Monthly Archives: April 2006

Why I Like Being Tall


(Photo from Silicon Forum. Other person is new friend Stuart Robbins.)

The Aspirations of Young People

Sitting outside on the courtyard of my school on this beautiful San Francisco day….

Friend: "What I’m most looking forward to is someday joining a men’s softball team. I want to go out on Sunday afternoons with a bunch of drunk co-workers in a men’s league. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, there’s Rick from finance in left field! That son-of-a-bitch, I haven’t seen him in three weeks!’ "

Me: [Laughing hard] "Tell me you got that from some movie, since that’s brilliant if you made that up on the spot."

Friend: "Quasi made up…Workplace jargon, I love it."

And that, my friends, is Generation Y’s loving anticipation of corporate America.

20 Reasons Not to Have Children (Followed by 10 Reasons Why You Should)

At the moment I don’t plan on having kids. This isn’t a hip view, but I think the tide is changing.

Why not? See 20 Reasons Not to Have Children. Then, see 10 Reasons to Have Children (on the same page).

Self-Deprecation vs. Self-Bashing

Perhaps the single biggest divider between the good and the great is self-confidence.

So I hate when people aren’t self-confident. I hate being around someone who says, "Because I’m so lazy…" or "I’m such a terrible writer so…" or "I totally suck at this so…" or "I’m always scatterbrained so…". Come on — be the force!!

A theory came to me today: people who try to self-deprecate unintentionally cross over into self-bashing. It’s a fine line. Self-deprecation is really important. But it’s not something you do through self-bashing.

Richer First-Time Interactions: Every Cold Call Can Be Warm

I get about a couple requests a week from strangers asking me to take some action (look at something and give feedback, talk on the phone, meet for coffee). It’s astonishing the variance in quality of such cold calls. For anyone who has a blog (like me) there is an abundance of material that can make a cold call more meaningful.

So, I hardly ever agree to talk to someone random who says, "Hey Ben, read your blog, wanna talk on the phone this week?" On the other hand, I do like talking to people — like a fellow named Dan did today — who provide more color. Something like, "Hey Ben, I’ve been reading your blog. I share your views on religion and self-improvement. I don’t agree with you on X, but would love to talk about it sometime. Here’s some background on who I am. XYZ. We also seem to share XYZ as friends."

I still write cold call emails to people I want to meet — though far less frequently than I used to, since I’m now usually a degree or two away already — and always try to show that I have looked him/her up and do see real reasons why we should talk. Perhaps similar interests. Common friends. Common career path. Common reading list. Whatever.

There’s no excuse not to make a first-time interaction rich. With blogs and Google, every cold call can be warm.

IBM Global Innovation Outlook

Fairly regularly I like to fly high and think about our world at a very broad level. I’m interested in the forces emerging now that will shape the next 60 years of my life. Then I think about which things I can impact to make the world a better place. The IBM Global Innovation Report 2005 is a good read (print-length) in this respect. Many of the ideas will be familiar to anyone breathing web 2.0, but when abstracted to the societal level (where issues like environment and sustainability and transportation become relevant) they take on new meaning. Irving Wladawsky-Berger adds some nice color to the report on his blog.

The Business Approach to Philanthropy

I had lunch Thursday at the Silicon Forum, a regular event put on by my pal Auren Hoffman. The topic was "The Business Approach to Philanthropy." Auren interviewed Sheryl Sandberg of Google for 15 minutes, and then about 12 tables of 12 invited guests each discussed the issue among themselves.

I think philanthropy is very important. In my philanthropy posts I’ve advocated for businesses — this includes start-ups — to take integrated philanthropy seriously. By "integrated," I mean weaving volunteerism and donations into the fabric of a corporate culture. Many companies adopt a 1% principle: 1% of profits, equity, and employee time to the company charity. I have also acknowledged the opposing view which says the best way for corporations to maximize social benefit is to maximize return for shareholders. Besides, shouldn’t shareholders decide how to give their money away? This is a fair argument but I still disagree: I think there’s a real self-interest ROI on integrated philanthropy. 1% of profits can easily be made up with higher employee morale (you feel part of something bigger), a positive corporate culture, and then of course all the PR benefits that accrue.

That’s the view I took into the lunch.

Sheryl — who was one of the impressive people, in business or otherwise, I’ve ever seen — said a bunch of interesting things.

  • The vast majority of Americans’ donations go to religious organizations.
  • Higher education — which serves mostly the elite — is in second.
  • Vast majority of our money goes to "visible victims." The tsunami was terrible disaster, but that many people die each week of hunger. Yet, after tsunami, 56% of Americans donated to that cause and donations to the ongoing UN Food program decreased.
  • People want to lever — it’s much easier to get donations for opening a new school versus on-going support for a school.
  • Her big question: how do we get money to the poor, those most in need?

On the drive home I came up with my own list of questions:

  • How do we negotiate in our own minds the need to help the neediest, versus a visible victim in our community? For example, giving money to a cultural institution — like the opera — probably helps those least in need. For me, giving my time and money to organizations like BizWorld (or even Ms. Foundation) means time and money is not going to hunger in Africa. Is this simply a reality of human nature? We want to be charitable, but we also want to be able to touch and feel the fruits of our labor?
  • Why do organizations like Habitat for Humanity exist? The best way to leverage my time and energy is not to give me a hammer and have me start building houses. A carpenter should do that. Then why do educated, well-to-do men and women with no carpentry skills pick up hammers and start building houses? It makes them feel good.
  • Should start-ups be expected to be active philanthropically from their inception? Is this a burden the shareholders and investors should not be expected to bear?
  • There seem to be three kinds of donors — individuals, businesses, governments. Early in our country’s history most charity existed in the private sector. Now, I’m sure government aid trumps all. Given government’s propensity to fuck things up, I’m not supportive of tripling the US AID budget in Africa.

My New Sister Blog: Gap Year Travel Adventures

I found it very rewarding and helpful to keep a travel blog when I was in Zurich last summer. I will do same over the next 15 months during which I will spent bursts of time overseas. If you’d like to follow my adventures from the road check out my new sister blog Ben’s Gap Year Travel Adventures. Here’s the XML feed. I will, of course, post highlights and the occassional dispatch here on my main blog.

I’m looking for shelter and conversations in different parts of Western Europe. (Asia and Latin America, later.) On the conversation front, anyone in entrepreneurship, business, academia, journalism, etc.

My new friend Jackie Danicki has shone a light on tons of interesting people in that part of the world. I hope to meet them and others!

First Leg: Europe

Western Europe is the easiest place to start in the world for my international travel.

I will be traveling June 12th – August 2nd — a seven week first leg. I’ve listed the countries I’m visiting and whether I’m looking for shelter or conversations, or both.

Ireland — conversations
Belgium — conversations
Luxembourg — conversations
Germany — conversations
Switzerland — conversations
Italy — have shelter in Northern part, looking for shelter in Southern part…and people
Greece — shelter and conversations
Spain — conversations
France — shelter and conversations
Britain — shelter and conversations

Email me if you can help me out!

More specific dates are forthcoming.

Why We Think We're Dispassionate About the Duke Case

I have friends who are going to Duke next year. I also am fascinated by race, gender, and poverty, the three age old issues which have torn and continue to tear this country apart. If you want to understand why I’ve stopped trying to follow "the facts" involving the Duke lacrosse stripper scandal, read Dahlia Lithwick. Spin has won.

If you want to understand why television is the worst medium ever for serious analysis of anything, go watch this clip of Tucker Carlson debating some woman on the Duke case.