Can I just say that I love Fred and George here? Their uprising against evil, authoritative rule is inspiring – vive la resistance! It’s sort of neat too how we get multiple examples all at once of kids out-magic’ing grownups: Fred and George’s uprising, Hermione’s sneak pimples. (Is this the first time we’ve seen evidence of students out-magic’ing adults? I can’t remember.) And then everything/everybody from Dumbledore’s locked office to the Hogwarts teachers to Peeves conspire to support them. It really is a beautiful turning point in the series.
The James and Sirius bullying Snape scene is so gross. It reminds me so much of the Death Eaters levitating those muggles upside down in the air so that you could see their underwear at the Quidditch World Cup – and I’m sure that similarity was intentional by JKR.
My Harry Potter book club has speculated before about how a wizard from each house might “go dark” and this is probably what it looks like for a Gryffindor, letting power and glory go to their head. This is probably the best reminder we get that, although James and Sirius are “good guys,” they came from wealthy, old, pureblood families and may well have grown up as spoiled, entitled pricks.
Of course adolescence can be a dark, confusing time for any teenager and we do have evidence that later in their lives they matured into more thoughtful adults. Frankly, the character journey of them becoming thoughtful adults given this low starting point is a tale I would like to know. Regardless, it gives Sirius real gravitas when he tells Harry that the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters; he knows first hand what it’s like to move along that spectrum.
My heart really, really breaks for Harry through this, though. A boy who never knows his father has a tendency to idolize his memory and ugh, what a cold slap in the face that his romanticized version of his father might not quite be real. This entire series is about growing up and this right here is one of the biggest “innocence lost” moments of them all.
It has been 30 years to the day since my dad died. 30 YEARS! 3/4 of my life! I don’t know which is more sobering, that it is the 30th anniversary of his death . . . or that it has already been 10 years since I pondered the 20th anniversary of his death! It’s crazy to me that many of my younger friends and colleagues never even lived at the same time he was alive, never breathed the same air that he did.
As I do every May 28th, I listened to recordings of Dad’s memorial service and it is so heartwarming to hear from those who knew him at different stages of his life. They all had very different relationships with him, yet clear themes and commonalities are evident throughout their stories.
Were Dad alive, he would be 75 now – and I can’t help but wonder how he would be! He was already quite unyielding; would he now be a crotchety old man, set in his ways? What would he think of the life – and family – I have made for myself? How would he take to his role as grandfather? Would we call him Nonno, after his Italian mother, or Big Daddy, which is what we called his father – or something else entirely?
Crotchety or not, I have a feeling that Dad would have warmed to his grandchild in ways that he never felt permitted to with his son and I really wish he were alive if only to see that side of him – and for all the other reasons too! I wish he could have met my amazing, brilliant, strong partner. I wish our joyful, rambunctious, cheeky two-year-old could have met him.
Our child does get to know him a little bit through pictures and music. On May 28th we always play recordings of Dad singing his favorite folk songs. It helps me remember his voice and makes it possible for my partner and child to hear the voice of someone important they never had the chance to meet in real life.
Our toddler is going through a phase, though, in which the only music he ever wants to hear is different versions of Wheels On The Bus. I’m sure Dad could have done a hell of a rendition of Wheels On The Bus and the fantasy of him singing it dotingly over and over again to his utterly rapt grandchild brings a smile to my face . . . but the sad reality is that Dad just isn’t able to take requests anymore.
Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away ere break of day To seek the pale enchanted gold.
I have founded or led eight climate tech startups. I’ve had one really big success, a few smaller successes, and a few “learning experiences” along the way – but every one of them would have had a better outcome if there hadn’t been tremendous systemic impediments to launching, commercializing, and scaling climate tech startups.
After selling my most recent venture last year, I resolved that my next great adventure would be to work on the problem rather than in it. To paraphrase my mentor: the system drives behaviors and behaviors drive outcomes. It is time to fix the system!
I intended to spend months thinking great thoughts, having conversations, and figuring out how to maximize my impact in transforming the climate tech commercialization system. As has been the case with basically every career move I’ve ever made, though, the universe had other plans!
At exactly the same time that I was thinking about how to fix the system, two incredible organizations – Rocky Mountain Institute and New Energy Nexus – were joining forces to initiate a bold new change model. A mutual climate VC connection introduced me to their principals and I flew out in January to discuss their initiative.
Originally I intended the discussion to be advisory but our time together was so exothermic that it quickly became clear that we needed to work more closely together than that. Their theory of change matched up with exactly the challenges I had encountered in my previous ventures, the people in their organizations were exactly my kind of mission-focused spiritual warriors, and the leaders heading their organizations were already climate heroes of mine. What began as a quick trip to help out a new initiative quickly became an alluring call to adventure!
Katie and I weren’t looking for a big change. We had a great life in North Carolina, surrounded by family and friends, excellent care for our child, and Katie thriving in her job at Duke. However, we believe in living a life of service and adventure, not comfort and complacency, so, by answering this new call to adventure, we are living those values.
As such, we are in the process of moving to Boulder, Colorado at the moment – impeded, but not prohibited, by the COVID crisis. I have already started my new role as CEO of this joint venture between Rocky Mountain Institute and New Energy Nexus: Third Derivative, which is a fully integrated engine for climate innovation. We find, fund, hone, and scale the world’s most-promising technologies to achieve larger, faster reductions in global carbon emissions.
In the meantime, it has been a whirlwind of activity building and leading an awesome team, most of whom have never met each other in person but all of whom, working together, managed to take Third Derivative from powerpoint to launch in less than 90 days! This isn’t my first adventure and it won’t be my last (My first ever blog post was about an adventure, as was my post announcing my return to the US.), but it is an incredible privilege to serve this team and this mission and I just can’t wait for this adventure to unfold!
Last year Smart OES was acquired by Ingenero, one of our corporate strategic investors! I’ve been meaning to blog about this momentous event but the acquisition itself and then major moves in other areas of my life (More on that soon!) have kept me busy. Finally I have a chance to reflect back on Smart OES – the good, the bad, and the ugly!
I cofounded Smart OES years ago and what a journey it was! Through many highs and lows we raised three rounds of funding, secured paying customers, earned a patent, and validated our novel approach to reducing energy use in nonresidential buildings 20+%. By many metrics – revenue, job creation, acquisition – we were a “success.”
By other metrics, though, we were a “failure.” We set out with Smart OES to change the entire behind-the-meter energy chain, to turn every load in every building into a virtual battery. If we had met our epic, global ambitions, we would have reduced global energy use by more than 1% and built a 50 GW [virtual, globally distributed] power plant. In the end, we didn’t come close to that scale of impact, which is a disappointment.
As much as I would love to pat myself on the back for a job well done and do a victory lap, the climate crisis needs solutions of epic scale urgently so I’m wont to reflect back on Smart OES through the lens of, “What could we have done better to increase our scale of impact?”
Lesson: “Success” is complicated. It isn’t binary and it can be measured differently across different metrics. It is critical to be clear (with others but, most importantly, with yourself) about what “success” means for your venture.
Right Business, Wrong Team
I have learned through previous leadership roles that I thrive when working at the big picture level, which means that I necessarily need to surround myself with detail-oriented “doers” for the venture to succeed. In partnering with my cofounder to launch this venture, I mistook his detail-orientation for a propensity for getting things done. My mistake cost us double:
Many detailed tasks fell onto my plate, where they languished because, again, that’s not my forte.
My cofounder was so obsessed with details and micromanagement that everything took much longer than it should have.
My cofounder was also supposed to handle fundraising but very little of his older network from more traditional energy turned out to be a good fit for our early stage IOT venture. As a consequence, the vast majority of fundraising fell to me.
Lesson: Know thyself – and know thy cofounders! It’s easy to unwind a relationship with an employee who isn’t working out but much harder to divorce a cofounder.
To fill the gaps in our management team, we brought on a top notch operations exec. He was great – exactly the kind of “doer” I needed. But he, like my cofounder, came from the world of large business, not of startups. They were both very risk averse and it slowed us way down. They didn’t get the concept of an MVP and would hold up product releases for months trying to squeeze in more features that were critical in their minds (not in the minds of our customers). They would edit down marketing and pitch materials, worried about overhyping our offering, until they were so neutered as not to be very compelling at all.
Lesson: Be entrepreneurial! It seems obvious but it really is incredibly hard to build a bold, disruptive startup from a position of risk aversion, fear of failure, and timidity!
Part and parcel of the big company ethos they brought was a tendency toward seeking consensus that also slowed us down. Myriad iterations meant it took months every time we updated our financial model or pitchdeck and weeks just to agree on the wording in informal investor updates. Often, by the time the document was finished, it was already out of date!
Lesson: Be fast! A startup is a temporary organization searching for a scalable, repeatable business model. Its process requires rapid iterations of testing hypotheses in the market and adapting as new information comes to light. Execute those iterations too slowly and it cogs up the entire system.
Although the rest these two members of the management team were smart, talented, and experienced, they didn’t understand our problem space or our product very well. They viewed our venture as an opportunity to build a successful, lucrative business, but fundamentally weren’t excited about the work we were doing. This limited their motivation to find creative solutions to hard problems and caused a disconnect with the rest of our staff, who were very mission-motivated.
Lesson: Startups need passion at all levels. Passion gets startups through tough times and pushes everyone to achieve great things.
Finally, one of our officers was very toxic. He believed everyone else was wrong and would blow up without provocation or notice. Often he was perfectly well behaved but the times he wasn’t were inexcusable. I spent a lot of time protecting the rest of the team from him, which obviously wasn’t productive. I kept telling myself that, as we grew, he would become more marginalized and his toxic impact would be reduced; that turned out to be a fantasy.
Lesson: Eradicate toxicity! Starting up a company is hard enough without out it – kill it with fire!
Lesson: Address tough decisions now! Kicking the can down the road just exacerbates the problem.
We raised $2M over three rounds but it all came in incredibly slowly. That meant we were always fundraising, rather than raising a discrete round then shifting into execution mode. It’s hard to run the product, operations, marketing, etc. of a business when you’re always fundraising. I wasn’t as present as I needed to be for the rest of my team and it showed in our productivity.
Binge on fundraising. Rip the bandaid off, be done with it, and then move on – even if that means raising less. A founder has to be able to focus on the rest of the business.
Raise smart money. Our investors were great and they really believed in us. The vast majority of them, though, didn’t offer us any additional value beyond their money. Seek out money that comes with additional connections, advice, and especially the ability to provide follow-on funding.
Smart OES was a wild ride and I’m really proud of what we accomplished. My heart hurts a bit, though, for the potential that we didn’t realize. At the end of the day, I am personally responsible for those shortcomings. The team I built wasn’t the right fit and, once that fact became clear, I didn’t react quickly enough to address it. Some of the lessons presented above are obvious and some are lessons I already knew – it goes to show how even experienced entrepreneurs can fall into familiar traps.
Stay tuned for some exciting news about my next adventure – and do call me out if you see me making any of these same mistakes; the climate cannot afford missteps that slow the progress of innovation!
I think Harry is so much better at resisting the Imperius Curse than he is at Occlumency because . . . he had a better teacher for resisting the Imperius Curse. That’s right, a Death Eater pretending to be a mad ex-auror is better at teaching than career educator Severus Snape. Fake Moody prepared the students for what they would go up against and then let them practice defending against it.
We didn’t see much of it but I assume there was some debriefing with the watching students of what worked/didn’t work as each student tried to fend off the curse. Compare this to Snape’s pedagogy, which seems to be throwing Harry into the deep end of the pool and hoping he would magically (literally) learn to swim.
Chapter 18: The leader of my Harry Potter book club pointed out that Hermione sounds a lot like Mrs. Weasley in this chapter, chastising Sirius for taking unnecessary risks. Oedipus much, Ron??
Chapter 19: It’s interesting that teaching is the first thing that Harry has been really good at since flying. Now that I think about it, it’s a little disappointing that everything at which Harry is really good – flying, Defense Against the Dark Arts, teaching – seems to be innate instead of developed. He was born (and/or made via the rebounded curse) exceptional rather than working hard to achieve something exceptional.
We cheer for him anyway because he is our protagonist and we don’t view him as a spoiled prima donna because he was so mistreated as a child and – despite that upbringing – he remains kind and level headed. Still, it’s a missed opportunity to show him earn something. I guess that’s coherent, though, with a world in which you’re either born a wizard or not. Fortunately some of our other characters like Neville have positive development arcs through hard work.
I wonder why Slytherin House remained at Hogwarts after Salazar Slytherin left. It would seem that someone so passionate about his views on the worthiness of students might have left and started a competitive school – and surely the students/parents who agreed with him would have followed him.
Along the same lines, it seems weird that Hogwarts would keep a house dedicated to the students whom Slytherin specifically preferred . . . without Slytherin around to nurture them. It would seem more natural to me that they would have done away with Slytherin House altogether and sorted future students into the other three houses based on their non-Slytherin attributes – and those non-Slytherin attributes would have been nurtured, probably for the good of all!
On the topic of thestrals, this continues the theme of “mundanization” of magic found in the last book. The first books are all wide eyed wonder at magic: carriages that pull themselves, a majestic feast that magically appears on the tables. Now we pull the curtains back and realize that those are the results of the work of creatures, not some fantastical spells.
In addition to the ethical questions this raises, it also somewhat diminishes the notion of magic as this be-all end-all super power. While I dislike this trajectory, I think it is coherent with the darker tone of the later books and is another way of demonstrating the loss of innocence of the main characters. The HP novels are about growing up and what is growing up if not the loss of magic?
I often thought the same metaphor might apply to the elves leaving Middle Earth as well. Growing up is sad in some ways but also beautiful.
To follow up on my recent post about considering leaving facebook, I have decided not to leave but to change/refine my rules of engagement. Broadly this means only visiting facebook intentionally for a limited scope of reasons. Specifically, for each of the use cases I laid out in the previous post, this is my current approach:
Social Graph / Rolodex / Discovering Whom I Know in Various Places / Discovering Social Worlds Colliding: I’m continuing to use facebook for this purpose, as well as LinkedIn.
Sharing Updates and Pictures: I very occasionally share significant personal updates on facebook. Mostly I post small stuff on twitter, more substantive updates here on this blog, and professional updates on LinkedIn. I keep pictures in Google Photos and post periodic links to those pictures in facebook. I share pictures of my child – which are in much greater demand than pictures of me – through links in a monthly email update to family and friends who have opted in.
Seeing Updates and Pictures: I keep up with content from others on a one-to-one basis via text and Signal. This means I miss out on some important updates but it also means that my interactions with others are generally more personal.
Groups: I left most of my facebook groups and remained in the ~5 I was using the most. Most of my small group communication is now done on Signal, with some on Discord.
Supporting and Honoring Others: I’m continuing to use facebook for this purpose.
Asking Advice: I’m continuing to use facebook for this purpose, as well as Signal and twitter.
Birthdays: I’m continuing to use facebook for this purpose, as well as LinkedIn.
Fundraiser: I’m continuing to use facebook for this purpose.
My new normal is spending about 10 targeted minutes a day on facebook and posting most of my content on other platforms. If you would like to engage more substantively with me, please join me on Signal! It’s an excellent messaging app run by a transparent nonprofit.
Thank you to everyone who provided thoughtful feedback/advice, including the following (in no particular order) suggestions:
Trustroots (a facebook competitor)
Telegram for chat, groups, and media sharing among friends (a Signal competitor)
When using facebook, let your notifications be your feed rather than browsing through the overwhelming amount of info in your feed.
Shut down your account and start a new, bare bones account so that Zuck won’t have your info.
Change facebook settings so that you don’t see targeted ads.
Use facebook on desktop only to eliminate the temptation to browse it mindlessly on your phone.
Cull your friends list to increase Signal-to-Noise Ratio.
Mixing social engagement with news is overwhelming so eliminate news from your facebook feed.
More people should have blogs so that we can use feedly (or similar) as our feed.
Tonight we lost Max, our English Cream Golden Retriever of nine and a half years.
We adopted Max in 2010. Back then he was an energetic three year old with a penchant for counter cruising and eating things he wasn’t supposed to. He had more than a little separation anxiety from having been abandoned by previous owners, which we never understood; he was the sweetest boy we had ever known! By 2020 he had slowed down considerably and his hips weren’t quite as limber but he was still just as sweet and just as devoted to his pack.
Max joined our pack in Houston and moved with us to Chapel Hill, where he had a chance to chase deer and play in the snow. He also spent a lot of time being a free-running country dog in Hot Springs, a turkey-hunting mountain dog in Asheville, and a sandy beach dog in the Outer Banks. He was with us through some of the most significant moments of our lives: marriage, a PhD, business failure, business success, pregnancy loss, and the birth of our child. He took it all in stride and was a source of comfort throughout.
Max seemed to be missing the “retriever” gene as he had little interest in balls, sticks, and the like – and even less interest in bringing anything he did fetch back to us. He was very vocal and had a very particular “arooo” bay.
He loved being a sun dog, lying out on our deck, squinting and panting until he had to come in to cool off. He loved barking at anyone and anything outside our front door but wagging his tail and licking anyone who actually came inside. His eternal optimism that he might be the recipient of our food earned him the label Max The Ever Hopeful. His penchant for getting into light trouble earned him the label Max The Mischievous!
His last month with us was one of the best of his life. Katie and I were working from home so he got much more attention – and many more plates to lick – than he was accustomed to. His last day was idyllic and included steak gristle off our plates after dinner. While I was putting our child down to sleep, Max collapsed on the floor and couldn’t get back up. Katie was with him as he panted for a few minutes and then just stopped breathing. His belly was full and his pack was with him.
Now we are coping with a house (and home office for who knows how long) that feels emptier. There is no wagging tail when we open the front door. There is no furry chin on one of our knees, waiting for a scratch. There is no furry barrel chest to pat. When I walk by the dog bed to give a final goodnight pet on my way to bed, it is empty. We keep putting our plates down on the kitchen floor out of habit but there is no one to clean them off. Even our toddler has noticed. “Dog gone?” “Max gone!”
While it’s true that Max is gone from our physical world, his mark on our pack will last forever. He was our first baby. He had a good, long life and was cared for immeasurably. He was – and always will be – a good boy.