The Hidden Genius of Kamala Harris
The focus is on Biden. I care a helluva lot more about Kamala Harris. The 2019 memoir she published called “The Truth We Hold” outlines her philosophy on leadership.
It’s radically different from the conventional approach, which is her hidden genius. She says she is obsessed with “Sweating the small stuff” and “embracing the mundane” to create big change.
I agree. Big picture people annoy me.
You’ve met these big picture people. You’ve probably worked with them. They spend most of their time defining five-year strategies. They’re too busy to ever meet a real customer, although they talk about them in intimate detail. They overuse the word strategy like it’s going to save the planet from climate change. They visit different offices in different states as if they’re important, and a red carpet should be rolled out for them.
You’re expected to wear a name tag for their benefit because they would never dare look you up on LinkedIn and learn your name. Knowing people is a waste of time. It’s all about the big picture. The big picture is them and their awesome career.
Their leadership position is a bridge to their next selfish endeavor. They require you to opt into their big picture so they can say they’ve done stuff.
But you and the real workers were the ones who “did stuff,” while they were busy forming big picture strategies that were expired before they were even emailed to a company full of people who will never reference the holy Powerpoint deck ever again after opening it (if they even open it).
I’m with Kamala. Doing is better than dreaming. I’d rather experiment and see what happens.
One of my suppliers at work emailed me out of the blue yesterday. He’d finally taken action. Last year he told me he had been planning to become a content creator.
I stupidly said “why are you planning and not already doing?” I said it by accident and he took it to heart. He realized his big picture fantasy of an award-winning podcast, accompanied by many viral blog posts, was nonsense. His email was to let me know he’d taken action.
The results were quite spectacular. He had an entirely new circle of friends. He had launched his podcast. He had changed his finances. He was thinking about life after his painful 9-5. All it took was sweating the small stuff.
Here’s what else you can take away from the hidden genius that is Kamala.
Diversity Brings the Solutions to the Spotlight like Magic
Kamala is the “first Black woman and the first Asian American” to become vice president. It’s a win for diversity, but there’s something far more important: diversified solutions. Let me explain.
I once worked at a company. All my thousands of colleagues were mostly born in the same place. Almost all of them were male. It was customary in their homeland to reply to everybody with “yes sir.” Hierarchy was everything. You would never challenge or speak up to a leader above you.
Things went downhill over time. Revenue started falling off a cliff. They kept asking the frontline workers (like me) why that was. They were smart-arses about the way they asked too.
On many occasions the customers I served asked me about diversity. They asked me why the people that came to meetings with me were always male and from the same country. It was a tough conversation to have.
The answer to a large revenue decline was obvious: customers were unconsciously ignoring our company because we didn’t mirror their diversity. The customer’s employees were all diverse — ours weren’t. So doing business with us felt off, yet the customer couldn’t explain why.
When you work with people from a variety of backgrounds, sexual orientations and genders, you get different solutions. You can’t easily build solutions for diverse people if the people solving the problems aren’t diverse. They may not fully understand what’s going on.
The more diverse people we have like Kamala in leadership positions, the more likely we are to see a greater number of varied solutions to common problems we’ve been trying to solve for decades without success.
Embrace the Mundane
Success is made out to be sexy. It’s fetishized by Instagram culture. Nobody tells you the truth: big achievements are full of the mundane.
Take writing. Ask any online writer you admire how they got to where they are. They all say the same thing: They wrote a lot, published many blog posts, stuck at it for more than five years, and did the boring work when they didn’t feel like it.
Kamala gets it.
It is often the mastery of the seemingly unimportant details, the careful execution of the tedious tasks, and the dedicated work done outside of the public eye that make the changes we seek possible.
It’s what you can’t see that you’re missing. I wish every person could have a secret camera follow around their biggest idol. They’d see their dreams in a whole new light. They’d see fame as a nightmare. They’d see the work people put in that looks mythical from the outside.
We need more of the mundane. We need more people willing to do the boring work of working on themselves.
The Bill Gates Effect
Kamala cites Bill Gates as a good example of the power of the mundane. One of Bill’s missions in life is to end world hunger.
This led Bill to become a fertilizer guru.
Rather than get caught up in the delicious goal of solving a huge problem, he figured out he needed to understand the boring details people before him had overlooked. The weather and fertilizer are two key ingredients to solving world hunger. So Bill looked at the mundane to find new solutions.
He did the unsexy work that made him look like a gardening nut at cocktail parties, where he’d spend way too much time talking about the sexiness of concoctions to help food grow.
People expected an R-rated software story from Microsoft — or yet another Steve Jobs story of him breaking some rule for the hell of it (like refusing to pay the rego on his Mercedes Benz). Bill gave them the mundane awesomeness of fertilizer research on a Sunday afternoon, instead. Respect the tiny details.
Use Gentle Swag to Prevent Interruptions
If you have something important to say, that is the opposite of popular opinion, you may be silenced. Kamala faced this during her debate with former Vice President Mike Pence. Her tactic you can mimic is genius.
She stopped his repeated interruptions with a smile, direct eye-contact, a stop-palm position and the frequent repetition of a very simple phrase: ‘Mr … , I’m speaking.’
Swag is using your body and voice in subtle ways to ensure your view of the world is heard. Your view of the world matters, and a gentle smile or a powerful phrase with a psychological pattern interrupt, can help you unleash it.
The Default Answer Is No. The Genius Is Knowing the Possibility of a Yes.
The number of times I’ve heard the word ‘no’ — or that something can’t be done — in my lifetime is too many to count.
Kamala said this and it’s the key to tremendous change. It took me decades to understand most answers to your request start with a no. The art is in the follow-up. The art is in asking again. The art is in rephrasing your ask. The art is in knowing the possibility of a yes.
If you want to make a difference then you have to be prepared to wait long enough to earn a yes. I was told for years I was too stupid to be a writer. The critics were right in the beginning — until I worked their criticisms into more frequent comments of praise.
People will go from a no to a yes if you let them. It takes time for change. It takes patience to lead people differently. It takes small amounts of courage, consistently, to go from Kamala the <insert blank> to Kamala, The Vice President of The United States of America. A yes is always possible.
Doing the mundane, enabling basic diversity, using gentle actions to ensure you’re heard, and seeing the possibility of a yes is how you unlock your own hidden genius.
The genius is in sweating the small stuff. Because the big problems are solved by the tiny, overlooked solutions that form the foundation for transformation. Unlock your hidden Kamala to change the world in some tiny way.