Monday, June 30, 2008

If Homer can give...

If Homer can give, we all can give.

That is from a post over at What Gives by Katie Taylor, one of our fabulous summer interns.

Not what I used to want to be, I hope.

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.
That is William Feather, quoted in The Week. It reflects my own experience. But James Richardson, also quoted in The Week, adds the following:
The man who sticks to his plan will become what he used to want to be.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

All together now...

Next week a group of us are going to spend an afternoon volunteering at the N Street Village here in Washington, DC. I never fail to marvel how much I enjoy doing these things, though I started later in life.

Here is a nice post from Alison Schrager on her own recent experience volunteering:
The economist in me always saw beauty in the discerning market.... But successful community-building thrives on inclusion rather than exclusivity.... Economies and communities thrive together, which means even an economist can (and in this case will) achieve a sense of community.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A thousand small leaps

[T]here’s an enigma to the Toyota Production System: although the system has been widely copied, Toyota has kept its edge over its competitors. Toyota opens its facilities to tours, and even embarked on a joint venture with G.M. designed, in part, to help G.M. improve its own production system. ... So how has Toyota stayed ahead of the pack?

The answer has a lot to do with another distinctive element of Toyota’s approach: defining innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis.
That is James Suroweicki writing in the New Yorker about how Toyota has overtaken GM to become the world's largest car maker. It is a good complement to Mari's post about the Japanese concept of continuous reform (kaizen) over at the GlobalGoodness blog.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That is the title of a good article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic. He notes that in the new age of the web, his own attention span has gotten much shorter. He now finds it much harder to read long articles or books that present sustained arguments and stimulate deep thinking.

(Thanks to my friend April for the tip.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Keep on brooming

Outside the entrance which we would shortly transit was a little man in overalls and a cap, and he was brooming. And it wasn't a nice broom with uniform nylon bristles, more like the broomstick stolen by Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West. And this guy was pumping it like an Olympic brooming champ, as if his was the single most important task between civilization and the barbarians. And maybe it was ...

This is from a very nice post by Tim Kane titled The Key to Human Capital? Edison Knew.

It is a nice reminder that the vast majority of breakthroughs and successes arise through lots of brooming over many years, and not a single eureka insight.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I wish I were as smart as Steve Jobs

I wish I were as smart as Steve Jobs. His innovations at Apple are extraordinary in terms of both the products and the marketing. If you want to see a master at work, watch Jobs' most recent talk announcing the new iPhone.

I am probably going to break down and get an iPhone; even the luddite Steve Pearlstein says he is going to do the same.

Alas, I am not as smart as Steve Jobs.

But you know what? It does not matter, because I am surrounded by a lot of people who know a lot more than I do about a lot of different things. And those people are responsible for the fact that GlobalGiving grew by over 500% in the first five months of 2008. (This amidst reports that philanthropy overall will be flat or even down this year.)

Who are these people that more than make up for my mediocrity?

First and foremost are the amazing people and groups who run the projects listed on GlobalGiving. If you want to learn something about innovation, these are the among the most creative people in the world. They achieve extraordinary results with extremely limited resources.

Then come the donors and partners on GlobalGiving who generate more ideas than I could ever even dream of. If you want to know how we stay ahead of the curve, you should read the results of our surveys.

And last but not least are the exceptional people we have here at GlobalGiving. The challenges of creating a whole new way to connect people around the world are huge. Not only do we have to keep the operation running smoothly and efficiently every day, we also constantly have to invent new things - or more often respond to the ideas proposed by our users. This requires great skill, imagination, and coordination among our supply, marketing, BD, finance, and tech teams, who are truly awesome.

These are the heroes of GlobalGiving. And, fortunately, they free me from the burden of worrying about being as smart as Steve Jobs.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Supergrads vs. Underdogs

There was an obnoxious piece in the Washington Post Magazine this past weekend called The Amazing Adventures Of Supergrad, which has the following blurb:
The most sophisticated, accomplished, entitled graduates ever produced by American colleges are heading into the workplace. And employers are falling all over themselves to vie for their talents.
It features a number of "supergrads" whose resumes read like Nobel Prize winners at age 18. Why do I have a sinking feeling that many are going to crash and burn from all the early kudos and pressure?

Contrast this with one of the great recent underdogs, JK Rowling, who was down and out shortly after her own graduation. Here are some excerpts from her speech at last week's Harvard Commencement:
I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Eat Less, Not Local?

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It's hot here in the DC region this weekend - pretty early in the season, if you ask me. So how can we contribute in the fight against Global Warming? Changing our eating habits (and discarding some earlier preconceptions) may be a bigger part of our battle kit than we thought:

It's how food is produced, not how far it is transported, that matters most for global warming.... In fact, eating less red meat and dairy can be a more effective way to lower an average U.S. household's food-related climate footprint than buying local food.
That is from a new study by Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When the Shoe Fits...

Since starting GlobalGiving several years back, I have noticed a major sea change in the nature of so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). When we started, many companies felt that, to avoid criticism, they needed to make a show of doing something socially responsible. They often engaged PR firms to make them look good or created a small foundation to tout in their annual report.

This is changing quickly as many companies, large and small, are baking social impact into their company culture and products. The main reason for this, in my experience, is the rise of a younger generation of managers who really care about the future of the world and their neighbors in developing countries.

The good news is that many of these companies make stellar products as well, and I am going to start highlighting some products that I have used and like.

The blog posts below about the Girl Effect relate to a new program being launched by Nike. And my current favorite running shoe is the Nike Free (top photo). These things are so comfortable that I sometimes wear them around the house as slippers.

And I just returned from a trip to Tokyo, where I wore my new Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Dharmas, which were fabulously comfortable, functional, and stylish (very important in Tokyo!) They are now my new favorite casual shoes.

Terra Plana is a new company founded by Galahad Clark whose mission is to make sustainable shoes. Both the Nike Frees and the Vivo Barefoot shoes are based on a philosophy that having heels on shoes makes us walk wrong and wrecks our feet.

PS: If you have similar products to recommend, please send me your suggestions.

Why we should invest in girls

If you want to know why investing in girls has such a huge impact on the world, check out this great new campaign by Nike. And then click below to see how your $25 can make a loan to a girl in Uganda to raise chickens.