Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rule #52 Lives in Washington, DC

Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere!
You'd think that, having written Rules of Thumb, I'd know about my own rules, wouldn't you? Except that, as one of the Rules says, "Knowin' it ain't the same as doin' it." (A rule taught me by Larry Smith, who was gracious enough to host me at his lovely Capitol Hill home.)
But the rule that I end the book with is, perhaps, the rule that deserves constant reminders: there are teachers everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open, pay attention, and ask questions.
For example, I spent a very interesting hour with Beth Rhyne of the Center for Financial inclusion, a department of ACCION. In addition to briefing me on the work of the Center, which focuses on moving micro-finance into the mainstream and help it reach more people with opportunity and protect more people from bad financial practices, Beth gave me a heads up on ain interesting piece of financial/political news: a number of Latin American governments are buying micro-finance operations to make sure that micro-finance serves their political interests. Check out what has happened with Prodem as an example. To be accurate, Beth wasn't commenting on these purchases--she was just reporting that people with an interest in micro-finance need to look outside of the ordinary boundaries of micro-finance to see how it has become a part of the global political competition for the minds and hearts of people all over the world.
Another teacher: Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. Connie is fresh to Washington, having moved from Chicago. Earlier in her career Connie started the first micro-enterprise project for women in the US: the Women's Self-Improvement Project. In her new job Connie is determined to bring micro-enterprise to the US, where, she says, there are 10-18 million potential micro-enterprise entrepreneurs. Another interesting point raised by Connie: each micro-enterprise creates 2 to 3 new jobs--but the Labor Department doesn't count jobs created by micro-enterprise!
And then there's Neil Shah. As a 21-year old at Georgetown, Neil is operating Compass Partners, a brilliant, fascinating dynamic training program to teach fellow students how to be social entrepreneurs. Compass Partners operates a consulting firm and 9 student-run enterprises, all of which are social businesses, serving a social purpose and generating operating revenues! There are 163 Georgetown students in the program and each student goes through 5 levels as they learn more, contribute more, and undertake more in the field of social entrepreneurship. It's a fascinating program and Neil is a remarkable young social entrepreneur whose vision is both far-reaching and highly disciplined.
From there I went to a day-long conference sponsored by the University of Maryland. Seth Goldman kicked it off with the story behind Honest Tea--and left the audience with an old Chinese proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it."
And when you get to hear a Nobel prize winning scientist discuss climate change, well, that's a real teacher! Thomas Schelling gave a key note address in which he said that climate change is real and the science is well-accepted. The question is what to do and who will do it. The heart of the matter, said Schelling, is for rich countries to help developing countries transition to renewable energy sources. It's wrong to insist that developing countries slow down their energy use--they need to use energy to develop, which is how they'll be able to survive climate change! Schelling cited the Marshall Plan as one of the last times in modern history where major powers found a way to cooperate to help countries rebuild. But at a time when China is building 1 coal plant per week--1 coal plant per week!--the challenge is for rich nations to come together and cooperate in putting up money to help developing countries; for developing countries to figure out how they would divide the money; and perhaps an intermediary to negotiate between the two, so the transfer of wealth doesn't resemble extortion or black mail.
The last word goes to Paul Light, who spoke about his research on social entrepreneurship. He ended his talk by saying, regardless of your definition of social entrepreneurship or the sector in which you work, "We are all public servants now."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Washington, DC

Even though I worked here at DOT in the last two years of the Carter Administration, I'd forgotten how humid Washington, DC is--it's like working and living in a cloud (in more ways than one). But it is a city that stimulates thinking; it's hard to be here without reflecting on the state of the nation and what it means to be an American.
Last night I had dinner with my old friend and mentor, Larry Smith (he's the man behind "knowin' it ain't the same as doing' it). We talked about a speech he'll be giving to a group of foreign journalists in a week or so. Larry is expert at explaining the American political system, so I'm sure he'll do a fantastic job of bringing context to the current scene.
But our conversation turned to other matters: Larry has always insisted that the American character is uniquely pragmatic. But the current temper seems less pragmatic and more bent on rage and irrational anger--the dark side of the American character. Larry said that we've always had this division in our "national soul"--a battle between our instinct to do the right thing, to make good things happen, versus a seething undercurrent that manifests itself in demagogues and destroyers. Harry Truman famously once observed that it takes a skilled carpenter to build a house, but any jackass can knock one down.
Larry told the story of one US Senator who has always been able to work across the aisle, even though he's a principled conservative Republican. When he went back to his state over the summer, he was confronted with angry crowds who threatened to unseat him if he worked with the Democrats to pass any health care bill. He's now officially against health care reform.
My comment: He's a double-loser. He's not only not standing up against the tide of irrational hate and anger, he's also caving in as a leader and not doing his job as a Senator. The excuse,"If I vote for this it will cost me my job" is not a defense for doing the wrong thing.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Jim Collins about CEOs who cave in to pressure to amp up the company's stock price, even though they know it's not the right thing to do. They do it because, like the Senator, they're afraid they'll lose their jobs. But keeping the job by doing the wrong thing isn't the point of the exercise! It's not an admissible defense! Why did you do the wrong thing? "Because otherwise they'd fire me." Sorry! Not admissible!
If you look closely at the issues on the front page of the paper--from the economic melt down to health care reform to what to do in Afghanistan--they are all in one way or another moral issues.
What does it mean to be an American today?
It means having the courage of our convictions--but first it means having convictions.
Too many politicians, too many business leaders lack not only courage, but also moral convictions. Without moral convictions, it's impossible to make sound business decisions. And when you make unsound business decisions, you forfeit the right to be a leader, and, ultimately, you help drive the company and the economy into the ditch.
Fundamentally that's the story behind this global financial crisis.
And it's why we need to look hard at fixing the systems, including executive compensation, that fueled bad decisions and rewarded people who lacked moral courage.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On The Road Again!

The Rules Tour Hits the Road Again--starting tomorrow! First stop: Washington, DC for a series of meetings with social entrepreneurs and an all-day event at the Reagan Center sponsored by the University of Maryland: Leadership for a Better World--Creating Social Value Through Innovation.
From there it's up to NYC on Saturday, more social entrepreneurship, more Rules of Thumb!
Then off to Sweden, arriving September 29th for the official launch of the Swedish version of Rules of Thumb. Jan Lapidoth (father and son) have put together a fantastic series of meetings, interviews, conversations, and a big public launch to get Rules introduced to the Swedish community of change agents.
Next stop, Vienna! Usually at this time of the year, it'd be for the Waldzell gatherings, which I describe in several of the Rules--but the economy has taken its toll and there is no Waldzell this year. Instead, a reunion of sorts with some of the friends Waldzell helped make and a chance to connect with Austrian social innovators and their backers.
Then a brief overnight in Stockholm before heading to Providence, RI, arriving Oct 6 for the Vusiness Innovation Factory's 5th annual gathering, co-hosted by my partner-in-crime at Fast Company, Bill Taylor. It's a festival of story-telling and innovation, and should be great fun--the line up is unrivaled at any conference I know of.
October 8 I'm off to Toronto--for a long long weekend with my brother--if you read Rules you know him for the incident with the East German border guards! Then a series of talks on October 13 at the Centre for Social Innovation and on October 14 at the University of Toronto's Rotman School--which Roger Martin and team have turned into one of the most creative business schools in the world! Richard Florida will be there, as will Uffe Ulbaek, on loan from Copenhagen--should be a great visit!
October 15 has me flying to Boston, the birthplace of Fast Company, and scene of many lessons learned in the making of Rules. I'll be at Babson on October 15 and then at a gathering on design and change sponsored by DMI at the Marriott in Kendall Square on the 18th.
October 21 the Rules Road Show moves to NYC--just in time for a talk on the 22nd on the changing shape of the law business. Rules for the Law? That is sustained!
Finally, October 23, I'll be flying back to Santa Fe (along with the band) for a brief stop and some home cookin'!
Hope to see you somewhere along the journey!

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb