Inequality can spur progress

I went to a conference a few weeks ago where I had the pleasure of listening to Sir Richard Branson speak. One of the points made (actually raised by a member of the audience) was that economic inequality can fuel innovation. In other words, it may be a necessary evil that most innovations first benefit those who are better off economically.

One of the first innovations that came to mind is the widespread use of cell phones. When cell phone technology was invented, it was as bulky as a suitcase and so pricey that it only made sense for the busy businessperson who needed to be in touch with important clients. Right now, a cell phone is such a commodity that even in a country as poor as Haiti, just about everyone has one or sometimes more. More importantly, this technology that started out being affordable to only the wealthiest in the western world is now helping countries like Haiti skip the need for a dinosaur technology called landlines as well as the costly infrastructure associated with it.

As I am writing this post, I’ve been scratching my head to think of a technology that started out among those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and then went on to be adopted by the masses. I can think of none. Technology and innovation seem to always emerge for the privileged. Then, with competition prices come down or cheaper versions of the product are made available to others.

Conversely, I think the failure to recognize that the poorest will not be the early adopters of a new product or technology can stifle progress. This is a problem in developing countries such as Haiti where NGOs and institutions encourage services to be developed for those who are less able to pay. These NGOs and institutions mean well, but in their idealism I’m afraid they often do not realize that their model may not be sustainable.

Take, for example, a clinic offering free services. Along with the services of that clinic being free come long lines, shorter time per patient, and lower overall quality of service. Alternatively, imagine that there is another clinic in which patients have to pay for service. In the paid clinic, there is better décor, shorter wait times, and working air conditioning. What is bound to happen is a) there are people who can pay for the service and will make the economic decision that the added value of the paid clinic is worth the price; and b) there are people who can barely pay for the services and will make sacrifices in other areas to go to that paid clinic.

In the US, we recognize that although everyone needs access to certain services such as education or healthcare, society does not have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone is receiving the same level of service. Do we expect public schools to offer the same level of education as a private school with tuition of $50,000 per year? That kind of tuition likely translates in student teacher ratio of 10 to 1 and class offerings in Latin or Greek. Similarly, you are likely to see a huge difference between a visit to a community clinic in a rural area and a private doctor’s office in the suburbs.

Is it fair that the clinic offering concierge medicine to an upper class clientele is different than the community clinic offering indigent care? I think in the US we have come to accept that fairness does not necessarily mean necessarily equality and instead a minimum level of access or standard. We should not seek to push a utopian model, where fairness means everyone has access to the same level of service, on developing countries.

May 24, 2013 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

Yes, Sheryl Sandberg is Bossy!

sheryl_sandberg_book
Based on the limited interviews that I’ve listened to and the bits and pieces I’ve read in her book, I have enough information to conclude without any shred of doubt that Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is indeed bossy. What qualifies me to make the statement? It is that, like most CEOs, an important aspect of my job is to identify great talent, nurture them and keep them happy.

I will first define how I and most people define bossy. Based on that definition, I think the average person and certainly 99.9% of people who have worked directly for Sheryl (including Mark Zuckerberg) will agree that she is bossy.

The question is not whether Sheryl Sandberg is bossy, but rather whether as a bossy female people react to her differently. The larger question that I’ve not seen asked in relation to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead,” is whether or not society and corporate America react differently to non-whites, minorities, or females who are bossy than to white American men.

First, let’s define what is meant by bossy.

Most psychologists agree that by the time someone is 10 or 12 years old, their personality is set. I’ve heard some people say that it might even be between 0 and 1 year old. For my children, I believe that they had their personality set before they were born (so my own non-scientific estimate is that personality is set between egg-fertilization and 1 year old). Personality is probably a combination of genetics, or attributes that are innate, and the environment (nurture). If you asked Sheryl’s sibling based on the wedding toast recounted in the book, my guess would be that they would say, “Sheryl has always been bossy and she was born like that.”

Most assessments, or at least the ones I use in the corporate world, use four dimensions to define someone’s personality. These assessments include DISC profile, XT profile, Culture Index (www.cindexinc.com) or Myers-Briggs. I have a bias for using DISC in combination with Culture Index. The four dimensions are: 1) dominance, 2) social interaction (e.g., introversion versus extroversion), 3) time reactive/pace (for example whether someone is patient, or likes single versus multiple tasks) and 4) conformity (someone who likes rules, norms or authority).

Here is my composite sketch of Ms. Sandberg:

Sheryl has a high dominance personality. In terms of a personality trait, her dominance is likely to be in the 90th to 99th percentile. Here are adjectives that she would agree describe her:

1) Dominance
• Ambitious
• Strong willed
• Direct
• Determined
• Decisive
• Competitive
• Inquisitive
• Forceful
(I am tempted to put here egocentric/narcissistic, but it is not as negative as it sounds and I would have too much explaining to do.)

2) Social Interactions
• Confident
• Logical
• Convincing

3) Pace
• Inpatient
• Change oriented
• Frustrated by status quo

4) Conformity
• Own person
• Opinionated
• Independent
• Rigid
• Firm

How does someone with that kind of composite profile act on the job?

They are comfortable in taking initiatives, they expect and demand that things get done on their timeline (which some might perceive as unrealistic), they don’t have a problem questioning assumptions or why things are done a certain way, they are inquisitive (they like to look under the hood for the details; just because you say it is so or that everyone agrees with you is not enough), they are direct (they will tell it like it is)… Most people would consider someone with the composite profile I describe and the behaviors they manifest to be domineering or bossy.

Let’s be clear that the composite sketch above does not apply to everyone or to every female. You have bossy people who are male, female, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, from privileged or humble background. While you don’t have to be domineering or bossy to be in a leadership position or to be a good leader, there is no doubt in my mind that in corporate America leadership positions are dominated by those who have what we call a domineering or D personality. I personally believe that for an organization to succeed, it does need to have D personalities on board (you also want them on your sales team).

Sheryl seems to make the point that people react to women in leadership differently. My argument is that in reality, people react differently to women who are bossy or domineering. You are more likely to see women with D personality being referred to as a “b_tch” or an “arrogant b_tch.” It is unfair (and sad!!!) to create a stereotypical expectation for the female leader (for example as a motherly figure) compared to a male counterpart. I have heard in the workplace women express a preference to have a male boss compared to a female boss. Female leaders are equally less accepted (or perhaps more so) by other females.

Corporate America or society doesn’t just react negatively to women with D personalities (or bossy women); the same can be said of racial minorities. For example, a black male with a D personality would have to worry about not being seen as an “arrogant black man” or an “angry black man” in the workplace. I suspect that minorities (gender or ethnic based) in leadership positions who have a D personality probably have to censor themselves because of the lack of acceptance.

Yes, Ms. Sheryl Sandberg according to most peoples’ definitions, you are bossy. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for people with your personality. People with your personality can be key to an organization’s success, whatever their gender or ethnicity. It is sad that our society in general, the workplace, corporate boards and leaders of organizations are not more welcoming of these personalities.

P.S. Sheryl if you read this post, I would be happy to work with you. It doesn’t matter who is the boss because we would be bossing each other just like you boss Mark Zuckenberg. I know that Facebook is probably leasing you for no more than 5 years. If you ever decide to go into politics, I’d be happy to run your campaign.

P.S.S. Mr. Zuckerberg, if you read this post you are indeed leasing someone like Sheryl. She will become bored after 5 years…unless you could create a vision and challenge beyond what Facebook is. I can help with that.

April 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm 2 comments

Bottleneck happens at the top! (Part 1)

Few companies survive the start-up stage. Of the companies that survive the startup stage, many of them struggle in the adolescence phase of the organization. One of the reasons-and I would venture to say the main reason- that small and mid-size companies struggle is their leaders. More specifically, the party responsible for failure is the founder or CEO (often the same person).

In other words, the bottleneck is at the top. One might say that bottleneck is always at the top no matter the size of the company. However, for small to mid-sized companies, I believe the organization tends to suffer more because of the lack of growth of the leader and conversely is more likely to gain from the growth of the leader. To quote Michael Lazerow, “CEOs/Founders are their own worst enemy.”

One of the reasons that the bottleneck happens with CEOs/founders or leaders of growing organizations, particularly startups, is that they need to bring and utilize efficiently other talents beyond those of the founder. At some point, a leader of a growing organization cannot rely on his/her skills alone. To get an organization started, there is great deal of burden on the founder/leader. Success is directly connected to the leader’s efforts including 12 to 16 hour days and sometimes sleepless nights. As the organization grows, it will become crippled it if continues to rely so heavily on the efforts of the founder. Others need to step to the plate.  Problems happen with recruiting the right talent, keeping them on board and managing them.

1)      Recruiting the right talent

When it comes time to get others to replicate the effort of the founder, the first hurdle is recruiting right. It can be a chicken and egg problem to hire the right talent (that is someone with the skills to do the job). Having people with the right skills is only part of the problem.  The main issue is that entrepreneurs don’t pay attention in the early stage of their company to cultural fit. Having a brilliant jerk in a small organization can quickly lead to its destruction. 

2)      Being willing to let go

The second hurdle is for the entrepreneur to be able to make enough space for the new talent to operate. An entrepreneur typically has a lot riding on the success of their organization. In most cases, they’ve bet the farm. Their attachment to the organization goes beyond fear of failure. This is their baby and their idea. They can do most tasks better than anyone if they could clone themselves. Many entrepreneurs cannot deal with the fact that giving control away means that they will not agree, and don’t have to agree, with every decision made by the hires to which they are ceding control. This means allowing these new hires to make mistakes.

3)      Hiring complementary talent

Entrepreneurs may be talented but they have their weaknesses. They need to hire talents to overcome their weakness; that is people who are better than them in some areas. Complimentary doesn’t only apply to skills but also to certain attributes that may relate to character traits, such as someone who is introverted making sure they have an extrovert on their team to communicate with internal and external stakeholders; someone who is great in big picture thinking (visionary) may need to partner with someone who is good with the details. Hiring complementary skills requires the leader to be aware of weakness and to be accepting of the new talent.

 4)      Become skilled at human relations

As an organization grows, it is less dependent on the skills of the entrepreneur and more on the ability of the entrepreneur to manage the talents of the firm. That is the entrepreneur becomes more of a conductor of the orchestra as opposed to the first violinist. Working with people and getting the most from their talents is an art and an area of expertise by itself. Few entrepreneurs make the transition. 

When I started SciMetrika, a colleague told me that I would make a couple of bad hires that could potentially put me out of business.  I wish I had listened more carefully and been more prepared. The inability of the entrepreneur to deal with people issues can lead to atrophy and even the death of the organization.  Equally important is that the entrepreneur needs to deal with himself or herself.

April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

Message to the GOP: How You Can Broaden Your Tent

ClintEastwoodGOP_empty chair

Lately, it seems that the GOP has been doing some soul searching. Gov. Jindal of Louisiana, a few days ago, said the party needs to stop being the “stupid” party. John Boehner, the speaker of the house, said the president wanted to annihilate the GOP.

Mr. Boehner, with all due respect the GOP has been annihilating itself; you would think the party did not care about winning. I think the party is destroying itself so badly that it’s no longer a fair fight. Although I’m a registered Democrat because I believe in good competition, I felt that I might help by giving you a grand strategy that will appeal to both Republicans and Democrats.
Well, the strategy is simple. The GOP has the edge when it comes to economic policy. Consistently, when the American public is asked who they trust to create jobs, they choose the GOP. The GOP is also more trusted in general when it comes to protecting the nation, but I don’t think it’s a strong card now (I’ll come back to that later).

The one and only message, a unifying cry, for the GOP should be: “We are the party of opportunity.” Senator Cruz suggested that “Every Republican should have tattooed on their arm to read in every speech: growth and opportunity.” I would go further and Keep It Simple Stupid. I am talking to you, “stupid” party: Reduce the message to one word “opportunity.”

Imagine this, the Republican message could be summed up as “Democrats are good guys, but they have the wrong policies. They believe in sending some crumbs from the rich to those who are less fortunate, while we want to give everyone in America the opportunity to achieve their dreams. Whether it is to become a small business owner, buy a house, give your kids an education to become a doctor, lawyer or the next Barack Obama, we want to create an environment where you can create that opportunity for yourself.”

Here is how this would translate in policies in four areas:

1) Economic Opportunity
You shouldn’t be afraid to back away from workfare instead of welfare policies. By the way, many in the black community and other minority groups don’t believe in welfare policies either. Do go to the inner cities to talk about policies such as tax credit or public-private partnerships to encourage entrepreneurship and investment that will lead to job creations. If we can provide assistance to other countries to help in economic development, shouldn’t we do the same for our own troubled areas that in some cases resemble third world countries?

2) Safety
Have you heard a credible proposal from the democrats on how they will improve safety in the inner cities? I haven’t. Don’t you think that Black and Latino parents in areas with high crimes care as much about the safety of their kids as parents in the suburbs? This is not just talking about how many young Black kids are being killed by guns in Chicago to score political points, but about providing solutions. After all, every American deserves to live in a safe environment where they have the opportunity to pursue the right endowed by their Creator to pursue happiness. (If you don’t believe me that you can win on the safety issue, talk to Brett Schundler who was the Republican mayor of Jersey City from 1992 to 2001).

3) Education
Education is the most common path to climbing the social ladder and achieving the American dream. There is no talking about opportunity without addressing giving every K-12 student a decent enough education to go to college and the ability to afford college if their parents can’t afford it. This means voting against Pell grants to deserving college students is a bad idea. Yes, I do agree that colleges will increase tuition artificially if they know Uncle Sam will foot the bill. But, there are creative ways to address this, such as by making schools where tuitions rise much faster than the cost of inflation ineligible for any federal funds (including research grants).

4) Immigration
Finally, you have to open the door of opportunity to those young illegal immigrants who love America and, through no faults of their own, find themselves in legal limbo. No rhetoric on amnesty will do. It will only continue to make the GOP seen as mean and insensitive.

On the defense or protecting America issue, don’t bother. The killing of Osama Bin Laden guarantees that Democrats own this issue so long as President Barack Obama is in power. There is no point in attacking the president on the left as Mitt did in the last election. Not only is it shameless, but it will not work. Most Americans don’t have any problems in using drones to go after terrorists wherever they may be and don’t want to destroy a country through war and then get in the business of nation building.

What about abortions, guns or gay marriage? Stay on message. If you want to be the party of opportunity, you are the party for all Americans. Everyone will understand that you don’t have time to focus on these divisive issues. (You could blame the Democrats for using them).

Well, my GOP friends, I’ve tried my best to even the playing field, but I’m not holding my breath that you will follow my advice. If you do become the party of opportunity, count me in. I arrived in the US as a young Haitian immigrant whose mother was earning $3.35 per hour (minimum wage) in 1989. America has given me the opportunity to create a better life for myself by getting a world class education and then founding a business that made it twice to the Inc 500 of fastest growing companies in the US. I want to leave to the next generation that same America where opportunity still exists for those who are part of the 47%.

January 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

The greatest gift to your children: self-discipline

“The profile of a wealthy person is this: hard work, perseverance, and most of all, self-discipline.  The average wealthy person has lived all his adult life in the same town.  He’s been married once and is still married.  He lives in a middle-class neighborhood next to people with a fraction of his wealth.  He’s a compulsive saver and investor, and he’s made his money on his own.  Eighty percent of America’s millionaires are first-generation rich.  (Doesn’t sound to me like opportunity is dead.)” Zig Ziglar (Bolded for emphasis)

One of the greatest gift a parent can give a child is not money, education or discipline; it is self-discipline. Too many parents focus on discipline to raise their kids while not realizing that discipline can go against the very grain of self-discipline. What is discipline in the context of a parent-child relationship? In that context, I define discipline as a form of punishment to make a child stop engaging in a negative or counterproductive behavior. I’m thinking specifically of punishments to encourage good behaviors such as no wathcing TV or no cell phone use for behavior such as not doing homework.

On the other hand, I define self-discipline as willingly doing what is needed to achieve a long term goal. Why is it that we don’t want our kids to smoke? Because we know it could cause long term health issues such as cancer. Why do we want them to choose homework over play if they only have time for homework? We could think of the skill being taught in that case as giving priority to school work to get good grades. The long lasting skill here is the ability to prioritize to defer short term pleasure for a more worthwhile goal. When a parent has to take the phone away so a kid can focus on an important test the next day, that is discipline. When a kid realizes that the only way to concentrate and prepare for the test is to turn that phone off and do it, that is self-discipline.

Why is teaching self-discipline so important? The simple reason is this. First, every self-disciplined person that I know happen to be very successful. It is so true that I can confidently say show me someone who is self-disciplined and I will show you someone who will be successfull (where I define success as the ability to reach one’s personal goals).

December 6, 2012 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

What is the top?

Last week, Zig Ziglar who was one of the motivators that had the most influence on me past away. In particular, I highly “Over the Top” which I have read and re-read several times. In honor of Zig Ziglar, throughout the month of December I will share some thoughts, concept or perhaps experience that derive directly from this book. To start-off, here is the list given by Zig on how you might know if you are at the top.

You are at the top:

  1. You clearly understand that failure is an event, not a person; that yesterday ended last night, and today is your brand-new day.
  2. You have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and optimistic about your future.
  3. You know that success (a win) doesn’t make you, and failure (a loss) doesn’t break you.
  4. You are filled with faith, hope, and love; and live without anger, greed, guilt, envy, or thoughts of revenge.
  5. You are mature enough to delay gratification and shift your focus from your rights to your responsibilities.
  6. You know that failure to stand for what is morally right is the prelude to being the victim of what is criminally wrong.
  7. You are secure in who you are, so you are at peace with God and in fellowship with man.
  8. You have made friends of your adversaries, and have gained the love and respect of those who know you best.
  9. You understand that others can give you pleasure, but genuine happiness comes when you do things for others.
  10. 10. You are pleasant to the grouch, courteous to the rude, and generous to the needy.
  11. 11. You love the unlovable, give hope to the hopeless, friendship to the friendless, and encouragement to the discouraged.
  12. 12. You can look back in forgiveness, forward in hope, down in compassion, and up with gratitude.
  13. 13. You know that “he who would be the greatest among you must become the servant of all.”
  14. 14. You recognize, confess, develop, and use your God-given physical, mental, and spiritual abilities to the glory of God and for the benefit of mankind.
  15. 15. You stand in front of the Creator of the universe, and He says to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I was first exposed to Zig Ziglar and another influential motivator Denis Waitley (“Seeds of Greatness”) when I was going through a tough time: pregnant wife and deciding if I should pursue graduate school or find a professional job or several odd jobs together to take care of my young family.

Zig Ziglar’s book gave me the fortitude to keep soldiering on and to dare to think big despite the present circumstances that I was facing. What I was able to get from the book was that I could go from survival to success. However, at that time I was not in a position to get the other part of his message that one should aim beyond success to significance.  He planted the seed for me to get the message at a later point in my life.

To Zig’s family thank you for sharing him with the world and with me personally.

December 4, 2012 at 2:25 am Leave a comment

Christopher Maloney: Example of why we should follow our dreams

This is an example of why we should follow our dreams. The video speaks for itself. Sadly, how many people never get to follow their dreams  because of negative feedback and the pessimism of others?

October 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment

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