Posts filed under ‘Societal observations’

Airplane Mode

Over the summer, Katie and I went to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico for a little rest and relaxation. It had been years since I’d gone on a vacation, and I’m not sure Katie ever has. It was time to recharge the batteries.

Katie turned on her international calling plan, I didn’t. So for the entire trip my phone sat idle…in Airplane Mode. Not off, just Airplane Mode.

We had a great time. We read great books, we ate great meals, we met great people.

Something I love to do when I travel is watch soccer. The energy, the spirit, the enthusiasm. It’s invigorating. And it’s a time when I can be “that guy.”

In Mexico, in typical American fashion, I beat my chest and declared supreme dominance as the US led Mexico 2-0 at half time during the Gold Cup…only, again in typical American fashion, to be completely embarrassed as Mexico came back to win 4-2 during the second half. For one Mexican fan, this became a running gag. Every time he saw me, he would hurry over to someone nearby and say, “Por favor, tratarlo bien. PodrĂ­a llorar porque el partido de fĂștbol” (Please treat him well. He might cry because of the football game.) All in all, terrific time. But I digress…

As we prepared to depart and head back to reality, I noticed that my phone had nearly the same battery life as it had when we arrived 4 days earlier. Surprising. I hadn’t charged it. It just sat in Airplane Mode – disconnected from the world. The iPhone battery typically lasts me less than a day so this made me think.

Connectedness can be empowering. I can be reached by anyone, at anytime, anywhere, in many different ways. Email, phone, Facebook, blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, SMS, Foursquare, you name it. At one point, I even had a phone number for my Second Life avatar – that’s a true story. Empowering? Yes. Draining? Yes. My phone told me so (as did my avatar).

The world is moving faster than ever, and the natural inclination is to follow its pace. Maybe it’s best to slow down to speed up. At least sometimes. Observe, reflect, relax. All good things. I’m reading 4 books right now. Where’s the reflection in that? Unlike my phone, I don’t have a slider for Airplane Mode, or at least I haven’t found it yet. Maybe soon. Until then, I’ll just have to keep an eye on my battery life.

December 21, 2011 at 8:10 am 5 comments

Empower, don’t encourage

Photo courtesy of Kapungo on Flickr Some rights reserved

To risk, or not to risk, that is the question.

Empowerment is a buzz word thrown around a lot. I’ve seen it used too lightly in most circumstances, generally being defined as allowing someone to make their own decision. Technically, that may be an appropriate definition of the word, but it’s a weak one.

Empowering someone means setting them up to succeed. It does not mean simply telling them “you can do anything you set your mind to.” It’s about support, knowledge, resources, tools, guidance, confidence, and faith. All of the above.

Encouragement is not empowerment, and confusing these notions is careless and dangerous.

I’m all about empowering youth. And I’m all about entrepreneurship among youth. I’m not all about young people taking misguided risks. If you’re in the business of helping young entrepreneurs, then make sure they know the potential costs, as well as benefits, of what they’re doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love risk…I thrive on it. Throwing myself to the wolves is what makes me happy. So I’m not trying to tell young entrepreneurs not to accept, and even embrace, risk. Rather, I’m sending a message to those supporting these young entrepreneurs to ensure that they are truly empowering them to succeed.

Successful entrepreneurship is as much about knowledge and learning as it is about hard work and persistence. Learn from mistakes, and learn from failure, when they happen (when…not if).

Ideas will fail. Ideas come and go. People are what matters. And my goal is to empower people so that they can succeed with any idea, not just the one that their current business plan is built around.

I work with young entrepreneurs everyday, whether at work, or in my side gig at NFTE. The most frequent mistake that I see is emphasis on the idea. How do I market this idea?…How do I project revenue for this idea…How do convince investors that my idea is worthwhile?

All valid questions and, of course, I guide them through this learning process. However, I add the most value by convincing young entrepreneurs that I’m not here to empower their ideas, I’m here to empower them as people. And part of that empowerment is educating them about the costs of both success and failure, and making sure that they’re ready for each.

Not all time is equal. This is why many will encourage people to start companies early in their careers. I support this, and it’s why I choose to call Silicon Valley home. However, as Vivek Wadhwa points out, those over 40 “are far more likely to be the founder of a successful technology company than most of you understand.”

The obvious reason is that they’ve led both successful and failed operations in the past. They’ve got that experience to build on. This is true, but it’s learning from that experience, and not just the experience itself, that makes the difference.

It takes active thought to learn from what’s happening around you, and the most successful young entrepreneurs will be those that can absorb, learn and adapt the fastest.

So the next time you’re in a position to empower, don’t just give them the keys and a push out the door. Tell them what to do when the car breaks down, and make sure they know what alternate routes they can take. Empower, don’t encourage. It’ll go a long way.

March 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

Will the real social media please stand up?

Photo courtesy of Leeks on Flickr Some rights reserved

The world is in some weird social spiral.

Social means interacting and engaging with other people. Going to dinner with friends is social. Reading about where my friends went to dinner last night is not. Chatting with a group of people is social. Leaving someone a note is not. Confusing these behaviors is going to create a more disconnected and passive society rather than a more connected and active one.

So called “social” platforms and applications have been sprouting up everywhere over the past decade. But very few improve an individual’s level of social engagement with the rest of the world – which is where the internet becomes really powerful. Twitter does. Facebook does. But Farmville doesn’t (asynchronous seed planting will never be social in my book). And Yelp doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong…services like Yelp are incredible. I just wouldn’t call them social. It’s like sticking post it notes somewhere to broadcast your likes and dislikes. That’s not social engagement.

To harness the power of the internet while we head into Web 3.0 (or whatever it will be called) we need to move away from passive communication. Crowdsourcing my friends and long-lost acquaintances may provide me with more relevant search results, but that’s still not social. Social requires real-time, or at least semi-real-time, interaction. We can use Facebook and Twitter for this purpose, but let’s not do it in a passive way.

To stick with the search example, let’s say there was a search feed in Facebook. I go to [insert your favorite search engine here] and type in “tango lessons san francisco.” This then gets blasted to Twitter, Facebook, and maybe something like a Quora or Hunch. My friends, followers, etc see this and respond with suggestions. You get the idea. This is not the most elegant UX for social search, but this would actually be social search.

The web is a dynamic, interconnected place that can be leveraged to bring the world closer together. It’s not meant to be purely consumed. It’s meant to be fed, engaged, and interacted with.

I’m excited for where the social web could go, but it’s sad to see where it seems to be going.

February 19, 2011 at 10:38 am 1 comment

Unlocking potential in the less encouraged

Photo courtesy of on Flickr Some rights reserved

A friend stood in front of her class at an elementary school here in SF yesterday to discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. She stressed the importance of his message, his mission, and how much America has progressed in the last 40 years because of his great work and sacrifice.

She told her class, “Because of Dr. King America is no longer a segregated country. We have equal opportunity, equal rights, and…” She caught herself. She looked out at her class of 13 students. All of her students are Black or Hispanic, yet here she was claiming that segregation was over.

Her school is a low income, low resourced school, with over 75% of its students being economically disadvantaged. The staff are dedicated. The students are engaged, creative and energetic. But they don’t have equal opportunity. They don’t have equal rights.

Sure, the law claims to supply them with both. However, while not technically segregated based on race, they are segregated based on socio-economic status and this sets the (low) bar for future opportunity.

Recounting the story to me, my friend said, “I felt silly. I felt stupid. And I felt like a liar. Everyday we tell these kids that they can achieve anything they want, and we do what we can to make that true. But the infrastructure isn’t there. We tell them they can do it, and society tells them the opposite.”

Her words struck a chord. So I did what I always do when I’m curious: I gathered data.

Today, there are 6 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. More than the 0 of fifteen years ago, but still only 6…1% of the total. Hispanics have 7 CEOs on that list. Asians make up another 7. And, well, we know who make up the other 480.

Looking at all US businesses doesn’t make things any better. I put together the table below which gives a breakout of US population and business stats from 2007 (the latest census info for businesses).

You can see Black-and-Hispanic-owned businesses are the most misaligned. So what’s up? They’re not less talented, less creative, or less energetic. What they are is less encouraged.

This thinking made me revisit a fantastic organization I hadn’t looked at in awhile, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (ML4T). ML4T tells future minority leaders “You can do it, and this is exactly how.” They provide tutoring, job skills, interview training and more to push that message home. The power in that is incredible.

Many times minorities aren’t able to see the glass ceiling, let alone break through it. Organizations like ML4T create awareness of opportunity and potential, and then they give minorities the tools and knowledge to achieve. It’s inspiring. These are the organizations that need our support and attention. These are the organizations that efforts like the upcoming Startup America need to get behind.

No doubt that America has come a long way thanks to the efforts of people like Dr. King. But we can’t forget that we still have a long way to go to truly end segregation and to create an equally opportunistic and representative society.

[UPDATE: Check out this Great informative and pointed post by Kalimah Priforce on the same topic –]

January 14, 2011 at 5:56 am Leave a comment

About Me

I'm a San Francisco-based strategic thinker who believes that life is only as great as the people you choose to interact with. I love people, and studying business has given me greater insight into how to most effectively develop myself, and my personal relationships. I look forward to discussing people and business with those that find this area as fascinating as I do.

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