Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Live United

Today I completed the Linkages Program, a training and placement program for future board of directors hosted by the United Way of New York. I've worked in the nonprofit sector off and on in my career, and I've been a volunteer at a variety of nonprofits my whole life. I went to the training thinking I knew everything there was to know about how nonprofits operate. I was wrong - from the moment I cracked open my training manual, I discovered that I had a lot to learn when it comes to nonprofit boards.

It's a testament to the United Way, and to my employer who paid for my attendance in the training program, that they recognize that most people, no matter how deeply involved they are in nonprofit work, don't really understand the ins and out of board operations. A weak board makes for a weak organization, and the United Way has stepped in to change that. In 2004, they conducted a study and of the surveyed Executive Directors: 45% planned to retire within 5 years, 57% had no professional development program within their organizations, and 68% ran organizations with no succession plans. New York City's nonprofits, and all of the vital services they provide to so many in this city, were in trouble.

In just 5 short years, the United Way is turning the tide. I was thoroughly impressed with the incredibly high caliber of the people in my class. Passionate, concerned, committed. We are willing to put our resources of time and money on the line to improve New York's nonprofits and the United Way is helping us succeed. We are ready, willing, and able to stand up and be counted.

Call it the Obama effect. Call it people wanting to find fulfillment in a time when so many feel down-trodden by the state of the economy. Call it the responsibility that comes with being extremely fortunate in a time when so many others face misfortune. I call it hope.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Do Something with Squidoo

There is a statistic in the news that has been bothering me so much that I am telling everyone I know about it. In January, the number of suicides committed by the US soldiers was higher than the number of US soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. I can't get over that fact. It's haunting me - what could be causing this and why did it have to get to this level to get national attention?

So how does a story like this make me hopeful? I feel hopeful because I feel empowered to do something about it. I was talking to my friend, Richard, about it this week and he helped me to realize that if someone, anyone, can find a way to help in this situation that the implications for our country and for the many people who serve this country would be immense.

If ever I wanted a cause that would have impact this would be it.
Consider how much energy, time, and funding goes in to training a soldier what to do in a war-torn region. And now consider how much energy, time, and funding goes in to helping that transition back into normal civilian life. The discrepancy is criminal.

So what can I do? Could I start a movement? Could I reach out and offer my help? And to whom? I started tonight be creating a lens on Squidoo. I've followed Seth Godin for a long time - his is one of the blogs I read every day. I have to admit it took me a while to figure how or why to use Squidoo. Now I get it - when you want to provide detail on a specific topic, event, or cause, Squidoo is your tool.

Feeling passionate about wanting to help these US soldiers transition back to civilian life and wanting to get a dialogue going about the topic, I started the lens.
To see the lens and offer your ideas and support, visit

Photo above taken by Rafiq Maqbool, AP.

NY Business Strategies Entrepreneurs Find the Silver Lining

There is very little to cheer about these day in the world of business. At least until yesterday. An article ran in Crain's that shows that entrepreneurs who were initially shell-shocked by the rapidly declining economic environment may be picking their heads up and finding the gold nuggets hidden in the rubble.

To read the full article, please visit

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NY Business Strategies an interview with the owners of Baked, a bakery in Red Hook and Charleston

Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito are cooking up something special at Baked. a bakery with locations in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Charleston, South Carolina. The duo have an extensive baking repertoire, serving up sweets that run the gammet: classics like chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake, new takes on old favorites like their apple pie with a splash of bourbon and vanilla bean, and wholly original offerings like homemade marshmallows and granola. Oprah named their brownies one of her Favorite Things.

To read the full article, please visit:

My Year of Hopefulness - The Critical Importance of the Humanities

It's with some disappointment that I read Patrica Cohen's article in the New York Times on Wednesday regarding the value of a humanties education. I was not at all upset with her subject matter -- now more than ever the humanities field must justify its value and place in American education. That has always been the case, and I believe constantly having to prove our worth makes us more passionate, focused, and ardent about the work. What I found most disturbing about Ms. Cohen's article is her conclusion:

"As money tightens, the humanities may increasingly return to being what they were at the beginning of the last century, when only a minuscule portion of the population attended college: namely, the province of the wealthy.

That may be unfortunate but inevitable, Mr. Kronman said. The essence of a humanities education — reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming “to grips with the question of what living is for” — may become “a great luxury that many cannot afford.”

I find this conclusion upsetting for several reasons:

1.) I was a humanities major, and most certainly was not from a walthy family. Not even close. My humanities education, my ability to reason, communicate, and evaluate lessons from history, have been critical to my success. To say that it is the province of the wealthy (otherwise known as not valuable unless you have the luxury to sit around all day thinking, not acting) is just ridiculous.

2.) In this country to say that any area of study might need to be undertaken only by the wealthy is wholly un-American. The whole point of education is to open up possibilities to people, regardless of background, to pursue their greatest passions and interests.

3.) What kind of society would we be without the study of history, literature, languages, and art? They are not separate from engineering and science. They are partners. The beauty of an education in the humanities is that it arms us with tools and resources to draw meaning from the experience of our lives and the lives of others. Without that unders
tanding and ability to communicate shared experience, what kind of society would we become? The humanities give us hope -- and without hope, all the science in the world won't be able to save us.

The image above can be found at:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Sleep

There was one take-away from the Stanford University panel "The Global Leadership and Talent Equation" that is so powerful and simple that it deserves its own post. Eric Benhamou, Chairman and CEO, Benhamou Global Ventures, is a seasoned veteran who has started, run, and sold many businesses during his long and distinguished career. The final moderated question of the panel asked what is one piece of advice that the panelists had for every aspiring entrepreneur. Eric's answer: sleep. The audience laughed at this answer. Of all the things we need to do and should do as entrepreneurs, Eric recommended "sleep"? In all seriousness, yes.

Eloquently, he made his case without cracking a smile. Eric describes Silicon Valley as a chronically sleep deprived area of the world. With so much to do and learn, there is hardly time to slow down. Yes, Eric argues that in order to keep going, we have to slow down. He discussed how a lack of sleep depresses the immune system and makes clear, decisive decision making nearly impossible. Sleep helps us to reason through difficult problems; it gives our minds time to dream.

In addition to sleep, the idea of pure down time is critical to staying at the very top of our game. Downtime can take the form of a hobby, socializing, running, or meditating. I also think that there's something to be said for getting some time out in the fresh air every day, unplugged from any kind of electronic device, off of concrete. When I was in San Francisco, I found myself lifted from a funk I have been in for a while. As I was walking through a park, I recognized the cause of my funk -- I needed to see some greenery, something that symbolized life. In New York it's grown pretty gray and we've been dealing with the tail-end of a cold winter. We all need a little sunshine, a little warmth, and a little green in order to keep our spirits up.

Entrepreneurs, take yourself for a walk and get some shut-eye. You're going to need it.

My Year of Hopefulness - Leadership

I have been thinking about leadership a lot this in the past week. I've been wondering what so many business leaders are saying behind closed door to their teams, knowing that the market is beating them up, morale is down, and anxiety is rampant. This is the pinnacle moment that every leader trains for - if ever there was time to manage through crisis and show grace under pressure, this is it.

I will go so far as to say that organizations who have senior leaders that can manage the current situation with grace and keep their teams motivated, involved, and supporting one another, will survive to fight another day. Those with leaders that lack bravery in these frightening times may not be so lucky.

Everyone knows it's bad out there. Even if someone doesn't want to discuss it, they know this market is as tough as they come. Once thing I can't stand is to have someone telling the public something they already know as if it's some great revelation. I don't need politicians, CEOs, or finance gurus telling me how bad it is. I get it - I read the paper and I watch the news.

What would be immensely valuable to me, and what a select few like Jeff Bezos, are providing is a plan on how they will steer their organizations in this environment. I don't want to hear anyone of power saying that they don't know what to do in this market and that they are in uncharted waters. If that's the case, then please step aside and let someone with vision take the reigns. I have no desire to sympathize with confused leaders. They've been pontificating on leadership for years - at conferences, in books, during interviews. Now in the moment of truth - this could be their finest moment. Leaders, are you up to the challenge?

The Global Leadership and Talent Equation in a Start-up World

With extra time in the Bay Area, some people go to a spa, take a yoga class, and spend time outside in the many beautiful parks. I love spending time in all those ways. With my recent extra time in the Bay Area, I went to a Stanford event on entrepreneurship. (My nerdiness never ceases to amaze even me!) On Monday evening Stanford hosted a panel discussion entitled "Solving the Global Leadership and Talent Equation." 4 panelists based in Silicon Valley, Eric Benhamou, Chairman and CEO, Benhamou Global Ventures, David Chao, Co-Founder and General Partner, DCM, Kyung Yoon, CEO, Talent Age Associates, and Michael Zhao, CEO and President, Array Networks, spoke candidly about building teams within global start-ups. Immensely talented and skilled, these panelists offered advice and shared their missteps and triumphs in building teams. For the full article, please visit:

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Stanford

I'm finding it hard to leave California this evening, which is odd since I am heading back home to New York. Usually I am rushing to get back home after a trip. To sleep in my own bed, to be among my things, to get back to life as usual. Today I walked through some kind of door, and was consciously aware of a shift taking place. Today life changed, though I'm not yet sure how.

I ventured out to California on Saturday in preparation for meetings with HopeLab today. (More on that in a future post.) They are an exceptionally talented, passionate group of people who create brilliant product. It is a rare combination, especially in these times.
Their excitement and commitment are infectious.I left their offices feeling lighter, feeling like I had picked up on some kind of trail that I had been looking for - like Trusty in Lady and the Tramp.

After the meetings with the HopeLab team, I went to Stanford to hear a presentation on talent management and recruitment for start-ups, particularly those with a global footprint. I felt completely at ease here in Palo Alto, on the Stanford campus, even though I've never been here before this weekend. Every part of me feels energized and hopeful, even on a day when the Dow plunged to 1997 lows and the outlook back East is as grim as ever. Here in Silicon Valley the sentiment is one of opportunity and the direction of focus is forward.

As I crossed the main quad of Stanford's campus and meandered through its terra cotta buildings, I felt a very peaceful feeling wash over me that I have been missing for some time now. I peeked into a few classrooms that were conducting late night classes and for a second I felt a twinge of jealousy. I wanted to be one of those students, at least right at that moment. My friend, Janet, teases me that I am addicted to school and she's not wrong. I am addicted to learning and learning environments. I do miss being a student, more than I realized I would.

Today I felt luck following me around all day, I felt a strong and gentle hand at my shoulder just pointing the way I needed to go. That sounds foolish and more than a little naive, I know, but it's honest. As I was driving to HopeLab, a huge rainbow appeared over the freeway. And in my fortune cookie tonight I got the message, "You will soon gain something you have always wanted." On occasion, I believe in astrology - mostly when I agree with its advice. I suppose a fortune cookie and a rainbow have just as much chance of being accurate as a horoscope. Or at least I hope they are, and in the times we're living in hope is a precious resource.

The photo above can be found at:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Monterey Bay Aquarium

I make a habit of visiting baseball parks and aquariums across the country. When I used to manage theatre tours, I would make a point of seeing as many stadiums and aquariums as I could in the different cities we traveled to. I have to say that Baltimore is tough to beat in both of those departments - I saw Shark Week at that aquarium and those hotdogs at Camden Yards are the best I've ever had.

Being in Northern California this weekend, I wanted to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I have heard about it since my fundraising days at Conservation International. Monterey - you're no Baltimore or Atlanta, though I learned some fascinating things while I was there this morning. They had a few octopi that I were entrancing. Did you know that octopi change their color according to the color of the surface they are crawling or resting on? Incredible. In Boston, they had an octopus who was bored in his own tank, so he found a way to sneak out of his tank at night, when everyone had go home, and would make his way to the lobster, eat his fill, and then get back home before the first staff members arrive. They only way they caught him was by video camera.

The jellyfish exhibit left me breathless. They had these gorgeous, bright orange jellyfish in front of a brilliant blue background. I could have stood there for hours to watch them float through their environment. It was a reminder to me that there are so many mysteries left in this world. There's still so much more to explore, to see, and to know. We haven't even scratched the surface - there are entire worlds underwater, canyons deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon, mountains taller than Everest. It is too much to fathom - we couldn't possibly take it all in

70% of our planet is covered by water so if you ever feel life is too much for you to bear on dry land, I encourage you to go under the sea. Or at least get to your nearest aquarium. It will give you hope by showing you what's possible.

The photo above can be found at:

NY Business Strategies Tom Friedman advocates for entrepreneurs

This morning, Tom Friedman's column in the New York Times laid down the gauntlet in favor of entrepreneurs. With the stimulus package signed by President Obama, many questions remain on how to spend that money, and more importantly, whom to support with it. Friedman eloquently supports using the money for start-ups rather than bailing out the frail, inflexible global enterprises like GM and Chrysler.

To read the full post, please visit:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - California

I'm in the Bay Area of California this weekend. I am thrilled to be meeting the fine team at HopeLab on Monday morning. Since I haven't been to Northern California in a while I figured I would make a weekend of it. I wish I could explain my fascination with California. I've nearly moved here 4 times in my life. Every time I land at SFO I get this strange feeling that I've arrived home, even though I have no idea what it's like to live here.

It's a testament to the design of this area that I have yet to make one wrong turn, or get completely lost. My sense of direction is awful - for the 18 months I lived in Central Florida I was lost almost every day. The state of New Jersey still has me completely confused and I've spent many an hour going around in circle in D.C., trapped in or out of the city by that Beltway. Here in California, I always know where to like, just like I do in New York.

The grass is green here, there are flowers and rolling hills. I drove through Stanford, stunned by Palm Drive, the architecture of the Main Quad, and the vastness of the campus. There's something about the golden color of all the buildings matched with the open green space that had me smiling wider and wider with every turn. I felt perfectly in my element.

Downtown Palo Alto is covered with coffee shops, pizza joints, a smattering of Thai and Indian food. Wi-fi everywhere. I've missed being in a college town. Hope is alive and well on the streets here. I went past the HP headquarters, the Wall Street Journal, and the Ning office. The ideas and creativity are buzzing around in the air here and if you linger long enough, I'm sure you're bound to pick up a stroke of brilliance or two. It's infectious.

The kindness and ease of people here is enough to make you wonder why you ever decided to live anywhere else. I sat next to a man on the plane today. He slept for most of the time and we didn't exchange more than 10 words. As I got up out of my seat, he said, "By the way, you seem like a very nice lady. I wish you well. Good luck to you." I was a bit shocked. I didn't tell him why I was in San Francisco. I actually didn't tell him anything about me. All I could think to mutter back was "you, too."

There's something to be said for stepping off of the island of Manhattan and finding out how life is lived in other places. It informs us, helps us to think differently about one another and our experience in the world. I love New York and it's my home though I am grateful to be able to go to places like California where life is a little bit slower, people are a little less suspicious, and the spirit is a little bit lighter. Let's hope I can figure out how to bottle it and bring some back East with me.

The image above can be found at:

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - the chancy nature of history

"America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy." ~ Samuel Eliot Morison

I took the subway home today, tired and a little nervous about my upcoming trip this weekend. Usually when I look up at the ads in the New York subway, I see one for a podiatrist, another for some sort of alcohol, and another that tells me if I adjust for inflation, I am actually paying less for a subway ride than I did in the 1980s. Today, I glanced up and saw the quote above by Samuel Eliot Morison. I thought about that last line "history is like that, very chancy" all the way home.

History is chancy. We meet someone by chance who changes our lives. We move somewhere that we never imagined living and that dramatically changes the direction of our paths. We pick up a hobby to have something to do and it becomes far more than a hobby. I look back at the course of my life and I am amazed by the twists and turns it's taken. At 18, when I was first leaving home, I never imagined the path I've taken.

It's the excitement of change, of not knowing what comes next, that gets me up in the morning - it's the looking forward, the anticipation, the hope that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. Truthfully, I can't even guess at what's around the bend. And I don't think anyone else can either.

Change can be frightening, stressful, and intimidating. To stay brave in the face of the constant change that is all around us, I try to make it into a game. No matter what happens, I do try to remind myself that this is all learning, that someday it will all make sense, and I remember that really this life is all about chance - how well you weigh the odds, where you place your bets, and how much courage you have to keep trying.

The above images can be found at:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

NY Business Strategies an interview with Cathy Gins, Founder of Aromawear

I had the pleasure of talking to Cathy Gins, Founder of Aromawear, this week. Cathy designs fully customizable aromatic jewelry that combines her 17 years of design experience at Avon with her work as a practitioner of Therapeutic Touch, Reconnection Healing, and Clinical Aromatherapy. Inside each piece is space for a small felt wick that is designed to be scented with a therapeutic oil. The wicks pop in and out of the jewelry very easily, without causing any damage to the jewelry, so that you can adjust the scent you want around you depending on your need at the time. Stressed? You might want to try some lavender. Need to feel motivated? peppermint, lemon, or a citrus scent will help. Feeling under the weather? Try eucalyptus cold relief or a blend called Thieves, which has antibacterial properties and was used by medical workers during the Plague to provide relief. And all of these wicks can be packed into a convenient, pocket-sized traveling case.

For the full article, please visit

My Year of Hopefulness - Tacking into the Wind

My Uncle Tom talks a lot about tacking into the wind. He likes boats, or at least boat metaphors. When I graduated from college he wrote me a message on a greeting card that I still think about. "The winds are always on the side of the ablest navigator. Sail on." I still get a little emotional reading that quote.

When I graduated from college I was really afraid of my future. Or rather, I was really afraid of having no future. I'd spent my entire life in school, and I did very well on that path. Now, school was over, for now, and I was completely lost. I didn't know what I wanted to be, where I wanted to live, or how I'd survive. I knew I made it through a very tough curriculum with my sanity relatively intact, though I had no idea what I planned to do with this degree I held in my hands. It really was just a piece of paper with my name written in curly writing. I got to graduation and realized that I had spent four years just trying to get to graduation without much thought of what I'd do once I was a graduate. I did the only thing I knew how to do - I put one foot in front of the other and kept going.

Life would be terrific and easy if we just knew where we were (point A) and where we wanted to go (point B) and then just traveled in a straight line from A to B. It doesn't work that way - or at least it never has worked that way for me. I've been traveling around the country, with the extent of my belongings able to fit into a car. I've had one fantastic opportunity after another, though I never really worked to get any of them. I was always working hard to get somewhere and something else, and always ended up in a place and doing things that were so much better than what I had planned. This has always been true. I never once planned any single thing better than the world planned something else for me.

I've spent my life tacking into the wind, trying to be the best darn navigator out there. My greatest experiences have been those not found on the path from A to B, but the path from A to X to G to M to Z. I plan for B, though sometimes it never shows itself or when I get there I find it's not what I wanted after all. M looks like a much nicer place to land, at least for a while.

This is not to say that the plan doesn't matter. It plays a role. I've developed certain skills because I thought they'd help me get to B. And they were very useful for M and Z and everything in between. I try to stay as sharp as possible with my eyes and ears wide open so I can grab a hold of that next gust of wind that I need. The plan prepares me, makes me aware of my surroundings.

The treasures and pleasures in life are found along the zig-zag path we take, not in the point-to-point. I try to always remember that, especially when I'm frustrated or confused or plain lost. There is a wind that will carry us up and over and through - our only job is to make sure we recognize it when it heads our way and be ready to raise up that sail.

The photo above can be found at:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: Martha Graham

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. --Martha Graham

Quotes keep me going in good times and in bad. This one from Martha Graham really struck me and is a good lesson for all of us as we continue what we'd like our life's work to be. My friend, Linda, sent me an interesting link that she found on the Get Rich Slowly blog. At a recent conference, the author of the post Linda forwarded to me, listened to George Kinder, a financial planned with a unique approach. He asks all of this clients three questions regarding their future:

  1. Imagine you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams. Describe a life that is complete and richly yours.
  2. Now imagine that you visit your doctor, who tells you that you have only 5-10 years to live. You won’t ever feel sick, but you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining? Will you change your life and how will you do it? (Note that this question does not assume unlimited funds.)
  3. Finally, imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did you miss? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?
George Kinder asks people to think of these questions as a funnel. The first question is easy and the others get progressively harder to answer. Life planning is about getting to the bottom of the answers to questions #3.

My answers to questions #3:
I didn't get to be my own boss, ever.
I didn't get to find the love of my life, though I did have a lot of love in my life.
I missed traveling to so many place that I wanted to see, though I did get to go on some pretty amazing trips.
I didn't get to publish a book, though I'm glad I published my own blog.
I never owned my own home.
I never learned to play a musical instrument well.

In short, if I only had 24 hours, I would die with the music still in me, as John Lennon said. And that alone provides me with a good deal of motivation to get and keep moving forward. Thanks, Linda!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Charm City Cakes

President's Day was a company holiday. Hooray! So how did I spend it? I slept in (a little), did a couple of errands, some writing, some research, watched the Ace of Cakes marathon (for 5 hours) on the Food Network, and met my friends Linda and Monika for a glass of wine at City Winery. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Duff, owner of Charm City Cakes and star of the show Ace of Cakes, when he delivered a cake made to look like a 64-box of Crayola crayons to the Toys R Us in Times Square. I was working at Toys R Us at the time, and my boss was giving interviews to the press that were there covering the event. We were celebrating the 50th birthday of Crayola's 64-box.

Prior to the event, I was a huge fan of the show and of Duff. After meeting him and getting to see one of the Charm City Cakes up close, I became an even more dedicated fan. The artistry that goes into these cakes is amazing - no question. What's even more incredible is the environment and culture of the company that Duff created. He is the only trained pastry chef in his bakery, and many of the other people at Charm City were his friends long before he opened the bakery. Charm City Cakes has one rule - you must have fun! Their website proudly states, "There are no limits to what we can do here at Charm City Cakes. You dream it, we’ll bake it, you eat it." Just watching the show you see what great camaraderie the group has. They collaborate, they have artistic freedom, and they share a tremendous amount of trust and support. It is one of the best models for a business I've ever seen. They work hard, they laugh, and they play. Warning - watching too much of the show may make you want to quit your job and create a company that's as much fun as Charm City Cakes.

Duff and his team are a great example of what's possible in business. He wanted to do things his way and he wanted to work with his friends. Duff is a great leader - he doesn't need to stand over them and approve all of their work. In actuality, he can't - there's too much to do and the only way to get all those gorgeous cakes made is to have an entire team that he trusts to do exceptional work. They've never once let one another down, and the resulting success is staggering. Every entrepreneur class at every business school should study the case of Charm City Cakes - the students would be better off and so would the world of business.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: Martha Putney

I don't make a habit of reading the New York Times obituary column though I came across one for Martha Putney in December that bears repeating. She is a model for all of us on how to stand-up to adversity, find our passion, and pursue new avenues to improve out lot in life. Featured very prominently by Tom Brokaw in his book, The Greatest Generation, Putney defined her own life and potential on her own terms.

A black woman who came of age in the Roaring 20's, she heard the phrases "you're not allowed" and "you can't do that" all the time. She won a scholarship to Howard University where she earned a BA in 1939 and a Masters in 1940. She joined the Women's Army Corps upon the outbreak of World War II. She earned her doctorate from UPenn (which makes me very proud as I am an alum of UPenn, making it all the more remarkable that I never heard of Putney, especially since we both studied history there.) From Philadelphia, she went on to a long teaching careeer - her dream job from the time she at Howard - at Bowie State College (she was the Chair of the Histry Department) and at her alma mater, Howard University. She also published several well-respected books on the history of Blacks in the US military.

Education was the cornerstone of her success and her happiness. This is remarkable considering the years when she went to school, her gender, and her race. She refused to let anyone or anything stand in the way of her education. She did what she had to do to survive, and even though she faced extraordinary opposition, she refused to give up her dream of teaching. 15 long and frustrating years after graduating from Howard, she got her wish. Her persistence and steadfast belief if herself is an inspiration for all of us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Darwin

This months marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his landmark work, On the Origin of Species. Darwin makes me hopeful for several reasons: his tenacity, his ability to "think different", and his age when he wrote his seminal work.

On the Origin of Species
challenged nearly all preconceived notions of how life evolves and changes. Darwin was adamant that it was not the strongest species that survived, thrived, and lived to see future generations of their offspring. The ones who gain the most evolutionary success are the ones who are most adaptive to change. Darwin faced rigorous challenges from his contemporaries and some of those arguments still persist even today. He had the ability to use those arguments to strengthen his own.

It can be hard to break with the thinking of our contemporaries. When everyone else around us says one thing, and we have a different belief, it can be difficult to voice our ideas, and even more difficult to believe in those ideas so deeply that we will commit them to writing. Darwin is a great example for us to follow. He used his observations of evolution to develop a theory entirely contrary to the accepted beliefs of the day. He had the ability to stand up and walk to the beat of his own drummer. In the challenging times we're currently facing, we would be wise, and courageous, to do the same.

The other element of Darwin that I find so inspiring is Darwin's age when he wrote On the Origin of Species. A lot of times I feel the pressure to get out there now and create the greatest work of my life. I am constantly worried that I am not doing enough, that I am not living up to my full potential. A lot of my friends comment that they see their years slipping away, toiling at work for other people, even though they know that eventually they will and need to join the ranks of the many entrepreneurs that I write about and admire. After 50 years of study and observation, Darwin took the leap and put his greatest work, his greatest thinking, out into the world. My friends and I have time, at least a little anyway, to make our mark.

The cartoon above can be found at:

NY Business Strategies an interview with Michael Dorf

I've been amazed this week at how willing entrepreneurs are to talk to me, despite their busy schedules, so that I can showcase them in this column. This week I stopped by City Winery to meet Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory and KnitMedia. He left those ventures in 2002 and embarked on a new adventure that came to life as City Winery in December 2008. I would have considered myself incredibly lucky to get to interview one of his managers for five minutes. Instead, I spent about 15 minutes with Dorf as he gave me a tour of the restaurant and winery, and talked to me about his passions for wine, the music of singer / writers, and creating a community, as well as his journey as an entrepreneur. He was exceedingly gracious and humble.

To read the full article, please visit:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Ethics Class 1

This week, I began teaching Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at the High School of Finance and Economics as part of my volunteer work with Junior Achievement. I arrived ridiculously early to calm my nerves. I haven't been in a high school classroom in a LONG time.

As I was walking from my office, I tried to remember what it was like to be 14 years old. What if I got there and no one cared about the topic or wanted to pay attention? What was I thinking when I signed up for this - I'm going to teach a class of 30 high school students by myself? I was beginning to regret my decision to volunteer for this.
For one second, I thought about turning around and saying I just couldn't do this. I have a horrible case of stage fright. I am great in one-on-one conversation with someone I don't know, but give me a crowd of two strangers and I clam up. Sometimes, I shake - visibly.

My flight impulse had nothing to do with not wanting to teach. I was worried that this group of 30 14-year olds wouldn't like me. I had reverted back to adolescent angst with no warning. And somehow that little fact calmed me down - I know exactly what it's like to be a 14-year old.

Once I was in the classroom with the kids, my nerves calmed down. I smiled - that's my nervous response to almost every awkward situation. We played a game that broke the class up into three groups: haves, have-nots, and a group in-between. The three groups had to figure out how to co-exist on a desert island. It was amazing how quickly some immediately thought to fight the other groups, while others were more interested in negotiating. The difference fell distinctly along gender lines: the boys wanted to fight while the girls wanted to bargain and negotiate.

We didn't even get through half the lesson by the time was up. Just as the conversation was really getting interesting, once the class was starting to get how complicated Ethics is, my time was up. It flew by - I needed more time. They were just getting it and I had to get back to my desk at work. Luckily, I have 6 more classes with them. I'm really glad I rose above the stage fright.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Repost of Alex Lee from OXO

Last Spring I was fortunate to be able to attend the GEL conference in New York City. One of the people on the slate of incredible speakers was Alex Lee, CEO of OXO. The fine people at Good Experience who organize the conference sent me a link to a video that is now posted to highlight Alex's talk. I wanted to repost my article, now complete with video, so you can enjoy on the great talk that has had me thinking intently about functional design ever since! Cheers (and thanks to Good Experience!)

You may not know the name "OXO", though you undoubtedly have seen their products in the kitchen gadget aisles. And their anonymity shouldn't surprise anyone - after all, their CEO, Alex Lee, believes that designers should be overshadowed by the simplicity and beauty of their own designs. Whether it's making an incomparable salad spinner or an ingenious measuring cup, the reaction OXO is always looking for from users is their lack of notice of the object. It should be so intuitive and easy to use that its use should go unnoticed, like walking, like breathing.

Alex also made several points about dignity.
OXO seeks to design products that are usable by the greatest percentage of the population possible. The goal is to design beautiful products without increasing cost, while maximizing functionality, and never making a user feel like "I'm using this easy-to-use product because I am unable to use another one that is more complicated."

He and the talented design team at
OXO have several axioms that they work and live by. Products should be:
Easy to use
Easy to understand
Use honest language
Instructions not required

As far as finding inspiration for worthy design projects,
OXO also makes that search simple. They find objects that cause people some sort of pain or frustration, even if they don't know that they are frustrated. And then they develop a design remedy to alleviate the pain. For example, why should I need to get my eyes down to counter level to observe a meniscus to see if the liquid I've measured is at the right level? I should be able to comfortably observe it from overhead. I didn't realize that, but OXO did. Design so brilliant you wonder how you ever did without it...

Alex Lee at Gel 2008 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - People Who Get It

I'm doing a little experiment: spend a week jotting down the names of everyone you speak to and divide them up into two groups - people who get it and people who don't. And by "it" I mean whatever you're passionate about. Bookies, movies, innovation, a new idea for a project at work, a vacation destination. "It" means anything that you want others to listen to, believe, and embrace as their own. "It" is something you want others to buy into.

I found that I spend a solid 50% of my time talking to people who don't get it, and won't get it, no matter how much I try to convince them. That is sunk energy. I am spending 50% of my time with people stating my case and I'd have just as much luck with a brick wall as I do with them. I have been wasting too much time on people who don't get it, and who don't get me. 

Today I went to an Innovator's Network meeting - a group of people dedicated to talking openly and honestly, looking for silver linings amidst some very dark and gathering clouds. These were my people. Or at least some of them were my people. 

It took me a while to find them, a lot of time and effort shouting from the hilltops, and chasing a lot of roads that culminated in dead ends. I spent a lot of time feeling lonely and left out, and out of place. And then I walked into this room today and saw all of these people, gathered together, as if they had been waiting for my arrival. I took my seat among them and smiled. It felt good to be among like minds.     

For the image above, click here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner: Social Entrepreneurship: God's Love We Deliver - 10,000,000 meals and counting

Last Fall, I volunteered at a disorganized event for a nonprofit. I was griping to one of the other volunteers and she told me about a nonprofit that she works with that runs like a well-oiled machine: God's Love We Deliver (GLWD).

My Year of Hopefulness - Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 3: What is Strengths Training?

Most companies have just completed their annual employee reviews. There are few other times of the year that cause more anxiety and induce more fear at work. Does my boss really like me? What have I screwed up? And what is going, in black and white, into my file, never to be undone?

It's with good reason that many people feel this way. Historically, performance reviews focus on areas of improvement (aka - stuff we're not good at) rather than areas of strength (aka - our greatest assets.) Very slowly, that's beginning to change thanks to people like Marcus Buckingham who advocate for a focus on strengths. 

In session 3 of his on-line workshop, Marcus talks about his belief that focusing on strengths yields a far better outcome than focusing on areas of improvement. 72% of people feel an emotional high from their jobs once a month. Marcus pushes all of us to consider how we can go from once a month to all of the time. In order to get us there, he asks us to follow this plan:

1.) Bust the myths

2.) Get clear on what strengthens and weakens you, not on your strengths and weaknesses (though it's possible that those things could overlap). Most people think that someone else is a better judge of their own strengths and weaknesses than they are. This conclusion is logical because of the current structure of performance reviews at most large companies. Because we report to a boss in a hierarchy, that boss is traditionally given the authority to tell us what we're good at and what we're bad at, and judge us based on that. (This is taken as gospel regardless of the fact that our boss may be less educated, less experiences, and not as talented.) Marcus thinks this is crazy - people with at least an average level of self-awareness (which is nearly everyone) is very conscious of what their strengths and weaknesses are and is the best judge of them. That's why it's often an interview question! In performance reviews, we too often hand over the power to define us to someone else. 

3.) Plan your strong week. Do things that invigorate you, not drain you, as often as you can. Almost every job has elements that we don't like but are necessary. Tilt the floor to fill up as much of our time as possible with the activities that invigorate us. This is called strength training.    

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Accept People From Where They Are

I had drinks with my friend, Brooke, on Friday. I was telling her about a recent challenge in my love life. She listened patiently and with only a few moments of explanation she was able to make me see that the challenge I was facing had nothing to do with me and had everything to do with the guy. It's his past relationships that are effecting his current behavior. I was presenting him with a similar situation that he's faced in the past and that past situation didn't go well for him. Subconsciously, he's put me in that same category as his last girlfriend because of the circumstances, even though our personalities are completely different. 

This got me thinking about some challenges in other parts of my life and I realized a pattern. I have been losing a lot of sleep wondering what I can personally do to overcome these challenges. My conversation with Brooke showed me that sometimes all we can do to resolve a situation is nothing. We have to step back and take people from where they are, not from where we are or where we'd like them to be. The longer we live, the longer we're likely to face some kind of trauma and discomfort. And those things alter us, and they alter the way we look at new situations. The old carries forward, no matter how much we profess to turning over a new leaf. We can change a lot of things, but we can't go back and change our experience. That is frozen in time. 

This simple insight gave me a lot of comfort. Anxiety builds up when we feel that we should be or could be doing something to improve our lot, and for one reason or another we don't act. Knowing that in some instances there isn't anything we can do to improve a situation because the situation is entirely out of our control brings a sense of calm and peace. And it's through providing that peace to someone else that may just help them resolve the challenge on their own, allowing us all to move forward.  

Monday, February 9, 2009

Operation HOPE and Child Savings International on

John Bryant spent many years in Los Angeles shouting from the hills in an effort to educate people outside the finance industry about finance. After the LA riots in 1992, he founded Operation HOPE to provide finance education to young people and those who didn't have any other means to learn about finance.

Illustration above by James Fryer.

My Year of Hopefulness - The Explorer

Last month, there was a clip of me on 20/20. During the summer, I was invited to a party hosted by where I was getting matched up with a number of people that were supposedly perfect for me. I did meet some interesting folks, despite my initial skepticism. I was highlighted on 20/20 as the classic "Explorer" personality. I usually dislike being "typed", however this definition suits me almost too well. 

I think about my career (or more accurately - careers (plural)), my friends, my interests, my education, my travels, my hobbies. The common thread is this unending desire to explore anything new and different. I am a restless spirit. That trait has caused me plenty of trouble, and it's also brought me an equal amount of joy. It's left me sometimes lonely though more often very fulfilled. Wandering can cause me to feel lost and aimless, though the search is always filled with surprise and keeps me pushing forward. 

If I consider my ideal anything - career, relationship, trip, etc. - it always involves discovery. Each new adventure uncovers another tiny piece of me that I didn't know existed. Many times I tried to settle down and play a consistent part, and until very recently I didn't understand why I was ultimately more comfortable with the unknown rather than the stable. Now I know its hard-wired in me. I am proud to represent all Explorers - let the search continue, always.  

Many thanks to my friends, Alex and Shawn, for creating the link to my 20/20 clip on YouTube, and to Col for taking the still of my name tag with her iPhone!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - John Scofield

Last week a date took me to Carnegie Hall to see John Scofield. I had never heard of Scofield though listened to a few of his clips on-line and enjoyed them enough to pique my interest to see him live. He's a jazz guitarist with a very unique sound. I can see how you'd hear a few riffs and know instantly that he was playing. 

In hindsight, the date was largely uneventful though the concert has had me thinking about John Scofield ever since. I was a less-than-mediocre saxophone player in grade school and college, and not for lack of trying. I just didn't "get it". I can read music just fine, which is a problem. I approached playing music the same way I approached calculus - in a very academic, formulaic way. I couldn't play with any kind of feeling - I never felt any kind of kinship with my horn. It was some external piece of metal that I got to play notes in a very unemotional way. Writing became my creative outlet, and remains so, though a tiny of part of me has always felt badly about not being able to play an instrument well. 

I do find that despite my lack of talent to play an instrument, I get a tremendous amount of joy going to concerts and hearing musicians play with such soul. I'm green with envy and teary eyed with joy. It's so evident in their facial expressions that they are off in another world when they're playing. It's a world I long to see, though I've had to settle for being the person just outside, peering in through the window. 

John Scofield and his band are so in sync that there's barely any reading of music and changes are spontaneous throughout a piece. All of a sudden someone's taking a solo even though 30 seconds before they didn't know they'd be up. I sit there in awe wondering how on Earth they do that - how do they know which notes to play? It's a mystery to me. 

You would think my natural reaction would be extreme jealousy and confusion. And you're right, but I can transcend those feelings. What's so inspiring to me about watching concerts and listening to jazz is that through the arts there is another world that exists, whole and separate, from our everyday lives. If life on Earth has you down, put on a musician like Scofield and he'll carry you away with him, at least for a little while. I highly recommend track 5, "Behind Closed Doors", on his album This Meets That.    

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Game Agency on

This week I interviewed Steve Baer, Co-founder of The Game AgencyThe Game Agency (TGA) creates games to integrate into corporate marketing programs to enhance brand value, increase customer loyalty, and drive innovation.

To read the full article on TGA, click here.

My Year of Hopefulness - John Sage and Pura Vida

"As co-founder and CEO of Pura Vida, John Sage has helped Fair Trade coffee – coffee purchased at a price that is fair to farmers – become a regular at U.S. breakfast tables and cafes. At the same time, he has helped better the lives of people in coffee-growing regions. In this talk, Sage discusses how Pura Vida uses every aspect of its products, processes, and profits for social good. He also outlines how the company works to improve the health, educational opportunities, and psychological outlooks of children and families in coffee-growing countries. Sage talks more broadly, as well, about how a new generation of socially minded organizations is producing meaningful, sustainable, and lasting improvements to our world." ~ From Stanford's Social Innovation Conversations website

I listened to John's talk recently and was inspired by his story. After leaving business school, he went to the Pacific Northwest to work for a tiny software company named Microsoft. He went on to other consulting gigs at places like Starbucks. Throughout his career, he kept up his friendship with Chris, a business school friend who went back to Costa Rica after graduation to work in the field that would become social entrepreneurship. It is through this friendship, John's success is the corporate world, and Chris's connection to the poor in Costa Rica, that the idea of Pura Vida was brought to life. 

During the conversation, John tells a story about a woman who came from Costa Rica to Seattle University to tell her story. She, her husband, and her children had only known a life of picking coffee. Her children didn't go to school - the family needed them to work so the family could survive. With the fair price that Pura Vida pays for the coffee on the plantation where they work, she and her husband could earn enough money to support the family, allowing her children to go to school. She had a wish for them to continue their education and perhaps to have the opportunity for college that all of the students in the audience at Seattle University have. Prior to Pura Vida, this dream was not even conceivable, much less possible.

The cost for this kind of dramatic change in a child's life is an extra buck on our cups of coffee. On my Con Edison bill, I give an extra dollar a month to go toward a fund that helps people who struggle to pay their own electric bills. My dollar alone doesn't help much, but together with thousands of other people it makes an enormous difference. When I go to Barnes & Noble to buy a birthday card, I have the opportunity to purchase a UNICEF greeting card so that a portion of the sale goes to UNICEF. The same can be said of hundreds of other products we purchase regularly. Our tiny purchases in this country have huge implications around the world. And we make most of these purchases without thinking, without even acknowledging that we have an opportunity every day to choose and create social change. With this kind of widespread collective impact, these small decisions are worthy of more of our attention.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Measure what's relevant

There is all kinds of advice out there in the media ether on how to survive this latest economic downturn. What to do with your retirement investments, how to manage stress, even how to talk to your kids about what's happening. And it's great advice on surviving, though very few people are talking about how to thrive in this current state of affairs. And why should they? I mean who thrives in a desert, right? 

Actually, a lot of life survives in a desert climate, and in this economic desert we would do well to think about how geographic deserts burgeon with life, mostly below ground and on a small scale. It involves taking a lesson from Darwin and adapting to change. And I don't mean adapting for right now and then looking forward to going back to the way we were before. Survival of the fittest doesn't mean changing for the short-term and going back to our same old ways somewhere down the line. The dinosaurs are not coming back. Ever. And neither are Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns to name just a few. Investment banking has all but vanished from Lower Manhattan and if you don't believe it go see for yourself - take the subway down to Wall Street and have a look around. It's eerily quiet and desolate. There are a lot of cavernous, columned buildings standing empty. These are the modern day dinosaurs. The meteor has struck, and it changed everything. 

With the economy top of mind for nearly everyone, I hear a lot of people throwing around phrases like "the market is way down" or "the Dow is plunging". I some times wonder if most people actually know what that means. The Dow is a set of 30 companies that are considered fairly stable, prosperous, large companies. Or at least they used to be stable and prosperous. Take a look at the list. It's not a pretty picture of America: Caterpillar, General Motors, Citigroup. (Notice the absence of companies like Google and Apple.) Should we judge our economic future on these kinds of companies? Doesn't sound like a wise idea to me.

I'm not an economist. I do have an MBA and I was an economics major in college. I was also a history major in college, and the one thing history shows consistently over time, as does biology, is that things change and in order to survive and thrive we need to adjust. Permanently. None of this "we just need to ride out this latest cycle until things get back to normal." This is the new normal - change. Radical and rapid. And I think it may be time to dump the Dow as an indicator of our future. To keep it is analogous to judging the future of life on Earth by the fate of the dinosaurs. 

We need a new perspective. Going forward, it will be small businesses and entrepreneurs that drive innovation and prosperity in our country. And this is a reason to rejoice. For the past few years, we have talked about the rise of the individual and personalization. Little did we know at the time that this trend wasn't just about ipods and Facebook. It will serve to underpin our entire economy in drastic and never-imagined ways. 

Change is never easy. There will be casualties in the process: big companies will go under, there will continue to be layoffs, and individuals will have to re-frame their lives. The longer we resist that re-framing, the worse off we will be. Rip off the band-aid and accept that change has arrived and will continue. It's time to we get to work and figure out how we are going to adapt and learn how to survive and thrive in the new economy. Stop lamenting what was and look forward to what we can have a hand in building.