Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - 20-10

A lot of my friends are asking themselves weighty questions these days. I had brunch with a friend on Sunday who told me that someone we used to work worth just lost his mom to cancer. His mom was 58. It's a sobering thought to consider how short life is, and how much opportunity for living this world offers us.

In the book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matt May talks about how Jim Collins left HP. One of his former professors gave him an assignment called "20-10": Imagine you've just inherited $20M free and clear. The catch is you only have 10 years to live. What would you do - and more importantly, what would you stop doing? As a result of this exercise, he quit his job at HP, despite his success there, and pursued a life of teaching, researching, and writing. And we are the great benefactors of that choice.

This assignment takes great courage to complete, and even greater courage to put the results into action. It's easy for us to think we have a long life ahead of us. It's easy to think that we have all the time in the world to accomplish what we really want to do. It's easy to just play the game of "let me just get by for now". The trouble with that game is that for now very quickly turns into a long, long time. It might even turn into a lifetime.

This world is counting on us, on all of us, to do something truly extraordinary. And extraordinary can take many different forms, depending on our priorities. Depending on the outcome of our 20-10 assignment. I've been putting off this assignment for a solid week now. Too afraid to answer that simple question. $20M, 10 years. What would I do and what would I stop doing?

I would...
Travel
Have my family and friends close to me
Write and write and write, and read and read and read
I'd find a way to build a company or an organization around a product, service, or cause I care about, so that it would survive long, long, long after I'm gone
Fall in love one more time

I would stop...
Letting someone else tell me what my development plan is
Spending time in a gray cubicle
Worrying

A shorter list than I expected on both counts. I thought there was a lot I'd stop doing, until I realized that most of what I do that I don't like doing is related to my worrying. I didn't know that. I didn't realize how afraid I was, of just living, until I wrote this list. I didn't realize that falling in love one more time was so important to me. And it further confirmed that the writing life is the right life for me. When everything else fall away, it's this act, this daily time translating my thoughts into words on a page that makes life worthwhile for me. And that is worth something - it's actually worth everything.

The photo above depicts Jim Collins and can be found at: http://www.seeseeeye.com/uploads/wp_161.jpg

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: Interview with Gennaro Brooks-Church, Founder of Eco Brooklyn

As I was searching online for interesting Green entrepreneurs, I stumbled upon the site for Eco Brooklyn, a company devoted to educating and helping the New York community build greener co-ops and Brownstones. Eco Brooklyn is a social enterprise not just for its Green philosophy; they also make Green building education courses part of their core value proposition.

I had the opportunity to interview Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of Eco Brooklyn. His inspirational story is one that illustrates that many times entrepreneurship chooses the entrepreneur rather than the other way around! In addition to the interview, there is also a slide show attached that shows Eco Brooklyn's work.

To read the full interview, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d30-Interview-with-Gennaro-BrooksChurch-Founder-of-Eco-Brooklyn

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: A look at Adam Werbach's book, Strategy for Sustainability



Adam Werbach wrote a short piece for this month's issue of Fast Company. In the article he outlines nature's ten simple rules for survival. They apply not only to nature, but companies as well. I've listed the principles below and added some commentary on how each applies to our day-to-day working lives, specifically focusing on entrepreneurship.

To read the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d30-Natures-10-simple-rules-for-survival--a-look-at-Adam-Werbachs-Strategy-for-Sustainability

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Transformative Power of Tenacity

"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity." ~Louis Pasteur

My friend, Laura, the author of Laura Reviews, recently posted an interview with Hugh MacLeod, author of Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. At the end of the interview, Laura asked him for his advice to writers. He simply said, "Keep doing it. It's better to write 50 words every day, than 2,000 words every month." In other words, keep going.

On Daily Good, a blog that promotes positive news stories, I read the quote above by Louis Pasteur. Pasteur is best known for the development of vaccines and the process of pasteurization. While he could attribute his vast scientific accomplishments to intelligence or creativity or even a variety of qualities, he credited his tenacity as the only key to his success. In other words, his achievements are due to his ability to keep going.

With all the rain falling in New York City lately, I've steadily been working my way through my Netflix cue. I rented We Are Marshall. It looked like a compelling story, and one I was unfamiliar with. After a tragic plane crash in which nearly the entire team, coaching staff, and many fans of Marshall University's football team perish, the university considers deferring its program.

One of the four remaining players rallies the school's students who stage a peaceful demonstration outside of the school's board meeting as the board is deciding whether or not to defer the program. Every student at the university turns out, chanting one single saying, "We are Marshall." After an exhaustive search to find a new coach, Jack Lengyel (then head coach of the football team at The College of Wooster) convinces Marshall to give him the job of head coach.

A grieving town, a spare number of players whose hearts and spirits were wracked with guilt, and a university suffering with a tremendous sense of loss and loneliness. That's all Jack Lengyel had. And though the team had far from a winning season in 1971, the fact that they could rebuild any sense of spirit and win any games at all in the competitive arena of college football was nothing short of a miracle. They just wouldn't take no for an answer, not matter how many obstacles they encountered. They kept going.

Tenacity pays. It obliterates challenges. It provides confidence to those who embrace it and inspires others who witness it in the spirit of others. So when we're down or lost or we don't know what to do with what we've got, the only way for us to get unstuck may be to just keep plowing through.

The image above can be found at: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_UxYeVG87s1s/RqZ-efucDBI/AAAAAAAAAEw/aL9v4e1k0m4/s400/Tenacity.jpg

Sunday, June 28, 2009

NY Examiner.com: Interview with Manny Hernandez, Founder and President of Diabetes Hands Foundation

I met Manny Hernandez, Founder and President of Diabetes Hands Foundation, on Twitter. He started to follow me on Twitter and when I took a look at his profile, I realized he'd be a perfect fit for this column. From the personal challenge of being diagnosed with diabetes, Manny has grown his foundation and the two social networks (tudiabetes.com in English and estudiabetes.com in Spanish) to help people who are also grappling with this disease. Like so many successful social entrepreneurs, Manny took his skills of web product management, on-line community building, and writing, and combined them with his personal passions to find a cure for diabetes and to help people living with the disease manage their lives.

I was honored to get to interview Manny about Diabetes Hands Foundation, his personal connection to diabetes, and his leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

For the full story, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d28-Interview-with-Manny-Hernandez-Founder-and-President-of-Diabetes-Hands-Foundation

My Year of Hopefulness - Gay Pride

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Gay Pride. Last night, I went to the movies with my friends, Thomas and Richard, a couple who have been together for 24 years. After the movie, we walked over to the Christopher Street subway stop to head back uptown. Before getting on the subway, we went by the Stonewall Inn. Richard explained the history and significance of the Inn to me and how it served as the stage for the tipping point of the gay rights movement in what would become known as the Stonewall Riots.

We enjoyed watching the crowd in the neighborhood, and read the newspaper clippings and admired the replica of Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz dress in the window of the Stonewall Inn. (Judy Garland, a hugely popular gay icon, died several days before the Stonewall Riots began and her funeral was held the day before the riots.) It's important to bear witness, to remember how difficult and frightening a time was for people courageous enough to stand up for themselves. And while it's easy to consider how far we still have to go on certain human rights issues such as gay marriage, it's equally important to celebrate how much has been accomplished in the 40 years since Stonewall.

In New York State, we are on the cusp of legalizing gay marriage. If passed, we'd be the 7th state to legalize gay marriage. Gay marriage and the equal treatment of gay Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. I am certain that decades from now, we will look back on this period as one of embarrassment and shame. I cannot fathom how anyone would deny the basic rights of another human being based on their sexuality. Are the movements that led to equal treatment of women and ethnic minorities any different than what the gay community now faces? If two gay people want to get married, what bearing does that have on two straight people who are married? Who are we to stand in judgement of someone else's lifestyle?

I hope the concept of denying gay marriage never makes sense to me. I hope to never understand why a portion of the straight population is so convinced that the gay population is ruining the sanctity of marriage. What I do hope happens is that the very politicians and their supporters who are fighting so hard against gay marriage, the same ones who are so quick and earnest to dismiss their own issues of infidelity, will find a way to see the world and the rights of all people through new eyes.

I hope that someday we will look at all people as equal, gender, sexual orientation, race, and religious beliefs aside. I hope that someday very soon, my gay friends are afforded the same right to union and happiness that my straight friends and I have. I hope that very soon the gay rights movement becomes something for history books - a time that we collectively look back on, and shakes our heads in wonder, asking "why did it take so long for simple justice?"

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Doodle 4 Google

Google put forward a competition, Doodle 4 Google, for kids K-12 to design the Google logo with the idea of expressing the theme "What I Wish for the World". The Cooper-Hewitt Museum currently has the finalists of the competition on display. I went to see them today with my friend, Dan. I'm currently working on an after-school program for public school children and knew that this exhibit would help inform the program. After all, the idea is to discover the way kids would like the world to be.

Several themes cropped up frequently in the doodle: environmental conservation - everything from climate change to species protection to green energy. Even the importance of pets! Creativity, acceptance, and education were also prevalent in the doodles. And some were advocating specific causes such as a cure for breast cancer and an end to war.

As I walked the exhibit, I considered what I would wish for the world and how I might depict it to create my own Google Doodle. If I had one wish for the world, I'd want to see the desire to be helpful become the main goal of every person's life. I like that being helpful is a specific goal that's open to interpretation depending upon each individual's talents and interests.

Being helpful could mean volunteering, going into a helpful profession such as medicine, or being a good listener. It can be done in small spurts or over an extended period of time. It usually doesn't cost anything to be helpful outside of an individual's time and energy. When one person helps another, both their lives are enriched. You can pay it forward, and every act of helpfulness triggers another similar act.

Best of all, helpfulness naturally causes other positive changes in the world that we need in abundance: more kindness, empathy, and generosity. By being helpful, we become useful and we have a hand in shaping the world to be a bit more the way we'd like it to be. In short, the fastest road to a more hopeful, brighter future may start with the extension of a single helping hand.

The images above was created by Sinceraty Alexander for the Doodle 4 Google conference. Sinceraty's image was a New York State finalist.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Potted Plants

There's a lot to learn by listening. How many times have you gone to a meeting and people are talking over one another, jockeying for the spotlight, playing them game of "the loudest voice in the room wins"? In every one of those situations, there's always at least one person who's quietly observing, taking in the different streams of opinions, beliefs, and facts - being a 'potted plant' has its advantages.

I wish I could take credit for the idea of being a potted plant, but I can't. I heard it a while back during an executive speaker series. A woman was talking about how she advanced through her company from being an admin to a director. She said whenever she had an opportunity to learn, even if it meant to learn something that had nothing to do with her current job, she made the time and just observed. Taking notes, taking in the facts, figures, and nuances of the conversation.

When you're a potted plant in a meeting, you don't have an angle and you aren't trying to persuade someone to something. All you have to do is listen. No participation necessary. You don't have to form a point-of-view. Just be present and consider the situation at hand from the point of view-of-all others.

This is also a great lesson in patience, empathy, and psychology. Watch for the interactions between the people in the room. What persuasion tactics work? What caused someone to lose interest or become more engaged? Did the structure of the meeting work? How did people present themselves and their beliefs, and were they effective.

The ability to be quiet and open-minded is an under-rated skill in today's work place, yet it's the people with that skill that will likely advanced faster within their organizations, or pick up on something that others miss and that becomes the seed for a new business idea. Information and insight is all around us, but it's tough to recognize if we're always pushing our own opinions out to the world. It takes patience, perseverance, and the ability to remain calm at the table, paying attention .

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Lessons of Icons











Today the world lost two titans of our time, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Cultural icons, Fawcett and Jackson were young, 62 and 50 respectively. As I get older, I pay more attention to someone's age when they pass away. This exercise forces me to consider how much time I may have left. This might sound morbid. I find it motivational.

Fawcett and Jackson were originals, risk takers, at once controversial and enormously intriguing. We couldn't take our eyes off of them. While Michael Jackson has become a recluse after his 2005 controversy, Fawcett became more public in the last years of her life. Jackson was in the midst of planning a hopeful comeback. Fawcett had made her comeback; her documentary on her experience fighting cancer aired recently to wide acclaim and extensive viewership. There is even talk of a posthumous Emmy.

Fawcett and Jackson stand in stark contrast when we consider the last days of their lives. Michael Jackson was interested in claiming what was - he wanted to get back to his fame and the reputation he had before his 2005 fall from grace. Fawcett took a different road. While the pin up pictures and her world famous smile and hair might be the first images that spring to mind when we hear her name, she wanted to make sure that people saw other, less glamorous images of her. She wanted people to see, up close and personal, what it was like to fight cancer with every weapon possible. She was living in the now, and she wanted us to live it with her.

What they shared in a very deep, emotional way was their desire to live as full as life as possible. They went after everything that this world has to offer. Fearless, unflinching. And that's a lesson we can all learn from.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Day I Grew Up

I am in the midst of preparing an essay for a contest with the theme "the day I grew up." I've been racking my brain, conjuring up old memories, to get to that one realization that defined the end of my childhood and the beginning of my adult life. Trouble was I couldn't think of any one moment. It seemed to happen gradually - actually, I think I'm still in the midst of that transition. Or at least I thought I was until today.

Two events happened to me today that signaled to me that I had turned the corner - leaving my childish insecurity and lack of confidence behind, tossing it off in favor of the confidence and self-assurance I have always admired in adults. I recognize that it's odd that it would take me 33 years of living to make the leap. Better late than never.

Event one: I was told that I may have to stop writing, or at the very least have my writing approved and heavily edited, if I am to continue my association with an organization that I am currently involved with. It seems that they think my writing reflects upon them, even if I'm writing about a subject entirely unrelated to them.

That means that this blog would go silent and that my Examiner.com column would grind to a halt, just as I am finding my own voice and rhythm. I would have to stop doing the one activity I love most in the world - writing - because someone else demanded it. Without a second thought I decided that if I cannot have my writing life and be associated with that organization, then that organization would cease to be a part of my life. As a child, if my mother told me to stop jumping on the bed, I stopped jumping on the bed. As an adult, I won't stop doing something I love because someone else say I have to.

Event two: I was asked to put my name on a request that I cannot support because "that's the way it's always been done." Even though the request doesn't make any sense, and everyone involved with the request agrees it doesn't make sense, I was still being asked to push it forward. I will admit that I got a bit exasperated. My emotions got the best of me. I'm a passionate person.

As if someone was asking me to dishonor my name and my sense of judgment for the sake of being compliant to a rule I disagree with, I was handed the dare: say yes, even though you disagree, or face the consequences. A child would flinch at the thought of the consequences. I chose the consequences. I know the value of my name and judgment, and they're worth so much to me that I'd rather suffer any consequences that their defense may trigger.

When I was a kid, I always imagined that growing up would be this phenomenal achievement. It would be a welcome release. And it is, sort of. But it's a little lonely, too. Today, I shut some doors. I made a few decisions that cannot be undone. And while I am confident that they are the right decisions for me to make, those doors are still a little painful to shut. It means there's one less avenue, one less path to take to wherever it is my life is headed.

It's almost as if I didn't even make the choices in the two events today. The world made them for me. It handed me a set of circumstances, already knowing which direction I'd take, in order to push me forward. Fate's a funny thing. On one hand, it's comforting to know that the world has something in store for us that's far better than anything we can dream up on our own. On the other hand, we have to cede control to a grander plan that we don't entirely know. One thing is for certain: in order to grow up we have to let go of all the "might-have-been's" to focus on the "all-that-will be's".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Jackson Pollack, Explained

I was in DC a few weekends ago and met up with a bunch of friends from business school. One member of the group who is more a classmate than a friend of mine criticized Jackson Pollock and his work, citing that even he could drip a bunch of paint on a canvas. (And this guy doesn't have an artistic bone in his body!) At the time, I had no words to explain Jackson Pollock, and I was really upset by the guy's criticism. I like Pollock's work very much, though must confess I never understood it. I just love the patterns, colors, and textures of it.

As luck, and karma, would have it, today I found out why I love Jackson Pollock. If only I had read Matthew May's book In Pursuit of Elegance before my DC trip! May explains the genius of Pollock's work, thanks to the research of Richard Taylor, a physicist from Australia.

After studying Pollock's work in connection to his physics research, Taylor recognized that Pollack built his paintings based upon fractals: "repetitive patterns nested within each other that remain the same at differing scales of magnification...[fractals] are simple rules...that create beautifully organized and highly complex designs [that are pleasing to the eye]." Trouble is Pollock died in 1956 and fractals weren't discovered until 1975. Pollack lived and died ahead of his time, precisely 19 years ahead of his time.

I have been thinking about fractals all evening, their importance to physics, to Pollock, and to every day life. In a very real sense, our core values are fractals: repeating patterns that remain constant, even when examined up close. We don't abandon them at our front door or in certain company. They stay with us and play themselves out in every area of our lives. From those simple values (aka, simple personal rules) - honesty, kindness, loyalty - we build complex, intricate relationships that form the very foundation from which all our life experiences grow. Fractals make art, and life, appealing to the eye, the mind, and the heart.

Lest we think that life is all about politics and facades and putting on airs - it is not. Life is about getting down to the simple matter of what matters to us. At the end of the day, what really counts? What do we want to be known for? What are the constants that underlie who we are, under all circumstances? It's those things, those constant, consistent patterns, and their intersections that help us build beautiful lives.

The image above is of Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock. It recently sold for $40M.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - It's what's missing that counts

Today I started reading In Pursuit of Elegance by Matthew May. May's premise in the book is that what's not there - in a product, a service, a piece of art, a book - often trumps what is. 12 pages in and I am completely hooked. It's about what we choose not to do that shapes as our lives as much as what's on our to-do list. It's about editing, making decisions, and taking away the unnecessary so that the necessary can shine.

May quotes a lot of sources, referencing everything from ancient Chinese proverbs to pop culture. It never feels contrived, forced, or overly ambitious. He is making connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and teaching us how to live a more valuable, satisfying life in the process.

Early on, May quotes Jim Collins's now infamous essay that he wrote for USA Today on the subject of "stop-doing." Collins says, "A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit - to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort - that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life."

It's these last two words that got me. I understand editing a novel, a piece of music, a company.
We spend a lot of time, maybe most of our time, stuffing our lives full of experience, people, places, and things. We do more and more and more to the point that we can't remember what we did 10 minutes ago. So what if we did and said less and less and less. What would our lives look like then? What if we only put the precious time we have with one another toward things that passionately, ardently interest us? How would we be different, and how would the world around us be different? Could we actually have a greater positive impact by focusing on the precious few things that really matter to us rather than the mediocre many?

Jazz great John McLaughlin said, "
All the music that was ever heard came from the inner silence in every musician." I extend that quote to say that every human accomplishment has come to be because someone took something from their inner being, from their own personal silence, and gave it to the world. It's really the only work we ever have to do: strip away the fascades, the excess, what we can live without so that we can know and nurture the handful of things that really count.

NY Examiner.com: An interview with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com

Inc. Magazine featured TakeLessons.com a few months ago. The company capitalizes on the growing trend of learning an instrument through the use of technology to match up music teachers with music students. From guitar to voice to trombone, in cities that stretch across the U.S., TakeLessons.com connects people with a mutual love for learning and music. It simplifies and enhances the quality of the experience of finding the right music teacher and ensuring that the student's needs are being met with 100% satisfaction.

To read my interview with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d22-An-interview-with-Steven-Cox-CEO-of-TakeLessonscom

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Gift of Gab

My family is loaded with talkers. My mother taught us well. We have strong opinions and we claim them loud, proud and often. I didn't know there was a developmental advantage to this trait until my friend, Liz, told me that by age 3 it becomes very obvious which children come from families who talk to their children regularly and those who don't. Children from families who talk to them often have triple the vocabulary when compared to children who come from families that don't talk to their babies and toddlers.

I wasn't quite sure what Liz meant at first. What family doesn't speak to their children? And then I started to observe a little more closely. On the streets of New York and in the subways, I have seen too many adults ignore the children they're with. They don't answer their questions and concerns, or when they do it's with a harsh tone. Too many sit with their children and don't interact with them. It's a prevalent, serious issue.

Sometimes I'll hear people on the subway talking to their children so much, in sing-songy language seemingly about nothing at all, that it actually drives me to move. Little did I know that these adults are doing a wonderful thing - they are advancing their children's mental capacity for language and understanding. These children are the writers and thinkers of tomorrow. These children are just like me, with adults who love them with their hearts and words, exactly the way my mom did. And this knowledge is making me smile on my subway rides next to little talkative kids. Gab on...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Human Rights Watch Film Festival

"My favorite place is my imagination." ~ Jackie Pagan, featured narrator in Youth Producing Change

My friend, Linda, invited me to the Human Rights Watch film festival here in New York at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre. We went to see Youth Producing Change, a documentary created from the stories of 10 young film makers on issues ranging from youth homelessness to HIV / AID to water conservation. The stories are deeply moving, and all the more remarkable because they were made by film makers under 18 years old, many from impoverished countries who belong to marginalized populations.

How often do we catch ourselves saying, "how can I make a difference?" or "what change can I really achieve in this complicated world?" We had the great privilege to have a question and answer session with the film makers after Youth Producing Change had its screening. The producers don't ask themselves these questions. They have gone confidently in the direction of their dreams, believing now only that they can have an impact, but rather that it is their obligation and their duty to create change.

Most times, young people are told to respect their elders, to follow the lead of adults, to learn from their mentors. Sitting in the Walter Reade Theatre today, I found that these young adults have much more to teach us than we have to teach them. They have seen, heard, and experienced life in a way that is very difficult for most of us to even imagine; the vivid images and language of the documentary give us a frame of reference that is critical to build our empathy and compassion for the human experience. Thankfully, their stories are the stuff of movies now, and we should do our best to nurture, support, and encourage their drive, ambition, and courage to tell their stories.

Youth Producing Change will be screened in high schools across the U.S. and was shown at the festivals in Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, and London. The Human Rights Watch film festival continues in New York through June 25th.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Know Where You're Going

"The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going."
~ David Starr Jordan, ichthyologist and peace activist

I have come across a slew of powerful quotes recently. This quote by David Starr Jordan is one that had special meaning for me this week. I have been considering a number of different new business ventures, cranking along in my writing, and moving ahead with projects that have been in the queue for a while. This week I started to notice that while I am extremely busy, I'm in a groove. The world seemed to remove all obstacles from my path and allowed me to pass through with ease. And more than once, I noticed that a happy coincidence and helpful resources presented themselves. I've even found my typical junk mail helpful!

Nothing has recently changed in my life. I make the same amount of money, have the same skill sets, know the same people. So how did I cross over? How has life managed to somehow get easier as of late?

For one thing, I am asking for help, input, and advice with greater frequency. This is not something that's easy for me. I pride myself on being tremendously self-sufficient. However, the projects I'm most excited about at the moment require expertise beyond my own knowledge. And therefore, necessitate my reaching out. I've been blown away by the willingness of others to help me.

I've also noticed my confidence, in my writing and in my business ideas, has also grown. I've been playing 'fake it until I make it', and guess what? It works. My years of writing and developing idea, products, and services is paying off as I cross over form being a novice with an interest to someone with concrete experience and tangible work to show for my efforts.

Finally, I know where I'm going, making me more aware of the help that has been around me all along. I'm on the path to starting my own company, and I know what I want it to look like and how I want it to function. Knowing where I'm going has made articulating my vision and values much clearer, to myself and to everyone else. It might be a long and winding road, though it's much easier to keep going when the world provides its encouragement and assistance.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: "You're the Boss"

The New York Times has a new blog about entrepreneurship called "You're the Boss". Covering a wide range of topics, the blog's authors hope that they can create a place where entrepreneurs can "compare notes, get advice, learn from one another's mistakes, and keep up with the important changes coming out of Washington."

For the full post, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d18-Youre-the-Boss--a-new-blog-about-entrepreneurship-by-the-New-York-Times

My Year of Hopefulness - Everyone Has Something to Offer

Tonight's Making a Difference segment on NBC featured Coach Tim, a man who grew up in the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles. Compton is now known as a haven of drugs, gangs, and violence. When Coach Tim was growing up, he played baseball in Compton - on a baseball diamond that was abandoned decades ago. He returned to the neighborhood after years of his own troubles - drugs, alcohol - to revive that baseball diamond into his own field of dreams for kids growing up on the same streets where he was raised.

The segment was enough to make any viewer choke up with emotion - and then, the real kicker. Coach Tim is homeless. For two years, he's lived in his car. At night, he watches Dodgers games on his portable TV and reads the Bible for strength to get through another day. He could go to a shelter, though because he knows he got himself into his situation, he wants to get himself out of it without public assistance.

Those kids on his baseball team serve a larger purpose in his life - they give him a reason for being, for getting out into the world. They give him a way to do some good in a neighborhood that is faced with so much difficulty and saddness and loss. He's keeping those kids from going down a path that he and so many of his childhood friends took simply because they didn't know any better.

Coach Tim's story made me think about how much we all have to offer, regardless of our situation, means, and history. Or maybe, like Coach Tim, we all have something to give precisely because of our history and situation. To make a difference in your neighborhood, visit Volunteer Match, Serve.org, or United Way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: the defining value of entrepreneurs

When I was a kid, I loved Mr. Rogers. My favorite part of the show was the very beginning when he would come into his house, take off his dress shoes, and put on his sneakers - signaling that he had left the outside world and his job behind. The fun was about to begin the moment he put on his sneakers.

For the full story, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d17-The-defining-value-of-entrepreneurs

My Year of Hopefulness - Our Defining Value

"You could argue that every profession has its defining value. For carpenters, it might be accuracy: a carpenter who isn't accurate shouldn't be a carpenter. For diplomats, it might be loyalty: they can lie and spy and cheat and pull all sorts of dirty tricks, and as long as they are loyal to their government, they are doing their job. For journalists, the defining value is honesty--the attempt to tell the truth. That is our primary purpose. All that we do--all that is said about us--must flow from the single source of truth-telling." ~ Nick Davies in Flat Earth News

My friend, Jamie, sent this quote to me today. His professor, Andy Gelman, posted it on his blog. It got me thinking about how this applies not only to professions, but to our lives in general and who we are, what we stand for. Many people are defined by their jobs. One side effect of this tough economy is that many people who have lost their jobs (and in some cases lost their entire industry) are being forced to reconsider who they are when their jobs are peeled away.

When I was a kid, I loved Mr. Rogers. My favorite part of the show was the very beginning when he would come into his house, take off his dress shoes, and put on his sneakers - signaling that he had left the outside world and his job behind. The fun was about to begin the moment he put on his sneakers.

I live this kind of life, too. The moment I leave my office and hop onto the subway to zip home, I take off my work title and become a writer - exactly what I am at my core. I write almost every day and collect quotes, magazine articles, books, and experiences that all get rolled into my material. They are the stories and activities that comprise my life. And my one truth that I'm living is to be helpful - to write something that makes a difference, that gives someone some inspiration, gets them through the day with a little wider smile and a little more hope for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Hero Arrives

Today I watched The Tale of Despereaux, a movie adapted from the book by Kate DiCamillo. The movie chronicles the the adolescence of Despereaux, a brave little mouse in search of adventure and harmony between disparate parties. He is someone who does not want to be defined by others, regardless of the consequences for being who is naturally born to be.

Very early on in the movie, there is a line that really struck a cord with me: "A hero shows up when the world really needs one." I can think of no better time than now for heroes to rise up and be counted. The world has some very large problems today - far larger than I think we even know. And these problems are in every city and town, of every variety and every magnitude. No matter what contribution you would like to make to the world, in whatever field you choose, wherever you live, there is a way to make an enormous difference if only we have the courage to put ourselves out there and the desire to be responsible and accountable.

Thomas Friedman gave the commencement speech at RPI in 2007
. Recognizing the desire and energy of young graduates to have an impact on their communities, he threw down the gauntlet to them in no uncertain terms. "If it’s not happening, it’s because you’re not doing it,” he said. “There is no one else in the way." Technology has vastly our ability to communicate and influence with ease if we have a convincing, passionate story. It's easier to be a hero today than it has been at any other time in history if only we see ourselves in this light.

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: Entrepreneurship's 10 Commandments

Today, Tom sent me a post by Guy Kawasaki, founder of Garage Technology Ventures among many other accomplishments, that details Entrepreneurship's 10 Commandments. It's clever and witty and inspirational. My advice is to print this out and post it by your desk, whether or not you work for yourself or for someone else. They are tenants to live by in our working lives.

To read the full story, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d16-Entrepreneurships-10-Commandments

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Food Trucks

One very positive outcome of the economic downturn is the return of food trucks. Recently, I've seen a food truck that specializes in Belgian waffles, a pizza truck (apparently all the rage in cities like LA), and every variety of cuisine you could imagine from Middle Eastern to Indian to down home American. One of my favorites is the Treats Truck, full of sugary sweetness that has a very loyal following and donates to a designated charity-of-the-month.

In college, I lived on the the food from food trucks all over West Philadelphia. I dare say that I would have gone hungry many times over without them; they were the only outlet that fit my meager work-study earnings budget. There's something that feels so good about knowing that the food from those trucks is being made right in front of you and that you're helping small business owners who are working hard, day in and day out, to serve their communities. At Penn, I had more in common with the food truck owners than I did with my classmates - I felt like we we formed a covenant of the scrappy and ambitious.

As my friend, Jamie, and I got lunch today at a food truck and happily chowed down on our chicken kabobs in the park, I was reminded of how far I've come since my college food truck days. Over the weekend, I was in DC and walked along the perimeter of the Capitol Building and past my old office building where I had my first job out of college. I thought about my very first few days in DC, a little lost after college, not quite sure what I was doing or where I was going. I smiled as I stood in the shadow of the Capitol Building, much the same way as I smiled eating my chicken kabob today. In these past few days I've felt my life come full circle, truly amazed that it all worked out so well, despite my bumbling and fumbling.

This world really does support us. Just when we need them, friends shows up with a smile and an understanding ear. Or a job really comes through for us when we need it most. Or a food truck provides us with some nourishment at a price we can afford. Lately, I'm marveling at how perfect timing shows up in our lives every day as long as we commit to showing up, too. The universe reminds us of its presence in big ways and small, in good times and tough times. We can take advantage of the opportunities it presents at every moment, so long as we stay aware and alert and grateful.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Tim Russert, revisited

This weekend it's been one year since we lost Tim Russert. It's only fitting that I'd happen to be in DC this weekend with friends who are celebrating some very big events in their lives - weddings, new jobs, and a general sense of hope despite a tough economy. When Tim passed away one year ago, what stood out to me what the comment that he lived every day as if he had just won the lottery. I wanted to live my life that way, too, so I set about doing that.

I thought about every area of my life and put some ideas into action to improve each. One year later, I'm doing pretty well. It's not the lottery feeling just yet, though there are many, many things that I am grateful for:

I have certainly expanded my writing: blogging daily with an eye toward publishing a selection of posts at year-end as a free e-book and blogging about entrepreneurship for my Examiner.com column.

With my friends and family, I have put forward a significant amount of effort to spend quality, individual time. I used to run around as much as possible to try to fit time in with everyone all the time. The trouble with that method is that I ended up short-changing each, and short-changing myself. The quality time method is working much better.

In my volunteering, I wanted to extend more effort in areas that really interested me. Along with a colleague at work, I am beginning to put together a social media plan for a theatre company I admire. I took my social media interest and knowledge, my background in theatre, and roll-ed it up to do some pro-bono work that will help me build up a portfolio in this area. Using a little creativity, I created a win-win situation for all.

The work side of my life is always a work in progress. With the economy in tough shape, it's the area of my life where I've had to make some compromises. I am learning a lot every day - about product development, what to do and what not to do (I've found the later to be just as important as the former), and I've learned what kind of work is best suited for me going forward. I've really developed the insight that I am passionate about small business (thanks in large part to my Examiner.com column); whether that means working for a small business or working for a large company that helps small businesses, I'm not sure. At the very least, it feels good to finally have that direction in my career and it keeps me looking forward.

Winning the lottery in life is a process - every day, we have to make choices and renew our commitment to living the best life we can. It takes courage to get up and follow our hearts in each area of our lives. And no matter how much work it is, there is no more worthwhile pursuit. I hope Tim would agree.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Kiva expands to the U.S.

If you want to open a small business, are concerned about borrowing from a bank, and wonder how on Earth you can get some necessary capital outside of your friends and family circle, there is finally an answer. On June 10th, Kiva.org, the organization responsible for providing +$76,000,000 of microfinance to the developing world, has expanded their operations into the U.S. market.

In the Kiva model, would-be investors check out entrepreneurial endeavors looking for funding, make a loan to an entrepreneur they're interested in(for as little as $25), and the loan is paid back to the lender over time.

About 6 months ago, I decided to give Kiva a whirl and supported a woman starting a hair salon in Ghana. Every once in a while I go on-line and check out how she's doing. The $25 I gave, along with 14 other gifts of $25, meant the world to this woman. It's giving her and her family a shot at a better life. After making this loan, I did some checking around to see if a similar program existed in the U.S. To my knowledge Kiva.org is the only one organization making it easy for Americans to lend microloans to other Americans.

Maria Shriver, an ardent supporter of Kiva. org and leader of the Women’s Conference, said, "we all have the power to be Architects of Change in our own lives and in the lives of others. This partnership with Kiva.org is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to team up as a community and empower women entrepreneurs here in California and across the United States to start and sustain a small business, become more financially independent, and ultimately fulfill her dreams. By pooling our resources, a loan as small as $25 can change a life. Thanks to Kiva.org, being an Architect of Change has never been easier.”

After reading about this program, I also did a little poking around for other great opportunities to participate with Kiva.org. They have opened up their tools to allow outside developers to create Kiva apps. For example, an application called Kiva Heads allows users to browse loans on Facebook and gives you kudos on your Facebook page for the loans you make to Kiva while another app called Kiva World provides a live map of global Kiva loans in all phases and the ability to read more about the entrepreneurs with a single click any where on the map. Best of all, Kiva is working to create an app developer community on-line. Build you own app by visiting: build.kiva.org

There are now more ways that ever to do well by doing good and Kiva makes it easy for us to be a part of shaping the world as we'd like it to be, abroad and now within our own country, too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Commitment to be more than I've Been

"Quit. Don't quit. Make noodles. Don't make noodles. You are too concerned with what was and what will be. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift; that is why it is called the present.....You must believe." ~ Master Oogway to Po and Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda

My friend, Lon, really inspired me yesterday. He has made it his personal goal to work on his presentation skills. He has read several books and visits a blog every day that is written by a presentation training expert. He just decided that he was going to get good at this skill no matter what and he has done a marvelous job through hard work and commitment.

I finally saw Kung Fu Panda - a movie that has beautiful, simple anecdotes that relate to every day life. Under the sacred peach tree, Po, the lovable Panda at the center of the adventure is unsure that he belongs at the Emerald Palace to learn kung fu. The other characters don't feel he's worthy and should just go back to his former life of noodle making. They tell him he is not meant to study kung fu, even though he loves it. Since he doesn't know kung fu already, he thinks he should just give up.

Master Oogway finds Po under the peach tree feeling sorry for himself, stuck in the past, not appreciating the present, and unable to move forward into the future. Oogway believes that Po is the only one getting in his way and that he cannot allow the opinions of others, any others, to define who he is and who he will become. Only we can make those choices. It will take hard work to learn new skills - and we must make the commitment to do so.

I thought of this movie in relation to my friend, Lon. He felt that he wasn't good at presentations, and rather than slunk back to his desk and feel hopeless, he did something about it. He put aside his insecurities and fears, and dove into improving this skill. We should all have such determination to take up something that's difficult, something we think we can't do though very much want to be able to do. It is a risk. It's much easier to just do what we do well already. Lon and Po took a braver, more courageous path.

Lon inspired me with his story. For a long time, I have been thinking about businesses I'd like to start and it all comes back to e-commerce. Trouble is that I don't know how to write code, not a single spec of it. I've been afraid to learn because I am a person who does have a natural gift for understanding the intricacies of how technology works. I failed as an engineer (actually I got all C-'s in my college engineering classes, which to me was the same as getting an F.) I couldn't bear to fail and I gave up too soon, majoring in History and Economics, subjects I was already good at. Rather than digging in to my engineering classes, I threw in the towel. I gave up on me. I've been carrying that failure around with me ever since, shying away from any technical fields. Failure is a heavy load to carry and I'm tired. Taking a cue from my friend, Lon, I'm doing something about it.

I have to face the hard truth that every company is becoming a technology company. There's no way around it any more. So I thought of my friend Lon. I thought of Oogway's wise words to Po. We must believe we can do anything that we truly want to do. And I'd like to learn how to write code so that I can build something on-line on my own. Seth Godin wrote a post this week on coding languages that are useful now and will be useful going forward as our lives move more and more on-line. I'm taking his advice.

I took myself and my engineering failure to Barnes & Noble and leafed through books on HTML, Flash, Java, SQL, and PHP. (I don't even know what some of those languages do, though Seth Godin thinks they're important, and frankly, that's good enough for me.) I visited Amazon.com and read tons of reviews on coding books and settled on the Missing Manual Series. I trust Tim O'Reilly and David Pogue. If they dedicated a moment of their time toward developing a series to teach people like me to write code, then I'm going to take advantage of their knowledge. So here I go. Putting my love of building things to use in a field I know nothing about, a field I have long been interested in and scared of, a field I should have learned a long time ago. We'll see what I can make of myself. Better late than never.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner: Interview with co-founder Airbnb, an innovative travel company a

Today's post is an interview with Brian Chesky, one of the co-founders of Airbnb. I love this service and it's been a clear whole in the travel market for years! The concept, like all elegant business solutions, is simple, straight-forward, and user-friendly.

How it works (from the Airbnb website): "Nice folks, folks like you, list their guest rooms, futons, and even couches on the site and set a price per night. Adventurous travelers looking for a place to stay can search the listings for an accomodation that's just right. When they find a match, guests can book your room via credit card. You receive a notification to check out their profile, and decide if the guest is appropriate for your pad. When you accept a guest, contact information is exchanged, itineraries emailed, and the transaction is completed confirming the reservation." Brilliant!

My Year of Hopefulness - Urban Zen Foundation

NBC Nightly News has been running a series called "What Works", a follow-on to their wildly successful series "Making a Difference". Think of it as nothing but positive news to brighten up your days. Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, mostly for the benefit of others.

Yesterday, the segment featured the work of Donna Karan with the Urban Zen Foundation. Urban Zen has developed the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program at Beth Israel Hospital that is providing supplemental care in the forms of yoga and meditation to people with cancer being treated at Beth Israel. It is a year long pilot program that started last fall. The project is being monitored closely to assess results of the integrated program. It could be a whole new paradigm in U.S. healthcare.

You have to hand it to Beth Israel Hospital. For decades now, many U.S. hospitals have paid little or no heed to the power of yoga as a method to help patients heal. Mumbo jumbo, hippy medicine full of nothing but sweetness and light - that won't kill cancer. What we really need to do is burn and chemically treat those cancer cells and hope we don't harm too many of the good cells in the process. I don't doubt the ability of chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer. They are powerful tools.

What I believe, and what the Urban Zen Institute believes, is that yoga is a powerful compliment to traditional medical treatment. They are not a replacement - but rather a helpful, potent supplement that can actually enhance the body's ability to benefit from traditional cancer treatments. It couldn't have been easy for Beth Israel to make the case that this program was worth almost $1B of investment dollars. They were willing to go out on a healthcare limb to run a true, valid, scientific test of yoga's ability to treat cancer. It's courageous.

With Beth Israel's pilot, it seems that the tide may be turning in our country. Perhaps we are coming around to seeing things a different way when it comes to health and wellness. We might be on to a better path forward.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Power of Compartmentalizing

You have to let it go. Breathe. Again. Breathe. This year I have really begun to appreciate the ability to compartmentalize the different areas of my life. It's not a natural skill I have, though one I have developed over and over again with conscious effort. Some days I am better at it than others. Today, I did really well.

I have one area of my life that has been giving me trouble lately, lots of it. I've had to learn to let it go and focus on the other great parts of my life. It's not easy. I'll find myself walking along the street and it will rear it's head again, forcing me to stop, breathe, and put it aside. It's sort of like a bad penny or one of those crazy dreams you have repeatedly.

This exercise has shown me that I do have the discipline to keep negative events in one area of my life from spilling over into others. It's not something that comes easily, and honestly, I used to be horrible at it. Dreadful, even. I was one of those people who would have 99 great things and 1 bad thing happen, and sure enough there I'd be at the end of day focusing on the 1 really bad thing as if the other 99 great things didn't even happen or matter. I don't suggest this method for living - actually, I highly discourage it. You'll be miserable and unhappy, and quite frankly, the world has enough misery and unhappiness right now without you and me contributing any more.

So learn to breathe a little more deeply, do yoga, meditate, run, have a good laugh, and let it all go. You'll be healthier and every other area of your life will thank you many times over.

NY Business Strategies Examiner: Stories of the famous and fired who are now better off

In relation to my column yesterday, I read a story today about Harry S Truman. He ran a clothing that store that went bankrupt. After that bankruptcy, he made the jump to politics which led him to win the highest office in the land - when many naysayers said he could never win a Presidential election. I wondered if there were other people who were fired and now live a better life because of it, so I went to Google and did some poking around.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner: Layoffs as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves

"I have come to believe that job security is one of the worst things a person can have, especially early in their career. Getting fired gives you a chance to reinvent yourself. All of a sudden you have the whole world in front of you and you can now leap to a career that you may love more." ~ Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari

My Year of Hopefulness - Miami Gardens, FL

Tonight on NBC Nightly News, the featured the city of Miami Gardens, Florida on their "What Works" segment. Shirley Gibson, the woman who is responsible for its creation 6 years ago, isn't one to take responsibility lightly. She was a police officer for 17 years, a small business owner for 15 years, and determined to help build a city that provided its residents, all 110,000 of them, with good quality services. Crime is down 22% and the city is now focusing heavily on improving education. Shirley Gibson is now running for Congress. Despite people who said Miami Gardens would never be because people in that area would never pay for services, residents agreed to double their property tax to improve the community.

Miami Gardens is a living, breathing example of what can happen in a community when people take pride in where they live. They ignored naysayers and refused to believe that they could never have a brighter tomorrow. They rose up together, putting their heart, hopes, and earnings on the line for one another. It's an incredible testament to the power of organizing and a long-term vision. Miami Gardens prove that anything, and everything, is possible.

Monday, June 8, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: Getting Back to 9

Walter Murch, the Academy Award Winning film editor and sound designer of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather among other, gave his observations about film and life to the world through the book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. In that book, there is a passage that was recently highlighted by Gretchen Rubin on her blog "The Happiness Project".

In The Conversations, Murch says, "As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old…At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you ‘should’ be doing."

To read the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d8-Getting-back-to-9

My Year of Hopefulness - Eye on the Prize

Over the weekend I was working on a new product idea - testing it out by telling friends, making a simple prototype in my apartment, and pulling together a business case for why this product fills an unmet market need. And in all my excitement and positive feedback, I got scared. Very scared. That little tiny voice of doubt was pumping up the volume.

We have to let this little voice in just enough to inform and strengthen our ideas, though not so much that it dampens our enthusiasm and creativity. This is a fine line and I don't always do a great job of navigating it. I can get stressed by my doubt and nerves. And then I take a step back. I remember why a specific idea was so exciting to me to begin with. I'm also very lucky to have great friends and family members who always encourage me.

In these times, it is easy to let doubt get the better of us, to distract us and steal our energy. We have to keep our eyes focused firmly on the horizon ahead of us while being mindful of the experience we've lived through. This is no time for losing heart, and no time to let doubt undermine our potential.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A $7 lunch and off-balance sheet assets

I'm working on some new product ideas especially for the Chinese consumer market and for some perspective I turned to my close friend, Allan, who was born and raised in Beijing. With his drive and intricate understanding of the markets, I am eventually handing all of my money over to him to manage, and if I ever need a board member, my first call is to him. Allan never agrees with me right off the bat about anything - he doesn't give me an inch of wiggle room. Allan, in his characteristically curious way, questions me incessantly on detail after detail. And I am deeply grateful for that.

Today, our conversation flipped from Chinese vs. American culture (a favorite topic of ours) to the state of our jobs to future plans and then to social enterprise. While everyone on the planet is gushing about the promise and bright future of social enterprise, Allan is skeptical. Today he forced me to take him through the concept of social entrepreneurship, step by step. The financials, the motivation, the benefits, the short-comings, the operational challenges.

Allan took all this information in and to wrap up, he got to 1 more very simple question and 1 very simple conclusion. Allan's last question: "Christa, are you okay with having a $7 lunch for the rest of your life as opposed to a $70 lunch like those guys on Wall Street?" My answer: "Yes, I'd prefer it that way." Allan's reply: "Good. Then you are a perfect candidate to be a social entrepreneur." Allan's conclusion: "Seems to me that there must be some off-balance sheet assets that must be accounted for." How true that is!

For the rest of the afternoon, I thought about the role of off-balance sheet assets that we must consider in every aspect of our lives; how we spend our time and with whom, our happiness, the amount we laugh everyday, and our sense of purpose are all assets that are tough to value in dollars. And yet, they are critically important - I would argue far more important than our salaries (provided our salaries cover our basic needs). These "other" assets, the ones we can't hold in the palm of our hand, are the stuff that make our lives worthwhile.

Allan and I trekked up to the castle that overlooks the Great Lawn in Central Park. I was grinning from ear to ear and Allan asked me, "What does that view mean to you?" I looked out at the people relaxing, smiling, and enjoying the simultaneously simple and complex act of being alive. A small oasis of hope in a city that is seeing its fair share of challenges. This view is off-balance sheet assets personified. And from that view, their value is very easy to see.

The photo is from Pbase.com/mikebny

Saturday, June 6, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: Breakthrough ideas

I've been thinking about a specific business challenge for quite some time. Running, walking, and travel seem to shake loose creative ideas for me. For some reason moving around, getting out into the world, brings solutions to the surface that I can't always get by staying home.

For the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d6-Breakthrough-ideas

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Making the goal

"Do not turn back when you are just at the goal." ~ Publilius Syrus, Latin writer of maxims

As often as we seek success, I have been noticing that some people are truly afraid of it. They will spend a lot of time building a goal and working toward it. Reaching a goal can be a frightening prospect. We see this with students who get increasingly nervous as they approach graduation and with professionals who inch toward retirement. What they do has become so much of who they are that they can't imagine life after their goal.

With writers, these emotions play out in a strange form. Writers, when close to completing a piece of work will often procrastinate by starting another new piece of work that consumes them, leaving that first project undone. This is procrastination by distraction. There is a great risk of this happening if the main contributor is allowed to determine their own time line.

So what do we do if we see ourselves turning away from our goals just as those goals come into focus? Here are a few techniques to help drive to completion:

1.) Understand that there is always another goal out there. For writers, there will always be more material out there. For students, there is always more to learn. For professionals, there is always a new career opportunity, even in retirement.

2.) Remember that incredible high that comes from achieving a long sought-after goal. While it may be scary to approach it, there is also a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from achieving goals. Don't deny yourself that joy because of fear.

3.) Utilize a buddy. A brilliant friend of mine is delaying the completion of his PhD. He has some valid reasoning for taking as long as he is to complete the degree - the need to work full-time to support himself, for example. However, he is certainly putting off the completion of his degree by distracting himself with other interests. I give him a hard time about it every chance I get, and so do some of his other friends. He needs people to remind him where his sole focus needs to be.

4.) There is something to be said for self-control and willpower. Completing tasks is all a head game. It has to do with strong, conflicting emotions, and the key is to manage those emotions and get them to work in our favor. Fear and anxiety, if we use them properly, can give us a tremendous amount of energy. If channeled through meditation, yoga, and visualization, that energy can be used to work toward a goal instead of running away from it.

The photo above can be found at: http://pro.corbis.com/images/RF243246.jpg?size=572&uid={005D0CD4-98F3-4129-93D1-46B13233B07B}

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: Positive Black Swans and Insurmountable Opportunity

I arrived home from work today to find a copy of Business Week in my mailbox with the cover story "Innovation, Interrupted" by Michael Mandel. Mr. Mandel can be a bit of a negative Nelly when it comes to the economy. One could argue that he's not negative just unapologetically honest. Lately, he hasn't spent too much time talking about the future. He's mostly focused on the past as well as the here-and-now.

"Innovation, Interrupted" is no exception save for the last paragraph, which gave me pause and then made me smile. Mandel says, "positive Black Swans - unexpected events with huge positive consequences that in retrospect look inevitable...the U.S. could use a few positive Black Swans." For a minute, I let my mind wonder to what those Black Swans might be. And then it became very clear -- we, entrepreneurs, are those Black Swans.We are the ones Mr. Mandel is waiting for.

For the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d5-Positive-Black-Swans-and-insurmountable-opportunity

Thursday, June 4, 2009

NY Business Strategies Examiner.com: 3 questions entrepreneurs need to answer

The American Express OPEN forum is a great resource for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Today, Scott Belsky wrote a post describing three questions that every entrepreneur should answer. In the past five months that I've been meeting and interviewing entrepreneurs, I've noticed that they have the remarkable ability to question themselves in an honest, straight-forward way. The most successful ones know who they are - what they're good at, what they enjoy, and the trade-offs they're willing to make to bring their ideas to life.

Scott Belsky's questions are a great start that will help those thinking about entrepreneurship to be honest with themselves about their potential new venture, whether it's their own company or a new project at the company where they currently are.

For the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m6d4-3-questions-that-entrepreneurs-need-to-answer

My Year of Hopefulness - Boundaries

Seth Godin wrote a great post this morning about boundaries. It reminded me of the boxes that one of my leadership professors at Darden, Alec Horniman, talked about: the boxes we put other people into, the boxes we put ourselves into, and the boxes we allow others to put us into. We do this with our careers, relationships, friendships, hobbies, interests. We take on roles and keep them, and it's tough to break the behavior patterns we develop in those roles. And we have a real knack for giving people roles in our lives, whether or not those are the roles they want.

To make sense of our lives and keep us from going crazy, boundaries might be necessary. The key is to make them flexible and adaptable. Seth puts it in perspective of a brand, and explains that the brand can be our own personal one or that of a company. He stresses that brand loyalists are much more forgiving than the holders of a brand give them credit for. We have to give ourselves permission to try new things that truly interest us. If we are authentic and sincere in our pursuit of something new, the people who loves us will help us get there.

I've never been one for being put into a category. I've always felt free to explore different careers and interests, and have made a concerted effort to bring a diverse group of people into my life. From the outside it might seem that I just can't make up my mind about where to focus my time and effort. A recruiter once said to me, "seems like you've spent your whole life exploring." This sounded like a positive thing to me -- apparently he didn't mean it to be positive!

In actuality I have made a very specific decision to follow my interests wherever they may lead. I'm not exploring because I'm lost; I'm exploring because I'm interested in making the most of my life. I want to be someone with a broad perspective, someone who loves traveling, and new experiences, and meeting new people. I want to make sure that when my time comes, I've lived as much life as I possibly could.

My close friends, family, and supporters have been very accepting of this choice. They've celebrated my patchwork life with me. With every new experience, they are there, cheering me on and sometimes my life has even inspired them to do something different that they previously didn't think they do. It's a personal passion to extend my boundaries and grow my comfort zone, and I'd like to help others do the same.