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raceAhead: U.S. Army Surgeon General on Training Empathy

July 18, 2018, 8:43 PM UTC

Short up-top today, I’m taking a day or so to process what I learned at Brainstorm TECH to fold into a longer piece. But I will say this: I came away from the event more optimistic about the world than I was going in.

Part of the reason is the serious brain power that I watched being applied to the big issues of our time, from cybersecurity to the need to address the current and potential negative impact of technology in the world.

But really, the big theme was leadership, and the need for leaders at every level to think more deeply about the impact of their work on the lives of others. It gave me both life and hope.

Here’s just one example. My panel on digital transformation featured Marc Leibowitz, Johnson & Johnson; Jeremy King, CTO, Walmart Labs; Christine Landry, Group Chief Executive, Consumer and Industrials Conduent; Cathy Polinsky, CTO, Stitch Fix and Lt. General Nadja Y. West, Surgeon General, U.S. Army. An audience member asked this question. What does it take for an organization to survive a radical digital transformation?

Their answers, which came without hesitation, were transparency, openness, communication and adaptability.

But Lt. General West, an extraordinary person who is tasked with the transformation of the way the military dispenses medical care, led with empathy. She talked about the need to understand how the systems and technologies now and in future, not only impact your customers, but the broader communities in which you operate.

“If we can train empathy, we can make almost any change happen.”

More on that soon.

On Point

Andreesen Horowitz’s Connie Chan promoted to general partnerThe news is particularly notable because the storied venture firm has never promoted from within before, breaking with their longstanding tradition of requiring general partners to have company operating experience. The policy, designed to make sure general partners can be value-added board members, seems outdated, they said. “She is the first exception to the rule,” Jeff Jordan, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, told Fortune. “We feel like the firm has gotten to a level where there’s a lot of support for first-time founders. Connie brings many new strengths to the general partnership.”Fortune

Black-owned make-up line surpasses Kylie Jenner’s company in valuation
Shockingly, the three-year old Pat McGrath Labs hit the valuation milestone without the assistance of Kris Jenner. The company recently inked a $60 million investment from New York-based investment firm Eurazeo Brands, placing the company’s valuation at or near the $1 billion mark. The UK-born makeup artist was hired by Giorgio Armani to start a make-up line in 1999, working under her own brand, and has been a Sephora fixture since 2016. She has been called “the most influential makeup artist in the world,” by Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour. By all means, check Black twitter for the color commentary.
New York Times

Remains of black people forced into post-slavery plantation labor have been discovered
The remains of about 95 people were found on a construction site outside of Houston, Tex. earlier this year; this week archeologists announced that the bones most likely belonged to black laborers who had been ensnared in the state’s “convict lease” system, which allowed prisoners to be outsourced to plantations to work and live under slavery-type conditions, a loophole to slavery allowed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Experts estimate that the burial field was used from 1878 to about 1911. Of all the bodies exhumed, all but one were male, and some were formerly enslaved. Archeologists plan to study the bones to learn more about the impacts of slavery on human health.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

The first black astronaut to walk in space is bringing STEM education to a community near you
Former astronaut and physiologist Bernard Harris Jr. took over as CEO of The National Math and Science Initiative last fall, a Dallas-based organization aiming to shore up STEM education in the U.S. by providing teacher training and delivering programs directly to under-represented populations. In this informative Q&A, Harris shares his strategy to minimizing the gap in education. “We start in third grade,” he says, specifically targeting girls and kids of color who are typically not encouraged to enter STEM fields. “We use professional development for teachers to help them more effectively handle STEM education and programs.” Harris, who grew up poor in Houston, says that inspiring kids not only gets them into the workforce, it transforms lives. “In high school, I was following in the footsteps of the astronauts of the day,” he says. “My dream of becoming an astronaut lifted me out of poverty.”
Dallas Innovates

Ten years later: Ai Weiwei remembers the Sichuan earthquake
In May, 2008, an earthquake reduced much of Sichuan province into rubble; some 70,000 people were killed and more than 5,000 students were crushed in their schools. The artist has been a vocal critic of the government’s response to the disaster, he even used recovered materials from the rubble and turned them into sculpture/memorial markers. In this essay, Ai continues to critique China’s government, asking questions about construction standards and disaster preparedness. “[W]as the death toll simply evidence of a corrupt political system: a system that believes life is insignificant and that tragedies are easily erased?” he posits. “Throughout China’s long history, almost every tragedy has been covered up; no facts are revealed, no inconvenient memories persist.”
The Art Newspaper

A short film on being trans in high school
Rebellion is the star of Kiki and the MXfits, a film created by Brazilian-born filmmaker Natalia Leite working closely with transgender teens, as they navigate the fraught issue of identity as outsiders in the brutal world of high school. The short is part of an ongoing video series called Queeroes curated by Transparent creator and Emmy award-winner Jill Soloway. Sponsored by Gilead, the series pairs promising filmmakers with Hollywood mentors to create films that better reflect the lived experiences LGBTQ+ people. Please enjoy, share and release your inner Kiki.


First and foremost, we meet as human beings who have much in common: A heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, the capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel