Advisory boards are a great opportunity to meet people with completely divergent interests, experiences and backgrounds. You’re herded together in a nice hotel room or around a polished corporate conference room table (when such things are allowed), the saddle point of some common institution intersecting your very different skills parabolas. Our love for technology and Princeton brought Rishi and me together on a half dozen occasions and I was always impressed by his seeming ease of being an arbiter of online king makers, taste makers and makers in general.
This past year, in the course of assembling my annual themes and notes for Movember ramblings, Rishi shared a painful, personal, and deeply moving story about his brother who died from a combination of addiction, depression and over-influence of the culture of king makers. Rishi calls out the “great man theory,” that those who will lead are cultural unicorns. Rishi’s self-awareness, inspection of the technology and social fabric that amplified his brother’s issues, as a real life projection of Masha in Cory Doctorow’s “Attack Surface.”
During one of those advisory board meetings we visited the not-yet-named neuroscience building awaiting a major donor and appropriate plaques. For fun, I wrote my name on a PostIt and positioned it in the reserved parking place that cost upwards of $10 million. For less fun, that moment was the crowning realization that I had come as close as I ever will to endowing a building, having a foundation, or gaining naming rights, even those as lowly as those of my surname sake Howard Stern and his I-295 rest area.
I’ve decided that story will be the opening chapter if and when I finish writing my book on technology and technical team management. A former employee told me “Your legacy is the teams you developed and built,” and at that moment, I ceded other forms of recognition. Rishi writes that “human experience flow[s] downstream from culture” and I firmly believe that — culture is a measure of how ideas are formed and adopted; it is a network flow. If my engineering legacy is to insert others, guide and provide gentle pushes in that flow, then I am quite comfortable. Considering the quiet leaders who have guided me — my father, my first band director, my thesis advisor, a trio of Sun Microsystems Labs leaders, the guy who recruited me out of technology into life sciences — they are all small in global recognition and great in personal influence. Small great men is a fair and true setting of the balance knobs, not unicorns but worker bees. Thank you Joel, Nick, Dick, Geoff, Greg, and (RIP) Bert.
Movember is about creating awareness for men’s mental health and men’s cancers. Sixty men an hour commit suicide, worldwide, and understanding all of the contributing factors helps us better address root causes.