Will 9/11 Be the Defining Moment of My Generation?

From time to time journalists and producers contact me for feedback on stories they’re working on. I’ve worked regularly with my local paper, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle, on a variety of issues they’re thinking about, from unhealthy school diets in cafeterias to the impact of blogs on their business.

Michelle Melendez, a journalist at Newhouse News Service, a wire service whose articles run in several dozen papers in the midwest and south, recently talked to youth about the lasting effect of 9/11 on my generation. In this piece I pop up once and say 9/11 won’t have as lasting effect as "emerging technologies." Indeed.

Pearl Harbor stamped "the Greatest Generation," the Kennedy assassination marked the baby boomers. Were the terrorist attacks five years ago such a moment for Generation Y?

As Sept. 11, 2001, nears another anniversary, America’s rising youth — together with the scholars and marketers who study them — are pondering its impact on attitudes and outlooks….

Ben Casnocha, 18, of San Francisco, said Sept. 11 has had little lasting impact on his generation beyond inconvenience at airports: "On a day-to-day basis, if you didn’t have someone who you knew who got killed on that day, I don’t think it affects us as much as something like emerging technologies or other things."

John Steinbeck on Americanism

Nobel prize winning writer John Steinbeck, in his novel East of Eden, on Americanism:

"We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil.

That’s why I include myself. We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed — selected out by accident. And so we’re overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic — and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal — all of us. You aren’t very different." – Lee

(Hat tip to my Mom for seeing this passage)

Book Review: In An Uncertain World

Robert Rubin’s In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington is a fantastic book and memoir by the former Clinton treasury secretary.

The theme which runs through the book and Rubin’s extremely successful career is a honed worldview: the world is messy and complicated, the future may not resemble the past, and, accordingly, we must make tough decisions based on probabilities. Whether at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, or at the White House, Rubin consistently applied a dispassionate intellectual analysis to big decisions and tried best he could to evaluate the prudence of a decision not simply on the outcome but on whether he reasonably estimated the potential upside, downside, and associated probabilities.

The clarity and consistency of Rubin’s intellectual philosophy is striking. In an uncertain world, it’s hard to develop too many hard-and-fast rules about living in this world that’s changing so fast. It’s hard to develop an overarching philosophy that can stay true through your whole career. An answer that’s right today may not be relevant tomorrow. A developing country may not have meant anything to the United States 20 years ago, but now can have an enormous economic impact. So, Rubin’s philosophy is convincing: if you want to simplify life down to something bite size, if you want to hold a truism in your back pocket, consider a worldview that merely acknowledges the uncertainly and complexity of a globalized world.

Otherwise, the memoir covers its fair ground of inside dirt on White House life, provides engaging detail on how Washington had to help rescue various failing economies in the 90’s (Asia Crisis, Mexico, Russia, etc), and illuminates Rubin as a person (though I could have used some more personal detail).

All in all, a highly recommended memoir.

(Thanks to my friends Jeff Maurone for the recommendation and Matt Huebert for the loan)

My Networking – Theory and Practice

Like most other people I think networking is really important and fun.

I had a great chat the other day with my friend Dave Zinman, VP of Products at Blue Lithium. We were talking about organization networks and the fascinating topic of network theory. Dave mentioned two questions they ask in network theory surveys, “Who do you go to for advice and who do you consider friends?” Obviously if a friend goes to you for both (advice and friendship) you’re indispensable.

Auren Hoffman once told me a different, equally profound insight about being an “expert” to your friends. For example, I know some things about business and technology and I know some things about education / youth / next gen issues. I am an expert in neither. But to my adult friends in business I’m their expert on education / next gen issues and to my school friends I’m their expert in business. My friend and PR maven Renee Blodgett recently asked me to talk to one of her entrepreneur friends who’s starting an internet company targeting college students. A friend from high school recently asked me if I could help him get a job at a financial services company.

Acquiring knowledge and experiences in diverse fields can produce a powerful “expert effect” which makes you valuable to your network of contacts.

A question I often ask myself is how much time to devote to weak ties versus strong ties. It’s a balancing act. What’s important is actively thinking about these two levels of relationship and what kind of relationship you are striving for with a particular person (in business or in life). Lots of weak ties are underrated — email only relationships can still be interesting and fruitful. I find it difficult to maintain weak ties with people if they don’t have a blog or aren’t good emailers. Maintaining strong ties, on the other hand, is just a product of sheer time and effort. Therefore, it’s impossible to maintain strong ties unless you actually like the person. And it’s nearly impossible to form strong ties when you have visible “needs” — if you start networking when you’re looking for a job or trying to raise money, it’s way, way too late.

Why do I care about networking? It’s fun, it’s important, and long ago I learned I won’t be able to compete with many people on raw intelligence alone, so I’ve resorted to getting really good at facilitating people’s intelligence, connecting them to new people and ideas, and trying to help others be more successful.

In the coming years, as far as my network is concerned, I am focusing on three things:

1. Young — I want to build relationships with younger people, ie under 30 or 40. The wisest people I know have gray hair, but the “next gen” demographic, who are usually funnier and more visionary, is shallower than I’d like.

2. Global — Talent is spread across the globe. I want to know influencers in all the major countries. With my international travel, I’m working on this.

3. Interconnected — I want to connect more of my friends. I have a big idea around this, to be revealed later.

One final point. Some people see “networking” as a dirty word, because it can imply a kind of greedy approach toward relationships. It’s a valid concern. If you’re not genuinely interested in people and their stories — everyone can be interesting for at least five minutes — then you can’t “network” to success. I derive a great deal of pleasure from exchanging ideas with interesting people. Indeed, there are people in my network who have provided zero professional benefit, but it doesn’t matter since I don’t apply an ROI calculator to each person in my address book. I also am not embarrassed about taking a professional approach to my personal relationships (ie non business related). For example, I created a spreadsheet that listed when all my friends from high school were leaving for college, so I’d be sure to see them before they took off. Relationships are so central to our lives that there should be nothing wrong with thinking about it in an organized manner.

Global Economic Integration: What's New and What's Not?

U.S. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech in Wyoming yesterday on globalization. It’s a good piece that provides some historical context, draws contrasts between the stunning pace of change now from economic and social interpenetration of the past, and concludes that, while we need to be sure the gains of globalization are spread around, the potential benefits of a smaller, more integrated world are significant.