Saturday, March 17, 2007

Either Marx is Dead, Or He Has A Better Sense Of Humor Than I Thought

Here's a license plate I saw when driving down University:

DAS KPTL

The car? A Porsche Carrera.

Foxes, Hedgehogs, Slashes, and Expected Value

One of the (many) books I am reading right now is Marci Alboher's new book, One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success.

The book focuses on the phenomenon of "Slashes." No, not the Guns 'n Roses guitarist, or homoerotic Star Trek fan fiction. Marci uses "slash" to refer to people who pursue multiple careers simultaneously, like the psychotherapist/violin maker she interviews.

It's a great book, and highlights what I think is an important trend: the desire to live a meaningful and happy life, and the unwillingness to subordinate that desire to fit into a particular career "box."

Nonetheless, I think we also need to examine the downside of the slash life. In a comment to Ben's review of the book, I wrote:

As a dad/entrepreneur/investor/mentor/writer, I'm not one to talk, but I do wonder sometimes if focus is a better strategy.

As Archilochus wrote, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Jim Collins has noted that great companies tend to be led by hedgehogs not foxes.

For a pretty interesting discussion of this topic, check out: http://www.kheper.net/topics/typology/Fox_and_Hedgehog.html

This highlights an issue that Ben and I often struggle with, as entrepreneurs/pointy-headed intellectuals: Great entrepreneurs are usually obssessively focused; being blessed/cursed with multiple talents and interests will certainly detract from that focus.

A more nuanced view may be that the slash lifestyle may have as high or even higher an expected value, but far lower variance. If the distribution of outcomes is more extreme for the hedgehogs (fat tails both left and right), then more of the legendary figures are likely to be hedgehogs, even if on average, foxes do better.

In the end, however, I think Marci put it best:

If you're a slash. you would have a really hard time living another way. It's not usually a choice, more of a disposition.

At the end of the day, no matter what you decide about expected values and standard deviations, we are not created equal. And trying to deny your true nature in the interests of some theoretical optimization of your career is likely to be a self-defeating exercise in futility.

Different strokes for different folks.

I am a slash, and I have to embrace the strengths and weaknesses of my nature, or I'll simply end up as a pale imitation of something I'm not.

Wisdom = Asking Good Questions

Why is it so much easier to comment on other people's blogs, rather than posting to our own?

I think it comes down to this: It's much easier to come up with great answers than it is to ask great questions.

Good blog posts implicitly or explicitly ask the reader good questions. They make us think and feel.

In fact, I think you can easily generalize and say that the key to wisdom is asking good questions.

And if that's the case, here's a question for you:

Why does our educational system focus on teaching us how to give good answers, rather than how to ask good questions? Can a multiple-choice test ever help you develop wisdom? And if not, why do we make kids take the SAT?

(Thanks to Penelope Trunk for triggering this thought)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fame, Feeds, and an Apology to Matt Blumberg

Something happened recently that illustrates the perils of non-unified messaging:

On Friday, my fellow MyWay blogger Matt Blumberg blogged about the TED conference. I commented on his post, then turned my comment into a full post on this blog.

Matt replied to my comment via email, and he and I exchanged a few more emails that night clarifying what he meant and setting up an in person meeting the next time we were to be in the same city.

On Monday, Matt picked up my post, and because of the asynchronicity of our communications, thought that I had written my post AFTER our email conversation, and thus had willfully ignored his email clarifications to beat on him like a vicious 8-year-old attacking a pinata. And while I wrote back telling him that I didn't mean to be harsh, I didn't pick up on his misapprehension about the timing of my post, and thus didn't clarify the timing.

In response, Matt wrote his own post clarifying his original post, saying, "I think Chris missed my main point, and since he decided to go public blasting me, I'll repeat here what I emailed him privately before he decided to blog this."

Now, of course, I find myself in the bind of how to respond. I certainly didn't mean to insult Matt to begin with. I could respond via email, but that would leave Matt's blog readers with the impression that I was a first-class jerk. I could comment on Matt's blog, but that wouldn't clarify matters for the folks who read the post before I could comment, or for the folks who picked it up via RSS reader and didn't bother checking out the comments.

In the end, as nutty as it might seem, I concluded that the best thing I could do was to issue my own post clarifying the matter, and in turn, ask Matt to post his clarification of my clarification of the misunderstanding that occurred when Matt thought my post came after his private clarification of my comment on his original post.

See? Easy as pie!

And so: Matt, I'm sorry that we had this misunderstanding about the timing of our posts, emails, and comments. I didn't mean to offend or hurt your feelings, and had I known what you meant to say in your original post before I blogged, I probably would have toned down the tenor of my post (though I still stand behind my main point on fame).

Sometimes, we who blog are in such a rush to get our words out into the public eye that we don't stop to think about whether or not what we write might unintentionally hurt someone. And this post, which illustrates the incredible effort it takes to correct even a minor misunderstanding, just underscores the potential costs of our tangled web of communications.

Iran To 300: Drop Dead

Iran's government and top officials are complaining bitterly about the movie 300, which they see as an attack on Persian history.

They feel that the comic book flick portrays them as decadent, evil, and sexually deviant. Come to think of it, I can't really blame them for being upset--essentially, the filmmakers spent two hours of screen time depicting their ancestors as the ancient equivalent of Andy Dick.

That being said, running a headline like "Hollywood declares war on Iranians" does seem a bit over the top....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Feed Freedom

After a frenzied weekend of feed reading, I'm finally caught up on all my feeds. Perhaps I should have declared RSS bankruptcy, but by gum, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I go now to collapse into bed and curse Daylight Savings Time.