Book Review: What You Do Is Who You Are

What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business CultureWhat You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone hired at a small company to implement change, determine how and where to change the culture has been a big challenge. “What you do Is Who You Are” really helps with clarifying limitations I am operating under as someone that cannot change our CEO’s vision of our culture. I’ve felt for a long time that culture is something a CEO owns and that any bad behavior should be pinned to the CEO and that CEO should be fired if they cause something like a financial crash. It is their culture that allowed and pushed someone to make a multi-billion dollar bet.

This book demands that the CEO takes ownership of the culture. It also elevates culture to one of the most important thing a CEO must consider. It is something that, Horowitz argues, must be continually reinforced in little action. He argues that to earn the trust of your employees, you have to do things that show you trust them. That you need to make sure they understand the ultimate goal for the company and to see WHY you’re saying this thing is part of your culture.

Horowitz uses some rather extreme examples to show how you can change the culture of an organization as a leader. He uses the slave revolt in Haiti and a prison gang leader. Both show that if you explain why to the people that report to you, that you can get them to radically change their behavior. For example, you’d expect former slaves to butcher and pillage the lands of their former slave masters. Louvatore refused to allow his troops to do this, because he wanted to create a healthy free state. If the land was razed there’d be no economy for all the freedmen in the country.

Similarly, Shaka Seghnor believed that for any gang to be successful, they must live by the code of ethics they claimed. It would lead to hard decisions and often forced contradictory behavior. Such as forcing one of his gang members to apologize rather than attacking someone that the gang member had robbed.

There were some real gems in this book and I strongly recommend every CEO or aspiring CEO read this book. it provides great ideas of what your culture could be and how to get there. It also includes great recommendations for how to have a healthy inclusive culture.

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Book Review: Immortal Hulk Issues 1-25

Link to Book  Image result for immortal hulk5/5 Stars

Alright, this isn’t my normal book review, but these comics moved me in a way that not much media. From what I understand the Author, Al Ewing, originally planned the Immortal Hulk only to be 25 issues, it’s now gone beyond that by a handful and looks like it will continue to move forward. However, I think this initial arc will likely be the most impactful of the Immortal Hulk stories. Or at least of telling a story about the costs of abuse on individuals, their relationships, and society as a whole.

So, most of you are used to seeing Hulk and Incredible together. Well, that character was killed. Bruce essentially committed suicide by way of Hawkeye. After some Avengers tomfoolerly Hulk was brought back to life by the Grand Master during a chess match. This resulted in the Hulk becoming the Immortal Hulk.

*Spoilers ahead!*

Hulk is still on the run, as is normal in his comic books, but there’s a decided different tone about the chase and the fight. Mostly, because Hulk isn’t just chased by the military, but he’s chased by the ghosts of his past, literally, his father (who Bruce Banner killed) attacks him. There are also multiple Hulks in this. The ones I’m going to discuss are Devil Hulk (very intelligent, but well, evil), Savage/Child Hulk (The Hulk in the MCU, dumb and innocent), and Bruce Banner. There are a few others, but I’m not going to bring them up here.

I’m going to present a few key scenes that I think really convey a theme and discuss the themes below. The first scene that resonated with me is a scene where Bruce’s father comes home to find Bruce playing with a toy that’s significantly more advanced than what he should be playing with. This enrages his father, who lashes out at the boy. He throws a full glass of booze at Bruce. He slaps the boy, then demands Bruce’s Mother go with him leaving the boy. He then becomes the Breaker-Apart. The first signs of his rage.

The second scene that hit me is when Hulk goes to hell (it makes a lot of sense in the story, believe me). However, when he’s in Hell, he looks sickly and is wasting away, so he doesn’t look like the hugely strong being we’re used to seeing. While down in Hell, he and his reporter sidekick (McGee), begin to meet people they’ve lost. One of the people Devil Hulk comes across is Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce’s Father-In-Law. Devil Hulk flies into a rage while being the deadman and turns into Savage Hulk. Afterwards, McGee stops the Child Hulk and Hulk responds by saying “Why does Hulk hurt, why is Hulk always hurting.” Tears are streaming down his face. Rather than hugging or supporting the child Hulk, McGee demands to speak with Devil Hulk. Devil Hulk responds that Ross could have been a father to Bruce.

After going through Hell, Hulk finally finds Bruce. He’d been held captive by his father in Hell. Bruce wants to give up and stay in Hell, never going back to earth. Just ending it. The Devil Hulk offers a hand, Bruce asks why, Devil Hulk says “Cause I love you kid.” Bruce looks at him with tears in his eyes. Hulk continues, “Someone had to.”

The next scene is one where Bruce meets his ex-wife Betty Ross. She’s angry that he didn’t immediately reach out once he came back to life (it’s been about 8 months at this point). At first she’s really welcoming, but during their conversation she decides to end it. However at this time she’s murdered by someone chasing the Hulk. This of course enrages Bruce and he chases after the bad guy. An issue later we find Devil Hulk fighting the abomination, who eventually blinds Hulk and cuts off each limb – at this point Hulk is Child Hulk. We suddenly see Betty as the Red Harpy, her own Hulk manifestation. Child Hulk begs for help and love, instead Betty decides to literally rip Hulk’s heart out and eat it.

Eventually this all ends in the final chapter, where the Hulk becomes the last being in the Universe and is given immense powers as a guardian in the next. However, being Hulk, he consumes and disrupts everything. We see near the end that the Hulk is massive and is clothes lining planets, destroying them. The Great Breaker-Apart he is called. A being sees into the Hulk, inside there’s an infinite number of Bruce’s screaming in pain. There’s a great Hulk crying that out in torment. In the end, the Hulk is all that is left. Alone.

To me, this is a story about abuse. Emotional. Physical. Bruce was diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder, which is clearly a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. The gamma bomb turned that trauma into a literal monster, the Hulk. The series indicates that without strong support of people around us to counter that trauma (specifically the McGee scene in Hell), that Trauma will turn us into monsters. That we then turn everyone around us into Monsters. That there’s parts of us, however monstrous, that need love and support to get through it. If we don’t get it, in those opportunities, someone else will provide it that might be malignant. Bruce created the Devil Hulk as his ultimate dissociation, where even the Hulk would turn to in his deepest pain. Bruce turned to that Monster, who wants to tear down society, because of Bruce’s pain.

There are things about the Devil Hulk’s plan to destroy society that make it the right target for his scorn. Society as a whole drove Bruce’s father to act the way he did in some regards. We often reject people in pain, in many cases they disgust us – in some cases because they remind us of our own weaknesses. Furthermore, the world itself inserts its demands on us, which in many ways are more important than our needs. Hulk NEEDS love while he’s in Hell. McGee isn’t able to give it because she’s afraid, but also because she’s in literal Hell and Devil Hulk is the only one to fix it. So Hulk dissociates so he can deal with the world. Trauma isn’t dealt with. Devil Hulk becomes dominant.

This is a really sad comic. It’s amazingly written. The art is fantastic. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Engaging with Media

I enjoyed the Netflix show, The Witcher. One of the things I really enjoyed about the show, was that it trusted the audience to figure out the different timelines. For those of you that aren’t aware and haven’t watched the show, there are three timelines that converge. The clues as to the relationship between the timelines are somewhat subtle. You have to be paying attention to the show to catch all of them.

For example, in the very first episode Renfri mentions a young girl called the Lion of Cintra, shortly it cuts to calling Ciri the Lion Cub of Cintra. This is confusing, because of the age. it stuck out in my mind though.  A few episodes later when Geralt is investigating a Striga there’s a piece of art with a young prince and princess. Seconds later it cuts to a live shot of those people in a scene including Yenefer. It was around this point, after some definite confusion, it coalesced in my mind that there were three timelines and when the timelines were occurring. Within that same episode there’s another clue with Stregobor and his predilection to hunt girls born during the eclipse, indicating the ordering of time between other episodes as well.

Similarly, there were odd reactions to the middle episodes of the Mandolorian. Specifically, the Tatooine episode. Which I thought was strange. Sure there was some fan service in going to the planet. I felt it reinforced themes. Mando hated droids and didn’t trust them to do much of anything. That Mandolorians were generally honorable – given his dedication to the job he took. It was reinforcing who he was given the betrayal he’d just committed. It was reframing his commitment to the Child in context with he commitment to his code and the contract he committed too. It was a theme episode not one to drive character advancement.

I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, we’re not truly engaged with the media we consume any longer. If we are watching a show or movie at home, it’s likely we’re watching it while using another device, another monitor, but doing something else. Second, a lot of us never really learned about themes in literature and definitely not in movies. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to understand why some director or writer would go this route with a given show.

While I think this is an education issue, Folding Ideas, over on YouTube, thinks this is an anti-intellectual issue. Where he believes it’s an intentional misunderstanding or ignoring of the themes. Where people reviewing or explaining the ending of a movie look for the literal textual based understanding without looking at the themes or metaphors within the film. You can see it below.

I disagree with this. If it was intentional, I don’t think we’d see it everywhere. Because it’s not just in entertainment media we see these sorts of critical misunderstandings. I think this is a combination of education, practice, and engagement. Since, we aren’t completely engaged with media, we miss things. The examples I gave that easily explain the timeline could be easily missed if you’re looking at your phone or only partially engaged with the media. If you aren’t willing to give your attention wholly to one piece of media, then the other piece of media will likewise be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It’s likely that a piece of misinformation would slip through our critical thinking during this dual engagement approach.

When I watch media, I try to engage with it entirely, however, this is difficult when you’re tired or when you have your phone right there. I try, when I’m at my computer, to focus on the video I’m watching or the article I’m reading. However, there are times when a video is interesting, but not enough to keep me fully engaged, so I’ll look at some other media. Generally, I’d like for people that write articles or produce videos to be more media literate. Read some books on media criticism and the different approaches based on the medium.

I remember watching the videos that are in the video above and just feeling frustrated because what they were saying didn’t resonate with my interpretation of the movie. In fact, they didn’t illuminate my understanding of the movie at all and just resulted in me turning off the video. Relatedly, I feel that The Witcher is suffering for literal interpretations of the show, when the right way to view the Witcher is through a theme lens. Because, there are a lot of interesting themes in the show, I really feel like each arc has a different set of themes that are important.

I oppose any war with Iran

It seems that Trump is hurdling us towards a war with Iran. While it’s likely that the right will blame Trumps actions on the protests in Baghdad, those protests are ultimately our own fault. I remember the start of the war in Iraq. We were pushed there by a combination of the press supporting another war and lies directly from the Bush and his government. I remember the initial campaign, the Shock and Awe. I was awed, then disgusted. It was horrific. I remember how it was televised. How quickly we blasted through the Iraqi defenses. I suspect, we would similarly be able to move through the Iranian military. No doubt we will have significantly greater losses, which will be cause to do more damage to Iran.

We cannot afford this war for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the loss of life. This war would be an immoral war. We are not fighting to defend ourselves. This is a war of hubris and aggression. We cannot accept this as a culture. We must reject it as a war fought for the wrong reasons. Trump was angry about the protests, which looked so similar to Benghazi, that he got in a twitter fight with the Iranian leader. Because of that exchange, Trump killed people, literally. That’s unacceptable.

The next obvious reason is that we’d be starting a war that our allies should never support. NATO, the EU, Canada, and the rest should not support the US in this war. This is a war of our choosing and antagonizing. They should condemn Trump in the UN and push for a peaceful resolution. We cannot afford to be isolated by our allies.

We cannot afford this war because we are already in multiple wars. We’ve never left Iraq or Afghanistan. We’re in Yemen. We’re in Africa (doing what, I’m not sure), we’re in Syria. We’re all over the place. We cannot afford another war. If we have money to spend on this war, we have money to spend on Healthcare, Education, infrastructure, everything else the Republicans claim we have no money to fund.

Any war with Iran is wrong. We must not enter a war with them. Their people are going to pay for the hubris of the United States. I’m sorry for that.

What can we do? Call your Senators. Call your representatives. Support political candidates that oppose war. I already have and I will continue to do so.

It’s 2020

I have to say, i didn’t really think this would be where my life would take me. If you’d asked me 10 years ago where I’d be living, I would have said Europe somewhere. 10 years ago I was living in Austin and had been accepted into Eindhoven University of Technology. I was excited about a new adventure. I was dating my now wife at the time. We had grand plans for what we were going to be doing.

Now, I live in Portland. I’ve been struggling with a plethora of allergies that range from mostly benign to causing asthmatic attacks and anaphylactic shock. Last night was a case where I couldn’t even engage properly with my friends because of allergies to cats and pine trees. To say I’m struggling with this is an understatement. Some days goes by where I’m feeling great and that it’s easy. Other days I feel like I’m at the edge of going to the ER again.

I look at the decisions of how I’ve gotten to where I am and there’s probably not a lot I could have done to avoid these allergies. But in terms of the rest of my life. I do feel like I’ve been drifting for a few years. Just letting events happen around me and push me forward. I haven’t been driving towards anything. I don’t know what I should be driving towards.

Thinking back to ten years ago, I had goals. I had something to strive for. Get a degree to get into the policy game so i can do work to effect change. That didn’t happen. Instead I simply took the first job I could after graduating (when I moved back to the states). I was excited about the company, but not really the work. It felt like I just threw a way a lot of the education I had struggled for, just so I could work. I’ve continued to do this to some extent at the next two jobs. In my current job, I’m excited about the products, wireless speakers, but I’m disappointed in my leadership’s embrace of Agile ideals. So that’s a struggle at times.

Despite three years of therapy, I’m still depressed. I’m not sure where to go or what to do about it.

One small goal I have for this year is to get back on here and writing. I plan to write 1-4 posts a month. Something to keep me thinking. I haven’t really been thinking critically about things much this past year.

Allergies are Terrifying

As some of you may know, I’ve had issues with gluten for a while. About 8 years ago, I had to cut it out of my diet. I had expected that to be the end of things that I’d have to cut from my diet. I’m still not entirely over that loss. It’s hard to constantly fear what should be a nurturing substance. At restaurants, I’d always second guess what I was put into my body. I’d generally adapted to it, but there would be times when it’d get the best of me. Like when I’d be at a conference and all the food, including the salad, would have wheat in it. I’d get frustrated and in some cases my blood sugar would drop, because I’m also hypoglycemic.

Sadly, that wasn’t even the first thing I had to cut. I figured out I was lactose intolerant 14 years ago. I’d have horrible reactions to it. I also figured out that cheese wasn’t the best for me, but I still kept eating it because of how good it tastes and how it’s on just about everything.

More recently, I’ve found out why I should be avoiding cheese. I’m allergic to basically the entire world. I’m allergic to beef, dairy (no butter for cooking either!), lamb, flowers (like chamomile, hibiscus, elderflower), all environmental allergens, almonds, hazelnuts, ginger, juniper (no gin, boo), kiwis, citric acid, and probably more. I learned all this in the past two-three months. Now, going out to eat is even riskier.

To address this, I’ve started immunotherapy. This is the process of introducing you, gradually, to an increasing amount of the allergens. The goal is to desensitize you to the allergens. The process is a series of increasing dosage and/or molarity of the allergen in a shot. I started that about 2 weeks ago. However, since the third round of these shots I’ve been on the edge of serious allergic reactions. The slightest thing has made my throat tighten, sent my heart racing, and increased my blood pressure.

On Friday, I reacted badly to ginger. I ended up in the ER because of it. I was treated an released after a couple hours with additional care instructions. Since then, I’ve been dealing with reactions whenever I’m outside walking the dogs.

If you know anyone with food allergies, please make sure you take them seriously. If you see them taking something while eating, check on them. If they look flushed while eating check on them. If they seem slow to respond while eating and seem loopy, check on them. Then take them to the hospital.

To help with my reactions, I’m making business cards to give to servers at restaurants. This will help ensure that I tell them all the allergies I have and they don’t have to remember them. They can give the list to the chef and hopefully, will be able to find me food that I can eat.

I don’t really think all the loss of the foods has sunk in on me yet either. I think that’s mostly because I’ve been just responding to my body. Not really dwelling on this. Given the seriousness of my reactions, I suspect this will be easy at first to deal with. Hopefully, it won’t be permanent and I can resume immunotherapy.

On staying in your lane

I was listening to Pandora this morning and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (The there’s something happenin’ here song) came on. This got me thinking about the protests that I saw this morning (10/19/19) in London, the People’s Vote March. I think it’s fair to say that musicians – and artists in general – represent the emotional conscience of the community they’ve come out of. I think it’s also fair to include a lot of professional athletes and some of in their management structure, some NBA coaches more than anyone else there

Since, I grew up in the 80’s in a very white and conservative part of the country, I don’t think I really understood the general bias, in my community, against using music and award ceremony speeches as a valid platform of protest. I’m sad to say this generally stuck with me throughout my life. I don’t think I’m the only one that grew up in a community like mine who has this bias.

I think this “stay in your lane” approach to the arts in general and some professional athletes (I say some because white male athletes have more often been celebrated for speaking up than people of color or white women). Now, I know this isn’t anything ground breaking. If you look on #BlackTwitter and follow POC in general, you’ll see that this community has been well aware of this phenomenon. In fact, I would say I’m agreeing with their sentiment here. I believe this was a deliberate action to discredit these protests and minimize what these artists and athletes are saying. I think with the advent of television, specifically ramping up after the Vietnam war.

In one of the #1619Project’s stories there were clear cases where white slave owners intentionally prevented slaves from creating music and art. Because, those white slave owners knew the power of the arts. They knew that it’s easier to share information in song and get people’s emotionally invested by using music. This is why political campaigns do it now and why in movies music plays such an integral role in driving emotional response to scenes.

I think I first came aware of this during the Dixie Chick’s protest of George W. Bush’s wars. At the time, I was pretty firmly in the camp of staying in your lane, but I struggled with how to respond, because I agreed with them. I wasn’t a fan of their music and I knew it put them at huge professional risk. Especially, given that most of their audience supported the wars (country music y’all).

So this puts me in mind, how do we support these protesters. One, is obvious, add your voice to theirs. Tweet their message. Support politicians that support protesters. Go out and join a demonstration (this last one is the one I struggle with the most and it bothers me).

Second, is to protest organizations that support something you believe should be stopped. This can occur in a few different ways. First is to boycott that organization. So, I’m going to stop playing Blizzard games until they reverse their ban on the Hearthstones players that have protested for Hong Kong. In fact, I literally just uninstalled all the games. Furthermore, I won’t buy another game from the company until they change their protest policies.

Third, you can directly support artists/athletes/esports pros protesting something you believe should be protested. That can be in the form of buying whatever it is they create. You could donate to charities they support and/or are on boards of. You can also directly support them, if they have some sort of fundraising action going on. Although, if you’re going to be doing the last one, it may make more sense to provide that money directly to the people with less of a platform.

Another change, which I think is harder, is to help people understand why it’s important we allow our artists/athletes/esports pros to speak out. They have a platform that can amplify a cause. Some day that cause could be yours. If you hadn’t supported and, in fact, encouraged these people to speak out, then they might not be able to speak out for your cause.

As I said earlier, I’m not saying anything new that other people haven’t said before and probably said more eloquently. I’m simply adding my voice to that and working to unwind the stigma of speaking out against injustice no matter who you are. We need more protests songs, we need more protest art, we need more athletes to speak out against the horrors being committed all around us. Support them.