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Archive for the ‘Life and gratitude’ category

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,

New Years Resolutions: Gratitude & Living in the Present

January 2nd, 2011

Yesterday marked the 365th day for an experiment that I started on January 1 of this year   –> a “creative” online experiment designed to focus me on “Living in the Present Moment.”

The Gratitude 365 Experiment

Historically, on January 1st, I devise a checklist of challenges to accomplish for the year ahead, then plan out the year in order to achieve the checklist.  But, like many of you, I’ve often found that the hardest goals to achieve are the ones that require a “state of mind” (happiness, gratitude, joy, love, giving, etc). At year end, I look back and think it was overall a “joyous” year, but I’m not sure how I felt day-to-day.

One of my top life values is “living in the present moment“. This is something I am challenged by each year — perennially I add it to the the New Years resolutions list, but fail to find a way to execute on it. One of the smartest things I’ve done in my life to focus on the present moment is to marry my wife, Patty.  As those around us know, she has a knack for being in the present moment, so she often reminds me when I’m drifting away from this elusive goal.  But what to do when Patty has other things to tend to :)  ?

For 2010, I decided to use the power of Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Facebook to try an experiment:  Gratitude 365.   For each day of the year, I focused on the things around me:  people, activities, and every-day joys and twogged (tweeted and blogged) one thing each day THAT I AM GRATEFUL FOR ….along with an associated visual (photo, drawing, image, video, etc).

The result of my visual experiment is on Flickr here.  The daily chronicle of things I posted is here on my Twitter posts for the year.  I found that Facebook was the best medium for encouraging ongoing response from friends/family to my  my daily musings, so I “Twogged” to facebook, twitter and LinkedIn simultaneously.

Living in the Present

It seems to me that to live in the present moment is one of the hardest things to do.

“To be completely in the Present Moment, one must Forgive the Past…and Faith the Future.”

- Guru Singh, 2010

My friend, Guru Singh, presented this year at my UC Berkeley  class on “Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur,” and answered a student’s question which was “How does one live in the Present Moment?”   He pointed out that happiness itself is tied to the percentage of time that we spend living in the present moment…and few people on this earth can claim that their % is high.

I’ve thought about that over and over since the 10/27 class…and so have many of my students.

  • If I’m thinking about a grudge I hold, or something I failed at, or a fear someone placed in my mind, then I”m living in the PAST and haven’t forgiven myself or others…and I’m not in the present moment
  • If I’m thinking about something I want/need, or something I’ve planned, or day-dreaming about somewhere I’d rather be, or “bored” (a sure sign I’m not in the present) or considering somewhere I need to do, then I’m also not in the present.
  • If I’m WORRIED about a future activity, relationship, interchange, or …then I am lacking faith in the future.

How does one begin to forgive the past and faith the future? Perhaps by acknowledging the little things that we have each day, remembering to notice and acknowledge the things we take for granted, that are right under our nose.  Or perhaps to remember that many things we have are gifts from God, and not at all something we earned. This includes the homes we live in, the people around us, the food we eat, the water we drink.  Ask someone who has spent significant time in a Third World nation  and you realized that much of what we have is far and above what the “rest of world” has.

How do I “Faith” the Future?

Faith in the future means being aware that there is a higher source looking out for you, and trusting that this source (call it YHWH, Allah, Jesus, Holy Spirit, God, or Divine Energy – whatever pleases you most) has a plan for you.  Reading the book America’s Prophet (by Bruce Feiler) this holiday weekend, I was reminded that the phrase we American’s have chosen on our dollar bill is “In God we Trust”.

If I have faith and trust in a higher source, then I am willing to take more risk AND go with the flow.

For me, “Faithing” the future, does not mean giving up planning.  Actually, according to StrengthsFinder tests, my top life strength is “Futuristic”, so it would be unfortunate if I were not to use my top strength.  It means creating your best plans and setting the wheels in motion to achieve those plans, but also having faith when those little daily challenges test us, to “stay the course.”  And it means having the flexibility

What daily Gratitude taught me

“Gratitude 365″ was a helpful experiment in learning about myself.

I found that:

  • being grateful for things in my life mostly places me in the present moment – gratitude about the past is a nice dream, and gratitude about the future is a wish - the only real measure of PRESENT MOMENT is a moment of gratitude for what God has given me.
  • noticing things I’m grateful for requires focus – it’s hard to do if I’m stuck in the past, or dreaming about the future.  It is possible to simple close my eyes and think of 5-10 things I’m grateful for, just by focusing on what it is that I have.  Nothing else is required
  • once I practice noticing things I’m grateful for, I find it easier and easier to do

Ultimately, I think I’ve confirmed for myself that the things in life I’m most grateful for in life are relationships - everything else is really a “story”, a brief moment of happiness, or a whim.  So, for this year, the focus will be on creation, resolution, restoration, and deepening of relationships.

“ You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

- Steve Jobs, Stanford Graduation speech, June 2005

Gratitude may be the source of all great virtues

I’m glad that I chose Gratitude for the focus of 2010. It creates a foundation for continuing my own understanding of how to live a life of gratitude and focus on the present moment.  As the Roman philosopher Cicero said (circa 40 BC):

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”


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

The “Gratitude 365″ Project

January 28th, 2010

Here’s something that borders on “creative” and spiritual (a good fit for me, given who I am).

During 2010, I’ve undertaken a hybrid between my personal life goals and study in the use of Twitter, twogging and other social media.

Typically at the start of any given year, I take a long stare at my life “mission” statement and basic values – which I’ve honed over many years and adjust slightly as life passes by…and then create goals for the coming year that relate to each area/role in my life:  teacher, catalyst, investor/entrepreneur, father, husband, musician.

Twogging on my Mind

This year, I was reading Twitter Power by Joel Comm  (http://www.twitter.com/joelcomm) and was actively thinking about the many new and innovative uses of Twitter.  Companies using it for tracking customers, individuals using to create their personal brands;  start-ups using it to create a “voice” online.  While I see the merit in all these things, it also seemed to me that Twitter could be an interesting way to personally journal one’s life.  What happens when you flash backward at the end of the year and could visually capture all the items you’ve Tweeted (or as I like to say Twogged – see my previous piece on this) ?

So, I decided not to create goals for each area of my life this year, but to replace this with ONE GOAL for the year – a goal that would help set a perspective for all the TASKS that I do anyhow and put everything in perspective.

Challenging myself to use technology more

Here’s the challenge I’ve given myself:  I call it Gratitude 365 ….each day I’m using technology to remind myself what I’m grateful for in my life.  I’m using ping.fm to broadcast one gratitude per day, and it is sending out to Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Ning, WordPress and Twitter.  One thought broadcast to many channels.  And, sometimes it’s a silly personal thing that others may or may not want to hear about. Sometimes I am able to link the gratitude back to this blog or to the area of Innovation, Creativity and Entrerpreneurship.

For example, today’s Gratitude:    #Grateful (28) for highly #innovative branding and healthy food at one of my favorite eating establishments in the Bay Area –> link to this post. This allows me to Twog – blog about something of interest in the creative realm, but tie it to something I”m grateful for in the personal realm.

You can follow along VISUALLY here on my Picasa page.

Or you can go to my Twitter feed to see the Tweets related to gratitude since Jan 1, 2010.

What have I learned so far?

So far, only a month into the process, I am finding several fun things:

1)  I’m finding plenty to be grateful for: I am waking up thinking about things to be grateful for; I am spending time in meetings looking around and noticing others around me that I feel grateful for; I am arriving home at night and noticing things I’m grateful for; and I realized that each birthday of a valued friend, relative and companion in life is a chance to acknowledge my gratitude.

2) My lens has changed: overally, it seems like my life “lens” has shifted to looking at things that matter more in my life.  It’s easier to remind myself when I’m focused on something “worrisome” rather than positive and also easier to see the good in other people.

3) I‘m focusing less on complaining :about things I’m IN-grateful for, and spending more time focused on the positives. This is making me a bit more pleasant for those around me.

4) I’m marking my gratitudes with hash # marks in Twitter, so am making friends with others that care about life gratitude and have received lots of great compliments from friends/family who are following along.

At the end of the year, I think it will be great to see the entire year captured in a Slide Show on Picasa – so I can look back and see what I’ve been grateful for and keep my eye on the ball. I’m also considering using FastPencil to create a image/photo book when I’m done with this.

After all, we only live once and it might as well be enjoyable.  This is a good way for me to thank God for all that I have and at the same time to learn about the latest innovations in online social media.

Wish me luck – this could be a lo-o-o-o-ng, but grateful year !