Sometimes, Hollywood screenwriters create scripts filled with inside jokes that only people in Hollywood could appreciate. Sometimes, New York media writers write about other New York media writers. And sometimes, tech entrepreneurs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley to the south create companies best appreciated by other people who live and breathe technology.
One of the great small pleasures of used books is the occasional marginalia of a previous owner. You learn a tiny bit about that anonymous soul by seeing the passages she underlined, or tidily double-underlined, or exclamation-pointed, or starred madly and messily. You begin to worry about the girl who found so much to mark in To The Lighthouse, or fall in love, a little bit, with the person who found all the funniest parts of Catch 22. (It is another type of intimacy entirely to borrow a book from someone you know, and to discover what he found worth picking up a pen for.)
Leadership is an overlap of many things rather than a commodity, a combination of the more prosaic traits of developed intelligence, self-confidence leavened by humility, poise in public, and interest in other human beings. Some of these constituent parts can be modeled, some can be transmitted in the classroom, but many just have to be picked up—that is, if the person even wants to pick them up.
Be wary of any institution that claims it can teach you to be a leader. There’s usually an inverse relationship between good marketing about leadership and good instruction.
“There are fifty or so billionaires and tens of thousands of millionaires in Silicon Valley.” Think about that for a second: tens of thousands of millionaires, almost all them created by companies that didn’t exist two decades ago.
The defining difference between Silicon Valley companies and almost every other industry in the U.S. is the virtually universal practice among tech companies of distributing meaningful equity (usually in the form of stock options) to ordinary employees. Before companies like Fairchild and Hewlett-Packard began the practice fifty years ago, distributing stock options to anyone other than top management was virtually unheard of. But the engineering tradition that spawned Silicon Valley was much more egalitarian than traditional corporate culture.
This would be nice if it were true, but ESOP plans existed (and were used often) long before Silicon Valley. To be fair, the modern ESOP was invented in SF, but at Peninsula Newspapers, not Fairchild. It’s more accurate to say that SV perfected the art of distributing wealth historically concentrated in one or two multi-digit billionaires across the bank accounts of four or five single-digit billionaires and a few multimillionaires to boot. An improvement for sure, but not quite the egalitarian miracle we’d like to believe.
That’s not to say that SV doesn’t have its structural advantages. For instance, there’s ample evidence that California’s distaste for non-compete clauses has played a very large role in productivity enhancement, which makes sense if you believe (as Steven Johnson does) that innovation derives from the continuous interplay of ideas. But does anybody in SV actually believe that technological innovation is driven solely (or even mostly) by the profit incentive? Because the evidence (at least according to TED) suggests otherwise…
In a fascinating piece several years ago in Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum captured the sheer absurdity of what it’s like to be president. On the single Wednesday Purdum covered, Obama was dealing with a West Virginia coal mine tragedy; a vacancy on the Supreme Court; an Arizona law empowering police to identify potential illegals; a shortage of funds for FEMA; the nominations of a federal appeals court judge, seven U.S. attorneys, and six federal marshals; and a special award for country singer Garth Brooks. And that was a quiet day. The relentlessness of the job, the 24/7 pace of the media, the complexity of the tasks at hand, and the sheer number of moving parts creates a situation no single individual can manage. Add to this a polarized Congress and an integrated world that America can’t control, it’s no wonder the presidency is an impossible, perhaps implausible, job. The current headaches Obama confronts at the State Department (Benghazi), at Treasury (IRS targeting conservative groups), at Justice (the seizure of Associated Press phone records), and Defense (sexual harassment) may well represent a bad combination of mismanagement and bad luck. But they also reflect the reality that Obama, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, is not a master of all he surveys. The presidency is just too big and complicated for that.
We expect our presidents to be a cross between Superman, Moses, Mohammad, and Jesus. And we have an almost cartoonish conception of their ability to get the rest of America’s institutions to go along with their views. The president’s power, as Richard Neustadt famously argued, is the power to persuade. But circumstances for that persuasion must be present — and most of the time, they’re not.
The emphasis upon entrepreneurship as the crucial factor in capitalistic evolution involves both theorist and historian in considerations that go far beyond the limits of economics. Schumpeter is explicitly aware of this fact, and insists that in his conception the economy is not isolated but functions in a larger universe which requires in the first instance sociological analysis for its interpretation. The theory of innovations is neither a “great man” nor a “better mousetrap” theory of history. The innovator is a person whose traits are in some part a function of his sociocultural environment. His innovation is a new combination of factors and elements already accessible. It relates in every phase to previously developed business and monetary habits, technological skills, and variable tastes, none of which can be regarded as functions of economic activity alone.