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Our man at Stanford, part XII: Final thoughts and lessons learned

This has to be one of the key places to see kiwis you know overseas, along with the pool bar at the Sheraton Fiji, and virtually any pub in Shepherds Bush in London. It’s comforting, after 6 weeks living in the states, to hear a kiwi accent across the room. We really do say ‘sux’ instead of six.  And I’m cool with that! I love you Raylene!

My course has come to an end, so this is my final blog in this series. After a great day out with my new mate Grant from Education NZ where we went to the famous Pebble Beach golf course (not to play – we can’t afford that on a public servant’s salary), I’m contemplating my imminent return to the real world. 

Reflecting back on my time at Stanford, I’ve been reflecting on the key lessons learned from my time here (not an exhaustive list):

  • I’ve learnt that the world of Silicon Valley is pretty unusual and special. There is a song about Hollywood which says ‘all the stars, that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas’. It’s similar in the Valley with Entrepreneurs.  EVERYONE is a running a startup, everyone is expecting to make their fortune with a new app, or piece of technology. It’s exciting, and alluring. This is the modern day Camelot, the place to be if you want to take a tech company to success. I met with a number of Kiwis on that journey, including Priya (a Kiwi running a start-up at the prestigious StartX accelerator), and Brendan (taking his Kiwi company Sellshed to the Valley). Inspiring to meet these people who have a great idea and are willing to work at it.

  • In my first blog I mentioned the so-called ‘unicorn’ companies – those with an initial valuation of over $1 billion in their Initial Public Offering. Since being here, I’ve found out that Venture Capitalists are now looking so-called ‘Decacorns’ – companies worth over $10 billion at IPO. And even more bizarrely, they do exist…
  • I learned that, while I admire American culinary creativity, some things are not meant to be made into soda drinks (Peanut Butter and Jelly Soda? Really??) 

  • In Silicon Valley, everyone is creative, even the cleaning staff at our hostel. When I arrived, I thought the room number outside my room was a bit bland and needed to be ‘kiwi-ed up’ a bit. 

…So I adorned it with a small symbol of home…

Clearly that wasn’t acceptable as the cleaning staff changed it…

So the next day I reset it again…

On and on it went for most of the time I was there, this sort of passive-aggressive silent battle for supremacy. Until one day I came back and saw they’d set up a creative alternative as a peace offering:

Nice idea, and I appreciated the gesture, but it kept blowing off.  I countered with the classic…

…but again, that wasn’t acceptable. Encouraged by their conciliatory offer, the next day I tried a different configuration with Sellotape…

…but I think sticking things to the sign was also frowned on and we were back to…

Then finally, my silent, invisible adversary struck upon the genius configuration of this:

…and so we reached a happy compromise – me, with my symbol of national pride, they with their room name intact and no adhesive required. Détente.

  • I can reliably inform you that the law that states one sock will always be lost every time you wash your clothes holds true here too – I came here with 10 pairs of perfectly matched socks; I am returning with a miscellany of mismatched footwear. Bizarre.
  • I learned that while we Kiwis think of ourselves as incredibly creative, we didn’t invent the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life – a Jandal with a bottle opener built into it. Inspired genius. (Modelled here by my new Canadian friend – his face is red because he’s been demoing that bottle opener for a few hours…). 

  • I learned some surprising facts, such as that the impact of unhappy moments are more depleting to you than the impact of positive moments are fulfilling – ie, we humans are almost predisposed to negativity. If we are shown a photo with 999 smiling faces and one angry face, we will find it much more quickly than if we are shown a photo of 999 angry faces with one happy one. One practical application of this fact is that you should always offer 3 positive pieces of feedback for every 1 negative piece – unless it’s to your spouse, then the ratio goes UP to 5:1! (Don’t believe me? Try it with a lower ratio. And enjoy the spare room.)
  • I learned that the police in Palo Alto ride bicycles, wear skimpy shorts with tanned and muscled legs, and can issue tickets for being drunk in charge of a bicycle. A friend told me.

  • I learnt (to my extreme pain) that it is possible to spend over $300 for sushi. Per person.  Ouch!  An experience of a lifetime that I hope never to repeat.
  • But mostly I learned that I have 162 new friends (some of whom are Australian, and at least one Russian!), who are all clever, intelligent, smart, socially conscious and with a genuine desire to create a better world. We are separated by many things – distance, age, language, culture – but the ties that bind us all are much more important – our humanity. …sorry, got a little soppy there for a minute, Northern California must have rubbed off on me a bit!

Final tally on the weight: I ended my time here +1.1kg from when I arrived. However, I consider that an absolute triumph, as the caterers at the hostel we stayed at created superb food – they clearly wanted to turn us all into fatty boombas, and very nearly succeeded.

Final tally on exercise: More than I have ever done in my normal life. Probably not enough still, but hopefully the start of some good habits. We had a lecture on living to 120 and if I am going to crack three digits, I’ll need my full faculties and to get rid of my pot belly.

Thanks all for reading these missives; I’ve enjoyed writing them, hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. Thanks to the team at Idealog, and to Kate at NZTE, for their help in pulling them together. Thanks to Pete and NZTE for supporting me on this amazing experience, but mostly thanks to my family (Katherine, Jack, Joshua and Toby) for letting me go. Coming your way, a nice bottle of American soda…

Yours, El Presidente!

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