Saturday, June 8, 2013

Contacting Important People and Going for Big Things

Here's an email that I wrote to a friend in response to the question, "I just met Important Person Bob, and really want to ask him if he'd be willing to talk with me about how he accomplished All Those Great Things.  Should I do it?"

After I wrote and sent this email, I began thinking that I should post my response.  I really believe in the philosophy following:

In life, we ask for a lot of these types of communications, so it becomes a game of probabilities.

Think about it like this: Given your relationship with Bob, a Very Important Person, you have an XX% chance that he will respond positively.  This means a 1-XX% chance that he will not respond / not have time, etc.  So it doesn't make sense to be disappointed if he doesn't respond -- it just means that the probabilities were not in your favor this time.

Remember that probability XX is exogenous -- it's a number that you don't have control over.  So don't worry about it.

But the total number of expected positive responses IS somewhat under your control:

Total Number of Expected Positive Responses = (XX%, probability of responding yes) * (Total number of people you approach in the first place)

You DO have control over the total number of people you ask / approach in the first place. This is a really important insight because it basically says that the more people you ask, the more people will say "yes" to you.  But that means that the total number of rejections (1-XX%) will also increase.

So the conclusion?  Be cheeky!  Ask for all the meetings.  Expect a certain percentage of answers to be "no."  Don't be discouraged by the no's; instead, take it as evidence that your strategy is WORKING and that your expected "yes" numbers are also rising!

I think this philosophy also extends to other areas of life -- going for jobs, applying for new opportunities.  I firmly believe that if you are not failing more than half the time, then you are not going for big enough things.  Failure is in fact an indication that you are reaching sufficiently high.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tech for Collaboration in Business School (Dropbox and GDocs)

At Kellogg and the law school, we have developed a system using both Dropbox and Google Docs, that is pretty widely adopted.  The nice thing about both is that they are free, so you can experiment with the products and only pay the cost of managing the logistics (signing up, etc).  We do a ton of group projects with shared deliverables (i.e., one paper that has all of our names on it), so we have to manage several stages of collaboration technology.

Google Docs
We always start with Google Docs.  The advantage for GDocs is:

  • You can all type simultaneously on the same page 
  • You can all easily access it fast
  • There is an easy, fast mechanism for chatting / leaving messages and responding to them, in real-time. 


  • Not as much capabilities as MS products (i.e., the Power Point GDoc product is clunky and nothing touches the capabilities in Excel)
  • Does not produce a polished, finished product.
  • Therefore, GDocs are great for douments that are highly collaborative and only internal-facing.

We always do rough drafts on GDocs.  Drafting together on GDocs is like having four different cursors on the page, all writing at the same time.  If there are, say, six of you in one room at the same time, writing the same paper, then you can get that first draft written in 1/6 the amount of time.  I think of this flash-writing the first draft approach as something like Agile Development -- a big push that creates a pretty rough product, but gets you at least something to work off of, fast (i.e, a prototype that everyone can then adjust).  I've seen a group write a 10-page paper in about 45 minutes.

We also use GDocs for our note outlines or other informational documents that will involve a lot of discussion and joint notes (see here for an example).  This is GREAT for study outlines where multiple people in the group are taking responsibility for getting different questions answered.  When we have a question, we add a note to the side of the document; and when we get that question answered, we post the answer as a reply to the note.  Therefore, it becomes a system for managing "Questions To Be Asked," and makes sure we get them all answered.

The "Forms" feature in GDocs allows you to create and send out surveys (like the website RSVP form we imbedded in our wedding site), and also to create sign-up sheets (people just create a GDoc spreadsheet and send out the link, and then people sign up for things).

GDocs automatically save each early version of the doc, so people can't mess up things too much  :)

Once we have a rough draft, we do some early editing, sometimes in the GDoc.  Because GDocs does not create such a polished final product, we usually download the collaboratively written rough draft from GDocs into Word, and then adjust margins and spacing, choose fonts, set the header and footer, etc.  In order to give everyone access to the Word doc, we have to use Dropbox.

The beauty of Dropbox is that 1. it syncs my Mac with my home computer, and 2. it automatically syncs a folder I've shared with Gina (for example) with that same folder in my Mac.  In other words, it acts like a shared server -- once set up, interacting with Dropbox is as easy as dragging and dropping files in any other computer file folder.

It's hard to describe how magical this process, and I can show you at home.  Automatically syncing folders means that I don't have to carry my laptop between school and home anymore; I can leave it at school, and I don't have to email myself files that I want to work on to get them from my school laptop to my home pc.  Instead, there is a certain magical folder, right next to My Documents, that is the same in both computers, and automatically updates.  If I share a sub-folder with friends, then my friends can add files to that sub-folder, and they automatically update so that we both have exactly the same sub-folder.

GDocs is not so good for this capability because the interface is clunkier.  You get more storage for super cheap with GDocs, but you have to get online and upload / download things manually.  They do not update automatically.  Also, it is not as easy as drag-and-drop, as if you were working off of one server.

Dropbox does have a backup capability (it automatically creates and holds a backup of all the files you have deleted, just in case) but backup is harder to access than GDocs, and creates backups less often.  I have had some problems with my group members thinking that they were deleting files in only their computer, when in fact they were deleting files for ALL of us (i.e., Adam throwing away ALL our Civil Procedure notes to make space for baby pictures.  That was bad).  Dropbox has also had a couple security breaches, which worries me, because they are (clearly) a much smaller company than Google, and my guess is has less manpower to put towards locking everything down.  So I would not put super-sensitive information in Dropbox.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kristina Lynn Pandula, My Heart Breaks

Kristina Lynn Pandula, my heart is breaking for you over and over.

My mind keeps going back to your junior year, hot Santa Clara fall days with no air conditioning and dirty windows that slide halfway up.  The plastic chairs and the wrap-around desks; the floor shining with wax that Joe and his crew so proudly applied a couple weeks before.

You, so smart, literary, passionate about your friendships.  I recognized you as a fellow tiger, ready to protect those she loves.  Picking up concepts and skidding them across your binder paper fast like wind. I know your handwriting and now years later can visualize it absolutely -- dark lines, quickly drawn, nothing timid about it.

You were such a beautiful young woman, an artistic eye and a bohemian shoulder-bag, unravelling jeans and long dark hair.  An ironic half-smile making it clear that winning your loyalty would demand my most thoughtful teaching and my most honest self; and your love for Nikkole making it clear that once won, your loyalty was all but indestructible.

I loved your clarity and your matter-of-factness.  I looked forward to reading your literature papers -- to the point, often grasping the deeper aspects of the pieces, not always having the patience to write out the analysis that you found obvious.

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Amazing Visual Graphic: GOOD Corps

I love visual depictions of ideas.  How can I tell a story using visuals in the simplest, most beautiful way possible?

Here's a great example, a gorgeous piece that was exquisite to view:

Note how the format of the design is perfectly suited to the medium - your browser screen.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Teach Someone How to Use the Computer

I'm learning left and right at OhSoWe with Chuck Templeton, a serial entrepreneur who founded OpenTable.

Today Chuck showed me a cool web tool, free and slick and secure, that lets people see what you are doing on your screen so you can train them how to use a website ... like OhSoWe.

Go to check it out.

This reminds me of GoToMeeting, but prettier and free!


Monday, April 11, 2011

Sandra Day O'Connor

ConLaw finally reached the abortion cases, and they are heart-wrenching to read, and so interesting.  One unexpected pleasure has been reading Justice O'Connor's writing (it is a joint opinion between three justices, but comparing the writing in this case to Justice O'Connor's writing in the Stanford graduation speech below, I'm pretty sure she wrote it - note the use of "tempting" when addressing counterarguments).  I don't always agree with her, and I am still learning all I can about the abortion debate, but there is no question that reading her writing is a joy:
These considerations begin our analysis of the woman's interest in terminating her pregnancy but cannot end it, for this reason: though the abortion decision may originate within the zone of conscience and belief, it is more than a philosophic exercise. Abortion is a unique act. It is an act fraught with consequences for others: for the woman who must live with the implications of her decision; for the persons who perform and assist in the procedure; for the spouse, family, and society which must confront the knowledge that these procedures exist, procedures some deem nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life; and, depending on one's beliefs, for the life or potential life that is aborted. Though abortion is conduct, it does not follow that the State is entitled to proscribe it in all instances. That is because the liberty of the woman is at stake in a sense unique to the human condition and so unique to the law. The mother who carries a child to full term is subject to anxieties, to physical constraints, to pain that only she must bear. That these sacrifices have from the beginning of the human race been endured by woman with a pride that ennobles her in the eyes of others and gives to the infant a bond of love cannot alone be grounds for the State to insist she make the sacrifice. Her suffering is too intimate and personal for the State to insist, without more, upon its own vision of the woman's role, however dominant that vision has been in the course of our history and our culture. The destiny of the woman must be shaped to a large extent on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.
Justice O'Connor also spoke at our undergraduate commencement in June 2004.  At the time, she was still sitting as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.  She made a strong argument for public service, and the speech has changed meaning for me as my professional career has developed.  Here is the text of her speech:

President Hennessy, faculty, graduates and friends of Leland Stanford Jr. University: It is a great pleasure to be with you today at your commencement exercises. After all, it is a day of joy for everyone: You graduates have no more exams or classes to endure. And I might say, the faculty no longer has you to endure; you have fame and fortune ahead of you; your families and spouses and friends can look forward to seeing more of you; and your speaker is greatly honored by the privilege of being with you today as a speaker at your commencement.

I realize we have gathered here today to applaud those of you who will be receiving degrees. I suggest, however, that there are several heroes and heroines here today who should be recognized and with whom you graduates would like to share your glory. I refer, of course, to the parents, who have made two significant contributions to your presence today. First, they had the brains that you were lucky enough to inherit and, secondly, they probably provided at least some of the money you needed to sustain yourselves while you were here. I congratulate your parents, and I commend you graduates for your good judgment in selecting them.

A commencement speech is a particularly difficult assignment. The speaker is given no topic and is expected to be able to inspire all the graduates with a stirring speech about nothing at all. I suppose that's why so many lawyers are asked to be commencement speakers; they're in the habit of talking extensively even when they have nothing to say. And in this case President Hennessy asked not only a lawyer but an elderly judge to be the commencement speaker. I was born in Texas. In Texas they say an old judge is like an old shoe -- everything is all worn out except the tongue. All in all, it seems we should have no trouble filling our time today.

I try to keep generally informed about what happens at Stanford. This year it appears that the university has learned that some key people may be leaving. The remarkable coach of the men's basketball team, Mike Montgomery, after many stellar years at Stanford, is moving to the pros, the National Basketball Association. And legendary tennis coach Dick Gould is retiring this year, after 39 years of service to Stanford and a truly spectacular record of accomplishment. Mr. Gould, thank you for your contribution and example. And, Coach Montgomery, I think 39 years at Stanford would have been about right for you, too! I am expecting to see any day at the Court a ne exeat petition from Stanford for an order to prevent these departures. As I count it, we have at least four Stanford votes on the Supreme Court at present.

Commencement speakers are always full of advice. True to form, I want to mention something that I think is very important for today's graduates to keep in mind. It is public service -- the task of building bridges for others and for the nation as a whole. There is a little poem from the 19th century that I like. I will not read all of it. It describes an older man who had a journey to make on foot. It took him through a river in a deep canyon. After crossing it, he stayed and built a bridge across the stream.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide --
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

-- Will Allen Dromgoole, The Bridge Builder

Bridge building is a task in which Stanford and your professors have been engaged while you were here. The school and its faculty have tried to build a bridge for you to your lives henceforth. I am confident they have succeeded and that you graduates not only have crossed that bridge but perhaps will build some of your own for others to cross. Today I'd like to encourage you to do so. Ours is a nation built on pride in sacrifice and commitment to shared values -- on a willingness of our citizens to give of their time and energy for the good of the whole. I hope that some of you graduates will yourselves go on to spending part or all of your lives in public service. Indeed, for all the good that can be done by citizens who volunteer, or become involved in political affairs in other ways, the simple truth is that our nation needs hardworking, innovative, dedicated people to devote their working lives to its operation and improvement. We have a great nation today because those bridge builders of the past gave of themselves in a way that really mattered.

One of those bridge builders is a man to whom this nation has paid much-deserved tribute this week. Ronald Reagan was a public servant of the highest order, and one who recognized the critical importance of looking to the future and paving the way for others. When he took the oath of office on the Capitol steps on a sunny January morning, in 1981, he reminded Americans that "we have every right to dream heroic dreams.: He promised to buoy up our nation's self-confidence -- to help us believe in ourselves as a country and as individuals. And in the months and years that followed, he did just that.

One of the most important bridges that Ronald Reagan built during his time as our 40th president has gone largely unmentioned in this time of reflection. It was a bridge to equality -- one that made it possible for a much wider range of willing Americans to build their own bridges as public servants. He laid a historic stone in that bridge with a decision that had a uniquely powerful impact on my life. Just seven months after taking office, he nominated the first woman to the United States Supreme Court. That woman was me -- a cowgirl from Eastern Arizona -- and his decision was as much a surprise to me as it was to the nation as a whole. But Ronald Reagan knew that his decision wasn't about Sandra Day O'Connor; it was about women everywhere. It was about a nation that was on its way to bridging a chasm between genders that had divided us for too long.

President Reagan's overarching goal was to help us work together to achieve an America that was a beacon of light in a world of darkness. But he knew that his fabled "shining city on a hill" could not be achieved if the faces of our public servants did not reflect the faces of our public. He told America that this appointment to the Court "symbolize[d] the richness of opportunity that still abided in America -- opportunity that permits persons of any sex, age or race, from every section and every walk of life to aspire and achieve in a manner never before even dreamed about in human history." In a single day -- with a single action -- he had laid the foundation for a bridge that would continue to be built by dedicated Americans in the years to come.

Years later, when President Reagan took up his pen to say goodbye to the nation, he expressed a noble confidence in our nation's ability to build bridges. He wrote: "When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead." President Reagan recognized that, although we still face many collective challenges, the good people of today can make a difference for tomorrow.

This bridge builder received a hero's farewell in Washington this week, and then headed home to be laid to rest here in his beautiful California, under a memorial that holds an inscription of these words that he spoke many years ago: "I know in my heart that man is good; that what is right will always eventually triumph; and that there's purpose and worth to each and every life." Ronald Reagan understood the vital necessity of public service. He knew that some of life's greatest victories are small ones, and he knew that it is often in giving that we gain the most.

Over the years, I learned those same lessons. My own career in public service was born of necessity. After graduating near the top of my class at Stanford Law School in 1952, I was unable to obtain employment in a private law firm. I did receive one contingent offer of employment -- as a legal secretary. But the gender walls that blocked me out of the private sector were more easily hurdled in the public sector, and I first found employment as a deputy county attorney of San Mateo County, California. While I was brought to the position by something short of choice, I came to realize almost immediately what a wonderful path I had taken. I was having a better time at my job than were those of my peers who had opted for private practice. Life as a public servant was more interesting. The work was more challenging. The encouragement and guidance from good mentors was more genuine. And the opportunities to take initiative and to see real results were more frequent. Ultimately, these forays into the exciting area of public service led me to the privilege of serving as an assistant attorney general in my state, a state senator, a state judge and a United States Supreme Court Justice. At every step of the way, I felt the thrill of doing something right for a reason that was good. It was the thrill of building bridges.

To be sure, the work of bridge building can be as taxing as it is rewarding. These efforts can call for sacrifice -- sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes personal. Those who choose the life of public service open themselves to public review. There's a wonderful little story told about Stanford's own Herbert Hoover. When he was president of the United States, he became quite discouraged when his attempts to promote economic recovery during the Great Depression seemed to be making little headway. Hoover expressed his discouragement to former president Calvin Coolidge, noting that he was particularly disturbed that, in spite of all of his efforts, his critics were becoming ever more vocal and belligerent. Coolidge comforted Hoover: "You can't expect to see calves running in the field the day after you put the bull to the cows," he told him. "No," Hoover replied, "but I would at least expect to see some contented cows."

It's also tempting to think that the problems our society faces are too large to be overcome by the efforts of individuals -- that young people, even Stanford graduates, cannot possibly build bridges to span the tremendous challenges that this nation now faces. But before you succumb to that thought on this, the 113th anniversary of Stanford's first graduating class, I want to recall another legal anniversary that has just passed, and another critical set of bridge builders. Fifty years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the segregationist doctrine of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional as applied to public school children. In Brown v. Board of Education, the court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, and struck down the legal fiction that children of different races received the equal protection of the law even though they were forced to attend separate schools. Some saw that decision as a tremendous shift in the law that happened overnight. But, in fact, the bridge to Brown was paved with many small stones, each laid by someone like yourself who decided to believe that even a small difference was worth making.

Early on, the bridge building must have seemed terribly slow going. By 1927, the Supreme Court had already used the Equal Protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment to strike down a Texas law that made African Americans ineligible to vote in Democratic primaries. Five years later, however, in 1932, it confronted another problem: The Texas legislature had circumvented the court's decision by giving political parties the power to decide which of their members would be permitted to vote in their primaries. The Texas primaries were now segregated because of private action that seemed immune to constitutional challenge. But Justice Benjamin Cardozo found a way, albeit a narrow one, to replace the bridge stone that Texas had chipped away. Writing for a bare majority of five, he reasoned in Nixon v. Condon that Texas political parties decided who could vote in their primaries only by exercising authority delegated to them by the Texas legislature. As a result, their actions should still be attributed to the state, and the constitutional guarantee still applied.

As the struggle for racial equality continued into the 1940s and beyond, young lawyers continued the work of building a bridge to justice. These lawyers weren't afraid to dedicate their lives to serving ideals of justice and equality, even though they could not be sure when -- or even if -- they would ever see their bridge completed. In fact, my late colleague Thurgood Marshall was only 27 years old when he began litigating his first major civil rights case in 1935. And fifteen years later, in 1950, he and his legal team were still struggling to find a way to get the Supreme Court to revisit its decision in Plessy. They had recently won important cases that forced state universities to admit that, even if Plessy was good law, the "separate" facilities they provided for black students were not "equal" in any sense of the word. But they were still toiling to devise a strategy for attacking Plessy head on. The young lawyers working on the Brown case merely saw themselves as bridge builders. But without them, we could not be nearly as proud of our profession -- indeed, of our nation -- as we are now.

Triumphs over injustice -- like those spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and those that resulted from the efforts of the young attorneys in Brown -- can seem inevitable if you know how the story ends. But anyone who has worked in public service knows that the fight never seems easy while it is being waged. You cannot expect that your efforts will meet with immediate success. But the ever-present understanding that you are a part of something bigger than yourself, and that your efforts are paving the way for those who will follow, makes a life of public service worth the bumps along the way. A single generation of public servants cannot bridge all the gaps of inequality and injustice nor span the chasms of our nation's critical needs. But if we focus our energies on sharing ideas, finding solutions and using what is right with America to remedy what is wrong with it, we can make a difference. Our nation needs bridges, and bridges are built by those who look to the future and dedicate themselves to helping others. I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future: It is you. Commit yourselves today, as you embark on your new life as a Stanford graduate, to being a bridge builder. We need you, and those who cross the bridges you build will thank you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

"How are you gentlemen? All your currency are belong to us!"

I saw this commercial today while jogging and Will and I both turned to each other incredulously with our jaws dropping.

Warning: it is incredibly offensive.  That's the bad news.

The good news: well, at least all the actors that Citizens Against Government Waste chose to portray the Evil Chinese Villains in the commercial are super hot (especially the woman on the left at 0:15, but if your name is Will Robinson, you are NOT allowed to go check that).  If the organization is drumming up hostility against Chinese people, then at least they are only including the hot ones ... ?

I am not going to imbed this commercial in my blog because I really don't want something like this to be in my writing, but you can view the commercial here.

I mean, seriously?!  Sheesh.