Saturday, April 16, 2011

Light Weight Business Models

As promised in last week's post, here are my slides from the Enterprise Solutions session at the Global Health & Innovation Conference at Yale this afternoon. My hope is that it will help my bleeps design business models that are focused on "ounces of prevention" rather than "pounds of cure." I tried to share some of my thinking on how ideas from "lean start up" folks can be applied to social ventures working on global health challenges.

At the end of my presentation, I offered a free consult to anyone in the audience that was willing to publicly commit, then and there, to design/redesign a business model for a global health venture. I look forward to finding out more about the 16 people who took this first step to jumping in!

I also learned a lot from my co-presenters, and wish that we had more time for discussion following the session. Check out Ted London's new book, "Next Generation Business Strategies for the BOP" as well as the HBR article he referenced. Very helpful resources for thinking about what you want to do, and how you might go about it. It is much easier to travel light if you have friends along the way and rely on local resources, as Ted recommends.

If you enjoyed Michael Fairbanks of SEVEN Fund, I'd encourage you to check out his new blog, the Daedalus Experiment, where you can find out why some social entrepreneurs are like "self licking ice cream cones." Be careful... too much of that type of ice cream will put on the pounds, and you want to design a lean and light weight venture which can fuel itself off ounces of prevention.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Banning the Banal: 5 Phrases #Socent would be better off without

Note: a mini-rant follows.

There are many serious issues facing our planet. This post is not about them. It is, instead, a list of the phrases I would like to see expunged from discussions of social entrepreneurship, impact investing, social metrics and international development.

Definitions of "banal" include: devoid of originality, hackneyed, commonplace, ordinary. In short, of little use. These platitudes are not inspirational, they are insipid. They are not motivational, they are meaningless. Remove them from your speech, your life, even your powerpoint presentations.

1) "Doing well by doing good." Oh please. Get back to work.

2) "Teach a man to fish, rather then giving him fish." Often said in a with an "oh-so-sincere" expression; implies that the speaker knows how to fish, which is usually not the case, or if it is the case, the speaker knows how to fish in his home waters, but not half way around the world.

3) "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." This used to be a cool quote from Margaret Mead, and was often used to end a lecture. But it is now officially overused, and is now usually uttered by a band of committed citizens in one part of the world trying to change another part of the world, without a very clear idea of whether the change is desired by those that live in that other part of the world. George Bernard Shaw's similar quote on "unreasonable men" is also approaching a saturation point.

4) "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Sorry Gandhi, your wonderful quote has been misused so often it might drive you to violence. I have been guilty, but never again.

5) Drum roll for the final banality: "Problems can't be solved with the same level of thinking that created them." Es tu Albert? It doesn't take a genius to know that this overused quote needs to be consigned to "the dustbin of history" (a phrase used by Trotsky, Reagan and Gaddafi!).

There are more, and I invite my bleeps to add their "favorites" to the list in the comments to this post. Maybe even play "Banality Bingo" at your next conference or event.

Don't get me wrong, I like quotes, and use them frequently.* Fortunately, there are lots of good quotes out there that are underutilized. Explore the long tail of great thinkers from all cultures, both to inspire yourself and others.
*Next week, I plan to use "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" in a talk at the Global Health & Innovation Conference. I know that this is a well known quote, but I hope to put a bit of a twist on it, and will post my slides on this blog eventually.

"I can't get no..."

"When I'm ridin' round the world
and I'm doin this and I'm signin' that....
I can't get no satisfaction."
The Rolling Stones

I love mountains, and have from an early age. For my seventh birthday, I asked my parents to take me to climb Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in New York. I loved it. When we moved closer to the Adirondacks when I was a teen, I plotted how to climb the 46 "High Peaks." Too young to drive, this often involved convincing at least one of my parents to go climbing. Some days, we would "knock off" a single peak, other times we would get on a ridge trail, and "bag" several peaks.

To me, it was all about the destination. Satisfaction lay in achieving the goal. I remember one summer day at the top of Algonquin Peak, my mother saying "Paul, let's just sit and enjoy the view." As I suspected throughout my youth, she was a crazy woman. We had two more peaks to climb that day. Summits were for eating your sandwich, cramming in a small box of Sun-maid raisins and a square of Hershey's bar, and moving on down the trail to whatever came next. "Sit and enjoy?"

Now, 40 years later, I realize that for my parents it was not about the destination, and all about the satisfaction of hiking through the woods with their excited son. For my Mom, it was much more about watching the cloud shadows race across the cliff streaked nearby peaks, seeing how far she could see, and chatting with other hikers. For my Dad it was identifying birds by their songs, making a walking stick with his jack knife, or speculating on whether there might be "good-sized trout" in an unmarked clump of beaver ponds that he'd spotted from the ridge.

"Life is a journey, not a destination." Wise words attributed to Emerson (as well as Aerosmith), but ones I question still. Doesn't the destination direct and shape the journey? Isn't the destination enriched by the journey? And, anyway, isn't life composed of many journeys and destinations? Where one's summits are like individual notes in a piece of music, sometimes melodic, sometimes not?

For me, life is about both journey and destination, and feels best when that elusive balance between them is, even momentarily, achieved. That, for me, is satisfaction, flow and joy. It is about getting to the summit, and enjoying it. And then starting out towards the next one.
NOTE: I am known in my family for remembering all of the good, and none of the bad, on many of our trips. It is possible that I have, at times, encountered bugs, mud, injuries, unfriendly animals and locales, and freeze dried eggs with worms in them. At times, I may have packed too little food figuring I would catch enough fish. And, years later, one of my son's friends refers to a backcountry ski tour as "The Trail of Tears." So my parents may have a different recollection of some of these trips during my Wonder Years.
NOTE #2: Update. My parents do recollect that I was a tad difficult. I was pleased they used the past tense.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Who decides?

"We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect."
Henry David Thoreau

Lillian BeVier, one of the most popular profs at UVa Law, used this basic question to teach constitutional law. Her point was that societies face many decisions, and it is important to decide which institutions will make them. And to have "checks and balances" in the system.

Today, we face big challenges that go beyond national boundaries. I was reminded of Prof. BeVier this morning when I read this article: "Tweaking the climate to save it: Who decides?"

The theme of the article is that political institutions are at a logjam on actions which might significantly reduce/mitigate green house gasses (Copenhagen), so it might be prudent to have a "Plan B" for involving adaptation and geo-engineering.

Atmospheric scientists might learn from the experience of their biotechnology colleagues. Political decisions get made by people who don't understand the science, and (this can be frustrating) on grounds that have little to do with science (see Stem Cells). But bringing in experts from other fields, such as ethics, political science, economics- and yes, law- will result in a broader conversation and a better chance for a workable framework to emerge.

Just as there are frameworks for approvals before injecting animals or people with chemicals... we will need similar frameworks before experimenting with injecting the atmosphere with chemical "cures." So, who decides what the framework is, and how it will be implemented?

The Royal Society tapped academic experts in their 2009 report "Geoengineering the Climate" which included a chapter on governance, including short sections on ethics and international frameworks. These provide an overview of the issues, but little traction on our question.*

From the "Tweaking" article, it appears that these fields were represented at the tranquil countryside estate of Chicheley. While I could not find the list of attendees at this meeting (transparency?) the journalist reported that attendees came from an invitation list** of "blue-ribbon cross section of atmospheric physicists, oceanographers, geochemists, environmentalists, international lawyers, psychologists, [and] policy makers" from six continents. No mention of ethicists, economists or engineers.

It seems that the attendees had a hard time wrapping their heads around this being a credible "Plan B." One participant stated "as soon as you start to do this research, you say its OK to think about things you shouldn't be thinking about." Really? I better go read up again on the scientific method. But it concerns me that there are things we "shouldn't be thinking about." Not the best approach for someone fancying themselves a "decider," is it?

So, back to the title. Who decides? At this point, the scientists are taking the lead on what seems to be more of a policy question. I hope that the process will be open minded, transparent and accepting of diverse points of view. And that they remember that while science provides an important perspective on the topic, others will be needed if there really is going to be a Plan B.
*One of my favorites: "A sufficiently high carbon price, credits for sequestration and financial support for reduced radiative forcing would be necessary to stimulate greater entrepreneurial activity in developing geoengineering technology. It is not yet clear if this would be desirable." (p 44)

**the article notes that the invitations were put together by the Royal Society and the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF is a well known environmental organization, and I respect much of their work. But it is far from unbiased when it comes to geoengineering. While I might agree with their view on geoengineering, I am concerned that they were doing the invitation list. The scientific community just doesn't seem to get it that these approaches reinforce the perception of bias, and undermine the credibility of meetings like this one. I guess it might have disturbed the countryside tranquility to invite a Nathan Myhrvold, Bjorn Lomborg or Steven Levitt to the event.