Low Grades – High Achievement

No one told me, in my school life grades 1 – 10, I was smart.  It was quite the opposite. No IQ test, just the underlying assumption that, I was “slow.” My mother never gave up on me, but suffered years of my ambivalent disinterest in school, barely passing grades, and non-stop lectures from teachers on my failure to apply myself.  Undiagnosed ADHD may have had something to do with my inability to focus and miserable report cards.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (book cover)

As an adult, I learned about the variety of intelligences we humans possess, mostly through Daniel Goleman’s breakthrough 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Howard Gardner also has done extensive research in this area and I like his eight variations of the intelligence framework and I quite like it. Here’s a  YouTube Video summary of those.

I recently found this concept shortened to just four: IQ – Intelligence Quotient, EQ – Emotional Quotient, SQ – Social Quotient, and AQ – Adversity Quotient.  While not mutually exclusive, you have different aptitudes in each area and they’re not static. You can improve, train and cultivate your capabilities in each area. Some of the work is fun and interesting, and sometimes it’s just, well, “work.” Here’s how I think about these categories:

1. IQ (Intelligence Quotient)

This one is about logic, reasoning, problem-solving, test-taking, planning, math, science, and they tried to teach me in school. I did not perform well here as evidenced by my standardized test scores. My two daughters can do well in these areas, but only with some specific adjustments. For instance, Ginger’s school grades improved significantly when given additional time to complete tests.  One of my granddaughters excels in this category, eating up brain challenges and learning new information.  She can’t get enough. I have had two nephews with the same experiences, and at least two of their offspring are in the same boat. In my first executive-level role in a large company, I came home one day and told Maggie how a super-smart, highly-educated individual had been assigned to my team.  I was intimidated by his Ph.D., and the fact that he spoke multiple languages fluently and had authored three books.  “How can I avoid looking like a dunce next to this guy?” I wailed to Maggie.  What I eventually learned was he’d been transferred to my group, his third or fourth such transfer, because his prior managers had been unable to get value from him. While academically brilliant, he had difficulty knowing when to speak up and when to shut up. It was hard for him to know the right things on which to direct his effort, focus, and attention. I learned a high IQ and brilliant academic accomplishment didn’t automatically mean top job performance.

2. EQ (Emotional Quotient)

This one measures how well you understand yourself and other people. Both of my daughters are off the chart in this area.  I always thought I was good at “reading a room,” but Ginger is better.  She goes beyond seeing and knowing what is happening with an individual or a group and intuitively knows the buttons to push to get the results she wants. This makes her a killer negotiator.  She’s a good team leader and good at influencing people to do what she wants. She understands which things require attention and those that do not, seeing between the lines things others miss.I suspect my oldest daughter, Christie, is much the same, although I did not have the same opportunity to watch her develop and don’t have as many examples as with Ginger.  But one comes to mind from a recent trip to Hawaii last year.  The girls were searching for a thermal pool mentioned on Trip Advisor but not published in any guidebooks.  When Christie asked some Hawaiian natives about it, she sensed a feeling from them that made her choose her words very carefully.  In retelling the story, it was clear her emotional intelligence was what led to a successful interaction and subsequent visit to a secret spa, a spot few tourists ever found.

Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.
Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.

One aspect of EQ is self-awareness. One of my co-founders at Net Perceptions was Steven Snyder, Ph.D. Steven was early-in at Microsoft. He is a brilliant man and worked closely with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates in their early days, learning at the highest level techniques for building and managing an engineering-focused company. Steven’s Ph.D. is in psychology, doing an internship and several practicums during his doctoral training.  As the CEO of Net Perceptions, he was a keen observer of the company founders, the management team, and their interactions.  His annual performance appraisals were almost therapy sessions with detailed assessments of what was working and what needed improvement. Before our first performance evaluation meeting, I completed my own assessment, in writing, from my perspective. While keeping it to myself, I used the same form I knew he would use.  I went through every section, noting where I was doing well and where I thought could use improvement.

Snyder’s one-on-one meetings began with a discussion of the top priorities of the company, then moved gradually to how the individual was doing at contributing to our forward progress.  We’d verbally go through the assessment form, the one I knew Steven had already completed, but with the opportunity for dialog and discussion. Finally, Steven would remove his written assessment from a folder and slide it across the desk to be signed.  It was in our first performance appraisal meeting when I impulsively pulled out the assessment I’d done on myself and gave it to him.  He was surprised. He was reading my form as I signed his and left the room.  Later he would tell me, “You are the most self-aware person I’ve ever met in my life.” For the rest of my time at Net Perceptions, Steven had me do my performance assessment – written in the third person of course – and turn it in.

Besides self-awareness, those with high emotional intelligence typically are good at self-regulation and motivating themselves.  Typically they’re empathic, sensing what people around them are thinking and feeling. For instance, I can’t help crying at movies and am moved when hearing stories of others’ experiences.  I find it easy to put myself into another person’s situation, understanding what they feel.

I find developing EQ, an emotional quotient, easy and fun. It starts by being curious about strangers and other people. I love talking with those around me on a plane or in a restaurant, trying to gauge what they’re thinking about right now and what makes them tick, not just comments about the weather or how long the line is taking.  If I learned nothing else from my years of helping the MISS Foundation (a group helping parents who have experienced the death of a child or loved one), it is to listen without judgment.  Maybe this is why I get along well with people on all sides of the political spectrum, as well as those with a diversity of religious beliefs and experiences.

3. SQ (Intelligence Quotient)

Lotus experts, including Maurico Zagorin, Brian Buckland, Jim Meininger, Brett Engel, David Barnett among others.

This one is all about building and surrounding yourself with a network of friends and maintaining them. EQ techniques help a lot with SQ behaviors.  As the years passed, my roles in early-stage technology companies evolved into co-founder and CEO. I would join at the behest of venture capital firms who’d found an investment they liked, but needed a real company, not just a technical founder with a brilliant idea.  My skill was, as one VC said of me, “He chooses the right people to be on the bus and gets it pointed and rolling in the right direction.” My approach to founding and managing companies paid dividends when assembling a group of car experts to rebuild my Lotus Elan in 2013-2014.  The same skill also helped ensure that several multi-day, group motorcycle rides I planned were successful.  But what most manifests SQ in me is my “groups” of close friends, some of whom are only tangentially aware of the others.   For years I was well known as an early-stage investor and start-up CEO, at least in Silicon Valley.  At the same time, an entirely different group of people around the world knew me as “that guy who writes for motorcycle magazines and travels around the globe on his motorcycle.” I managed both because the start-up side of my career frequently left multi-month gaps in assignments.  I filled the gaps with motorcycle adventures documented in stories and photos, filling the story banks of various motorcycle magazine editors.  I wrote “evergreen” stories for editors who found my articles connected with their readers. And of course, motorcycle riding spawned its own vast category of sub-groups, such as the American Flyers Motorcycle Club, a group I still ride with at least twice a year.  Other motorcycle relationships based on competitive events (track days or precision riding competitions) or sub-categories of riding (off-road and trials), while no longer part of my riding life, still brings me in contact with wonderful friends who are deeply into these aspects of the sport.Just as motorcycling spawned sub-groups, entrepreneurship did the same. I’ve been active in the Arizona start-up scene, beginning with a role at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, (the center for one of the greatest alumni networks on the planet, as I was recently reminded on a trip to Dubai, as part of an Arizona Commerce Authority delegation).   My Lotus and NSX car groups, while not as active as they once were, still contain friends with whom I communicate and meet frequently.  My flying and high-end audio friends are now pretty much out of my life and I hear from those people infrequently.

4. AQ (Adversity Quotient)

New to me, this one is all about resiliency, and how quickly you recover after going through a rough patch. This is about how long you dwell on getting a C+ on a test on which you’d wanted an A.  It’s okay to be mad and disappointed, but those with a high AQ quotient spend only a short amount of time concerned about the failure. High AQ people quickly begin planning how they’ll do better next time.  I watched my granddaughter Parker do this with a remote control rock crawling truck.  She created a track behind our house and timed herself, over and over, dropping her times lower and lower, until soon she had the best time, beating everyone else who circled the track.  She never let a bad run get her down, she’d just line the truck back up at the starting gate, and go again.Finding ways to get past mistakes in the small things, builds this skill and helps you bounce back quickly when confronted with bigger challenges.  Nothing illustrates this to me more than watching NBA games.  It is amazing to see how players and teams make bad, bone-headed stupid plays, missing shots play after play, and then, slowly turn it around and within 5 minutes, go from a 15-point deficit to tying the game.  Their AQ must be a finely-tuned high-impact weapon. All of us experience stress, disappointment, and failure. Resiliency is all about how you turn it around to help, rather than hurt or hold you back.  The greatest bounce-back required for our nuclear family was triggered by the loss of Eric (our son and, Christie and Ginger’s brother). It was only later I learned about the high rate of divorce and suicide following the death of a child.  The death of a child, I think, is probably the most tragic and painful event a human being will ever experience. Although hesitant to see this event as anything other than a horrific tragedy with no redeeming value, it was a year or so after it occurred I discovered an unintentional benefit.  My boss at IBM’s Prodigy at the time was a weak, backbone-less VP, a sycophant living in constant fear of upper management finding out his incompetence. He had four strong-willed and highly competent general managers as direct reports. We each ran a major division of the company and were all very good at what we did.  Then a new performance appraisal system was implemented which required managers to force-rank their employees (meaning if you rated two as Exceeding Expectations, you needed to rate the other two as not-meeting expectations). I was the last of the four of us to be reviewed, and it became clear the other three had pushed him into high rankings for themselves.  As he sniveled, coughed, and complained, he informed me he was going to have to rank me as only “meets expectations,” the only time I’d ever not achieved the highest possible ranking. As I watched him squirm, it occurred to me, “He thinks he’s hurting me. He believes this will make me feel bad. My god, he has no idea how ridiculous this is. I’ve already been so deeply hurt in my life, nothing else, for as long as I live, will ever be able to touch me. I’m invulnerable! Nothing anyone can ever do or say to me will make me feel bad.  The worst has already happened and I made it through.  Everything from here on out is a piece of cake. Thanks, Eric.” On a side note, less than a week after this occurred, I found myself alone in an elevator with our company CEO. He saw me, grinned sheepishly and said, “You know that performance appraisal ranking is bullshit, don’t you?”  I just smiled and nodded.  

If I had to say just one thing to my grandkids, nieces, and nephews it is this: Don’t only pay attention to what your school knows how to measure.  As you figure out what you are good at and do well and the things you want to do more of, understand your school is mostly about IQ.  They don’t have ways to help you understand and get good at Emotional, Social and Resiliency. You’ll need to figure those out on your own, or with your parents help, like I did.  But it’s worth doing.  I believe these three non-IQ related items hold the keys to success just as much as IQ does, and very likely, much more.

So SLAP me

Because I subscribe to a variety of websites and have a good-sized group of Facebook friends linked more by shared love of family, motorcycles and cars than political affiliation, I run across my fair share of questionable news reports.  Whether they are conspiracy theories or just scary threats to which one should pay attention, a pattern always seems to be lurking in the mist, something that should alert me to the possibility of “fake news.”  I could just never spot it.

Then this week I read a terrific article by Jeannie Banks Thomas, a folklorist of all things, and a professor at Utah State University.  She nails it perfectly and provides four simple questions to tip you off that you need to get your fact checker fired up.  I just loved it.  Here is a link to her complete article, but I describe the high points below.

She uses the acronym S.L.A.P, as in slap your forehead, something those of us from the Midwest often refer to as the Norwegian salute.  You can do it, right?  You hold an open palm out in front of you, then briskly move it toward your forehead.  When your hand hits your forehead with a slap, you’ve done it correctly.  True natives also mumble “Uff da” under their breath, which adds an air of authenticity.

Professor Thomas’s S.L.A.P. acronym is as follows:

S: Scare or Shock – Does the account attempt to scare or shock?
L: Logistics Test – Does this account rely on or involve complicated, far-fetched logistics?
A: A-List – Does this story involve celebrities or famous people? Does it have Donald Trump, George Soros, Hilary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, or Joe Biden in it?
P: Prejudice Test – Does the account demonize or portray a person or group negatively?

“YES” answers should trigger our BS detectors like a fire alarm. When that happens, do some quick research.  Remember, research is not what someone posts on a message board. Research is vetted information supported with credible evidence.  Professor Thomas reviewed over 50 years of legend, rumor and conspiracy theory and analyzed over 100 legends.  It was during this work that these four patterns emerged. Don’t get me wrong, not everything you see which results in “yeses” to the SLAP questions is guaranteed to be bogus – just know the probability is much higher it will be, and you need to check before forwarding it along like a clueless doofus.

I love this easy tool which can help anyone quickly assess a story’s veracity.  And given the amount of Norwegian blood in my veins, it’s easy for me to remember – I just salute.

Best success correlation ever

After nine of them, I know a good bit about starting companies. After investing in at least twenty, I spot founders with a high success likelihood pretty quickly. An author I admire, Taylor Stevens, recently penned a newsletter nailing one of those elusive success factors brilliantly.  For her, it is all about success in writing and publishing, a field in which she excels. The similarities resonated with me immediately and I couldn’t wait to share them.

Liars' Legacy (book cover) by Taylor Stevens

First, Stevens is a successful author. She freely shares her advice with aspiring writers. You can read all about her on her website. On March 4 (2022) her newsletter arrived with the subject line “If you run with wolves…”  In it Stevens discusses how many aspiring authors read and post in publishing and writing-oriented blogs and forums, getting responses from individuals “without experience in publishing, and so often wrong. The comments come from people who spend a lot of time on those forums, arguing with each other and or talking up their own works in progress.  Stevens, after a short discussion, cuts to the chase:

“If you want to reach a level higher than where you are, you don’t do it by getting information and learning from people who are at your level, or God forbid, beneath you. You don’t plot your climb up Mount Everest by talking to the people down at base camp who’ve only watched other people climb the mountain—you hire a guide who’s been there and gotten safely back. If you want to be successful, seek out people who know, listen to people who’ve already walked the path that you’re on.”

This reminds me so much of budding entrepreneurs who have an idea for a business and want to make it a reality.  Often it appears these people are endlessly involved in talking about the idea, how it would work and why it will win.  These discussions with friends, and on forums and blogs appear to be almost a substitute for moving forward.  Sometimes they’re looking for clues on how to move forward, unaware this is not the place to find them.  Winners focus on doing the work versus talking about the dream and the best advice is from people who’ve succeeded in the area in which you wish to compete. Best to keep your idea secret and use as motivation the vision of how you’ll feel when you succeed and bask in the adulation of all those who didn’t think you had it in you.

Most ideas have little value in themselves; it is the things surrounding an idea that create value. Having an idea that your “X device” will revolutionize a particular industry means very little unless you accompany it with in-depth and diligent research showing how poorly current offerings perform the task that “X device” performs so well. Fifty or a hundred in-depth interviews with players in the space leading to a conclusion supporting the need for “X device” has value that the idea alone does not.  Detailed technical drawings of how “X device” would be manufactured, where, with what materials, and for what cost, have value. Plans and business analyses showing how the product could be introduced and marketed to those that would buy it adds value.  Many entrepreneurs and inventors are in love with an idea and wish to start companies, yet they remain in the talking and conceptualizing stage year in and year out.  They are either too lazy or undisciplined to do the hard work, the work they may not like or enjoy doing, to make their dream a reality.  Instead, they’ll while hours away in forums and on blogs, responding and posting, defending their brilliance, expounding to friends and family on the cleverness of their idea, while others go out and make things happen by actually doing the work.

The other part of Stevens’ newsletter which resonated with me is the number of individuals so much like she described, that surround the startup infrastructures in which I was and am involved.  For every actual company founder here in Phoenix (and in Palo Alto, California before that), I found at least ten people attending events, pointing to the shortcomings of presenting companies, expounding on the merits of various business plans and approaches, demonstrating their vast intelligence and insight and how far a company would go if only they’d have the foresight and wisdom to hook up with them and take their valuable advice – all for a cut of the equity, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, there are highly ethical and professional individuals offering services to early-stage companies. They do it at a fair price and offer superb value and I’m proud to know many of them.  But budding company founders need to avoid those who chatter and criticize from the sidelines, or worse, sell advice and expertise in the absence of a success track record. Building a company with one or two people, no money, and a 20-page pitch deck into something generating tens of millions a year, results in a great many lessons learned.  Doing it twice, three times, or more, even if you fail, provides even more knowledge about what does and does not work.  Curiously, success in other aspects of business — say spending a career with a large multi-national company — rarely leads to success in starting a company. Budding entrepreneurs need to find mentors to work with who have done it, not someone who’s merely watched a lot of Shark Tank episodes and read books on successful startups.

Television shows and movies about startups, “Silicon Valley, Dirty Money, Shark Tank, Celebrity Apprentice, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” and others, paint incredibly unrealistic pictures of the actual life in a start-up and the incredible number of elements necessary for one to succeed.  Like nearly everything else in life, there are few shortcuts. You have to be lucky.  To be lucky, it also helps to know the actual definition of luck, and so, from someone who’s been lucky, here it is:

“LUCK = When hard work and preparation meet opportunity.”

An excerpt of Taylor Stevens’ March 4 Newsletter below:

Hi Steve,

Like many people, I read blogs and forums on topics that interest me, and over the past several years this has also included forums for aspiring authors, as well as blogs that deal primarily with self-publishing and social media. (I will write more about traditional vs. self-publishing in a future email, this email is about the value of others’ input.)

Sometimes, if I’ve read a particularly good piece on the subject, or even one that I think is off the wall but it raises interesting questions, I will spend a bit of time reading the comments and the conversations that follow. And mostly I come away from those conversations vacillating between amused and horrified because (again, mostly—there are definitely exceptions) the comments and opinions, so full of “rightness” and “righteousness,” are written by individuals without actual experience in publishing, and are so often wrong. And many of these comments are from “repeats”—people who clearly spend a lot of time on those forums, arguing with each other and or talking up their own as-of-yet-not-complete widget or work in progress. […]

If you’d like to subscribe to her newsletter, here’s the form for you.

Scary Psychics

Mark Edward cold reading workshop - CSICon
Mark Edward cold reading workshop – CSICon

Recent explorations into ethical questions have led me down a variety of rabbit holes, eventually to the whole psychic phenomenon and people claiming to be mediums and able to predict the future. One fascinating character is Mark Edward.  I watched a 90-minute presentation where he explained how he and others in the “business” of psychic predictions, fortune-telling, and cold-readings do their “amazing feats.” Edwards is a former magician, having had long runs at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. Like Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, and James Randi, he dutifully explains that what he does is a trick. There are no supernatural forces at work.  He, and others offering psychic experiences, are superb listeners and skilled observers.(1) They’ve learned to tap into the pattern-seeking aspects of the human mind. As he demonstrates in the video, it turns out to be relatively easy to manipulate someone into believing the medium has contact with the spirit world or can hear and speak with dead relatives – even in an audience of confirmed skeptics. But, in fact, they’re all scams and have been proven so time and time again.  Nevertheless, people continue to be taken in.

If you know someone who has paid money for a psychic reading and they feel they got their money’s worth, good for them.  However, it’s best to understand what actually happened: the professed psychic used his/her repertoire to present ideas that would match the individual’s profile – the willing believer – and connected the dots.  The dot picture – and all the connections – were already in the persons head.  It’s the way our minds work.

Along these same lines I found a report, published in December of 2021, about a twelve-year study of psychic predictions. It is exceptionally well done, brilliantly documented and you can read the whole study here.

During the twelve years, researchers found and documented 3,800 predictions made by those claiming the ability to foretell events by paranormal, supernatural, divine, or spiritual means.  Finding them required digging through television programs, radio broadcasts, magazines, newspapers, websites, YouTube, and other social media.  They tracked the predictions and recorded the results.  Here is what they found:

  • 11 percent of predictions were correct
  • 15 percent were “expected”
  • 19% were too vague
  • 2% were unknown
  • 53% were wrong.

Most of what was predicted did not happen. Anti-gravity did not become a reality, Prince Harry did not become king, COVID-19 did not “disappear” in December of 2020 and the president of France was not assassinated.  And the corollary most people miss, most of what happened was not predicted. Psychics did not predict COVID-19, Osama Bin Laden’s death or even that of Robin Williams.

As Tim Medham, the executive officer on the study said,

If my car mechanic was right only 11 percent of the time, I’d get a different car mechanic.  But if, overall, all mechanics were right only 11 percent of the time, I’d begin to think there was something seriously wrong with the entire industry.  The results indicate nothing better than educated guessing – or even uneducated guessing – and certainly no better than any non-psychic could do, and probably a lot worse.”

As I watched clip after clip of supposed psychics, knowing it was a trick and how it was being done, I became more and more convinced those choosing to do this work have to be sociopaths, perhaps even psychopaths.  They are conmen and conwomen – people with little, if any, ethical compass and only pretending to care for the feelings or well-being of others.  As Mark Edward revealed in his presentation (and in more detail in his book: Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium), it is nearly impossible for him to feel good about what he does.  His rationalizations for why he continues to do it – “it’s my living, it’s the only thing I know how to do” – rings hollow.  How “psychic mediums” Tyler Henry, Miss Cleo, Caputo, and John Edward can allow and encourage people to believe stage tricks are not tricks but real precognition is despicable.

Better understanding of how our minds work is a hobby for me. Since high school and competing on the debate team, why people believe what they believe and think the way they do has intrigued me.  A couple of years ago, my friend Steve Pittendrigh gave me The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. The book exposes how randomness in everyday events is frequently misinterpreted. That book quickly led me to Michael Lewis’s book about Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman titled The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.  The New Yorker has a terrific article about the book here.  This pair of researchers were able to demonstrate beyond doubt that humans are not nearly as logical as we believe ourselves to be and are highly influenced by external forces.  Their work won Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Our minds are wonderful things. There is more going on inside our heads that most of us know.  The better you understand those who would seek to mislead you for their own selfish purposes, and the tricks they use to do that, the better off you will be. I’ve left this link to last.  It shows precisely how cold-reading works and how easily some one can mislead us. 

End

  • There is a wonderful scene in an early episode of the “Sherlock” series starring Benedict Cumberbatch in which Sherlock Holmes uses his exceptional powers of observation and each detail he sees is briefly highlighted. He saw dirty fingernails, a suntanned finger with a pale stripe where a ring used to be, a book missing on a bookshelf, tiny scratch on a desk corner, etc. If you can train yourself to see such minutiae extremely quickly, parse it, store it and recall it, then you, too, can have a career as a psychic!