Hourglass Theory Of Life

 
October 15th, 2014

hourglass

 

Theories of life are a dime a dozen. For what it’s worth, here’s mine:

Hourglass Theory Of Life: Start with broad learning, narrow focus for impact, return to generalized exploration before the sand runs out!

Every life takes a different path but as sand moves inexorably through our personalized hourglasses there are patterns worth considering.

The top of the hourglass represents unlimited potential. While full with life’s sand anything and everything seems possible.  The future is brightest when we start with the broadest learning. No limits. No boundaries. Zen Buddhism teaches us the important concept of beginner’s mind, approaching everything with an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki

I’m blessed to see beginner’s mind in action every time I see our three year-old twin granddaughters.  It’s exhausting to watch them explore the world around them with reckless abandon, soaking up diverse inputs, experimenting with every sense, and squealing with delight with every surprising new discovery. All kids are born great. Our youth is characterized by broad general learning, the broader the better. The top of the hourglass is about foundation building. It’s about being a voracious generalist. It’s about keeping all opportunities open. The goal at the top of the hourglass is to explore the widest possible frontier of ideas and tools and to establish confidence in a sandbox full of capabilities that can be combined and recombined in unpredictable ways as the future unfolds.

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Preach To The Choir

 
October 6th, 2014

ChoirHow many times have you heard the expression, you’re preaching to the choir? As if engaging with people who share your values and relate to your point of view is a limiting or bad thing. The adage implies that we should find other people, not yet indoctrinated, to engage with. It took me a while to figure it out, but the age-old adage is wrong. You should preach to the choir because that’s the only way to mobilize transformational change. If you want to transform anything find people who want to change, connect them with each other in a purposeful choir, and enable them to create an entirely new song. Proselytizing doesn’t work. You can’t make people join the choir if they don’t want to. Focus on people who want to be in the choir and make it easier for them to sing.

 

I used to believe that proselytizing worked to catalyze transformational change by convincing people who didn’t know they had to change that they needed and wanted to change. Over a thirty-year career spanning industry, consulting, and government I believed in and implemented a proselytizing model to enable change.  For years I believed that if I just yakked long and loud enough, if I just put together and presented one more smart consulting deck, and if I adopted what I call my ‘Jewish Aunt” approach to management by nudging I would ultimately wear you down and you would change. It didn’t work. If people don’t want to change they don’t. Sure, there was the occasional convert and a solid track record of enabling incremental change to the way things work today. However, my goal has always been and remains transformational change. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how smart and eloquent I deluded myself into thinking I was, people who didn’t want to change, didn’t change.  The 21st century screams for transformation not tweaks. We need a new theory of change worthy of the 21st century. Read more


Welcome To BIF10!

 
September 17th, 2014

bif10Since BIF1, 10 years have passed — 320 storytellers, 5,000 participants, and millions of random collisions of unusual suspects — and all in the blink of an eye.  I’m grateful, humbled, blessed, and blown away by what we have accomplished together.

We made ourselves vulnerable. We connected in ways none of us imagined possible. We checked our egos at the door.  We inspired each other to push beyond our limits.  We laughed and we cried together. We nudged each other to the edge where the cool stuff happens. We reinforced a sense of optimism to a fault. We helped each other get better faster. We realized we are not alone. We live the transition from push to pull. We demonstrated we are better together. We committed to going from tweaks to transformation. We wear our silo-busting badges proudly. We learned that innovation is about so much more than technology. We got below the buzzwords. We done good! We’re just getting started.

If you’re new to the community and conversation, don’t worry. Come on in, the water is fine! That’s the thing. There are an infinite number of unusual suspects to collide with and adjacent possibilities to explore. There’s room for everyone and all capabilities in our transformation sandbox.  You are welcome and valued here. Read more


This Is What Customers Really Crave

 
September 15th, 2014

This is the ninth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time site, authored by Nicha Ratana and myself, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18

“Today, smaller and smaller teams are building bigger and bigger things, faster,” he explains. In today’s marketplace—which is streamlined by technology and defined by abundant choice— “corporate muscle mass” such as factories and storefronts have lost the clout they had 50 years prior.

“What customers really crave is a sense of humanity,” claims Taylor.

“Leaders of economically successful organizations are every bit as rigorous about the human side of their enterprises as they are about R&D and acquisitions,” he maintains. Taylor encourages us to recognize the influence of passion brands. “Apple, Google, HBO” he lists, all have dominated their industry sectors thanks to the might of a zealous group of consumers.

“Ultimately, your culture is what sustains your strategy.”

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Innovation Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

 
September 11th, 2014

This is the eighth in a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18

Innovating in Afghanistan certainly brings new meaning to the corporate term “change or die”. Over the course of the project, Col. Fritz had to resolve vast technological limitations and overcome cultural and language barriers. Together, he and his team synchronized the activities of 16 nations, spread across six geographical locations within Afghanistan, to build air power capability and ensure security for the country’s future. Read more


Here’s Why It’s Not All About Your Personal Success

 
August 27th, 2014

This is the seventh of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

ky_bif6Keith Yamashita vividly remembers one smoggy school day from when he was eight years old. He and fellow classmates at the local elementary school in Santa Ana, California, spent their recess corralled in the indoor gymnasium to watch a movie.“That film stuck with me for the rest of my life” Yamashita later recalled while sharing a tale of personal transformation onstage at the Collaborative Innovation Summit, a storytelling event hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

The 9-minute film, “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, begins with an overhead view of a couple lounging on top of a checkered picnic blanket in a park. The camera zooms out and appears to rise into the atmosphere, marking off the distance from the picnic blanket in powers of ten, until it is far outside our galaxy. Then it zooms back in, ending at the atoms in the husband’s hand.

“Up to that point,” he said, “I had no idea that anything existed beyond my house and school, existed outside of what I knew.” Read more


3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

 
August 25th, 2014

This is the sixth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18

DMSHow many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.

To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says.

She explains her network this way: Her consultancy, Mills-Scofield LLC, is her livelihood and passion; venture capital firm, Glengary, where she is a partner, is her way of giving back. She helps entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground by connecting them with clients and collaborators who are hungry for innovation. Furthermore, she mentors a small army of students at her alma mater, Brown University, introducing them to opportunities where they can help “kick things up a bit.”

Each connection Mills-Scofield makes is an iteration of her business philosophy, which is as old-school as it gets: she believes, simply, in “paying it forward.” Read more


The Splendid Exile of the Genius Richard Saul Wurman

 
August 11th, 2014

This is the fifth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website , authored by myself and Nicha Ratana,  with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

wurmanbif9Richard Saul Wurman, best known as the founder of the TED conference, has made it his job to produce clarity out of the complex. In Newport, RI, lives an old magician in splendid, self-imposed exile.

His eclectic body of work boasts over 80 books, including the original Access city guides, the bestsellers Information Anxiety and Information Anxiety II, as well as esteemed companions on all topics from football, to estate-planning, to healthcare. He has founded 40-odd conferences and chaired numerous information-mapping projects.

In conversation, Wurman speaks with unapologetic honesty, which one comes to appreciate. He has light eyes and a hawk-like profile. He describes himself as “abrasive, but also charming.”

Wurman lives with his wife in a 19th-century mansion on eight high-walled acres. They have few friends in Newport. He admits they prefer it that way. “I live reclusively behind a fence,” he jokes, “The town put it up to keep me in.” Read more


On the Internet, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

 
August 6th, 2014

This is the fourth of a series of conversations published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

zuckermanEthan Zuckerman’s job is to see the Internet for what it is.

As the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, Zuckerman studies civic engagement within digital infrastructures. He has made the case that we are not as connected as we appear to be.

Zuckerman’s research explodes what he calls the “myth of connectivity.” As he claims, “The world is more global. Our problems and economics are global. And though we are inundated with content, the media is getting less global.”

He believes it is important to expose and rectify this fallacy; after all, “this leads not only to shocking ignorance about the world, but also to missed opportunities for marketing and collaboration.”

As it turns out, Zuckerman says, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

“Atoms are more accessible than bits in many occasions,” Zuckerman says. “Fijian water is easy to access, but Fijian culture is not.” Read more


Something Is Wrong With the Way We Aspire to Success

 
July 28th, 2014

This is the third of a 10-article series of conversations published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

bif9-alanwebber“If you’re in business today, you’re running for office every day.” So says Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and a progressive Democrat who recently conceded his bid for governor of New Mexico.

Webber promoted an education-focused, pro-jobs campaign platform that leveraged his background in social business. The only candidate in the race not formerly involved in the state’s government, his supporters valued his outsider perspective and resistance to local political cynicism.

Running for office may seem to be a tricky venture for a media entrepreneur with a blunt, provocative journalistic record. But to Webber, running for governor was a natural culmination of his career-long mission to understand and transform broken systems. Read more