory/theories to the test; instead, he’s pulling primarily singular examples that confirm his thoughts, without doing much to explore anything that might refute his premise.

As a listener, there’s nothing to suggest to me that we aren’t simply being fooled by a confirmation bias, survivor bias, or narrative fallacy where luck comes strongly into play.

The only exception I’ve heard so far – recall my disclaimer that I’m only a handful in – is in The Money Episode, where Hoffman’s position is that you should take as much funding as you can get, and then right at the end he acknowledges for about eight seconds that some folks think you should accept only as much funding as you need.

Anyway, all of that isn’t to say that Masters of Scale isn’t useful or entertaining, as I think it checks both those boxes…I simply worry that people in general, and potential leaders in particular, will be fooled into thinking there’s only one way to handle each of the many different scenarios they’ll encounter in business.

As someone who wants to learn and build a powerful arsenal of tools – and who subscribes strongly to the unpredictability of the real world – I’d prefer Hoffman genuinely explore different approaches, rather than only tell one side of the story.


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Everything, Management
3 comments on “Podcast Thoughts: Masters of Scale
  1. […] I found it refreshing to read this statement, from p80: “Is the lesson of Facebook that startups should not charge customers money in the early days? Or is it that startups should never spend money on marketing? These questions cannot be answered in the abstract; there are an almost infinite number of counterexamples for any technique.” […]

  2. Dave Caputo says:

    Hey Lee,
    Thanks for giving them a listen.

    I have enjoyed Masters of Scale and feel there is one solid lesson or learning in each episode (I am up to date).

    It is a bit tiring of …”this confirms my theory on X” just after a great anecdote of X. happening Sometimes, I think he is just lying. 🙂

    I have a feeling that often Reid hears a good insight, and just remembers he has always had that insight and then shares it with us. He is a bonafide craftsman when it comes to startups/venture investing so I will give him that.

    Of course, the universe of startups is too small to find any naturally occuring double blinds to compare with.

    I am grateful Reid is doing this podcast and suspect he is going to accelerate the success of entrepreneurs who give them a listen.

  3. He doesn’t really test the assumptions/theories
    He looks for a guest who can amplify the theory, w/o a anti-test, or a relevance test.

    facebook try things early w/o being finished to get customer feedback? Yes i think its a great idea for that market. Is that why they scaled? cause? effect? Would it work for the Therac-25? Well, no for sure it didn’t.

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