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If the Shoe Fits: Silicon Valley Groupthink, Should and You

Friday, January 8th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mOn one of the last days of 2015 I read a great article about the groupthink that pervades Silicon Valley these days.

It reminded me of how teens of every generation display their rebellion against society through their choice of clothes, while simultaneously making sure they “fit in” with their peers.

This is most easily seen in a subgroup like the goths, whose black clothing and makeup sets them apart from other teens, but within which a rigid dress code prevails.

Unlike the Silicon Valley I knew in the 1980s and 90s, today’s Silicon Valley is far more homogenized and undiversified, with little perspective on the “real” world.

The result is that it’s far less creative and exciting than it once was.

Silicon Valley groupthink is also the force behind what Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder of Mattermark, calls the “tyranny of should.”

But sometimes when I am able to quiet that story down, I catch myself listening because it is just so much easier to have someone else figure out what I should do.

In the first days of this new year I urge you to choose between taking the easy road of groupthink and should or following Sam Altman’s path of most resistance.

“You should ignore what your peers are doing or what your peers or parents think is cool. (…) And that’s the hardest part. We’re all so much more susceptible to that than we think.”

Yes, another ‘should’, but not all ‘shoulds’ are created equal.

As always, it’s your choice.

That’s both life’s greatest joy and its greatest fear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Golden Oldies: Of Porcupines and People

Monday, January 4th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I chose today’s Oldie for two reasons. First, it’s a new year and taking it to heart at the start assures you of a better more productive year, and second, it’s an election year, which makes it ultra-divisive, and there’s enough stress in the normal workplace without adding another element — especially such a vicious one. Read other Golden Oldies here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2854029427/

Sometimes good things arrive in my inbox amidst the silly videos and spam.

And so it was yesterday; I was thinking about what to write when this arrived and it seemed the perfect answer—assuming, that is, that you are as tired as I am of the rising tide of hit pieces so prevalent this election.

Fable of the Porcupine
It was the coldest winter ever and many animals were dying because of the cold.
The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together.
This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions, even though they gave heat to each other.
After awhile they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen.
So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.
Wisely, they decided to go back to being together.
This way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationships with their companions, but the most important part of it was the heat that came from the others.
In this way they were able to survive.
Moral of the story:
The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people.

The best relationship is when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others as opposed to dying alone in the cold.

What do you think? Will humans live up to the example of porcupines or die alone in the cold?

Flickr image credit: Cliff

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Katherine Johnson: As Good As, But No Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Assuming you follow the tech news in one way or another you know that 2015 hasn’t been a kind year to women in tech.

Although it didn’t start this year, trolling, bullying, trashing, violence and death threats have become almost everyday occurrences.

As with most haters, they manage to ignore or deny the positive, such as Ada Lovelace, a Countess who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the idea of artificial intelligence.

So in the spirit of positivity and hope for improvement in 2016, I thought I would share the story of Katherine Johnson, who calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, which was America’s first, as published by NASA, where she worked for many years.

I wonder how many techies could do something similar today without using a computer or other current tech.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_kjohnson.htmlShe Was a Computer When Computers Wore Skirts

08.26.08
By: Jim Hodges 

Katherine Johnson was 90 on Tuesday, an apt date because it also was National Equality Day.

Not that she ever thought she wasn’t equal.

“I didn’t have time for that,” said Johnson in her Hampton home. “My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

But probably a lot smarter. She was a “computer” at Langley Research Center “when the computer wore a skirt,” said Johnson. More important, she was living out her life’s goal, though, when it became her goal, she wasn’t sure what it involved.

Johnson was born in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., where school for African-Americans stopped at eighth grade. Her father, Joshua, was a farmer who drove his family 120 miles to Institute, W. Va., where education continued through high school and then at West Virginia State College. He would get wife Joylette a job as a domestic and leave the family there to be educated while he went back to White Sulfur Springs to make a living.

Katherine skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18, and her skills at mathematics drew the attention of a young professor, W.W. Schiefflin Claytor.

“He said, ‘You’d make a good research mathematician and I’m going to see that you’re prepared,’ ” she recalled.

“I said, ‘Where will I get a job?’

“And he said, ‘That will be your problem.’

“And I said, ‘What do they do?’

“And he said, ‘You’ll find out.’

“In the back of my mind, I wanted to be a research mathematician.”

It didn’t involve teaching, though she did it for a while, starting at $65 a month. While on vacation from a $100-a-month teaching job in 1952, she was in Newport News. “I heard that Langley was looking for black women computers,” she said.

She was put into a pool, from which she emerged within two weeks to join engineers who, five years later, would become involved in something new called the “Space Task Force.”

That was 1958, when the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
She did the math.

“We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space,” she says. “We just started from what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out. Inasmuch as I was in at the beginning, I was one of those lucky people.”

That luck came in large part because she was no stranger to geometry. It was only natural that she calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, America’s first.

“The early trajectory was a parabola, and it was easy to predict where it would be at any point,” Johnson says. “Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start. I said, ‘Let me do it.

You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.”

More flights became more complicated, with more variables involving place and rotation of Earth and the moon for orbiting. By the time John Glenn was to go up to orbit the Earth, NASA had gone to computers.

“You could do much more, much faster on computer,” Johnson says. “But when they went to computers, they called over and said, ‘tell her to check and see if the computer trajectory they had calculated was correct.’ So I checked it and it was correct.”

So the “computer” began using a computer. And in 1969, while at a sorority meeting in the Pocono Mountains, she gathered with others around a small television set to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon and take the first step by a human there. There was some marveling, but not much.

“It all seemed routine to people by then,” Johnson said.

But there was an extremely nervous “computer.”

“I had done the calculations and knew they were correct,” said Johnson. “But just like driving (to Hampton in traffic) from Williamsburg this morning, anything could happen. I didn’t want anything to happen and it didn’t.”

Her work at Langley spanned from 1953 to 1986. She is still involved in math, tutoring youngsters, and she remembers where NASA’s space program was, even as she watches where it is now on television.

“I found what I was looking for at Langley,” she says. “This was what a research mathematician did. I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.”

Johnson also spends time talking with children, making sure that they know of the opportunities that can be had through mathematics and science. She laughs when she talks of being interviewed long distance by a fourth-grade class in Florida.

“Each of them had their questions, and one asked, ‘are you still living?’” Johnson says. “They see your picture in a textbook and think you’re supposed to be dead.”

Far from it. Instead, she’s celebrating yet another birthday on Women’s Equality Day, without admitting that there was a time when she didn’t feel equal.

Her father wouldn’t allow it.

Image credit: NASA

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Michael Moritz Used the Oldest Excuse

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9713175008/

I thought a lot about what I wanted to say today, but realized I’d already said it more than once.

And I didn’t feel like spending my energy on a rant that would most likely just be preaching to the choir and, if not, wouldn’t change anyone’s mind.

So this will be short, direct and honest and I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

 First up, a comment from Michael Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital and one of the most successful investors in Silicon Valley history, on why there are no women VCs at Sequoia.

“We look very hard. What we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards. But if there are fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology, very hungry to succeed, and can meet our performance standards, we’d hire them all day and night.”

Lots of backlash on social media, so all I’ll add is what a crock.

Hard to believe that anybody with half a brain or awareness would say something so stupid — not to mention that it’s a blatant lie.

The “not prepared to lower our standards” has been the reason to exclude women, people of color, Jews and whomever else is out-of-favor at the time.

Makes you wonder why a guy who makes his money looking at the future can’t at least come up with a modern reason for the bias.

Flickr image credit: TechCrunch

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Lean, Diversity and NOLA

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Janelle

Today we welcome Janelle R. Alexander, a new voice at MAPping Company Success. Janelle is a successful entrepreneur and one of the smartest and most fun people I’ve met in a long time. (Click About Janelle to learn more.)

I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Lean Startup Conference a couple of weeks ago. While I had read and embraced the writings in The Lean Startup years ago, this was my first occasion to attend the now-iconic startup event. The environment there was buzzing with startup geekiness and I loved every minute of it. My takeaways from the event are 3 key learnings and one confession. First the confession: I missed the point when The Lean Startup went from methodology to movement.

The Confession

It’s brave of me to admit this. I espouse passions for early-stage companies, inclusive innovation (a.k.a. diversity in entrepreneurship) and positioning New Orleans as a leading startup hub—Lean Startup methodology provides a clinical process to power all 3 missions. I’m not sure under which rock I was sleeping. I understand the genesis of the movement—the wisdom of Eric Ries’s continuous innovation, minimum viable product and validated learning warrants a loyal following. And yet I still marveled whenever I met yet another devotee who had flown from Australia or Sweden or Ireland, all speaking in a shared Leansian language (“…it’s a lean startup company,” “by then they’d developed their MVP,” “then we iterated,” etc.).

Realization #1: Lean Startup methodology could be a pivotal force in fostering diversity and inclusive innovation

There are real barriers to entry for startups founded by women entrepreneurs and those of color. One of them is a disproportionate lack of access to resources—e.g. capital, networks, influencers, anchor customers. When these resources are markedly low or missing entirely, the nefarious runway becomes shorter; the importance of eliminating uncertainty and working smarter not harder becomes decisive. In short, adopting Lean Startup methodology is obligatory for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Realization #2: Data is the equalizer that makes innovation truly inclusive

I sat listening to Alistair Croll Lean Analytics talk. Nearly every seat had a laptop open, and, from what I could tell, every monitor was showing Slack. Mr. Croll’s talk drove home the measure and learn parts of the methodology. His Street Smart Tactics were distilled for maximum relevance and insight which rang true (and were a delight to hear).

At its core, Lean Startup methodology is powered by data. Data is the new abundant resource for diverse entrepreneurs, which will offset the historical obstructions to the old school forms of capital.

Some Quotes to Remember from his talk:

“Archimedes had taken a bath before.” Meaning: The old tale of Archimedes’ displacement discovery in the bathtub was used to show that it was the king asking the right question which led to the discovery, and more importantly, the new data.

“Business plans are a lot like drawing a map before you’ve gone exploring”

Realization #3: New Orleans is the perfect environment for Lean Startup methodology

New Orleans is quickly establishing itself as an emerging startup hub. Collision is coming here. Mega companies have relocated here. Forbes thinks we’re great. The energy surrounding entrepreneurship in this city is palpable, and New Orleanians embrace this new focus with their usual delight and fervor. I heard Steve Case say about New Orleans that it’s a model for community connectivity and inclusiveness. It is in such an environment that Lean Startup methodology can thrive. Here we support our entrepreneurs in a way this native New Yorker never anticipated when I first moved to the Crescent City. Here, the community organically does what it can to minimize the entrepreneur’s time through the loop that is the Lean Startup process.

I came back ready to spread the word, and excited that I had another tool in the toolbox.

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Ducks in a Row: Losing One’s Humanity

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/28914176@N08/8135603742/

I’ve been writing a lot about Silicon Valley culture and, since I don’t live there any more, I usually cite/link to articles from those deep in the tech world who do or who write me directly.

Yesterday a question came in on my Quora feed that asked about the differences working in SV vs. the rest of the country.

If you ever wondered if media descriptions and commentary were hype, propaganda, sour grapes, ignorance or a combination thereof, then you really should take time to read the responses, especially Ken Miyamoto’s.

Miyamoto is a non-tech guy who, at the decrepit age of 39, moved to SV and ended up working for “one of the the most badass and innovative tech startups.”

We have this culture of brilliant kids that have a power that they can implement from a numbers perspective, but often (not always) fail miserably at implementing from personality perspective, yes, but even more so from a social perspective within the workplace and anything involved with that. (…)

There’s a clear disconnect, socially. I don’t know if it’s the generation. I don’t know if it’s the inability to balance responsibility of  power and position or ego or what have you. But there’s clearly a disconnect. (…)

The SV is an environment that is overly self-serving, self-rewarding, with little to no practiced responsibility of the social aspect of “the game.”

Beyond that, the SV proved too often be an overly analytical and knee jerk reactionary culture. Here you have young kids thrust into powerful (big or small) positions and, well, they act like young kids.

So to me, the Silicon Valley is a perfect storm of brilliance, power, new culture, money, money, money, and utter lack of social responsibility at times. (…)

That’s the major difference. Going from student to “rock star” so quickly. It leads to ego, blindness, paralysis of analysis, etc. And that culture is ever-spreading with Venture Capitalists young and old ready and willing to profit from it. 

Too many of the tech crowd have lost touch with the rest of society, don’t possess the skills to re-enter it and don’t see this as a problem, but the long-term result of losing touch with humanity is to eventually lose one’s own humanity.

(Funny how one’s mind works. I’m not sure why, but writing this reminded me of Isaac Asmiov’s Foundation series. In short, the series tells the story of mathematician Hari Seldon, who spends his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. It is disrupted by an outsider known as the Mule, who was not foreseen in Seldon’s plan, so there is no predicted way of defeating him. Although I can’t connect it directly to the current love of data analytics, I’m sure it does and highly recommend it to you.)

Flickr image credit: kristy

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Gender Equity is Moving Backwards

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/532853944/

Following up on yesterday’s post about women and inequality, Adam Grant linked to a previous post about his own unwitting blindness.

In that post were some stats that should make everyone, including those who think things are improving, wake up to reality and understand just how far we are from anything actually changing.

Today, U.S. corporate boards have more men named John, Robert, William, or James than women in total. Recent coverage by Claire Cain Miller has brought more chilling data to light: in math, when graded anonymously, girls outperform boys, but when teachers know their names, boys do better. [emphasis mine] And when students rate their favorite professors, they describe men as “geniuses” and women as “nice.” This is sad and unacceptable. We may be in the 21st century, but we’re still a very long way from gender parity.

In study after study, on everything from candidate resumes to professor’s evaluations to student preference, where the only difference in identical credentials is the sex, as disclosed by the name, young and old, male and female, rated the women inferior to the men.

Look at the above statement (in bold), what chance is there that anything will change when kids are already subject to the same attitudes?

Women are overtly and covertly denigrated and sisterhood is a farce.

It’s been said change would come as older generations aged out and bosses were replaced by younger ones who grew up in a more diverse, tolerant and inclusive world.

I started hearing that 50 years ago and am still waiting.

In fact, we are moving backwards; the world was far more woman-friendly in the 80s and 90s, than it is now.

So don’t hold your breath; there is a quantum difference between political correctness and authenticity.

Flickr image credit: Anthony Easton

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Ducks in a Row: Seeing Ourselves Clearly

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anemoneprojectors/5620251974

A few weeks ago Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote Dear Men: Wake Up and Smell the Inequality focusing on why men can’t seem to wrap their heads around gender inequality.

In corporate America, 88% of men think women have at least as many opportunities to advance as men.

This is the finding of a major new study—almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies—by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company.

Just 12% of men felt that women had fewer opportunities to advance in their organizations.

Today, KG Charles-Harris sent a link to an article by Marshall Goldsmith about suck-ups, with an underlying focus on how easily we see traits in others, but not in ourselves. (I call it ‘but me’)

Almost all of the leaders I have met say that they would never encourage such a thing in their organizations. I have no doubt that they are sincere. Most of us are easily irritated–if not disgusted–by derriere kissers. Which raises a question: If leaders say they discourage sucking up, why does it happen so often? Here’s a straightforward answer: Without meaning to, we all tend to create an environment where people learn to reward others with accolades that aren’t really warranted. We can see this very clearly in other people. We just can’t see it in ourselves.

And that brings us to MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

MAP, in case you’ve forgotten, is what underlies and drives all our thoughts and actions.

While not seeing things in ourselves may be fundamental to our MAP, that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.

To do so is a choice, yours and no one else’s.

Choice is the most valuable thing that any of us have and it’s the most painful to lose.

Remember Dumbledore? He summed it up perfectly.

“It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p 333)

Flickr image credit: Peter O’Connor

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If the Shoe Fits: a Lesson from Stewart Butterfield and Slack

Friday, September 11th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBeing a woman in tech can be a serious drawback in 2015; far more so than in the 1980s and 90s — Tinder even dumped a woman founder on the basis that the company wouldn’t be taken seriously by investors. Sadly, they may have been right.

Leave it to Slack, valued at $2.8 billion, to do things differently.

According to its diversity report released on Wednesday, 45% of all Slack managers are female, with 41% of the entire workforce having a woman as their manager. “This means that 41% of our people report to a woman who helps set their priorities, measure their performance, mentor them in their work, and who make recommendations that will impact their compensation and career growth.”  In non-engineering positions, 51% of the workforce turned out to be female. Out of the roughly 250 employees worldwide, 39% are reported to be female.

Slack is considered the fastest growing software company in history and they certainly lead  the tech pack In gender diversity.

And while their racial diversity stats are as dismal as the rest of tech they are far more actively working on changing that, too.

Here are the company’s four hiring guidelines,

  1. Examining all decisions regarding hiring/recruiting, promotion, compensation, employee recognition and management structure to ensure that we are not inadvertently advantaging one group over another.

  2. Working with expert advisors and employees to build fair and inclusive processes for employee retention, such as effective management education, company-wide unconscious bias training, ally skills coaching, and compensation review.

  3. Helping to address the pipeline issue with financial contributions to organizations whose mission is to educate and equip underrepresented groups with relevant technical skills (like Hack the Hood and Grace Hopper), as well as supporting a variety of internship programs to broaden access to opportunity (like CODE2040). 

  4. Attempting to be conscious and deliberate in our decision-making and the principles and values by which we operate. Changing our industry starts by building a workplace that is welcoming to all so that a generation of role models, examples and mentors is created.

Slack is practicing what recent studies have proven; hiring women pays.

Give that some thought the next time your unconscious bias kicks in leading you to reject a candidate because she is a she.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: Politically Correct is a False Positive

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zaskoda/4734418941/

I sent an article about the “frat house” (AKA, sexist) culture prevalent in ZocDoc’s sales department to “Kevin”, a good friend who works in sales.

While agreeing about problematic sales cultures, he had a different take on culture in general.

His viewpoint, from someone who has been there/done that, may not be socially acceptable and could probably get him in trouble if posted on social media, but I can share it here — anonymously

Whether you’re a nigger or a bitch, this is the shit you have to deal with. I prefer environments where it’s obvious what the culture is, like this, than politically correct cultures where bigotry is the norm but you never onto why you won’t get the bonus, promotion or accolade with superior performance. Screw political correctness!

I believe it’s important to know where you stand, because then you can make informed choices. Give me this culture anytime – when I enter, I will know what the rules are. If I stay, it’s to accomplish a particular personal goal. When I leave (if not immediately), I will know why I stayed, left, and what I gained. I’m richer, they are poorer.

There is no such thing as “politically correct”. The term itself is an oxymoron that implies consensus building, popular sentiment or sinister machinations. Politics is about popularity — we never let others know where we stand or what we stand for in order to win a popularity contest. It is giving in to the tyranny of the mob, not daring to have unpopular opinions or stances, because one will not be popular.

Being a black man, I prefer a racist that’s honest about who he is and what he is. I prefer working for such a person because I know what to expect. I presume it would be the same for you as a woman regarding sexists. These days no one is a racist, we just have “unconscious biases” that prevent us from taking unpopular positions and that ensure that the powerful can continue to exclude the less powerful. 

Politically correct environments rob me of information, choice, and the ability to navigate astutely to attain my objectives.

I agree with Kevin, even in those instances where bias has its basis in neuroscience, it’s better to know.

Flickr image credit: Zaskoda

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