Editor’s note: This conversation was adapted from the Polywork Conversations podcast series that took place in 2022.
Sriram Krishnan is among a growing cohort of multi-hyphenate creators challenging the perception that we are what we're doing from 9 to 5 (or as he says, 6 p.m.). For anyone looking to regain a sense of self — and in turn, sanity — he’s showing a growing audience there’s another path that doesn’t need to compromise productivity for creativity.
“I kind of think that the old school mindset of you do this ‘9 a.m. to 6 p.m.’, and it's your whole identity, it's kind of a closed mindset,” Krishnan said. “If you want [employees] to deliver, you hold people accountable for the things they’re supposed to deliver, no questions asked. But beyond that, let people explore all the other facets of their identity.”
Krishnan, an experienced investor and partner at a16z, has epitomized the modern multi-hyphenate professional. A venture capitalist and product expert by day, but who’s also well known for offering accessible content such as “how to write a cold email”, he began like many of us — going through the 9 to 5 motions. “I grew up in an era where the idea was you do one job and that was your identity,” he says.
That was, until he found there’s something magical about blurring the lines between his work identity and true sense of self.
“I would say the underlying tension there is that it is somehow a bit selfish?” he says of the problematic relationship between work and personal growth. “The way you should be measuring people is not on how they spend their time — you should be measuring them on what they actually, you know, wind up accomplishing.”
He’s carried that over to his past life as an owner/operator of businesses and now in his role in venture capital, all without getting carried away. A big part of the journey was learning how to transition from player to coach, while not losing his values along the way.
You have to get used to the idea [you can’t do it all] and it’s amazing if you can actually get around the psychology of it. But you have to embrace being a coach, being a supporter, being a fan, and being a buffer.
“It's not like Steve Kerr can be like, ‘well, you know what, I'm going to suit up and get in there and jack up some threes, right?’ He's [instead] like, Steph, lemme show you how it's done. You have to get used to the idea [you can’t do it all] and it’s amazing if you can actually get around the psychology of it. But you have to embrace being a coach, being a supporter, being a fan, and being a buffer,” he says.
Krishnan says that the change is cultural in that employees need to feel that they have the freedom to pursue other work or interests while remaining highly accountable to their primary jobs. Reframing the pros and cons of polyworking or side hustles is critical for employers to not only adapt to the future of work, but to retain talent. Those that see the long-term value of those decisions will ultimately benefit.
“If you or one of your engineers happens to have a podcast on the side, which is amazing, guess what? That person's going to get sought out when new talent, new engineers want to get hired, right? And if that gives you an edge in the hiring landscape, that is amazing. I think you have to look at it as growth opportunities rather than trying to shut it down,” he says.