Saturday, November 03, 2007

Naive and unoriginal (but optimistic)

Friday News from Net Impact in Nashville.

On the plane to Nashville, I read the Business Week article on "Little Green Lies," about Aspen's Auden Schendler and his "bitter" (would bittersweet be a better description?) greening journey. Then the Net Impact Conference (1700+ MBA's interested in more sustainable business) started off with Yvonne Chouinard. YC is one of my heroes, but he started it off on a fairly tough note. A double hit of pesssimism. It was getting tough to maintain my "unrepentent optimist" outlook. Don't worry, I got over it. Being around all these highly energized Net Impacters helped.

A few highpoints from YC's talk:

"there is a proper size for every endeavor"
"from my climbing, I learned that the goal is not the summit, but how you climbed the route"
"hire people you want to go to dinner with, then leave them alone"
"leading an examined life in business is a pain in the ass"

Next up was our panel on Technology and the Base of the Pyramid. Rob Katz of WRI was a great moderator, and Tim Prestero of Design that Matters and Cindy Cooper of Speak Shop were wonderful co-panelists.

I liked Cindy's use of IT to empower Guatamalan language tutors to gain access to a global market. Very clever, and a wonderful example of using technology to help the poor go to where the money is. Note most aid has been aimed at taking money to where the poor are. And they do a free trial!

Tim was a riot. He has a gift for simple, funny stories... and then as you think about them, you realize they have several dimensions. For example, his Peace Corps experience (after getting his engineering degree) of digging outhouses. Tough work. But also realizing the gap between classroom learning and useful work, when he was asked about load tolerances of the concrete they were using, and realized he didn't know whether they could support someone sitting on the crapper. My favorite, though, was his response to an executive who said he didn't have time to talk to Tim about an LED projector for teaching the poor to read. Tim's response: "I can understand why don't have time for me, but how can you not have time for the 1 billion people in the world who can't read?" Ouch.

It was also fun to share some our our Envirofit stories- the good, bad and ugly. And it lead to my commment that my skill was being naive and unoriginal. These are actually good skills for an entrepreneur (even this isn't original). Being naive allows you to get in over your head without knowing it. And once you are committed, you just keep muddling along and occasionally you get something right.

As for being unoriginal, in BOP, it is a good idea to invent as little new stuff as possible. It is hard enough to just get traction in these markets, so figure out how to make it as easy as possible. I am pretty sure you don't get points for degree of difficulty (unlike Olympic diving, or developed markets, where such difficulties may provide competitive advantage).

During the panel, I may have implied that I am also lazy, in that entrepreneurs have to find the path of least resistance. Being a successful entrepreneur involves looking for the easiest answer for hard problems. This isn't really lazy, just efficient. And sometimes it is hard work to find these easier answers. So I don't think it is really lazy at all. Otherwise I would have to title this post "Naive, Unoriginal and Lazy (but still optimistic)," and that might give the wrong impresssion.

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