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If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Founders/Programmers vs. Users

Friday, April 7th, 2017

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

It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words.

This image provides a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of why apps often fail.

http://www.par2.com/ComputerFunnies/computer_funnies.htm

Note to founder/programmers, etc.

Contrary to what you may have heard (or experienced on the receiving end), users are not a necessary evil.

They pay your salary, as well as other incidentals, such as rent, electricity, pizza and beer.

Cherish them.

Image credit: Computer Funnies

The Source Of Tech Misogyny

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allaboutchase/3210937988/

Anyone looking at the data can’t avoid seeing that tech culture has a strong misogynistic streak.

It wasn’t always that way.

What happened?

Marketing happened.

Specifically, the marketing of computer games in the 1980s.

A lot of early computers were used for game playing,” Elizabeth Ames says. “Those games tended to be more aimed more at boys and men, so it was easy for boys to get a leg up in that area through gaming.

Consider the stats.

… in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1984, 37% of computer science graduates were women, but those numbers began to drop dramatically in the middle of the decade. By 2016, that number had been whittled down to 18%.

Computers and games were not only marketed to males, they denigrated females (as did other toys, remember the Barbie “Math is tough” fiasco).

In the beginning Apple couldn’t crack the business market, so it went after the education market. When those kids grew up they were completely hooked on Apple and took that attitude into the workplace.

Jobs’ Apple was a master of brainwash marketing, so those kids also brought Apple attitudes with them, too.

The Apple personal computer that was released at the time was marketed specifically to boys (included teasing girls’ computer skills), as were a whole range of other consoles. This gave rise to male computing culture.

Those boys and young men grew up to start and run companies now.

And it’s those insidious attitudes instilled by all that male-centric marketing that became the cornerstones of today’s bro culture.

Knowing this, the current misogynistic streak isn’t all that hard to understand.

But that still doesn’t make it acceptable.

Image credit: Chase N.

Ducks in a Row: Cheating As A Basis Of Culture

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

What do Hampton Creek, Theranos, Zenefits, Lending Club, WrkRiot, ScoreBig, Rothenberg Ventures have in common?

They all channeled the “fake it ‘til you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley.

Only they didn’t make it.

Previous well-known cheats include MiniScribe, WorldCom and Enron and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Cheating is the getting of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation. — Wikipedia

Yesterday’s post focused on the prevalence of cheating at all school levels and its acceptance as a laissez-faire, “everyone does it” attitude.

Of course, cheating isn’t new, but the more ubiquitous it’s become the more it’s been shrugged off.

And it’s this cheating mindset that has shaped Silicon Valley over the last decade or so.

Along with faking it is the “do whatever it takes to win” form of cheating as exemplified by Uber’s Travis Kalanick.

Cheating on ideas, such as meritocracy and fairness, has certainly contributed to the rise of the bro culture, also exemplified by Uber and recently documented by Susan Fowler. However, as Uber engineer Aimee Lucido points out, Uber is far from being alone.

It does seem that a large percentage of the egos that drive, and aspire to drive, innovation, along with the egos that fund that drive, have lost touch with the society they claim to serve and, instead, bought into an attitude espoused by Donald Trump.

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

We would be better off if they would channel Sophocles, instead.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/5382067751/

 

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

If the Shoe Fits: A Continuing Train Wreck Called Uber

Friday, February 24th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMost of the tech/business/news-consuming world has been hearing about Uber’s latest, but doubtfully its last, scandal.

Uber showcases a culture where anything goes: sexual harassment; managerial threats, including physical violence.

A culture based on the overweening arrogance and MAP of CEO Travis Kalanick and fully supported by his top management and a subservient/ineffective/actively resistant HR.

So Kalanick did what all CEOs (and politicians) do when someone shines a light in their rat hole — he announced an internal investigation led by external, high profile lawyers and made promises at an all-hands meeting.

“What I can promise you is that I will get better every day. I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

This from the guy who two short years ago called his company “Boob-er” in GQ, because it was a chick magnet.

There’s an old joke that you should never trust anyone who says “trust me.”

The same can be said about the person who proclaims their authenticity.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Pundit Poop from Graham and Kalanick

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/249761636/

Background:

  • Austin passed a law requiring fingerprint-based criminal checks;
  • Uber and Lyft spent $8 million on a referendum to repeal it; and
  • lost on May 8.
  • On May 15 Paul Graham tweeted

    I will go out on a limb and say Austin has zero chance of being a serious startup hub without Uber and Lyft. (I am an investor in neither.)

Essentially, Graham, a man devoted to innovation and startups, discounted any possible innovation in ride-sharing beyond the current scenario.

(Keep in mind that this is the same guy who claimed that London’s not a startup hub because some establishments still enforce a dress code.)

Little did Graham know just how weak that limb was.

Contrary to his expectations, Austin did not reel in shock, wallow in grief or stay home.

Arcade City Austin / Request a Ride is a Facebook group that has grown rapidly in the weeks following Uber’s and Lyft’s departures. The group, which requires approval to join, is currently populated by more than 33,000 members who use the group to find rides to and from their destinations.

Beyond that effort, there is Zipcar, getme, Fare, Fasten, Wingz, zTrip, RideAustin and InstaRyde riding into town (if not already there) and all willingly complying with the required fingerprint background check.

All this should bring a note of caution to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s stated plan to avoid going public as long as possible.

“So I say we are going to IPO as late as humanly possible. It’ll be one day before my employees and significant others come to my office with pitchforks and torches. We will IPO the day before that. Do you get it?”

Amazing arrogance.

  • Graham discounts the world, the people in it and innovation itself.
  • Kalanick plans Uber’s IPO with no consideration of the economy, competitors or the speed at which things change.

Graham’s words have already come back to bite him; Kalanick’s probably will, too.

Flickr image credit: Dave Gough

If the Shoe Fits: Is This You?

Friday, March 25th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAre you really a more competent leader than the woman founder who you beat out for funding or do you just think you are?

Research says it’s the latter, i.e., all in your mind.

Results show that when all leadership contexts are considered, men and women do not differ in perceived leadership effectiveness. Yet, when other-ratings only are examined, women are rated as significantly more effective than men. In contrast, when self-ratings only are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves.
From the abstract of a paper by Samantha C. Paustian‐Underdahl (number 5 on the list; the full text is available upon free registration)

Are you the reason this question keeps coming up on Quora?

Is it true that software development has no future once you get to a certain age such as 40, and one should pursue to steer his development career towards management?

Do you pride yourself on being part of the bro culture? Do you agree, publicly or privately, with what White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit?

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

If, in the deepest, most private place in your mind, your response is ‘yes’, then consider that the women you degrade and perceive as troll bait are someone’s sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And that somewhere/somewhen someone will do the same to your sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And someday, when you hold your newborn daughter or son, know that this world you helped build is the world they, too, will eventually face.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: the Cost of the So-Called Bro Culture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4612160187/

There is far more to diversity than gender, but I’ll save my comments on that for another post, although everything I say here applies to the wider exclusions.

Last Friday, in polite language, KG commented on the ignorance/idiocy of not hiring women, since they have to be so much better to achieve the same opportunities/promotions as men.

For proof, you have only to consider GitHub’s treatment of contributors.  

They found that when a woman programmer made a contribution to an open source project, that work was more likely to be accepted by their programming peers than contributions by men as long as those judging the work didn’t know the programmer was a woman.

If they did know the programmer was a woman, the work was more likely to be rejected.

For the unknowing, the bro culture refers to the culture found in most frat houses (although it exists in several other forms) and has become a hallmark of startups in Silicon Valley.

Jennifer Brandel, co-founder and CEO of Hearken, and Mara Zepeda, co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, wrote a terrific post that starts by depicting the startup ecosystem in sexual terms that perfectly drive the point home with the same class and light touch as Tootsie used to drive its point home back in 1982. (It’s a great read with serious analysis and suggestions for change.)

Startups, like the male anatomy, are designed for liquidity events. Consider the metaphors: “seed” funding, “up and to the right” trajectories, “acceleration,” “exit.” Paul Graham’s seminal essay “Startup = Growth” argues that explosive growth is the only measure of success. “Making it” means one of two things: go public or sell.

The bro culture also manages to turn a blind eye to just how much of their vaunted tech is the result of women.

Hilariously, it was not only a woman who the technology that paved the way for everything from Wi-Fi to GPS, it was film goddess Heddy Lamarr. She invented a secret communications system during World War II for radio-controlling torpedoes.

Dr Grace Murray Hopper invented COBOL, the first business-friendly programming language, in the 1940s. She was a computer scientist, a rear admiral in the U.S. navy and the first person to use the term “bug” in reference to a glitch in a computer system when she literally found a bug (moth) causing problems with her computer.

Then there is Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer who wrote the first algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence; her notes were an essential key to helping Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Not to forget Dr Shirley Jackson include portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Most of male culture runs on pizza and beer, which, according to Beer Historian Jane Peyton was developed, sold and drunk but Mesopotamian women centuries ago.

A few more that guys should be aware of,

  • Nancy Johnson invented and patented the ice cream maker in 1843 and is still in use today.
  • Margaret A Wilcox invented the car heater in 1893, as well as a combined clothes and dishwasher.
  • Elizabeth Magie invented Monopoly in 1904.
  • Anna Connelly invented the fire escape in 1887.
  • Maria Beasely invented life rafts in 1882, as well as a machine that makes barrels.
  • Dr Maria Telkes, a psychiatrist, invented residential solar heating.
  • Letitia Geer invented a one-handed medical syringe in 1899.
  • Florence Parpart invented the electric refrigerator in 1914, along with improving street cleaning machines.
  • Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher (where would guys be without it?) in 1887
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown invented CCTV in 1969.
  • Margaret Knight invented a machine that makes square bottomed paper bags in 1871, although Charles Anan tried to steal her work claiming that it wasn’t possible for a woman to create this brilliant invention.  She also invented a safety device for cotton mills when she was 12 that is still being used today.
  • Alice Parker invented a natural gas powered central heater in 1919 that inspired the central heating systems used today.
  • Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 1965, to which thousands of guys, and more recently gals, owe their lives.

Unwelcoming/disparaging culture goes far beyond the startup world and the pro/con about women is a minefield for companies, as witnessed by the Lands’ End contretemps currently playing itself out on social media.

The catalog had the temerity to feature Gloria Steinem, which brought a strong reaction from a customer.

“This family will not buy one single thing from Lands End ever again unless this drive highlighted by Gloria Steinem is fully retracted. (…) Lauding Gloria Steinem is beyond what I can understand from a company that ‘appears’ to celebrate family.” (Posted to the company’s Facebook page.)

Lands’ End apologized and scrubbed all mentions of Steinem, along with references to the ERA.

This, of course, brought enormous reaction from the other side.

As of midmorning Friday, close to 4,000 people had commented on the company’s Facebook post that addresses the flap.

Oops. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Lands’ End and other companies may lose customers when they end up in the middle of this no-win situation, but the bro culture has a much higher cost.

Talent.

And that can cost them the very breakthroughs that would put them on the road to an IPO.

Then again, with that attitude they don’t deserve great talent.

Which leaves KG and kindred spirits to scoop them up.

Flickr image credit: Duck Lover

The Uber Worms Are Turning

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

http://401kcalculator.org

As has been pointed out in every media outlet on the planet, Uber is arrogant, pugnacious, obnoxious and plays fast and loose on matters from privacy to government regulations to customer charges to “contractor” relations and compensation.

Uber, in the person of CEO Travis Kalanick, has so enraged various officials that the company has been kicked out of cities, domestic and foreign, and entire countries.

Even Matt Kochman, Uber’s founding general manager in New York, left in disgust.

“Discounting the rules and regulations as a whole, just because you want to launch a product and you have a certain vision for things, that’s just irresponsible.” 

Kalanick pushed, denied problems and claimed that everything that disagreed with Uber’s plans was anti-progressive or nit-picking.

But in January the tone changed.

In January, Mr. Kalanick delivered a speech in Munich filled with talk about compromising with regulators he once sparred with, wanting to “make 2015 the year where we establish partnerships with new European cities.”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote of clouds on the horizon in the form of a class-action lawsuit from 2009 that could affect not only Uber, but every business based on so-called contractors.

Turns out they weren’t clouds, but a full-fledged storm.

A legal storm.

The Boston law firm representing Uber and Lyft drivers, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, won a 2009 decision that Massachusetts exotic dancers were employees because the club could set their shifts, and fire them. Judges in New York and Nevada followed that reasoning last year.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the California courts.

If the drivers win, it will be even more interesting to see how all the startups based on the 1099 business model play when the field is level.

Image credit: 401kcalculator.org

Entrepreneurs: It Started with Ada

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace

I do love learning new bits, especially the kind you can toss out when someone says something stupid and shut them down cold.

I was working by Skype with a friend; she was at a cafe in the Valley and there was a group of braggy programmers who could have been poster boys for the “bro culture.”

At another table were 3 young women quietly discussing a problem one was having tracking down a bug.

When the guys realized that the woman were also programmers they started talking loudly about how women couldn’t program because they aren’t smart enough, blah, blah.

My friend shared what was going on and I quickly shared a link to an article I read last week.

It talked about women who were instrumental in the math world, but whose names were quickly erased from tech history.

My friend was in a slow burn listening to the guys, so she interrupted them and asked if they were aware that it was a woman mathematician, a Countess no less, who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence.

One guy said that was bull poop, so she suggested he Google Ada Lovelace.

And when he was done with that he should check out Jean Jennings and Betty Snyder, who were two of the original programmers of Eniac, the first general-use computer built and used during WWII.

In an interview, Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs authorized biographer, said

“If it wasn’t for Ada Lovelace, there’s a chance that none of this would even exist,” Mr. Isaacson added as he waved his hand in the air, gesturing as if to encompass all of Silicon Valley and the techies sitting around us.

The guys had gotten very quiet as they read the results of their search and left soon after.

The women left also after thanking my friend for her intervention.

Hopefully, the next time the women are being disparaged they will invoke the name of Ada Lovelace and share the story with their friends.

I love it.

Algorithms and AI—both from the brain of a woman.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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