Do you watch Shark Tank? I do, but there is one thing that drives me nuts.
It’s the constant reference by all the Sharks, especially Mark Cuban, to the American Dream.
It’s the idea that starting a business and financial success is proof that the American (every country has it’s own version) Dream is alive and well.
Only problem is that making money and owning a house were never what the original dream was about.
The term was popularized in a 1931 book, “The Epic of America,” by James Truslow Adams, and referred to far more intrinsic values and I seriously doubt that even .05% of people are aware of the original meaning.
Mr. Adams emphasized ideals rather than material goods, a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” And he clarified, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.”
We’ve come a long way since 1931, but seem to have forgotten to bring our values along.
Tech is an umbrella term embraced by a wide range of industries; hence there is fintech, medtech, legaltech, etc.
The inclusion of the word indicates that companies within that industry, frequently startups, are revamping/revolutionizing the business using various kinds of technology.
But none of it happens in a vacuum.
No matter how large or small or how disruptive — from Uber to a solitary founder — they are still part of a larger community.
It’s ideal because it is a perfect microcosm of a disruptive startup, with the machinations, interactions and effects on its industry and society in general, since it includes all the elements — positive and negative.
Founders take note.
Uber’s storyline hasn’t moved in a straight line, nor will it in the future, because it involves people.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
“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.
When I was five or six, every Saturday morning was the same. I’d strap on my trusty toy six-shooter over my pajamas, grab my cowboy hat, and mount the arm of my father’s armchair, which I thought of as my trusty steed. From that perch, I’d watch the Saturday morning cowboy shows on our black and white television. Like most of the rest of America, I loved my cowboy heroes. It took a while to understand how unrealistic they were.
The cowboys were all white guys, there wasn’t an African American, or a Mexican American, or a Mexican to be seen doing real work. In real life, about a quarter of working cowboys were African-Americans. And much of the dress, equipment, and the language of the working cowboy came from the Mexican vaqueros.
The cowboys I watched on television were all clean and wore fancy clothes. Real cowboys did a dirty job and wore clothes and used equipment to make it safer and easier.
Television cowboys had almost superhuman skills. They could ride a horse at a full gallop and shoot the pistol out of a bad guy’s hand at a couple of hundred yards. When the evildoer was trying to run away, they could whip out their trusty lasso and pull him off his horse. Every time. They never missed. They were heroes.
The cowboy heroes did super masculine things with grace. They knocked out bad guys with a single punch. The women in the shows were always attractive, but their primary role was to be rescued or protected.
You would think, if they had the usual set of masculine urges that there would be some chasing after the beautiful women who populated the television West. But no. When their work of rescuing and protecting was over, the cowboy heroes rode away, accompanied if at all, by their trusty sidekick. That’s weird.
Those heroes were great for me when I was five. Today, I’m not so sure they fit the world we want to create.
Let’s Broaden Our View of Heroes
There’s no reason we need to limit our definition of heroes to white men with superpowers. Women can be heroes, too. So, can people with every shade of skin tone imaginable. They have been throughout history.
Heroes don’t need superpowers, and they don’t need to be flashy. Some of our greatest heroes do quiet work that makes a difference in the world, like Dan Nigro on and after 9/11.
Cowboy Heroes in A Team-Centric World
Today, most of the world’s work gets done in teams, so you would think we would modify our idea of a hero. We haven’t. Instead, we’ve made the situation fit our fantasy rather than the facts.
We laud lone innovators like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, except they weren’t “lone” at all. Edison had the muckers and Jobs had hundreds of people at Apple. We laud the fighter pilot and forget the crew that keeps the jet flying and the pilot safe.
When US Airways flight 1549 was set down in the Hudson River, the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, became the hero of the day. No one except Sullenberger wanted to talk about the contributions of the copilot or the cabin crew to making the landing safe and getting the passengers off the plane. No one wanted to bring up the training in the cockpit resource management that prepared those people to react as a team.
The all-knowing physician is another variation of the lone hero. That may make great TV drama, but it just doesn’t fit what we need. Atul Gawande is an author, surgeon, and professor. He puts the situation this way.
“We have trained, hired, and awarded physicians to be cowboys, when what we want are pit crews for patients.”
We’ve done that with managers, too. Except we don’t call them managers anymore. We call them “leaders,” that’s today’s hero-word. We expect those leaders to do the business equivalent of shooting the gun out of the evil-doer’s hand while riding at a full gallop.
Our Challenge Today
The world of the future will not belong to the superheroes, like the cowboy heroes of my youth. Instead, the work will be much less romantic but much more effective. Team leaders will learn that their job is to accomplish the mission through the group, not to do it all themselves. They’ll also learn that their job involves helping the individual team members succeed, develop, and grow.
None of that makes for good television. I’m pretty sure that no six-year-old today is sitting in his father’s chair spellbound by a TV drama about a leader coaching a team member. But that’s what effective leadership looks like.
Our heroes have always been cowboys, but maybe it’s time for something different.
Irving not only stopped the ads, he set out to radically change a toxic culture that could easily have destroyed the company.
Culture starts at the top and its values and attitudes seep down throughout the organization.
That means change must also come from the top, but seepage won’t effect change.
Change requires structural and enforceable process change.
The answer is more complicated than just stamping out overt sexism. GoDaddy also focused on attacking the small, subtle biases that can influence everything from how executives evaluate employees to how they set salaries.
This was partly accomplished by changing the language, so that managers would evaluate impact as opposed to character.
“You can’t change a place just by hiring more women,” said Ms. Weissman, the senior vice president, who oversees a technical staff. “You have to create a safe space to talk about the assumptions all of us have. You have to work against the biases.”
Are the efforts paying off?
Today, almost a quarter of GoDaddy’s employees are women, including 21 percent of its technical staff. Half of new engineers hired last year were female, and women make up 26 percent of senior leadership. Female technologists, on average, earn slightly more than their male counterparts.
Who’d a’thunk it?
Go Daddy as one of the nation’s most inclusive tech companies and a top workplace for women and a lodestone of gender equity.
The company’s policies on equal pay, its methods for recruiting a diverse work force and its approach to promoting women and minorities had been lauded inside business schools and imitated at other firms.
Uber et al. take note.
With truly committed leadership a leopard can change its spots.
“For years I thought it was a pipeline question,” said Julie Daum, who has led efforts to recruit women for corporate boards at Spencer Stuart. “But it’s not — I’ve been watching the pipeline for 25 years. There is real bias, and without the ability to shine a light on it and really measure it, I don’t think anything’s going to change.”
Conscious, intentional bias is bad enough, but girls also have to contend with an unconsciously biased society and a dearth of powerful role models.
Women rarely consider themselves experts, unlike men, who will claim expertise on any subject, no matter how ridiculous.
A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.
Ellen Kullman, the former chief executive of DuPont sums up a large piece of the problem.
The UK’s advertising industry regulator has announced that portrayals of little girls aspiring to be, say, a ballerina while boys hope to be, for instance, a scientist or doctor will be banned from the country’s ads. Many of these air during kids’ programs and target teens through social media.
And if you think this example is extreme it is actually drawn from this Aptamil baby formula ad.
Can bias actually be addressed beyond training and conversation?
Join me tomorrow for a look at how a corporate sexist poster child became a lodestar for gender equity.