Engaging Conversation at Menlo College Authors Roundtable

Engaging Conversation at Menlo College Authors Roundtable

On April 1, 2015, six influential business authors from the Bay Area had a discussion at Menlo College about writing and local, regional, and national affairs. Discussion ranged far and wide, and included the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Ellen Pao, the identity of the Millennials, California’s water shortage, the future of Silicon Valley, and inspirations for book writing. The event was the “Hear the Conversation” Authors Roundtable at Menlo College, inspired by the Algonquin Round Table, a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits who dined together regularly in the 1920s.

Moderated by Dr. Richard Moran, President of Menlo College and the author of several books on workplace issues and modern business interaction, the authors included:

  • Jeffrey Pfeffer. He is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, author of 14 books, including his latest Leadership B.S.: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time.
  • Paul Freiberger, an award-winning author and former journalist for NPR, InfoWorld, San Francisco Examiner, San Jose Mercury News, and The Harvard Business Review. He is the author of Fire in the Valley.
  • Leslie Berlin is Project Historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University. She has written extensively about Silicon Valley, including The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, a biography of Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the microchip and co-founder of Intel.
  • Lee Caraher is a CEO and communication strategist who started Double Forte as a new kind of communications firm. Her first book is Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide To Making It Work At Work.
  • Lisa Kay Solomon, innovation strategist who recently delivered a TEDx talk and co-authored the bestseller, Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change.

The dialogue touched on the ritual of writing. Moran quoted Orwell who described writing as “an exhausting struggle” and Hemingway who penned it as “to sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Caraher shared some humorous vignettes about her research for her book about Millennials, and she offered some sobering commentary on the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “It’s gonna get fixed because a whole generation of young people are affected by it.”

Berlin described her own style as “writing as spew,” often by hand and then refining. I’m a really good refiner.” Solomon likes getting up early to write. Freiberger, who has written thousands of articles as a journalist, “blasts them out” according to deadline, and cites his book Fire in the Valley about the development of the personal computer industry as his proudest piece of work. “I stayed up all night to write it,” he recalled.

“I write in my head,” explained Pfeffer. “I write no more than two drafts from an outline. It’s almost not a conscious process.” He confessed, “I went into academia because I wanted to control my time [as a writer].”

Moran said “all of my books were written on planes in small increments,” saying that it allowed him to avoid plane-chatter. “How many words do I write a day? One, because if I write one, others will follow.”

Freiberger suggested that a way to get noticed as a beginning writer is to become a blogger, or a “thought-leader,” as he termed it, which may lead to other writing opportunities.

When asked how to deal with writer’s block, Berlin said, “I ask myself what new information do I need?” Solomon replied, “I ask myself what feels true? Then I trace back to the last sentence I wrote that answers that.”

Talk of Silicon Valley included:

  • Wealth: Freiberger suggested, “Soon the Valley will become a place for people in helicopters.”
  • Sustainability: Pfeffer offered, “There is no incentive to invest in infrastructure and the water.” Moran noted, “Water is already twice as expensive as gas.” Freiberger laughed, “Business is not planning with housing and parking for their workers, but on the other hand, there has been great innovation with self-driving cars.”
  • Society: The social scene was summed up by Freiberger, “Culture is shaped by what people say about each other.” Pfeffer was quick to modify Freiberger’s statement, “Culture is shaped by what people do to each other.”

Before long, the talk ended, respecting the words of Algonquin columnist Franklin Pierce, “Too much truth is uncouth.”

More author talks are being planned at Menlo College in the months ahead.