Finding great partners

It is hard to find great partners. Here’s a sketch that describes how to think about great partnerships.

1. Make sure you are aligned on the “why” or things that matter most. The first thing to look for is alignment on the “why.” For most people, this is a combination of what you value and what you are motivated to do. It helps to have strong alignment on what you value and an understanding of each others’ motives. This alignment makes or breaks relationships.

2. Common interests help a ton. The biggest challenge with relationships is that we spend a lot of time on “what,” i.e. activities or things we do. This is how most dating is done. Find a common interest and then attempt to find more common interests. While having common interests matters, it only goes so far. The key is to convert that shared understanding of each other through the interest to a really strong understand of the “why.”

That said, there are two reasons why it helps having some common interests. First, common interests are often indicative of stuff that matters. For example, if both of you care a lot about impact to the environment, it is likely that both of you will enjoy the outdoors. Second, common interests are where we generally bond. If you and the co-founder of your start-up enjoy playing tennis, that’s going to be a place you’ll get to know each other a ton.

Note: I’ve focused entirely on the “why” and the “what” and none on the “how.” My sense is that alignment of the “how” doesn’t really matter. In fact, it probably works better if how you both approach things are completely different. Complementary approaches make for strong teams. And, great partners make formidable teams when paired together.

3. It helps a ton if one of you can make the other laugh. Finally, every close relationship experiences ups and downs. And, it helps a lot if both of you keep a sense of humor. And, in these cases, it helps if one of you can make the other laugh.

Then again, humor is just a proxy for perspective. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for perspective in building meaningful relationships over the course of a lifetime.

While this applies just as much to friendship, I’ve focused this on partnerships. We build partnerships with our spouses and a select couple of folks who we build organizations with. These are very special relationships and can be a source of happiness and fulfillment.

So, it helps a ton to learn how to pick partners well. Life, after all, is a team sport.