Spring and Honor

Today, as always on the first day of spring, my step-dad Richard celebrated his birthday.

We tend to have a cyclical relationship to birthdays: when we’re young, we cannot wait for them as they signify celebration (and getting stuff). As we age (and are also trying to get rid of stuff), we shy away from them. But at some point, the celebration mode kicks back into gear.

This is definitely true for Richard, who today is now 92 years old.

richard reflects

Richard reflecting in Tucson, AZ.

This year we didn’t even wait for Richard’s special day to celebrate him. When he suffered a stroke in January, he received the honor due to a war veteran who piloted 35 dangerous missions over enemy territory. One mission was so treacherous that his plane was one of 3 that made it back out of an initial group of 30.

I’ve always marveled at how he did it. Personally I grew up in a safe suburb, went to college in an ivory tower Disneyland, and have lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world. So it’s difficult to imagine what life would be like if I suddenly found myself in a plane fending off bullets, dropping bombs and accountable for the precious lives of a crew depending on me.

Richard’s survival extended far beyond the war. He went on to outlive his parents, siblings, many of his friends, and even a child. Add to that prostate cancer, an aneurysm, a stroke and several hard falls impacting his head. We’ve concluded he’s pretty much invincible.

But always deserving honor. Happy birthday Richard. As he and I discussed today, there’s a reason he is still with us. And we are still with him.

On my past few visits to see Richard, I’ve asked him to reflect on his experiences. Enjoy 🙂

What it’s like to go on a mission dropping bombs:

Fighting for justice sometimes means fighting on the “inside”:

How his chief paradigm of people’s core motivations (either money, recognition or power) impacted his sales approach:

Vanity Metrics

In the current startup environment, “vanity metrics” refer to tracking things that “make you feel good, but don’t offer clear guidance.” But the human propensity towards vanity – things or pursuits that are “worthless, trivial, or pointless” – is pretty much timeless. The definitive take came from Solomon, who took quite a bit of time to discuss the Vanity of vanities (for us English-speakers, “a Hebrew superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness”). In a modern webby context, think page views vs. conversions.

Examples abound of people thinking that what they do really matters, when it really doesn’t. I know of startup accelerators who spend more time on PR and marketing than with their own teams (presumably the reason they exist). I know of so many startup people who attend every startup mixer and event but I’m hard-pressed to describe what value they are actually creating. Even in causes as noble as human rights, I learned this week that there are some organizations generating all kinds of marketing campaigns and attending all kinds of events which lead to pretty much zero changes in actual lives.

No surprise this simply echoes what has also been around since Solomon’s time (relatively), when the prophets lamented the false religion of going through the motions which appear righteous but lead to no real justice or positive change in the world. Isaiah and Jesus paraphrased this as “honoring with lips but with a heart far away.”

The last thing I want to do is activity that appears valuable but simply isn’t. Whether in business or any other area of our lives, may we have the humility and awareness to avoid a life of vanity and instead be grounded in what is truly real, important and effective.

One Large Step Back For Womankind

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. But certainly not all the way

We’ve of course moved forward … in the past 100 years, women can now vote for the U.S. President. We can go to the same colleges as men. And we can even work after a newborn with the advent of “parental” vs. “maternity” leave. And now – after years of evolving from being mere property and sexual objects with no power, to the “do it all” woman, we are at last have the courage to assert that maybe women shouldn’t be pressured to “have it all” but can at last celebrate that we have choices to have what we want.

But lest you think we’ve arrived, take a peek at salary statistics. Or see what happens when a prominent woman executive uses loads of academic data to encourage women to have discussions about asserting themselves. Observe what happens when a few women advocate holding on to just a small female presence in the UK currency.

So no, we haven’t arrived and as such, we must remain vigilant. We need to raise the bar to get the standards we want to allow us the freedoms to choose as men do.

No wonder my heart sank when I read about the cover of this month’s Vogue magazine:

1376627932000-marissa

In case you missed it: an opportunity to feature one of the brightest, youngest, successful female executives in Silicon Valley is reduced to an airbrushed, glamor shot. While the story itself (eventually) goes into the business details (you know, ostensibly the reason we should all care about this executive), a picture says a thousand words. This one evokes countless messages that women have been painfully trying to counter for themselves and the girls of the next generation for over the past 100+ years.

Though I knew intuitively that this did not bode well for women, even I didn’t realize all the subconscious messages that it brings. In addition to all of the messages around body image, being perfect, and so on, the pose has her upside down: “a powerless stance” someone sadly needed to call out explicitly to me. Yes, time to awaken from the stupor of being lulled back into the false promises of false, unattainable glamor indeed.

Sadly I heard some women react by saying, “I really don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” This reminds me of white men objecting to affirmative action policies with indignation that employers cannot simply hire how they “choose” – naively assuming that the playing field is equal and everyone should just go on doing what they want, unhindered by unconscious biases or societal considerations. Alas, as the above data demonstrates, the playing field is far from equal, and acting obliviously to that is at best shocking, at worst highly negligent, from someone leading one of the world’s largest tech properties. It doesn’t take a PhD in computer science (let alone a CEO title) to understand that this kind of imagery is – and has been – extremely damaging to women on a number of levels.

Don’t get me wrong: I want women to embrace their fashionista sense…or feel free not to if they don’t have one. But given the world is not run by us, I’m really not fine with women in leadership roles – with great potential for positive influence and change – disregarding the wake they leave when their personal preferences set women (and girls) back.