Homecoming and Coming Home

I went to my first homecoming in twenty years this past weekend. Berkeley, where I received my MBA, is a spectacular campus that will graduate more kids from low-income households this year than the entire Ivy League combined. They invited me to speak and offered to take me and my sons down on the field before kickoff against the Wildcats of the University of Arizona.  

Homecoming traces back to the University of Missouri, who felt it would be a good idea to host alumni back on campus. The practice has been mimicked across schools and churches as a means of strengthening the community. Homecoming game is usually played after the team returns from its longest road trip and is purposefully matched against a lesser competitor so alums can feel pride in their alma mater via the most American of activities … crushing the competition.

I have mixed emotions visiting San Francisco and Cal. I had not only a different life, but a different wife … and feel bittersweet, including some guilt, about that time in my life. In addition, the severely mentally ill homeless dotting the sidewalks in front of buildings where twenty- and thirty-somethings aspire to aggregate the shareholder value of a small European nation, as they “make the world a better place” with SaaS software and driverless cars, is just fucking dystopian in my view. I have no moral clarity here, since I was, and still am, one of them. #hypocrite

My good friend George encouraged me to go. He pointed out the importance of “taking the time to remember and visit the people and places along the way,” which I thought poetic. This emotion temporarily overrode my cynical view, developed in high school, that people who attend homecoming have already peaked, and haven’t done much since.  

What has gained more and more momentum in my life, however, is coming home. Like an Imperial TIE Fighter shooting from the bowels of the Death Star, with the tractor beam paused, I leave on business trips with a sense of determination and confidence. I am… On. A. Mission.

The past seven days have been a book tour with stops in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bentonville, and Dallas. But on the back half of every business trip, the tractor beam turns on. I can be in a galaxy far, far away, with so much still to do that I barely register it. But as I get closer to home the beam’s pull gets stronger and stronger, and it’s as if I am falling home.  

I don’t think this pull will ever be greater than it is now. Having kids at home who are young enough to seem perfect, but not old enough to register your imperfections, creates an innocence and joy that I don’t believe I’ll register again until I have grandkids. Being blessed with a partner who is competent, and also shares in this joy, is the premier achievement. My students spend so much time thinking about picking the right career. However, it’s a distant second relative to the mother of all important decisions, which will set the tone for the rest of your life (together) — picking the right mate.

I didn’t feel this way until I had kids. When our first son was born, I was working around the clock at L2, and used to make the three-block trek home to bathe him before going back to work. My pace would noticeably escalate as I turned onto our block. The dopamine release you get right before seeing someone you are excited to see is one of those emotions that keeps you young. It focuses you on your better self, the self that cares about others and can’t wait to be in the presence of another soul, as together you are each better versions of yourselves, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Your family, friends, mates, and colleagues — our species thrives because of cooperation and caregiving, so our midbrain has blessed us with the steady march of happiness that washes over you when you’re about to be with people you love.

I’m in the middle seat of the 23rd row, typing with one hand, as the guy next to me is wider than his seat (normal size). Eating bad pretzels, and I am joyous. I’m in the tractor beam … I’m coming home.

More Engaged Parents

An excerpt from my book, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or from an indie book seller.

I’ve been advising luxury brands for twenty-five years and believe these firms, from Porsche to Prada, share five key attributes: an iconic founder, artisanship, vertical integration, global reach, and a premium price. Let’s delve into the first one.

Iconic Founder

Nothing builds a self-expressive benefit brand more effectively than the constant personification of the brand in the form of one person, especially the founder. CEOs come and go, but founders are forever.

To grasp the power of Steve Jobs as the icon for innovation, think young Elvis. If he had died in his twenties after the Sun Sessions and before he left for the army, we never would have seen him waddling across Las Vegas stages in white-bangled bell bottoms. Elvis exited before he hit forty-five. If he had hung around a few decades longer, he’d be doing oldies acts on retirement cruises, and Graceland would be a mobile home park.

Dying removes the icon from the inevitable judgment of everyday existence, including aging. It elevates persona to legend — ideal for a brand. Imagine what the Tiger Woods brand would be worth to Nike if, instead of fading into mediocrity, the once-iconic golf star had been run over by his wife the night she discovered he couldn’t keep his putter in his bag. That’s arguably one of the few upsides to a public figure passing away — it inoculates them from foolish acts that destroy their reputation and worse, from a brand point of view, aging.

We know that the Founding Fathers of this country were quietly relieved when George Washington shuffled off this mortal coil — he was then past the risk of tarnishing his sterling reputation. It doesn’t matter if the iconic founder was a jerk in real life. Apple proves this. The world has created a Jesus-like hero worship of Steve Jobs.

In reality it appears that Steve Jobs was not a good person, and was a flawed father. He sat in court and denied his own blood, refusing to pay child support to a daughter he knew was biologically his, even though by then he was worth several hundred million dollars. He also appears to have perjured himself to government investigators regarding the stock option program at Apple.

Yet when Jobs died, in 2011, the world mourned, with thousands posting shrines on the internet, at Apple headquarters, and at company stores around the world — and even in front of his old high school. This marked the deification of the iconic founder, moving from stardom to sainthood — a shift made even easier by Jobs’s increasingly ascetic look in his final years.

Since then, Apple’s brand has burned brighter. There are few better examples of what Pope Francis refers to as an unhealthy “idolatry of money” than our obsession with Steve Jobs. Though he accumulated an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4% stake in Disney, there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. It is conventional wisdom that Steve Jobs put “a dent in the universe.” No, he didn’t. Steve Jobs, in my view, spat on the universe. People who get up every morning, get their kids dressed, get them to school, and have an irrational passion for their kids’ well-being, dent the universe. The world needs more homes with engaged parents, not a better fucking phone.

Life is so rich,

No Mercy / No Malice in Your Inbox.

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