Sunday, December 30, 2012

Recent reads and some ramblings thereon

Just finishing up Little Bets by Peter Sims.  An easy to read, up to date summary of thinking on the creative side of innovation, and one that would go well with "Where Good Ideas Come From," "Medici Effect" and "Steal Like an Artist". It will be the last book I read in 2012. Thanks, Peter!

Other favorites from recent months:
-Startup Communities by Brad Feld- maybe it is pride in the Colorado roots of this book, but I think this should be required reading for entrepreneurs (as well as any politician or government official who wants to talk about "job creation"). Startups are such an important, but misunderstood part of the economy. Why should entrepreneurs read it? To understand how important the ecosystem/community is, and how important it is for them to give back/pay forward to that community.* For BOPreneurs? While not Brad's focus, I think there are some great foundations laid here. For instance, the work of Village Capital, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Echoing Green and The Hub are encouraging similar approaches to building startup communities, albeit not always with a geographic focus.**

-The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Communities by Stephen Marglin. You know how some books just take your world view and shake it in a way that it doesn't ever get back to the way it was? Well, for me, this was one of them. We will see how it stands my test of time, but for now, it goes up on that top shelf of books, which include Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Friedrich Hayek, Hawken & Lovins(s), Hernando deSoto, William Easterly and Peter Singer (umm, yes, I do live with some internal intellectual tension).*** This book attacks many of the precepts upon which our modern economy is based. Rather than asking how do we make markets work better, he instead asserts the limits of markets. When should humans prioritize markets, and when should we prioritize community? If you are open to the idea that "the foundational assumptions of economics are cultural myths rather than universal truths" I'd encourage you to look at this book. For entrepreneurs, I think that, as with many unpopular perspectives, this book provides a multitude of new ways to solve problems (aka, "opportunities"), and new tools beyond the popular "market based" approaches.****

What does 2013 hold? Well, my next package from Amazon contains: 1) Marjorie Kelly's "Owning our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution"; 2) Michael Shuman's "Local Dollars, Local Sense" and 3) Nassim Nicolas Taleb's "Antifragile- Things That Gain From Disorder." Looks like time for some more "intersectional reading."
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*The day after I posted this, Brad posted this 2013 advice for entrepreneurs: "Give Before You Get."
**Note: In my work at Bohemian Foundation, we fund some of these organizations, or organizations affiliated with these organizations.
*** Challenging ideas can be pernicious, burrowing pests at times. Your established view is like an immune system, and can fend off the weak ones in time. But some just grab hold and make you itch for a while. Then they become part of your ideabiome (metaphorically speaking).
****Just to be clear, I am still a fan of market based approaches, in many instances. It is my "go to" bias. But so much of my work is in areas where markets have, at least until now, failed. As my colleague Tom Dean has written, market failure can be a rich vein of entrepreneurial opportunity. And there are many good examples of social entrepreneurs who have used market approaches to solve market failures.  Perhaps an example is illustrative of the quandary: which enterprise will have a bigger impact in bringing clean water to more people who need it- Spring Health (started by my friend Paul Polak) or Water For People (run by my friend Ned Breslin)? This is a hard question, with no easy answers (and it was my students' final exam question this past semester!). Spring Health has a purer, market based approach. Water for People uses markets, but it also uses other community development tools, because it believes that market based approaches will only reach 85% of the people in a community, and their goal is to reach everyone, forever. The untouchables, AIDS orphans and others won't all get water. Spring Health acknowledges the issue by providing water delivery, at a higher cost, to the untouchables. Both are admirable ventures, yet they raise the issue of whether a business model should be based primarily on market forces, or whether other approaches may also be needed to address these challenges. Perhaps it depends on the community's view of whether water a right or a commodity? Because we wouldn't just use markets to provide rights, right?

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