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Entrepreneur Steve Blank’s 2019 UCSC Graduation Speech

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former California Coastal Commissioner (from 2006-2013) Steve Clean will give the commencement speech at the UC Santa Cruz Rachel Carson School on June 15, with tales about what he calls when “truth and justice faced money and power.” An excerpt from the speech is under. This Q&A concerning the speech and Blank’s perspective on California conservation, entrepreneurship, and policy, has been flippantly edited for clarity.

Eric Simons: I’d like to talk just a bit about the place this speech comes from. So let’s start here: what’s your perception as somebody who spent a career in Silicon Valley of the conservation world in California?

Steve Blank: The factor I keep in mind most about my time serving on the Coastal Fee is [longtime Commission Executive Director] Peter Douglas’s remark, “The coast is never saved. It’s always being saved.” The minute you turn your head, the character of the society we stay in says it’s OK to extract maximum economic profit from something you own. That’s in real conflict with preserving the pure great thing about the state. We have now an A/B comparison of the coast of Orange County versus San Mateo county. One’s a tragedy of the commons, the other is what occurs when the government says, “No you can’t run unfettered capitalism on this part.” The coast that’s saved is the socialist capital of the USA.

Being a capitalist I discovered that quite amusing. I made my cash in startups and I reside on the coast.

Three different things I’ll observe. One, you possibly can by no means take your eye off the ball when you’re in the environmental group. That’s how we lost [former Coastal Commission Executive Director] Charles Lester. The environmental group thought, “it’s been 35 years, and the coastal commission was the only state commission that hadn’t fallen victim to regulatory capture.” [Ed note: Regulatory capture is when interest groups lobbying an agency take over the seats of the agency itself.] And eventually it did. Thirty-five years and the developers lastly gained, as a result of the environmental group was exhausted.

Two, it also taught me it’s the extremes that outline where the middle is. The crazy individuals show you where the boundaries are, and it tends to steer the place the norm is.

Three, the coast is a contradiction between a capitalist tragedy of the commons and socialism, and all for the good thing about 40 million Californians. The stretch between Half Moon Bay and Cambria is unmatched anyplace on the earth. It’s simply superb. And — this is what I advised the governor once I resigned: Individuals don’t respect we’ve run a 40-year science experiment distinctive on the earth.

ES: There’s a variety of speak in the science world concerning the concept of an info deficit not being in charge for why the world isn’t taking motion — that information don’t essentially change minds, or that it’s a must to talk with individuals where they’re moderately than simply present them more info. There are echoes of that in your speech, and I’m enthusiastic about the way you’ve seen that work in your personal life.

SB: My career was in Silicon Valley. Back once I was a marketeer, it wasn’t shopper apps. It was making an attempt to elucidate and market microprocessors to your mother. I’m from this world of engineers who love knowledge, versus making an attempt to create passion out of that knowledge.

The dangerous information about Peter Douglas and the tradition he built, he was a lawyer. All the employees stories, because 10 % of them ended up in courtroom, have been written like legal briefs. To this present day, they don’t even personal Powerpoint, let alone use diagrams or footage. That was nice within the courts however it made us quite insular as a commission. It walled us off from explaining to most of the people what our positions are.

The Pacific Legal Basis, the conservative legal group that might problem the commission for property rights all the time, they have been capable of talk the guts of the difficulty for the other aspect. We failed to try this persistently. And it really is a detriment to saving the world. You just sort of clarify, “There’s going to be extinction in 90 years of species X or Y. It’s obvious why people should care.” Properly, not likely. Individuals are apprehensive about their mortgage, about their paycheck. While that’s a failing of human beings, it is a failing of human beings.

ES: And it looks like that is a few of the motivation on your speech.

SB: I used to inform my women once they have been young and enjoying sports activities, you stand at the fringe of that soccer area and ensure the opposite group isn’t carrying sticks and enjoying lacrosse. It’s a metaphor for what we’re doing right here: ensure you know what recreation you’re enjoying.

[When I joined the Coastal Commission] I used to be 45, 50 years previous, I didn’t even know what a lobbyist was. Who are you guys? What are you doing right here? Seems they do the whole lot.

ES: There’s a reasonably widespread grievance in the conservation nonprofit sector here that there are all these conservation issues in the Bay Area the place the one thing lacking is cash, and here we’re awash in tech cash and the businesses gained’t give back. How do you see that?

SB: I was on the board of the Peninsula Open Area Trust. Audrey Rust was my position model in figuring out easy methods to talk the large concept. Tips on how to construct relationships with individuals who wrote $100 million checks, again when that was some huge cash. This can be a valid grievance of each environmental group, however it’s additionally an remark that I don’t assume you’ve found out who to touch and the way to touch them.

POST is starting to get pretty good at it. I’ve seen them go, “Oooh, let’s take them out to the coast, take them out to the Bay. Let’s not just tell them why this is important, let’s remind them!” When [potential tech donors are] sitting in visitors on Highway 101, in a bus from the town, remind them what’s 15 miles away, and that that stretch of coast doesn’t appear to be a national park accidentally.

I used to be an entrepreneur and now train entrepreneurship. I train that entrepreneurs are in all places, entrepreneurial tradition is all over the place, however danger capital, capital at scale for startups, might be solely 10 locations on the earth. It’s the identical about saving the coast. That distinctive combination of land trusts, regulatory stuff, open area businesses, and environmental groups only existed right here. I received lucky sufficient to take a seat on no less than two of those groups, being proper in the midst of it. This commencement speech was actually a mirrored image. It’s the fifth or sixth graduation speech I’ve given. Often I speak about entrepreneurship, you recognize, do your greatest. However given who these college students are, the identify of the school, I considered talking about how the sausage is made.

(Photograph courtesy Steve Clean)

Excerpt from Steve Blank’s UC Santa Cruz Rachel Carson School Commencement Speech

June 15, 2019

I feel it’s altogether becoming and correct that in a university named after Rachel Carson, to share four brief tales of what happened when fact and justice confronted cash and energy within the seven years I served as a public official on the California Coastal Commission.

My first story is that the smartest individual in the room is nearly never the simplest.

One of the issues I beloved about being a coastal commissioner was how much I discovered. Popping out of Silicon Valley and the tech world, I used to be an entire novice on how policy gets made. So, I had to read the Coastal Act, the Coastal Laws, and sufficient regulation to know the positions our employees took and what the applicants have been contending. And each month I’d should read by way of 100 employees stories to figure out find out how to vote. Deciding between the candidates, their lobbyists, the environmental group, the employees, the Coastal Act and the regulation.

In the meantime, whereas I was reading the whole lot, I observed that one of many other commissioners was reading nothing, not the employees stories, not the coastal act, not the regulation. Actually, all he might do was rely to seven. And that capacity to rely to seven made him the simplest commissioner.

Why? Because out of 12 commissioners, seven is the number needed to win a majority in a vote.

While I was the grasp of the details and knowledge, he was calling in favors, cajoling others, and constructing a coalition to get nearly all of commissioners to see the world his approach.

So, my first lesson is:  You don’t have to be the smartest individual in the room to be the simplest. Being efficient means not just mastering the information but figuring out easy methods to move your agenda forward.

My second story is concerning the power of Misdirection over the reality. Magicians use misdirection on a regular basis: they sweep off their top-hat, you fixate on it, and rapidly, their assistant standing subsequent to them disappears.

I acquired to observe a magic act unfold before my eyes when real property developers made eight workplace buildings totaling ¼ million square ft — twice the dimensions of a Wal-Mart — disappear. How?

The developers needed to construct office buildings in an area zoned for farmland. Visitors from this large undertaking would have crammed native roads not designed for this density and would impression the public’s entry to the seashore. Provided that on the face of it, this venture violated all types of laws, how did these builders make it disappear and get unanimous approval from the county’s Board of Supervisors?

Their answer was sensible – and evil. They proposed that after constructing these eight workplace buildings, they might build a housing facility for 57 developmentally disabled adults. They convinced the devoted, deserving and passionate mother and father of this group that this venture was the only hope these households would ever need to secure housing for his or her youngsters (neglecting to tell them that they had situated the housing for the disabled in a tsunami inundation zone).

Naturally these mother and father turned vociferous advocates for the challenge. They introduced their disabled youngsters to the hearings and did exactly what the developers had hoped – with not a dry eye in the house, no one might see the undertaking anymore. The developer had moved the eye from a venture that violated native and state zoning onto a small and deserving group of individuals. It was heartbreaking. And it was world-class misdirection.

The lesson here is that misdirection is designed to distract you from the truth. Obscuring a fact-based argument with a faith-based one is what demagogues do in policy and politics. See by way of it. Assist others to see how this type of misdirection distorts their perspectives.

My third story was concerning the day I discovered to comply with the money. Someday all twelve of us coastal commissioners took a subject trip out to a farm to take a look at a puddle.

An environmental group was suing a farmer over whether or not the large puddle that shaped on his 400-acre farm after a rain was now a wetland. It took me awhile to study that this distinction between a puddle and a wetland was value a billion dollars.

The business mannequin for real estate developers isn’t arduous to know — they purchase farms and ranches then build homes and sell them off. And in California in the event you can build 1,500 houses on a 400-acre farm, that could be value a billion dollars. Builders make their revenue off the difference between the cost of the land and the web profit on the homes.

But one impediment for California developers is that the Coastal Act says you’ll be able to’t construct on land that has been designated a Sensitive Habitat. So, should you’re a developer, having any land declared sensitive is a loss of potential revenue. The truth is, it may possibly kill the challenge. Nevertheless, there’s one loophole in those rules: should you’re a farmer you possibly can plow beneath something.

In order a consequence, actual property developers are great farmers. They purchase out household farms for prices that far exceed what the farmers might ever get from selling their crops. After which they lease the land again to them to allow them to continue to farm. The developers spend money on gear so farmers can plant multiple crops annually, till each inch of their fields, and guarantee these fields are perfectly degree so no water can gather on the fields.

Once I first ran into this I assumed, “Wow what an awesome deal. The builders are great for the setting, they’re serving to farmers by making all these improvements. It took me a yr and plenty of taking a look at puddles on farms for the dim lightbulb to go on over my head. Real estate builders couldn’t care less about farming or the crops.

The developers have been protecting the farmers plowing the fields to ensure no sensitive habitat would seem. And the day a developer received the zoning approvals, the bulldozers would present as much as begin building the houses that may bury the farm. The lesson here was that once I was standing within the farm subject, I wasn’t taking a look at a puddle — I used to be watching a billion dollars — and I didn’t see it. So whenever you hear or see one thing that’s too good to be true – comply with the money.

It’s often an extended and winding street. My ultimate story is: if you want to make change you need to study to communicate and inspire others. In all these classes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the namesake of your faculty Rachel Carson.

You all research her work your first yr right here. You understand she was a marine biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – only the second lady within the job — and she or he served as editor-in-chief of all its publications.

Her 1962 e-book, Silent Spring, launched the fashionable environmental motion.

The e-book’s title evokes a spring when all the songbirds died. It informed the story of the injury brought on by indiscriminate use of pesticides, particularly DDT, to regulate insects. It educated a mass audience, most who had by no means seen a scientific paper of their lives, about how these chemical compounds entered the meals chain, accrued within the tissues of animals and finally made their approach as much as people.

DuPont and different chemical corporations threatened Carson’s publisher as well as the New Yorker and Audubon Journal until their deliberate Silent Spring features have been canceled but however, she endured. The e-book was an ethical call to arms for individuals to take private motion.

Rachel Carson wasn’t first to boost considerations about DDT, however her influence was to communicate scientific evidence in a approach that most of the people might understand – she used details to encourage others to take motion.

In naming this school the donors stated, “Carson, like UC Santa Cruz, epitomizes love of the natural world, ethical judgment based on sound scientific principles, and the persistence and courage to create change.”

Change happens when you possibly can educate and inspire others — when you should use details to create religion in what’s potential.

For these of you who will proceed in the sciences or analysis, the straightforward half shall be to write down papers in your friends. The more durable part is the way you’ll clarify “inconvenient truths” to individuals who might not need to hear them. How will you rouse an viewers to action?