Monthly Archives: August 2006

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.

What Separates a Talker and a Doer?

Calvin Newport, blog reader and PhD candidate at MIT, writes:

The reason I’m writing is to see if you’d be willing to offer some insight into a topic that I’ve been debating/discussing recently with a group of friends.

Specifically, we’ve been talking about what separates "doers" from "dreamers." That is, given two ambitious, intelligent people, both of whom have some big ideas, why does one starting getting things done, build momentum, and head toward big accomplishment, while the other one stays stuck in the dreaming stage? In other words, what constitutes the "action habit" that seems, more and more, to be the true underpinning to a lot of successful personalities?

(1) From a general perspective, what do you think explains the difference between people who talk the talk and those who execute?

(2) From a specific perspective, what’s your mindset/strategy/physiological states that fuel your day to day work? Think about an onerous project you started recently, what specifically got you going?

Important questions. Execution was a hot management fad a few years after Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan wrote Execution, a book I found underwhelming at a tactical level but useful inasmuch as it elevated an important topic to center stage.

First, we have to be careful about bifurcating "people who talk the talk" and "people who execute." Both skills are important. For example, a CEO running a 20-employee company may be most effective if he’s a motivating, empowering influence who can articulate a clear vision and think strategically about what the business needs to do to succeed even if he’s not a terribly organized person who writes follow-up memos and Excel-spreadsheets things to death.

But, the most interesting part of this question is the difference between two people whose success is premised on executing tasks across a variety of disciplines — as is the case in most start-ups — and one seems to be able to do more quicker, while the other person spends excessive time fretting, planning, dreaming, or consulting people. Here are some differences I see:

  • People who get stuff done maintain a high commitment to themselves. They don’t want to let themselves down. The chief motivation to achieve comes from within, not external factors. It is very easy to not keep promises you make to yourself ("Gee, I think I’m going to stop smoking" or "Gee, I’m going to join the gym this month").
  • People who get stuff done strive for "good enough." Good enough is a key principle in entrepreneurship. If your aim is "perfect," the future is so far away it may be hard to get going.
  • People who get stuff done think about the short term future – At the end of meetings, they ask, "So what are the next steps?" It’s easy to analyze the present or dream about the distant future, but actionable tasks over the next 2-4 weeks is most important for keeping the ball moving.
  • People who get stuff done "dream" and "talk" as much as the next guy, but they share these dreams and ideas with others. By sharing your intentions with others, you introduce yet another accountability mechanism.

The action habit, in my opinion, is indeed a learned habit, not a permanent part of a "successful personality."

Calvin’s second question asks what mindset I bring each day that allows me to be productive. I should say I’m blessed not to have very many "onerous projects" that I loathe to work on. Loving what you do is among the biggest keys to getting stuff done and not simply talking about it. When I’m focused on work, I take a kind of "let’s kick some butt" attitude. If something is difficult, I break it down into parts and organize it on my computer where I track my to-do’s. When I’m effective and productive, I treat myself by going to the gym, eating a Cliff Bar, or making time to do a blog post.

If I ever feel like I’m letting myself down, I think about the "hit by a bus scenario." There’s a real chance that when I cross the street I will get hit by a bus and life is over. My impending mortality looms.

For me, my motivation and reward system are both internal and it drives me to write and create and analyze each day, to try to get the picture, to try to figure things out.

Readers — What constitutes the "action habit"? What mindset fuels your day to get going?

Missing Your Best Friend

Mark Pincus has a moving post on his blog about dealing with the recent death of his best friend. I’ve posted before on how I’ve never dealt with searing grief, but that when I do it will be an opportunity to grow from the adversity, like Mark has done now. Excerpts:

This has forced me to grow up. I never aspired to become a man before. Always laughed that I could cheat life and stay a kid. Well life had a different plan. Guess digging a hole and poring your best friend’s ashes in it can have that effect.

There is a rainbow though. I’ve ben more present these past three weeks than the lifetime before. No more celphone in the car with friends. No more blackberry while I’m half listening.

Tom’s osho book of understanding talks about how we have to be 100 pct engaged on our path with no regrets. That it is more important to be 100 pct than on the *right* path.

There is no better path, only the one we’re on. I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling with decisions, tormented by the prospect of choosing the wrong path. No more. That is one of tom’s greatest gifts. Tom used to say ‘its all good’ and it is and ‘be here now’ and I will be.

Streateases at Funerals Banned in China

What a smart marketing technique — invite strippers to your loved one’s funeral to attract a bigger crowd. This is why I’m going to China in October.

Link: Oddly Enough News Article | Reuters.com.

Striptease send-offs at funerals may become a thing of the past in east China after five people were arrested for organizing the intimate farewells, state media reported on Wednesday.

Police swooped last week after two groups of strippers gave "obscene performances" at a farmer’s funeral in Donghai County, Jiangsu province, Xinhua news agency said.

The disrobing served a higher purpose, the report noted.

"Striptease used to be a common practice at funerals in Donghai’s rural areas to allure viewers," it said. "Local villagers believe that the more people who attend the funeral, the more the dead person is honored."

Wealthy families often employed two troupes of performers to attract a crowd. Two hundred showed up at last week’s funeral.

Five strippers were detained and local officials "issued notices concerning funeral management," Xinhua said.

Now village officials must submit plans for funerals within 12 hours after a villager dies. And residents can report "funeral misdeeds" on a hotline, the report said.

(Hat tip: Tim Taylor)

Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes

I don’t know a single CEO who’s short. Go figure.

Link: Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes.

It has long been recognized that taller adults hold jobs of higher status and, on average, earn more than other workers. A large number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the association between height and earnings. In developed countries, researchers have emphasized factors such as self esteem, social dominance, and discrimination. In this paper, we offer a simpler explanation: On average, taller people earn more because they are smarter. As early as age 3 — before schooling has had a chance to play a role — and throughout childhood, taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests. The correlation between height in childhood and adulthood is approximately 0.7 for both men and women, so that tall children are much more likely to become tall adults. As adults, taller individuals are more likely to select into higher paying occupations that require more advanced verbal and numerical skills and greater intelligence, for which they earn handsome returns. Using four data sets from the US and the UK, we find that the height premium in adult earnings can be explained by childhood scores on cognitive tests. Furthermore, we show that taller adults select into occupations that have higher cognitive skill requirements and lower physical skill demands.

Summer Reading Roundup — Business, Novels, Tech, Politics, and Happiness

I’m a bookslut. I undress my bookshelf with my eyes and imagine myself buried in their black, smooth lines of text.

I haven’t done as much reading this summer as usual, due to extensive travel and writing, but here are some titles I’ve downed over the past couple months:

Business:

  • The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness by Jeffrey Gitomar. Some pretty good tips. What I like about Gitomer’s approach is that he doesn’t try to break down sales into 25 different "types" of sale, each requiring a different tactic. He returns to the basics: have enthusiasm, kick your own ass, be funny, be different, and so forth. I’m not sure it’s worth buying the book — his web site and others can probably deliver the same point.
  • The Definite Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease. I’m a big believer in non-verbal communication. I wish I were better at it. This book really helped me understand all the physical cues we send and analyzed such details as the handshake in tremendous detail.
    • In a photo be on the left hand side — it’s the power position. Nixon, Clinton, most politicians have mastered this.
    • Smile — nothing is more universal.
    • Hands loosely held behind back is a good, open position. Stand with hands behind back when waiting to meet someone in a lobby.
    • Imitate — I do this unconsciously a lot. I cross my legs if other person crosses legs, etc.
    • Sitting directly across a square table is a charged environment. Try to sit next to a person.

Novels:

Politics / Current Affairs:

  • America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama. This is an excellent overview of the intellectual roots of neoconservatism. I highly recommend people with an interest in foreign affairs and American politics read this book. Here are eight pages of notes I typed up from the book.
  • Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress edited by Lawrence Harrison. This collection of essays, while repetitive, makes a strong point: the customs of certain cultures can contribute to its progress or failures, and we shouldn’t say all habits are equally good if some hold its citizens back.
  • Public Opinion by Walter Lippman. This is a classic. Lippman discusses the often inadequate means by which public opinion is formed and its effect on a democracy.
  • See No Evil by Robert Baer. This is the book that inspired the movie Syriana. It’s a first-hand account of a CIA agent who worked in the Middle East. You will finish the book being pissed off at the Clinton administration for how they handled the war on terror, but any inside look at the CIA can be gripping and fun.
  • Holidays in Hell by P.J. O’Rourke. PJ travels around the world to the worst places and asks, "What’s funny about this?" It’s a hilarious read if you don’t take him too seriously and don’t get offended. Here are some excerpts.

Web / Technology:

  • Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World by Jack Goldsmith. Oxford Press sent me a review copy. I found it a good, short book that makes one fundamental point: Contrary to popular belief, national governments are relevant in the 21st century and instead of borders vanishing in global business, multinationals like Yahoo are having to adapt to meet local laws. This is a somewhat disturbing, but convincing, work.

Other:

  • Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert. This is chock full of nuggets and required reading for people pursuing happiness. I listened to this as audiobook — Gilbert is a great voice. His thesis is that we can’t accurately predict our emotional states in the future. He covers many themes I’ve talked about on this blog such as self-delusion, cooking the facts to fit our preferred life narrative, and so forth.