Who’s on your personal board of directors?

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

As Mark Zuckerberg awaited, hoodie-clad, today’s IPO of Facebook, The New York Times did an interesting dissection of the wise and powerful players who helped refine his thinking and strategy over the years, adding value to his vision and therefore adding value to today’s offering:

But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.

One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the V.C.’s money. He wanted an introduction to Mr. Gates. (He eventually got one, on his own. Today, Mr. Gates regularly advises him on philanthropy and management issues.)

“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”

Here’s a fun post on a similar idea by a young Australian businessman, Jimmy Florida:

To make life really interesting a friendship group would have at least one of everything including a doctor, global wanderer, nutritionist, entrepreneur, writer, stripper, drug dealer, dentist, restaurateur, stock broker, accountant, recruiter, masseuse, farmer, banker, bum,  blogger, athlete, celebrity, venture capitalist, monk, artist, politician, Chinese doctor, arms dealer, people smuggler, politician, and rock star  –  you get the idea. This mix would make for a hell of a dinner party and some great conversation!

Whatever you choose to call it — brain trust or friendship group or board of directors — everyone with a shred of ambition needs one. This can start as early as high school if you seek out and cultivate a few wise mentors.

No matter what you know or have studied formally, there’s always going to be a pile of stuff you don’t know, and may actually need to learn (let alone use or publicly discuss or present persuasively) within a few hours or days.

Then you need access people who know this stuff who will help you.

Unlike Florida, though, I don’t just turn to people I know socially. I’m completely fine paying people for their expertise and usually turn to those with excellent references from my posse; I write off their fees as a cost of running my business.

Until or unless you’ve amassed a ton of social capital, do whatever you need to get the smart advice you have to have.
In my 30+ years working as an author and journalist, here are some of those I’ve assembled:


I’ve been through seven. ‘Nuff said.


Useful for scaring the shit out of greedy lying publishers and others who’ve tried to stiff me out of fees they owed for work I completed under contract — and they reneged. It works. Also useful for reviewing the work of your agent(s.)

Speaking coach

I was about to go on the Diane Rehm radio show, with 2 million listeners — live for an hour, with call-ins. No pressure! I spent two hours the day before with a speaking coach. Helped a lot. Here’s the transcript of that show. Here’s my coach, Christine Clapp. A lively and lovely young woman, she works in D.C. but can work with anyone anywhere via Skype. She’s great.

Career coach

Whenever I or my husband feel like we’re hitting a wall, we give her a call.

Massage therapist


I’ve done a lot of public speaking, teaching and TV. I also live and work in New York, where appearance matters a great deal. A reliable and affordable hair salon (I have two) is a must.

Investment adviser

Personal shopper

When my newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” came out last April I was catapulted from home-in-sweats-world to being photographed for national media and being well-paid to speak at conferences and events all over the country. I needed a professional wardrobe, stat! I did something I’d never done before and it was wise indeed — I went to an upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus, and threw myself (not literally) into the capable hands of the department manager. I felt fat, horrible, insecure. With calm, cool competence, he brought into the dressing room three dresses, two pairs of jeans and two sweaters. I bought everything! And when Marie Claire magazine asked me, with two days’ notice, to speak to their advertising staff — talk about fashionable women! — I felt completely confident and ready to rock.


Even New York dogs have therapists. If you can afford the help and need it, go! Nothing wastes more time and life energy than wallowing in misery and repeating self-destructive behavior patterns.



Book publishing PR experts

I have two dear friends who both work in publicity for major commercial houses. I’ve learned a lot from them that helps me position and sell my books.


Physical therapist

After four (!) orthopedic surgeries since January 2000: both knees, right shoulder and left hip replacement this past February, I know a lot about PT. I like and trust my PTs and they’ve taught me a great deal about my body. I even wrote about them in The New York Times. You can do a lot of good for an aging/weak/injured body before and after surgery. You can even prevent it.

Who’s on your “board”?

There’s Blood On Your Ipad

Not a Mac mini ...

You know that, right?

It’s on mine as well. I’m writing this on a Mac and much of my work is done on on a Mac laptop.

But I have yet to find a way to reconcile where and how these products are made — the subject of this one-man show currently playing in New York City. Mike Daisey managed to find his way to Shenzhen, China and to the vast community/company town run by Foxconn, whose workers who sleep in enormous dormitories, a hive of cement cubicles, required to work shifts so long and onerous that — as I was finishing “Malled” — the company made unwelcome front-page news as 12 desperate workers committed suicide by jumping out of their windows.

Their solution? Nets.

Daisey was recently interviewed on The Leonard Lopate Show, (a daily Manhattan culture-based talk show on WNYC),  and one of his words stuck with me: workers there, he said, are seen as interchangeably and dispassionately as “biomass.”



I spoke recently to a smart, wise career journalist, someone who has seen China firsthand from the Tiananmen Square to today; her last visit there was two years ago. She unhesitatingly agreed with Daisey’s assessment: “People have no idea. China right now just wants to make money and everything else be damned. They don’t care about workers or unions or rights. If someone drops dead on the assembly line, there are literally millions more eager to take their place.”

I include reporting on Foxconn and the suicides in my new book about retail because every time we buy something made in so ugly and brutal a fashion, we’re de facto implicated.

We all know who Steve Jobs was.

Few of us know who Terry Gou is, the CEO of Foxconn; this link is to a Wall Street Journal profile, when he was heading Hon Hai — and Gou, then, in 2007, was worth some $10 billion:

With a work force of some 270,000 — about as big as the population of Newark, N.J. — the factory is a bustling testament to the ambition of Hon Hai’s founder, Terry Gou. In an era when manufacturing has been defined by outsourcing, no one has done more to shift global electronics production to China. Little noticed by the wider world, Mr. Gou has turned his company into China’s biggest exporter and the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of electronics.

Hon Hai’s revenue has grown more than 50% a year in the past decade to $40.6 billion last year. It is expected to add $14 billion in revenue this year. That is roughly the equivalent of Motorola’s adding, within a year, the sales of CBS Corp.

Throughout his company’s rise, the 56-year-old native of Taiwan has maintained a low profile. Publicity, he says, risks helping competitors and alienating customers. “I hate that I [have] become famous,” Mr. Gou said in a recent three-hour interview at Hon Hai’s Taiwan headquarters. It was Mr. Gou’s first interview with Western media since 2002, following more than five years of requests by The Wall Street Journal. “We are so big we cannot hide anymore.”

One of the smartest and most insightful shows on American public radio is This American Life, an hour-long weekly show by Ira Glass, which (for non-American readers here) is broadcast on 500 stations and has about 1.7 million listeners.  Glass did a special version of Daisey’s show for his show.

You can listen to it here. It is astonishing.

Daisey did the kind of firsthand reporting that journalists should be doing — and most often do not. He went to Shenzhen — a city of 14 million he describes as looking “like Blade Runner threw up on itself.” Highly unusual when reporting on Chinese labor, he spoke to many of its workers. He showed one man — whose hand was destroyed from making Ipads — what one looks like when it’s in use; workers never see the finished product, he said.

It is something every single user of these products must think about.

Is the only answer to boycott these products? I’m not sure anyone will.

Are there other, better solutions?

Break The Rules Already!

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...
What if he'd played nicely? Followed others rules? Image via Wikipedia

If there is a phrase that truly sets my teeth on edge it’s this one:

“But I played by the rules.”

This week the world, literally, mourned the untimely death of someone who broke just about any rule he encountered, Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Here’s an Apple video that beautifully sums it up, with images of iconoclasts from Callas to Ford to Gandhi to Picasso, all powerful reminders that rules are made to be broken.

If Steve Jobs had “played by the rules” I wouldn’t be writing this on a Mac desktop or check my email on an Iphone or Iouch. We need, more than, ever cage rattlers like him.

Did you create those rules? Did you have a say in creating them? Did you think they were smart or useful or truly fit your life?

I do not mean: breaking the law, behaving unethically or immorally, cheating or lying.

I do mean: figure it out for yourself, question authority, ask why, investigate, challenge.

My worldview, like all of ours’, is a direct outgrowth of the family in which I was raised. Only my brothers and I attended university.

My parents, who did not, (my Dad eventually finished his degree in his 70s),  never “held a job” or eagerly, patiently and politely awaited the standard rewards of a pension, paid vacation or job-linked benefits. Instead, all of us work for ourselves, invent businesses, hire agents to represent our interests and attorneys to review their work.

My father, still alive at 82, was an award-winning film-maker, a director of television and documentaries and feature films. My mother was a journalist and my step-mother wrote for television.

We had steak years and hamburger years. We never counted on things remaining the same. I grew up learning to save and to invest, in my own skills as much as in any faith — if any — in “the system.”

This notion that “playing by the rules” will win you the game is utter madness. It works beautifully to keep entire populations hopeful, polite, eager to accept whatever terrible working conditions and wages are offered.

A friend’s husband, a man in his late 30s, recently applied for a retail job. He was offered $9 an hour. We live in New York — it would have cost him $8 in tolls simply to drive from his home to his new job.

Which is why thousands of fed-up, worn-out Americans are now occupying Wall Street and other locations; here’s a link to several writers there on the ground.

Because too many of today’s American “rules” work only to further the obscene gains of the already wealthy, not for millions of the rest of us.

These are rules that, we all know now, are deeply and consistently enriching a small, narrow slice of the population. The wealthy do not need to buy their 6th or 7th home on the fruits of our cheap, benefits-free, employed-at-will labors.

If you really hate being screwed by the rules, stop following them with such unquestioning, docile obedience. The “game” is only possible when people keep showing up to play as usual…

Teach yourself and your kids how to acquire and use and sell effectively, freelance when necessary, a wide range of skills, whether how to fix a toilet, soothe an elder or speak Mandarin. Don’t keep buying into the costly and misleading notion that we have to pay others a ton of dough to teach us stuff. To acquire “credentials” that — funny thing — now seem to have no market value at all.

If you don’t want to keep getting screwed by the system, you’ve got to change your MO.

I love this recent, helpful and inspiring blog post by a woman who lives in rural England about turning desperation into inspiration.

The only rules I know that have really helped me?

Hustle. Every single day. (Read Seth Godin’s blog.)

Moderate your material demands to live (safely) with the lowest possible overhead, which gives you the creative freedom to try new (ad)ventures without the fear of losing your home or nutrition. Teach your family to do likewise; drive an old car, or none at all.

Create and nurture networks of people who love, trust and respect your value(s) and skills.

Work with the best and smartest people who will return your calls and emails.

Give 150 percent effort when necessary and 75 percent when possible. (Many of your competitors are offering 50 percent, believing it to be more.)

Save money — to keep your “f–k-you fund” topped up, so if you find yourself in an untenable situation related to your income stream, you can afford to leave and seek something better. It might well mean working for yourself instead. 

Save a ton of money, (and invest it wisely), even if your income goes up.

Eschew debt.

Break some damn rules!

Make your own!