Saturday, November 25, 2006

Idea generated jobs

There is a great deal to like about Thomas Friedman's new book, The World Is Flat.

It's written as an historical perspective on the great forces moving societies and markets. It should also be looked at as a how-to primer on getting yourself ready to participate in the coming global economy. I highly recommend this book from the perspective of new and emerging enterprises.

Among the many quotes I've tagged for highlighting, one keeps popping to the front: "There may be a limit to the number of good factory jobs in the world, but there is no limit to the number of idea generated jobs in the world."

Friedman quotes Netscape cofounder Marc Andreesen on the subject: "If you believe human wants and needs are infinite, then there are infinite industries to be created, infinite businesses to be started, and infinite jobs to be done, and the only limiting factor is human imagination."

Andreesen continues later, "You should be afraid of free markets only if you believe that you will never need new medicines, new work flow software, new industries, new coffeehouses. Yes, it takes a leap of faith, based on economics, to say that there will be new things to do."

Thomas Friedman summarizes, "But there always have been new jobs to do, and there is no fundamental reason to believe the future will be different. Some 150 years ago, 90 percent of Americans worked in agriculture and related fields. Today it's only 3 or 4 percent. What if the government had decided to protect and subsidize all those agricultural jobs and not embrace industrialization and then computerization? Would America as a whole really be better off today? Hardly."

This post is NOT about unfettered trade with countries that are human rights thugs and environmental criminals. Our governments need to get better hold of that process, creating 21st century standards for social, environmental and production standards that meet the needs of all world citizens. Under this scenario, I firmly believe that millions of great new enterprises will arise worldwide, in both developed and developing countries.

This post is about you creating new enterprises. This post is about the valuable resource that is your imagination. You can do it. You’ll probably need to do it someday, if not for the economics of it, then for your own mental health.

There is no limit to the number of idea generated jobs that can be created. Don’t look at what’s been done. Look at what’s possible. Look at what needs fixing. Honor your own ideas and look to your future. Plan well and be ready to launch when your time comes.

I wish you good ideas.

Thomas Friedman’s web site. In 2005, The World Is Flat was given the first Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, and Friedman was named one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Variations on sustainable

The November 2006 INC. magazine features its first ever Green 50 awards. Editor Jane Berentson describes these companies as "part of a growing breed we call ecocapitalists - men and women who've chosen to train their creativity, passion and acumen on finding solutions to the thorny problem of preserving our planet."

You can read about their choices from the link below. A very admirable group.

I want you to remember also, my friends, that sustainable not only means helping the planet keep running, it also means keeping your own enterprises running.

Sustainable work is not just blue sky stuff. It's executing after the phone rings.

You don't need an MBA to successfully run your own enterprise. You do however need control over the information flow of your enterprise, including contacts, sales, order management and financial data.

As you look through the wonderful companies listed in the Green 50 below, keep in mind that the folks behind these enterprises are also executing the data and financial fundamentals that make their inspiring stories possible.

I wish you the best as your enterprises launch and emerge to change the world.

Just remember to take good notes. Green 50 Stories, slideshows and podcasts about doing green business.

One of my favorite winners, Greenfuel Technologies. I believe algae is in your future.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Help you don't need

Doing anything for the first time is hard and usually scary.

You don't know what's supposed to come next. Every step is a step into the unknown. You don't know the lingo. You're ready to accept any help that's offered. You make mistakes.

None of that is bad, except for one word. Any. As in "You're ready to accept any help."

Any help is no help. Specific help you target as a need to grow your own skills is good. Wading into something new and looking around to see who will help is bad, especially in the world of new enterprises.

You're thinking about going out on your own. Good. You've summoned the courage. Embrace it. You're heart is racing. I'm with you. Now stop. Exhale. Look in the mirror and check out the directions you're taking. Let life get quiet and listen to your own common sense. Of course your first steps into the world of enterprise need help. But not ANY help. You need help that builds your own possibilities, not the possibilities of people out to steal your dreams.

Far too often first timers take any help. They turn to the noisiest niche in the new biz world, multi level marketing. "You can get rich without selling", or "make money without risk". Followed by, "Hey Uncle Bert, have you been looking for a new, exciting opportunity".

Don't do it. Multilevel marketing is the essence of "any help". It's no help. It's worse than no help, because you can do so much better on your own, on a path blessed by your own good thoughts and fixing problems in the world that actually need fixing.

I'd intended to explore multilevel marketing in one of these posts, when a good friend linked me to a blog by Ramit Sethi. Mr. Sethi is a very good young writer and recent Stanford grad. His blog, subtly named, "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" focuses on "personal finance and personal entrepreneurship for college students, recent grads, and everyone else."

Personal entrepreneurship for college students and recent grads... Yikes, somebody please buy Mr. Sethi a cup of coffee (not the cheap stuff - make it McDonalds) and give him my best. College students and recent grads REALLY need to learn the stuff of new and emerging enterprises. The world REALLY needs college students and recent grads to get their enterprise asses in gear and fix this place for their own benefit and the generations that succeed us.

Mr. Sethi is a person of Indian ancestry. I hope that it’s then OK for him to title his Nov. 14, 2006 post “Why I Hate Indian Network Marketers So Much.”

He’s not picking on Indian people, but using his personal knowledge of the ways scammers exploit people by maliciously utilizing cultural seams.

With Mr. Sethi’s post, you get a nice overview of the different types of multilevel scams out there. You get a short case study, some precise and funny analysis, and finally, a great set of rules to live by when considering this pathway of multilevel marketing: Ramit’s 5 Maxims of Network Marketing.

Two of the biggest tragedies multilevel marketing inflicts on the wonderful folks who have summoned their resolve and subscribed to the leap are highlighted by Mr. Sethi. First, is the distraction from your real goals. Second, and most important, is the cultural and spiritual misuse of enterprise creation that can deflate your ambitions and waste your abilities.

Here’s s good piece from his post:

”These programs are a scam on your time and your relationships. Yes, there are exceptions and a few people make lots of money. But dig into the data and you'll discover that most people--and I mean that statistically--most people make less than $100/month. Most people don't last very long, either. "But Ramit," you might say, naively, "how can it hurt? If I can make $50/month, what's wrong with that? PS I think I can actually make $50,000/month!!!"

There are four things wrong with that: First, you won't make that much. Second, you're not creating any lasting value or building a skill set for you. Third, have you seen how friends treat you if you try to turn your friendship into a sales relationship? And fourth, engaging in these stupid "opportunities" distracts you from real entrepreneurship and your goals.”

It was a cool recent grad that brought this blog to my attention. She reads Mr. Sethi all the time. I would pass along his link to anyone, but I would especially recommend his writing to young folks.

We need you in the game young people. Don’t take “any help”. Look for contributions that you can make, then build sustainable commercial pathways to get there.

The antithesis of sustainable work is multilevel marketing. Don’t do it. My thanks to Mr. Sethi for defining it so well.

You’re smart enough. There are plenty of problems to fix. Common sense and hard work rule. Go get ‘em my young friends!

Ramit Sethi’s blog

Wikipedia info on multilevel marketing Lots of good links shining lights on multilevel marketing scams. A private site run by Stephen Barrett, MD

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Calling home

My Dad is an inventor. A Chemical Engineer by training, his passion is for problems and blank pieces of paper.

My Mom is wonderful. She has strengths and insights I can’t begin to count here, but she is not an inventor. At 50 something, I’m still growing up with this lovely family wrapped around me.

When I call my folks, Mom usually answers. Dad is usually working. When the ebb and flow of their family life seems to be on divergent courses, I can hear it coming quickly. I can count on Mom to summarize all her thoughts about my Dad’s imperfections, flaws and unfamiliar behaviors with just one word. I see the word coming, inexorably as the little pleasantries get covered. It’s a word not usually associated with venom. It’s a pretty neutral word. An unemotional, technical word,

Except in my family, and in lots of naysayer corners of the world.

To get Mom’s version right, you have to say this word as though it gave you a disease, or say it as though you were spitting out something unpleasant. Are you feeling surly? Good. The word? Prototypes. As in “Your Father is making (there are spiders in my mouth) prototypes.”

It’s good to be on the phone for these conversations because Mom can’t see me smiling. Of course he’s making prototypes. He has to. That’s where change comes from.

The Nov/Dec ’06 MIT Technology Review has a great article by James Surowiecki summarizing the work of an endeavor called One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and its evangelist Nicholas Negroponte. The core of the idea is to create a partnership of seemingly disparate parties, fuse in some technologies that barely exist and work out distribution channels in ways that seem counterproductive.

Prototypes. Squared and cubed. God I wish I was there.

Mr. Negroponte and OLPC are working out details omnidirectionally to get $100 computers into the hands of millions of the world’s poorest children.

They’re probing the world’s realities to find a seam that will work. The technology designs make me shiver. Self powered, drop ‘em on rocks computers that can link every kid in a dirt floor classroom together, as well as to the global internet. It’s a really cool story. Good on ya guys. Make no small plans.

The discussions swirling around this project are interesting, and well illuminated in the OLPC article.

There’s lots of criticism of the plan. It hasn’t been done before. Global norms of common understanding aren’t in place. Bureaucracies are confused. Lefties don’t like it. Righties don’t like it. Spit with me kids, prototypes.

Much of the criticism seems to focus on the fact that resources for the poor should first be directed at the areas of greatest need.

I like the historical perspective from the OCPL article. Andrew Carnegie amassed a fortune in the 1800s that he turned toward building free libraries. He did this at a time when few libraries even existed, and the ones that did charged fees, and had few books to circulate. No one even considered that poor people should have access to these libraries. They had bigger problems.

So Mr. Carnegie went around what people considered normal. He created resources where none had previously existed. He found his own money could leverage public monies. He worked out commercial paths that were counterintuitive, yet repeatable.

Of course the criticism grew.

“… in fact, in many of the towns where he built libraries, citizens grumbled that their tax dollars should be going to something that really mattered.. Yet in the long run, one would be hard pressed to say that either Carnegie or the taxpayers wasted that money, because the social benefits of disseminating knowledge are so immense.”

Much of what One Laptop per Child proposes is tricky. Some of it may not stick. Good. Better than good. It’s great. Their striving will open new and unexpected paths for all of us. We will learn from their hard work what works and more importantly, what doesn’t work and why. We’ll be indebted to every failure and celebrating every success.

It’s the unconventional enterprise models that OLPC is creating that I find inspiring. They are not directing resources. They’re creating new resources to let people make their own lives better. They’re working to find non traditional paths to distribute those resources so those in need can make their own decisions.

You can do this in your own way, on your own path, with your own plan. Throw yourself heartily at one problem. Work to create resources where they don’t exist. The best part about making something new is that there are very few rules. Don’t expect all of it to stick. Just keep making prototypes.

Then repeat the ones that stick.

Thanks Dad.

One Laptop per Child

MIT Technology Review. Hard copy edition of the Nov/Dec cover is a close up of an OLPC computer overlaid with this title: Will This Save the World? The $100 Laptop. Mr. Surowiecki's article is titled: Philanthropy's New Prototype.

wiki info about James_Surowiecki author of the The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. A very interesting book I highly recommend.