Steve Blank U.C. Santa Cruz Opening Speech – 2019


I had the honor of delivering the opening address at the University of California at Santa Cruz, near the ranch. Rather than my usual speeches on innovation and entrepreneurship, I shared some lessons learned after seven years as an official at the California Coastal Commission. I have told four stories about the conflict between money and power and the common good.

Professor Sue Carter, who is now provost of the college, invited me to speak. In 2011, Professor Carter was part of the First Class I-Corps of the National Science Foundation. Last year, she testified before Congress about the program.

Bay Nature, San Francisco's regional nature magazine, captured very well the context of my opening address in this article. It is worth reading before reading below.

The speech is below.

Congratulations to the graduates!

The conversation starts at 27:00

If you can not see the video, click here

Today, as we celebrate your university degree, this only represents the end of one part of your life and the beginning of the next.

You have spent the last four years devoting passion, energy and conviction to your friendships, politics, social justice, parties and, from time to time, your classes.

Now your class time is over and your real education is about to begin. Many of you will come across a world of ideas, knowledge and the search for truth, but more about money, ideology and power.

So today, I'm going to give you a glimpse of how the outside world at this esteemed institution really works. And offer some tips on how to be effective change agents for repair the world.

It's quite fitting that, in a college that bears the name of Rachel Carson, to share four news of what happened when truth and justice faced money and power – During the seven years of my tenure as a public officer at the California Coastal Commission. The agency that regulates land use over the 1100 miles of the California coast.

My first story is the one the The smartest person in the room is almost never the most efficient.

One of the things I liked in the ribs commissioner function was all that I had learned. Coming out of Silicon Valley and the tech world, I was a novice of policy processing. So I had to read the Coast Act, the Coastal Regulations and enough laws to understand the positions taken by our staff and the claims of the plaintiffs. And every month, I should read 100 team reports to understand how to vote. Decide between the applicants, their lobbyists, the environmental community, the staff, the coast law and the law.

Meanwhile, while I was reading everything, I noticed that one of the other commissioners was not reading anything, not the staff reports, nor the law on ribs, nor the law. In fact, all he could do was count up to seven.

And this ability to count to seven makes him the most effective commissioner.

Why? Because out of twelve commissioners, seven are the number needed to get the majority in one vote.

While I was the master of facts and data, he called favors, cajoled the others and formed a coalition so that the majority of the commissioners would see the world on his side.

So my first lesson is this: you do not have to be the smartest person in the room to be the most effective. Being effective does not only mean mastering the facts, but also knowing how to move your program forward.

My second story concerns the power of Direction error on the truth

The wizards constantly use the wrong direction: they sweep their top hats, you fix it and suddenly, their assistant next to them disappears.

I was fortunate to see a magical act unfold before my eyes when real estate developers removed eight office buildings with a total area of ​​¼ million square feet – twice the size of the building. a Wal-Mart. How?

The developers wanted to build office buildings in an area reserved for farmland. The circulation of this huge project would have filled local roads not designed for this density and would have an impact on public access to the beach. Given the fact that this project violated all kinds of laws, how did these developers make it disappear – andto obtain unanimous approval of the County Supervisory Board?

Their solution was brilliant – and diabolical. They proposed that after by building these eight office buildings, they would build a residential center for adults with intellectual disabilities. They convinced the dedicated, deserving and passionate parents of this group that this project was the only hope of these families to find housing for their children (neglecting to tell them that they had located the home for the disabled in a area flooded by the tsunami).

Naturally, these parents have become steadfast supporters of the project. They brought their disabled children to the hearings and did exactly what the developers had hoped for – without having dry eyes at home, nobody could see the project anymore. The developer had shifted the focus of a project that violated local and national zoning towards a small group of deserving individuals. It was heartbreaking. And it was a world class mistake.

The lesson here is that the wrong direction is designed to distract you from the truth. This is what demagogues do – in politics and politics, by concealing a factual argument with a denominational argument. See through it. Help others understand how this kind of misguided misrepresenting their perspectives.

My third story was about the day I learned to Follow the money

The business model of real estate developers is not hard to understand: they buy farms and ranches, then build houses and sell them. And in California, if you can build 1,500 homes on a 400-acre farm, it could be worth a billion dollars. The developers realize their profit by making the difference between the cost of the land and the net profit of the houses.

But an obstacle for Californian developers is that, according to the Coast Act, you can not build on lands designated as sensitive habitats or wetlands. So, if you're a developer, reporting sensitive land is a potential loss of income. In fact, it can kill the project. However, … there is a loophole in these rules – if you are a farmer, you can plow.

So, as a result, the real estate the developers are big farmers. They buy family farms at prices well above what farmers could get by selling their crops. And then, they rent them the land to be able to continue cultivating. Proponents invest in equipment so that farmers can plant several crops each year, down to every square centimeter of their fields, and to ensure that these fields are perfectly leveled and no water can accumulate in the fields.

The first time I ran into that, I thought, "Wow, what a great deal. Developers are good for the environment, they help farmers by making all these improvements.

It took me a year and a lot of research on the puddles on the farms so that the light bulb passed over my head. Real estate developers do not care about agriculture or crops.

The promoters asked the farmers to plow the fields to ensure that no sensitive habitat would appear. And the day a developer gets the zoning approvals, the bulldozers would show up to start building the houses that would bury the farm.

The lesson here was that when I was standing in the farm field, I was not looking at a puddle of water – I was looking at a billion dollars – and I did not see it.

So when you hear or see something that is too good to be true – Follow the money. It is usually a long and winding road, but you will eventually find it.

My last story is: if you want to make changes, you must learn to communicate and inspire others.

In all these lessons, I would not want to mention the identity of your school – Rachel Carson. You all study his work your first year here. You know she was a sea biologist in the US Fish and Wildlife Service – only the second woman at work – and she was editor-in-chief of all her publications.

His 1962 book, Silent spring, launched the modern environmental movement.

The title of the book evokes a spring when all the songbirds are dead. I told the story of the damage caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, to control insects. It has sensitized a mass audience, most of them having never seen a scientific article in their lives, about how these chemicals get into the food chain, accumulate in them. animal tissues and finally reach up to the man.

DuPont and other chemical companies have threatened the Carson publisher, as well as the New Yorker and Audubon Magazine, unless the Silent spring the features have been canceled but notHowever, she persisted. The book was a moral call to arms for people to take personal action.

Rachel Carson was not the first to voice concerns about DDT, but she had communicate scientific evidence in a way that the general public can understand – she used the facts to Inspire others to take action.

In naming this college, the donors said: "Carson, like UC Santa Cruz, embodies the love of the natural world, an ethical judgment based on sound scientific principles, as well as the perseverance and courage of create a change.

Change happens when you can educate and inspire others – when you can use facts to create trust in what is possible.

For those of you who will continue in science or research, the easy part will be writing articles for your peers. The most difficult part is how to explain the "inconvenient truths" to people who may not want to hear them. How are you going to get an audience to action?

Finally, why the public service?

My work at the Coastal Commission took four days of my week each month in public hearings – sometimes on exhausting 12-hour days. And I sat on the boards of other local and national non-profit organizations.

But why serve your community, your state or your country? For me, I gave my time due to a gift that I received my first year at the university.

On my first day of school in Michigan, I met Michael Krzys, who would one day be the best man of my marriage. Knowing me well, I soon realized that I had met my partner, someone with even more curiosity, creativity and a sense of twisted humor.

But since I knew Michael, there was another part of him completely foreign that I did not understand. It would take me another 30 years.

Since the day I met him, he had pledged to provide a deep, sincere, deep, unshakeable, and for me mysterious and completely unfathomable public service. Even as a freshman, Michael already knew that his vocation was to help others and that he was determined to become a public service lawyer.

He confused me and pissed off knowing someone with so much certainty about the meaning and direction of his life. It could not have been more different from mine.

After our first year, our lives have taken different paths. When they touch again, it would be like none of us would have predicted.

I left school and joined the air force in Vietnam, and Michael and I stayed in touch by letters – I told him adventures in the army, combat aircraft, electronics and in other countries. His letters to me explained to me that he appreciated my dedication to National service, Public Service was the highest call. Each of his letters ended with him reminding me that I was destined for a different career.

When I came back from Southeast Asia, Michael was at law school and I was stationed nearby. During dinner, we do not discuss politics or the best way to save the world. He told me what he was learning this week in law school. I remember when he taught me that the best way to understand a problem was to learn to argue both sides of a case.

When I came out of the army, Michael was finishing law school. A year later, he and his new wife headed south to work for Georgia Legal Services.

I moved to Silicon Valley, and we kept a sporadic correspondence, me trying to explain the startups and Michael talked about the world of civil rights and social justice for the poor.

If possible, it seemed that his enthusiasm for what he was doing corresponded to mine. I just did not understand why he did it.

For entrepreneurs, it is difficult to understand why people spend their lives working for non-profit organizations. Why work for low wages, something that will not produce a product that will change the world?

Today, whenever I see the staff of these non-profit organizations that I support, I have a glimpse of the same passion, commitment, and sense of action that those I had heard for the first time several decades ago. For the best of them, it 's not a job, it' s a lifelong call. They remind me of what Michael could have become.

On a beautiful California day, three years in Silicon Valley and now in my second start, I received a call from someone from Michigan who was trying to locate me.

Michael and his wife were bringing children to the camp and he was killed in a car accident with a drunk driver. His wife and children survived.

It took me a long time, but as I grew older, I realized that life was not just about work, technical innovation and business. Michael and others have worked to preserve and protect the values ​​that make life worth living. And while we were making things, it was they who were transforming our society into a more just place to live.

During my stay at the Coastal Commission, there was not a day without me wondering what Michael Krzys would do. He was my model as a human being who found his own compass.

I've always hoped mine would go in the same direction …

Graduates, at the beginning of your extraordinary adventures, remember the The measure of a life is neither time nor money. It is your impact in the service of God, your family, your community and your country.

Your report card tells you if you are leaving the world, a better place.

Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

Filed under: California Coastal Commission, launching speech, conservation |