Monday, May 12, 2014

Fight Club -- Dr. Diddy vs. Dr. Dr. Dre

Last updated: Monday 5/13/14 @ 9:38 am
A. Rules of Fight Club
The most important rules of Fight Club, as stated in Brad Pitt's 1999 movie by the same name, are the first two:
  • 1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.
  • 2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.

B.  First Dissertation Topic
The first topic I chose for my doctoral dissertation 44 years ago at Great University was an exploration of how most of the failures of the community organizations in the small black community a few miles from Great U were the result of internal conflicts that were based on residual defects in black culture, defects that had been systematically implanted by slave masters. My dissertation would have included brief case studies of a few of the most prominent organizations in the community at the time, organizations that had hired me, a graduate student at Great U, to provide technical/analytical assistance. But I dropped this topic like a hot potato after one of the most effective leaders of the community took me out to dinner one evening. After loosening me up with a couple of glasses of wine, she got to the point. Our conversation went something like this:
  • She: "Will you publish your dissertation?"
  • Me: "Yes"
  • She: "And who do you think will read your book?"
  • Me: "Everybody, I hope, because I think these issues arise in black communities all over the country."
  • She: "Wrong. THEY will read it, but WE won't. Then THEY will use your findings against US."
  • Me: "Maybe, but if we don't identify our problems, we won't develop solutions. The scoundrels and incompetents within our organizations will prevent us from moving forward."
  • She: "Wrong, again. Our unresolved problems will slow us down, but they won't prevent us from doing productive work. Whereas our enemies will use your book to shut us down."
Forty-four years later, although the problems I identified in the rough draft of my first dissertation have shown implacable persistence, I no longer believe that our enemies could use my insights to shut us down completely. Indeed, I suspect that my mentor exaggerated their importance in order to flatter me into compliance with her immediate agenda which was to dispose of distracting problems before they took root.

C. Forty-One Years at Howard University
Throughout my forty-one years at Howard I was able to accomplish substantial achievements, more often than not by overcoming/outlasting the same kinds of counterproductive internal resistance that I identified in my initial dissertation. Nor was I alone.  Fortunately for Howard's students, substantial numbers of visionary and resilient faculty and staff still call the Mecca their home. Of course the misguided administrators and trustees who all-too-often oppose creative innovations have always been quick to claim credit afterwards, when the innovations they opposed so vigorously eventually succeeded ... :-(

D. Dr. Diddy vs. Dr. Dr. Dre
But every now and then the HU leadership commits a blooper that is so public that the rules of HBCU Fight Club are not violated by pointing at it and chuckling out loud for a few moments. The HU Board's selection of Mr. Sean Combs -- a/k/a "P. Diddy" "Puff Diddy" etc, etc, etc --  to be the university's commencement 2014 keynote speaker is a case in point.

Mr. Combs' commencement speech betrayed no indication of that he understood the preponderant role that the Internet will play in the personal and professional lives of our new graduates, nor of the unprecedented opportunities that it will afford the graduates who have the wit and the courage to exploit these prospects. Ironically, in the weeks preceding Commencement, the techie media, then the general press were flooded with stories about Apple's impending purchase of Beats from Andre Young -- a/k/a "Dr. Dre" -- for $3.2 billion.

Apple wants Beats for its headphones, of course, but also for the its capacity to stream music over the Internet, rather than via downloads as is currently done by Apple's pioneering/aging iTunes service. Contrary to the recent prediction by Forbes magazine, P. Diddy probably will not become the first Hip Hip billionaire; that honor will likely go to Dr. Dre. But what's crucial is the fact that Dre's grasp of the centrality of the Internet is what made it possible for him to leap over Diddy.

In other words, the HU "business savvy" Board picked the wrong Hip Hop mogul. Whatever Dr. Dr. Dre would have said at Commencement and no matter how well or how badly he would have said it, his mere presence at the podium would have riveted our new graduates' attention to the Internet's unprecedented opportunities, not just for techie nerds and business majors, but for artists who have minimal formal technical training.  Dre gets it; Diddy doesn't; and neither does the HU Board of Trustees ... but fortunately for Howard University and for its students, many of its faculty and staff do get it ... :-)

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