"It's so Cute You're Doing a Startup!"

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

Is it hard being a woman entrepreneur? Is it hard getting funding? Is your venture really a ‘business’ or is it ‘just’ a lifestyle business? Given the stories finally coming out from the VC and tech worlds on what women have had to put up with, we know the answers to these questions.  So, when asked to moderate a panel of women entrepreneurs, I thought it was time to change the conversation.

The panel ranged from age 27 to 55, manufacturing to services, for and not-for-profit, and diverse backgrounds.  The discussion was lively, as one would expect from us women, with 3 main insights (yes, they’re based on a small self-selecting sample and are generalizations, but…):

1.  Women are agile entrepreneurs.

Putting issues of funding & access aside, do women approach entrepreneurship differently than men?  Yes! We are more willing to ask questions, which accelerates learning, which accelerates experimentation, testing, prototyping, which gets to answers faster, which results in faster adjustments and pivots based on customer needs.  Our egos are tied to the business’s success, not to being ‘right’, so we let go of assumptions when the data shows otherwise.  And, we marveled at how we get so much more ‘free advice’ (from men) then do our male peers.

2.     Balance is a variety of excesses.

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; R to L - Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

A member of the audience shared this insight – what a great summation! We had a wide range in views on this topic.  Sarah Carson feels, “Striving for balance is striving for mediocrity.” Both she and Sadie Kurzban try to do a handful of things very well, forget the rest and manage the guilt (does that ring true!). Vibha Pinglé encourages integrating work and life to reduce the frequency of choosing.  On one occasion she had to take her young son with her to a meeting in South Africa and found him in a tree with the village children showing them his video game.  Not many kids get that kind of experience! Morra Aarons-Mele feels that the definition of balance is up to us, not to society. It’s our decision on how/when/why to scale our business and how to support and raise our family.

3.     It’s not the degree; it’s learning to learn. 

The world tells us the degree matters.  None of us have an MBA and yes, amazingly, we are all successful!  Our undergraduate degrees ranged from STEM to STEAM and while many of us didn’t or hadn’t directly used our area of concentration a lot since college, the process of architecting our own education and learning how to ask great questions, which was key to our undergraduate success, led to our success after college. 

Morra closed out the Q&A with a great piece of advice ~ live with a spirit of abundance.  We women, in general, tend to worry about not having enough – time, money, energy, etc.   But hey, it’s not about re-slicing an existing pie – it’s about making new and bigger pies and being proud of it!

 


Many thanks to the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women and the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship for sponsoring this panel and a personal special thank you to Danny Warshay for such an incredible introduction!

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

What is the Root of Knowledge?

Jonaton Pie ~ Stakkholtsgja Canyon, Iceland

I've been thinking a lot about what makes people want to create, invent, innovate, learn.  So many of my colleagues and friends are innately curious and I know that, for me, learning is an addiction.  So, appropriately, I was reading one of my favorite philosophers/theologians and found this:

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge. Doubt comes in the wake of knowledge as a state of vacillation between two contrary or contradictory views; ... the business of doubt is one of auditing the mind’s accounts about reality ... “

— Abraham Heschel, "Man is Not Alone," pg 11

We certainly learn through doubting - we gain knowledge and insight by doubting, questioning, and even doubting our doubts.  But at the root of it all, what gets us to doubt in the first place, is our ability to wonder, to ponder, to think.  

How much more would we learn if we could wonder as we did when we were 4 or 5 or 8 years old? What can we try to truly wonder about this week? I'm curious!

Look for What's Working!

May - when spring really starts for many of us in the 'north'.  So, just a short blog - more of a request.  

This week, instead of looking at what's not working all the time, try 2 times, just 2, to find what's working, why it's working and how you can make that happen more.  Try this at work, at home, wherever you want - but please, try it - just twice, that's not asking a lot....

Find what’s working & why! #BrightSpots

Let me know how it goes! Feel free to share!

Pre-Natals vs. Post-Mortems

So often, when a project or product doesn't go well or fails, organizations do "post-mortems" - they go over what went wrong, why, sometimes rushing to blame people first instead of looking at processes.  

What if we started doing pre-natals instead of post-mortems? What if our cross-functional teams, at various steps in project or product development, examined why, what and how they were doing, what was working and why, what wasn't and why, and discussed all the things that could go wrong from that point on and why they could go wrong and how they could mitigate or eliminate those risks?  Then they could prioritize all that based on probability and possibility, make sure they are on top of those and do this regularly throughout development.

This isn't a fail-safe, but chances are a lot of problems could be caught, corrected and learned from before they happen and the more you do pre-natals, the better you'd get! 

Worth a shot isn't it? 

How Big is Your Comfort Zone?

Fly NYON #ShoeSelfies - Aerial view over Central Park, NYC

I’ve been thinking about comfort zones.  Most of the discussion makes it seem like comfort zones are static.  They’re not.  We decide if our comfort zones:

  • Grow ~ because we’re curious, eager to learn, expand our worldview and meet new people doing all sorts of different, interesting things;
  • Shrink ~ because we’ve been burned, failed, or circumstances have made us more cautious and fearful;
  • Maintain ~ because we feel we are just fine where we are.

When people say, ‘get out of your comfort zone’, are they telling us to make our comfort zone bigger? Hopefully, we get out of the zone, try something different and get a little, somewhat or very comfortable in that new area so it becomes part of our comfort zone – maybe at the edge of it, but now inside it.  So if we want to keep getting outside our comfort zone, aren’t we growing it? Sure, maybe at times we got out of it and boy, we wanted to run back in, and we did.  That’s ok. It happens.  But overall, our comfort zones should keep expanding. 

That said, one my students * wisely notes that sometimes, we need to be in our comfort zone to rejuvenate, refresh and refill ourselves. Getting outside our comfort zone should be for a reason, have a purpose and not become idolized. It’s not an either/or, but And… as long as we get out. 

So, this week, what one little thing can you try to make your comfort zone bigger?

*Samanee Mahbub, one of my students, has turned her junior year into a Discovery Year - expanding her comfort zone beyond what many of us would dare to do.  Please read her posts - there is such wisdom and insight for any person of any age!

If Not Now, Then...Later!

Most of us have realized, or at least acknowledged, that life and careers are no longer linear, predictable, plan-able. We are told to be opportunistic (in a positive way) because we never know if the moment will be right again, hence the ever used adage, "Timing is everything." Timing is everything AND timing is not fixed!  Sometimes the answer to, "If not now, when?" isn't Now! Sometimes the answer is, "If not now, then... Later!"  

If not now, then... Later!

This hit me in a discussion with a former student, a few years out of college, who had two amazing opportunities to choose from.  One led to a potentially lucrative exit leaving him financially set to pursue his passions and the other was the quintessential embodiment of his passions with serendipitous timing and uncertain financial stability.  After some long, blunt conversations challenging his assumptions and self-construct, we realized this wasn't an Either/Or, an "if not now, when?" but an And/Both, an "if not now, then...later!" decision.  It was, what he called, sequencing (and urged me to make it part of the Life by Design work). He realized he'll have many more opportunities to gain financial security, so it was an "If not now, then...later!" decision and embracing this unique opportunity to pursue his passion was an "If not now, when?" moment.

The Human Connectome Project: White matter fiber architecture of the brain. 

The decisions we make today, while having an impact on our future, do not have to prescribe our future! It is not fixed, immutable... it is not irrevocable! Life is a set of creative acts, branching out in many different directions, in circuitous paths that we consciously and subconsciously design.

What if we are sequencing the doors we open, close and re-open over our lifetime?

If we haven't yet learned that life is And/Both, not Either/Or, we should now.  It's all around us. What if we aren't permanently closing and opening doors? What if we are sequencing the doors we open, close and re-open over our lifetime? Wouldn't that dramatically change our outlook? Wouldn't that make Life by Design more powerful, meaningful and fun?

Many many thanks to my incredibly wise, loving, bold students who teach me so much every day!!

3 Key Questions #LifebyDesign

There's tons of questions we can ask ourselves to assess our lives, careers, goals, etc.  Studies have been done and courses taught on scientifically proven methods to do this assessment.  For me, questions should get us to think, to dig deeper and to look at possibilities - not to lead to quick, "do this and you'll be happy" answers.  So here are the 3 questions I ask to start a Life by Design.

What do you like/love to do and are good/great at doing?

Make a list! These can be hobbies, skills, work, stuff you like learning or doing, anything - don't restrict yourself, take a holistic approach of you - personal, professional, academic, etc. And, if you want, try prioritizing them.  You want to do a lot of these things in your life.

What DON’T you like/love to do and are good/great at doing?

Make another list.  Same guidelines as above -  hobbies, skills, work, learning, etc. and try to prioritize them.  The goal is to minimize these - maybe you can even eliminate doing some of them, but we all have to do things we don't like so at least do less of them.

What do you want to learn, explore, discover, experience in the next 2, 3 or 5 years?

A few years ago, one of my students asked me to help her lay out her 10 year plan.  I told her to write it down, put it in a drawer and then we'd talk about the next 2-5 years. Our world is changing too fast to plan what we will or want to do 10 years out, but we can plan, to a degree, who we want to be, what we will stand for, and what we won't stand for. 

Think about the next 2-3 years, maybe 5. What do you want to learn, explore, discover, and/or experience? Learn how to code, make bookshelves, do graphic design, become a product manager for 3D-printed products, understand the Patagonian ecosystem, discover biomedical uses of Antarctic sea anemones, para-sail?  Here's mine ->

Start thinking about the steps you can take to start! What does it entail? Who do you know who can help or inform you? What 1 or 2 small things can you do tomorrow to start? Go for it!

The Lego Kit of Life (by Design)

What if I said that life was a set of Lego® bricks ~ all sorts of sizes, shapes, colors with a few bricks fixed together, unbreakable, but mot of them easily taken apart and rearranged?  If you're like me, you love (yup, you still do, face it!) playing, building, creating with lego (that's why I hang out with engineers and makers).

Life is a set of legos, all sizes, shapes, and colors. What will you build today?

Our life's lego bricks are made up of family, friends, pets, hobbies, curiosities and interests, experiences, physical-mental-emotional-spiritual health, knowledge, education, street smarts, common sense (or lack thereof), culture, rituals, beliefs, values, skills, talents, accomplishments, places lived and visited and more.

Take a look at your Lego set.  What bricks do you want to toss, just plain get rid of? What bricks do you want to get more of or even create (a new color or shape or size!)?  What bricks do you want less of? How would you like to rearrange your bricks for tomorrow, the next 2 years, or maybe even the next 5 years? I'm serious, think about this.  There is so so much you can do with your bricks and very few of them are permanently connected together!  

What did you learn from pondering and organizing your bricks? What's holding you back from tossing some bricks, adding new bricks, rearranging bricks? Why? What are you afraid of? We're all afraid of something.  What would you do if I took away those bricks and gave you the ones you wanted? What would you do if you weren't held back or scared anymore? 

What would your best friend, significant other, colleague or mentor advise you to do with your bricks? How would they arrange them for you? What if you looked at yourself that way?  

Here's my challenge to you - try thinking of your life as legos.  Decide which ones you want to keep, toss, rearrange for now and the next couple of years.  What does that look like? What could it look like if you had not brick-limitations? And hey, if you need to go buy a set of bricks, this is your excuse! Take it! 

 

 

How to Create an Amazing Life by Design ~ 5 Fundamentals

From the floorboards of Jackson Pollock's studio in the Hamptons, NY. The paint spatterings can be traced to specific pieces of his art.

Two and a half years ago, I was invited to share my story, Life by Design, at Brown University's Creative Mind Lecture series.  Since then, it's taken on a life of its own with my mentees who now use it as a noun.  They've asked me to formalize it in case I get hit by a bus, so here's the start.

After several years of mentoring and advising, I've discovered 5 (at least) fundamentals to creating an amazing Life by Design (through very non-scientific methods).

1. Very little you do in life is irrevocable.

Aside from dying, very few of the choices we make in life are permanent and can't be undone, redone, mitigated or benefited from.  Even losing a limb is no longer necessarily life-altering.  Once we view life that way, opportunities are endless sources of learning and exploration.  We don't need to be afraid that if we do X today, we're stuck doing X for the rest of our life.

2. There are many paths, solutions, answers, right choices - not just 1.

Following #1 above, rarely in life is there just one way to do something - there are many ways.  Many times we feel the path a role model or someone we admire took is the only path to get to the same place. Unfortunately, our education system reinforces the one way - there is THE right answer or way not A right answer or way.  Well, guess what, rarely is that the case.  Life isn't binary.

3. Your major or job isn't destiny.

The world tells us that our college major and even our current job is destiny.  Engineers should only look for engineering jobs, not design, product management, etc.  English majors should only look for writing or PR jobs, not design, product management, etc.  Drop the "should" - it's a horrible word!  Our job or major is not our destiny.  By looking at how that major or job has taught us to think, approach problems, communicate, see connections and patterns, apply to different situations, we can use our experience in so many ways!

Kandinsky - Composition V1, 1913

4. "Man plans, G-d Laughs"

This age old yiddish proverb is so true.  A student came to me a few years ago asking for help laying out her 10yr plan. 10 years!!!! I told her to write something out, put it in a drawer and then come back and we'd discuss the next 2-3 years.  Think about life in 2-3 (maybe up to 5) year chunks - what do we want to learn, experience, explore, discover over the next 2-3 years, why, and what are the best places and ways to do that! Yup, it's that simple... but not easy.

5. Experiment -> Learn -> Apply -> Iterate

At the age 99.5, my grandmother said, "The day you stop learning is the day you die." Life, personal and professional, is a continuous experiment - we try things, we hopefully learn, we apply those learnings and experiment again - til we die.  Learn to be curious, love to learn, try stuff - often, question your assumptions, question your questions, as why, why not, what if, and one of my favorites, where is it written (e.g., is it a rule or guideline?). 

Next week? I'll share my view of Life as lego blocks! Your comments and thoughts are welcome!

The Paradox of Noisy Silence

New Year’s celebrations are usually full of noise – parties, fireworks, noisemakers, bowl games, you name it.

The new year at work starts off with a bang too – a bang of hectivity – things that didn’t get done last year, catching up from being away (even tho most everyone else was too). 

Yet, silence is necessary and hard and at first, incredibly noisy.  Therein lies the paradox (and you know I LOVE paradoxes).  I used to be great at finding time to be silent (silence, meditation, whatever you call it) and that was when I was traveling weekly and didn't have kids.  Now I’m trying to get back to silence.  And you know what? It’s hard!!! Yet I crave it!

The music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between.

— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

At first, my head is full of noise – ideas, to-do’s, reminders, errands, etc. go through my head like an Indy 500 race. It’s hard resisting the urge to write them all down – to just Let Them Go.  I’ve finally realized if they are that important, they’ll come up again sometime. Eventually, it gets easier, the race turns into a slow drive and then, sometimes, totally stops – the noise is gone, it’s complete silence. That silence is an incredible gift, a rejuvenating, calming and intellectually stimulating gift.  Yup, a paradox.

There is a lot of literature on the importance and power of silence – intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually.  But knowing and doing are two separate things.

So, join me in an experiment.  I’m going to try to set aside 10 minutes 2 times a week to be silent.  Not every day, not every other day – just 2 times a week for 10 minutes.  I’m going to start small, give it shot and if it works, build up.  Try it with me; tell me how it goes; and remember, this is an experiment so it’s ok to fail and try again…. 

How I Found Myself in Berlin

Lessons for all ages at all times - from a 21 year old taking an 'experience' year (I'm trying to stop use of the word gap!!).  Samanee Mahbub shares with honesty, vulnerability and truth - read, think, apply. 

Gap Year: How I Found Myself in Berlin (And everything I learned along the way) Part of the gap year was writing about how it’s not impossible to do if you’re open to adventure and serendipity. So this post is about how I got my current job, the wonders of connections (and why you should keep everyone in touch), the bigger wonders of amazing friends (and friends of friends of friends), my first 48 hours in Berlin, and how I think I may have found a job that’s an actual fit! TLDR; just check the takeaways (particularly my close friends) :) It’s a long post. How I got my job: the wonders of old connections Sometime in October, I decided to leave my first job but didn’t have much of a plan of what to do next. Lucky for me, the universe did! Kidding. Sort of. See, about a month before I decided to leave my job, I met up with a good friend of mine in Venice Beach. He could see I wasn’t the happiest. He planted the idea that maybe I should start exploring some of my contacts. I messaged another friend who had taken his own gap year. His words were the push I needed: “Don’t stay in a place during your time off that you know isn’t right” Two days later, I messaged an old friend I had met two years ago in Bangladesh. He was working at a company that had a strong startup alumni at the time, and he was from Germany. “I could move to Germany,” I thought to myself. I asked if he would be willing to pass my resume to some German startups. He was more than happy to help. Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Don’t sell yourself short either. Seriously, no-one is 100% qualified for the job. Takeaway: Try to keep in touch with people. You never know who can help you down the road. I’ve had lots of examples of this in my life. I hadn’t heard back though for a month so I forgot about it. Then suddenly on “The Day” (aka the 24 hours where I decided to leave LA, cried most of the afternoon cause I didn’t have much of a plan, didn’t think I was cut out for this crazy ass adventure…ya it wasn’t great), my friend replied back apologizing for not getting to passing my resume, did it, and 12 hours later, the place where I’m currently working reached out to me. Takeaway: What’s that quote? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Guess it works for not having plans either haha. I think the point is things can happen when you least expect it. But you can also make an effort to make it happen.

The bigger wonders of amazing friends (and friends of friends of friends) I have the BEST friends in the world. Seriously, I challenge someone to say they have better ones. At 12pm, I told my best friend at Brown that I was showing up at his apartment the next morning at 10am. I gave him less than 24 hours to prepare for me. And he welcomed me with open arms (and a very comfy futon). I was supposed to stay for 1 week tops. I ended up staying almost 3 weeks.Apartment hunting in Berlin was harder than I expected. But in those 3 weeks, I found so much love, support and comfort amongst my friends.From 5 minute hugs to 5 hour conversations, my friends were the boost I needed to prepare for my next adventure. Takeaway: Tell your friends you love them. So Anthony, Blake, Spencer, Sophie (and Adam sort of), thanks for letting me bum around the apartment in my pjays all day and reminding me I’m trash. Alex for always knowing what to say. Caroline, Ian, Derek, Max, Matt, Bas for being the best OG squad and making me almost puke at six flags and sleep on your couch. Ali and Julia for being two badass women. Emma, Isabel and Lacy for being unicorns. Minoshka and Anna for being so damn brilliant and being my mothers. Shivam for being crazy but somehow making it work. Taylor for being so wonderful. Manny for making me laugh with your life (it’ll be just fine). Adi for your own self discovery stories and keeping salon going. Priyankar for that little bit of home and big brother love. Ali for doing all the things you wanted to do. Valentin for letting me believe that I can dream big. Lauren for your warmth. Miki for really being one of the best people I know. Abel for the words of wisdom. Cherry and Rosa for the dose of love and adventure. Rohan for your inquisitiveness. Aaron for being one of the greatest spirits I’ve ever met. Xiao for being a dreamer. Timmy for being such a bundle of joy. Nathan for letting me be “international”. And so so many more that just said hi, gave me a hug, laughed at my life and said keep at it. You’re all loved ❤ The friends of friends of friends Apartment hunting in Berlin is HARD. I’ve learned I’m really naive. I’m scammer’s ideal prey. Luckily my friends aren’t as stupid and stop me from booking an apartment when the person doesn’t live in Germany and wants a wire transfer. I was very fortunate that one of my friends at Brown connected me with a friend of his in Germany (also a Brown alum. #Brunonia) who then connected me with her friend who’s apartment I’m currently living in. Yay friends! I’ve already hung out with one friend of a friend, and another friend of a friend tonight. And I’ve only been here for 48 hours. Yay friends! Takeaway: If you like your friends, you’ll probably like their friends too. And when you’re new to a city, reach out. Chances are somebody will know someone in the city you’re going to.

My first 48 hours in Berlin My first impressions are gorgeous city, cobble stone is pretty to look at, not to walk on, the public transport here is AMUZING, everything is so CHEAP (€1 falafel people), nobody believes in debit/credit cards (cash is imperative), my German pronunciation is abysmal, I love the people I work with, there’s so much to discover, the rain sucks, Uber sucks here, mytaxi is better (but that public transport tho. I got a monthly pass for €30), can’t wait to travel elsewhere and explore Europe, cats aren’t so bad (as a dog person), still a dog person, I’ll take a small room if I get a big bed over a big room with a small bed, EVERYONE SHOULD VISIT ME IN BERLIN. And that’s it. Takeaway: Travel. Explore. Observe. Experience. VISIT ME IN BERLIN. I think I may like product management? I won’t go into explaining what product management is. This article does a great job if you’re curious to learn more though. I’m more concerned with addressing the fact that it’s often a tech job that has the assumption that you need to be a computer science or related major to be one (heck, even Google’s Associate Product Management internship has “Minimum qualification: Pursuing a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD in Computer Science or a related field”). As a liberal arts major but a pretty firm lover of the tech industry, I’ve been finding it difficult to find a function within this world. I had heard of product management before but because of the CS requirement I was used to seeing, I didn’t think I was fit. UNTIL I read Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Product Managers written by a CS major, HBS lecturer, former product manager, and entrepreneur turned VC. Please please please read that article if like me, you’re not a coder but are interested in tech performing a cross-functional role that leverages multiple skill sets (sorry for the buzzwords). I’m still in the early stages of my product management internship. However, just looking at how my other product managers work, what type of work they do, and seeing how other non-tech roles function (Sales, Marketing, Ops, Biz Dev, Finance, Legal), I think I may have actually found a job that feels right. Takeaway: Keep trying things even if you’re not qualified, have the minimum requirements, or whatever arbitrary barrier someone else has put in your way. It’s the only way you’ll know if something is truly a fit for you.

Published by permission from the author

How to spend $200+ Billion for a Train Wreck

Once upon a time, a paragon of American innovation lost its way.  It embodied Einstein’s definition of insanity, spending over $200B for a train wreck… and they’re doing it again. The story starts in the last century and my part about 28 years ago.

In the early 90’s at AT&T, I was on a ‘special project’ with some friends to design the next generation core domestic network.  We were from Bell Labs and had “grown up” with the Internet (Arpanet, initially).  We were young and idealistic so our designed was based on the TCP/IP protocol.  This let us move anything over the network – email, faxes, images, movies, songs, phone calls, photos, anything – in real time.  We knew that with enough bandwidth, routers, redundancy and diversity, someday we’d watch or listen to concerts and movies live.   This way, we only needed 1 network (with tons of security & safeguards obviously) to handle everything.  The days of a voice-only network built on big expensive switches was over.  We presented our design to the powers that were. Answer? Nope! They thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.  [About 13 years later, a friend asked me if I still had the designs because they were looking to build that network.]

The 90’s were a battle between the network/telecom providers (AT&T, MCI, etc.) and the PC/Software maker end points (Microsoft) deciding where to put the ‘smarts’.  Microsoft et. al., felt they owned the smarts and just needed commodity dumb pipes to connect them together.  The networks knew if they didn’t have any ‘smarts’, they didn’t have any differentiable value from each other.  The smart ends would win the battle, forever commoditizing the networks. I saw this and worked on this firsthand.  It wasn’t pretty.  It led to a lot of spending with little success:

  • 1999: AT&T pays $44B to buy the cable company TCI, creating AT&T Broadband.
  • 2002: AT&T sells AT&T Broadband to Comcast for $47.5B after having invested about $58B more for a total of $102B in AT&T Broadband.
  • 2015: AT&T buys DirecTV for $49B.
  • 2016: AT&T offers to buy Time Warner (not the cable, the content) for $85B (and I don’t think this is a bargain price).

The networks lost the smart-dumb battle.  So, if it hadn’t worked before, why now? Is “Media” that different from smart-ends? Really? Maybe this is what they’re thinking:

  • AT&T is losing wireless customers with decreasing revenue/customer; 
  • DirecTV is losing customers because of cord-cutting;
  • Content drives revenue (yup, heard that 20 years ago); it uses lots of bits and time;
  • “New” Media companies are becoming networks– Facebook, Amazon, and Google (take special notice of Google – if I were AT&T, I’d worry about them non-stop).

Over 17 years, AT&T spent about $236B (BILLION) dollars to get in, out and back in to the cable and content business.   Having lived through some of this and trying to show why it wouldn’t work financially, strategically, innovatively, and a bunch of other ‘ly’s, here are at least 6 lessons I learned:

  1. If you can’t figure out how to add value to your own stuff, buying other stuff to bolt on, without understanding markets and customers, doesn’t work;
  2. Culture matters, first and only; Making acquisitions outside your traditional space is hard, it’s virtually impossible if your cultures are radically different;
  3. If you’re losing customers, DON’T buy a company in the same situation!!!
  4. If you keep repeating solutions that don’t work STOP! Either figure out something different or figure out how to be a profitable commodity… it works for Coke!
  5. Check the C-suite egos at the door; hanging out on the set of Game of Thrones isn’t worth billions to shareholders.
  6. In my next life I want to come back as a company AT&T buys.

 

What's Not There?

What a lovely home, probably somewhere out in the country.  From the crops on left, this must be a farm. From the swing set, they probably have kids (or grandkids).  The house seems to be fairly modern (look at the windows) and well maintained.  The horses look healthy.

What’s the story about this house and family?  Are they ‘weekend’ farmers who commute to jobs during the week?  Does one of them, or both, work from home? Are they full-time farmers, with the land being the main source of income?  Hard to know.

But what’s missing? Look at the photo; what’s missing?

See any cars or trucks?  Maybe the people are not at home – they’re at the store or work or a kid’s soccer game. Look closer.  Do you see any power lines going to the house? Hum… Maybe the power lines are buried.  That could be, but given the size of this house and probable acreage, I kind of doubt it. 

This is an Amish house in Lancaster County, PA.  

What if we look at what’s missing instead of just what’s there?

What if we ask why something we’d normally expect to be there isn’t?

What are we assuming is in the picture because it usually is?

What if folks are just fine with not having what’s missing?

What if they didn’t know they could even have what’s missing?

What will we discover if we start looking at what’s Not There? 

Are You Obsolete?

Do you say, "Can you tape that show for me" when you'll be out missing a TV show or "Will you roll up the window?" when you're in the car?  When your friend keeps repeating himself over and over do you tell him he "sounds like a broken record"?  How often do you "hang up" the phone, "dial" a number or "ring" someone up? Think about it - 25% of the USA population doesn't know what it means to dial a phone let alone hang one up! Many of our idioms and phrases are tied to outdated technology and behaviors, and while some are still widely used (e.g., Stereotype, Pipe Dream (ha!)), the younger generation has no clue what they mean.  They are obsolete, meaningless. 

I wonder - if some of our language is becoming obsolete, are we as well? We can rue the loss of life as we knew it or we embrace the future.  Every generation has dealt with this, but today is different.  Today, we live longer. Our children (and some of us) have multiple careers, tweet, snap, text, google without hesitation while we 'flip through the channels."  It's a choice. We can choose to become outdated or to be relevant.  What will you choose?

Also published on Medium ~ Finding Blue Lobsters

Four Lessons From My Great Bosses/Mentors

Posted this in Medium this week.  Given all the discussion on Women in Tech, Silicon Valley biases, etc., I thought it was time to repost ...  and learn

My first boss at Bell Labs had a habit of yelling. While he was an equal-opportunity yeller, when he shouted at me in my first department meeting, I got up, told him when he wanted to talk, not yell, I’d be in my office and walked out. I was 20 years old, just out of undergrad, and sitting among a group of aghast Ph.D.’s . Perhaps this was not the best initial career move. But about 30 minutes later, he walked into my office and apologized...

When Disruption Meets Laughter & Fun

I was so honored to be a guest on DisrupTV with my good friend Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research.  As to be expected, we had a great time talking blue lobsters, innovation, virtues, strategy and women in tech.  Take a look!

                   

Rush to Discover, Don't Rush to Solve!

http://www.jeshujohn.com/

Oh wow! A problem.... let's go solve it! It's our first reaction, right? It's human.  We see a problem and our instinct is to start fixing it, solving it.

What if, instead of rushing to solve it, we rushed to discover as much as we could about the problem - like, why is it a problem, why is that a problem, why, why, why?  What are people doing when this is a problem? Is it only a problem when they are doing that? Where is it a problem? Only there? When is it a problem? Only then? What is the weather when it's a problem? What mood were they in when it was a problem? See? You learn so much when you Rush to Discover first.  You learn what really matters and why.  And guess what? Then you can work with the people who have this problem together - to create solution(s) that will really make a difference - that will work when, how, where it's a problem.

Rush to Discover. Don’t rush to Solve!

So, next time you see a problem, stop, discover and learn.... 

Human Assets or Asses?

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Yup, I said it and mean the double entendre. 

What company doesn’t say people are their greatest asset? How many companies really treat their employees like assets? Not as many, and less than we’d like to think.  Too many companies still treat employees like Asses –beasts of burden, tools for labor.  And then, managers* get surprised (duh!) when employees act like asses – non-caring beasts of burden and seemingly stupid, stubborn people.

Golden Rule: It’s a Rule, not an Exception!

How employees act and engage all depends on T – on how you Treat them.  Remember the golden rule? Guess what, it’s a rule, not an exception.  Try Treating everyone you encounter this week, especially your employees, as an asset.  You might see some Asses become Assets (even you?).

* Not leaders, cuz real leaders don’t treat their employees like asses.

 

 

Creating Effective Social Impact Leaders (or, Leaders!)

Leadership: is "Social" Leadership really that different? I submit it isn't and this guest post is by Robin Pendoley is Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, should make you think. See Robin's bio below - after you read this great post!  

The social impact sector does a lot of harm. Often, our victims are those who we set out to support -- the people and communities that are already vulnerable in our society. This is not something we like to talk about. As practitioners, funders, and do-gooders we want to believe our good intentions and good technical skills have prepared us to do good. But, examples from history and the present day show this isn’t the case. While there are many things we can do to reduce harm and increase meaningful impact from our collective work, there is one step we can take that represents our most important leverage point: create more effective social impact leaders.

The Core Competencies of Highly Effective Social Impact Leaders

As this question is core to our mission at Thinking Beyond Borders, we examined some historical examples of exceptional social impact leadership: Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Prof. Muhammad Yunus. By reading about the movements and change efforts they led, and reading their personal writings, we noticed two key areas in which they all excelled: critical consciousness of themselves and the world, and building and leading institutions that were truly mission-centered.

Impact through Critical Consciousness

These leaders each pursued critical consciousness of the world and themselves as a fundamental part of their social impact work. To do this, they each developed key capacities: 1) They rooted their purpose and direction in a constant critical examination of their values and beliefs; 2) They were humble but powerful learners who valued questions over answers; 3) They strived for higher order empathy. While I’ve written about these capacities elsewhere (here and here), it’s important to note that on a daily basis, each of these leaders used these skills in working with stakeholders and in maintaining their own personal and professional focus to create a more just society.

It is these capacities that ensured that the Indian Independence movement did not become a violent revolution against the British. These capacities resulted in Black communities of the US Deep South finding love in their hearts and actions in the face of violent and vicious racism during the Civil Rights Movement. It was leadership of this sort that spurred creative protest and a reordering of society, not simply an inversion of power. None of their respective movements were without flaws, nor were they complete. But, their approaches to social impact resulted in that rare and exceptional impact that brought greater equity and justice to society.

Mission-Centered Institution Building

Generating meaningful social impact and building the institutions that will sustain that process are two related but different practices. Knowing how to build an organization effectively is important. What was exceptional about the great leaders we examined was how they combined business and funding models in a manner that allowed the organization to operate and evolve based on the need of the impact work rather than the organization’s bottom line. They established management and leadership structures that encouraged their teams to be responsive the impact work. They developed communications that inspired stakeholders to engage in creating social change rather than simply build brand loyalty.

It was this type of leadership that led to peer to peer ride-sharing to sustain the Montgomery Bus Boycott, long before Uber gained a multi-billion dollar valuation. This leadership led Grameen to establish lending circles that created spaces of mutual financial and personal empowerment for women in their home communities, long before the banking industry pursued micro-lending profits in large scale. As these movements evolved, and as equity and justice advanced, the institutions these leaders created fell victim to changing politics. But, the impact they created remained because the communities they worked in solidarity with had not been encouraged to become dependent upon them.

Lessons for Developing New Leaders  

While it’s easy to hold Dr. King, President Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Prof. Yunus up as superheroes of social impact, it’s important to note that they were (are) mortals like the rest of us. If we focus on developing the skills that made them exceptional, we can generate a uniquely qualified cadre of aspiring social impact leaders.

As educators, we’ve identified a set of principles for developing leaders of this calibre:

  • Focus on Impact - Aspiring leaders need support in thinking critically about how to define equity and justice, how an effective and ethical pathway is shaped, and what the impact leader’s role in the process should be. These are dynamic and challenging topics. Unfortunately, the social impact sector rewards those who pursue large scale, brand recognition, and specific business models. Teach aspiring leaders how to handle these tensions and maintain their focus on the impact that will lead to greater equity and justice.
  • Value Questions Over Answers - Asking good questions that illuminate dynamic topics is a crucial skill. Disappointingly, most education systems generate students who believe they are successful learners when they can present a convincing answer rather than a well refined set of questions. Create learning environments that place value in asking questions and pursuing greater understanding that can be translated into even better questions. Require learning to center around identifying and questioning the core assumptions of arguments and one’s self.
  •  Instill Humility - Great leaders are great listeners who reflect constantly on their potential and limitations. They admit their mistakes, provide space for others to lead, and are the first people to applaud the successes of their peers. However, great leaders are often driven and ambitious, determined to achieve their goal and overcome obstacles. Support aspiring leaders with learning environments that provide opportunities to wrestle with this tension as teams and individuals. Provide mentors who can support them in their highest and lowest moments. Identify heroes whose struggle with the tension between ambition and humility is made plain and relatable.

The social impact sector invests countless resources in working toward equity and justice. Our global society and local communities reflect the passion and commitment of so many who have shaped their lives in this pursuit. Yet, our present day and all our days past also reflect efforts wasted, misdirected, and many that inadvertently caused harm. As a sector, we can be more effective. It starts by being more intentional in how we create our leaders.

You can learn more about how Thinking Beyond Borders is working to create highly effective social impact leaders by reviewing our programs. Our high school summer abroad and gap year programs help students begin the pursuit of critical consciousness related to creating social impact. Our college study abroad programs teach the skills to lead mission-centered and mission-effective institutions. 

Robin Pendoley is Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, an educational institution helping students develop the skills and capacities to lead highly effective social impact careers. Born and raised through his early childhood in a working class community in the San Francisco Bay Area, Robin learned that equity and justice are complex but worthy pursuits. Through study, travel, and work in urban and suburban public education, he concluded that meaningful social impact is difficult to create and requires a rare combination of skills and capacities. In 2007, Robin co-founded Thinking Beyond Borders with the vision to create an educational institution that develops highly effective social impact leaders. Robin earned a B.A. in International Development Studies from UCLA and an EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His blog posts on education and social change have been featured on Forbes, Ashoka, and Innovation Excellence.