Regina Saphier: Redefining Success and The ElitePosted: January 29, 2014
Tom Perkins wrote something really misguided and misleading, used the wrong comparison between two totally unrelated historic/social events (racial genocide in Europe decades ago and anger against the rich, “the 1%” in the US today can not be compared) and his reputation was destroyed in his early 80s recently. He had to go on television and apologise, but even that appearance did not do much good.
Why is this interesting?
It is interesting, because one of the key investors of Coursera is Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Perkins was one of the original founders of this famous venture capital (VC) company. Coursera is the startup that provides high quality free university courses globally to anyone who likes to learn, and the social entrepreneurship company I have been blogging about from the early days. As I was listening to Perkins and reading the comments, I felt I had things to say in relation to the situation, so I developed my comments into a blog.
Demonizing any group is wrong (that is a social psychology issue), as is bragging about your super expensive watch while you are being questioned in front of millions of people by Emily Chang about your previous bad judgement that probably ruined your reputation at the end of your life (that could be a mental health issue if you are not really known as an idiot, but rather as a talented business man, even if obviously arrogant and living in a bubble… still, unusually reckless behavior could be Alzheimer’s over 80… things just become a bit confusing… you even pick the wrong words… if that is the case, we need to look at this differently…). Whatever the truth, Perkins displayed low levels of emotional maturity twice in a very short period of time. There must be some reason for that, but we just don’t know what it is…
Should KPCB drop the “P”?
So, apart from the possibility that this man is perhaps ill or immature at 80… should we from now on say that instead of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (or “KPCB”) it is rather “KCB” that gave millions of dollars in venture capital to Coursera to educate the “99%” of society for free (that includes the middle class and people living in poverty too), and not only in the US, but globally (even in developing countries)!? How in Tom Perkins’s mind is that a sign of problems at the VC firm he created in the past? In his anger that KPCB distanced itself from him, his controversial ideas and word choices, he referred to his own negative opinion regarding KPCB’s contemporary management during the interview. I would say, at least the Coursera investment was definitely a good decision.
I know there are many issues we could examine (internal issues at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, income inequality in the US, technology making people jobless all over the world, expensive housing, low quality of education, etc.), but to me Coursera is the shining example of financially smart and socially conscious decisions made by investors, mostly by people of the “1%”, providing high quality, free courses to anyone who is willing to learn. That is the best kind of business: everyone has a chance to win something! I believe we are going to see more and more such VC decisions especially as Coursera becomes more successful, not “only” in terms of attracting millions of students and millions of venture dollars, but also in terms of profitability. It is possible to make money and do good at the same time. The most successful and the most creative groups in society are those who make these ventures possible, be it the investors, the founders, their smart teams, and those people who embrace and utilize the services of such companies.
Still, joblessness, quality of life, and income inequality, even total lack of income, and so individual vulnerabilities have yet to be addressed on Earth. We need unconditional basic income, because people are being made jobless by technologies, and when you have a jobless and increasingly educated majority with no income and a rich minority facing each other, that can lead to terrible social tension. But it is also the increasing level of education that makes it possible for the educated middle class to use well structured arguments and intellect based advocacy instead of violence. We must create the solutions together.
Who knows, for many the Google Helpouts service could be a solution, a way of international job creation. For others it could be the vibrant startup culture all over the world. There are and will be many ideas and solutions, as more and more enlightened business people and venture capitalists will be looking for business solutions that are also good for societies (in their own best interest). Let’s keep an open mind and keep thinking about and working on these solutions. Let’s focus on the things that move us all to a higher (and optimally reachable) ground where people understand each other better. Some need to move financially, some intellectually, some emotionally, some morally…
There are people who think that nations were created by “the 100%”, others think it was all done by the “1%”. Both are wrong.
Perkins originally (and admittedly) does not come from “the 1%”, he worked his way into that heterogenous group. This can only happen if someone has an “appropriate” personality mix, often containing arrogance, egotism, lack of deep empathy for individuals, and the most financially successful are the charming sociopaths interested in money and things (not people, nor the community). These individuals are so interested in fitting in as rich, that they spend a life compensating and that impacts their fragile self image further. The unconscious goal in their minds (no matter what they say) is to insulate themselves from the old self and the origins of the old self, and the social strata that self comes from. (Note: Not all of them are like this, but most forget where they come from and fail to see that, due to changed reference points, like new friends with new values.)
As science, academia and education was optimized mostly for male Asperger’s (idea, data and systems oriented people), so was business optimized for male Sociopathology (money, dominance and material success oriented people), and sometimes vice versa. (Note: Asperger’s is a problematic term, covering a very diverse group of people who are not neurotypical. Some “Aspies” are people and feelings oriented, especially women Aspies. Approximately 25-30% of Aspies are female.) Just as an interesting side note, today I came up with the formula for the stereotypical scientist: OCD + Aspergers + Very High Levels of Cognitive Intelligence + Preference for Rigid and Safe Academic Institutions + Lack of Social Skills (beyond academia) = Scientist. I am talking about past norms and tendencies. Lately, I am noticing some changes. However, women are still less likely to make it in academia and in the business world. If you make it, you probably are part of the smaller female Aspie group with idea orientation (but you probably don’t know or don’t care). Until systems are “male optimized”, societies (including men and women) will suffer from the lack of female leadership.
Also, it is important to mention that “the 100%” is not 100% productive on an individual level. Some are phenomenally creative, but most people don’t produce anything and are bored out of their minds on their repetitive jobs, mostly “created” by the superficially money oriented sociopaths (and the conformists who follow them) who are often bored aboard their yachts. Creativity (my definition for this blog: originality that produces something fundamentally new and useful on a large scale) is unfortunately much less valued as you might like to think. Business and academia are more related to scale, money, low cost of labor and replicas, and less related to true creativity.
What might change the old school attitudes and structure is the global network of people on the Internet. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, LinkedIn, Google Helpouts, WordPress, Coursera, growing telecom networks, the startup and the open source culture, all these and more technologies and services will make it possible for almost 100% of societies to collaborate more and have more equal access to knowledge, networks, information, services, markets, funds and opportunities, be it academic or business related, or something else. It is also important to mention that social media and the availability and accessibility of telecommunications technologies make it possible for women to make a much more noticeable business and academic impact.
Controversy can happen to anyone, it is the seriousness that matters. For example, even if today’s TED was recreated by the new management, it was still originally created by Mr. Wurman, who is also a newcomer among rich Americans (not that I am familiar with his exact financial situation but he lives well, even if not as rich as Perkins…), so it could be that he is part of the “5%” or the “10%”. Still, a true self-made man. Some people like him, some don’t. He is not a listening type on a personal level, but he is a listening type when it comes to ideas, even if his ADD prevents him from paying attention for long. His curious mind created the foundations of TED. I respect his initial input. He made the best move when he sold TED. His critical remarks of the contemporary TED Conferences a few years ago resulted in the breakdown of communications between him and the TED.com team. Still, today he is planning to attend TED conferences again. You can make communication related mistakes, it happens, and later you can aim to repair your relationships. Also, Richard remembers where he comes from. He in fact told me that he comes from a very poor background and he is a first generation degree holder. While he remained personally accessible, his money and networks created a kind of bubble around him. Again, this happens when your reference network changes. His most wonderful feature? His ongoing willingness to learn. He will be 79 during the spring of 2014.
Perkins has a much more serious problem. He offended people on an entirely different level and he lives in his own isolated world (he looks kind of unhappy). Still, don’t forget that KPCB would not be around without his skills, abilities, motivations, personality and personality disorders. I wish I could still respect his initial input… I know he is not involved with KPCB any more (this is not a recent development), but he used to be. I would not be surprised if the VC company dropped his name… but what happens if 10 years from now it turns out that Perkins did indeed have Alzheimer’s at the time of the controversy? During the interview with Emily Chang he did not appear to be consistent, his reactions were sometimes even childish. Is this his usual behavior? I don’t know. If it is, how was he able to become so successful? And if this is a successful man in America, what is wrong with the definition of success?
A new definition of the “elite” and “success” among the 1%
We need more “self-made” women to change the reference points of today’s leadership networks. While I am likely to question the 50-50 gender composition in leadership in the short run, generally 20-40% appears possible to me in the long run, especially when quotas are used. Let us redefine the meaning of success together.
You can keep your ego, just do not let it harm others. If you can not live without the word “elite“, I am telling you, only these people should be considered as members of the true elite (independent of their financial situation): working, learning, investing, doing business in order to make the world a better place for as many people as possible on your own level. This should also be the definition of success among the “1%”. You can call me an idealist all you want, because after all we need ideals and possibly constructive ones.
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