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Why John Doerr is Wrong

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9727140956

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins believes that the most successful tech entrepreneurs are “white, male, nerds.

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos, or [Netscape founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life.”

If you dissect it, is an ignorant, short-sighted statement, especially from such a  prominent star in the tech firmament.

Let’s take the words separately in their reverse order to see why.

In the tech world, nerds are typically consumed by the bleeding edge of technology, socially challenged and will doggedly pursue their ideas come Hell or high water.
Of course there are more male nerds. Starting in elementary school, girls are discouraged from STEM, whether it’s Barbie saying, “Math is tough!” to the unconscious bias that permeates our classrooms and companies.

As to white, nerds actually come in many shapes, sizes, genders, colors, faiths and from across the socio-economic spectrum. but anyone who follows the current state of tech culture shouldn’t be surprised.

The real reason that that white, male nerds are successful is that they get funded.

They get funded because they are connected — by family, friends, school friends, ex colleagues, etc. — which means they get into the right accelerators (just as Harvard and Stanford are the right schools) or are personally introduced to investors.

The end result is that if you take a superficial look at the stats Doerr’s comment seems to be true—but it is not.

Image credit: TechCrunch

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Will Curation and Safe Spaces at College Lead to a Fear of Living?

Monday, April 13th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stella12/14556898073

Earlier this month I shared a conversation with a founder who believes he can lead only one type of person.

It wasn’t that surprising, because the more things are curated the more we hear from and cleave to people like ourselves.

There’s no question that curation reinforces opinions, while eliminating conflicting ones, narrows people beyond from where they started and acts like fertilizer to unconscious bias and outright bigotry.

But isn’t college supposed to help change that by exposing students to people with different beliefs, experiences, attitudes, etc.?

Several years ago a couple of startups gave the college-bound a way to curate their roommates, so they could be sure not to be exposed to ideas, attitudes or upbringing not in sync with their current thinking.

Mangers have been doing this for decades by thoughtlessly hiring people like themselves, so they can stay within their personal comfort zones.

Now college students are taking the concept much further with the demand for “safe spaces.”

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. (…)

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School commented, “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children.”

This need for safety and zero-level tolerance for discord makes me wonder what will happen to the current college generations when they venture into the workplace, let alone the rest of the real world.

Image credit: Deb Nystrom

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Ducks in a Row: Are You Privileged?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fireflythegreat/6132347883

If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.

When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.

“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”

I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.

Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.

Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.

Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.

And therein lies the true problem.

Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.

Image credit: Dagny Mol

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Diversity, Silos and Trolls

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rotron/3655734558

Yesterday we looked at how our society moved from a culture of narrow connections to one of mobility and a broader acceptance of those totally unconnected to us to the current regression back to responding mainly (often only) to those to whom we are already connected — no matter how tenuous or irrelevant the connection.

In other words, we went from silos to free-range and back to silos.

Ola Joseph says, “Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”

But today we reinforce our particular silos through social media.

Where once we were broadened, 21st Century media provides the means to assure ourselves that our opinions are shared by both followers and followed.

Trolls aren’t new, either; they are the modern version of poison pen letters.

According to Auden, “Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity retained.”

However, the anonymity of online communications allows us to unleash our thoughts with no civilizing or cultural leavening.

And so we join the ranks of trolls in one area, while bemoaning their existence in another.

Image credit: Roshan Vyas

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Kevin O’Leary Prefers Investing in Women

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Kevin Oleary

I love watching Shark Tank, whether the current season on ABC or reruns on CNBC.

My favorite sharks in order are Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.

My almost-least favorite shark is Mark Cuban, but it is Kevin O’Leary who I really can’t stand.

I have no problem with a shark saying no, but to listen to O’Leary tear down not only ideas, but also the entrepreneurs themselves makes me slightly ill. His criticism is rarely constructive and sometimes it is downright destructive — especially to women founders, or so it seems.

So you can imagine my amazement when I read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine where O’Leary said he preferred women CEOs.

“Women make better CEOs. All things being equal, given the choice between a woman and a man, I would pick the woman every time.” (…) “If I want high returns with low volatility, that equals a woman.”

Like I said, amazing; not original, but amazing.

There are reams of statistics and dozens of studies that prove having women in senior management roles and on the board positively affects the bottom line.

Companies that have more women on their boards and in their senior management teams aren’t just opening doors to gender equality. They’re reaping greater financial rewards.

Kevin O’Leary is emphatic that his only interest is making money. He has no interest in furthering diversity or leveling the playing field for women — but he prefers to invest in them.

That should provide a lot of creditability to the studies that are so often shrugged off or rationalized into oblivion.

Image credit: ABC Shark Tank

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…Like A Girl

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Did you watch the Super Bowl today?

If you’re a guy you may not have paid much attention an ad from Always.

It looks at how #like a girl has always been an insult and an effort to change that perception.

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

But the insult goes far beyond the days of puberty.

“Will it work for your mom?” and “so simple your mother could do it” are catch terms, especially in the software industry, to indicate the product is simple (AKA, dumbed down) enough that anyone can use it.

The interesting thing is that if you call these same guys out asking if they are referring to their mom/sister/girlfriend/wife they usually say no.

The disconnect starts early. In the Always video at 1:06 the dialog is as follows:

Voiceover: “So do you think you just insulted your sister?”

Boy: “No, I mean yeah… insulted girls, but not my sister.”

There is a giant mental disconnect for most males between ‘women’ and ‘my women’.

And it is that disconnect that needs to change.

Image credit: Always

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Entrepreneurs: A Lesson From IDEO

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/519148031

How would you respond to the following?

  • Would you hire a woman?
  • Would you hire an old woman?
  • A really old woman?
  • Could such a woman contribute significantly to a project?
  • What could she teach your hot, young engineers?

While most founders would answer ‘no’ or ‘nothing’, IDEO thinks differently.

The company recently hired Barbara Beskind and both she and IDEO consider her 90 years a major advantage.

She applied after seeing an interview with IDEO founder David Kelley, who talked about the importance of a truly diverse design team and hires accordingly.

The aging Boomer market has companies salivating and hundreds are developing products for them.

The problem, of course, is that younger designers have no idea what difficulties older people face; not the obvious ones, but those that are more subtle.

Beskind does.

For example, IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one. Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

It really caused the design team to reflect.” They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem.

It’s the little things that make or break products and the knowledge of the little things comes mostly from having been there/done that.

That kind of insight is priceless.

Now how would you answer those questions?

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

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Ducks In A Row: Sisterhood? Not Hardly

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/68397968@N07/14202695055

An interesting article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant shows exactly what woman in the workplace face and the thin line they walk when they speak up.

We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more. (…) Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.

The critical words are, “both men and women punished them;” again, not a surprise.

The findings in the article aren’t new or even that surprising (here are two more from 2008 and 2009); I heard similar comments more than 30 years ago.

It gives the lie to the myth of sisterhood.

I never believed in the whole sisterhood thing — the idea that women supported each other.

I got support and encouragement from the men in my work world — it sure didn’t come from the women.

That’s not to say that women don’t form solid relationships and support each other, of course they do, but they aren’t based on an accident of nature, i.e., plumbing.

They’re based on common interests and ongoing discovery.

So while ‘sisterhood’ has worked for some, it’s dangerous to assume it works for all or all the time.

Image credit: MattysFlicks

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Ducks in a Row: Intel, $300M And Diversity

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/13476023723/Dozens of ugly stories in 2014 threw a spotlight on the lack of gender and color diversity and the prevalence of bigoted and frat house/misogynistic cultures in tech.

Individuals and companies are speaking out vowing to change things — talking, talking, talking.

Intel, however, isn’t talking; it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

Intel said it has established a $300 million fund to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force [goal of 14%], attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.

The big difference between what Intel is doing and the rest of tech is not just focusing on STEM training and recruitment, but on changing the workplace so that those who join tech will stay in tech instead of being driven out by the current culture.

Changing culture is difficult within a company, let alone within an entire industry.

Google is already working on it, while most companies are suggesting/funding issues that are external, such as education.

Hopefully, the clout and funds that Intel is bringing to the table will makes a difference.

Image credit: Intel Free Press

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Lean Startup Conference 2014: Wrap and Thanks

Friday, December 12th, 2014

kg_charles-harris

KG Charles-Harris is once again attending the Lean Startup Conference and sharing his impressions and what he’s learning with you.

Once again the team of Sarah Millstein & Eric Ries has created a weeklong conference – the Lean Startup Conference – that hits it out of the ballpark! 

If you didn’t see my updates from last year’s conference, I must reiterate that this is the most useful of all the tech/business conferences I have attended.  And this year they took it to a new level of excellence in several different areas.

There were two very notable differences from previous years, firstly, the larger contingent and programming for enterprise organizations and government (intrapreneurship), and secondly, the significant inclusion of women and minorities in the speaker and mentor lineup.

One would think that for a startup conference, having a large portion of programming dedicated to mature and large organizations would be a distraction or departure from the core values and intent of the conference.

However, the way in which they developed the programming, it became a learning experience for aspiring entrepreneurs of how to not only grow their companies, but also for how to keep their companies vital and vibrant as they became larger.

Several of my conversations with people who came from large organizations and governments, both nationally and from far flung destinations like Norway and Portugal, displayed a tremendous optimism that the Lean Startup methodology had potential to revitalize their organizations and how they serve their customers/constituents.

The second important difference from previous years is that the conference was characterized by the diversity of speakers and mentors. 

In terms of gender, age, racial background and experience, the conference was replete with different perspectives that give us the knowledge that Lean Startup is good execution regardless of whether I am a diminutive woman from India or a large, bearded white male. 

This made the conference much more interesting than any other I’ve attended and the networking was exceptional as a result. 

Clearly the conference organizers thought carefully of how they could provide both a learning experience in business and a culturally expanding perspective. 

Thank you Sarah and Eric for both a superb learning experience, as well as a personally expanding event – truly exceptional!

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