Category Archives: Uncategorized

No time for blame

Each of us is tasked with playing the hand we’re dealt. Some of the cards are stacked in our favor; many are not. Nonetheless, it’s a package deal, and the better we understand those cards, the more we’ll be able to accomplish.

I thought about this after reading David Remnick’s sad portrait of Hillary Clinton, in which she blames her gender — among other things — for her loss.  Mrs. Clinton is a super-sized public figure and a role model of tremendous potential.  Perhaps it is a necessary catharsis, but I was disappointed to read that she chose to waste her time.

The New Yorker

What could have been: The cover The New Yorker Had Planned for Hillary Clinton’s victory in the 2016 election. Courtesy of The New Yorker, Sept. 24, 2017

It’s helpful to understand why we fail. But blame is time consuming.  This I know: the faster we lay it aside, the less time we waste. Contrasting the Clinton debacle with Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000, Remnick notes that Gore was 52 at the time; Clinton, 69. Gore had time to grieve, move on, make a fortune and win a Nobel Peace Prize.  Clinton is 69. “She will have a hard time finding a similar peace or place in public affairs.”

Oh, gosh I hope not.

The “genderizing’ conundrum

It’s always worrisome when a noun becomes a verb. So let’s step back. The 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. When I was in high school, girls weren’t allowed to learn small engine repair; we were shuffled off to home economics and white sauce. When I left school and took a temporary job with H.Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems, I was humiliated by a fellow (male) employee’s passing me a handwritten note warning me that my sleeveless dress was inappropriate because it revealed my arms. I left the job.

Mrs. Clinton, like Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who presided in the 1920’s and 30’s, rose to power on the coattails of her husband. She, like Sherry Lansing in Hollywood, Toni Morrison in literature, and Indra Nooyi and others among the Fortune 50, carved their roles out of a male tradition  There was no can-do legacy. Unlike Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who sprang fully formed from Zeus’ head, confidence is earned, not awarded.

Focus on making the world a better place — starting where you are

So why not focus our time and energy on moving forward? The fields of law and medicine are being transformed by women. I look forward to seeing similar trends in education and politics (you go, Mrs. Clinton). But no question, it’s a slippery slope. Every day I see young women reverting to baby talk, tantrums, behavior that may have worked in middle school, but is cringe-making in the workplace.

We have a limited time to do what we want and need to do. Life tosses storm debris in our way.  I don’t know how many times I said, “I can’t find the job I want until after my mother dies.”  I didn’t want to face the conflict and ultimately wasted precious time blaming absent siblings, geography — and gender — for lost time and opportunity.

It was a waste of time.  Ultimately, we’re shaped by the battles we fight, and its our ability to accept our faults and failures that make us role models.

whining

Is it possible to get things done in a meeting? Maybe.

How we engage with one another is an organization’s greatest strategic asset — and one of the most neglected.  Searching for inspiration, I was thrilled to hear Ray Dalio, founder of the high-flying Bridgewater Associates talk about their culture of “radical transparency.”

The key is to be good with each other. If you’re radically truthful with the other person and you believe that that other person is going to be truthful with you, while that may be difficult initially in that moment, it builds better relationships and it builds better quality work.

Think about it: what if all of us could build ways to be more direct, empathetic and well, business-like with our colleagues?  We might get more done.

Image result for new yorker cartoon meeting

Cartoon by Kaamran Hafeez courtesy of The New Yorker

To the uninitiated, the methods Dalio uses sound as extreme as the nature of a hedge fund’s work. But the approach is founder-developed and enforced, built on lessons learned in a fiercely competitive industry.  Teams rate one other electronically in real-time during meetings, testing the viability of investment strategies. And don’t we all constantly (and silently) rate our colleagues?

I’ve been investigating an approach to meetings called Liberating Structures, an approach to managing meetings and presentations through a series of formatted, creative exercises, debriefing after an exercise by asking a group to jot down their impressions on sticky notes:

  • What (did you observe),
  • So What (conclusions did you draw?)
  • Now What?

It’s a timed exercise, and notes are grouped in categories. The group formulates an action plan based on the results. It’s a participatory, grassroots approach designed to eliminate the obstructions we all automatically produce when seated (or standing) around a table.

I can’t label my first attempt a success.  There were some ruffled feathers, and a couple of people didn’t like the variation in the “way we do things.”  But when is it easy to try something new?  The trick is to impose enough structure (timed intervals, simply worded assignment, small groups) to cultivate sincere engagement. I’ll keep you posted.

Update: People are the foundation of any discipline, and Liberating Structures is no exception. The discipline was developed by two men, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, with backgrounds in health care and pharmaceuticals.  But our work group is almost all women – extraoardinary people, mostly from nonprofits tasked with doing seemingly impossible tasks — “fixing” family violence; turning around troubled teens by putting them to work on the land, farming; providing mental health in a state that doesn’t believe in it.  There’s a big initiative at Seton, a major hospital network — if anything needs to be untangled, it’s our health care system.

Coding is Only the Tip of the Iceberg, Ivanka

News that Ivanka Trump plans take coding classes with her five-year old daughter reminded me how important it is for public figures to use role-model power carefully, strategically.  Witness Michelle Obama’s use of fashion as a channel for her message.

I get that women are under-represented in technical fields. I also get that many young women are unprepared to make enough money to buy a car, home, support kids and their own old age. But not everyone is a coder, and the odds are that almost any skill acquired today will be outdated tomorrow.

Jobs are more than coding, and there are more jobs than coding

I’m not minimizing programming skills; they cultivate patience and problem solving ability.  But, coding is not the silver bullet of gender equality. Girls need more than C++.  They need to be able to read and write and think. Companies have layoffs and starts ups fail.  Jobs disappear. Spouses die and family members need care. We age.  Technology is a big part of the way we live, but what about education, health care, finance, dog training?

Case in point:  a young friend, Mary Hill, was in town to celebrate winning a $100,000 in angel funding.  Mary is developing an at-home test for sexually-transmitted diseases, a global market that’s projected to reach $190,000 million by 2022. Mary, I should mention, was raised by a single mom who worked for a state agency.  She went to a public high school, an arts magnet no less,  and nurtured by a very creative family, was able to take it from there. She doesn’t know how to code, but she is definitely a problem solver.

Apprenticeships across industries?

So, here’s hoping Ivanka’s coding will help. Maybe her example will help her dad encourage some big-pocketed businesses — pharmaceutical companies, large banks,  retailers, real estate developers — to invest in some education and training to caulk some of the gaps in our educational system, much like technology companies are doing today with coding sponsorships.  It’s good business and smart investing.

 

 

Look for Unexpected Leaders, Or Be One

I’m finding myself inspired by unexpected leaders: people I think I know, people I don’t know but am surprised by.

We crave leadership when tragedy hits. A young colleague of mine was killed on Saturday in a late-night car wreck. She was 23 years old, a single mom who left 3-year old son. Very few people know what to do when a tragedy likes this hits the workplace. An all-hands meeting was held, tears were shed, flowers brought, work efforts encouraged. It was another colleague, a man who’d raised a son, who said, “All I can think about is my son,” and volunteered to set up a scholarship fund for the boy, an action that could change that child’s life.

Then, driving home, I heard a familiar twang on the radio newscast.  It was former President George W. Bush taking full aim at, if not the sitting president directly, his actions on:

gwbush

Former President George W. Bush with his wife, Laura

  1. Immigration
  2. The free press (think about that one, coming from a man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail by the aforementioned press)
  3. Pre-election communications with Russia.  Will Bush, like his predecessor Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter, it his leadership stride after his presidency ends?

Did Laura put him up to it?  We’ll never know. But we listen to people who have survived and learned from failure and blame.

Credentials don’t make a leader.  I was reminded me of a conversation I’d had in late December with a friend who knew U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack.

judgejacks

Federal Judge Janis Jacks

In 2016, Jack ruled that the Texas foster care system violates children’s rights.  Essentially, she sued the State of Texas for its appalling, ongoing neglect of the children consigned to its care. She sued the state.  My friend, who knew Judge Jack early in her career, commented on her lack of high-powered credentials.  “Can you imagine,” he said, “She took them all on (the State of Texas elected officials) to take care of our kids.”

In these interesting times, look around for leaders — or be one yourself.  Take positive action, be clear and pave the way for others to follow. We need you.

 

Women: If It’s Your Talk; Lead

I recently sat in on two consecutive presentations given by women – the first, by a software consultant; the second by a director of marketing for a startup company.  Both women were somewhere around 30, casually dressed and clearly competent. One controlled her audience; the other did not. Here’s what happened:

“Your opinion, while interesting is irrelevant”

The  audience of about 50 software engineers sat quietly and took notes during the consultant’s presentation. Maybe they were younger and less experienced. Maybe their mothers taught them good manners. They photographed slides and asked a handful of questions during the presentation but mostly waited for a discussion period at the end.

In loved the quote the second speaker opened with, You opinion while interesting, is irrelevant.” She then poked fun at herself, saying she was director of marketing because there was no one else in her department. She characterized her company as simple and straightforward; her market as full of people who were bored on Fridays.  She got as far as her first slide before two men began critiquing her process. Their comments, though interesting, were irrelevant to the rest of us, and time-consuming.

Be like Beyonce:  Ask for feedback. Look for it. Give it. 

I wondered if she wanted to have more of a collaboration with her audience  rather than a traditional presentation. But 30 minutes and two slides into the pitch, it became clear that she was not in control. We’ve all been there at some point in our careers, and I know this woman will learn from this experience.In fact, in describing how she shares her data with others in her company, she told a story of  Beyonce’s immediately critiquing each of her performances, sending night-of feedback to her back-up performers.

Be professional; never, ever minimize your professionalism or what you have to say 

Speaking to a group of people you don’t know is a challenge, any way you cut it. But there are ways to hedge your bets and set yourself up to be successful:

  • Dress the part. Don’t fool yourself: Men can get away with dressing more casually than women can.  Dress the part you’re playing. If you’re an executive, look like one.
  • Define your expertise, don’t inflate it but don’t minimize it either.
  • Set clear guidelines for your audience. If in doubt, use the tried and true
    • Tell them what you’re going to tell them: “I’ll spend 20 minutes outlining my process, leaving 15 minutes for your questions and comments …”
  • If someone in the audience insists on interrupting, stick to your guns:  “Let me finish outlining my process, then your question will make more sense…”  Practice this; you’ll become more witty and charming, always a good thing.

 

Image result for facing an audience

Should You Be Following @Alexey_Pushkov?

Get used to Google Translate. The conversation is global. The subject ranges from cars to politics to espionage to health care, but the message is the same: keep your ears open and your eyes on the road ahead because it’s not going to look like the one behind you.

 

This week alone, Ford’s no-factory-in- Mexico announcement, which yes, was about jobs – fewer, higher-skilled jobs for people who can help build the company’s leadership in “autonomous” (self-driving) and electric vehicles. The IP may stay in Michigan, but it will be tested and applied globally in some of the world’s most “challenging” traffic conditions. Because the future is about renewable technology and multi-modal transportation.

Paying attention is not easy.  What stood out in reading David Sanger’s analysis of the American intelligence agencies report on Russian influence on the recent election, was not that the intrusions were undetected, it’s that so much going on, it was impossible to see the forest for the trees. Then, lo and behold, Alexey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Parliament, is tweeting about how silly you are to imagine such things. The future will continue to be a global one and maybe not the one we imagined.

I tend to be goal oriented but have learned to pull back and consider that the most unlikely outcome may be the one that comes to fruition. Having a role in sales has been particularly instructive:  focus on possibilities, not outcomes. There is no magic bullet, only a reminder to get enough sleep, keep your skills current and stay open.

NOTE:  Getting back to Google Translate, if you’ve haven’t read Gideon-Lewis Kraus’ “Going Neural,” make it a priority. Think about it in terms of our fear of change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weighing the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a Larger Scale

Two statistics alone — that 96 percent of the world’s consumers and 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power are outside the United States — should insure our attention is riveted on the first of President Obama’s signature trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as it bobs before an un-receptive Congress in a lame-duck year.

 

charlesrivkin

Ambassador Charles Rivkin, the State Department’s assistant secretary of Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs

This week TPP evangelist Charles Rivkin was in town to talk about the state of the deal and its benefit to the small businesses and tech startups that make up 95% of Austin’s economy. Ambassador Rivkin is no empty suit. His blue-chip credentials in technology, entertainment and business include negotiating the $1B sale of the Jim Henson company. A self-effacing speaker, he cited a nickname, “Don Quixote,” for promoting causes he believes in (like President Obama).

 

Trade is a complex topic that quickly becomes emotional. But Ambassador Rivkin did something interesting:  he inched the discussion out of the “what” category (jobs) and into another, more properly labeled “how.” Framing TPP as a once-in-a blue-moon opportunity to “raise the standards of international trade” — climate change, endangered species, human rights — while also touting the benefits to specific sectors of the economy. In technology, for example, TPP is the first trade deal to address intellectual property.

Windmill alert:  Watchdog groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen oppose the deal, which doesn’t go far enough for their respective publics. EFF in particular is worried the deal will hamper investigative journalism and openness while endangering privacy. Nobel Laureate and Columbia business professor Joseph Stiglitz, an advisor to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, is also against it, pointing out that financial industry, as always it seems, gets off lightly, as do pharmaceuticals and big business in general.

But other voices support Ambassador Rivkin’s argument. The New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper’s nonlinear look at trade deals cites  TPP supporter David Autor (“China Shock”):

global-trade_paul-windle

Courtesy of Paul Windle, the New York Timescites TPP supporter David Autor (“China Shock”): TPP:

 

“The gains to the people who benefited are so enormous — they were destitute,m and now they were brought into the global middle class…The fact that there are adverse consequences in the United States should be taken seriously, but it doesn’t tilt the balance.”

In other words, trade can be seen as a tool to offset economic aid, or as Popper concludes, the benefits of trade have to be evaluated on both sides of the transaction.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman is a bit pithier: “Politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder.”

Any way you cut it, I’m glad we have a savvy Don Quixote at work on TPP.