068: Skills of Resilience with Gerry Valentine

Episode Sponsored By:
Support for the Greater Than Code podcast comes from the O’Reilly Velocity Conference. Join over 2000 developers and engineers in San Jose from June 11 to 14 to learn how to make your systems more scalable, resilient and secure. Get the latest on containers, microservices, infrastructure, cloud, DevOps, systems engineering, security, and more. Use discount code GTC20 to save 20% on your Gold, Silver or Bronze pass. Get all the details at velocityconf.com.

Panelists:

Jamey Hampton | Coraline Ada Ehmke

Guest Starring:

Gerry Valentine: @gerryval

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Show Notes:

01:28 – Gerry’s Superpower: Building Resilience

02:51 – What is Resilience?

08:59 – Creating an Atmosphere of Psychological Safety

11:04 – Having Tough Conversations: Resilience on the Societal Level

18:41 – Moving Other People Forward and Leading Others as a Senior Dev

27:07 – Code Chitakwas

33:10 – Devaluing the Notion of Intellect

Reflections:

Gerry: What is “smart”, really and how are we smart enough to make the room of smart people bigger?

Coraline: Thinking of myself as a leader in my company and think about it can use the influence that I have to make sure that we’re creating and fostering a culture where we do face down the big problems.

Jamey: Being right, being new, and making process. Also, valuing intellect and having uncomfortable conversations.

Transcript:

JAMEY:  Support for the Greater Than Code podcast comes from the O’Reilly Velocity Conference. Join over 2,000 developers and engineers in San Jose from June 11th to 14th to learn how to make your systems more scalable, resilient, and secure. Get the latest on containers, microservices, infrastructure, cloud, DevOps, systems engineering, security, and more. Use discount code GTC20 to save 20% in your Gold, Silver, or Bronze Pass. Get all the details at VelocityConf.com.

Hi again everybody, and welcome to episode 68 of Greater Than Code. I’m Jamey Hampton and I’m really pleased to be here today with Coraline Ada Ehmke.

CORALINE:  Hey everybody. And we have a really great guest today, Gerry Valentine. Gerry Valentine is a public speaker, executive coach, and writer, who comes from an extensive Fortune 100 background. He advises corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and entire companies on how to turn challenges into an advantage. He specializes in leadership vision, building resilience, unlocking innovation, and showing leaders how to use the best within themselves to inspire the very best in others. Welcome, Gerry.

GERRY:  Thank you very much.

CORALINE:  So Gerry, we always start our conversations with our guests with a simple but complicated question. What is your superpower and how and when did you discover it?

GERRY:  My superpower actually is about the thing that I work in, which is around building resilience. I will tell you, I am going on 56 now so I’ve been on this planet a little while. And if I look back at my life story, the arc of my life, I will see that it is a continuing process of encountering challenges, some of them very big challenges, and figuring out a way to overcome them. And as I got later on, probably in my 50s or so, I realized that that in and of itself is a skill. It’s a skill that I love. And it’s a skill that I like teaching other people.

CORALINE:  Well, there are no big problems that we’re facing at the societal level or at the company level or at the individual level. So, I imagine you don’t have a lot of work. But maybe through this conversation, maybe you can point out some of those problems that you see that obviously don’t exist in the real world. But maybe we can help with that. No.

GERRY:  That’s right. We live in such a nirvana land without any challenges. I really have nothing to do all day.

CORALINE:  Yeah. I understand.

GERRY: But seriously. So, one of the things that I think about a lot, and we’ve started talking about this thing of resilience in the popular culture right now. But I think about, what is it? So, the first thing I think to dispel is how the notion of resilience is misused. A lot of times, the notion of resilience is used as almost something to bludgeon people who are down at the bottom. This idea of, become resilient, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And you know, it’s a real problem when you say that to someone who doesn’t have boots at all. So, I think of resilience as something that we all need to face up to things that may be going on in our lives, things that are going on in the groups we may be in, and things that are going on in society.

So, on a big level, I think that some of the challenges we face right now with things like racism, sexism, climate change, at their core are all examples of failures of resilience. And let me give you an example I’ve always used. It is easy to turn away from a problem when you are not resilient and to try to pretend that the problem does not exist. And the thing that we all know is that when you don’t pay attention to a problem, it tends to get worse. Climate change is a great example. You know, there are certain sectors who want to say, “Well, it doesn’t exist.” Now, it’s a huge problem. I don’t pretend for one moment to know, to say that I have the answer to climate change. But I do know the answer is not to turn away. And I think that the answer is to be found by facing into the storm, if you will. I think that some of the problems that we have as a country with historic racism and sexism are an example of not facing into the storm of our history.

I thought about this a couple of years ago when my husband and I were on vacation in Berlin. It’s a city that we both love. And we were looking at a memorial which is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, this World War II memorial. And I look at the way that’s titled, the very stark way it’s titled. A Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That’s resilience. That’s facing up to something that’s very unpleasant in history and then looking at how you build off of it. It’s hard to imagine seeing a memorial in the United States to the victims of slavery. We’re not yet at the point where we can have that conversation. I think the fact that we have not had that conversation is what has led to the ongoing problems of systemic racism that we see in this country, because we want to turn away and say that it doesn’t exist.

If we boil it down to the individual level, I work with corporate executives quite a bit, when I was in business school we all had to take courses on business ethics. And we only need to read the newspaper to recognize that we have been tremendously unsuccessful in teaching business ethics in that way. I think that when we look at some of the big ethical problems we see in business, they’re often failures of resilience. They’re when people feel that they’re facing a tremendous business problem and rather than facing into the storm and finding an ethical way through that problem, when resilience fails is when you have a failure of ethics. That discussion of it, it’s clearer on the bigger societal level, and then bringing it all the way down to the individual level.

CORALINE:  I’m kind of curious. You coach at the executive level primarily. But do you feel like some of the problems, and let’s just take the business example for now. Let’s say there’s a company that faces a significant challenge and the instinct of its executives is to ignore the problem and try and keep chugging along with the status quo. Do you think that change always happens at the executive level or is it sometimes dependent on people who are actually doing the daily work and changing their opinions too, and giving them a voice to call out this lack of resilience throughout the company?

GERRY:  I’ve thought about – that’s a really fantastic question and I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. And I gravitate to something that a wonderful boss of mine many years ago, her name was Kaye and she’d run her own business, would always tell us. We were a consulting company. And sometimes we’d run into, have clients who had these incredible problems. And Kay would always say, “Fish rots from the head.” And I think that when you see a systemic problem in a company, it might be an enormous company like a Fortune 100 company, or it might be a company of three to five people. Fish really does rot from the head. So, I think you have to go to that top level and address the thinking there. I think that is really important. Sometimes, it’s an executive level and sometimes it’s a person who would never call themselves an executive. It might be a small business owner where it’s three people and they’re all really rolling their sleeves up. I think that the idea of giving people who are doing the day to day work a voice is critical. But that’s a skill of resilience. So, it takes a lot of leadership courage to say, “The people working for me, perhaps the people who are working for me at the most junior level in the company, knows something I don’t.” And it takes a courageous and resilient leader to say that. In the absence of that type of resilience at the top, sadly the people who may know the answer never get the voice to express it

CORALINE:  That kind of ties into creating an atmosphere of psychological safety for people working at every level.

GERRY:  Absolutely.

CORALINE:  And I get your point that if management is not willing to admit that they don’t have all the answers, they’re not going to create that sense of safety in their reports and they’re never going to hear maybe how bad things really are, or the ideas that people on the frontline have for making things better.

GERRY:  That’s it exactly. You’ve really hit it. It’s about that psychological safety. Again, whether you’re leading a company of three people or 300 people or 3,000 people, there’s a tremendous responsibility that goes with that top spot. It’s not about knowing all the answers. It’s often about vulnerability, about openness, about candor. It’s about setting the standards of behavior. Because when you are the person who’s charting the course, this is something I talk to my clients about all the time, when you accept that spot as a leader in the company, no matter how your company may define that, you have to recognize that everybody around you is looking to you to understand the behaviors that are acceptable in the company. And if you illustrate behaviors of courage, openness, curiosity, respect for everyone, then you will see those behaviors replicated across the company. If you do not give example of those behaviors on your own, then you’re not going to see it.

And then, to extend your point, what happens is there’s a process of self-selection that will then go on in the company. So, when you have a leader who does not value openness, engagement, listening to everyone, the people within the company who are driven by that value will ultimately leave. And you will self-select into a culture where everyone just keeps their head down. And the courageous, creative people will simply go somewhere else where their skill is valued.

JAMEY:  I’m curious about this in a wider society level, too. Because at a company, I think even though maybe it’s hard to go to management and ask them to make some sort of change in some circumstances, at least you kind of know that that’s the person you have to go to. That’s the person who has to change. And I’m particularly curious about what you said earlier about how our society maybe isn’t ready to have this conversation about slavery and racism the way that they did in Berlin. And I’m wondering, it’s not obvious to me where that change has to start. And I’m wondering if what can the individual do to be more willing to have that conversation, at the individual level. And if you think that can help change a tide, if you will.

GERRY:  Yeah, that’s a wonderful question and way to look at it. Because when you move from the company level to the societal level, I think the dynamic flips. So, companies are not democracies. And I tell people that all the time. It’s not a democracy. It is indeed, whoever is the leader of that company, it is his or her right to say how that company will conduct business. And as a worker, it is your right to say, “I will or will not be part of it.” Society is different. Our society here is a democracy. So, we can’t leave unless you’re willing to renounce your citizenship, which most of us are not. But you do have a voice in how the country is run. So, this in a societal case, I think the responsibility and what dictates what a society does actually goes down, not up. Because we elect our leaders. So, what we can do as individuals I think is to stand in uncomfortable places and have uncomfortable conversations. And bring up the things that need to be discussed.

The issue that we so often face, something that always kind of makes me bristle when I hear it, is this notion of American exceptionalism. Have you ever heard that? That by virtue of the fact that you were born within these borders makes you exceptional when compared with human beings on any other face of the planet. On the face of it, it’s kind of a ludicrous idea, given that we all came from somewhere else, unless you’re a Native American. But it’s also a really dangerous idea, because as soon as you accept the idea that you’re exceptional because of the borders that you were born in, that means if you’re exceptional then you don’t have to look at yourself and at your history, because you’re by definition exceptional. But if you say that, “We’re not exceptional. We actually have a lot of work to do,” maybe there’s a way that we can learn from others. Just because it’s an American thing does not mean it’s the best. Maybe it’s very much not the best. I think that on the individual level, it’s a matter of, let’s say three things. Being comfortable standing in that uncomfortable place, or being comfortable with discomfort. There’s nothing – it’s not written anywhere that we have to be comfortable all the time. Two, be willing to ask those difficult questions like why are we exceptional. What in the world makes us exceptional? Maybe we don’t have the best things. And to face life as a series of learning adventures rather than concrete answers.

Another concept that I think about a lot, and this goes to resilience on the societal level, is that human knowledge is dynamic. So, we didn’t develop preservatives, food preservatives, to poison people. We developed preservatives to feed the masses. If you can keep food fresh longer, you can feed more people. It’s only with more learning that you discover that some of these things that you developed for good actually have an unexpected consequence. We didn’t start burning fossil fuels to poison the planet. We started burning fossil fuels as an energy source. It was centuries before we understood that there was an unintended consequence of burning fossil fuels. Some of the things that we are thinking of today as the answers to our great problems, hypothetically solar or wind, we’re going to discover in the future have unintended consequences. And so, I think one of the most important resilience skills on a societal and individual level is to view yourself as on a continuous learning adventure so that you are always willing to ask questions and hold up to scrutiny ideas that you may have believed were true in the past.

JAMEY:  I really liked the idea of seeing it as a learning adventure, because I think, “What if I’m wrong about this?” is always a really hard question in any context. And I like the idea of seeing it as an adventure, because then, “What if I’m wrong about this?” can become more exciting than scary. Because then it’s like, “Well, let me find out what’s really right.”

GERRY:  Exactly. So again, one of the things that I have learned to say, because I hear that question a lot, “What if I’m wrong?” I have learned to say that, “You know what? A significant amount of the time, you will be wrong. I don’t know exactly what of the things you have told me you are wrong about, but I promise you, some of them are wrong.” The key is to have the mindset and the process so that you’re constantly evaluating and where being wrong isn’t a problem.

My early education, sometimes I have a very specific way that I tell people about this. I have a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. You will note that I didn’t say that I am an electrical or computer Engineer. Because it has been a very long time since I touched any of that stuff. And most of the technology has completely changed by now. However, one of the things that I did learn in engineering school – I went to Cornell University. It was a phenomenal education – is the scientific method. And in the scientific method, being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And it’s often a good thing. Because if you look at it strictly from the standpoint of the scientific method, being wrong means that you have something to learn, and that’s what the scientific method is all about, discovering the unknown. When I’m wrong, that means there’s something I don’t know. And it’ll be really great if I can learn it. Now granted, there are many case where you don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to be wrong in medicine. You don’t want to be wrong when you’re building a bridge. However, the learning journey is about being able to handle the notion that you’re wrong, being able to evaluate the risk, and when you are wrong, being able to embrace that rather than deny it.

CORALINE:  I think that applies at the individual level. So, I can say I’m a software engineer because I do practice it. And I’m pretty senior in my field. I’ve been developing for about 24 years now. And I am often wrong. And I think that we have some expectations of senior engineers that your’e going to never be wrong. And I think that people who are starting out in the field have this feeling like they aren’t allowed to be wrong. And they’re afraid of being wrong. They’re afraid maybe to ask questions and reveal that they don’t know something. Because we’re highly paid and we have this sort of guilt about not being 100% correct all the time. And I definitely agree with your proposition that we should treat life as a learning journey and I definitely try to incorporate that into my work life. The more senior I get, the more I realize that I don’t know. And if I’m not capable of continually learning, I will become irrelevant. And if I can’t teach people who are earlier in their careers that software development is fundamentally about learning, then they’re not going to be successful.

JAMEY:  I totally agree.

GERRY:  Yeah. You have – so there are two concepts that you’ve teased out there that are really important. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to explore them. So, one is because of my background I do tend to work with a lot of technology leaders. So, a lot of people who may have been very seasoned technologists, software engineers, engineers, computer scientists, what have you, and are now looking to move up into leadership roles. And you’ve isolated that notion perfectly. You go from a place where your job is to know a certain number of facts to a place where your job is to move other people forward. And it’s a big deal change and it requires a lot of resilience. So, when you are leading others, your job is to not know everything but to make sure the group gets to the right answer. And often, getting to the right answer is not about demonstrating that you know more than everybody else. It’s about asking the right questions so that the problem gets addressed in the most robust way.

CORALINE:  We totally fail at that as a software industry. I have a friend who was applying to Google for a developer relations position. And her first phone screen interview, they were asking about big O notation and algorithms and data structures, which first of all is completely unrelated to the job that she would actually be performing if she got that job, and secondly it’s about facts. It’s not about how you learn. It’s not about how you solve problems. We tend to quiz people on trivia. In interviews, I see a lot of people like, it’s a contest between who knows more, the interviewer or the interviewee. And that entire system is just so broken. It is so frustrating to see.

GERRY:  And that’s the challenge of leadership. So, how do you create a – and it’s a balance that’s a tricky one. So, you have to create a culture in a technical organization where you do have people who know a certain core amount of facts. Software development, if you don’t know a certain base level of facts, you’re not going to develop anything, because you don’t know how to code. However, you also have to go beyond that and develop an environment where people are learning, because I believe that software more than any other field is dynamic. Whatever you’re learning is going to be obsolete in a relatively short amount of time. And then how do you develop a culture such that people are not penalized for saying, “I don’t know. I’m going to find that out”? And it’s a tricky thing, because you have to illustrate a behavior for everyone else such that that balance will be struck.

Sometimes, when I come into an organization, I will ask them, “What do you do when someone fails? How harshly do you punish failure?” And some people will say, “We don’t accept failure.” And then what I will always say is, “Then, I promise you, you will have no innovation.” Because if you punish failure harshly, you will drive out every shred of innovation in your organization. Because being innovative and being creative means that your’e going to have a high failure rate. As a leader, you have to figure out how you design your organization such that failure can happen without sinking the ship. And this is the shift that people need to make, the resilience shift they need to make when they move out of those technical, individual contributor roles up into leadership roles. So, the job is no longer knowing more facts than anybody else on your team. The job is actually a much tougher question about: How do you create these balances so that the organization can work well together?

And if I can, I want to go into the second part of your question. And it’s about you mentioned software development being continuous learning. So, I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently and I’m fascinated by something that’s being called the future of work. And it’s striking at an idea I’ve had for quite some time. So, I had a technical undergraduate education and I value it tremendously. And I know that the STEM and STEAM fields are very hot right now. And I worry tremendously that an unintended consequence of this focus we have right now on STEM education is that we will create the factory welders of tomorrow. Because the fact is, software and probably more than anything else is dynamic. If you study a particular tool in your freshman year in college right now, it is unlikely that that tool will be relevant by the time you graduate. And so, when we get into this notion of people learning hard skills and a college education such that they can go out and apply them immediately to industry, I get it. But it’s also a dangerous place. The new notion that I think is more important is that this idea that we have that an education was something you got in the first 18 to 25 years of life, and that education provided you will the skills you need for the next 40 years of your career is no longer realistic. Education is a lifelong continuing process in today’s world. And I think it is up to each of us to continually educate ourselves.

I think there’s a huge push right now in certain circles of the academic community to develop people who day one can get out, get a job, have marketable skills, and start paying off their student loans. That’s true. I get it. I had huge loans when I graduated, too. But that’s not developing a resilient person. The resilient person is someone who has the skills to learn to learn such that when they get out into the world, he/she can continually educate themselves about new technology, new societal trends, whatever it may be. Because I think that’s what a career of the future will look like. And actually, back to the point of a resilient society, I think continuous education, particularly since we now live in a knowledge society – no matter where you are, the fact is, it is knowledge – that’s part of a resilient society. One that fosters and values continuous education.

CORALINE:  I’m reminded of something that I used to do called code chitakwas. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of the chitakwa. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was an adult education movement. And basically a chitakwa was an assembly typically taking place in rural America that brought education and entertainment and culture to the whole community. They would bring in specialists and musicians and teachers and speakers and try to broaden the reach of people who maybe didn’t have very wide circles, broaden the reach to more of America. And I would love for this to come back generally at a societal level.

But one thing that I did do a few years ago – I’m here in Chicago – I started having code chitakwas. And we set some rules up. There were five core members and every time we got together, which was once a month, we were encouraged to bring a new person to the meeting. And we all had things that we were passionate about or things that we were learning about or things that we heard about. And we would basically give a five-minute presentation on something that was important to us at that moment. And then have a conversation about it for maybe 20 minutes or half an hour. And that helped us all level up and it helped us all be inspired to ask questions and to think about things more deeply than maybe our daily lives would otherwise allow. And I think the chitakwa, if we had some kind of emphasis in your society on expanding the impact of things that we’re learning, I think we wouldn’t find ourselves in a position like we are today where a lot of Americans don’t believe in climate change. A lot of Americans think that racism is a thing of the past. A lot of Americans don’t understand the challenges facing transgender people. Do you have thoughts on that?

GERRY:  I have many thoughts on that. And they’re all really good thoughts. I love that notion of code chitakwa. And yes, I am familiar with the chitakwa movement. And I think you’re really on to something there about opening up to learning. I think the core of the issue is that in American society we have devalued the notion of intellect.

CORALINE:  Yes.

GERRY:  We no longer believe that knowledge is the most important thing. It is more acceptable in many high schools, I might argue most high schools, to say, “I’m not good at math or science or english or language,” than to say, “I’m not good at sports,” particularly for a male. “Oh, you’re not good at math. Oh, that’s too bad.” “Oh, you’re not good at sports? Ugh.” There’s something that completely flipped about that where the notion of knowledge, that’s part of what it is to be human. There is an astronomer, a very famous astronomer, Neil deGrass Tyson. He’s the director of the Hayden Planetarium here in New York. And he’s done a lot of writing and a lot of films and all that. And he has a saying that I really like. He says that, “You cannot participate in a democracy without a foundational understanding of the sciences. Because if you don’t have it, you will fall prey to charlatans who will steal your freedom.” I think that’s a big part of what we have going on.

However, another thought you trigger for me is that something I see in technical people often is kind of a tunnel view about technology. And so, sometimes I will see coding meetups that are just about coding. And on the one hand, I think there’s a really good thing there because you’re advancing your knowledge in your discipline. Very, very, very, very, very important. At the same time, I think that knowledge needs to be broader and I think some of the most creative thinking we have is at the intersection of disciplines. So, I have an engineering education followed by an MBA. And I value my engineering education even though I did not want to work as an engineer. The things I learned in college were phenomenal. Essentially I learned why the world works and how the world works. At the same time, I’ve learned through the years the value of what a liberal arts education provides. And a liberal arts education to a certain extent has fallen out of favor because it’s not focused on the hard skills. However, a liberal arts education is focused on providing you with the foundational knowledge across multiple disciplines that you need in order to be a free citizen. And I think that broader, more expansive thinking about knowledge and what knowledge is important is part of what leads to a resilient society and what leads to resilient individuals.

So yes, I happen to love the sciences. I happen to love math. I will still geek out over a documentary about astronomy because I find it fascinating. At the same time, literature and history are equally important, because if you will, the science of how human beings interact. And I think we need to, in addition to creating a society that values knowledge and intellect – and maybe I’d make that shorter. Create a society that values knowledge and the exploration of knowledge. We have to also define knowledge broadly. It’s not just technology. It’s not just the sciences. It’s not just math. It’s not just literature. It’s not just art. It’s not just history. It’s all of them.

JAMEY:  I think overall, I agree with you about devaluing the notion of intellect, which I think was a really good way to put that. And in my opinion, I think some of the core of that, particularly when you were talking about high schools and being bad at math or being bad at sports, I think that somewhere along the line we got this idea, or at least high school kids got this idea and I wonder where they got it from (probably adults), that it’s not cool to be smart. And I think that that makes even smart people pretend to be less smart than they are. And I remember being in high school. They’d be like, “Oh, how did you do on the test?” I’m like, someone who did really well being like, “Oh, whatever. Don’t look at it.” Because they’re embarrassed to do good. And I think that that might get unlearned in college to some extent, but the problem is that it’s going to self-select people out before they even make it to college.

GERRY:  It will.

JAMEY:  And I’m wondering if I think I’m seeing a push towards making smart cool again to some extent. And you mentioned Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think he’s a really good example because he’s very popular and he’s talking about these kinds of things. I think Katie Mack is also really popular on Twitter. And she’s an astrophysicist. She’s really smart and everybody likes her and she’s really cool. And I think I’m starting to see that. And I’m wondering if you are also seeing that, and what you think about it.

GERRY:  What I think about it is I hope desperately that you are right. I from my vantage point am not seeing it. I think that what I’m seeing is kind of a further dumbing down of America and that’s maybe a really harsh term but I think it’s important that we call things out. That’s part of resilience. I think that the people who Neil deGrasse Tyson and Katie Mack appeal the most to – yes they are making smart cool again, but they’re making it so all the “smart people” can now huddle together into their own groups. This is my view of it. I think that where we still have to go is, why should you have to be smart in order to value intellect? And maybe that’s what it is. I think that we have said there are X number of people who are smart. And if you are not one of them, then you are outside of the club. I think part of resilience is saying, “You know what? It doesn’t matter what level of intellectual horsepower you happen to have been born with. You actually can’t change that. But not matter what level you have been born with, what’s important is how hard you work at becoming more knowledgeable.”

JAMEY:  I really appreciate that.

GERRY:  Yeah, I think it’s about, we do segment the smart kids. And in some places, the smart kids have become cool. And I think that’s good. But I’m not sure that’s what we need to do. I think that, you know what, even if you’re not “smart”, and I think the definition of smart is yet another dynamic thing – because I’ve learned I can no longer define what it is. Because I’ve seen so many versions of smart. But no matter how “smart” you are, the most important thing is that you’re cultivating your intellect, no matter what it may constitutionally be.

CORALINE:  I think you touched on another thing, too, in terms of being part of the smart kids club or what have you, that for the people who do value intellect and who do value intelligence, I think there is a certain degree of elitism. And elitism is always ugly, but especially when we’re facing larger problems as a group and how you define that group, whether it’s your peers or your coworkers or your company or your country. We need to figure out ways that we can share our values and share our learning in a way that is not confrontational some of the time. But we have to be strong enough to be confrontational when that’s warranted. There are people who cannot be reasoned with. There are people who hold political opinions that are immune to reason. And we have to be able to identify those people and not waste our breath on them but confront them in a public sphere. But then there are other people who are open and we need to make sure that somehow we’re reaching them without casting some sort of value judgement that makes it seem like talking to them is not worthwhile. And I think that’s a really difficult balance to achieve.

GERRY:  I think so. And I think that is yet another resilient thing. But I think this might be a good thing to close on. You hit on a phenomenal point there. Elitism is always bad because it excludes. And when you exclude, you narrow the number of brains that can work on a solution. So, I think that the sciences, as much as I love the sciences, is actually a great example. Because in some circles, it’s about a challenge of who’s the “smartest person in the room”. And so, when you do that over and over again, the room gets really, really small. And you don’t have enough brains in that room to sometimes solve the bigger problems. So, climate change is a great example. So, we have the narrow room of those of us who’ve had a substantial scientific education, which is a very narrow room. But the bigger problem is, how do you move society on this issue? And sadly, those of us who are “scientific” don’t actually have that skill or the needle would have moved already. So, the room actually needed to be bigger because the problem that we have to solve, we didn’t get the heads that we needed to solve it. And part of that is because of elitism.

JAMEY:  This has been a really great conversation. And we’re kind of running out of time. And at the end of our show what we like to do is let everyone reflect on something that got brought up that really made them think. Maybe a call to action or something they’d like to think more about. So, we’re going to go into that portion of the show now.

GERRY:  It has been a wonderful show. And you guys have made me reflect maybe more deeply on some ideas that I’ve had. And the one that comes to mind the most is about this notion of what is “smart” really? And how are we smart enough to make the room of smart people bigger? How can we have really good conversations and invite more brains into those conversations. And perhaps brains that we would not initially have put into our definition of “smart” but later we’ll understand that that brain has a skill to offer or an insight to offer that the “smarter” brains actually didn’t have.

CORALINE:  I think that’s a great point. One of the things that struck me that I wish we’d had time to talk about was this notion of leadership. And I think identifying who our leaders are. Because there isn’t always a one-to-one correlation between a management structure and who the actual influencers and leaders at a given company are. So, one of the things I want to think about is I want to think of myself as a leader in my company and think about how I can use the influence that I have to make sure that we’re creating and fostering a culture where we do face down [inaudible] problems and we do bring people to the table to solve those problems. So, thank you for that perspective. Jamey, what are your thoughts?

JAMEY:  I have two things that really struck me in this episode. And the first one was about being wrong. And I want to tell a brief story about my work as an engineer and being wrong, which is that my partner is not a technical person. And it’s interesting for him to watch me write code sometimes. I work at home. Because I’ll be frustrated. I’ll be like, “This is broken. It’s not working. It’s not right.” And then he’ll get to watch me be like, “Aw, yes.” And he’ll be like, “Oh, is it right now? You fixed it?” And I’m like, “No. It’s just wrong in a different way.” And that’s very exciting. I think a lot of programmers will be able to relate to that. It’s still an error but it’s a different error. It’s very confusing to him. But I was thinking about that when we were talking about being wrong, because I think there’s this distinction between something being right and just something being new. Like, even if it’s not right yet, the fact that it’s new means that learning is happening and progress is happening and potentially it’s closer to being right than it was before. And that’s an exciting thing. And I try not to think about it as, “Oh, it’s still wrong,” but, “I’m making progress.” And I think that that’s what I was thinking about a lot when we were talking about being okay with being wrong and making being wrong less scary.

And the other thing I also wanted to say, the conversation near the end about making a club for smart people. And I really, really liked what Gerry said about why should someone have to be smart in order to value intellect? And I hadn’t quite thought about it that way. And I feel like even my question that led up into that was almost guilty of ‘making a club for smart people’ in some ways. And so, I’m really glad that we had a discussion about that. And it kind of tied it back for me to the very beginning about having uncomfortable conversations, because that was a little bit uncomfortable of a thing for me to hear in response to my question. But I’m really glad that I did. So, I feel good about it.

CORALINE:  Great. Well, thank you Gerry. And thank you, Jamey. Really enjoyed the episode today. And we will talk to you all again very soon. Goodbye.

JAMEY:  The other panelists and I have some really exciting news that we’re looking to add some new panelists to our show and we think that maybe it could be you. We’re particularly looking for people of diverse backgrounds who feel that they could bring a unique perspective to our show. We’d especially love to hear from people of color, or people living outside the United States who’d be available to record with us at noon, Eastern Standard Time on Wednesdays. If you’re interested, here’s what you should do. Listen to one of our shows. You know how we do our reflections at the end? Record yourself giving us your reflection on the discussion from that episode. Tell us a little bit about yourself and give us your perspective. Then send us a link to your audio or video file at panel@greaterthancode.com before March 16th. We cannot wait to hear your reflections. We can’t wait to hear about you. We can’t wait to start working with some of you. Thanks so much, and looking forward to hearing from you.

 

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