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Archive for the ‘Creative People’ category

The Economist “Ideas Economy” Conference at UC Berkeley

March 25th, 2011

This week the Economist sponsored The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference at the Haas School of Business on the Berkeley campus.  I attended both days and enjoyed meeting many innovation experts from around the world.

A  look at Twitter:#ideaseconomy provides some short insights from the conference and here are a few of my favorite tweets:

  • H Chesbrough – Opening up processes to include the customer is even more important with services #ideaseconomy
  • Paul Kedrosky (Kauffman Foundation): We think of ourselves as economic virus hunters #ideaseconomy
  • Elon Musk: Success = talent x drive x opportunity. If any of those goes to zero, success is impossible #ideaseconomy
  • RT @govlab: Aneesh Chopra on stage showing that govt, innovation, and entrepreneurship can go together. #ideaseconomy
  • Fun at Economist Innovation Summit! IRS asking question of Scott Cook (Intuit) then NASA asking Elon Musk (SpaceX) #ideaseconom

What were the “big ideas” from the event?  Here are my top four:

1) The World is turning into an Idea Economy- we have entered a period where the Democratization of Ideas seems more potent in many ways than technology, leadership, and geography.  In this new economy, one’s location (Silicon Valley, New York City,  Cambridge UK, Beijing, or Finland) is not so important as the way in which ideas are shared and collaborated on.  The concept of  Open Service Innovation is taking hold (see my Haas colleague, Henry Chesbrough’s new book on this topic,) – and innovative companies are getting their ideas, as well as their execution from all corners of the world.

2) Education will be radically transformed in the next 10 years – lots of examples were presented at this conference that indicate that the global education system is about to be transformed by technologies such as cloud computing, virtual classrooms, video conferencing, and distance learning tools.  This transformation will bring affordable teaching to third world and developing countries, but also represents an opportunity for major “brands” like Harvard, Brown, Cal, Stanford to take a leadership in creating the “virtual” campus to extend their brand.

3) Government programs for entrepreneurship seem to be a priority of the current administration – for example, entrepreneurs have a tax break and angel investors have a break as well (through the end of 2012) for angel investing (perhaps partially explains the rush of angel capital investments moving into start-ups these days). Other programs like Start-up America (this is a good video – done YouTube style)…. Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States was interviewed at this conference.  He was praised for how worn out his shoes seem to be. Point of fact, he seems to intimately know many of the entrepreneurs, angels and VCs here in the Silicon Valley.  A good sign.

4) Think nimbly, make mistakes, fail often – this theme was stressed at the conference in many different forms and seems to capture the mindset of today’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Marc Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook has been said (in an interview in 2010) “move fast and break things”.   This is a radical departure from 15 years ago, when companies carefully thought out and planned software development.  Given costs associated with cloud computing, open source programming, and other technologies, companies can afford to experiment and fail often – as long as they are tracking the results on their customers and changing course to reflect customer needs quickly

In contrast to TED, The Economist conference is smaller and more intimate.  So, it’s easier to talk with leading experts. Unlike TED, the conference was attended largely by a group of corporate executives and writers who are all intrigued by notions of

I’ve enjoyed attending both TED and The Economist events this Spring, but I still miss the intimacy and power of the early TED events in Monterey, when only 400 people attended and one could more easily kibitz with founders from Yahoo, Google, Amazon, MIT Media Labs, Microsoft and more.

The serendipity of TED

March 4th, 2011

I’m at the last day of the TED ’11 conference in Long Beach, CA.  Many friends have asked me about TED over the years: what’s it like? who goes? how do you get in?. This is my fifth – and there are many “TEDsters” here that have come far more times than me.  I find the Serendipity of TED to be an interesting topic…

Gratitude for Wurman and Anderson

I’m grateful for what Richard Saul Wurman created in 1984 – the early TEDs took place in Monterey, in a fairly intimate setting, with just a few hundred people…and equally as grateful to Chris Anderson, who’s non-profit entity acquired TED in 2001 and has turned it into a global media brand.  Grateful for amazing connections, great content, and vibe.  TED now has conferences throughout the year:  the big event in Long Beach (from which I am posting), the TEDGlobal in summer – now moving to Scotland, and over a THOUSAND TEDx events throughout the world – in every imaginable country – over the past few years.  The website is one of the best video content sites on the web, boasting hundreds of high-quality videos of “Ideas Worth Spreading”…

Ideas Worth Spreading

Ideas are just ideas, unless they do spread to the right minds, hearts and activists. And that’s where the magic of TED seems to work and continue to grow.

TED 2011 Main Lobby

Here at the TED conference, I survey the outside hall:  to my left Al Gore is standing and conversing with a group of repeat TEDsters, behind him Vinod Khosla holding court, with daughter (who presented this year at TED) next to him, and behind me Jason Mraz, musician (who was incredible last night on stage) walking by with his friend/partner in trademark fedora.  Beyond them, scores of venture capitalists that I recognize from the Silicon Valley mingle with 20ish looking young men in jeans and sneakers.  Sitting on the stairs, the founder of Amazon, with family in tote.  Chris Anderson, holding hands with wife, Jacqueline Novogratz (CEO of Acumend Funds).  Off in far corners of the room, scores of creative people mingle, talk excitedly about art, science, music, mother-in-laws and raising kids.   This is a typical scene for TED.

This year’s TedEd talks, held on Mon, Tues and Thurs mornings were short 5 min talks – and many were fascinating. The topics went from How to MindMap a TED talk (by Nina Khosla) to genomes on the Internet (by friend, Jim Hornthal) to the Hoax of State Budgets (Bill Gates).  This short-form talks are a great way for a wide variety of TEDsters to show off another unique aspect of TED:  the diversity of participants from teens to baby-boomers, from scientists to musicians.

The scene not only creates viral spread of ideas, but so does the website, which is available for free to anyone in the world? Missed a session? Look it up on TED within 3 months and you’ll likely find it.  In the future, TED will be broadcast in many companies (their latest endeavor) around the world simultaneously to the live event – so thousands of viewers can watch live, even though at a distance.  That creates more spread.

Sweet Serendipity

What makes this all worthwhile for these folks to shell out $7500 (plus hotel, flights, food) each year?  Serendipity, most likely. At TED, one sets oneself up for that serendipitous moment…a “TEDEd lecture earlier this week by author John Hagel emphasized that serendipity can actually be encouraged, planned for and enhanced.  TED is the ultimate example of this.  The serendipitous moments come when you sit down in the 2000-person auditorium next to the founder of Twitter (as I did yesterday),  or grab coffee and run into someone you’ve followed on Twitter (@aplusk) for a pleasant conversation on the state of Angel Investing…

But, here at TED, serendipity doesn’t seem to be simple luck.  Although the event has reaching proportions that sometimes make you feel like you are at a large trade show party (last night’s party for example, featured a 30-foot puppet and hanging gymnists), the event is set up to allow for interactions, exchanges, and lots of causual “bumping into”.  The five days quickly blend into a blur of great conversations with highly creative people, people who are here to learn and to meet others, many who come with open minds.

At the Intersection

I think what TED represents best is an “intersection” of creative thinking from around the world.  Movie stars, venture capitalists, engineers, singers, adventurers, scientists, mathematicians, CEOs – all in one place – all with expertise in some area, but open  mind to BLEND their expertise with other “ideas worth spreading”.  This is very much like the

Musician & friend, Jason Mraz on stage, Thurs

experience that the Medici Family created in 15th century Florence when they brought together groups of this nature.  So, think of TED as the traveling/virtual equivalent of Firenze.

TED has been a great experience for me over the years…nearly each time I have come, I’ve developed relationships that have been long-lasting, career-changing.  Two of my greatest triumphs and failures have come from relationships with well-known TED speakers that were made here at the conference:  one led to the biggest return in the history of my venture work, another led to less-than-successful (nonetheless interesting) start-up which caused me to question who I really am.  That’s the thing about TED, the serendipitous moments that are created by the intersection of so many wonder-filled people,

Keeping Innovation Simple – social entrepreneurship

July 19th, 2010

I get little argument when I suggest to entrepreneurs that they keep their businesses simple, that they focus on getting the simple steps done first, or that they focus on products that meet simple consumer needs.

But TALKING ABOUT simplicity and actually enabling it are two different things. It’s amazing how complex things can get when you hire a team of bright minds, create partnerships or define the functions of your product!

I was on the website Echoing Green (a early-stage social venture firm) and came across the video for one of their “Green Fellows” – a woman named Jodie Wu.  I love the innovations that she is creating with a somewhat mundane (by US standards) technology and transforming it into something of value to the poor villagers in other countries around the world.  This is simplicity in action.

What I see here is an entrepreneur who is taking a basic/antiquated technology – the bicycle – and looking at the world through the eyes of the social entrepreneur in Africa, South America, India, or China – and coming up with an innovative way of approaching this technology for alternative uses.

Will the organization itself get funding, grow successfully and launch? Perhaps? But they certainly are off to an innovative approach to social entrepreneurship that may re-purpose an old technology for the benefit of the Third World.

Have examples of simplicity that you can share? I’d love to hear from you…

The U.S. Constitution – creativity & innovation in Action

July 9th, 2010

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, is a massive structure located near old-town Philadelphia (2 blocks from Independence Hall).  I visited the museum on July 4th – a fitting day to be prancing around Philadelphia – at 10:00 am that day, I was the only visitor walking around the 2nd floor  huge (circular) multimedia atrium and one of only 8 people to sit through the first showing in the theater-in-the-round presentation (“We the People”) on the Constitution.

This museum is a must-see if you want to understand how this country was founded on principles of freedom, democracy and innovation.  During the 17-minute “We the People” live show, it really started to sink in with me how special this country is that we live in…and how the combined creative genius of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine,  Adams, Hamilton and others living in America in the late 1770-1790 time-frame came together to form a government and nation never before attempted.

The Consitution was delivered on Sept 17, 1787, after months of debate and draft in what was to become know as the Philadelphia Convention.  So, not a bad place to be on July 4th, 2010.

Who Wrote the Constitution

Picture a team brainstorm meeting that you have attended in the past and the process and results it yielded.  Now picture a similar meeting – only the participants are Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other luminaries.

Interesting “sketches” on many of the Constitution’s authors were written by William Pierce.

Madison is generally credited for drafting the Constitution. But the ideas contained in it were the result of 12 colonies/states (one state did not send a delegate) all contributing ideas and sending their most critical thinkers to the Philadelphia Convention.

Thus, the Convention had was incredible intellectual horse power behind it.  It also had ideas and ideals from men who had studied governments all over the world and throughout history.  The goals, in my opinion, for these men was to craft something that would suit the particular situation that America found itself in following the Revolution:

  • America was a relatively newly settled land, each State in the union had its own priorities and needs
  • The patriotism of the American people was at an all-time high
  • The States required coordination between them and a set of laws that would govern them
  • The entire operation could not be headed by a dictator, but required a unique set of democratic processes in order that all opinions/needs would be fairly heard

The Creative Process at Work

But Horse Power is not enough.  For amazing results to play out of this milieu, the leaders needed a process. I cannot claim to be an historical expert on the process that played out, but I plan to learn more about it.

By my estimation, the creative problem solving process they employed was astounding.  The process needed to identify the critical needs of the day, brainstorm creative ways that the States could COLLECTIVELY and separately, solve these issues – and come up with common vision from all this.  Finally, the group of delegates had to identify a future implementation process by which the newly formed solution could unfold over time as new ideas and needs were revealed.  At any one of these junctures, things could have fallen apart.

Failure to come up with a way to “unite” the states?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a way that we can ensure freedom ? Things fall apart

You fail to be able to get the delegates to “converge” on a set of solutions that benefits all? Things fall apart.

No options for growing the collective prosperity of a newly formed “united states”?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a process by which all this can evolve (try thinking out 200 years into the future – it ain’t easy!).  Things fall apart.

This was Pretty Darn Innovative

What made the US Constitution so innovative when it was adopted in 1787?

  • The initial “brainstorming” process include separate plans for the Constitution from Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alexander Hamilton (a plan resembling the British government) and Connecticut
  • The document was crafted so it could be additive & flexible (it has been amended 27 times since, including the first 10 amendments in 1787-8)
  • It was the first document of its kind in modern times to include Freedom as a central theme, yet the heated topic of the day was slavery, yet the plan avoided this issue initially so as to be ratified – otherwise the debate might have lasted years or decades and nothing would have been accomplished
  • The document itself allowed for a complete process for democratic vote and amendment
  • The document included an elaborate plan for Balance - a judiciary system, a legislative branch and executive decision-making
  • Required was some fair way for States to vote on future issues – so a system for representation and voting needed to be put into effect

This is Hard Work!

I must say, that Washington,  as a leader of this highly innovative new “experiment” has also impressed me.  Our first president had to take on a role that no human being had ever experienced – “President” of a “united” group of men and women who were anything but united.The newly united states were a pot full of idealistic, commercial, political and social ideas  – all simmering to a boil.  Washington had to be SOME POLITICIAN to get many factions to work with one another (heck his two top men, Jefferson and Adams, could not even get along), interpret the newly formed constitution, continue to protect his country, battle the concept of slavery in a land that had just declared itself free.

There’s a Lot More to this Story

I’m only scratching the surface here, being neither a top historian, nor actually being there over 200 years ago – I can only guess at some of the processes and innovations that came up during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond it…I’d love to hear your thoughts on additional areas of Creativity and Innovation that I”ve undoubtedly missed.

Hunger-driven creativity

June 30th, 2010

One of my favorite charities is Opportunity International, a global non-profit that in the past 27 years has put in place an incredible network of overseas banks and NGO partnerships to provide small loans (aka “micro-finance”) to poverty-stricken families starting small businesses. These occur in Africa, Asia, and Latin America primarily.

A lot of small loans moving the needle

According to Opportunity’s SVP of Resource Development, Dave Knibbe, 1.3 million individual loans (each on average about $150 or so in size) were given out to “clients” in 2009. That’s a LOT of entrepreneurs getting funding at a micro level…enough to move the needle in a small community, given the loans are appropriated on a group basis (usually 20-30 families cross-collateralizing each others’ loans as a group and paying small interest weekly) Opportunity claims a 96+% repayment rate on these micro loans…and the loan money is then available for the next family and the next and the next….

Opportunity reports that there are some 2 billion people in the world today living with under $2/day in wages or income.  The organization is on a mission to affect 1 billion people through it’s financial operations in the coming years.

Seeing the work – in Latin America

My recent trip to see Opportunity’s work took me (along with daughter, Kayla), to Colombia.  We visited deeply impoverished sites outside the capital, Bogota, and the coastal city of Cartagena.  Our week-long visit with other families who give to Opportunity, consisted of visits to the local bank/NGO offices to meet “loan officers” and regional managers and then out to visit “clients”, most of whom ate living in unbelievable conditions…photos of the trip are posted HERE.

What drives creativity?

This is my 3rd trip to see this innovative organization in action – and these trips are ALWAYS uplifting…because it turns out that the street barracks of Cartagena, Colombia — or the villages of Malawi, Africa or the inner city in Manila, Philippines — are full of highly motivated and creative entrepreneurs. They create businesses ranging from pottery to vegetable stands to leather goods to beauty salons…

These Entrepreneurs are a whole lot different from those that I’ve deal with for the past 20 years in the Silicon Valley. The education they have may not be what it is in the Silicon Valley, but the drive is is more focused and never-ending.

By  our U.S. standards these are very basic businesses with basic business models.  What amazes me is the differences in motivation. It got me thinking about 3 types of entrepreneurs…the typical American entrepreneur I’ve engaged with either seems to be focused on social needs or conquest/wealth generation.  For example, I know a lot of young entrepreneurs who have engaged with Web 2.0 and developed unique social applications – it was their way of providing something back to the world to allow us all to be more social.  Some of these companies haven’t created great wealth, but they’ve connected people like never before. Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve dealt with are after wealth creation or simply proving they can build something (“out for the kill”). Looking at Abraham Maslow‘s theory on hierarchy of human needs (see purple band above), these two sets of entrepreneurs fill needs for Social growth or Esteem.

The Opportunity entrepreneur (90% are woman, ages 25-55), in contrast, is driven by the need to feed her family personal hunger, desire for shelter, desire for safety – and or desire to see her children have a better life. Most are driven by all three.  Farther down on Maslow’s hierchy they are.  There’s quite a bit of motivation involved when your food shelter and clothing depends upon it.  The result is quite a bit of human ingenuity…finding solutions to getting around the system, using I call it true hunger-driven creativity.

At the top of the Pyramid

The third type of entrepreneur, an area that I am exploring in detail with my own career these days, is what I call the “social entrepreneur”.  These are typically those that have started a non-profit, or even a foundation, to serve others or a for-profit with a triple-bottom line.  These are sometimes successful entrepreneurs who have decided to give something back to others. Examples include Bill George, Bill & Melinda Gates, Bob Buford (author of HalfTime). Their Life work is focused on the top of the pyramid, self-actualization – typically in giving to others.

Although I teach a course at UC Berkeley about all the impressive ways that entrepreneurs use their creativity – in all aspects of business – I’m truly amazed when I visit and interact with hunger-driven entrepreneurs.

Of the 3 types of entrepreneurs, can you guess who shows the most gratitude?

Bogotá