How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The dynamic new CEO of SVForum, Adiba Barney rolled out the red carpet this week for the 17th Visionary Awards. But despite all the glitz and glamor, there was a strong message: use tech to make the world better. Of course, each recipient has an impressive resume:  Jessica Jackley, cofounder of Kiva; Tim O’Reilly, open source advocate and media producer; Tina Seelig, director of Stanford Tech Ventures Program; and Tim Draper, founder of Draper University and partner at DFJ Ventures.  But how did each get where they are today and what can you learn from their journey?

Here are some of the lessons the visionaries shared at Tuesday’s event:

1. Ask: what if?

Jackley witnessed a new level of poverty while working in Africa and when she returned to Silicon Valley, she wanted to help change some lives, especially those with an entrepreneurial drive. She said, “People in Silicon Valley are always talking about the future…so ask: what if?”

Her inspiration? She was killing time at Stanford University one evening, and just happened to attend a talk by Muhammad Yunis, the Nobel Prize winning founder of “banker to the poor” Grameen Bank. His success helped launch the microlending phenomenon and inspired Kiva, a nonprofit microlender that’s now shared over half a billion dollars in startup funds with entrepreneurs around the world.

2. Have some accidents

Tim Draper confessed that he often discovered and backed companies like Skype by complete accident. Often he was actually looking for, or working on something else. His message: “If you want to be a visionary, go out and have some accidents!” And he proceeded to fling his glass of water into the crowd. Fortunately there were no injuries, though fellow journalist, Tom Foremski got the brunt of the baptism.

3. Go for love not money

Tim O’Reilly said “I urge you all:  do things for love, with no expectation of return…celebrate the success of people who make a difference.” He described Silicon Valley as a place “for people who dream, who care…about stuff other than making an exit.”

Although he’s a big believer in the power of the markets, he underlined the obligation to “give back” and in his great literary style, he even quoted a passage from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” to underline his point that an entrepreneur should think “much of others, and little of him (or her) self.” He’s recently embraced the vision of Jennifer Pahlka’s Code for America. It helps bring more top tech talent into government (e.g. the tech team that went to D.C. to help rescue HealthCare.Gov’s disastrous rollout).

“We need to fix government, not abandon it!” said O’Reilly.

Steven Levy interviewed by Alison van Diggelen, SVForum Visionaries 2014, photo credit: Tom Foremski4. Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous

Tina Seelig is the epitome of Silicon Valley passion for entrepreneurship and technology; and urges us all to ask big questions. Her mantra is “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous” and although she didn’t say it, her energetic body language seemed to be chanelling Adele’s line from Rolling in the Deep: “Throw your soul through every open door!

5. Have a passion for “Yes”

Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired Magazine, and former honoree himself, introduced Tim O’Reilly and reminded everyone that behind every “no” is a “yes.”

“At the core of Silicon Valley is a passion for yes,” he said. “This is the place where people don’t look for reasons to say no…(instead) someone comes up with a crazy idea and they have permission to do it.”

Presumably he means, if you want to be a real tech visionary, there’s no place like Silicon Valley.

Check back soon for Fresh Dialogues interviews with Jessica Jackley, Tina Seelig, Jennifer Pahlka and Tim Draper.

This SVForum event took place at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on Tuesday June 3rd, 2014.

Photo credit: Tom Foremski

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.

As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”

Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.

I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.

“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”

She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.

The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.

Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.

Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters: Why They’re Soul Sisters

Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters: Why They’re Soul Sisters

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Last night, I caught up with acclaimed journalist Lesley Stahl to discuss Barbara Walters’ retirement. Here’s Stahl’s tribute to her television colleague and fellow crasher of the boys’ club:

“Barbara has been a pioneer all along,” says Stahl. “Even in hanging in there to the age of 84, she’s still leading the way.”

The 60 Minutes Correspondent and former White House Correspondent for the Carter, Reagan and George H. Bush administration gives a historic perspective on Barbara Walters’ groundbreaking role in TV journalism.

“When she started, when I started, it was generally assumed women couldn’t last in television news beyond the age of 40,” says the Emmy award winning Stahl. “Then it was 50, then Barbara reached 60…Barbara is 84, it’s fabulous!”

At 72, the vivacious Lesley Stahl continues to create newsmaking reports for 60 Minutes as well as Years of Living Dangerously. In her early days, producers told her to ”never, ever, ever smile,” she even wore glasses to look more serious. But today, the glasses are off and she frequently shows off her dynamic personality on air. She famously wrote in her biography, Reporting Live, that when she started work at 60 Minutes in 1991, joining septuagenarian colleagues like Morley Safer, she felt younger, “There simply is not a better job or a better shop in all of television news – possibly in all of journalism.”

The interview was recorded back stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, minutes before Lesley Stahl took the stage with her 60 Minutes colleague Bob Simon, for Foothill College’s Celebrity Forum Series. Special thanks to host, Dick Henning and Foothill College President Judy Miner for their warm welcome.

Check back soon at Fresh Dialogues for Part 2 of my interview with Lesley Stahl about climate change and her eye witness account of the dramatic Arctic ice melt.

See Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series featuring Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Sheryl Sandberg and Belva Davis.

TV Pioneer Belva Davis on Passion, Curiosity

TV Pioneer Belva Davis on Passion, Curiosity

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem. These are just a few of the icons that pioneering journalist Belva Davis has interviewed in over fifty years of reporting. This weekend, Davis receives the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Los Angeles.

Davis began her illustrious career in the 1950’s; became the first black woman to anchor the news on the West Coast and was host of KQED’s public affairs program, This Week in Northern California for almost 20 years. She talked to Fresh Dialogues this summer in Los Altos about why she admires PBS Newshour’s history making Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; her memoir; and the need for both curiosity and passion in a successful career. Davis also explains her need to prove herself every day. “Go home if you don’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities,” she says.



ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’m with pioneering journalist, Belva Davis. She has a new book and it’s called Never In My Wildest Dreams. Belva, thank you for joining me today.

BELVA DAVIS: Well thank you. This is a wonderful opportunity.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So let’s talk about those wildest dreams. When did you feel your wildest dreams were coming true?

BELVA DAVIS: Definitely I know when I decided that this reckless course was the one I was going to take, and that is to try to break into television news reporting. And to do that without having an example of anyone that looked even slightly like me who was doing it, I think took quite a commitment, to say I’ll do what’s necessary…

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: …And a lot of courage. So you really had no role models. Today we talk about role models and we can emulate this person or that. You had no one?


ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: If you were to go back to being 30 or 40 years old, what advice would you give yourself?

BELVA DAVIS: I always tell people, if you are not doing…Number one: if you don’t have curiosity about what you’ve chosen to do with your life, and if you don’t have passion for what you say you want to do with your life, you should keep looking.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Right, so passion and curiosity. They’re both really important.

BELVA DAVIS: Right, because one keeps you going, and wanting to know more about what you’re doing. By wanting to know more, then you get better. You don’t just sit there from wherever point you entered whatever arena you’re in. And you have to have passion to give the extra time. You can’t just do something that at 5 o’clock you turn off a key. That just doesn’t work.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about today? For young aspiring journalists, who are the good female role models today? Who would you point to and say: she’s got it right. She’s nailing it. Is there anyone you tune into?

BELVA DAVIS: (Laughter) I love everybody…

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You don’t want to pick favorites?

BELVA DAVIS: But I do think that the PBS team, you know Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill is hard to beat.


BELVA DAVIS: I wouldn’t put them in the “young girl category” but they’re both really intelligent, smart, good reporters and I admire them.


BELVA DAVIS: I’ve long…as a young woman…Soledad O’Brien I think has been a brave woman, you know raising her children and taking these really dangerous assignments. So, they’re still out there.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: I saw that wonderful interview with you and Judy Woodruff and you said something that really made me pause because there you are, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, and you said “I feel I still have to prove myself every day.”


ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Talk about that. What is it that’s driving you? You don’t feel that hey, I’ve interviewed Muhammad Ali, I’ve interviewed Fidel Castro, I’ve interviewed…presidents…

BELVA DAVIS: You should go home when you don’t have anybody else you want to interview. You should go home when you can’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities. The next day’s possibilities are what keeps you going forward. I mean if she (Sheryl Sandberg) talks “leaning in,” that keeps you going. Just realizing what could be, if you just do a little more, push a little harder, give someone else an opportunity.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Wonderful, Belva Davis. We’ll leave it on that note. Thank you so much for taking time for Fresh Dialogues.

BELVA DAVIS: Thank you.


Find out more:

See Fresh Dialogues Interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose on the burning curiosity that got him in trouble as a youth and today drives his “great and glorious life.”

See Fresh Dialogues video: Sheryl Sandberg on why women today should “Lean In.”

Columnist Leonard Pitts on The Hard Truths of Being Black in America

Photo credits: Lina Broydo

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Cisco System’s CTO Padmasree Warrior discusses the “Lean In” Movement, and what lessons she’s learned in her remarkable career. Warrior, an influential Silicon Valley tech leader, on the Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women, says women shouldn’t hold themselves back, they should be “out there and leaning in to opportunities.”


Warrior emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership, letting people see “who you truly are.” Of course, being approachable…coaching, mentoring, and brainstorming ideas with your team are also key, she says.

On the question of finding balance in your life, Warrior is blunt. “I don’t like the word ‘balance,’” she says. “To me that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family…as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration…of work, family, self, community.”

Warrior dedicates Saturday as her digital detox day where she puts down her smartphone and busies herself with family and gardening, painting, cooking, even haiku. Check out her eclectic Twitter feed to learn more.

She told me that letting go of guilt is a vital lesson. “When my son was growing up, I was always guilty, no matter what I did, ” she says. “Make decisions and be happy with the decisions you’ve made. I tell myself in the long run, it’s the love, the quality of relationships that you have with your family, your friends and giving back to the community that matters.”

Here’s a summary of Warrior’s Seven Secrets of Success. Watch the video for all the details.

1. Be authentic, approachable
2. Mentor and coach others
3. Be out there and “lean in” to opportunities
4. Forget “balance” – integrate work, family, self, community
5. Avoid guilt
6. Be happy with your decisions
7. Think long-term and focus on relationship quality

The interview was recorded at SVForum’s Visionary Awards in Silicon Valley, June 26, 2013. Warrior was one of four honorees. Find out more about Warrior and her advice for getting more women in STEM.

Alison van Diggelen asks Fresh Questions and gets Fresh Answers. Find out more about her green interview series. And join the conversation on Facebook

This is part of a special “Inspiring Women” series at Fresh Dialogues featuring Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Granholm, Maureen Dowd, and Belva Davis.

Girl Geeks Descend On Tesla in Silicon Valley

Girl Geeks Descend On Tesla in Silicon Valley

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

You might be excused for thinking that the success of Tesla Motors is entirely due to the brilliance of its leader, Elon Musk. OK, perhaps with a wee bit of help from his friend, JB Straubel?

Well, that media delusion was dispelled last week when Tesla threw open the doors of its Palo Alto Headquarters and showed off a panel of top female engineers and leaders. The occasion was the 44th in a series of Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, a popular women in tech group founded by Angie Chang and managed by the energetic Sukrutha Raman Bhadouria.

The group of 100 female techies was treated to Tesla Model S rides, product demos, networking with key members of the Tesla team; and a rare view of the Tesla patent wall (see photos below).

But the highlight of the evening was a lively panel of Tesla engineers and executives, including Katie Noble (Systems Integration Engineering Manager), Lauren Fullerton (Electronic Design Engineer), Miriam Vu (Product Manager), and Troy Nergaard (Senior Hardware Development Engineering Manager). Tesla’s Susan Repo (VP, Global Tax) did a solid job moderating the event and exploring:

1. The challenges of working at Tesla

2. Being a woman at Tesla

3. The importance of soft skills at Tesla

4. The legal action that Tesla faces from car dealers in some U.S. states.

We will be posting video excerpts at Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel shortly. Meantime, here are some quotes:

On Working at Tesla

“You work with aggressive people occasionally, both male and female… Passions are high at Tesla and things can get heated…If someone blows up, you try not to internalize things…(and) appreciate the passion they have for a particular problem.” Katie Noble

“At Tesla, you don’t have time to take the wrong path. As a leader you need to know when to step in.” Troy Nergaard

On Time Pressures at Tesla

“With Tesla moving so quickly, we may not have all the answers right up front before we start moving… We are a very small team in a company that’s trying to do a lot of things, so time is of the essence.” Miriam Vu

On The Types Who Work at Tesla

“There are “car geeks” and there are “green geeks.” Troy Nergaard

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The Bay Area Girl Geeks Dinners boasts a membership of over 8,000 and demand for the events – hosted at top Silicon Valley companies like Google, Yahooo and Facebook etc are typically over-subscribed. This Tesla event had 2000 signups for 100 tickets. As a result Chang and Raman Bhadouria have created a lottery sytesm for tickets.