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Author Archives: theseekins

What I’ve Been Reading: Smart People Should Build Things

Screenshot 2014-10-13 13.45.32I recently finished reading Smart People Should Build Things, by Andrew Yang. I’ve rarely found a book that offers as many succinct versions of some of the opinions I have grown into over the years (the foundations of which are probably recognizable on this blog from years prior). So I’ve shared a few:

“it’s a lot easier to take risks if you’re part of a group whose members will look out for one another”

This could seem simplistic, but I believe that the magnitude is not to be underestimated. Risk taking is a root of learning, innovation, growth, and even progress. However, it is an endeavor that takes courage and is often avoided (due to our inane and DEATHLY fear of failure, which is in turn due to our societal framing of failure as the root of all evil and losing at life, which is the subject of another post sometime). Likewise, the potential benefits of risk taking are enormous, as they ripple far beyond the individual. So the lesson here is: we need these groups, or communities, to support, empower, and enable our risk-taking.

“it’s not about an organization’s legal or tax structure; it’s about a company’s leadership, how it creates value, and how it conducts itself”

When looking at business school, I decided against going to a school where I could align with a formal “business is good for society” institution. I didn’t want my beliefs or opinions to be bucketed by my affiliation with a specific institution or concentration. This is because I believe, quite simply, that good business is good business – and by extension, good leaders and good managers do good business. I wanted this foundation to be as valid as those of my peers in the classroom, and not relegated to representing something outside the mainstream.

And to me, good managers manage with intent, good leaders are strong, and good business is aware of its value, its impact from all angles (incl short-term, long-term, and externalities), and is attentive to all stakeholders. This means – the how matters. Sure, it’s good to be proud of what you do, but to be proud of how you do it – that takes effort.

“being in the army vs being an arms dealer

In his book, Mr. Yang is himself recycling this metaphor, so I’m passing it along even further. Here is the idea: The arms dealer benefits from supplying both sides, so it doesn’t matter who wins. Here, these are the services (financial, consulting, etc). The real innovations and progress come from leaders who develop ideas and organizations to fight for the emergence and survival of these ideas. So, are you a fighter?

On a personal note, this illustrates a tension I felt during my final year of business school. To me, the framing was between consulting and being operational. Both have their appeals to me, but one thing I love about BizCorps and my current engagement is the perfect blend of both.

“we should set up human capital allocation goals for startups, growth companies and innovation the same way we do the number for science, tech, etc…we should embrace the language of value creation and reward those who train and direct people to build and develop our economic frontier.”

This one is pretty self-explanatory, and a good summary of what we’re working to address with BizCorps. One of my big takeaways from our training in DC was the overall accord for this need from some of the leaders in the space, including ANDE, Dalberg & the Omidyar Network.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

BizCorps, Bogota & Blogging

[Note to readers: My plan is to gracefully pass over that 2 year gap that was my Darden experience, just for ease of transition really. I’m happy to talk about all things business school in a different venue, if you are interested in my thoughts, learnings, etc. Moving forward, the purpose and function of this blog will be the following:

  • Chronicle my experiences and learnings during my work, and in Colombia in general
  • Retain a somewhat-articulate grasp of the English language
  • Have a central repository of the basics, so that when I DO actually connect with friends and family, I don’t have to repeat the same details on my end (so self-serving, I know!)
  • And finally, lure visitors to this fine country. See you all soon.]

First, let’s cover the basics: What am I actually doing in Bogotá?

My employer in Bogotá is BizCorps, a US-based nonprofit that places recently graduated MBAs with growing companies in developing countries. BizCorps was founded by Rob Mosbacher Jr., former head of OPIC, a federal organization tasked with “mobilizing private capital to help solve critical development challenges.” Through his tenure there, Rob learned that the real constraint to addressing these challenges was not capital flows, but human capital – access to highly trained managers who bring knowledge of best practices and global markets. He mobilized around this central learning and created an organization to fill this need – hence, BizCorps. In country, we operate as long-term consultants, embedded in our placement companies for about a year, working to diagnose and address a variety of issues (more on our clients & this process later).

By the numbers: 6 of us comprise BizCorps’ 2nd cohort in Colombia, hailing from 5 different American universities and 4 different countries. BizCorps also operates in Kenya, based in Nairobi (Nick and Heather are both blogging from Nairobi, if you want to keep up with that side of the world too).

My client is Fruandes, an organic, fair trade dried fruit company that exports 96% of it’s product to Canada & Europe (& a little to the US). They have sold out their planned production through most of 2015, and are looking to expand their capacity (& rethink their operations strategy) by likely moving out from Bogota. I’m helping them with this process by both assessing the feasibility a relocation and of new possible locations, while then working to build processes that will make them less-reliant on individual’s knowledge and save time and money as they grow.

Why Colombia?

All you have to do is google ‘Colombia turnaround’, or something of the like, to be introduced to the loads of literature recently published on the subject of Colombia’s emergence on the world stage. Some recent free trade agreements have boosted this too.

Here is a sample of how Colombia is performing in what someone-who-has-a-website called the “Top 10 Growth Markets in Latin America”:

  • TV sales in Colombia will go up by 30% in 2014
  • Pets market: average annual growth of 13%
  • Cosmetics: grew 31%, 2011-13
  • Hotel rooms under construction in Colombia: 2,805
  • Luxury boat sales: up 27%, 2009-13

Also, if you’ve never played around on Google’s Public Data Tool, it’s pretty fun:

GDP growth rate

gdp growth rate

GDP per capita (constant US$ 2000)gdp per capita (constant US$ 2000)

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

design resource list

a while ago, I found this article that really expresses nicely the gap in both learning and practice that really intrigues me (and that i not-so-quietly want to help fill). This post continues the conversation, from a design perspective.

this noted, i have lots to learn in order to train my design mind. i’m going to work this summer, and as much as i can during my time at business school, to invest in my design capabilities and thinking (of all types! from service design, to graphic design, to interaction design. a note on interaction design: “it’s easy to see how this kind of holistic thinking can apply to sustainability initiatives. When the success of a strategy depends on a dramatic shift in individual or group behavior, good design, intuitive interfaces and effective communication can make or break public approval.” i tend to agree.)

if you have any sources for me, please share them in the comments section! or if you have a similar goal, lets collaborate and hold each other accountable?

i’m just creating the post, which i’ll continue to update, as a collection of resources:

do you have any to add? please do so in the comments!

Further Reading on Interaction Design:

Interaction Design is a practice combining various traditional design disciplines with socio-technological trends. It often leads to intuitive solutions for products, software and services. The process uses technology as a medium, however it does not only deal with technological offerings.

People have been interacting with each other and their environment since time immemorial. Therefore, interaction design can also be applied to the development of analogue solutions that connect or communicate information.

Closely related to Service Design, Strategic Design and Experience Design – Interaction Design places people at the centre of its processes. User research and user testing play a huge part throughout the ideation and concept generation process. Rapid and iterative prototyping is essential to validate ideas in order to develop them in to a final solution.

Interaction design is not so much about visual aesthetics but rather about the beauty in intangible experiences. Interaction Designers often strive to understand needs or desires within a specific context to provide a product or service of genuine value.

Interaction Designers often work in multi-disciplinary teams providing an important link where projects cross product areas. They need to be capable of managing and communicating projects to a wide range of people. Increasingly, interaction designers need to be able to understand business strategy, as well as commercial and environmental consequences. The discipline touches on all aspects of everyday life and therefore has significant impact on society and industry.

[http://ciid.dk]

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

development of ‘social enterprise’ (or as i like to call it, ‘enterprise’)

I’m pretty interested in thoughts that others might have about this, and just talking through it. If you want to chat sometime, hit me up.

As Ben Packard, the Starbucks VP of Global Responsibility said recently: “Social entrepreneurship is nothing more than the future of business. The purpose of business must be to provide shared value. This is the new norm. Consumers will punish brands perceived to be out of step with their world view.” 

Is it trendy to have a purpose? (I mean, if Starbucks is doing it…) Or have we evolved to where we are? (Or both?) Some call themselves unreasonable, but it’s clear that a purpose & values-driven business certainly offers one possible path to success in today’s world.

(If you were lured in by the title of this post, here is a history lesson in the development of the field, and cool infographic overview.)

To be clear, this type of values-driven business does not replace the nonprofit sector. In the spectrum of social impact, I understand the function of the nonprofit designation falling under some combination of the following 3 categories (though there are other ways to slice it, this is how I understand it):

  1. One crucial role of nonprofits is to provide a space for experimenting with potential solutions to economically inefficient services or obsolete procedures; this creates room for the innovation that is necessary for continued growth in the private sector. Often, successful experiments can become for profit or hybrid business models.
  2. A space for replacing inefficient or lacking government services. Think about all the nonprofits around education in America.
  3. Working to address, and hopefully correct, a specific issue or injustice. Aka “working yourself out of a job”. Not mutually exclusive to either of the other two, but an important designation nonetheless.

From what I can tell, I believe the following to be true: my generation, if interested in making positive social change, in functions beyond the previous 3, is trending away from nonprofits and towards for profits for a couple of reasons:

  • It has become clear that a nonprofit designation does not indicate altruism and transparency (think of the Red Cross scandal post Katrina)
  • We got entry level jobs at nonprofits and recognized the vast inefficiency of that operating model
  • For profits are more sustainable operating models, and can therefore have a bigger impact
  • The affiliated context of greed & corporate bullshit, strengthened by the financial industry, has peaked, and we’re taking back business as a source of growth and innovation (think entrepreneurship). To me, this begs the next question: It is time ot think differently about capital? As a productive/creative not financial/transferable value? (And about banking as relationship-driven?)
  • Business is the most powerful & effective mechanism for making change in a community.
  • Finally, the least straightforward, but still relevant, observation: I think that my generation sees more fluidity in the world, and more easily rejects binary conditions (such as work or life; profit or values; gay or straight; marriage or kids; religious or not – many fall somewhere in the middle). This includes the history lessons that come along with seeing unhappy, overworked (& often divorced) parents (I don’t mean you! Hi Mom & Dad!)

But the question at hand is really about values/mission/purpose-driven for profits: Does this characteristic offer a competitive advantage? If so, then we’re really on to something. And the Starbucks man seems to think so.

To paraphrase my former boss, and current mayoral candidate of Portland, OR, Jefferson Smith: us socially-oriented feel a responsibility for those problems that affect everyone but are the delegated responsibility of no one, and thats why we do what we do. (The current condition of the educational system? The detriment affects us all.) So, in addition to the in group trending away from nonprofit models & to for-profit models, are we becoming larger? Are we also trending towards giving a shit (through our work)?

Is this what evolution looks like?

Further Reading on Millennials and why/how we’re more ‘community-oriented’:

One huge difference is this ethic of teamwork and community… People often ask the question: How does technology shape a generation? That’s an interesting question, but it’s usually the wrong question. The much more interesting and fruitful question is: How does a generation shape technology? Much more interesting question because if you look at that you see, who invented the personal computers and why?

Well, it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Why? Because they wanted to get away from those huge mainframe IBMs that had been designed by their GI generation parents. The idea was that all the information went to the top of an organizational pyramid, someone crunched the data and then all the orders went down — right? — throughout the organization. Boomers said, no, we each want an individual think station on our own desk separate from anyone else, so we can be personally creative. And that was the whole, 1984-won’t-be-like-1984 ads in the 1980s and Apple and everything taking off. Gen X took this theme of individualizing and individuating the technology further with the internet, particularly with the web commerce and everything they did.

But here’s the real trend-breaker. Millennials when they were growing up they came home and the first thing they wanted to do on the computer was, well, they wanted to e-mail their friend. And then they wanted to go on the chat room, and then it was IM, and then it was Facebook and MySpace, and now it’s these cell phones that have a little Marauder’s Map; you can track every single one of your buddies all day, 24/7.

But the point is, they’re moving technology back to the community. And in fact, they’re revitalizing and galvanizing political campaigns and community action through technology. This was not designed or anticipated by older people. This was driven by young people. And you see this in hugely higher rates of community service and volunteering. I mean, let’s face it, for Gen X, volunteering was a punishment. You know, you did something wrong at college, you do community service. (Laughter) But the Millennials — it’s more of a norm. And so that is huge.

Pew Research Center, 2010: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1515/millennials-panel-one-transcript-portrait-of-the-millennials

Want more on this? Check out The Millennial Impact

Addendum: All this being said, I take issue with the terminology of ‘social entrepreneurship’. More on that later, to be sure.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

form a junto! do it today!

“Ben Franklin…convinced twelve of his ‘most ingenious’ friends (as he referred to them in his autobiography) in Philadelphia to form a club dedicated to mutual improvement. Meeting one night a week, these young men recommended books, ideas, and contacts to one another. They fostered self-improvement through discussions on philosophy, morals, economics, and politics. The called the club the Junto (prounced ‘hoon-toe’).

The Junto became a private forum for brainstorming and a surreptitious instrument for leading public opinion. The group generated a bounty of ideas, such as the first public library, volunteer fire departments, the first public hospital, police departments, and paved streets. They also collaborated to execute on opportunities.”

[http://www.thestartupofyou.com/]

If I had to guess, I’d say that you have lots of smart people in your network that you wish you had an excuse to talk with more often. Or you have an idea that you want to discuss with some people. Or you know people who know smart & interesting people. Who is going to get them together if not you?

Some examples I’ve seen around:

  • “Soup Night” In Brooklyn, NY, one individual uses her love of soup to remedy the isolation that can happen with years in NYC. She hosts weekly Soup Nights, on Sundays, and uses these as an excuse to invite anyone she meets that week to socialize. The regular attendees are also encouraged to use it as an excuse to invite anyone they would like to spend more time with, in whatever capacity.
  • This ‘Idea Brunch’ turned into the founding of a toy company, Goldie Blox, that creates “toys that develop spatial skills and teach basic engineering principles.  By designing construction toys from the female perspective, we aim to appeal to a broader audience of children and parents who previously considered engineering a ‘boys club.'” All from a brunch!

In case you were looking for the push to make something like this happen, here it is: write the email today. Get smart, savvy, interested, engaged people together – make a new mix of friends from different industries & different walks of life. Have (fresh, delicious) food, a bottle of wine (or champagne, if its brunch), a mission or theme (however vague) and see what happens. Probably something good.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

if corporations are people, what am i?

More and more articles I read stress the importance of creating an online brand for your self. Of your self. And there are oh-so-many ways to express & represent your self. Pick your expression – or better yet, use all of them.

No doubt that in this day of instant communication, being able to quickly convey your powerful, convincing messages is, of course, a crucial skill. But how to convey your passions, knowledge, experience, and self just as quickly?

I, personally, enjoy the process of design and branding, and like the challenge of creating brands that articulate specific messages and invoke certain feelings instantaneously, without the reader/watcher realizing it. Not because I want to trick you in to thinking something is other than what it is (even though that might be inherent in each branding exercise, I’m not sure yet), but because I like a challenge, and I think its an interesting exercise is psychology, communication & human behavior.

But I just wanted to take a minute to say: wait, corporations are people, and I’m a brand?

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

one quest i have.

For a while now, I’ve been mentally stockpiling a collection of strategies, thoughts, concepts, etc that I find compelling and successful, most are evidence-based, i.e. from my personal experience – most of them I’ve hit on somewhere in this blog already (in fact, they are one reason for this blog), and many are interrelated.

For example, anthropology; I think that anthropology adds an invaluable lens to any attempt at communication. Also, entrepreneurship; to me, this is the most central example of community-originiated solutions to community issues. Collaboration; I think collaboration is the future of progress, in a nutshell. Human-centered design, like service design, interaction design, etc. Business as a powerful mechanism, that is dominating, and will continue to dominate, interactions.

Right now, how I understand these coalescing is something like this: The base of the pyramid is a great market opportunity. Products & services that currently exist will not properly serve these populations. The conditions are too different, and the prices are not right. So products & services have to be adapted, innovated and invented to service this market. (And, as Jonathon Feit has observed: “The key to designing a successful product ultimately resides in understanding customers’ problems and what they are willing to do or pay to solve them.“)

I wonder if private corporations can or will subsidize the R&D of products & services made by BoP populations, for BoP markets, as long as they are the distributor, or first client of said service or product. A collaboration with the government is likely too, if this falls under the realm of ‘development’. (I wonder if I can be part of team that brings together private corporations, local NGOs, and government at any level?). How do we avoid unnecessarily (and detrimentally) skewing markets? How do we support the development of products and services that are the most necessary to raising the quality of life and opportunity? Do we just support entrepreneurs? Offer product development training? How do we scale that? How do we fund that?

I’m just beginning to think about this, and one impetus for business school is to investigate this idea and understand, as Erik Simanis says below, how basic business tenants and models must be adapted to fit the conditions of ‘D & E consumers’, and how I can complement my work in anthropology and communications with business studies in order to comprehensively understand customers’ problems and what they are willing to do or pay to solve them (as Fiet noted, above)

One iteration of this is microfranchsing. To my knowledge, this is mostly achieved, at the moment, by large NGOs and governments hiring someone like Fairbourne Consulting to assess the entry points and strategy for supporting microfranchises of a certain type/industy in a certain community. But I think that these efforts will be funded more and more by large corporations who recognize the untapped consumer base and understand the risk.

I recently read this article about Emerging Design Centers, which essentially offers another iteration of how these concepts could come together. (I’m currently stalking the author, Daniel Altman, until we can have coffee and I can learn more about his driving forces, thoughts about where this could end up, and how I can help. If you know him, let me know! If you want to join forces, let me know!)

source: http://danielaltman.com/edc/EDC-flyer.pdf

Further Reading:

Microfranchising at the Base of the Pyramid, 2008 Working Paper by Acumen Fund

Microfranchising Toolkit for sale!

Erik Simanis, the managing director of Market Creation Strategies at the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, suggests the following, related to this quest:

A business-led movement that serves the needs of significant numbers of D and E consumers will materialize only when companies crack the profitability code and demonstrate an investment-worthy opportunity to shareholders Getting to profitability will require a laser focus on basic business tenets, which include matching business models to the constraints of the commercial environment. And in D and E markets, the environment demands a very high contribution per transaction.

It’s an approach that has allowed the microfinance industry to flourish and transform the lives of millions of people across the developing world. So for those companies that truly believe in the value of their products and are committed to bringing integrity, professionalism, and world-class operational standards to D and E markets, I would say: It’s time to get over your unease about profits and get into the game. Selling to the poor can make a difference to your bottom line as well as to the lives of your new customers and the communities in which you operate. 

[http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/06/businesses_serving_the_poor_ne.html]

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized