Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, Costa examines “the big picture”– tracing everything from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East to evolutionary forces. Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. In her book, she explains how the principles governing evolution cause and provide a solution for global gridlock. The success of Costa’s first book led to a weekly radio program in 2010 called Rattler Radio. In 2011 the program was renamed and syndicated as The Costa Report, currently one of the fastest growing radio programs on the Central Coast of California.
A former CEO and founder of one of the largest marketing firms in Silicon Valley (sold in 1997 to J. Walter Thompson), Costa developed an extensive track record of introducing new technologies. Her clients included industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle Corporation, Seibel Systems, 3M, Amdahl, and General Electric Corporation. Raised in Tokyo, Japan, Costa lived during the Vietnam conflict in Vientiane, Laos, where her father worked in covert CIA operations. She attributes her ability to see the “big picture” to her cross-cultural education and upbringing. She graduated from The University of California at Santa Barbara with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, The Watchman’s Rattle, a few general questions. First, who has had the great influence on your personal growth? How so?
Costa: I spent my formative years in Japan. My Japanese grandmother was a Zen Buddhist. Her reverence for nature had a huge impact on how I now view my place in the natural world.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Costa: In 1975, I picked up a copy of Edward Wilson’s watershed book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, and it changed my life. With enormous clarity and compassion, Wilson forged the connection between evolution and the behaviors or modern man.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Costa: Like many college students, once I graduated from the University of California I returned home. At the time my parents were living in a suburb next to what would later become Silicon Valley. I found a job at a technology company and worked in Silicon Valley through the eighties and nineties when there was explosive growth. It was during this time that I began keeping notebooks. According to the founder of Intel, Robert Noyce, data densities would double every 18 months. But any evolutionary biologist knows that adaptation is very slow – sometimes occurring over millions of years. At some point, human progress would exceed the capabilities that humans had evolved to that point in time – and what then?
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Costa: It was the combination of my education as an evolutionary biologist and my experience with accelerating technology, while working in the heart of Silicon Valley, that caused me to become concerned about the future of humankind. I knew that the day would soon come where life would become too complex, too over-featured, too specialized for the man on the street to navigate competently, let alone the leaders of entire countries.
Morris: Let’s say that you are hosting a private dinner party and can invite any six people throughout human history as your guests. Who would they be and what would you be most interested to learn from each? Why?
Costa: That’s an easy one. Charles Darwin would be seated at the head of the table. 153 years ago he discovered the most important principles which govern all life on earth. And that includes us, whether we like it or not. Next to Darwin I would like to seat Ghandi, Richard Feynman, Hemmingway, Kant, and Edward Wilson. What? Only six? May I have that table extension please?
Morris: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first entered the business world full-time?
Costa: That I am driven by fear. Fear of failing, fearing of being judged, fear of embarrassment, fear of being poor, fear of giving the wrong answer, fear of being unprepared or ignorant. I was successful in business, but it never did a thing to make me feel safe.
Morris: Opinions are divided (sometimes sharply divided) on the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?
Costa: The problem with charisma is that it’s just like trying to be funny. The worst thing a person can do is try to be funny. The same goes for charisma. Authenticity is the only charisma that works.
Morris: In recent years, there has been severe criticism of MBA programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, which area is in greatest need of immediate improvement? What specifically do you suggest?
Costa: The MBA has come and gone and is no longer relevant. Teaching people how to solve problems – how to think their way out of a jam with speed and agility is the new talent executives need. That and computing skills.
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