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Post title image: How Jensen Huang predicted and perfected hybrid work

How Jensen Huang predicted and perfected hybrid work

Key lessons from the Nvidia CEO on developing effective remote work policies.

The Future of Work

Jensen Huang, Nvidia CEO, was recently asked if he was worried about team members working from home. Here’s his answer.

“I got no trouble with it. And I think that there’ll be a lot of our employees who will want to work from home many days during the week, and they would still want to go in because maybe they’ll have co-op meetings. Maybe there are some really close collaboration meetings that they’d have to do. Maybe go into a lab or just go hang out, take a day off. Ha, we’ll take a day off of work and go to the office.”

Apart from the final sentence, this doesn’t seem especially radical. He’s describing hybrid, the approach to work now adopted by about 80% of US and European companies.

Huang makes this more explicit later on in the interview:

“I think we’re going to have people who work from home a couple of days a week, three days a week, four days a week. And I’m perfectly comfortable with all that.”

So far, so sensible. But the interview I just quoted wasn’t actually recent. It was from May 2020, just six weeks after the pandemic had reached the US.

When you think back to that time, the conversation about work happened in the extremes: either you thought flexible working was a temporary blip and would be reversed; or this was the end of colocation entirely.

Most large companies went on the following journey. First, herald the coming of a fully remote future (and hire accordingly). Second, in the face of investor pressure, attempt to see-saw back to the office. And third, when that failed, default to hybrid.

This approach, resembling a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other, meant companies wasted a lot of time on dead ends, instead of focusing on optimising and perfecting hybrid.

This is why Nvidia is such an instructive example: a path was chosen, the team stuck to it, and as a result, they’re years ahead

Take their “employee’s choice” model of flexible work. This approach devolves authority downwards, letting workers and teams decide how often they come into the office.

Or the design of their offices: Voyager, opened earlier this year, is their new 750k sq-ft space designed specifically to facilitate collaboration, gatherings, and events.

But I’m most struck by Huang’s ability to see what was clearly obvious to him in 2020 (something that still isn’t obvious to everyone, even now).

I think the final bit of his 2020 interview holds the key here:

“I think digital technology is going to continue to advance. We’re going to do video conferencing and VR. And we’re going to get much better, much better AI-assisted video conferencing systems and augmented reality video conferencing systems. You know, there’s gonna be all kinds of new innovations in this area.”

This is emblematic of Huang’s thinking: start by thinking about what things will look like long term, and work back from there. As he put it in another interview:

“The beautiful thing about vision is that you start from the future, and you work your way back. It’s a lot easier than starting from the present and working your way forward. Next week is very hard to predict. Next year is very hard to predict. But the long term is very easy to predict. And so I think working our way back is easy.”

This, rather than specific programmes, policies, or buildings, feels the biggest lesson for anyone wanting to learn from Nvidia.

They simply play a long term game better than anyone else.

Here’s a quote from a final interview, this time with Ben Thompson, that makes this clear.

BT: What is fascinating about NVIDIA is if you look backwards, it seems like the most amazing, brilliant path that makes total sense, right? You start by tackling the most advanced accelerated computing use case, which is graphics, but they’re finally tuned to OpenGL and DirectX and just doing these specific functions. You’re like, “Well, no, we should make it programmable.” You invent the shader, the GeForce, and then it opens its door to be programmed for applications other than graphics. NVIDIA makes it easier and more approachable with CUDA, you put SDKs on top of CUDA, and now twenty-five years on NVIDIA isn’t just the best in the world at accelerated computing, you have this massive software moat and this amazing business model where you give CUDA away for free and sell the chips that make it work. Was it really that much on purpose? Because it looks like a perfectly straight line. I mean, when you go back to the 90s, how far down this path could you see?

JH: Everything you described was done on purpose. It’s actually blowing my mind that you lived through that, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you knowing that. Just knowing that is quite remarkable. Every part of that you described was done on purpose. The parts that you left out, of course, are all the mistakes that we made.

This is also why this path - of a flexible-first approach, combined with investing in best-in-class gathering spaces - is one I think they’ll stick to even when the share price inevitably corrects.

For some things in a business, moving quickly, adjusting course, and being willing to do a 180 on a dime, is the entire ball game.

But not everything. Sometimes, it’s better to think deeply, chart a course, and stick to it.

Lessons from the greats #001

aled@ashore.io

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