You've GOT to be Kidding!

Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." Fiction pales in light of the Patreaus fiasco. I am simply astounded at Patraeus' grievously poor judgment and lack of virtue.  The relationships and timing of all these events vis-a-vis the yet-to-be-revealed real truth about the Benghazi tragedy call so much into question - about our national security, decisions made about/in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.  If you ever doubted how fast trust can be lost, doubt no more.  We have a legacy of distrust.

It seems like our government is out of control, out of on a different planet with a different set of mores and morals.  Are these the groaning sounds of a system at the precipice?  I keep hearing the creaking of metal in the process of failure before it crashes...failure and fatigue.  Can you name a significant government agency or department that has not been embroiled in a scandal in the past few years? And many of theses are ones entrusted with the safeguarding of our country.

Two of my sages, John Hagel and Steve Denning, have been warning us for years about the frailty and impending implosion of our institutions and institutional practices.  We have not heeded their warnings and on November 6th, we yet again preserved the status quo.  Why? Because...

  • Those are the types that run for nomination of their parties?  Why?
  • Those that are willing to tell the truth and call it like it is don't make it far enough to get nominated?  Why?
  • We citizens really don't want to hear bad news and see reality? We want our officials to make "it all better"?  Why?
  • We don't really want to sacrifice what's needed to buttress up the foundations of this country? Why?
  • The rewards of doing so are too far in the future? We no longer have a common vision of what America stands for to instill common sacrifice? Why?

I don't know the answer, only some of the questions to ask. But I do know this, Churchill was right when he said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  America highlights the paradox of democracy and freedom.  And yet, despite all of America's issues, people still flock to our shores for survival, people still want to start their businesses here and we are still the beacon for freedom.  Yes, I can handle the paradox of being both horrified at the betrayal of trust and corruption of our government and proud to be an American and be free.

So, this Thanksgiving, while some of us sit at tables bursting with abundance, some in dark homes filled with sand, water and ruin, some in shelters, some by hospital beds, some in barracks in Afghanistan, give thanks for the gifts of trusting relationships and freedom.  Give thanks....and give those whose lives, well being, livelihoods are entrusted to you the same gifts...of trust, integrity, and freedom...from your spouse to the janitor in the plant.  Give thanks.

What Value Do I Bring?

I'm honored to host this guest blog by Elizabeth Weber about her summer interning at a financial firm in Hong Kong.  The lessons she shares at age 20 are ones many of us don't even learn in our 40's, 50's or our lives.  She's bringing these lessons home, as Co-President of the Entrepreneur Program at Brown.  Please learn from her, share and impact others.

Summer in Hong Kong

I followed a curiosity this summer, and worked at an unfamiliar profession. I’m a rising junior at Brown University with a passion for supporting entrepreneurs and understanding how businesses develop. The University provided me with an exceptional opportunity - to work in Hong Kong at a financial company in their asset management and private equity divisions. For more than two months I became a proud member of Hong Kong’s colorful, cultured, and ambitious community.

My journey began with a conversation with a kind older woman. In Hong Kong, I lived at the Helena May, a historical woman’s hotel dating back to 1916. In dormitory fashion, I stayed with 24 women between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age, four of whom were eating breakfast the morning of my first day of work. The older woman sitting beside me must have noticed my apprehension because she asked if today was important. I raised my eyes to smile and told her I was beginning an internship today. She gave me a knowing smile and said, “You’ll do fine, just remember the importance of relationships.” And then she added, “Think hard about the value you bring to the company, and if you’re not sure what it is don’t be afraid to ask.” Midway through my internship, the woman approached me at breakfast again and asked if I had discovered my value. I started speaking, and after a few sentences I stopped, realizing that I still didn’t have a good answer. I was working hard at the company; I was last to leave and first to come in each day, and I was doing good work. I had two mentors; one of whom was knowledgeable beyond measure with an entire library encasing his desk area. But it wasn’t his knowledge that was so striking but rather his genuine compassion for sharing that knowledge. I was comfortable around him, comfortable enough to show my vulnerabilities. When I asked him the older woman’s question, “What value did I bring?” He said my value comes from, “The questions I ask and my eagerness to learn.” I hadn’t expected this answer; I had anticipated it would be my research or a presentation I had done. Something more tangible. Then I thought back to the woman’s first statement about relationships and began to understand. The best relationships are those in which, we share ourselves – our genuine beliefs and our thoughts. Even in business, defined by coveted numbers and profit expectations, relationships are what matter. I formed a strong relationship with my mentor not through my research, but through my questions, through showing weakness, and working hard. I learned the best relationships are honest and genuine.

My final lesson took me awhile to fully understand. Much of my work for the company revolved around identifying business opportunity. Through research, I learned what metrics and patterns to look for in a company’s financial statements, and what traps and common misconceptions to avoid. I became curious about process, what to look for first, then second, and then third on the income statement or balance sheet. I was becoming a process thinker. I realize this logic is not singular to investing but rather something I can apply to all aspects of my life. As humans, the first way we empower ourselves is through our thoughts. By constantly improving our thought processes, we can improve our working intelligence and translate that into work performance. At school, I’m head of the Entrepreneurship Program. I connect my peers with advisors, and potential investors to help them become entrepreneurs. Reflecting on my work this summer, I’ve realized a flaw in the Entrepreneurship Program. The organization puts more resources into rewarding success than it does into teaching the process. It’s human nature, to strive for the end product; parents wish success for their children, CEOs desire profit for their company but these end goals cannot overshadow the path to achieve them. The path is sometimes long, ridden with mistakes and struggles, but for the patient teachers and persistent workers, the process is worth far more than the end product.

While cultural differences separated me from my Cantonese co-workers and friends, I believe truths like these hold us together. Cultural differences – how to hug, how to politely eat a meal, and what to give as gifts – seem inconsequential in comparison. These can be learned by reading a book, but to become a person of the world, one needs to understand genuine relationships and respect how others think and learn.    

Also published in Echoes of LBI (Long Beach Island) Magazine.