Intro -- Stever Robbins [long] LO88

Stever Robbins (
Sun, 12 Feb 1995 20:10:14 EST5EDT


After several months of lurking, it's certainly time to introduce
myself! It's hard for me to distill my main interests and
influences. So I've taken the easy way out--this introduction is
more of a rambling mini-biography than a concise summary. But then,
so is my life.

My name is Stephen Robbins, universally called Stever (my 1977 login
name on MIT's Mathlab machine). Until recently, the origin of
"Stever" was shrouded in mystery. Now that it's chic to be an
Internet geek, the true story had been revealed.

[A childhood spent traveling the U.S. starting psychic growth
centers, meditating, living in communes, chanting, etc. set the
backdrop for what you're about to read.]

=== Social misfit discovers computers, effectively eliminating the
need for a social life.

I spent the first seventeen conscious years of my conscious life as a
software engineer. Creating large systems which were maintainable,
extensible, and debuggable was my main focus. On the side, I grew
very interested in neuro-linguistic programming, an unorthodox
outgrowth of hypnosis, gestalt therapy, linguistics, etc. I began to
map between the software design principles and the NLP cognitive
models. It Was Fun, Intriguing, and really Interesting Stuff.

When push came to shove, however, software companies don't really
care about maintainability. The need only manifests five to seven
years into a product's lifecycle, by which time it's far too late to
retrain the programmers, and far too late to do any significant
product redesign. After spending a few years at the top of the
learning curve, I decided to change careers.

Tangentially, the flow of information within businesses began to
fascinate me. Much of a business can be thought of as a large
information system. Though the components are people, wires, and
paper, a many principles of organizing large software systems
translate fairly directly into business process design.

=== Computer geek discovers people, effectively discovering the
need for a social life!

I was a geek. A total geek. My idea of nice clothes was a T-shirt
that only had a few holes in it. To this day, business clothes still
mystify me (why do suits get more expensive, the more boring they
are, and shoes get more expensive the more tassles and fringe they
have)? The scariest idea in the world was dealing with groups of
people. So trading on my computer background, I became a trainer of
programmers for Symbolics, Inc., a now-defunct workstation

Working with groups was and is amazing, incredible, and a LOT of fun!
Unfortunately, Symbolics was headed in a market nose-dive about this
time. At my 18 month review, I told my manager I wanted to
understand how a company with such a great product could be failing.
She told me that my interest was in "corporate strategy" and for
that, I needed gray hair or an MBA. Grecian formula only makes gray
hair darker, which left but one alternative.

=== Ex-hippie parents mortified as son enters West Point of
Capitalism, fear the worst.

I went to Harvard Business School, thinking they understood as much
about business as MIT had about software. To the degree that one
specializes at HBS, I concentrated on entrepreneurship. After two
years, I graduated convinced I'd just thrown away $70,000.

For reasons too implausible to relate, I ended up working for Intuit,
Makers of Quicken(tm) World's Best Selling Financial Software, now a
Division of Microsoft(tm), Inc.

Intuit was a learning experience, in many ways. I was project
manager for the Quicken VISA Card, a credit card whose statement is
delivered by disk or by modem and automatically imported and
categorized into your Quicken records. It became a much larger
project than anyone suspected, and my "what I learned" file from that
project is 28 pages of 6 point type.

As my time there went on, I sent near-weekly FAXes to Len
Schlesinger, the professor who had supervised my independent research
report at HBS. The FAXes detailed how much I *had* learned at HBS,
and how much was still missing. They gradually became more
philosophical, and ended up as essays on chaos theory and project
management, Deming and linguistics, teaching and management, and all
kinds of other randomness.

=== Older but wiser, compugeek-turned-MBA returns to Boston.

The biggest learning experience was that Boston was where I'd put
down roots. After two years in California, I returned to take a year
off and live off the proceeds of my few post-IPO Intuit shares.
During the year off, I did Many Things.

Standup comedy Self-defense lessons
Alexander Technique voice lessons
weight training essay writing
teaching high school running a weekly hypnosis study
kids group
more NLP and platform acting in videos
skills training
hosting a call-in doing public speaking in a
community access gay/lesbian educational
cable TV show speaker's bureau
comedy improvisation took care of my mother, who died
of cancer.

But alas, I never did learn how to cook. (Or dress myself, for that

=== Adventure is sometimes where you least expect it.

Towards the end of the year off, I met with Professor Schlesinger to
discuss career direction. He was at that time leading HBS's redesign
of the MBA program. I guess my FAXes had made quite an impression,
as he offered me a job working on the curriculum design.

What could I say? It is a chance to introduce some amazing
pedagogical [Yow! am I speaking academese, yet?] techniques, as well
as specific content into one of the highest leverage places I know
of. So that's where I am today... Working on "Foundations," the
module which will provide an integrative framework and community
context for the MBA program. In my spare time, I audited System
Dynamics at the Sloan School last term, and am working with Johanna
Rothman (also on learning-org) on a proposal for our first
co-authored book, topic still being brainstormed.

-- Stever

Stever Robbins
Accept no substitutes!
"You're only young once, but you can be immature forever."