Saturday, February 28, 2009
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
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 http://www.squidoo.com/helpUSsoldiers
Photo above taken by Rafiq Maqbool, AP.
To read the full article, please visit http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m2d27-According-to-Crains-entrepreneurs-are-finding-the-silver-lining-in-this-economy
Thursday, February 26, 2009
NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: an interview with the owners of Baked, a bakery in Red Hook and Charleston
To read the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m2d25-The-duo-behind-Baked-an-interview-with-Matt-Lewis-and-Renato-Poliafito
"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 understanding 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: http://www2.seattleu.edu/mrc/images/matteobanners_new.jpg
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
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.
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?
Monday, February 23, 2009
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: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/56/132248453_b7df81e3f6.jpg
Sunday, February 22, 2009
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: http://justinsomnia.org/images/monterey-aquarium-orange-jellyfish.jpg
To read the full post, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m2d22-Tom-Friedman-advocates-for-investment-in-entrepreneurs
Saturday, February 21, 2009
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: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/photos/campus-palmdrive.jpg
Friday, February 20, 2009
"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: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2007/03.01/photos/15-nostalgic8-450.jpg
Thursday, February 19, 2009
For the full article, please visit http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m2d19-Aromawear-wellness-you-take-with-you
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: http://www.discount-florida-vacations.com/images/sailboat_sunset.jpg
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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?
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
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
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
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: http://www.anthroblogs.org/nomadicthoughts/archives/addis-darwin-bday-cartoon.jpg
To read the full article, please visit:
Saturday, February 14, 2009
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
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.