Risks and Rewards

I don’t envy venture capital firms, after the dot-com boom & bust finding the right risks to bet investment dollars on has to be frustrating.  I appreciate this even more as I lead a startup and talk to potential investors.  Investors have an incredibly hard decision to make on how much and what type of risk is worth taking.  But these discussions have also make me wonder where the next generation of innovation will really happen.

I am happy to say there is a healthy approach to taking risk.  Basically there is more respect being given to investment dollars out there.  This is important because it means venture firms are spending more effort on quantifying and understanding risk, which will help delay the next bust (and hopefully lessen its impact).  Everyone is better off when investment dollars are well spent.

Yet, it is disappointing to see what type of risk scares venture funds.  There is a consistent message that “development risk” is to be completely avoided.  I realize “divining” how a company will overcome development hurdles is more art than science, and therefore almost impossible to quantify.  However any truly breakthrough product is bound to have notable development risk.  Firms that take and succeed at this challenge will lead the next revolutionary markets.  The reward for backing this type of risk is very high, but requires doing something hard.  But hey most big payoffs come from doing the hard thing, since anyone can (and will) take the easier route.

A Madman has spoken…

Quality Teachers / Quality Education

One of the biggest challenges I have participated in is hiring people, usually engineers. When you are looking for specific skill sets it can be difficult to find enough candidates and even harder to find not only qualified but the best candidates. At no company I worked for did we ever say “well we’re having trouble finding and keeping the best engineers, so we better find a way to fire who we have easier”.

But that is what proposed reform in California that failed would have done. The reform was started with a valid premise that we need to ensure the best teachers are educating our children. However the reform also assumed it was possible to eliminate bad teachers and replace them from a pool of good teachers. However, currently we have a shortage, of qualified teachers. So there is no “magic” pool of high quality teachers.

We need to attract qualified and quality teachers. Today schools attract people that are very motivated to be teachers. Despite lower salaries there are people out there that really enjoy teaching. But to put this in perspective it would easy enough to find people that really enjoy playing football, and would play for say $20,000 per year. But the odds of that team winning, well, not so good… Currently we have trouble getting enough qualified teachers, and yet we want only the best teachers in the classroom.

For those that say the best teachers are the ones that want to teach anyhow. Yes motivation to teach is important, but the best teachers have skills and interests that take them far in other areas as well. And yes we do have some excellent teachers out there, but we need more. If we want the best teachers for our children we have to step up and offer pay and a work environment that attracts the best.

A Madman has spoken…

Choosing Wisely for the Court?

When asked about potential successors Justice O’Connor said she would prefer a woman, but she also mentioned a favorite quote: “a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same decision” (by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Coyne).   This makes sense, we really are looking for wisdom. But wisdom is gained through experience, so maybe we want a diversity of life experience on the court. Then again how narrow could the experience of nine individuals be?

To see I collected a few demographic statistics that might affect the experiences one has growing up in America and applied them to the court.  If the court looked like the US it would have:

  • 5 women and 4 men justices
  • 6 White, 1 Hispanic, 1 Black and 1 Asian justices
  • 7 Christian and 2 non religious justices
  • 8 native born and 1 naturalized citizen justices
  • 1 justice that grew up in poverty
  • 5 justices that voted for Bush and 4 that voted for Kerry (actually 4 that did not vote, 2 for Bush, 2 for Kerry and 1 really split but leaning toward Bush…)
  • 4 registered Democrats, 3 registered Republicans and 2 registered non-partisan justices (okay actually 3 Democrats, 2 Republicans, 2 non-partisan & 2 not registered to vote)
  • And finally… 3 justices that have used illicit drugs

I don’t know what these nine people should look like in reality, but they really don’t look like us.  Maybe it would be wisest to pick very qualified candidates that make the court a little more like us.

A Madman has spoken…

Working Smarter

Friends can manage to say stupid things, even the brightest of friends. One recent reminder of this happened to me when a few of us were talking about the French government giving up on the 35 hour work week. And a couple of them thought this was great news, and that it helped prove the French “wrong”. I even laughed a bit in agreement at the time but as I thought about it I realized this is a stupid way to look at it.

We should be happy if it worked, not if it fails. For some reason I like the thought that as we advance people will have to “work” less, at least to make a living. The idea that people could spend more time with their families, learning, creating or just having fun sounds better to me. Are we really happier thinking that as workers become more and more productive that we can’t manage to create a society that turns that prosperity into a better standard of living? More “free” time?

I just imagine the same conversation if the US was giving up on the 40 hour work week for a 48 hour week… A much better response to the French giving up would be to say “well they didn’t make it work, but we damn well can!”

A Madman has spoken…

We, the people, should stand for flag

After listening to the news today I am pissed. You see I have family in the military, currently active and veterans, so I get very upset hearing about flag burning. I know people get upset at our government, but do they realize how much it hurts people who have fought to defend that flag? How low do you have to be? How callus not to see the pain it causes? And why are they are so stupid they cannot find a better way to communicate their ideas and frustration with the government?

I simply have no sympathy or respect for any American who chooses to burn our flag. But there is a group of people even more disgusting to me: Americans who want our government to amend our Constitution to make it illegal to burn a flag. (Review, June 29).

Burning our flag is already wrong and I will berate any idiot who goes out and burns a flag. The reaction of Americans is the right punishment for this act. It is a very sad day when we need our government to punish these nitwits.

We damn well better be able to stand up for ourselves, and our country. The day individual Americans cannot speak for themselves against those who insult our country, no matter how horribly, is the day we no longer deserve to be called “American.”

A Madman has spoken…

Standing Up for Our Flag

After listening to the news today I am pissed.  You see I have family in the military, currently active and veterans, so I get very upset hearing about flag burning.  I know people get upset at our government, but do they realize how much it hurts people that have fought to defend that flag?  How low do you have to be?  How callus not to see the pain it causes?  And why are they so stupid they cannot find a better way to communicate their ideas and frustration with the government?  I simply have no sympathy or respect for any American that chooses to burn our flag!  But there is a group of people even more disgusting to me, Americans who want our government to amend our Constitution to make it illegal to burn a flag.

Burning our flag is already wrong and I will berate any idiot that goes out and burns a flag.  The reaction of Americans is the right punishment for this act.  It is a very sad day when we need our government to punish these nitwits.  We damn well better be able to stand up for ourselves, and our country!!  The day individual Americans cannot speak for themselves against those that insult our country, no matter how horribly, is the day we no longer deserve to be called “American”.

A Madman has spoken…

Our Government Ourselves

I am proud that our country was built on the ideals of self-rule and freedom. Phrases such as:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”, and “…with liberty and justice for al

remind me of our heritage.  All of these words touch me to my core.  But recently when I was at the Lincoln Memorial reading Gettysburg address, I realized Lincoln’s ending sentence best captures the essence of democracy for me.

… government of the people by the people and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.

These words spoken as a memorial for so many that had given their lives to keep our country whole, truly capture the idealism of American democracy.

These words are an eloquent reminder that not only must a democratic government be responsive to the people, but also that the people are the government.  It is my responsibility, your responsibility, every American’s responsibility, right and privilege to participate in governing our nation.  Though this idealism makes me proud, it also makes me incredibly sad to see how far we have let go of it.

Today we shirk this responsibility, separating ourselves from governing. So much so, that when a president said “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” the statement was very popular.  But, if we changed that sentence using Lincoln’s ideal, the sentence would read “In this present crisis, we are not the solution to our problem, we are the problem.”  My guess, this would have been received less enthusiastically, though it may be awful close to the truth.  It has become far too easy for people to simply deride “government”, very common in fact.  It is to the point where we believe “government” is simply terrible at everything.  But we are supposed to live in a society where the governed are the government!  Are we truly terrible at everything?

We are the government.  It is our responsibility to inform ourselves, to inform our representatives, to go beyond rhetoric, spin and propaganda.  We must decide what is worth investing in, and what is not.  We must decide what programs to fund or not fund.  And once we have decided what is worth investing in, we must pay for it.  Or we must make certain the investment is worth having our children, and their children pay for it.  We cannot simply sit and complain about government. We must vote, and we must write our representatives about issues.  I know it takes time and effort to learn issues, and impossible to learn them all, but each of us must make this effort.  However, that is simply the responsibility of participating in a democracy.  If we do not, we will end up in a “media-ocity” where whoever is best at manipulating the media will decide for us.

A Madman has spoken…

Looking Forward to Social Security

Social Security reform is a subject wrought with apprehension.  But it is very important as a country we take this subject on.

Today the system is “backward paying”, in that payments being collected today are used to pay benefits to current retirees.  Built like an insurance program this system has no real “rate of return”.  Though effective this type of system must be adjusted to deal with demographic changes.  Insulating Social Security from these changes is why moving to a “forward paying” system (monies paid in are invested and paid out to the participants) is a very desirable change.

However, it is a myth that the system as built is inherently broken…  If you look at the program you can see that it has consistently operated with large “surpluses”.  If that money had been set aside (and invested) the program could have been funded for a very long time.  More importantly this “surplus” could have been used to change it into a “forward paying” model.

Instead the “Social Security Surplus” has been spent to support deficit spending by the federal government.  Making the “surplus” just another tax vehicle for federal funding.  Going to a “forward paying” mechanism would also prevent this deficit shell game.  This is probably the best way to insure the future solvency of Social Security.
There are of course many ways to create a forward paying model. So keeping the goal of Social Security, providing a safety net for retirement even in the face of sudden market downfalls, is vital.

Now I wonder if anyone is brave enough to brooch the even more immediate problem of Medicare???

A Madman has spoken…

Tsunami Wake Up Call

Mother Nature, Allah, God … it does not matter what you call the power around us, but we have been sent a reminder of the vastness of that power. And it should serve as a wake up call to our leaders and indeed ourselves.

You see, it has proven that our own ability to destroy pales in comparison, and that the human spirit can absorb and overcome such a tragedy. It serves as a reminder how weak and fragile we are as individuals in such a disaster, but how strong we are when we work together in such times. And it is a timely reminder…

You, the “leaders” out there, yes you know who you are. Fate has given you responsibility for the lives (and deaths) of many. These events hopefully show you that deceit, death and destruction used to promote your goals simply creates misery that begets more hatred and continues a cycle of senseless destruction. If you want to take the moral high ground then by all means do so. But realize you take that ground by treating your enemy, as you want to be treated, and how you want your family to be treated. You do so by asking of you and your family the same as you ask from those you lead. You do so by sticking to your ideals in the means you take, and not hold them up only as an end point.

And for the rest of us, this disaster is a wake up call as well. We have the responsibility to call our own leaders to task. We must speak out when we see them failing to promote a better world. We cannot let then shirk their responsibility, or allow them to hide atrocities within idealism. Nor can we let them scamper away from working together to make the world better by saying that such a goal is “too idealistic”, “naïve” or imply it is somehow “wimpy”. Making the world a better place is hard and difficult work. And it is work that is not done yet.

Waking up in a world with the death of 150,000 people is a tragedy. But the world will pull together to overcome. A much bigger tragedy is not learning enough to stop killing each other. Maybe it is too idealistic to say “we must find a way to get along,” but I will continue to have and pursue my ideals. I hope our “leaders” and you will too…
A Madman has spoken…

Failing the Test

President Bush supports testing in our schools for a good reason: it’s a very important tool in determining effectiveness.  However, when it comes to testing foreign policy for effectiveness, he wants to avoid and even mocks the idea.  Presidential candidate Kerry discussed his commitment in always defending our country.  He also suggested it was important to test foreign policy for effectiveness, which he called the “Global Test”.  This is not the best title since it has been an easy target of 10-second sound bites.  But no matter what the term, it is an important and necessary concept.

In the “Global Test”, you recognize a problem, come up with a solution, and then test that solution by explaining to Americans and our allies what you are doing and why.  From that you determine if you have the support you want and need to be successful.  If you don’t then you either change your plans to account for the lack of support, or change to build support.

One reason Bush has mocked this concept; it should have been applied before Iraq.  Looking at the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, you see two very different results.  Our attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan had solid support from all our allies; we all knew why we were going in before we did.  This action passed the test; because of this, it has been a largely successful mission.

In Iraq, however, we explained why we were going in and still approximately 38% of Americans thought it was not time to invade Iraq.  Also, most of the UN Security Council did not buy the reason we sold them.  The reason stated to the UN was weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iraq as an imminent threat to the US.  They wanted more proof on WMD, and did not see Iraq as an imminent threat to the US.  And on both they have been proven to be correct.  So the Iraq invasion failed the test, and this mission has not been as successful as we need.

If the current administration had applied the test before going into Iraq they may still have chosen to go in, but they would have known to re-plan.  And if they had, they may have even tried telling the world the truth: that Iraq was fast becoming a failed state with a dangerous despot as a leader.  And that such situations need to be dealt with by the world.  Making that argument would have taken longer, but in the end would be far more effective, simply because it’s the truth!

A Madman has spoken…