It has been a busy few days, and perhaps that is why it took me till this weekend to actually sit down and think about the loss of three individuals whose work and efforts have been part of the modern zeitgeist and post-Internet society. These people we lost were ones we admired, respected, and hoped to emulate.
Leila Janah, who represented the best of our industry by showing the rest of us how technology can provide hope and power change, passed at the young age of 37 to a rare form of cancer. Another luminary, Clay Christensen, who used his words and ideas to transform industries, companies, and people, also fell prey to cancer, the scourge of modern times. And then there is Kobe Bryant.
In the discussions around these individuals, no one talked about the colleges they attended, the money they made, or how famous they were — though their fame and fortune were implied.
Instead, every single mention talked about their impact. Kobe reshaped how people valued and viewed basketball players. Christensen’s work and his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, is going to be his lasting legacy because it consistently explains the unexplainable — our ever-shifting world of technology. They were both stars shining brightly on a global stage.
For me, Leila was a true beacon of hope, promise, and a better future for so many in Africa and other parts of the world. She was the founder of Samasource and LXMI. Through Sama, she wanted to upgrade the lives of many lower-income people by teaching them the skills that would help them benefit from the digital economy. I never got to spend time with her, and that will remain a regret — for her work and efforts were in sharp contrast to the predatory behavior of modern technology technocrats that walk the corridors of amoral companies, such as Facebook and Juul.
I never got to meet Kobe, either. But I did spend about twenty minutes with the good professor. We talked about everything from Steve Jobs to venture capital to impatient capital and its downstream effects. I wish I had more time with him so that I could have discussed his long-standing thesis on how one should measure one’s life. In one of his most important essays he writes:
I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched. I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.
At the end that is the only KPI that matters.
February 10, 2020, San Francisco