Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Will to Power

Great bio of former Googler and now Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. I got sucked in and read the whole thing. Lots of color on life at Google, Yahoo and in SV. Philosophy 160A at Stanford is intro to mathematical logic.
... Mayer credits her teachers for helping her become less shy.

They did this by showing Mayer that she could “organize” more than just her backpack, desk, and homework — that she could organize people, as their leader.

Mayer’s childhood piano teacher, Joanne Beckman, remembers Mayer being very different from other children in that she was someone who “watched people” in order to “figure out why they were doing what they were doing.”

“A lot of kids that age are very interested in themselves,” Beckman says, “She was looking at other people.”

By “looking” at her teachers, figuring out why they were doing what they were doing, Mayer overcame her “painful” shyness with peers by taking on the teacher’s role.

Even when she was in fifth grade, Mr. Flanagan could see the pedagogical side of Mayer developing. He thought she would become a teacher someday.

... In 1993, Mayer applied to, and was accepted into, 10 schools, including Harvard, Yale, Duke, and Northwestern.

To decide which one she would go to, Mayer created a spreadsheet, weighing variables for each.

She picked Stanford. Her plan was to become a brain doctor — a profession that doesn’t draw much on the leadership traits Mayer was quickly developing.

... That summer, Mayer attended the National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia. It was nerd heaven. Picture science labs housed in wooden cabins shaded by trees. Mayer especially loved one experiment where they mixed water and corn starch to make a sloppy goo-like substance that seemed to defy gravity.

One day, a post-doctoral student from Yale named Zune Nguyen spoke to the campers as a guest lecturer. He stunned all the smart kids in the room with puzzles and brainteasers. For days, the campers couldn’t stop talking about his talk.

Finally, one of Mayer’s counselors had enough.

“You know, you have it all wrong,” the counselor said to Mayer and the campers. “It’s not what Zune knows, it’s how Zune thinks.”

The counselor said that what made Nguyen so amazing wasn’t the facts that he knew, but rather how he approached the world and how he thought about problems. The counselor said the most remarkable thing about Nguyen was that you could put him in an entirely new environment or present him with an entirely new problem, and within a matter of minutes he would be asking the right questions and making the right observations.

From that moment on, the phrase: “It’s not what Zune knows, but how Zune thinks,” stuck with Mayer as a sort of personal guiding proverb.

In the fall, Mayer went to Stanford and began taking pre-med classes. She planned to become a doctor. But by the end of her freshman year, she was sick of it.

“I was just doing too many flashcards,” she says. “They were easy for me, but it was just a lot of memorization.”

She says she wanted to find a major “that really made me think” — that would train her to “think critically, and become a great problem-solver.” She also wanted to “study how people think, how they reason, how they express themselves.”

“I had this nagging voice in my head saying ‘It’s not what Zune knows, but how Zune thinks.’”

... So that semester at Stanford was full of all-nighters for Mayer and her Philosophy 160A group.

Mayer ended up in a group that included Josh Elman, now a venture capitalist. Looking back on those study sessions, Elman remembers “times when people in the group were bouncing off the walls.”

He says, “Marissa was always like, ‘OK, back to work. Let’s get this done.’ She was focused on making sure we got the right answer quickly.”

“It felt like she was the smartest student in the room — and the most serious. You always knew those two things about her. Very smart. Very serious.”

The social dynamic of the group was typical for Mayer. As usual, she commanded the room — organized the group’s work in an all-business fashion — but was otherwise shy, and somewhat reclusive.

In the years ahead, this combination — Mayer’s willingness to be authoritative and demanding the way a teacher would, with a “painful” fear or reluctance of being personal — would cause problems for Mayer.

One Stanford classmate interpreted Mayer’s shyness as being “kind of stuck up.”

“She would do her work and then leave. When other people would stay and hang out and have pizza, she’d just be out of there because the work is done.”

Indeed, Mayer doesn’t seem to have had a very active social life in college.

One person who lived in her dorm said she appeared to always be “down to business” and “not much for socializing.”

“She wasn’t one of those people into making new friends around the dorm. She was always doing something more important than just chilling.”

The simplest explanation for Mayer’s social behavior at Stanford remains that Mayer was, as she has said many times, “painfully shy.” ...

Note the geeky laugh and the number of times she says "really smart people" ;-) @24min she talks about her personal strengths and decision strategies.


Diogenes said...

A great example of someone devoid of any qualifications other than a degree from Stanford.

Yahoo makes Murdoch tabloids look like The Financial Times.

DK said...

“There was no time for short conversation or human emotions. It was very boom, boom, boom.
“Most people walked away from that meeting saying, ‘Holy shit.’”

Sounds like a rather typical stuck up b****. I still have Y as a home page (mostly too lazy to look for alternatives) after filtering out all of their annoying moving and flashing crap. One change I noticed in the last year or so is that it's becoming more and more tabloid-like. Was that her great insight on how to make site popular?

Yan Shen said...

Don't forget her "controversial" pose/article in Vogue...

Diogenes said...

Psssst, secret about stuck up b****es. If you tell one she's a stuck up b****, she'll be wispering sweet nothings into your ear the next day.

It's happened to me.

David Coughlin said...

Do "qualifications" really matter if you are younger than 30? Nobody at Google really had "qualifications" when she got to Google. I am inclined to think that her work there stands on its own.

5371 said...

Intellectually useless, but evidently not practically useless.

Diogenes said...

Wrong again, D.

Yan Shen said...

"The Will to Power"

I thought uh Steve's definition of an Overman was 1) someone who majored in math or physics at Caltech as a undergrad and 2) obtained a math or physics PhD from an elite university. Maybe Marissa Mayer's feminine wiles have caused Steve to relax his usually high standards...

steve hsu said...

Who says she's an ubermensch? She did pretty well with what she had ...

LondonYoung said...

and, though surrounded by geeks, she made certain to marry a financier/lawyer!

Yan Shen said...

"and, though surrounded by geeks, she made certain to marry a financier/lawyer!"

That's the uh unfairness of life in a nutshell, isn't it? Just imagine if our good buddies Chris and Laurent had sold out and become Wall Street quants, instead of idealistically trying to change the world through their work at BGI. They probably wouldn't be sitting on a couch next to one another in some hotel in Hong Kong...

steve hsu said...

I hesitate to calculate the financial opportunity cost of each physics paper I write ;-)

Al_Li said...

Philosophy 160A

Diogenes said...

I wonder if LY has found that however rich he can't affect having a better background than he has with the opposite sex. He once said all his ancestors were poor.

And obviously Geeks have backgrounds inferior to financiers and corporate lawyers. Concern with anything other than status characterizes those with less of it.

David Coughlin said...

So narrowly construed. Lawyers and financiers have jobs that are fundamentally transactional, and so consequently require social skills. Why would geek with strong tendencies to focus [The Sitzfleisch!] pick a geek, a partner who is likely to isolate her even more? I don't see how 'background' dominates this discussion except that it is so important to you.

Diogenes said...

People end up with people like themselves Dave. LY is unmarried or he's married a girl whose background is like his own. If he's unmarried it is for the paucity of people of his background at level of Mustapha Mond world-controller (also a physicist), though he may not see this.

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