Monday, May 28, 2007

Goodall to Great

In this blog, I have written about the role of activists and entrepreneurs as change makers. Jane Goodall and Jim Collins both spoke at CSU recently, and challenged the community on the need for change, and the best ways to pursue such change. Who knew chimps and hedgehogs could lead to so many interesting ideas?

Jane Goodall is an impressive activist role model. Now in her 70s, she is still going strong, traveling around the world, giving 300 speeches a year to spread her message of hope for the natural world. There seemed to be two dominant themes of her talk- the need for humans to be involved in the natural environment and the role of youth for bringing about change for this world. I was also impressed by her use of “enterprise models” and microcredit, as demonstrated in the TACARE initiative of blending sustainable livlihoods around her beloved chimps.

A few quotes:
i) “It is not much good to immunize kids if you don’t improve the environment in which they live.”
ii) “Many of the problems of Africa are tied to the unsustainable lifestyles of wealthy nations.”
iii) “I wonder how such an intelligent species can be destroying the only world it has.”

She continues to be excited about working with people with “bright eyes” that are ready to “jump in.” “There are thousands of problems, and I have never found one that didn’t have someone working on it.”

If Goodall spoke to the large challenges facing the world’s species, Jim Collins spoke more on how one could use a disciplined approach to achieving a great life of meaningful work. He started out asking our business school graduates “what would you ask me if we were having dinner?” He quickly gave them unexpected advice, suggesting that by focusing on picking the right job, they were missing the point. “It is almost certain you will get the wrong job, so spend your time picking the right mentors.”

Collins is now working on two research streams. First, “great” companies that lost it (“Great to Good”) and then companies that have been successful in “less forgiving environments” (analogizing to being high up on Mount Everest). In his view, the post WWII environment was remarkably stable, and that stability is declining.

He emphasized that one fundamental finding in all his research is that “greatness is not a function of luck or circumstance; it is a function of choice and discipline.” He then noted that there was a negative correlation between starting a company with a great idea and success, noting that HP’s story was not one of deciding what they would make, but with whom they would work and how they would do the work.

He also noted the difference between two types of people. Those whose lives are a series of transactions, and who lead "successful" lives. And those whose lives are a series of relationships, who lead "great" lives. Adding to his advice on picking mentors, he shared his story of choosing a personal board of directors (not all of whom knew they were on his board). And suggested that students pick them based on values, not the appearance of success. He also shared the use of his “hedgehog” concept as a way to make decisions on meaningful work at which an individual can excel. [Hedgehog= what are you passionate about? what can you be the best in the world at? how can you make money doing it?]

As an entrepreneur, I most enjoyed his advice to the graduates that “it is much riskier to get a job than it is to start a company.” Collins points out that getting a job is riskier, in that you are putting all your eggs in one basket (business), and putting someone else in charge of the basket. As he put it, there is a difference between risk and ambiguity. The entrepreneurial path is more ambiguous, in that it is less clear what will happen. But can be less risky, since you can have many clients and can adjust rapidly when you see opportunities or threats.

One of the key points of the book the Medici Effect was the innovative energy that comes from overlapping and intersecting fields and cultures. Those in the CSU community had a wonderful chance to hear two great thinkers in Goodall and Collins, and I hope it sparked some creative thinking about the role of entrepreneurship and activism in solving the closely related problems of poverty, health and environmental degradation

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