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Ryan’s Journal: Culture Of Extremes

August 17th, 2017 by Ryan Pew

This past week has been unfortunate. There have been violent, racially charged protests, attacks and murder. All committed in the name of one cause or another. As an American I am ashamed. As a human I am saddened.

I never thought I would need to publicly state that I am against Nazi rhetoric or white supremacist views, but I am.

As a white male I find the fact that this thought still exists to be abhorrent and disgusting.

The thing that bothers me most about this is not that it exists; there will always be people that think a certain way. It’s the fact that the reaction of some leaders was to place blame on all, including the victims.

I never feel comfortable wading into race relations dialogue. I typically feel inadequate and too uniformed to truly understand the challenges that minorities feel. As a result I seek to learn and absorb.

However, in the case of Charlotte, Virginia the stance is clear. If you are an individual who claims that your so called purity as a white man/woman means you have more value than those of different colors, you’re absolutely wrong. Science does not support you, nor does history.

I failed to mention the train wreck that is Google right now.

One engineer writes a manifesto claiming women are emotion-driven and as a result are not as capable at STEM careers as men are. Google fires him, there is a major uproar and everyone now has an opinion.

One article I read showed how Google is acting as thought police preventing any idea that is not approved from being made public. Other articles I read show how, if we appease intolerant viewpoints, we risk allowing intolerance to abound and have extreme cases, such as Nazi Germany.

What does all of this say for society? I believe it shows that we are now on the margins of culture.

Only the extreme survive.

If you have an easy going and inclusive view on society then you are not to be trusted. However, if you take a hard stand on either the left or right, you are to be championed.

When did this culture of extremes become the norm?

Image credit: Steve Snodgrass

Words & Pictures

August 16th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

This old Italian proverb makes the perfect pin with which to prick inflated egos.

After the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box.

When it comes to software…

programmers think they know,

 

 

 

 

 

 

but users are sure they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: Computer Funnies

Ducks in a Row: Education For Tomorrow’s Heroes

August 15th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dimsis/17826882135/

The talk of heroes and the need to change their traits and profile started last week when I shared a post from Wally Bock.

Sadly, need doesn’t always drive change, so, if our society really believes there is a need to change our heroes, we must look to how we educate our children.

What about education? Is its primary purpose to prepare humans to earn a living?

Mark Zukerberg and other tech titans would have you believe STEM is critical and that tech is the solution to education’s woes.

But if that’s true, why did Steve Jobs limit his kids’ tech at home and why do so many in the tech world send their kids to schools that allow no tech?

If money, tech, and extracurricular opportunities are what’s critical to kids success, why is the teen suicide rate climbing fastest in high-income, suburban, mostly white schools (along with elite colleges and among entrepreneurs, also mostly white males).

Is there more to education than providing workers to Facebook, Google, and the rest of techdom — who will be needed only until AI is trained to write code?

There definitely is more and it was elegantly summed up by Malcolm Forbes.

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

In 2009, there was a boycott by conservative parents over a back-to-school speech by then-President Obama that focused on personal responsibility and personal choice.

However, no such blowup surrounded the speech given this year by Chief Justice John Roberts at Cardigan, his son’s private, all male prep school that addressed similar topics and attitudes. (This is an excerpt, read the entire speech at the link.)

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

I think if you’re going to look forward to figure out where you’re going, it’s good to know where you’ve been and to look back as well.

But you are also privileged young men. And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here. My advice is: Don’t act like it (emphasis mine).

The only way we will change our hero leaders from the shallow ideologues of today is by changing education.

A new breed of heroes requires different skills, such as deep thinking, critical thinking, empathy and the entire range of so-called soft skills.

Ideology, no matter the flavor or parameters, just won’t cut it.

Image credit: Dimitris Siskopoulos

Golden Oldies: The Idiocy Of Ideologues

August 14th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Echo Chambers. They’ve been with us since humans first stood erect. We hear what we want to hear; listen only to those who agree with us. Seek out the likeminded with whom to spend our time. And, when all else fails, people have been known to go beyond the acceptable to prove they are right. But when this happens at work, what’s a manager to do?

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Last week I had a call from a “Rick,” marketing manager, with what he thought was a unique problem—sadly it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Short version. “Chris” is one of his top producing marketing people and extremely valuable to the team and the company. Recently, the team had a vehement disagreement on a marketing plan, but finally decided to go with an approach different from the one that Chris had championed.

Since then, Chris has made a number of comments and suggestions that undermine the current effort and has privately said that she hopes it fails because the other approach was better.

The team was starting to notice and some were losing confidence—a sure way to guarantee failure.

Rick said he had talked a bit with Chris; she denied that she was sabotaging the campaign and if it failed it would be because the wrong choice was made.

When I asked if Chris was always such an ideologue Rick was startled. He hadn’t thought of her actions in those terms, but after thinking it over he decided that she was a bit, although normally not to this extent.

Rick went on to say that it was ironic, because during the election Chris had been adamant that the “hide-bound ideology on both sides was creating problems for the country” and that she thought Obama was less locked into a specific, narrow ideology than most politicians.

More recently, she had been furious with Rush Limbaugh’s comment “I hope Obama fails,” seeing it as destructive and unpatriotic.

And therein, as I told Rick, lay his solution. Here is what I suggested.

  • Arrange a conversation without interruptions, such as an off-site lunch.
  • Make a production of turning off your cell phone (if Rick isn’t answering his, Chris is unlikely to interrupt to answer hers).
  • Keep the tone conversational; avoid anything that sounds like an accusation or makes the lunch feel like a confrontation.
  • Remind Chris’ about her previous thoughts regarding ideologues.
  • Once she confirms her thoughts gently draw the parallel between her attitudes and an ideologue.
  • Use her own words and feelings to refute whatever defense she raises (again, without attacking her).
  • Keep it conversational and take your time leading her to the recognition that her actions are the same as those she dislikes, just in a different arena.

Rick called today to say they’d had lunch that day and the conversation went exactly as predicted. It wasn’t perfectly smooth and there were some dicey moments, but when that happened he backed away and tried another route. He said that it would have been impossible to do in the office with interruptions and turning off their cells created a whole different mood.

He said that when Chris realized that she was doing a highly watered down version of Limbaugh she was openly shocked and very apologetic.

Instead of leaving it there, Rick took extra time to walk through the competing plans and why the team had chosen the one and not the other. He explained that it wasn’t that Chris was wrong, she just held a different opinion and that was OK, but it wasn’t OK do anything to undermine the program—even unconsciously.

With a more open mind Chris grudgingly agreed to the reasoning. She said that in spite of still feeling the other plan was better she would do everything in her power to make the project work. She said that the success of the project was more important than being “right.”

Rick was lucky because a critical member of his team was also a rational thinking person who could see a parallel when it was pointed out and not enough of a hypocrite to claim “that’s different…”

Chris was lucky because she worked for a manager who valued her and was willing to take the time to help her change and grow.

How do you control your inner ideologue?

Or do you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last week I wrote Time To Get Off Your Ass And Lead (Yourself) and Ravi Tangri added some very intelligent thoughts in his comment. I hope you’ll take a moment to click over, read it and add your own thoughts to the conversation. It’s an important one for all of us.

Image credit: Gurdonark on flickr

This golden Oldie dates back to 2009 and includes a comment worth a click.

If The Shoe Fits: Travis Kalanick And Spin

August 11th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mArrogance seems to be a constant, whether in the cowboy heroes of yesterday or the “leader heroes” of today. Or perhaps we should say “unhero.”

Travis Kalanick is a true unhero and a good, if overused, example of above and beyond arrogance.

He publicly claimed he would be “Steve Jobs-ing” his dismissal and would return as CEO.

He still claims this in spite of a statement from Uber co-founder and director Garrett Camp, who says Kalanick will not return as CEO.

His “Steve Jobs-ing” comment refers to Jobs being forced out, but ignores the full story of how Jobs came back and what he did in the meantime (founded another company that Apple ended up acquiring).

What Jobs did NOT do was hire an advisory company that specialized in “CEO & Leadership positioning.”

“Through our close relationships with the world’s leading editors, reporters, producers, and hosts at top-tier print, online, and broadcast outlets, we develop and execute strategic, results-driven media engagement programs for CEOs that leverage traditional and social media platforms.”

More prosaically, it’s called spin.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. … “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

In short, spin alleviates the necessity of actually changing.

All Kalanick needs to do is write a check, probably a sizable one, and Teneo, the company he hired, will sell the “new” Kalanick to the world.

All hail personal growth and authenticity — the myths of Silicon Valley — along with meritocracy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are interested in authentic personal growth be sure to check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: What Do You Do When You’re In A Funk?

August 10th, 2017 by Ryan Pew

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ljguitar/4025554381/

Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to get it together?

You drink your coffee, go on your run, or perhaps your moment of zen. Yet that doesn’t get you out of your rut. What do you do about it?

I am in a stage of life where I am building. 

I am building my sales practice, building my family (up to five now), and building my wealth. I have found that those all keep me busy and I have little time for me. When I compare myself to my friends, though, they are in similar circumstances.

The ebb and flow of emotions is normal. Low points happen and should not be feared. However, if we allow ourselves to dwell too long, it can become more than a rut, it can be a lifestyle.

I have a new little girl at home and she is amazing. She also is a night owl and I have found that sleep deprivation and feeling down are directly correlated. My wife and I are walking around in a fog and I am not at my best.

I have started to become aware of this in the past week and have actively worked out ways to overcome it.

Currently my little one likes to wake around 5:30 in the morning. I have found if I just get up to go for a run I get the added bonus of watching the sun rise. That’s an amazing feeling.

I have also found that she likes to cry a bit so we stay up rocking her. This has led to my wife and I having genuine conversations because our phones aren’t attached to our faces. This has also been amazing as I actually like my wife. (To be clear I love her as well).

I say all of this because it’s on my mind. I know I am a bit low and I know others are too on occasion.

Ultimately it is our choice on how we proceed.

How will you proceed?

Image credit: Larry Jacobsen

The Importance Of Soft Skills

August 9th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/11984559914/

I said yesterday that we would take a look at the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace and, more importantly, in the future.

You probably read Yonatan Zunger’s response to James Damore’s manifesto.

One of Damore’s arguments focused on the worthlessness of so-called “soft skills” in a tech company.

Zunger was emphatic in his disagreement.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers.

If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels…

Long ago tech more or less mastered the continued iterating of software and hardware, but when it comes to wetware not so much.

It’s soft skills that are crucial to when dealing with wetware, AKA, people.

Business Insider listed 16 skills that would pay off forever; the list was drawn from the responses to a question posted on Quora.

Empathy topped the list.

Empathy is the most important skill for understanding, relating, leading/managing and innovating.

These days, tech is enamored with life hacks and athleticism is all the rage.

Too bad more time isn’t spent developing and exercising what David Kelley, one of the founders of Stanford’s D School, calls the empathy muscle.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

Ducks in a Row: Yonatan Zunger’s Response To Google Manifesto

August 8th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yodelanecdotal/1449868160/in/photolist-3d7XhU-nD4FUb-nphNJ2-nTjSvi-bTwp2k-mXGMEk-pd9LmU-nBPnBS-boeAFR-7LJWi7-avRQjp-7LEZtK-7LJWjJ-ejatXA-21e3h-Li3kk-3fFvBG-bN4EGz-6i8NJe-8fwJhJ-eUAptg-9YDyyr-68eU85-cTB2rG-9B518N-rCyjHM-7fMvid-6pRHL-rp9wWp-CRih1o-A37C92-68aHjz-eKEMv4-A1ToUq-j29oe8-nVy9YM-dpQ5bL-dPoxSV-9PkXo-z8uXHK-6Qm34u-6QgWRc-zLFDXs-zKwsyt-eUMKcb-A3YDeV-DUDt1-A16hdb-7LEZrD-qMWFVH

I’m assuming you’ve read the anti-diversity manifesto, or articles about it, from the Google engineer decrying his company’s diversity efforts and harking back to the ancient reasoning that women are biologically incapable of being good coders, cops and firemen, among other incapables.

(It’s always sad to see this level of scientific ignorance in a technical person. Of course, it’s not easier in a (supposedly) educated politician.)

There are dozens of responses, but Yonatan Zunger’s is the best I’ve seen (hat tip to KG for sending it).

Zunger is a 14 year Google veteran, who left last week to join a startup. He not only refutes it, but analyzes why the damage goes well beyond the obvious. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Ayori Selassie’s is shorter and I’ve reproduced it in full below.

The penis doesn’t write code, the brain does.

Women also have a brain therefore they write code too.

There, I fixed your #GoogleManifesto.

The one thing in the manifesto I do agree with is that freedom of speech should mean that anyone can speak their mind without fear of shaming or harassment.

However, the tactics he describes that are commonly used in liberal bastions on those espousing right and alt-right attitudes are exactly the same tactics used on progressives and liberals in conservative strongholds.

It boils down to the age-old us / them attitude.

Join me tomorrow for a look at the skills that will power your career now and in the future — and have nothing to do with STEM.

Image credit: Yahoo

Golden Oldies: Power, Arrogance And MAP

August 7th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Last week we started looking at our heroes — first as cowboys and then why/how they needed to change. It’s a timely subject, especially considering the attitudes/actions of so many of our current ones — from Donald Trump to Travis Kalanick and all those inbetween.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

I recently questioned whether, in fact, the imperial CEO is indeed dead as many are saying.

Wednesday Dan McCarthy was inspired to write 10 Ways to Avoid the Arrogance of Power after reading The Arrogance of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Business School. Pfeffer says,

“The higher you go in an organization, the more those around you are going to tell you that you are right. The higher reaches of organizations–which includes government, too, in case you slept through the past eight years–are largely absent of critical thought. … There is also evidence, including some wonderful studies by business school professor Don Hambrick at Penn State, that shows the corroding effects of ego. Leaders filled with hubris are more likely to overpay for acquisitions and engage in other risky strategies. Leaders ought to cultivate humility.” He ends by advising not to hold your breath waiting for this to change.”

I think much of Dan’s advice is good, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the advice to be taken.

I think that power corrupts those susceptible to it, not all those who have it; there are enough examples of powerful people who didn’t succumb to keep me convinced.

Susceptibility is woven in MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and is especially prevalent in today’s society of mememememememe with its sense of entitlement.

Changing MAP and stopping drinking are similar, since the individual has to choose to change. All the horses and all the men can’t convince the king to change—that only happens from the inside out.

Moreover, as I’ve frequently said, MAP is sneaky; it will pretend to change and then revert to its normal pattern when no one’s looking.

We, the people, can’t force them to change, but we can learn to sustain our attention span and keep looking.

Image credit: flickr

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

August 4th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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