Thursday, February 09, 2012

Every great man has a secret .. and it's not a good one

We often idolize men who are successful and ascribe to them greatness which is a heavy burden. It is in this light that the rest of this piece needs to be read. My point, which I give three examples for, is that we are all human. If one avoids the baggage of expectations, it is easier to accept people without the need to be blinded by their greatness.
In his book on the life of Socrates, Paul Johnson, the historian, writes about Socrates' average looks and pleasant demeanor. Socrates is very well respected today for his contribution to ethics. Paul writes that all great men (and women) are difficult to live with. Something only their spouses know. Socrates never wrote anything himself and most writings from the period focus on the Greece while Plato focuses on his ideas and philosophy (or rather Plato’s interpretation of Socrates' ideas), so we will probably never find out for sure.
John F. Kennedy, the president whom America loves, had an affair with a nineteen year old intern. Saw the interview of the lady yesterday during a news magazine. The interviewer used pretty strong words to describe the relationship between a forty-five year old man in the position of power and a nineteen (how young that is ?) year old girl.
I am a great fan of Apple’s products. I use some religiously. Having said that and having eulogized the man who wanted to make – and actually made - a dent in the universe, elaboration is needed.
Steve Jobs, at one point in time, was not so favorably thought of by the FBI who had a file that recorded his drug use. Jobs' brash and unlikeable nature – especially in his early years – is well recorded in books. But this comment is sterner.
Several individuals questioned Mr. Jobs’s honesty stating that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.  

Of course when you become Steve Jobs, your personal brand turns weaknesses into strengths and terms such as “reality distortion field” are coined. Other mentions in the FBI report – such as the fact that at least in the early part of his life Steve neglected his daughter and his girl friend - are corroborated in his recent biography.
I have great respect for Jobs, Socrates and Kennedy. But the gist of the story is that none of us is infallible.  We try but we are all human.  If someone appears faultless to you, it only means one thing, you don’t know them yet. On the other hand one of the first signs of knowing someone well is that you think almost everything about that person needs to be improved.
The article on Steve Jobs is here. Paul Johnson's book is called Socrates: A man for our times and is what I am reading right now .The then nineteen year old intern is now seventy eight and has written her story in a book.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happiness : Do you earn to live or live to earn ?

The age old question! How important is money in our lives ? This what the recent coverage of the Facebook IPO reminded me of. A lot has been said about the IPO - the possible price per share (from ~$27 to $31) , the money various people will make from the founder, to the employees to their financial adviser - and how it compares with the other technology stocks.

A commentator on Bloomberg mentioned that Zuckerberg has never taken money out Facebook unlike the executives of few other technology companies that recently came up with IPOs. As you read the text of the Zuckerberg's letter to his investors you can't miss the fact that he believes in what he is doing. The letter is in part an attempt to build an ethos among the people associated with Facebook. 

Though there are a lot of ideas, the following few caught my attention:

...Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services. 

... These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits.
Since the man is worth billions, you need to put his statements in context before you start renouncing the too much (or the too little) that you have. I agree that money is important because in a social setting or a relationship it often becomes a proxy for power and authority. I have a friend who insisted on paying (though we always split the check and paid him back) whenever we went out because he believed it gave him the power whenever there was decision to be made, even if was simply about where to go.

But the undeniable fact is that money is the means not the end, and the two are different. In the end Zuckerberg knows what is most important for Facebook because it is most important for all of us.
There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future. starts small — with the relationship between two people.
 Personal relationships are the fundamental unit of our society. Relationships are how we discover new ideas, understand our world and ultimately derive long-term happiness.
While I write this I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend. I was at a crossroad unable to decide. She helped me think rationally with the simple question, " What would make you happy ?"  I am grateful for the people who enrich my life. I realize that they are the end in my life, and not the means and the distinction is critical.

But there is more worth reading in the letter. The full text is here.