The past few weeks have made me think about small vs. large groups a lot, and I wanted to write about that and the importance of seeing a friend in person.
One of the better examples of a large group is the first few weeks / months of freshman year of college. Most people fall into the same boat of wanting to meet new people and not be left out, and it’s a new experience for everyone. So inevitably you get these massive groups that are an entire floor or dorm that hang out in the common area together, get meals together, etc.
But the ironic consequence of the large group is how it masks individual identities. Large groups will collectively laugh and people will take turns making jokes, but unique personalities don’t shine through strongly. And this is especially true for quieter personalities, who tend to be overshadowed by louder personalities in the large group setting. The majority of people who are not the loudest personalities could be gone for a day and not really be missed by the large group – because of how much the group identity dominates the individual identity.
The general conversation in large groups also makes it difficult to see individual identities. It’s difficult to get into a meaningful conversation with 10 people and have everyone participate and stay interested – and that’s even if all 10 people want to talk about something meaningful. It’s feels more natural to joke about something, make witty comments, or talk about high-level topics. I’m not trying to say that large group conversation is bad, but it is tough to really get into an issue or talk about something personal in that setting. And I think the second type of conversation is how you actually get to know someone.
Small group conversation, while generally more meaningful, requires more effort. When it’s just two people, it is a lot easier to talk about something personal rather than only throw jokes around. But it also means you can’t zone out and it’s tougher to take a break from the conversation – you have to be engaged the whole time. What makes the effort worthwhile is that you’re much more likely to remember the conversation, or the conversation will make you think and/or reflect later on.
What made me think about all of this in the first place is the overemphasis placed on seeing someone in person. Face time is important, but the setting of the face time is equally important. If you’re catching up with someone but meeting him/her with 10 other people, I’d argue that a phone call with that person would actually be more meaningful. There’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get to talk to that person when you’re in that large group, and it’s more likely to be the typical large group type conversation.
Ultimately it’s all about balance, so I’m not going to argue that it’s best to always spend time in small groups and in 1-on-1 settings. Large groups can be fun and not every conversation should be heavy and serious. Often times there are groups and clubs from school that spent a lot of time together, and when people from that group are back in town it makes sense to all get together and catch up. But I do think that there’s a tendency to spend time in large groups too often. If you’re catching up with 10 people at the same time, I don’t think you’re really catching up with every person in the group – maybe two or three at best. And similarly if the only connection you have to a person is through large group interactions, I don’t really think you can call that person a close friend despite how close the collective group might be. Small groups / 1-on-1s are necessary to be and stay close friends with someone; face time alone isn’t enough.
November 19th, 2012 in
(Did not mean for this to be a play on ‘Size isn’t everything’)
A couple months ago, I got to visit two tech companies that I’ve heard about a lot: Groupon and 37Signals. I’ll get to Groupon, but want to start with 37Signals. It’s the quietest office I’ve ever been it – it was explained that the best work is done in areas of silence, and the office should be no different. Every aspect of this office is designed with careful thought; even the walls are covered with foam to muffle the noise. The office holds 12 employees; the other 18 of the company are based remotely. We were shown around by the CEO and Founder, Jason Fried.
Groupon was a totally different story – it was a loud bustling office with hundreds of people, and that was just on one floor. There was an excitement in the air, and whatever else that intangible startup vibe is. Our group was taken into a room with 6 Groupon employees – many of whom had never met each other. Andrew Mason was unfortunately not our tour guide; he was most likely busy with the executive team preparing for the IPO.
There are a lot of contrasts between the two companies. 37signals is 10 years old and has 30 employees. Groupon is just over 3 years old, and has somewhere around 10,000 employees. One is the fastest growing organization in history; the other is a privately held company where every employee has the same sized desk. Groupon’s revenue is around 300 million; 37Signals has about 1/20th of that (though, as Jason and DHH would fairly argue, they are more profitable). Groupon is more similar to the 21st century startup hitting it big culture that we’re all exposed to; 37Signals is an exception reflecting sustainability.
There’s a fascinating allure to growth and hitting homeruns that makes Groupon a very attractive company and the more popular story. And this reflects a greater societal trend: So many things in this world rely on growth for success. If a company’s revenues aren’t growing, then it’s likely in trouble. If the economy isn’t growing, there’s a recession. If the population isn’t growing, then Social Security is going to run out (a more complex issue I agree). If a college’s application numbers aren’t increasing, then there’s concern that the college is no longer as ‘prestigious’. It annoys me when writers use a few examples to validate a general statement – but I think there are enough examples of where growth is equated with success. And not growing, conversely, means failure.
The thing is, I think the guys at 37Signals love what they do. They don’t work 80 hours weeks, in fact they only work 4 day weeks in the summer. Sure there revenue is closer to 10 million than 100 million, but there are only 30 of them anyway. Millions of people use their products, but they are by no means a massive company and they probably never will be. But I also don’t think they want to be. They are happy being a sustainable, highly profitable company.
So the conflict here is this: Not growing is often considered failure, but is constant growth sustainable? How do not growing and constant growth coexist? I’ll start by looking at companies. Apple is almost worth 400 billion dollars today, is that really going to double? And when it doesn’t, is it going to be a failure for Apple to “only” be worth 400 billion dollars for a few years? Well we have an example, Microsoft. In 2000, they were worth almost 600 billion dollars. Today they are worth a bit over 200 billion dollars, and have been that way for a few years. There are two ways to look at this.
- Microsoft is failing, they are nowhere near where they used to be, and the future does not look bright for them. Not a place where I’d want to work.
- Microsoft isn’t as big as they used to be, but 200 billion is still a huge company that serves millions, it still provides important products and services.
1 is the prevailing attitude (at least for me), but I think 2 is the more reasonable one. Because Microsoft has been so stagnant in its stock price for its recent history, it’s now the butt of many jokes (Balmer is not helping that cause) rather than a top place to work. Many people, given the opportunity, would rather work at a Facebook or Zynga than Microsoft – some place that’s poised to grow explosively rather than an old company past its prime.
My argument is that there is a huge need for Microsofts of this world. Cutting-edge companies and industries are often thought of more important, but that is absolutely not true. It is not bad to work or be involved with a “non-growing” organization/industry. The most basic example is farming – which is never going to generate huge profits but is an absolute necessity.
There’s a cycle of innovation and commoditization in play here. As the lifetimes of new products advance, they become cheaper to make and eventually commoditized. Innovation keeps the profit cycle alive, and that’s why most ‘great’ companies are so good at innovating – they make new markets for profit after existing markets fail. And companies that aren’t as great as innovating (Microsoft) fall behind.
But just because a company is not good at innovating doesn’t mean that they serve no purpose. A company who minimizes the costs of developing a drug is just as important as the company that developed the drug – the former company should still be considered ‘great’. We need tables, we need affordable food, we need pens and pencils, and we need generic drugs. Most necessary goods are commodities – great companies have to be able to make them efficiently.
While I believe that efficient companies can be just as good and important as innovative companies (and the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive), I still want to work for the innovative one. A buddy made me realize this the other day, but it doesn’t sound like that great a job to lead a company whose sole purpose is to make paper (or any other commodity). These lifestyle companies have an indisputable purpose, but they are not at the forefront of innovation.
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to work on something groundbreaking, where innovation and growth are part of everyday business. And that’s not a bad thing to want either, but it’s a dangerous thing if everyone wants it. The reality is it doesn’t make sense for everything to grow rapidly, most companies are efficient and provide necessities. What’s scary to think about is that many of those people who want to work on growth and innovation might have to “settle” for sustainable, commoditized companies/jobs/industries. It’s not settling, it’s not failure – I believe that objectively. But given the environment I’ve been raised in (I’m not saying it’s society’s fault) I don’t truly believe it yet – still working on that.
If I had to pick a company to work for today, hands down it’s Groupon. There’s so much going on there, and so much potential that it’s just an exciting place to be. But as I say that, I wonder if I’m just following the norms I’ve been raised around to be enthralled by explosive growth. Who knows, I might have a more meaningful impact working at a less innovative but more established business.
I don’t think everything can grow forever; it’s natural for once groundbreaking discoveries to become commoditized. That being said, I think growth and innovation push the world forward and improve quality of life. But those commoditized, sustainable companies – those paper companies of the world – they’re what spread that quality of life and keep the rest of the world running.
December 13th, 2011 in
I read an article today titled The Curse of Giftedness that got me thinking about something I’ve wanted to write about for a while. You can check out the article here:
The first time I seriously thought about IQ tests was 8th grade, when we read Flowers for Algernon for English class. If you haven’t read it, the story centers around a mentally retarded man named Charlie. Through some new technology, scientists are able to artificially increase Charlie’s IQ for a brief period of time. And during that time, Charlie masters all sorts of academic material, even picking up foreign languages, all because of his innate drive and curiosity. The paradox here is: How does a mentally retarded man parallel the ability of a genius?
My English teacher used an analogy that sums up my views on IQ. He compared IQ to the size of your mental bucket. And drive, fittingly, is how often you use the bucket. Algernon, even in his mentally retarded state, was perpetually curious and showed much potential. When his IQ was increased, his bucket became larger, and his potential was realized. Rather than frequently using his unusually small bucket, he frequently used his artificially large bucket. I don’t look at IQ independently; I think it always has to be linked with drive, initiative, or whatever you want to call it. So with that, here’s why I don’t like IQ tests.
There are three general things that can happen when you take an IQ test – you score below average, average, and above average (there are different degrees, but I don’t need them for my main point). Let’s just go case by case; assuming you have no clue what your IQ is before taking the test.
- Case 1 Below Average: This isn’t what anyone hopes for when they take the IQ test, and chances are the person with this result is going to be disappointed. You could just accept the result, think nothing of it, and move on – I don’t think this is very likely. Maybe this result gives you motivation to work extra hard so you can still do something great – still don’t think this is as likely, but when it happens it’s a good result. And many people, dejected by the results, will feel as if they are inherently disadvantaged and let their low score become a self fulfilling prophecy in leading a less successful life (however you define success).
- Case 2 Average: This isn’t the worst result, and for many people won’t have a bad or good effect. But the people who come in thinking they are truly above average and get this average score will be very disappointed, even bitter. There are a lot of people out there that fall into this category, and again because of the drive-IQ relation. You don’t need to be “naturally brilliant” to do well in high school, college, or even life. But finding out that you’re “average” in terms of IQ can still be a lousy feeling. Finally, to be fair, there will some people who think they are below average and will score average. This could be the thing that gets the drive in those people going, but I think the reason for their below average self concept is chronic underperforming and low drive – which is a deep problem.
- Case 3 Above Average: Perhaps surprisingly, I think this is the most dangerous category. The implications are pretty universal, most people in this category is going feel like he/she has a naturally greater potential, higher ability than the general population. This could lead to that “I don’t need to try” mentality, which might work for a while but rarely works for life. Or it could verify one’s self belief in being able to do great things. More dangerously, it can instill a necessity to do great things. Great expectations come with great IQs, and that’s very dangerous for long-term fulfillment. Many of the “smartest” people, or those with high IQs and potential, still do remarkable things in their lives – but they don’t always do the “great” things they are capable. Falling short of expected greatness can be as much a vice – if not more so – as having limited potential.
When break it down case by case, there’s not a whole lot of good that can come out of IQ. I get why it’s interesting, and admittedly I’ve been curious to take a test. But I haven’t, and I don’t plan on doing it any time soon – I don’t see the point.
November 15th, 2010 in
“Facebook is literally everyone I’ve ever shaken hands with at a conference or kissed on the cheek at Easter. Twitter seems to be everyone I am entertained by or I wish to meet some day. Foursquare seems to be everyone I run into on a regular basis.”
-Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare
August 21st, 2010 in
Last week at work, I reviewed 99Designs and Crowdspring. Both are fairly similar sites, specializing in logo design and art creation. What both sites use, and what I want to write about, is crowdsourcing. The idea is simple. Rather than go to a single person or entity for a solution, crowdsourcing employs the masses to solve a problem. So for logo design, sites like 99Desgins Crowdspring let users view potential designs from the masses - rather than just a single designer. And that’s exactly what happens, both sites have gone a long way in perfecting their product. When a user submits a draft (on both sites), he will on average get near 100 responses. From there the user can post comments to perfect designs, and ultimately pick a winner and pay the creator accordingly.
At first glance I loved this idea. Coming from a purely consumer standpoint, it’s incredible. I checked out a few of the logos people were making, and they were ones that I’d be satisfied with. Granted, I’m no professional designer and have very limited training. But if I was looking for a logo for some company I’m starting, the quality of the designs on 99Designs would be great. And from a price point, there’s no comparison. If I went the old fashioned way, and hired one professional designer, I’d be paying way more than what I pay at 99Designs. For 300 bucks, 99Designs will let me look at dozens (maybe hundreds) of options and give me the power to pick what I like best. With one designer, I’m limited to the mock-ups he creates, and there’s no guarantee that we see eye to eye or have compatible visions. And of course, I’d be paying him way more than 300 bucks. Using 99Designs is like hiring dozens of designers for the price of one - nothing else will take my dollar further.
Even outside the experience, the idea of crowdsourcing is something I fully support. The beauty of something like 99Designs is that maybe the design I like best is actually made by a bus driver who happens to have some photoshop skills. Or maybe it is made by that graphic designer who majored in design. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Crowdsourcing breaks down barriers to entry, creates a condition of near perfect competition (knew those econ terms would come in handy someday), and gives the consumer more selection at a lower cost. Before, it’d be almost impossible that I would ask a bus driver to design my logo; it wouldn’t make any practical sense. Rather, I would ask a designer, something who’s tried and tested. Not surprisingly, it’s that group of people who most vehemently opposes crowdsourcing.
I get the designer perspective. If you’re a designer, you log onto this site, and see that there are thousands of people claiming to be “designers” when they do things like, well, drive buses. And you, the designer, spent a lot of time and money learning the ins and outs of true design. As if that’s not enough, crowdsourcing essentially makes it so that you have to do the work, and then maybe get paid. It’s called spec work, and to a designer it’s just a slap in the face. After spending that money and time, at the end of the day your painstakingly constructed submission might lose out to something a bus driver put together in a few minutes using a few Photoshop filters. And if you win, you just win a fraction of what you would have gotten working with a client individually. Either way, it sucks. And in response, many designers have banded toegether fighting against 99Designs and other forms of spec work. They say it degrades from the art of designs and severely dents designer salary.
Still, I’m in favor of crowdsourcing. I understand the opposition, but I really think every advancement comes at a cost. What designers say today is not so different from what laborers said in the past when machines replaced human jobs, and it’s not too different from what domestic workers have said about immigration/outsourcing. But both of those practices - technical progress and immigration, are huge net goods. Without either, America’s standard of living would be a lot lower. Crowdsourcing leaves consumers better off, for reasons I’ve already said. To quote an overused saying, “The customer is always right”. Trendy designers can complain that the submissions are not “true design” and a disgrace to the art. But if I like what I see, and think it’s going to serve my purposes, I don’t care if it was made by a designer who knows “true design” or a bus driver. All I care about is if it works.
Because I’m not a designer, I fully admit that it’s easier for me to support crowdsourcing. And honestly there are probably some designers out there who have lost their jobs or are living a tough life because of sites like 99Designs. I truly empathize with those people. But if we stopped advancing every time someone was negatively affected, horses would still be the fastest way of transport.
I don’t know a great way to define a leader, and I haven’t heard a definition that I love yet. At the highest level, a leader is someone who has followers. But even that’s a tricky statement, because sometimes the followers are coerced, and sometimes they follow willingly. A lot of people will say that a leader is someone with charisma, and a few weeks ago I would have believed you (maybe more on that in some other post). A leader could be someone who just does what has to be done, and sometimes the leader is the one who just talks the most.
I’m not saying this statement applies to all leaders, but I would add to that potpourri of traits that a leader is someone who is insecure.
I’m talking about the person who has to be at the front of every group. Or the person who joins the exec boards of half a dozen organizations. This is the person who has to dominate the conversation, and wants to be the center of attention. It’s the person who likes to get the laughs because they’re an affirmation of acceptance.
I saw this firsthand recently, and it annoyed the hell out of me. In a two hour conversation with 15 people, said person would literally contribute every other sentence. When we’d walk to places, said person would always somehow be at front, sometimes even walking backwards and addressing the whole group, as if to “lead” us. But as annoying as it was, said person is a good guy, and I don’t despise him at all. But I sympathize because I think there’s a lot of insecurity behind those actions.
And that’s what I really want to say, insecurity is a surprisingly powerful force behind leadership. Many people are motivated not by passion for a group, or a determination to lead. Rather, they’re motivated by a desire to seek acceptance from their peers, or validate some preconceived notion of success. They’re motivated by a desire to fight their insecurities.
I see it at Northwestern a lot, and the setting has a lot to do with it. The vast majority of the people here are very smart, and that can be intimidating. In a place with so much talent, it’s so easy to feel inadequate or inferior. And so, you have your insecure leaders emerge. By gaining a leadership position, insecure leaders often seek some sort of acknowledgement. Something along the lines off: “See, I belong here, and I’m accomplished, smart, and talented. I’m doing a lot of difficult things here; doesn’t that say something about me?” And often times it works, people acknowledge the position, admire the hard work, and grant respect.
But there’s something twisted about this, if leadership is inspired by wanting to fight insecurities, there’s something wrong. To be sure, an insecure leader can be a good leader. They can get things done, rally an organization, and make positive change.
But I don’t think an insecure leader can ever be a great leader.
This is for two main reasons: weak motivation and thin skin. So the first reason – weak motivation. The fuel of insecurity can be powerful in getting a position, and it can carry you through the beginning and inspire you to do good things. But it’s tough to make that motivation last over the long term. The title of President sometimes just sounds impressive, let’s be honest. Because of that, respect and acceptance often come just by virtue of the position; the importance of job performance is secondary. And if a desire for respect and acceptance are the motivations, there’s no incentive to work hard to do something truly risky, difficult, and great. Maybe there’ll be a little more respect, but nothing close to the amount of extra work that would have to go in. Rather, it’s easier to just do a good job, continue to get that respect, and call it a day. And that’s what a good leader does, but not a great one.
The second reason is that insecure leaders usually have a weak skin. That’s probably somewhat obvious, as the insecurities are more likely to happen to someone with a weaker skin. When it comes time to lead, the weak skin is a huge crutch. Leaders often have to make unpopular and difficult decisions, or play the disciplinarian to make things happen. (I know it sounds good to say “Oh I don’t need to discipline, people work at our company because they want to work there”, but let’s be realistic). Because insecure leaders become leaders to gain acceptance and respect, is it likely that they would make the tough call or play the hardass? Probably not. An insecure leader is unlikely to do what’s unpopular, because that comes at a cost of the short term acceptance, respect, and likeability he sought in the first place. And the unwillingness to do what might be unpopular keeps him from being a great leader.
Ultimately this is an important topic to me, because it’s something I absolutely don’t want to be. And to be honest, I think as early as a year ago I would fit some of the traits I’ve listed above. Even today some of them apply to me. An insecure leader is a leader doing what he does for the wrong reasons, and their potential is accordingly limited. I don’t hold anything against insecure leaders, because I personally can understand some of the motivations.
It’s interesting, and ironic, that some of the leaders around us are actually some of the most insecure among us.
And the great leaders, they have their insecurities too, but that’s not what drives them.
April 25th, 2010 in
“Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams.”
Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Melon University. A few years ago he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and told he had three to six months to live. Over those months, there was much he had to do, including his famous Last Lecture. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s by far the most inspiring lecture I have ever heard and something I would recommend to everyone. There aren’t too many people who have to courage to face imminent death and do what he did, and he does it perfectly. I’m not going to go into his lecture, but I want to build on his main topic: childhood dreams.
When I was a kid, I loved to build things. I don’t know why I’m using the past tense—I still do—but I’ll get back to that later. For birthdays I would get huge K’nex sets and excitedly spent hours in my room building roller coasters and five-foot towers. My parents were probably worried their kid seemed to be on path to become a construction worker, but I loved (and still love) putting things together.
After watching “Titanic,” I spent a week putting together a model of the ship and hooking up a motor so it would actually move. I’d love to imagine navigating something that enormous, since when this happened around fifth grade, I really wanted to be a pilot.
Probably sometime in late middle school I decided a pilot’s lifestyle is not exactly feasible and probably not what I could do best. I shifted away from it. (But as I’m writing this right now, I still think it’d be really cool to pilot a 747.) So I shifted more toward entrepreneurship, and my new dream became something along the lines of, “I really want to make my own company and have it succeed.” Most of us grew up in the dot-com bubble, and some of the biggest companies of the day—like Google and Amazon—became what they are after starting up in garages. And that’s what I dreamed of doing, too.
There are a few patterns in the evolution of my childhood dreams. For one, I think they became more “practical,” at least in how we view it in society. I started out with a passion for building things and dreaming of becoming a construction worker—not exactly the most glamorous thing. I grew to want to be a pilot, which is more reasonable but still a bit out there. And today, I think I’m in a pretty large group of hopeful entrepreneurs.
Some might view that pattern of evolution as a good thing. I don’t. Childhood dreams are lofty, frequently unrealistic and difficult to achieve; they’re dreams. But that’s what makes childhood dreams great. The pattern I’ve noticed is dreams are so often reduced from idealistic hopes to watered down remnants that fit well within society.
I said earlier I still love to build things. The problem is there just isn’t the time. And I’d love to fly a 747, but there’s a huge sacrifice I would have to make to do that. I would essentially have to give up a lot of career options to focus on flying. And I still want to start up a business as much as I ever have. But where’s the time?
That’s the problem. It’s not that the childhood dreams go away, it’s that our time starts running out, and childhood dreams are often too risky to pursue.
So many of us will back out. We’ll give up on something we really wanted so we can do something safer, more secure and more certain.
If you told me the first business I start up will be successful, I would leave school and commit all my time to that. But I can’t get that guarantee, so it’s not that simple. I can’t just say, “Screw school, I’m going to move to California and hope my idea works!” I’ll try to do the best I can and still keep up in school, but again time is always an issue. Schoolwork, extracurriculars and such take up a lot of time. At the end of the day, there isn’t always enough left over to work on your childhood dreams.
This is when I think about Pauch’s quote. Growing up, time and reality—all of those could be seen as brick walls to childhood dreams. And to be fair, a lot of people will accomplish their childhood dreams of wanting to be a doctor or engineer or economist. But for those who don’t have dreams that fit in so nicely with the college curriculum and life style, there are a lot of obstacles. And when that happens, it’s easy to lose focus.
So what I really want to say is, don’t lose that focus. And that’s not some preachy statement because it applies to me just as much. College is a great place and a fantastic experience, but if you come out of it having lost the childhood dreams that initially were sources of motivation—I don’t know if I can call that a good four years.
College isn’t worth the sacrifice of losing childhood dreams, and childhood dreams often don’t get the respect they deserve. Some of the adults I admire the most are the ones who still have the childish ideology, that mentality of, “I don’t care if it’s difficult or unrealistic. I’m going to do it.”
Childhood dreams are what really make us who we are. They’re the things that give us uniqueness and show what we really want to do. And they’re things that are too often lost at the expense of a more standard, typical reality. It’s great to grow up and learn more—I truly don’t see myself as a construction worker anymore—but growing up doesn’t have come at the cost of losing who we really are.
This time of year, near the end of Winter Quarter, is usually one of transition. Dorms, fraternities and sororities, student groups and even ASG will soon enough elect the new faces of their organizations for the coming year. Some of these elections just have one popular vote, but usually that’s not the case.
In most elections there are the statements by candidates, followed by a question-and-answer session, leading to deliberation without the candidates, which is then finally concluded by a vote. Opening statements and questioning are pretty standard, but the deliberation is a fascinating process.
Going into deliberation, there’s an interesting mix of opinions. Some people have their minds made up strongly for certain candidates, usually through some previous connection. Others just really dislike certain candidates for similar reasons. And many walk into deliberation with undecided minds, eager to hear what others have to say in hopes of coming to a decision.
And the game is on. Different factions of polarized support will advocate or criticize candidates, struggling to win over the mass of undecided voters. It’s all about strategy. You don’t want to come off as too strong, or you might turn voters off. But if you see the tide going against your preference, you’re going to speak up. And when things are going your way, it’s best to keep quiet, because you want to conserve your persuasive capital. Sure, everyone can have an opinion, but when it’s one person speaking over and over again, the effect tends to be lost.
And even going into deliberation, everyone has different levels of persuasive capital. Some are highly respected, and their word goes far. Others are seen as the slacker goofballs who don’t really carry any weight. It all comes together in deliberation, and it’s so interesting to see all the different agendas and strategies play out.
And I’m genuinely intrigued by this. It’s a heated psychological battle that takes persuasive skills and good perception. But deliberation can be a dirty, underhanded and completely unjust way to choose a candidate. I understand why it can help to discuss a candidate, but there are too many negatives for me to support it.
The main problem with deliberation is candidates can’t defend themselves. The idea of knowingly talking about a person without giving them a chance to defend certain criticisms just sounds inherently unfair. Obviously all candidates have certain problems, but ask them directly about them. Use the question-and-answer session to really ask the meaningful questions you’re wondering about. That’s better than basing your decision of something said in deliberation that might very likely be guided by an ulterior motive.
In theory deliberation sounds like a good thing, but it really isn’t in practice. I’ve sat through quite a few deliberation sessions over the past few weeks, and in each one, I’ve thought the same thing: “Shouldn’t I come to this decision on my own? Should I listen to some of the incredibly polarized things being said right now, when I don’t even know the person for myself?” Even when I say things in deliberation, I question why what I say should have any sway over someone else’s vote.
It’s your vote. Do everything you can to find out the information you need. Listen to the statements, judge past actions, ask good questions and think through the options. But why go through an indirect, potentially biased source to find out what you want to do? That’s not fair to the candidate or the voter.
The conditions in Haiti are terrible. Death toll estimates range between 50,000 and 200,000, and as many as 3 million Haitians—a third of the population—are said to have been affected. Buildings and entire complexes have been reduced to rubble, and there are powerful images of the devastated Presidential Palace at Port-au-Prince in shambles.
You probably already knew all this, if not more. And you probably know millions upon millions of dollars in aid have been pouring into the relief fund for this terrible disaster. Half of my Facebook friends have Haiti-dedicated profile pictures, and there seems to be a new event regarding the earthquake almost daily. And it’s not just here at Northwestern, because the worldwide response has been incredible.
I hope I’ve established my sympathy to Haitians and the current cause, because it is very sincere. That said, I don’t want to sound like an insensitive ignorant idiot when I bring up the point of this post: Why Haiti? Why has Haiti become the poster child for the hundreds of legitimate causes in desperate need of funding?
Why are so many people picking up their phones and texting “Haiti” to 90999, but no one seems to be giving a cent toward the terrible situation in Darfur? Genocide and violence have displaced 2.7 million people within the country who need protection, according to the Save Darfur Coalition.
Or what about the millions who live in slums in India? “Slumdog Millionaire” might have been a moving film, but the horrors it depicts aren’t fiction. Two million children die each year in the impoverished enclaves of this country with a poverty rate of 38 percent—nearly triple our own rate here in the U.S.
Or even in our own towns: the homeless and hungry who don’t know if they’ll have enough to survive next week?
It’s almost as if giving money to Haiti is the sexy thing to do. It’s the latest fad. Like Livestrong bracelets in the past, it’s become almost a society-wide push now. Maybe it’s the celebrity patronage, maybe it’s the outrageous comments made by Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. The Haiti text messaging drive was making $200,000 an hour after it was released, announced the mGive Foundation, a co-sponsor of the initiative—that kind of generosity doesn’t happen every day. This is all great for Haiti, and the poor nation is truly in need. But the way this disaster has emerged to the forefront of worldwide attention makes it seem like the earthquake in Haiti is the only thing wrong in this world.
Sincere philanthropy should be a constant occurrence, not just the consequence of a mob-like mentality. Support Haiti, but don’t do it because it’s “in” and trendy. And more than that, don’t fall under the delusion that Haitians are the only ones experiencing hardships in this world. After the Haiti disaster is under control, my biggest fear is this sudden emergence of generosity will once again disappear into the shadows.
The heartwarming generosity brings with it a somber reminder. The media and public perception usually picks the winners and losers when it comes to worthwhile causes, but the world’s problems don’t begin or end with Haiti—and our philanthropic endeavors shouldn’t either.
February 8th, 2010 in
In roughly one week, Apple Inc. will unveil a new product at their company event. Invites that have been going out recently carry the teaser “Come see our latest creation.” Of course, if you’ve been following the tech world recently, you probably know that this latest creation will be Apple’s first tablet computer. Termed the “iSlate” by followers, this device promises to be truly revolutionary. The device will boast a 10” OLED touch screen display (approximately) that will function as a full service computer with revolutionary gesture sensing touch technology. It’s also rumored to cost upwards of $600 dollars, potentially even $1000. So are you going to buy it? Probably not, right? But that’s also what people said about the iPhone, and the iPhone is now the most popular phone in America. I remember when I first saw the iPhone. I had heard about it, and had wanted one, but didn’t seriously think I would buy one for the price of $600. But then I went to the Apple store, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. 20 minutes later, I was walking out with a small Apple bag. When you think about it, Apple has been doing this for years. Companies like Microsoft and Google are very capable companies, but neither match Apple’s leadership in the consumer electronics sector. And that’s because of one man: Steve Jobs.
Job’s leadership is notorious in Silicon Valley. He’s a brilliant guy, but he’s described as one of the hardest bosses around. Known for firing people if they bring anything less than the best, Job’s desire for perfection is well documented. If you disagree with him, you might get fired. If he’s having a bad day and you piss him off, you might even get fired for that. Despite all that, I think he’s one of the best CEOs in the world, and that we need more people like him. Innovation doesn’t come from lax mediocrity. Weak, lenient personalities aren’t going to bring groundbreaking products. Things like the iPhone aren’t created by workers seeking a ho-hum, eyebrow raising product. The jaw dropping, speechless reactions the iPhone gathered came because a strong-willed CEO was willing to settle for something average. There was nothing like the iPhone when it came out, most of the world was still on the RAZR. Do you see RAZRs anymore?
I really don’t think I’m going to buy the iSlate. A net book is far cheaper and probably closer to what I’m looking for. But because of Steve Jobs, I haven’t bought that net book yet. I don’t know how good his “latest creation” is going to be, but I know enough about Steve Jobs to wait.
When he was trying to get PepsiCo’s John Sculley to join Apple, Jobs said, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” That’s what Steve Jobs does. He might be nearly impossible to work for, and he might be one of the craziest CEO’s out there. But he creates things the whole world wants, and we need more people like that.
January 23rd, 2010 in