Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fighting prejudice with prejudice

Warning: The following post contains no business content.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably witnesses some of the blogospheric outrage over the recent Forbes opinion piece entitled, "Don't Marry Career Women." In it, columnist Michael Noer cites various studies and statistics that he believe indicate that men are better off marrying a stay-at-home wife.

Precisely as he intended, it sparked a firestorm of outrage, including responses from the BlogHer team.

There is no question that the article is offensive and the author a pig.

But missing in all of this is that fact that none of the posts I read has attempted to refute any of his basic claims with logical argument.

Noer cites a wide variety of sources that claim things like:

1) If they [career women] quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003).
2) They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006).
3) You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001).
4) You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology).
5) Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).
6) Women's work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in men's work hours often have no statistical effect. "I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed," Johnson says.
7) Highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.)
8) Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.

Elizabeth Corcoran's counterpoint makes the argument that the mechanism by which 2-career marriages break down may have more to do with the husband than the wife--if the husband is lazy and takes his wife for granted, a career woman has more attractive alternatives than a financially dependent spouse without marketable skills.

This is an eminently reasonable argument, though it doesn't tackle the $64,000 question, "Regardless of who is to blame for the difficulties experienced in 2-career marriages, is a man more or less likely to be happy if he marries a career woman?"

Elana Centor of BlogHer writes:

"The point is that it took the outrage of readers and their own employees to make the editorial team at Forbes realize that what Noer had written was an opinion piece and not a piece of objective journalism. They broke the public trust. They insulted their subscribers. They were snarky. While readers expect and accept snarky from Gawker and other bloggers, they do not expect it from mainstream business publications that are supposed to adhere to fundamental journalistic ethics. That's not to say Forbes can't be edgy and even snarky. It can. Just label the piece as a blog--- not a piece of journalism. There is a difference."

Um, I'm puzzled by this. "Label the piece as a blog---not a piece of journalism?" This is Forbes we're talking about, not Scientific American. I think it's pretty clear it's an opinion piece.
I think it's fine to blast Forbes for publishing something you find offensive, and immediately cancel your subscription, but don't say that they insulted the public trust.

Lisa Stone writes, "That said, Corcoran's and Noer's pieces are both flawed -- I know far too many men staying at home with the children and far too many women CEOs for these outdated archetypes to hold even one more day. They're laughable! Then again, I have the vision of a woman who doesn't have to work at Forbes with Noer and his editors every day."

Again, I'm puzzled. Essentially, Lisa seems to be saying, "I don't believe the stats and studies that Noer cites because my own anecdotal experience shows that they're incorrect."

I refuse to depend Noer's intentions. It's clear he wanted to stir up controversy, and didn't give a damn about all the feelings he was going to hurt.

I myself am married to a career woman who is a Harvard graduate. I believe that you should marry for love, and that regardless of anything that Noer cites, I'd be less happy if I married an uneducated, unemployed woman.

But if we want to knock any sense into the heads of the troglodytes Noer was trying to rally with his piece, we need to tackle the facts of his argument.

If Noer had written an article advising his readers to avoid living in neighborhoods with African Americans because they tend to commit more crimes, would it be more persuasive to respond by 1) calling Noer a racist, blasting his publication, and citing the fact that none of the black people I know are criminals, or 2) pointing out that Noer's argument had failed to control for the impact of socioeconomic class on crime rates?

I know it's hard to remain calm in the face of willful insult, but allowing your outrage to determine what you write (and using weak arguments in the process) often has the opposite effect of what you desire. We should write to persuade, not just to satisfy our own (eminently understandable) need to vent.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And now, the deluge (farewell, housing bubble)

Well, it's official. The housing bubble is over.

Unsold homes are at an all time high.

There are 7.3 months worth of sales on the market, the highest since 1993.

Confidence among builders is at a 15-year low.

Do you remember watching cartoons when you were young? Characters like Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck were always getting fired out of cannons or launched into the air by mishaps. There was always a moment when they reached the apogee of their flight and hung there, motionless....after which they crashed to the ground and raised the proverbial puff of dust.

Where do you think we are now?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This Post Was Written By A Robot

Thomson Financial has announced that it will use computers to write articles on corporate earnings releases.

The robo-writers can write and file a story within 0.3 seconds of when the earnings are made public.

Now anyone who has read earnings releases know that these are glorified Word macros, but it still gives a slight shudder to see us take yet another step closer to the ultimate robot rebellion and subjugation of the human race to our metallic overlords.

Entrepreneurial Burnout and The Unintended Consequences of Feed Networks

I recently had the pleasure of joining Tom Evslin's entrepreneurship feed network.

It's been great to get my words out to a wider audience, and to meet and learn from new entrepreneurs.

Just now, however, I ran into a dilemma. One of the articles I read about cited this LifeDev post about how to avoid burnout.

It's a great post which really rings true for me--I am one of those entrepreneurs who always has too many things going on--and I wanted to blog about it.

But then I thought, "Wait, this will be totally redundant for the readers of the feed network."

Of course, dear reader, I decided to blog about it anyways, since my first priority is to my subscribers, but it does point out some of the unintended consequences of feed networks. The larger the network, the harder it becomes to be the first one to link to exciting new content.

Will feed networks begin to cramp the style of the bloggers who belong to them?

I don't know about the other network members, but I've decided to damn the torpedos and plow onwards writing whatever the hell I feel like. And if I feel like linking to jokey, homoerotic Star Trek humor, I'll darn well do it.

So speaking of burnout....

What LifeDev suggests is making a list of your activities and figuring out which ones are the "tank fillers" that increase your energy, and which are the "tank emptiers" that make you feel like Mel Gibson after a dozen shots of Scotch and a highball of Vicodin.

When things get busy, the tendency is to dump the "frivolous" tank fillers like exercise, eating right, and wasting your time watching videos of Richard Simmons on Who's Line Is It Anyways.

Bad idea. If you strip the joy out of your life, you'll burn through your energy reserves and crash.

The right approach is to keep your tank fillers sacred and delegate or dump your tank emptiers. Your homework assignment tonight is to do at least one thing that fills your tank!

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Management of Meaning

One of the latest books I'm reading is Viktor Frankl's classic work, "Man's Search For Meaning."

In this book, Frankl explains his theory that man's fundamental drive is to find meaning in his life. Indeed, as Frankl points out, this drive is so strong that people are willing to die for their ideals. Frankl also illustrates his point with examples from his own life in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz--those who felt that their lives had something to give them meaning were the ones who had the will to survive.

As Nietzche put it, "He who has a why to live for can bear any how."

Frankl saw that the world was going through a crisis in meaning, an existential vacuum. Unlike animals, modern man can't rely on instinct to make his decisions for him. Unlike his forebears, he can't rely on tradition to tell him what to do. In a relative and tolerant world, he has to construct his own meaning.

If Frankl's observations were true in the 1950s, they are even more true today. Frankl also pointed out that man often fell into either conformity (finding meaning in what others believe) or totalitarianism (letting someone else define meaning), or tried to fill the existential vacuum with hedonism and sexuality.

Somehow, I've just come to understand Paris Hilton and "The Simple Life."

Yet in crisis lies opportunity. More than ever, people hunger for meaning in their lives. As an entrepreneur or manager, you can make your company an outlet for that meaning, either by giving your team members the flexibility to construct their own meaning, or by dedicating your company to a meaning.

As Steve Jobs famously said to John Sculley, "Do you want to join me and change the world, or do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water?"

Does your organization provide opportunities for meaning? Or do you spend your precious human capital convincing people to write up TPS reports?

Do you tap into fundamental human drives to create value, or do your people come to work to collect a paycheck?

Providing an enviroment conducive to meaning can be good business, as well as good.

P.S. According to Amazon, 41% of people who view "Man's Search For Meaning" end up buying the book. 31% buy "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey (shudder).

Quote Of The Day: The Dumbest People I Know

"The dumbest people I know are those who know it all."
-- Malcolm Forbes, channeling Socrates by way of New Yawk