Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Barack's video is still to come. Oh goodie.

Well, having watched the major events and keynote presentations of the first two nights of the Democratic Convention, most recently Hillary's speech, I think I can safely say I'm "good" on boundless inspiration for about, oh, the rest of my life, give or take. The three videos alone—especially the syrupy bio-tributes to Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton*had me pretty close to running out into the streets and screaming, "I can do anything I want! Yes I can! I heard it straight from Hillary's mouth! I'm unstoppable! I... YEEEEooowwwww!!! Officer? Was the taser really necessary?"

Newsflash: The fact that Hillary Clinton once wanted to become a major force for change in America and then (eventually) did so does not "prove to young women"
or to anyone, for that matter"that you can do anything you want in life, if you work really hard at it" more than Kobe Bryant's success proves that if you just name your kid Kobe, he'll go on to become a multi-million-dollar NBA superstar. (Albert Einstein dropped out of high school. Does that sound like a good idea in general?) As any of the (sober) science students now returning to college will tell you, one doesn't demonstrate cause-and-effect merely by looking at an end result, then reasoning backwards and finding a convenient "cause"; just because both A and B happened doesn't mean that A caused B. Look at it this way: Of all the young women who grew up in the Era of Female Empowerment and presumably worked hard at becoming forces for change, there is, at the moment, precisely one Hillary Clintonwhich is to say, one viable female candidate for president. And, I hasten to add, she didn't make it. So Hillary is, if anything, the exception that proves the rule.

And while we're at it, let's look a bit more closely at The Meteoric Rise of Hillary Clinton. It seems fair to say that she accumulated most of her clout and platform by marriage. (Would anybody listen to Hillary if she hadn't been married to one of the most popular presidents in history?
Is there any freakin' way she could've been elected senator from New York? Answer: NO.) So, was that the "dream" that took shape in her mind as a young woman: to achieve power by sleeping with it (and, it must be said, being martyred by it)?

If yes: Is that really an inspirational message to women?

If no: Then how the hell can anyone use Hillary, of all people, as an example of female empowerment?

If you must talk female empowerment, give me a Carly Fiorina orGod help usan Oprah Winfrey. Just please, not Hillary. And definitely not in an orange pantsuit.

* The third was Ted Kennedy.


Stever Robbins said...

(Yes, this comment is about Hillary. It kind of got away from me as I was writing... Hope it's worth it.)

Check out "The Halo Effect" by Phil Rosenzweig. In it, he basically discredits 99% of popular business books and research by pointing out that after-the-fact explanations where the outcome is known always come out the same, regardless of actual circumstances. The "halo" of known success (or failure) causes all the players to remember the past in a very specific way.

For example, ask people why XYZ Co. was successful and they'll always talk about a visionary leader, good teamwork, flexibility, etc. You can predict those explanations with such certainty, apparently, that any research based on after-the-fact explanations is virtually worthless. (Because if you can predict in advance what people will say, then it obviously can't be based on the actual situation.)

To avoid the halo effect, you would have to approach people in companies before success is known. Then ask them to describe the current environment. Then 10 years later (or whenever), see if their in-the-moment descriptions correlated with later business performance.

Though Rosenzweig limits his discussion to company success, I believe we also have a halo effect with successful people. We love the rags-to-riches, hard-work-and-skill-wins stories. No matter the truth of a situation, those are the stories we use to explain known success.

(Why is Bill Gates so extraordinarily successful? You'll hear about strategy, ruthlessness, etc., etc. All the standard after-the-fact explanations. But that misses the point. There are lots of strategically brilliant, ruthless people who didn't dominate the computer industry. In Bill's case, mommy was on a board with the chairman of IBM, the head of Digital Research missed the chance to produce DOS so Bill was the 2nd choice, and IBM was stupid enough to let Gates keep all the rights to the software. Without those factors, all outside his control, he might have been just another 2-bit software developer. But that isn't a story that we like to tell.)

When I look as objectively as I can at my successes and those of my friends (and many of my Harvard MBA friends have been very successful), I notice that hard work and skill seem far, far less important than, say, choosing the right industry, negotiating a compensation structure based on someone else's work (e.g. paid as percentage of someone else's transaction), and being lucky in your timing. Finance and entrepreneurship fit the bill.

But no one likes the story, "I made $100 million because I was frickin lucky." That raises the question of whether the person deserves it, etc., etc., etc. We don't want to challenge whether Gates deserves it because deep in our hearts, we hope we can make it big and don't want to question whether or not we deserve it.

I'm sure Hillary frames her life as hard work, ambition, etc. And I can't blame her. I suspect anyone in that position would frame their life that way. In part because of the halo effect, and in part because saying, "our achievements owe as much to luck as to skill" isn't something many of us are willing to admit to ourselves.

Steve Salerno said...

You know, SR, I read Rosenzweig's book back when it first pubbed--early last year sometime?--and I'm rather shocked at myself that I never thought to connect it up to any of this routine nonsense about empowerment, positive thinking, "constructive energies," and all the other overblown pseudo-factors that supposedly conspire in some mystical way to produce (if not guarantee) success. The term itself, of course ("halo effect"), has been in use a long time...I want to say that I can recall my dad using it during one of our conversations before he died, which was 1978, but maybe I'm simply looking at his wit and wisdom, well, through a remembered halo...

Anonymous said...

I know I am going to get my girl/woman/female card taken away, but I have never been a Hillary Clinton fan. I do still like Bill though. She was always to motivated by the numbers and fell down with healthcare back when hubby was elected. There are a lot of better examples of female power than Hillary. How about Nancy Pelosi? I can't even tell you who she is married to.

roger o'keefe said...

What I like about you, Steve, is that you're an EOO (equal opportunity offender), and I think this post is a good example. Anyone reading it would never dream that you're an Obama guy. I agree with you completely, for example, and I can promise you I'm not voting the Dem ticket. But you don't take the party line on things, no pun intended. You call things as you see them and you're not afraid to look inconsistent, or even piss off the people who basically agree with you by pointing out the warts even in policies and programs you like. I think that's admirable in this day of polarizing politics; polarizing everything, really. We need more of that.

mikecane2008 said...

Of course, I'm not watching any of it. What I want to know: Will you also watch the other side? Must be great fodder for posts coming up there too.

Steve Salerno said...

Sure I'll watch the GOP. But--you think McCain will last that long?

Anonymous said...

you need an editor steve,you should've left out the line about the pantsuit, it was a cheap shot and unbecoming!

Steve Salerno said...

Sasha: Personally, I think the pantsuit was more unbecoming than my remark about it. ;)

OK, OK, I hear what you're saying.

Anonymous said...

I've been a Republican most of my adult life and I believe that Hillary was the best presidential candidate of both parties, if we look at her stance on issues and get away from partisan and petty politicking. She has gotten too much flack, most of it undeservedly. BTW, her health care reform under Bill was derailed, I'm sorry to say, by GOP.

I'm sick and ashamed of my fellow Republicans who have shown themselves to be, as a party, a greedy, selfish and short-sighted bunch. I can no longer identify with GOP or its agenda. In the coming election, Obama is the lesser evil. Four more years of GOP at the helm would be fatal for our country--and we are already at disastrous levels in too many areas.

Chad Hogg said...

Good thoughts all around, but I think they can all be summed up in "the plural of anecdote is not data" -- that is, extrapolating Hillary Clinton's success to all those who share her desire to be successful is silly.

I hate to be "that guy", but I think what I just wrote would be of interest to Steve and other SHAM affiliates, as it relates (although someone indirectly) to the belief that everyone can be, and should be, successful. Check it out at