Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sometimes, the Internet surprises you with its sensitivity and grace

I don't listen to much current music, subscribing to the theory that listening to fossil rock and pretending it's still the 1990s keeps me young.  Therefore, I have no idea what Fiona Apple has been up to since releasing her debut album, Tidal, in 1996, which included her omnipresent hit, "Criminal."

But I was touched when I read that she had cancelled her latest concert tour to be with her dying pet dog:
"I just can’t leave her now, please understand.
If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.
Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed.
But this decision is instant.
These are the choices we make, which define us.
I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship.
I am the woman who stays home and bakes Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend.
And helps her be comfortable, and comforted, and safe, and important.
Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone.
I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time.
I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.
I need to do my damnedest to be there for that.
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.
When she dies.
So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel.
And I am asking for your blessing."
In itself, this beautifully expressed sentiment is touching.  But even more so is the reaction to it.

I ran across this story on UpRoxx, a network of crass, cynical, and snarky blogs that I discovered because of its satirical sports stories.

The regular commenters on the site seem to be constantly trying to outdo each other with scabrous expresses of disgust, intermixed with a genial crypto-misogynistic pervertedness.

And yet in the comments for the Apple story, these archly ironic hardasses admit their feelings and open up about their own experiences with their dogs.

Often, critics of modern culture see the internet as a cesspool of ignorance and hate (and that's just YouTube comments).  It's easy to believe that the bad will always drive out the good.  But sometimes, the internet surprises you with its sensitivity and grace.
I just can’t leave her now, please understand.
If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.
Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed.
But this decision is instant.
These are the choices we make, which define us.
I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship.
I am the woman who stays home and bakes Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend.
And helps her be comfortable, and comforted, and safe, and important.
Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone.
I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time.
I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.
I need to do my damnedest to be there for that.
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.
When she dies.
So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel.
And I am asking for your blessing.

Read more: http://www.uproxx.com/music/2012/11/fiona-apple-cancels-tour-to-be-with-her-dying-dog/#ixzz2Cvj9RUH4
I just can’t leave her now, please understand.
If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.
Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed.
But this decision is instant.
These are the choices we make, which define us.
I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship.
I am the woman who stays home and bakes Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend.
And helps her be comfortable, and comforted, and safe, and important.
Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone.
I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time.
I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.
I need to do my damnedest to be there for that.
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.
When she dies.
So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel.
And I am asking for your blessing.

Read more: http://www.uproxx.com/music/2012/11/fiona-apple-cancels-tour-to-be-with-her-dying-dog/#ixzz2Cvj9RUH4

Does being a psychopath help you start a company?

I recently wrote about how being a jerk isn't the best way to maintain high standards:

Yet this isn't to say that bad behavior is always detrimental to starting a company.

Indeed, given the odds, some level of delusion is a necessity for entrepreneurs--after all, only 6 out of every 1,000 entrepreneurs who seek angel funding are going to make money for investors.

Now comes a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that many of America's best presidents displayed psychopathic behavior patterns.

"Psychopath-like characteristics, especially fearless dominance, are linked to low social and physical apprehensiveness — personality traits that have been correlated with better-rated presidents in terms of their leadership skills, persuasiveness, crisis management and Congressional relations.

The analysis found that Theodore Roosevelt ranked highest in fearless dominance, followed by John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Rutherford Hayes, Zachary Taylor, Bill Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush."

Interestingly enough, all the well-known presidents on the list (we'll leave aside Hayes, Taylor, and Van Buren for now) were and are both incredibly loved and loathed, depending on your political bent.  That "fearless dominance" translated into aggressive and transformative policies, including the Apollo project (Kennedy), the New Deal (FDR), a massive military build-up (Reagan), destroying the Bank of the United States (Jackson) and so on.

Fearless dominance also comes to mind when considering startup leaders like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison, as well as recent entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom pursued their businesses with ruthless (and often frightening) dedication.

That being said, don't run out and start taking lessons from Season 6 of Dexter just yet--note that our two greatest presidents, who are universally loved, don't make the list.

You could hardly find better models for non-psychopathic leadership than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Similarly, the history of Silicon Valley includes great leaders like Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett (the founders of the Valley!) who excelled as human beings as well as leaders.


To me, the key seems to be figuring out how to disentangle the "fearless" from the "dominance."  The truly great leaders are fearless, and that gives them the courage to lead by authentic persuasion, rather than fiat.

George Washington famously quelled an incipient revolt by his army's officers with a single speech:
"Before reading the letter, Washington, in an almost apologetic tone said, "Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind." The eyes of most of his audience filled with tears. The content of the letter became irrelevant as the assembled officers realized that Washington had given as much or more in the service of the new nation as any of them. Within minutes, the officers voted unanimously to express confidence in Congress and their country."
If the only way for you to feel fearless is to exert dominance, it may be that "fearless dominance" is your path to psychopathic success.  But if you have true courage and wisdom, you'll be an even greater leader.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The value of a signal is inversely proportional to its frequency

In recent months, a host of startups have arisen that help keep me informed about my friends' information habits.

We've gone far beyond the days when we could simply follow people via RSS or Twitter...now our RSS readers and Twitter homepages are so choked with information that we generally only view a tiny subset.

I regularly visit only three of my Google Reader folders: People, Delicious, and Basketball. The ironically named "High Priority News" hasn't been visited in years. Same for "High Priority" and "Daily Reads."

What do my three lucky feeds have in common? Through very different mechanisms, they provide a high signal-to-noise ratio in a low-volume setting.

The People folder includes only a few selected friends; this allows me to actually read all of their posts.

The Delicious folder includes links from my two good friends, Ben Casnocha and Ramit Sethi, and are a great source of interesting information on some of my favorite topics.

The Basketball folder feeds my obsession with my favorite sport.

The first generation of aggregators simply created a firehose...and it's apparent this isn't sustainable.

The second generation includes things like Summify (bought by Twitter) which sends me a daily email digest of the links and tweets that are most popular with my friends. I actually find these very useful, and they are a part of my daily information diet.

But I'm starting to see some third generation aggregators that are going down precisely the wrong path. These products put the emphasis on discovery, and are even more of a firehose than their first-generation predecessors.

Privacy concerns aside, I don't want to know all the articles my friends are reading--I only want to know the ones they care about enough to save to Delicious or tweet about.

Giving me direct access to their reading habits is a bug, not a feature. I want less information, not more.