Friday, December 23, 2011

Thank You, Sabres

The measure of an organization is often what it does when no one is looking. This week, I was fortunate enough to experience this firsthand from a local organization.

It all started when I learned last week that Jake* -- the 11 year-old son of some family friends -- was experiencing serious health problems due to a degenerative liver condition. I was told that Jake had been in and out of the hospital for the past few weeks, and that the prevailing opinion was that he would need some medical/surgical intervention or a liver transplant. Understandably, Jake was a little down and out of sorts because of all the health complications.

I was saddened by the news but resigned that there was little I could do to help or improve the situation. Then I recalled that Jake loved the Buffalo Sabres, and I thought perhaps I could contact them. I'd heard Ted Black speak on WGR-550 and was very impressed with his willingness to make himself available and always answer questions.

So I contacted the Sabres and told them about Jake and mentioned that he was a huge Sabres fan and asked, could they perhaps mail him a holiday card from the Sabres or something?

Not only did the Sabres respond, but they sent a package to Jake the next day that included a holiday card, an autographed yearbook, and other memorabilia. As it turned out, Jake was returning home from the hospital when he received the items. He was simply ecstatic, and at least for a little while forgot all about his health problems.

I know the Sabres chose to do this and did not ask for any acknowledgement in return. But I was so impressed by their kindness that I felt compelled to post about this.

Thank you, Sabres.

* Name has been changed

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Acknowledgements

To close out this blog series, I wanted to express my appreciation for everyone who's stopped by and provided feedback. Thanks so much. Writing a daily blog post about a different BIF speaker every day turned out be more difficult and time consuming that I thought, and I appreciate the interest.

In addition to a general thank you, I also want to call out four people:

Sandy Maxey - For all the RTs and mentions. Thanks!
Twitter: @sandymaxey

Jessica Esch - For sharing her wonderful BIF sketches that helped jog my ossifying memory as I was writing the recaps.
Twitter: @jesch30

Amanda Fenton - For those crystallizing and invaluable mindmaps that captured the essence of each BIF  storyteller and help me refine the posts with appropriate detail.
Twitter: @AmandaFenton

Deborah Mills-Scofield - For promoting BIF like no other and tweeting all my posts. Thanks, ninja fairy god mother.
Twitter: @dscofield

This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 +1 - Saul Kaplan

You can't do a blog series about BIF without mentioning Saul Kaplan and the outstanding BIF team.

Saul self-identifies as the "Chief Catalyst" of the Business Innovation Factory, but he's much more than that. He's smart, professional, friendly, inventive, and, most of all, always open to "random collisions of unusual suspects".

There was a telling moment toward the end of BIF-7 when the audience stood as one to show appreciation to Saul with a standing ovation. Saul looked horrified, but not because he's uncomfortable with public speaking. He's just the kind of leader who would rather deflect praise to his team, or talk about the inspiring stories shared at BIF, or make that next connection with a suspect he hasn't met yet.

Thank you, Saul, and thank you, BIF team.

The BIF Team

Saul Kaplan
Twitter: @skap5

Christine Costello

Tori Drew
Twitter: @toridrew

Jeff Drury
Twitter: @druryjeff

Christine Flanagan
Twitter: @chrisflanagan

James Hamar
Twitter: @jameshamar

Katherine Hypolite
Twitter: @KatherineBIF

Samantha Kowalczyk

Eli Stefanski
Twitter: @elithechef

This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 31 - Dan Pink

I don't know how much Dan Pink personally likes Halloween, but it sure corroborates the talk he gave at BIF-7. People love to innovate and push the envelope with costumes. Just on our street this Halloween I saw someone dressed up as a cell phone, a meticulously made up geisha, and a Facebook profile page. Some of the creative costumes worked and others failed, but the point is that creative thinking and a willingness to try new things accompany innovative costume-making.

This is strikingly similar to the point Dan made at BIF-7, that unconventional and non-commissioned work can lead to breakthroughs and innovation. As an example, Dan cited Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for groundbreaking experiments with graphene during their free "Friday evening experiment" time. (Note: Dan explores the potency and value of non-commissioned work in more detail in his newest book, Drive.)

Most unconventional and non-commissioned experiments do not lead to breakthroughs, though, and Dan indicated that the failure rate might be as high as 90%. This recalls Sturgeon's Law, the famous adage from American speculative fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon that states "ninety percent of everything is crap".

Dan deftly closed out BIF-7 by relating how Andre Geim previously won an Ig Noble Prize (years before he won the Nobel Prize) for work on the magnetic levitation of frogs. Dan's conclusion: "If you really want to change the world, you need to levitate some frogs".

Additional information:

My Review of Drive:

Dan Pink on Twitter:

BIF Profile Page

This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 30 - Duncan Watts

I would love to listen to a debate someday between Duncan Watts and Malcolm Gladwell. Because, in his BIF-7 story, Duncan came across very much as an anti-Gladwell: precise, deliberate, and respectful of the difficulties and complexities involved with attempts to influence and predict behavior.

During his BIF-7 talk, Duncan talked about the problem of obviousness and common sense -- basically, that "the way we make sense of the world can actually prevent us from understanding it." This is also the hypothesis Duncan delineates in his new book, Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer.

As Duncan elaborated, we are susceptible to errors of reasoning when we rely on common sense:
  • When we think about why people do what they do, we place too much emphasis on incentives, motivations, and beliefs, and not enough on the thousands of other influencing factors
  • Groups are extremely complicated to predict -- we erroneously apply the logic of "individual" action to groups
  • We learn much less from history than we think and are prone to make the same mistakes over and over
The way forward, Duncan intimated at BIF and flushed out in Everything Is Obvious, is less reliance on common sense and more on psychohistory-like computational social science.
    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 29 - Jim Mellado

    What are the greatest innovations and accomplishments from organized religion?

    I ask this question as a response to Jim Mellado, who in his BIF-7 story talked about how the church can be a contributor and innovator to society. Jim's claim was fascinating and foreign to me, as I've always equated the church and organized religion with the status quo (at its best) and repression (at its worst).

    My intent with this post was to list out the most commonly agreed upon innovations/accomplishments of religion from a number of sources. Unfortunately, my searches turned up very little about this topic. I've reproduced the best items I could find, but I welcome additions to this list:
    • Preservation of historical documents
    • Preserving writing and intellectual inquiry in Western Europe after the collapse of Roman administration
    • Revived interest in Classical Greek and Latin from the lead up to the Protestant Reformation
    • Islam: the notion and push for universal education, algebra, the mathematical concept of zero
    • China: orderly civil administration via Confucianism
    Note: This list was summarized from this extended Reddit thread about the Accomplishments of Religion.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 28 - Matthew Moniz

    Matthew Moniz's story was probably the most heartwarming and life affirming of all the stories at BIF-7. An accomplished mountain climber at 13, Matthew described the major peaks and summits he's climbed, including Everest and 50 peaks in 50 states in 50 days. It was even more revealing when Matthew talked about one of his best friends with a medical condition and symptoms that ironically emulated the effects of high-altitude environments Matthew typically encounters while climbing.

    Like everyone in the audience at BIF, I was pretty much blown away by Matthew. He was so focused, yet modest; engaged and driven to be great.

    As the days passed and I reflected about Matthew and his story, I realized that one of the reasons his story stood out is he's exceptional, a true outlier, and I wondered why that is. Why aren't more kids like him?
    • Is it that schools educate for compliance and not creativity and innovation? It's noteworthy how much Matthew has learned outside of the traditional classroom.
    • Is it that many of Matthew's peers are now medicated, for ODD or other disorders?
    • Is it that media consumption -- encompassing television, computers, and cell phones -- helps pacify and subdue kids?
    • Is it consumerism, which weakens self-reliance and independent decision making?
    I don't know, but as a parent, I'll continue to think about Matthew's story and possible reasons more kids aren't like him.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 27 - Christopher Meyer

    Talking about the evolution of capitalism seems like a daunting task, even for an innovator. But that's exactly what Christopher Meyer did at BIF-7.

    Capitalism is moving, Chris suggested, and the genome is going to shift as emerging economies like Brazil, India, and China grow and begin to dominate the global economic system. Organizations that maximize growth in change over time, Chris suggested, will benefit the most from a new prevailing version of capitalism.

    I brought up Isaac Asimov and the Foundation Series in reference to another BIF storyteller, and I thought of speculative fiction when Chris presented as well. Here, it was China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen McHugh, a celebrated near-future novel where America has gone through a socialist revolution, China is the new superpower, and a hybrid of capitalism and socialism has become the major economic system. The future described in the book seemed to fit the evolution Chris described.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 26 - Whitney Johnson

    It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets, rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

    You look up from the two documents on your desk. One is a business plan, and the other is a resignation letter. You are anxious and diaphoretic. Totally afraid of making the wrong decision. Of failing.

    As you acknowledge your fear of failure and let it sit for a while in your gut, you begin to calm down, and then, eventually, smile. Because, in the words of Whitney Johnson, "If it feels scary and lonely, you're probably on the right track."

    During her BIF-7 talk, Whitney focused on disruption as a key trigger for personal transformation. Fittingly, her anchor quotes crystallized her points and recalled some of the other BIF speakers.

    "If it feels scary and lonely, you're probably on the right track"
    We work to build up financial stability and status, and eventually accrue dependents and responsibility. It takes courage to make a change, especially mid-career, but if we don't, the odds are high that we'll eventually stagnate. This point made me think of Angus Davis and his emphasis on embracing failure.

    "Be assured that you have no idea what will come next"
    Because disruption dislodges us from embedded roles, environments, and situational patterns, anything is possible. We can't predict with any reliability what will happen or who will figure prominently next in our life. In this context, ambiguity and uncertainty fuel innovation and personal growth. Here I recalled Mari Kuraish, who literally had no idea where her path would lead.

    "Throw out the performance metrics you've always relied on"

    Whitney cited Moneyball and mentioned that for 90% of successful ventures, the strategy that leads to success is not the strategy originally pursued. This brought to mind Dennis Littky who -- like the GM of the Oakland A's -- recast the methods of nurturing talent and growing value. 

    "Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course"
    The differentiator here, as Whitney elaborated in her talk, is to disrupt in new versus established spaces. Alexander Osterwalder would no doubt agree, who achieved a business bestseller by finding a niche in book creation: collaborative authoring and publishing.

    You can read Whitney's blog post that was the basis for her BIF-7 talk about disruption here:

    Additional information:

    Whitney Johnson on Twitter

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 25 - Angus Davis

    Though a successful entrepreneur by any measure, at BIF-7 Angus Davis talked repeatedly about failure. Like Graham Milner who emphasized that innovation can take multiple tries (sometimes 40!) before a breakthrough, Angus went even further and indicated that the secret to success is failure and managing your fear of it.

    In this context, failure is to be expected and even embraced. It's an interesting notion -- and given that Angus has been failing (and then succeeding) since the early days of the Internet when he worked at Netscape as an intern -- I don't doubt the veracity of the claim. I do wonder though if this might suggest that some people are more likely to succeed at entrepreneurship and innovation not so much because of attributes like creativity or imagination, but because of a heightened capacity to accept failure and move on.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 24 - Alex Jadad

    I searched for definitions of "health" on the Internet today. Below is a sampling of the top results:

    The state of being free from illness or injury: "he was restored to health"; "a health risk". A person's mental or physical condition.
    - from

    Health is the level of functional and (or) metabolic efficiency of a living being.
    - from

    The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially : freedom from physical disease or pain.
    - from

    And, now, here is the definition of health offered by Alex Jadad during his BIF-7 talk:

    "The capacity of an individual and a community of people to adapt and direct their own lives."

    This sentence explodes the old, normative definitions of health because Alex and innovators like him in the healthcare industry have crafted it deliberately by rebuilding the notion and language of "health". This shift in the definition of health expands from semantics to the paradigm of what's expected and possible in healthcare, including "creating a platform for wellness instead of sick care" and attempting to "turn unavoidable suffering to meaning".

    For Alex Jadad, this mission has taken form at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto where he works to help create “... a world in which people, regardless of who they are or where they live, use state- of-the-art information and communications technologies (ICTs) with enthusiasm, proficiency and confidence, to achieve the highest possible levels of health and to help health systems make the most efficient use of available resources.”

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Guest Post on Career Rocketeer

    Check out my guest post on Career Rocketeer:

    Recession-Proof Yourself

    For more of my guest posts on other blogs, access my Writing page.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 23 - Andries van Dam

    Think about the last time you visited a museum and the painting that most interested you. Now imagine you can view that artwork in a digital display using touch screen technology and pan and zoom the image as much as you want.

    Thanks to Andries van Dam, this kind of interactive technology is becoming viable for access in museums and other exhibit spaces.

    Andries van Dam enticed the audience at BIF-7 with a demonstration of the software (Microsoft Surface) he and his Brown students are employing to display images the size of "a football field" and zoom in "as close as digitization allows". It was pretty cool and, along with the smaller-scale iPad, a glimpse into the future of display technology.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 22 - John Hagel

    I was fortunate enough to hear John Hagel speak at BIF-6 and BIF-7. During both of his talks, he shared personal stories that helped contextualize and illuminate the framework of pull, which he has elaborated (with co-authors John Seely Brown and Lang Davison) in The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.

    For anyone reading this who hasn't heard of John Hagel or The Power of Pull, I encourage you to research the text and consider reading it. In brief, the authors posit that social media and collaborative technology platforms have fundamentally changed the rules and costs of exchanging information and forming groups. The consequence of this shift is that people are now able to "pull" information/resources they require as needed and on-demand instead of in the old "push" model, where organizations disseminated information to clusters of people, often based on forecasts, market research, and guesses.

    Additional information:

    John Hagel on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 21 - Chris Van Allsburg

    Of all the BIF-7 storytellers, Chris Van Allsburg stood out as the only author who wrote fiction (children's fiction, specifically). Naturally, he was an accomplished storyteller, with most of us familiar with his crowning work, The Polar Express. But did that make him an innovator? I wasn't sure.

    As it turns out, during his BIF-7 story, Chris's revealed that he knows a few things about innovation.

    First, there was the focus of his talk, his new book, Queen of the Falls. This is a children's story about Annie Edson Taylor, the sixty-two-year-old charm school instructor who became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. Annie's plan to go over the Falls was conceived to earn her fame and fortune, but there's no doubt that it was audacious and innovative.

    Chris's conceit to spin a mature story about a confidence woman as a children's book was also innovative. On the surface, Annie's story is not really suitable for children, and without a happy ending, but Chris found a way to make it work.

    Finally, the scale and grandeur of the Falls themselves forced Chris to innovate and experiment in the illustrations for the book. He faced a tough challenge to represent the size and height of the Falls and used juxtaposed buildings to depict relational scale.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 20 - Dennis Littky

    I have to be honest. When Dennis Littky walked across the stage to speak at BIF-7, I was a little scared. The signifiers perplexed me. He looked happily crazy, and had on tie-dye shoes of sorts. I could only think, "here comes a seriously worked-up ex-hippie."

    But then he started talking about kids and school and it became evident immediately that he was committed to bringing dramatic change to education. At one point, he pulled out all these little pieces of paper and started tossing them into the air. Every 12 seconds, he related, a kid drops out of school. 9,600 drop out every 24 hours.

    "Something's not right about that," he said.

    The good news is that Littky created an organization to help stem the tide of dropouts by "encouraging, inciting and effecting change in the U.S. educational system." The Big Picture Company was founded in 1995 and now has 72 high-schools across the country. Littky is now also involved with collegiate education reform via a College Unbound collaboration with Big Picture Learning.

    Note: During his BIF-7 talk, Dennis mentioned that he's always looking for e-mentors for students and encouraged anyone interested to tweet at him @dennis_littky and let him know.

    Additional information:

    Dennis Littky on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 19 - Byron Reeves

    You start up and get an instant message almost immediately:

    "Quest notice: find all 14 unclaimed invs and bring them back to _Reeves (Player 411) for processing to Accounting. Time completion bonus and one hidden power up."

    You gear up and prepare your Avatar, and then head toward the center of town where transport rigs can take you anywhere you need -- to the Tea Room, where you can meet up with co-workers, to the Library containing every administrative and quality form, and to the Towers, residence of the c-suite.

    Game on. Time to track down and pay those vendor invoices.

    If only work were as enjoyable as exploring a MMORPG. But might it become so?

    During his BIF-7 talk, Byron Reeves elaborated the growing phenomenon of gamification and explored the prospect of interjecting gameplay into traditional work modes and processes. Byron summarized the reasons we enjoy games (achievement, immersion, exploration, competition, and socializing) and posited that the same base dimensions apply at work such that gameplay can make work more enjoyable.

    For corroboration, he listed several examples from the edge of this space, how sales people are gaming at Cisco, how IBM has used games for client meetings, and how Oracle has experimented with several game applications.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 18 - Rebecca Onie

    Sometimes I wonder how anyone can muster the energy to work for change in our massive, bureaucratic, and sometimes sisyphean healthcare system. But then I hear people like Rebecca Onie speak, who helped found Health Leads, and I get inspired that you can reform from within.

    Health Leads mobilizes volunteers in urban clinics to connect low-income patients with basic resources, including food, housing, and heating assistance. This works with a simple resource checklist: physicians can check food, housing, health insurance, job training, fuel assistance, or other resources their patients need. Health Leads volunteers then work to connect patients with key resources.

    It's a classic case of shrinking change to a small and manageable scale.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 17 - Valdis Krebs

    What does Isaac Asimov have to do with BIF? The answer: Valdis Krebs.

    You see, Valdis looks at network topology and sees all kinds of innovative possibilities for analysis and extrapolation, not unlike Asimov's Hari Seldon, who famously developed psychohistory, the science of predicting the future in probabilistic terms.

    During his BIF-7 talk, Valdis explained the guiding principles involved with social and organizational network analysis:
    • Birds of a feather flock together
    • What you know depends on who you know (and vice versa)

    Valdis demonstrated the depth and utility of this analysis by showing a network genome of BIF-7 attendees who had completed a pre-conference survey. The algorithm depicted a connected system and suggested recommended connections based on interest. Valdis was kind enough to send me the visual, and I've reproduced it below:

    The demonstration was impressive, even though Valdis had extremely limited input data and an incomplete sample set (not everyone who attended BIF-7 completed the survey, including me apparently). With a rich data-set, the implications for this kind of network analysis are staggering and more than a little frightening. Forgot the nascent connection suggestions LinkedIn and Facebook make now, tomorrow's network analysis won't suggest connections, they will predict the people we'll connect with in the future.

    "His name was Gaal Dornick, and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before."
    -- Isaac Asimov, Foundation

    Additional information:


    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Big Bang Sustainability?

    I love The Big Bang Theory and think it's hands-down the funniest show on television, but there's one thing about it that puzzles and bothers me.

    The characters frequently use plastic water bottles and other consumables (paper cups, take-out cartons, etc).

    Given the intelligence of the main characters (Penny gets a pass) and their affiliations with the sciences, you would think at least one of them would have enough conviction about climate change and sustainability to try out a metal water bottle, order from restaurants with less packaging (and no styrofoam), and maybe even experiment with composting.

    I understand the show is a comedy and is not pursuing a cause or seeking to change the world. But Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj are scientists and uber nerds and the show does a fabulous job showing all the painful and obsessive details -- you just expect reusability and recycling to come up more than it does.

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 16 - Dale Stephens

    Everyone at BIF-7 was feeling it. You could feel the positive energy when the storytellers were onstage and how people were listening intently, connected. During the breaks I observed -- from both my own experiences and the conversations I overheard -- how most of the attendees were assiduously following the telos of BIF-7, and striving to "connect, inspire, and transform". It was all nods and smiles.

    And then Dale Stephens slapped the audience in the face. Dale's story focused on his decision to drop out of college. He explained why he did it (he wasn't learning enough and wasn't challenged) and provided reasons why others should consider dropping out too (students accrue massive college debt, college teaches conformity, life itself provides better field trips than college, and more). Even as he was speaking, I knew that some members of the audience were growing uncomfortable. You could sense the nervous energy and shifting body language in the theater. Perhaps some people were considering the colleges their children were attending and becoming defensive. Or maybe Dale's comment that "the purpose of Harvard University was to produce alumni to enrich Harvard University" was a little too irreverent even for BIF. Whatever the causes: it was about time, I thought.

    Since innovation often takes place on the edge and pushes dramatic change, there are inevitably moments of disagreement, opposition, and uneasiness. I savor the discomfort and am glad Dale brought it to BIF-7. His challenge to the accepted norm that everyone needs a college degree inspired debate and pushed some people to consider a point of view outside of their paradigm and comfort zone. And it is exactly this kind of openness (to uncomfortable, contrarian viewpoints) that keeps us mentally sharp and combats ossification.

    Additional information:

    Twitter: @DaleJStephens

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    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 15 - Len Schlesinger

    Here's what was like to hear Len Schlesinger speak at BIF-7:

    He comes on stage and acknowledges the audience. While all the other BIF-7 storytellers remained standing while presenting, he looks around for seating. Quickly, he finds a stool and makes himself comfortable. Okay, you think, he wants to dial it down, and this will be a subdued, intimate talk.

    And then Len begins speaking -- and it's brilliant and non-stop, one point after another, in succession, with quick segues and turns and you have to work to keep up, but fortunately all those people in the audience have laptops and are taking notes and capturing what he's saying, so you can put your notepad away and just listen, and focus as Len talks about Babson and how they are the the only school that do what they do, with a unique method to be able to impact the world, how there are ten elements of the entrepreneurial experience, how entrepreneurship is becoming a life skill, and how Babson continues to work with BIF and we are all welcome to immerse in the data at

    Additional information:

    Twitter: @lschlesinger

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    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 14 - Jon Cropper

    With today's weak job market and the maturation of multiple easy-to-use social media vehicles, personal branding is on the rise. People are deliberately branding themselves to find employment, make connections, broadcast their message, and express themselves, and they are becoming increasingly innovative and creative in their efforts. Take, for example, Matthew Epstein and his brilliantly branded Google, please hire me website.

    Of course, as Jon Cropper would tell you, this is nothing new. Branding has been an part of his professional persona since he started working in the advertising industry, and his BIF-7 story reflected the facets which he synthesized in the acronym SEDUCTION:
    • S = Self-awareness. What do you represent? Jon said that he stood for four c's: compassion, communication, creativity, and curiosity. 
    • E = Environment. What's going on in the world? 
    • D = Design. Looks and presentation matter. 
    • U = Understanding. Listen and ask the right questions. 
    • C = Communication. Tell stories. 
    • T = Trust. Mean what you say and follow through. Earn trust. 
    • I = Inspiration. Create effective messages and out-teach (not out-sell). 
    • O = Open. Inject optimism into the world. 
    • N = New. Constant renewal. Innovation is seductive.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 13 - Sebastian Ruth

    I've come to associate BIF with acts of innovation large and small, and passionate storytellers who test the edge and embrace failure. As I was prepping what has become my daily BIF post, I realized I wasn't doing nearly enough of that myself. While I've enjoyed writing all the posts, they've mostly followed the same format: a few paragraphs, maybe an opinion, and some links.

    I needed to deviate from form, and while embedding videos is hardly original, it's the most immediate and appropriate method I could think of to share the story and music of Sebastian Ruth and Community Music Works.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 12 - Mari Kuraishi

    I know several high-performing professionals who plan everything out. They set goals, maintain lists, document their ideas, and follow a personal development plan. It works for them. Some are even able to manage really challenging projects with tons of moving parts and, in the end, drive innovation and business transformation.

    But, as Mari Kuraishi revealed in her BIF-7 story, innovation isn't always planned. In Mari's case, the path took form, as it often does for many of us, out of necessity and by coincidence. Mari went to grad school in Russia because she didn't want to serve tea in Japan. When she found herself finishing school with diminishing options due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, she reached out to her connections and was able to obtain a job at the World Bank. When the World Bank put her in charge of their tiny innovation department, she opened it up to the world and "all these people showed up." When Mari realized the need in the world and possibilities of a philanthropic marketplace, she worked to create Global Giving.

    That Mari (like many other innovators) didn't plan her course or even set out to innovate makes sense intuitively, but it's nonetheless tempting to try to connect the dots and find connections between the singular decisions and unrelated actions. We do this, of course, because we want to reverse engineer the path so we can reproduce innovative ideas like Global Giving.

    It doesn't work that way, though. At least not in a measurable, practical way. There might be connections between the decision points in Mari's story, but if there are, they are similar to the connections between the Titanic and the iceberg that Hardy wrote about in his 1915 poem, The Convergence of the Twain. If you shift your orientation and are far enough away, you can see from a long way off that the ship is assuredly going to hit the iceberg.

    Prepared a sinister mate
    For her -- so gaily great --
    A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

    And as the smart ship grew
    In stature, grace, and hue,
    In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

    Alien they seemed to be:
    No mortal eye could see
    The intimate welding of their later history,
    Or sign that they were bent
    By paths coincident
    On being anon twin halves of one august event,

    Till the Spinner of the Years
    Said 'Now!' And each one hears,
    And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

    Additional information:

    Global Giving on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 11 - Umair Haque

    I can't recall for certain, but I don't believe Umair Haque explicitly mentioned the Occupy Wall Street movement (which had just started days earlier) when he spoke via webcast at BIF-7, although it seems he anticipated all the signs and portents.

    For economies, Umair said, move through three stages:
    • Functional economy - Survival, subsistence
    • Aspirational economy - Affluence, power, consumption
    • Meaningful economy -  Fitter, smarter, wiser
    And the U.S. is at the end of an aspirational economy.  As Umair said at BIF: "We stand in the rubble of an opulence bubble."

    The solution, Umair suggests, is to try something radically different, to innovate and begin the transition from "opulence to eudaimonia".

    Additional information:

    Umair Haque on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    TEDxBuffalo: Immediate Impressions

    I had the good fortune to attend the first ever TEDx in Buffalo. The event took place on October 11, 2011 at the Montante Cultural Center on the Canisius College campus in Buffalo, NY.

    During TEDxBuffalo, over a dozen speakers took the stage to tell stories and engage the audience. There was no overarching theme that I could detect, although many of the speakers talked about ideas or innovations that took root or have been developed in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding area.

    My purpose with this post is to provide brief summaries of all the speakers and links to additional information. I know many people in Buffalo were very excited about this event, and I hope this will provide a sense of the talks for those who were unable to attend.


    Ethan Cox

    Community Beer Works
    Twitter: @EthanBFLO

    Ethan Cox led off TEDxBuffalo in fine fashion with an interesting story about beer and why it serves as a modern day community builder via the third places where it's made and served, such as breweries and bars.

    Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold and Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram
    Uncrowned Community Builders
    : @uncrownedqueens @peggybertram

    Think of a resource like Wikipedia, but geared toward collecting and preserving the vast histories of African American men and women, and you have the vision of
    Uncrowned Community Builders. Barbara Seals-Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram talked about the project at TEDxBuffalo: how they established the project initially to gather records from the Women's Pavilion Pan Am 2001, how it eventually expanded to include African American men, and how they aspire to make the technopedia the best resource of its kind and an enduring part of Buffalo -- where it originated.

    Remy DeCausemaker
    Research Associate
    Twitter: @remy_d

    Remy DeCausemaker (who might have emerged right out of a Neil Stephenson novel) spoke passionately about open source and open data, and the importance of benevolent hacking to bypass proprietary, inflexible systems in favor of efficient, open approaches.

    Patrick Lango
    White Cow Dairy

    In the tradition of Joel Salatin,
    Patrick Lango spoke honestly about the challenges of operating a small dairy farm and the success he achieved when he began producing yogurt and bringing the product directly to customers.

    John Bordynuik

    I'm hoping one day I can tell people I was in the room with
    John Bordynuik before he was famous. Because Plastic2Oil sure sounds like a game changer. Employing a new technology, Plastic2Oil has developed a process to transform unsorted, unwashed waste plastic into ultra-clean, ultra-low sulphur fuel.

    Eric Walker
    PUSH Buffalo

    Eric Walker compared the modern city to a living organism, and he noted how many cities like Buffalo are sick. Fortunately, he has been moved to community activism, and his TEDxBuffalo talk focused on his efforts to bring solutions to Buffalo.

    Brandon Kessler

    Twitter: @challengepost, @ChallengeGov, @bkessler

    ChallengePost and
    both use social networking with collaboration tools to solve problems. As Brandon Kessler explained, the sites enable people to challenge the public to solve problems and accomplish goals collectively. Challenges are issued to increase awareness, foster participation and action, and generate innovation.

    Stacey Watson
    Drop-In Nation

    Twitter: @StaceyWatson716

    Stacey Watson looks and sounds very much like the tough, committed educator played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the film Dangerous Minds. Except
    Stacey Watson is the real deal. Moved to action by the high school dropout rate in Buffalo schools, Stacey developed a curriculum specifically for dropouts. She detailed why her program works in her TEDxBuffalo talk.

    Patrick Finan
    Block Club
    Twitter: @BlockClub

    Patrick Finan was the only TEDxBuffalo speaker who asked people to do less instead of more. Actually, he challenged the audience to reflect on their lives and consider making do with less -- for example, a smaller house and a more modest lifestyle. Because smaller, Patrick continued, makes for a richer, calmer, and more satisfying life.

    Chuck Banas
    Buffalo SmartCode Committee

    Twitter: @newbuffalocode

    Chuck Banas
    probably pulled off the most difficult feat at TEDxBuffalo. He made the subject of zoning interesting. In essence, he elaborated the problems with Buffalo's current zoning codes (which are too restrictive and lead to sprawl and parking lots) and demonstrated why the forthcoming Buffalo Green Code will implement smart growth standards that enhance the quality of life for city residents.

    Karen Armstrong
    Future Cities


    Another innovator committed to improving student performance in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Karen talked about her involvement with The Future City Competition, a national, project-based learning experience where students imagine, design, and build cities of the future.

    Drew Kahn

    The Anne Frank Project

    The original TED is rightfully famous for riveting talks and "ideas worth spreading". Drew Kahn's talk to close out TEDxBuffalo was as moving and inspiring as any TED talk. Drew's story was ostensibly about an Anne Frank play that he ended up tweaking to incorporate elements and characters from Rwanda and the genocide in that country. But the broader theme of the talk was our shared humanity and accepting the fundamental truth: we all share 99.9% of our DNA and we're all in this together.

    Muraho, TEDxBuffalo!


    TEDxBuffalo would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of many committed people. Thank you to Kevin Purdy and the rest of the TEDxBuffalo team.


    TEDxBuffalo website

    TEDxBuffalo on Twitter


    #TEDxBuffalo Stream on Twitter



    The Report from TEDx Buffalo
    by Brian Castner

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 10 - Andrew Losowsky

    BIF-6 storyteller Alan Webber reminded us last year that “facts are facts but stories are how we learn", and this year BIF-7 speaker Andrew Losowsky dove into the meta of story.

    With animated hand gestures, Andrew drew a mime box in the air and called it a "possible space". Inside the possible space, he drew a circle. This, he said, is the "likely space". What I loved about the allegorical constructs is how they demonstrated (better than any slideshow or presentation deck) the normative, the drifters, and the innovators.

    Moving on, Andrew suggested that if he clapped his hands it would be a cue for one of the BIF theater workers to shut off all the lights. He then made as if to clap his hands and stopped short. A barely perceptible susurrus of a anxiety passed over and through the audience. The edge of the possible might be stimulating and a rich channel for innovation, but it can also be unsettling.

    Consider Samuel Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot in which two men wait for another who never comes. The entire play takes place at the very edge of the possible space, and the reader is never quite allowed to settle into a comfortable plot narrative. Be that as it may, many are drawn to the edge of the possible space, to try out a new idea or to improve something. Like Andrew Losowsky, who found Godot a long time ago.


    The sound of clapping hands.


    Additional information:

    Andrew Losowsky on Twitter:@twitsplosion

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Sunday, October 09, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 9 - Gotham Chopra

    Mention innovation and most will interpret it as the introduction of a new idea, technology, or process. Few will expand the definition out to inclusion, even though it's clear once you think about it that innovation that includes more people in something is truly special.

    Such is the case with Gotham Chopra and Liquid Comics. During his BIF-7 story, Gotham told that his inspiration for creating Liquid Comics was a pre-9/11 visit to Pakistan when he visited a Madrassas religious school and came across a boy wearing a Superman T-shirt. Noting the boy's shirt, Gotham asked him who the superheroes were in his country? The boy laughed and looked around before speaking. "Do you think there's much to believe in this country?"

    About six years later, Gotham with some business partners would launch Virgin Comics (it would be renamed Liquid Comics two years later). The mission: to create a comic book company to engage the millions in South Asia and across the globe without superheroes of their own.

    Additional information:

    Gotham Chopra on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Saturday, October 08, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 8 - Mallika Chopra

    Confession time. When my wife-to-be and I first moved in together many years ago, there came a moment when it was clear that we would need to combine books and music collections. I had sheepishly avoided the subject for weeks and kept putting it off until I could do so no longer.

    "We need to combine our books but --" I said.


    "Well, you can't put your Deepak Chopra books with mine, in our large bookcases. People will see them and think I read that stuff. They need to stay in the bedroom."

    After some back and forth, my wife eventually conceded and the Deepak Chopra books were banished to a side table in our bedroom. But even in the midst of my triumph, I felt small and closed-minded (though I didn't change my position). I didn't know anything about Deepak Chopra and had never read any of his books. I just had an instinctive reaction against anything that felt New Age.

    I was thinking of this story when Mallika Chopra presented at BIF-7, and, if I'm being honest, I was more than a little anxious when she mounted the stage to present. What was she going to talk about? Would it be New Age? What if I agreed with what she said -- would I have to tell my wife Deepak Chopra's books were okay?

    But then Mallika told a personal story about growing up with a father who happened to be Deepak Chopra and how her professional journey led her to five star success working for MTV in India until ... she couldn't do it any more and gave it up, to commit herself to work that promoted meaning and wellness. At this point, I realized I was relating to Mallika one person to another and I had forgotten all about my concerns with Deepak Chopra and his books.

    Mallika then directly engaged the BIF audience and asked everyone to close their eyes and answer the following questions:
    • Who am I?
    • What do I want?
    • How can I serve?
    • Answer the question. My intent is ...?
    Mallika has facilitated an innovative channel for people to answer these questions on If you weren't at BIF and didn't hear Mallika's talk, I encourage you to close your eyes and answer the questions she posed.

    Additional information:

    Maillika Chopra on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Friday, October 07, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 7 - Fred Mandell

    When Fred Mandell started his BIF-7 story, I immediately thought of the French artist and sculptor Paul Gauguin. Reinvention is not a prerequisite for innovation, but it often accompanies it, especially with personal transformations.

    What struck me about Mandell (similar to Gauguin) is that he was a professional success long before he became an artist. By his own admission, he was a top sales performer at American Express, and seemingly destined for a record-breaking final run and comfortable retirement. Yet he discovered he was an artist when he took a sculpture class on a whim.

    There's a certain randomness to innovation. Like the collisions BIF catalyst Saul Kaplan talks about that spark connections, new activities may spur previously unknown inclinations and talent. Fred Mandell knows this and has helped illuminate life change through his art, writing, and speaking.

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Thursday, October 06, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 6 - John Werner

    Education has become both a national crisis and a deeply polarizing issue. We all know the core problems:
    • We lag the other major powers in student performance.
    • Good teachers are vitally important, but we don't have enough of them and there are too many mediocre and bad teachers.
    • We don't measure teacher performance well enough.
    • We need a better way of rewarding excellent teachers.
    • The dropout rate is shamefully high at some public schools. 
    Fortunately, many committed educators and innovators are working hard to explore potential solutions to the numerous problems facing the system. Count John Werner among them.

    At BIF-7, John told a universal story about family, childhood, running, and education. His path led him to Citizen Schools, an organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country. Appropriately, citizens (often volunteers) from varied professions and fields teach at Citizen Schools. It's a formula that helps under-performing kids and engages the community via collaborative teaching.

    Initial external studies indicate positive findings for Citizen School students related to engagement, achievement, and attainment.

    Post-BIF Update: Citizen Schools has been selected as a finalist in the Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education competition. You can learn more and vote for Citizen Schools at

    Additional information:

    Video of John Werner talking about Citizen Schools:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 5 - Eva Timothy

    Nowadays when people talk of innovation, we probably think of new cutting-edge technology, renewables and green energy, business improvements, and entrepreneurship. But as celebrated photographer Eva Timothy related during her BIF-7 story, there is an amazing history of innovation worth studying as well.

    Eva's efforts to capture moments of innovation from the Renaissance led her to employ photographic juxtaposition, or techniques to combine visualization devices like magnifying glasses with portraits or historical documents. The resulting pairings are original and effective, even when illuminating well-known figures like Columbus, Da Vinci, and Galileo.

    The project and visuals Eva ultimately produced are compiled in the text Lost in Learning: The Art of Discovery

    Additional information:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 4 - Graham Milner

    When I first heard that Graham Milner was going to be talking about WD-40 at BIF-7, I was surprised ... and a little wary. If BIF was all about innovation, dramatic change, and personal transformation, wasn't WD-40 the complete polar opposite: a stable and boring solid rock product that hadn't changed since the Eisenhower years?

    But once Graham Milner began his story, it was clear that he and WD-40 belonged at BIF. Because WD-40 emerged only after failure. And repeated failure. The proper name of the product -- which I learned at BIF-7 from Graham -- is "Water Displacement – 40th Attempt". Yes, it took the creator (Norm Larsen) forty tries until he perfected the formula that repels water and prevents corrosion. As I sat in my seat at BIF absorbing the information, I challenged myself to think of examples when I persevered through forty failed attempts. I couldn't come up with many.

    Graham's story provided an unexpected and down-to-earth reminder that innovation doesn't come easy and many never break-through because they're unwilling to endure the constant failures. Failure would emerge as a key BIF-7 theme as many of the storytellers would note the relationship of failure to both innovation and entrepreneurship.

    Graham's other WD-40 story also related to innovation. He told how WD-40 was nearly as famous for the red straw that everyone always lost as it was for the product inside. So, even when you succeed and build up a brand with healthy margins for over 50 years, there's still room to innovate. To their credit, WD-40 (no doubt after some failed attempts) innovated and recast the red straw as the Smart Straw.

    I'll bet this won't be the last time they fail and improve because of it.

    Additional information:

    Graham Milner on Twitter:

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Monday, October 03, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 3 - Alexander Osterwalder

    I suspect it's difficult to prepare a BIF presentation under the best of circumstances, let alone in a single day. But that's all the time Alexander Osterwalder had to prepare when he was asked to substitute for Erin Mote, who unfortunately was not able to speak at BIF-7 as originally planned.

    Perhaps a day is too much time because Alexander's talk -- about how he developed and executed a plan to self-publish what would become the bestselling Business Model Generation -- was relaxed, funny, entertaining, and inspiring.

    If you've never heard of Alexander or his text about business model innovation, I encourage you to visit his website and learn more. You can also download a 72 page preview of the book at

    Additional information:

    Alexander Osterwalder's Website

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Sunday, October 02, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 2 - Angela Blanchard

    There was a moment during Angela Blanchard's presentation at BIF-7 when she nailed it.

    "You can't build on broken."

    She was talking about community development and how so often we try and build by focusing on what's wrong: all the myriad issues and problems and what we need to fix. An alternate and better approach, she elaborated, is to look at what's working and can be reproduced, as a model for effecting change.

    Angela's current vehicle for change is Neighborhood Centers, where she is President and CEO. Neighborhood Centers is a non-profit bringing resources and education to residents in Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast.

    One other point about Angela's story at BIF. When she presented, I was strongly reminded of the book Switch by the Heath brothers, which also emphasizes focusing on the positive (among other tactics) to impact dramatic change.

    Additional information:

    Neighborhood Centers

    BIF Profile Page

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

    Saturday, October 01, 2011

    31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 1 - Richard Saul Wurman

    Before there was BIF, there was TED, and before there was TED, there was Richard Saul Wurman.

    For those of you who don't recognize the name, Richard Saul Wurman is the creator of the TED conferences and a pioneer "information architect" (he also coined the term). He is also the author of over 80 books, including many Access guide books.

    I would characterize Richard Saul Wurman's onstage time at BIF-7 as an innovation story coated in equal parts piss and vinegar. His lifelong passion for making information easily understandable promoting communication is evident, as well as his willingness to move to the edge and explore new modalities, including with his forthcoming WWW.WWW conference.

    Additional information:

    Richard Saul Wurman's website

    BIF Profile Page

    The WWW.WWW Conference

    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.