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Things Sarah Palin Taught Me About Business

October 2, 2008

I figure (hope) that I’ve only got about another month to enjoy the incredible spectacle that is Sarah Palin’s meteoric rise to the treacherous depths of our political system, so I need to not only enjoy it, but learn from it. There must be myriad lessons in how an evangelical sex-kitten can assume a position of such potential power! And keep the entire nation simultaneously laughing and crying. Oh Churchy Spice, you are a woman of our times (gasp), and we will all learn from you.

We’re only a couple hours away from the Palin v. Biden debate, I am giddy with glee to watch it and can’t concentrate on anything. So rather than totally waste the afternoon, let’s take a look at what we BizChicks can learn from her.

1. Being cute helps. Let’s finally start admitting that being good-looking is an innate advantage in business. Being cute opens doors because people want to be around you. Being cute distracts men, at least initially – and yes, I asked lots of guys in business if this is true and they all said yes. Being charming and folksy and endearing makes people want to spend time with you. I know it’s a bit controversial, but how else do you explain the fact that Sarah Palin, (who is just cute as a button in a kinky-librarian-next-door sort of way) is one election and one heart beat away from being president of the United States despite being so incredibly vapid that she can’t even make up a fake answer about what magazines and newspapers she reads? (For God’s sake, you’re a politician, just lie and say “The New York Times and The Economist.) If you’re cute, use it for all it’s worth, own it.

2. Being cute IS NOT ENOUGH! No matter how cute you are, eventually you’re going to have to say something, and people will listen. Do not be an idiot and walk into a meeting or a business venture so secure in your fabulousness that you neglect details like an ability to discuss your business plan, your execution strategy and your general insight into your market. I’m sure you think I’m being crass, but a common “complaint” I hear from angels and VC’s is that so many entrepreneurs are just so sure of themselves that they don’t listen to criticism, they don’t learn from others (or even their own mistakes) and they always think they’re right even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Kinda, you know, like Sarah Palin thinking she can be president even though her entire foreign policy experience is knowing that Alaska is only separated from Russia by a narrow maritime border and she has no idea what the Bush Doctrine is. I’m just saying. If you can’t discuss, specifically, your strategies and why they make sense, you aren’t gonna sound any better than she does.

3. You will be judged by the company you keep. McCain was a generally respected guy until a few months ago. Even those, like myself, who dreaded the very prospect of a McCain presidency were willing to admit that McCain was smart and experienced. Until he selected Churchy Spice as a running mate. Having been steadily rising in the polls until it was a virtual dead-heat between Obama and McCain, he is now losing credibility on a daily basis every time Churchy Spice opens her mouth. Why is McCain getting lampooned for it? Because he hired her, and in so doing drew into question his ability to make strong and rational decisions about important matters. He thinks she could do his job for him. (And if that’s true, what does that say about the job he would do?) So, when you’re building your team, choose carefully, because you will be judged by it.

4. Hubris will kill you. Nothing makes people want to knock you off your high horse quite like the unmitigated Hubris of declaring yourself capable of doing something so outlandish that everyone knows is hogwash. Or declaring yourself the best, the coolest, or – and you’ve all heard it – that you have the next Google. Think back to past candidates for office who were far less than qualified but didn’t fare to harshly in the public spotlight. Remember Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate? He wasn’t qualified either, but he didn’t storm the castle like an heir apparent and declare himself untouchable and godlike, so the media gave him a pass, just kind of dismissed him. Ironically, I was just discussing this with a VC today, who echoed the sentiment. An entrepreneur who is aware of their weaknesses, able to identify them, ask for help, build a team around them is the hallmark of a good entrepreneur. Thinking you can do it all, by yourself, better than anyone else ever has is a recipe for disaster.

5. If you are killing your team’s chances of success you need to get the F out of the way. Know when to say when, really. If she’s as committed to a successful McCain presidency as she says she is, she would have stepped down already. The only reason that she is still there is pure ego mixed with the kind of country grit befitting a bumpkin with a shotgun. She is killing the McCain candidacy and with it the Republican’s chances of keeping the white house. (Thank you Churchy Spice, for this, I will always be grateful!) But seriously, every great company was started by an entrepreneur who had a great idea. Bringing that idea to market should become larger than the entrepreneur – a good company is greater than the sum of its parts! The gutters of Startup Alley are littered with great technologists who thought they were CEO’s and drove their companies until they died for lack of experienced leadership. Don’t be one of them. Bring in people who are smarter than you, more experienced than you and let them drive you to success. Do what you do best, don’t try to be all and do all.

6. Our beliefs should be rooted in something more than platitudes. Look, this is simple. I, for instance, REALLY would love to see a woman in the white house. I am a feminist to my core. But, I don’t want just any woman in office. I want a good, smart, strong, qualified woman who can do the job. In all seriousness, diversity is great. Equal opportunity is great. But neither one of them are great at the expense of competence. Build a team based on people who can do their jobs, and nothing else. Promoting someone just because of their gender, religion or skin color is not doing anyone any favors. And promoting people who can’t do their jobs and generally make you look like a fool is really bad business.

Now, time to go make popcorn. This is gonna be good!

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