Monthly Archives: October 2004

There are many things to

There are many things to dislike about this Presidential election: the insinuation of fraud at the ballot box and the mail box; the negative campaign ads; the endless crossfire of the TV news shows trying desperately to show both sides; the zillion phone calls asking for money and now trying to get everyone to the polls.

I burned out on the campaign itself months ago. But lately I’ve been excited by one thing — the numbers of young people who have been registered by P.Diddy, Drew Barrymore, and all the other entertainers who didn’t even themselves know how the system worked before this year. Using their star power (about time they used it for something), they have somehow made it hip to register and vote. They have used the popular culture on behalf of the populace. We’ve been talking about something besides the sex lives of movie stars for the past few months.

To me, this insures our democracy for the future. I was energized by John F. Kennedy in 1960, but too young to vote. After his assassination, I went into a kind of civic funk and just didn’t care who ran or who got elected. Only after I moved to Arizona and entered my 30’s did I begin to vote, and then only at the behest of my dear friend Hattie Babbitt, who virtually shamed me into it. It takes a pretty personal connection to persuade a non-voter to vote.

I’m not proud of that ten year hiatus, during which my intelligence and energy may have made a contribution to society. But I watched my own kids go through the same process: big interest in political science in college, followed by indifference as young adults. And I wondered why it happened. Too much else happening in their lives, perhaps.

But this year, young people have finally begun to think voting counts. And that’s because there are a slew of “their own” people out there trying to energize them, from the creators of “South Park” to Jon Stewart, to Christian Rock Groups. While the often one-sided view of politics they get from the entertainment industry might be in some ways unfair, at least it gets their attention. There are some two dozen Christian rock groups touring the country for George Bush, while this morning Bruce Springsteen kicked off a Kerry rally.

I didn’t think “Fahrenheit 911” was the world’s best movie, nor do I always agree with Michael Moore. I do, however, admire the energy with which he travels the country in his Slacker Uprising Tour, urging his young audiences to vote while himself fighting pneumonia.

Jon Stewart, host of the “Daily Show” on Comedy Central, is brilliant in the way he has taken to exposing the media’s inability to report accurately what is happening in Iraq — he calls it “Mess O’Potamia.” This may encourage college students to remember that the area is located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and was the birthplace of modern civilization. It will be on the exam at the end of the semester, trust me.

Stewart doesn’t care what party you are from, when you get on his show you put your reputation in his hands. He wants only to be funny. You should have seen what he did to the former director of the Red Cross on the subject of flu shots.

And the creators of “South Park” have released the most amazing movie I have seen in a long time (please don’t go see it on my recommendation, because it is absolutely filthy and you have to be a trained film reviewer to dissociate yourself from it )– a satirical musical using marionettes to spoof the world situation.

Step back and think about what a wonderful popular culture this is, producing all these divergent views. “Team America” (the South Park guys’ film ) does not take sides; it skewers EVERYBODY from Sean Penn to Kim Jong Il.

More than ever, this election reflects the commitment of the American people to our freedom, our constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our democracy (which is really a republic). Although we can all find the negatives, and should be aware of them, I suggest we look at the positives: the highest voter turnout in our history will probably happen next Tuesday. Democracy ain’t pretty, but it works.

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Yesterday I gave a piece

Yesterday I gave a piece of advice I have given probably four hundred times during my business career. I was sitting opposite a young woman from New York, who had moved here two years ago to live near her widowed mother. The woman had come to me because she was in investor relations, and she wanted advice or leads about a job.

�There aren�t many investor relations jobs in Phoenix,� I told her. This, she had already discovered for herself. �There aren�t many companies large enough to need them, and most of the big ones are privately held. Phoenix is a small business town. You will have to re-think your life if you want to stay here.�

I used to say this to New Yorkers, or Chicagoans, or even Los Angelenos. with embarrassment. How can we be the fifth largest city in the country and lack investor relations jobs? Advertising jobs? PR jobs? Corporate marketing jobs? You name it; we don�t have it like other, even smaller cities do. We don�t have large corporate headquarters; we�re missing �the enterprise.�

Or are we? Yesterday, a brilliantly sunny October day on the patio of Starbucks, I had an epiphany. This is not a loss, or a lack. This is merely a difference. And it might just be a positive difference.

At best, this is a paradigm shift. Perhaps we aren�t �behind� in growing large businesses. Perhaps instead we are �ahead� in growing small, nimble ventures that innovate and create wealth for their owners.

People in Phoenix do manage to make a living. Some of them have sold their homes elsewhere, bought less expensive homes here, and are doing the �Rich Dad, Poor Dad� thing � making their money work for them. Others are starting small privately held, women and minority-owned businesses that afford them a very comfortable lifestyle even though those businesses don�t hit the radar screen of the economic development professionals.

Phoenix has a high percentage of woman-owned businesses. It�s a lot easier to start a business here than it is in New York; personally, I never could have broken through the trappings of business in New York to become an entrepreneur. Indeed, with my Ivy League education my first jobs in New York were � you guessed it � typing!

Phoenix also has a high percentage of real estate investors: people who develop homes and communities for the rest of us. There�s an entire supply chain built around the real estate industry. The Town of Gilbert, a cow town just a few years ago, is the fastest growing city in America.

So what does this mean? It�s real simple. In the last century, we all had to congregate in the factory or the office to get work done. That�s where the copier was, or the lathe, the assembly line or the computer.

In the wireless information economy, it�s different. The stuff we need to do can be done anywhere. We don�t have to build big organizations to get it done, except in certain cases, such as hospitals. The decentralization of work has made the �enterprise� itself obsolete.

This has created an incredible opportunity for people to regain control of their lives � to structure their own time, achieve the vaunted �work-life balance,� be their own boss, exert some creativity about what they do for most of the hours of their lives.

I have come to believe Phoenix, Arizona is a demonstration project for this new paradigm. People have come out here, voting with their feet, and created their own things to do. Phoenix is more than a small business town, it�s an entrepreneurship town.

My new friend from New York didn�t want to go back there, but she had been offered a great job in New Jersey and she was afraid that if she didn�t take it, her �career would be derailed.� That�s a perfect example of old paradigm thinking. EVERYONE�S career is �derailed� at some point, no matter what job they accept. Layoffs are a derailer, as are pregnancies, illnesses, lovers, bankruptcies and moves.

It�s so crazy how people still think jobs with large companies are �safe.� Talk to the people at Motorola, or the people at Delta Airlines. They are all scrambling to make sense of their lives while we, the people of Arizona with our missing enterprises, are sitting on the patio of Starbucks soaking up the sun, our small businesses on devices in our pockets, waiting for our yoga classes to begin.

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Entrepreneur bashing: why?

The part of Hawaii I visited last week (the Hilo side of the Big Island) has not yet been discovered and developed, although Donald Trump told Oprah Winfrey, who told fifty million viewers, that it was the last affordable ocean front property in Hawaii and prices have doubled in the past year.

But for now, it�s still the home of organic fruit and vegetable farmers, raw foodists, dophin researchers, and yogis. The cell phone reception is spotty, and most locals travel with a machete in the trunk. The jungle blocks the view of the ocean, and in order to get the oceanside lot of your dreams, you must hack through the foliage.

For some unknown reason, I want to buy some land there and go back. (Don�t worry, there�s a Starbucks in Hilo, although not one with wi-fi). The sunrises are extraordinary, the air is so pure that we mainlanders cough for the first few days, and the stars and truly visible. The Milky Way looks milky, as it did in the Hayden Planetarium when our elementary school class took a field trip to the stars.

But I think I most want to go back to Hawaii because the people are unpretentious. This seems to be a week of terrible pretentiousness in the states. This is the week of the third debate, and it�s in Arizona, so the President has caused most of Camelback Road � one of our prime east-west traffic carriers � to be blocked off for a few miles while he stays at a boutique resort hotel. Kerry stayed at the Westin Kierland, and caused the Scottsdale Airport to be completely shut down for a day. Half of the citizens of the fifth largest city in the world endured monumental inconvenience for 90 minutes of scripted tedium. Did we really need this?

Yesterday I was also subjected to some of the worst of Silicon Valley�s arrogance. I�m on the advisory board of a California startup, which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, and I attended the advisory board�s first meeting electronically. The physical meeting was held in the DeAnza College Media Center, and it was streamed to me in my Phoenix office.

While the production values of both the meeting and the presentation were terrific, it was enlightening to see some of the Silicon Valley veterans on the advisory board criticize the founder (a well-respected technologist who has been with five successful companies) for his ideas. Although they had agreed to serve on the board, they seemed to think the best service they could give was merely to poke holes in the concept.

One man, the founder of a social software company, seemed to be simply posturing to convince all the rest of us how much he knew. Every point the founder made, this man shot down.

It forced me to take my phone off mute and participate. I�m not a Valley girl (or guy), and I didn�t feel compelled to make the entrepreneur feel like an idiot just to make myself look smart. Although I think criticism is fine, and I dish out large portions of it every day, it would be nice to offer suggestions for improvement along with the discouragement. It made me wonder how innovation will continue to take place in such a negative environment.

Yesterday I also had a meeting with a carpetbagger from California who tried to tell me there was no �engaged intellectual capital� in Phoenix, and gave me to believe he was the deus ex machina to end the town�s business problems. He�s a consultant to mid-market businesses, going to take them to the next level. But he only deals with businesses that want to maximize their value. He told me that excludes 97% of the companies in Phoenix.

Whoa, Nellie, we may be a cow town, but Arizona State University just won a Nobel Prize, and every CEO, active or retired, aspires to own a home in North Scottsdale. If I had a nickel for every out of state guy who came in here thinking he was going to change our world, I�d be retired.

Who do people think they are? Don�t they know that pride goeth before a fall, and that hubris (overweening pride) has destroyed everyone from King Lear to Adolf Hitler?

I�m sure there are arrogant people in Hawaii, but I didn�t see them. Instead, I saw authenticity, environmentalism, flowers, and a great deal of joy. And a couple of million stars.

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botanical garden – hilo

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Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, Hilo, HI

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Yoga Retreat at Kalani Oceanside

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Yoga Retreat at Kalani Oceanside Retreat, Oct. 2-8, 2004

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Hawaii. It’s hard to believe

Hawaii. It’s hard to believe it’s one of the United States, despite the wireless

hotspot in the poorly lit non-alcoholic cafe at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat, where

I’m enjoying the yoga, the vegetation, and even the humidity.

The sun comes up every morning over the ocean like Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn”. Palms and banyan trees create a canopy over the roads. Surfers bob on the waves. We’re in a lava zone, near a recently active volcano, so the sand on the beaches is black.

I’ve got the old Sony Vaio Picturebook with me; the same laptop that has accompanied me to Mexico, Costa Rica, India, China and New Zealand. Yes, I have a new Mac Powerbook G4, but it doesn’t pack like the Vaio, and it doesn’t take pictures.

I’m on the Big Island, on the side opposite Kona, about forty minutes from Hilo. It

might as well be Costa Rica or India (except when you enter Hilo, which has a

Borders, a WalMart, and a Mickey D’s.

On Sunday we climbed down the lava rocks to a clothing optional beach

where people of all ages sported nude in the waves while two dozen gap-toothed, stoned, aging hippies drummed for four hours, accompanied by an occasional Rasta rapper. High school kids were offering us herb. Dogs accompanied their owners into the dangerous undertow.

In the seat next to me on the flight from Los Angeles was a man about my age, a

large man who overflowed the seat and looked as if he might have been one of them

(not the high school kids, but the aging hippies.) He had clearly not bathed in

weeks, and carried in his lap a large plastic shopping bag of prescription drugs.

I ignored him for most of the flight, but as we prepared to land, the flight

attendant handed out the agricultural forms you must fill out when you land in Honolulu; you can’t bring in any food or animals. My neighbor asked for my help filling it out, because he said he couldn’t see it. It turns out he is legally blind.

After I found out by filling out his form that he lived in Honolulu, I asked him how

long he had been there and if he liked it. He said he had retired to Oahu from Texas three years

previously, determined –as he said — finally to lead his life the way he wanted

to. I got the feeling he wasn’t married and didn’t have a brilliant corporate career behind him. He didn’t even have a phone number.

I asked him about the meds, and he said they were for his “sickness,” which turned

out to be post-traumatic stress disorder from his days in Viet Nam. As he opened up,

he told me at least six of the men in his town who came back from Nam had committed

suicide, and another had slammed into a tree with his car while dead drunk, killing

himself less forthrightly.

He said he had moved to Hawaii because, although thirty years had gone by, he was

still having incapacitating nightmares and flashbacks, and they could only be helped

by simplifying his life. I asked him what he did, and he said he fished all day. He

told his family he was never going back to Texas, because the calmness of the

fishing made him feel better.

As I listened to him, realizing how wrecked his life was by Viet Nam, I wondered how we could be sending another generation of boys off to war. And this generation will not get to escape to the dolphin-birthing beaches of Hilo, because the developers have bought all the land and they are building resort condos.

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