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governance

Literally off the beaten path is the below article I acquired in 1999 which appears nowhere else online today—at least according to Google. One reference to the article by a blogger does exist as learned via offbeat search engines duckduckgo and Dogpile. At 911 words it’s a succinct equation for the global oil business, with effective price setters in the oligopolist Saudis and Iraq, and disgruntled price takers in not simply consumers, but principally less formidable Western suppliers.

It frames US military intervention in Iraq in market terms virtually unfound in Western media.  Western circulated fears for mass consumption concerned a supposed threat of retaliatory diminished oil supply by then Iraq President Saddam Hussein. Unchallenged was the irrationality of a regime whose economy depended on oil sales, foregoing oil sales.

This article presents the opposite case–excess supply and, hence, lower world prices and raised profit thresholds for smaller (Western) suppliers–as the actual fear by the Western investor class unbeknownst to the electorate.  It remains instructive on the oil market today. The article’s premise—rarely heard by American audiences—is directly supported in U.S. legislative transcripts like that of Senate Hearing 106-86.

SanFranExaminer

In its 2013 large firm census Catalyst has assembled this Appendix of Fortune 500 firms with zero female executive officers.  Catalyst characterizes its broader research project as follows:

This project examines women’s representation in corporate governance at the largest companies in the United States. It provides critical statistics to gauge women’s advancement into leadership and highlights the gender diversity gap. Each year Catalyst tracks:

          • Women’s share of all board seats and of positions of board leadership.
          • The representation of women of color directors.
          • Companies with 0%, 25% or more, and 40% or more women directors
          • Companies with zero to three or more women of color directors.

It’s generally believed that education and development raise standards of living and improve the general welfare.  This post from The 50 Million Missing Campaign concerned with female genocide in India frames an opposite and startling case.

I literally feel ill. One place where education and economics are not solutions: @drlisaDCook @JustinWolfers

The historically free New York City-based Cooper Union University is a unique valuation case study. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen captured the sentiment in under 140 characters :

Following mismanagement of its endowment, the school is set to begin charging tuition for the first time in its 154-year history. In this video students of the architecture school aim to raise $600K for gifting to future architecture students via a One Year Fund to buy the school time to identify an alternative to charging tuition, a financing change that students believe will irreparably alter the school’s culture, content and mission. For the record I support the free education model and the students of Cooper Union.

Consumers of ever pricier higher education are derelict not to question governance. Education brands are life-long pacts. For the record this was the delivery, reproduced below, of MIT Professor Kevin Slavin to his alma mater, Cooper Union, a few years back.  As widely reported, Cooper Union is in trouble. It’s accented by the school’s unique history as a premium tuition-free academy set to charge tuition for the first time.

I applaud candor in university governance:

criticize the lack of transparency as I see it.

Evidence of too little inquiry into Boards includes inexplicable enrollment growth in academies like my own private women’s college; successful lobbying of entities like Kaplan University to shut down federal reform efforts in its for-profit business model and industry; and the weighty fact of class action litigation by ABA graduates—a new phenomenon—a number slated for expansion to a group of 35 academies.

This was Kevin Slavin’s address to his board.

Kevin Slavin — Cooper Union Community Summit – talk as presented Dec 5, 2011

Thank you. I’m Kevin Slavin. I entered the Cooper Union school of Art in 1989, graduated in 1995, and began teaching as an adjunct in 2011.

I was in the audience here on November 7th, when the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mark Epstein, was asked, how did we arrive at a $16MM annual deficit without warning or hope of repair?

His answer was that the alumni were — quote — a failed investment. As if 38% of the funds outlined in the decennial report is a failed investment. Not the new building. Not the loans whose interest repayments alone form half the deficit. But us. The alumni.

And then, three weeks later, Cooper Union asked me for $10,000.
I’ve brought it here tonight.

I’m pledging it to the contingent fund that’s been set up. I’m pledging that $10,000, here, publicly, to the Cooper Union I went to, the Cooper Union I’m looking to invest in, a Cooper Union which is tuition-free.

Mr. Epstein, President Bharucha, the money is on the table. Let’s see whose investment fails whom.

I was on this stage in 1995, when I gave the graduating speech. It was 10 minutes and it was composed entirely of quotes from graduating speeches from 20 years before me. That was not a cynical act. It was to say: it didn’t start when I got here and it didn’t end as I was leaving. Not for me, not for the institution.

So when I heard President Bharucha speak in early November, the phrase that struck me, what is so important, is “sustainability.” If nowhere else, this is one point in which the President and I are in perfect alignment, as with all of you. We are all looking for a sustainable solution to produce another 20 years of graduating speeches for some other student to steal from.

The question, then, is: what makes Cooper Union sustainable?

It means using a resource that’s producing more than it’s consumed.

And the mistake that’s been made, systemically, is believing that the resource at the bottom of all this, the resource that must be sustained, is money.

It’s not money. Money is a derivative. The resource it’s derived from, the resource it maps to, the resource it measures, is trust.

It’s a logical fallacy, it’s called “argumentum ad crumenam” — “the logic of the purse”. In this fallacy, to acquire money means to administer trust. But we don’t live there anymore. It’s over. If anything, the acquisition of money, these days, doesn’t provide trust … it demands trust. Greater and greater amounts of trust.

Trust is the resource that was depleted first. And I’m here tonight to talk about how it went away, and what it will take to get it back. Because the deficit of trust has made the hole we’ve dug unfillable.

I’ve invested in my own companies, in large public companies, in non-profits, in New York City start ups. Money has always followed trust, and that trust came from a sense of transparency and communication. A sense that I knew where the money would go.

But I never gave to Cooper Union. Because I never could figure it out. I can hardly figure it out now, in spite of the amazing efforts of Barry and Professor Stock earlier in the evening. Because meanwhile I have a team of forensic accountants who say they haven’t seen anything this fucked up from anyone who wasn’t being deliberately obstructive.

I want you to think about it: if someone asked you for $10,000 — whoever they are — and when you asked, can I find out how that’s been spent, be told, that’s not really your business…would you invest it?

If someone asked you for $10,000 and had a board of people who were going to spend it, and no one was supervising them — no one! — and they were accountable to no one — no one! — and if you asked, can I find out what you guys are even talking about and they said — no! — and you said, can I even talk to you — and they said — no! — would you invest in that? If it were for profit, would you believe that it would be likely to be profitable?

And yet, that’s where we are. Can you imagine a company, in a crisis, that would bar the NYT, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal from the room — from this room! The Great Hall! — and bring it’s chairman to address its shareholders who will only answer prepared questions with a lawyer at his side?

What is produced in a spectacle like that? What is consumed? What is exhausted?

Transparency is not a promise. It’s not an idea. It’s action. The answer to whether Cooper Union should be more transparent is not the word “yes.” The answer is to be more transparent.

And so we asked, on November 7th, whether there were any conflicts of interest between the business operations of the Board of Trustees and the business operations of Cooper Union. The Chairman said:

“Every year, the trustees fill out a conflict of interest statement and that’s made public. If there’s any conflict, potential conflict, or appearance of conflict involving Cooper Union, its public.”

In following up on this publicness, we received the following response from TC Westcott:

“Regarding the COI, we can make the policy available not the completed questionnaires… The actual questionnaires are confidential because they include personal information. However, when a potential conflict is disclosed that information appears in the 990.”

But a bunch of forensic accountants, when crunching the 990s found one — but not because it was listed as potential conflict, but rather because it emerged from information that they puzzled together.

This one is just an example, I don’t mean to give it undue weight. It concerns Sandra Priest Rose, who was a trustee for several years, including the years in which the New Building contracts were initiated and fulfilled.

Between 2006 and 2009, as part of those contracts, Cooper Union paid Jonathan Rose Companies $2MM to supervise construction. That company is run by Jonathan F. P. Rose. The trustee Sandra Priest Rose is his mother. [Audience: “oh my god.”] Oh my god.

Let me be clear: the Rose family does amazing things, for Cooper Union, for New York City. We all of us, owe them. We really owe them! And perhaps her son’s company really happened to be the very best for the job and provided the most competitive bid. That is entirely possible. But that’s why it’s a fucking question.

And that’s why the answer is not to state policy. It’s to state fact. It’s to address the spirit of the question, which is not about policy. If we’d heard about this potential conflict when we asked about potential conflicts, instead of from forensic accountants, then we wouldn’t have used up so much of those precious resources: not just time, but trust.

I’m happy if the Roses thrive, I really am. For their generosity if for no other reason. I just want to know, if you ask me for $10,000, and say it’s going to be spent responsibly, I’d like to get a heads up that responsible spending will keep it in the family. It’s possible to do that. I don’t discourage it. I just want to know.

There is an alumni representative to the Trustees, Don Blauweiss. I offered him my spot here tonight, because I would rather listen than talk. What he said — and god knows I don’t blame Don for this — is that he can’t, because he’s privy to sensitive and confidential information. But if the delegate to the trustees cannot speak to the group that has delegated him, what is he there for?Everyone tells me, everyone says, we have to put the past behind us and just move forward, just build. And I say, yes, let’s build. We are all of us here, makers, builders.

We’re makers and builders, but so if we don’t know what we’re working with, how are we to build? If we can’t see the material, how can we work with it?

I say, let’s work with trust. And I challenge Cooper Union to help restore that resource, that foundation, I offer my help however I can, and say, let’s build.

After a month of pestering, one week ago, you released the KPMG docs. Thank you for that, no really: thank you. Released a bunch of numbers that were erroneous and then quickly corrected them. Thank you for that too.

You stopped secretly editing the mission statement of the institution on the website. Thank you for that. You are going to have the trustees review the trustees. Fewer thanks for that. Less gratitude. If you will provide us with the minutes and notes that are germane to the financial situation of Cooper Union, to its investments, business interests, transactions, et al, we would thank you for that. If you would stop saying that Cooper Union dodged a bullet without mentioning that it’s because it was falling down at the time, we’d thank you for that. If you will stop pretending that things are alright, when we know that they are not, we would thank you for that. If you would admit that the hole that is dug is dug with bad information and with silence, we would thank you for that and set out to fill it together with something solid.

Let me be clear. I am not trying to pay back the education I got. That’s called a student loan.

No, when I give, I am funding the education of the future. That’s not repaying something. That’s investing in something. So as an investor, I challenge you, President Bharucha, the Board, I challenge you to find the real and sustainable resources — transparency, communication, trust, and integrity — resources that can be renewed endlessly. I’ll break my back to build on those and I know that’s true of everyone here.

Do not allow our investment to fail.

Finally, hinting of an Arab spring in higher education, the presidential office occupiers of Cooper Union, @FreeCooperUnion, today retweeted this:

Or rather it bans big sugary drinks. It’s one of the shrewdest moves I’ve seen in the public sphere around psychologically resetting beverage serving sizes and, by extension, sugar and caloric intake per serving.

Given NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s ban’s arguable practicality it’s interesting it’s just now happening, though admittedly, it’s not for the risk-averse. A mayor of the free world’s largest city has a fiduciary duty to the citizenry to take on big problems in creative and efficient ways. A national epidemic of overweight and obesity requires such an official to vote. And the ban will meaningfully add to an experiential public health and policy database about what levers may alter behavior affecting the public’s health interest. It’s a bold stroke of leadership. I support it.

It’s unclear where behavioral change thresholds are for big sugary drink servings. But Bloomberg is willing to search. We do know Americans don’t eat or drink purely due to hunger or thirst–so by definition serving size is malleable.

Naysayer group 1: “big government”

These opponents are misdirected: Any nation’s first duty is self-defense. So in a country without conscription, government has a primary duty to regulate the health profile—among other things—of the general population from which the military is  drawn; hence, vaccinations for public school teachers and pupils, regulation of the agriculture industry, quarantine law, etc.  Some of our most important and long-instituted food regulations and nutritional standards today derived straight from the Department of Defense. We can’t source a military with insulin dependents.

Naysayer group 2: “too many loopholes”

They claim folks will just buy two 16-oz big sugary drinks to get the old 32 oz. they used to.  Not necessarily: It’s less convenient and inconvenience is a tax. From web pages that load seconds too slowly; to stepping well outside to smoke; to voice-automated menus with excessive steps; to merchandise too low on a shelf; to right houses in wrong locations; we avoid inconvenience. Over the course of one New York City minute and time-sensitive day, that can include queuing up for a refill, additional beckonings of a waiter, multiple treks to the movie concession area, or carrying 2 drinks vs. 1 from the start. Lastly, even if they refill, the point is they refill at a lower caloric rate—sugar and calories per refill. That’s a plus.

For the record, of course, overweight and obesity cost.

Screenshot: In my quarters there was a chromosomatic split: Those who thought a now resigned congressman’s career was salvageable after explicit photos of him rounded the public sphere, and that only any illegal conduct by him ultimately mattered, were mostly men. Those who immediately declared him finished mostly had 2 X chromosomes. And some of them—like me—said it’s all about the pictures and they matter really really hard.

When the story broke, Arianna Huffington called it (the end of the congressman’s House career) with one tweet, in that dark, succinct and characteristic 2 X style in which our finest aunts have ominously murmured when somebody went too far at the church supper.  And unquestionably, it was time to go.

The end of this congressman’s authority and House career was so foregone a conclusion for me, that some male acquaintances’ early protestations to the contrary—primarily because of some “ranking” they envisioned of the congressman’s infraction relative to that of other still-sitting legislators (none of whose foibles, however, had been photographically captured, never mind infinitely digitally disseminated)—made me want to lay it out nicely and prove it. Like a math theorem. Not to “make” one agree, but allow one to hear Aunt Julia—whose voice clearly had not gone off in their heads.  It was mostly with such fellows in mind that I originally wrote in calm consideration of what struck me as more than axiomatic—my earnest explanation that fire is indeed hot:

Leadership is part optics.

In a recently resigned congressman’s story people have talked law, lies, and other still-sitting politicians’ foibles. Unmentioned is how the New York congressman failed the optics test endemic to political leadership:

  • that Obama passed by not being photographed smoking on the campaign;
  • that Bush 1 failed by glancing at his watch during a debate;
  • that a paralyzed FDR passed by “walking” before a troubled country;
  • that frontrunner Nixon failed under television lights in the 1960 debate with Kennedy;
  • that Reagan passed by understanding cameras as an actor and staffing accordingly;
  • and that Gary Hart failed when pictured with a companion.

Knowing (for example that some other politician consummated an extramarital affair) and seeing (for example pictures as in the present case, in absence of such consummation) don’t drive the same optics or outcomes in politics. In court. In sales. In management. Or in courtship. What we see (and don’t see) regularly trumps what we know. Or becomes it. And leaders of duration generally know that.

I’ve posted before on the ROI of certain US graduate tracks given unbounded US higher education costs. Issues include disingenuous marketing campaigns by graduate schools, graduates’ oversupply and shrinking slots of high paying jobs that permit repaying unprecedented student loan debt. US student loan debt of $830 billion recently surpassed that of US credit cards.

Columbia’s new package found here is the clearest evidence yet that some academic programs, most notably law, are structurally overvalued. They take too long and cost too much. This is aside from oversupply issues. And longterm returns on investment have trended questionable.

That a supplier of this tier of graduate education–US News’ 4th ranked law school and 9th ranked B-school–is effectively restating the value of two of academia’s’ most revenue-generating and sought after credentials is historic. In New York and the northeast Columbia sits in a competitive and crowded higher ed neighborhood and its differentiation should particularly reverberate. There’s no mandate for a 3-year legal program per the ABA’s own Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. Columbia and the ABA know its bar passage rate and practitioner preparedness will be fine with 2 years of training. 200 199 ABA-approved US law schools may have just gone to the potty on themselves. Business schools are surely doing a double take too. And rightly.

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A contact blogged on Ruth Simmons’ voluntary leaving of the Goldman Sachs Board announced earlier this year.

It’s so critical and overlooked an ilk of analysis that I’m reposting it here in full with great appreciation for the case Tracy Williams so well makes–and one well supported by entities and research like that of Catalyst, Ira Millstein and even traditionalists like the ABA which has weighed in on corporate board culture and leadership outcomes as a function of strategically heterogeneous board compositions.

Tracy wrote:

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 2010
Simmons’ Value on Goldman’s Board

Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University, earlier this year stepped down from serving on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs–but not quietly.

All indications or evidence suggests she left the board because she decided to reduce her involvement in outside corporate activities. She wasn’t pushed out or asked off. Yet while Goldman scrambled to confront the financial crisis and the accompanying storm of bad publicity, some questioned whether she and other academics on boards were sufficiently qualified to assess the market collapse, evaluate tough banking issues, and understand products, risks, businesses, and market structures.

Two weeks ago in a recent article, the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/) summarized the ongoing discussion about academics (namely, university presidents) serving as board members of major corporations. The viewpoints about their involvement were multi-sided, and those in business, finance and academia weighed in.

Many appreciate the objective perspectives of academics, their experiences running complex organizations (universities with many constituencies and multiple missions), and their proven intellect (Ph.d. degrees and well-documented academic achievements). Nonetheless, some contend university presidents don’t have the time to devote to corporate board issues or shouldn’t allot the time when they must wrestle with more pressing issues on their campuses.

Some don’t like the exceptional compensation packages academics receive serving boards and suggest potential conflicts. And some have outright argued that, without years of business and finance experience, they are out of their league in addressing corporate issues that might overwhelm them.

In the Times article, the head of an independent research firm (Nell Minow of the Corporate Library) says Ruth Simmons’ presence on the board hurt Goldman. Minow claims Simmons, as a Goldman director, spent too much time on women’s and diversity issues and didn’t have the background or expertise to cull through financial issues. “That seat could have been held by someone who understood derivatives,” she is quoted in the article. “You don’t go on a board for networking, seeking contributions, or working for minorities. You go on a board for one purpose–to manage risk for the long-term benefit of the shareholder.” (As many know, Simmons is the first African-American president of an Ivy League school.)

This way of thinking diminishes invaluable contributions someone like Simmons made while on the board or could have continued to make, if she had remained on the board. It’s this perspective that undermines the courage some firms have in selecting outstanding outsiders (including women and minorities) to serve on boards to participate in all aspects in overseeing a global business.

Here is a rebuttal to the parochial view that only insider finance experts are capable of serving as board members of complex, global financial institutions.

Or rephrased: Why should Goldman be applauded for inviting Simmons to be a board member, if she were able to carve out the time and attention for such a responsibility?

1. Simmons is learned educator and the senior administrator of a major university, a large, complicated organization with many constituencies, challenges, issues and visions. And one with endowment and finances that must be managed as carefully as Goldman manages its capital and revenue streams. She understands organizational structures and issues and could provide insight and best practices on what works and what doesn’t.

2. As an accomplished academic (with a doctorate degree), now responsible for the education of thousands of students, Simmons is likely capable of learning and understanding the primary aspects of banking quickly. One shouldn’t discount her ability to master new material.

She may not at first have understood products, business lines, capital markets, mezzanine financing, currency swaps, derivatives, hybrid securities, mergers and acquisitions, or trading positions. But she likely has a knack for coming up to speed quickly. She has to do the same in her “day job,” when appointing deans in schools, fields or divisions outside of her area of expertise or when assessing all academic departments at Brown–from biology and physics to art history and sociology.

3. Simmons comes from the outside. She would have little or no allegiance to certain people, divisions, or business lines. She would likely ask questions that others might not bother. She would offer a different perspective, a fresh point of view, and steer fellow board members to extract themselves from minutiae and focus on what makes common sense.

In other words, the outsider is more likely to feel comfortable asking, for example, “Why does it make sense to invest $100 million in new insurance derivatives when you can’t explain it to me?”

4. Some would argue there is no way she could intelligently decide on numerous complex financial products Goldman offers, trades, manages, or sells–including, say, credit-default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, currency swaps, high-yield debt, total-return swaps, options and futures. No doubt the products are complicated. Often it takes in-depth knowledge of finance, markets and risk to manage related businesses. It takes experience and day-to-day familiarity, too.

That doesn’t mean someone like Simmons couldn’t understand the basics–the purpose, the business objective, the primary risks, the profit models, the clients, and the counterparties–to make prudent business decisions. In many cases, the products are new to the experienced bankers, too–the result of innovation the past decade or so.

Hence, even senior managers at Goldman, too, must learn, understand and get acquainted with them. The so-called ABX mortgage index and products derived from that didn’t exist a decade ago. Almost no MBA graduate before 1995 would have learned about credit-default swaps in a textbook.

Some market observers, in fact, say that near financial collapse was caused, in part, by the unnecessary complexity of products and models and the inability to grasp or appreciate risks. Some products (e.g, “CDO-squared” instruments or synthetic CDO’s) were deemed too complex, too unwieldy for experts, Ph.d.’s in finance, or veteran traders.

Going forward, many will assert that if the products can’t be explained logically to smart, fast-learning outsiders (like Simmons), then they probably shouldn’t be deployed, issued, or sold.

5. If Simmons didn’t emphasize diversity, student recruiting, and women, then who would? When senior managers get distracted by other topics and issues, who reminds board members that successful diversity and inclusion aren’t sometime activities–initiatives that get attention only when times are good?

And who helps to remind shareholders (and all stakeholders) how it hurts the franchise in the long term if diversity gets shoved aside if short-term priorities are focused entirely on maximizing current returns?

Simmons was likely the voice in the room who reminds the board to be fair and inclusive in the hiring of talent, in managing director promotions and in overall recruiting. (She has certainly be cited for pushing women’s initiatives during her Goldman stint.) She may have been the voice that reminded all a market slowdown isn’t an excuse to call time-out on diversity initiatives.

Those who argue that university presidents have enough on their hands and shouldn’t accept board seats have a point, if presidents have taken on too many. That would, however, apply to any CEO who sits on perhaps more than three or four boards while trying to focus on his/her own global business. If those from academia manage their invitations to a handful, then they should be welcomed to the board table.

Instead of criticizing Simmons, many should have tried to convince her to remain as a director.

Tracy Williams

Update:
Simmons was former provost of Spelman College (as well as president at Smith and holder of key administrative authority at Princeton as Tracy rightly reminds me today) which is lauded for (among other things) producing more doctors than all other historically black colleges but one (a larger one, and still one with which it trades lead from time to time) and more than either Harvard or Yale. It’s noteworthy because aside from being small and representing only 1/2 of humanity Spelman is decidedly poor by endowment standards as compared to the Ivy League, and much beyond. For most of its history it has enjoyed neither the most equipped science labs nor the capacity to pay exorbitant faculty salaries. But it’s a toiling place that gets bank for its bucks. That’s efficiency.

Executives like Simmons managing exactly those institutions likely have eyes for returns on investment the likes of which many corporate executives have rarely commanded. I sincerely doubt if Harvard could produce what Spelman produces on Spelman’s budget.

Screenshot: I’m a long-time down-size critic. When a firm downsizes, I always ask, what’s the real problem they aren’t solving. It’s a tactic, not a management strategy. Done regularly when management lacks ideas. And then what: you’re smaller–so are your competitors– and you still lack ideas.

An earlier CEO poll cited in Newsweek’s recent article on Creativity is an underscore. It’s about box leaving and game changing. Charlie Rose is on the case too. As of course Richard. Linchpin too. And here’s fast company’s 100 most creative listing.

What—

It’s on the brain because I was inspired recently. And the thing with inspiration is it can’t be given–like directions to the airport. People try. They have ideas about what you’re supposed to like, be healed with, instructed by, and repeat as mantra.

It’s awful.

Bunches offer Jesus and things they got offered over time that are supposed to work. In the hum of polite speak, well intended back pats and veil of safety talk they vote, “It will work out.”

But really I’m often more inspired by people who say, and with no idea what to do about it, “This is yucked up”. Sometimes this is the answer. The permission of no answer can free you up for a different relationship to the question.

Why–

Because it matters in business and life what inspires you. Not what’s supposed to, but what does. And it shouldn’t matter where it comes from if you’re made fuller or renewed, and the resonance of the inspiration moves you and the larger world ahead.

I see people trying hard and dutifully to buy into a grand book/recipe of what some other people somewhere said was inspiration or right. And they’re miserable:

  • They trot off to law school because it’s written somewhere it’s a good degree.
  • They marry somebody “right” and uninteresting.
  • But they want to work with people who have questions as well as answers.
  • And they don’t want to work for a firm with a parking lot that size and no space for dreams or questions or real conversations.
  • They want to ask more of governance and family and community.
  • They don’t want to dress like that.
  • They work better at night.

For inspiration to work it has to come  from where you actually find it.

Who–

Bible belt roots notwithstanding, I’ve never been inspired by Jesus. I’m not. And I don’t need to explain or apologize or deep massage over it. He’s not interesting to me. I don’t eat hash either. And it’s fine. If I had a ticket to see Jesus I’d give it away.

I’d rather have coffee in a truck stop with John Hammond—former talent scout for Columbia Records with a knack for recording soul singers with strings–one of the best wrong answers American music ever got, and who discovered and first recorded Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin—total blast.

I’d rather fix a flat with Gore Vidal.

I’d rather a bad seat in Joseph Campbell’s class for 50 minutes. Campbell wrongly answered journalist Bill Moyers who, playing devil’s advocate, asked (slight paraphrase) “Hey, you teach mythology and all these Greek gods and stuff–if I’m a student at Sarah Lawrence why should I care about it?” Campbell replied: “You shouldn’t.” He explained nobody should take his classes because somebody said they should. But, he said, if you get caught by it somehow, it may help you. One of the most demanded series in the history of PBS documentaries–Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth that you “shouldn’t” care about.

I’d rather listen to late Senator Robert Byrd–certified West Virginia white trash–talk about his mother’s dreams for what he could be–how he went from Ku Klux Klansman to rolling into the Senate chambers in a wheelchair and near bathrobe to vote for a black President’s healthcare reform bill.

Billie Holiday is at the top of this blog for a reason.  She told the truth.

Leontyne Price–when asked what she most loved to listen to gave a wrong answer: “My own voice. It’s a personal adoration.” And probably why no soprano in the history of opera has had a longer standing ovation than her 42 minute one in 1961 debuting at the Met.

Bishop John Shelby Spong sat calmly as an animated woman of faith blasted him about his beliefs and marrying gays and pro-divorce and pro-choice and bible interpretations and how his actions were destroying the church and were anti-god and she demanded he explain himself and exactly how he had gotten that way. When allowed to speak, Spong gave the wrong answer: “Ma’am, I have four. Grown. Daughters.”

Wrong answers.  It”s why they’re right. They’re from real places.

Inspiration isn’t arduous. It shouldn’t take sweat, deep study or a Ph.D. dissertation. People sit in church with highlighters like it’s freshman World Civ  reading like they’re trying to make it stick–it’s heartbreaking.

Inspiration should make your eyes pop open, your jaw drop, your adrenalin spike, and your dopamine squirt–you shouldn’t be able to forget it. It should wake you up. Your whole life. And absolutely, you and your endeavor on the earth are, to all the real inspiration you can claim, entitled.

Mad and disgusted.

 

Screenshot: A brown, oil-covered pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on June 3, 2010.

 

The BP board and governance have failed us.  And continue to.  And may do so in perpetuity. Here’s where the buck was supposed to stop:

 

More on Svanberg.

 

 

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More on Hayward.

 

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My aim isn’t to plaster pictures up in some incendiary fashion.  I simply don’t know a better way to communicate and personify the real accountability trail–it’s a human one.

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Momentum is interesting. The change of it really. Most interesting is how some can see it change before others. Some see 2 and 2 and get 8 while everybody else is getting 4. It’s in this horserace with racehorse Mine That Bird. The only people surprised by this 2nd biggest Kentucky derby upset are us. Jockey Calvin Borel wasn’t.

I’ve said before that technological expertise—which we chase hard—is ultimately a commodity. It doesn’t differentiate. The horses in this race have lots of similarities. Some share DNA. The people behind them and jockey riding them are the differentiators. The vision, values, preparation and strategy going around the stretch are differentiating. The relationship between the horse and jockey is differentiating. The leadership under which a racehorse’s physical assets are called upon—managed and trained and exercised and motivated and led—is the differentiator.

It’s true in business. Engineers and programmers and developers abound. There’s no technology or expertise deficit really. But it’s not where value rests. Value is in the seers: Who noticed the momentum change in this race? Clearly, not the narrator. Yet this change was the most remarkable thing about the whole race. Anybody paying attention could see it. There was even this beautiful hint of history for any who thought Borel was lucky.

Right questions are: on what are you focused; at the expense of seeing what; who do you value; and is the path you see exactly that beheld by all others. Distinction isn’t in the obvious trek.  Value isn’t. It’s in the difference-makers who see 8 instead of 4, it’s in non-replicable teams, it’s in the simultaneously personal and shared vision under which teams labor forward, and it’s in people who see. Seers see pathways, talent, synergies and stratagems that others don’t. They can see stuff that won’t work too–they’re great debuggers. But they see routes to success not laid out by custom, education, “best practices”, or popular culture. They invent. They’re awake. They build things. They get there first.

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