Role models, mistakes, and learning

On the way to work this morning, M— mentioned two contrasted successful people in public relations. She said, “When I think of X and compare him to Y, I’d rather take Y as a role model. Do you have any role models?”

*Do I? Feynman? Wozniak? Jobs? Mayer?* I paused for a long time.

“No,” I said.

M— laughed.*Is it weird I don’t?*

“I can’t say I have role models, but I do have a number of people I try to learn from.” I added. “I try to find their mistakes and learn from them. Take X and Y — an equivalent might be Z and Steve Jobs. You mentioned Z the other day, but I don’t pay attention to him because there is nothing to learn from other than he is typical. The article you mentioned he wrote came from betting on a losing stock, he keeps doubling down as the thing goes down. It’s stupid because it’s **typical**. He’s a victim of his circumstances: starting capital, maybe a little luck in investing during dotCom boom, I don’t know. Jobs, on the other hand… Tell me what are some of Jobs’s mistakes?”

“His big ego?” M guessed.

“That’s a flaw, not a mistake. What mistakes are consequences of this flaw?”

“He oversells his idea to his future competitor.”

“Yes! Whether it is Bill Gates and the Macintosh, [Katzenberg](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Katzenberg) and Pixar’s movies, or Eric Schmidt and the iPhone. There are other mistakes also, but there’s a lot to learn in just those.

“For instance, I noticed [Marissa Mayer](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marissa_Mayer) is making a number of mistakes at Yahoo, and there’s a lot to learn watching her try to adapt to them. There’s a lot more visible now that she’s out from Google.”

“I think you can find something about Y that’s the same. I’d spend the time not looking at Y as a role model so much as as a model for mistakes, because those are the interesting mistakes. Which ones did Y make? What did she learn from it?”

M— observed, “Y seems to have good values, but she doesn’t seem to scale them out with others.”

“Scaling out is machines. How do you scale out people?”

“By empowering them, with [core values](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Built_to_Last:_Successful_Habits_of_Visionary_Companies) or [habits](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Habit:_Why_We_Do_What_We_Do_in_Life_and_Business). One of her protogees was responsible for promoting [Sheryl Sandberg](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_sandberg)’s [*Lean In*](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_In) movement. There’s something really wrong in that choice.”

The lean in thing is **typical**. Being a female executive in Tech is a salient. What you are seeing is a lot of selfish ‘I-earned-this-and-to-prove-it-I’m-going-to-distance-myself-with-that.’ I could replace her with [Megan McArdle](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_McArdle) or [Clarence Thomas](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_thomas), and lose **nothing** in the translation.

“The X’s of the world, they don’t make mistakes because they take no risks — Z can be stupid, fail forever, and never pay the price. Heck, even Bill Gates is making himself irrelevant — not learning, and being taken advantage of with the whole education thing.”

“Mayer and Sandberg both came from Google. It’s interesting that they’re supposedly such good friends, but you don’t see Mayer championing the *Lean In*.”

“Really? I bet she never even asked her. Maybe Sanberg is resentful and competitive with Mayer — that’s typical too.”

When you do something of worthwhile, your mistakes become visible to others.

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