Greg Harris: Facilitating a Changed Economy

Greg HarrisAs our nation emerges from the Great Recession, many economists and pundits yearn for Americans to start spending more.  But in this yearning for a return to the economy of old, we may be neglecting an incredible opportunity to move away from a consumerism-driven economy.

In fact, a more deliberate policy discussion should focus on ways to accommodate new economic habits and trends that are undermining status quo economic assumptions and governing approaches to regulating and reporting on commerce.

From Farmer Markets to technology-driven efficiencies, a new generation of entrepreneurs is re-writing rules faster than societal regulatory and reporting systems can adapt. As such, Americans are being given an increasingly false picture of economic activity and health.

In the past, I’ve written for the RP about how social media—in the hands of democracy seeking activists—is the greatest emergent threat to oppressive regimes. A similar dynamic is emerging from grassroots and netroots entrepreneurs who are pursuing ways of exchange that baffle those who seek to tax, regulate, and measure economies.

I have experienced this firsthand through farmer markets, where my wife built her original client base and became emboldened to leave her corporate accounting job to open her own (now successful) pet store. Indeed, these markets are proving an enormous incubator of small businesses.  I have witness firsthand several folks make the transition from vendors hawking their items on rickety tables and from the back of trucks to successful shops and restaurants.

What has further stood out to me about the farmer markets is the terms of exchange negotiated vendor to vendor – perhaps the one true place where a barter economy still exists. What has emerged in Greater Cincinnati is a conceptual cousin to the “network of cooperative colonies” envisioned in Upton Sinclair’s depression-era campaign for California Governor when he advocated for building a system of localized barter economies.

The critical distinction, of course, is that these networks have emerged organically rather than being central government driven. In this sub-economy, the bread vendor gives a few loaves to the pet vendor who in turn swaps food for the baker’s pet; the baker provides bread to the farmer who uses it for himself and to feed his animals, and exchanges, in return, meat for the baker who tonight will be grilling chicken for her kids.  The values of goods are determined through person-to-person dialogue.  Contrary to the economy experienced by most, those who barter are intimately familiar with the value of the goods they negotiate via personal transactions.

In a consumer society built on several degrees of disconnect from the people who grow or manufacture the products we eat and wear, and who provide the credit we often use for purchases that offer a false sense of wealth and inflate costs, the Farmer’s Market is the antidote: a personalized culture of relationships intimately connected to the goods we share and consume.

At a different level, we see these emergent ways of doing business challenging and even undermining the ways in which wealth is measured. Victor Hwang’s recent fascinating piece for Forbes discusses this dynamic as it plays out with businesses like Uber, which trades spare passenger seats in cars:

Here’s some news that might surprise you: Uber will lower America’s gross domestic product .  In fact, it has already started.  The more Uber grows, the worse our GDP will get.  And it’s not just Uber.  Many of its startup cousins—like Lyft, Airbnb, and others—are also guilty of shrinking our economic growth numbers.  The trend is about to become an epidemic.

The emergence of Uber challenges how our nation measures Gross Domestic Product because it encourages sharing in areas once reserved for consumption—indeed, “a high-profile example of the sharing economy, which revolves around the idea of people sharing underutilized resources.”

GDP may in fact present a false picture. New economies should not have to cater to the dated calculus of stale institutions; the institutions should facilitate the ideas, instincts, and innovation of entrepreneurs.   As Hwang asserts, “presidents, prime ministers, and others will have no choice but to rethink the way they measure economic vitality.”

This doesn’t just go for the business start ups or the technologically gifted. It also speaks to a national shadow economy that provides real services. We often hear of true unemployment versus the reported unemployment, as there are millions of people who aren’t counted because they’ve stopped looking.  But many of those who stopped looking for jobs are in fact working.  They afford work by hiding from their government.

So what is the appropriate policy response? Yes, “the State” could continue to seek new ways to capture national productivity and GDP, as well as devise ways to clamp down on personalized transaction paid through barter or cash.

Or perhaps a better path forward would be to look critically at tax policies that promote rather than harnesses broadened definitions of economic vitality? Bloomberg View’s Mark Buchanan examines this reassessment of “wealth” for its broader implications:

The work of creating better measures is decidedly unglamorous, and yet perhaps nothing is more important. It entails finding ways to count the value of intact ecosystems in the natural recycling of wastes and in maintaining soil integrity. It requires quantifying the depletion of capital through the extraction of exhaustible resources such as minerals or fossil fuels, or the destruction of renewable resources such as fisheries or forests. The economists and scientists doing this work might turn out to be the heroes of the future.

In America, this might include looking at ways to incentivize a more holistic notion of national wealth versus today’s consumer economy.

Does the income tax, for example, complement the American entrepreneurial spirit, or serve as its harness? Perhaps a national sales tax instead of income tax is more in line with the American experiment? Exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (FICA) could offset the regressive nature of a sales tax.

Policies that encourage savings, a real individual-level valuing of goods, and personalization versus distancing that comes from genuine control over what you earn and how you spend what you earn should be part of some new reckoning with an economy that is, and should be, ever changing.

Much human activity is economic activity: our jobs, our consumption.  How do we facilitate not the economy but a system of economies where individuals are empowered to earn and to spend in ways that facilitate authenticity, personalization, and sharing?

More exciting still, such tax reform would have a strong cleansing effect on democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services—you know, the very institutions that were formed to give power to the people.

Other areas of consideration might include de-emphasizing “punishing” income in favor of rewarding conservation that preserves our nation’s natural assets. In fact, one recent proposal emerging from Congress to tax carbon could see daylight if, as the New York TimesGreg Mankiw suggests, it uses “the new revenue to reduce personal and corporate income tax rates.”

For my next column, I will explore more fully how tax reforms can be part of the toolbox for simplifying our tax code, encouraging national re-investment, and renewed personalization and individual control over our current economy’s abstracting effects: making tangible costs for a debt and consumption-driven nation that should change its habits for the good of our individual, economic, and environmental well being.

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons From Taylor Swift

photo-saulI’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift. Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.

The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.

Over the last two years the bottom has fallen out of the U.S. album market with sales plummeting 20%. Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 defies gravity with amazing launch week sales of 1.28 million copies exceeding all expectations according to Nielsen SoundScan. Swifties everywhere mobilized to make it so. My daughter, the fangirl, drove this innovation lesson home for me. Alyssa maintains a tumblr site dedicated to all things Taylor Swift. I didn’t pay attention until the day she called home proclaiming that the pop star had followed her and had actually responded to her question about all important lipstick choices. My daughter was so excited you would think it was a national holiday! That’s what I call fan engagement.

As if that wasn’t enough to lock in a fan for life, my daughter’s next post was a video of her 3 year-old twin nieces (our granddaughters) dancing to Shake It Off. Cute, aren’t they? When Taylor Swift tweeted out the video to her 46 million followers, our granddaughters went viral. Now everyone in our family is a Swiftie!

Multiply the ripple effect from this example of personal engagement thousands and thousands of times and you begin to see how social isn’t about pushing a message out to potential customers, its about pulling people into a movement. Talk about force multipliers. Social business is redundant. All business is social.

There is also an important innovation lesson in the way Taylor Swift has staked out her position in the music industry business model wars. Album sales are declining rapidly because consumers are flocking to free streaming services like Spotify with over 40 million active users. Only about 25% of those active users pay for a premium service without ads, the rest stream for free. 40 million streamers can put a serious dent in album sales. Spotify pays per stream royalties of between $0.006 and $0.0084 which is significantly less than an artist can make through mp3 sales.

Not many artists have Taylor Swift’s market clout but when she announced she was pulling her music off of Spotify it sent a clear message to the market. Content matters and should be paid for. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Yahoo interview she makes her point of view clear.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for”.

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music”.

In a world where content can be digitized and the marginal cost of global distribution is virtually zero consumers have been conditioned to get content for free. It’s a business model free for all. Content producers have been squeezed mercilessly. Journalists, authors, and musicians are being decimated. Newspaper and magazine journalists have been let go in droves left to scramble to make ends meet as free agents. Authors bear the brunt of collateral damage from the battle between Hachette and Amazon. Fewer and fewer musicians can make a living pursuing their passion.

A dangerous narrative has emerged in which content creators are supposed to just accept that their content will be free. Authors are expected to write articles and books for free so they can make money giving speeches and doing consulting work. Musicians are expected to release music for peanuts so they can make money on the road doing concerts.

I have personally fallen into this trap as a steady content producer including tweets, blogs, articles, and even a book. How many of us keep pumping out content for free or very little money in the hopes that it will translate into value in other ways? Taylor Swift is taking an impressive stand. Yes it is in her best interest to do so but it is also in the interest of content creators everywhere.

Many new business models will emerge in the digital era. It will be messy while the market sorts out and balances consumer, platform, and content creator interests. Business models that don’t recognize the power of customer engagement and fully value the contribution of content creators are unsustainable. This new Swiftie is rooting for Taylor Swift’s continued success.

Saul Kaplan: This Is What Customers Really Crave

photo-saulThis is the ninth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time site, authored by Nicha Ratana and myself, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI.

“Today, smaller and smaller teams are building bigger and bigger things, faster,” he explains. In today’s marketplace—which is streamlined by technology and defined by abundant choice— “corporate muscle mass” such as factories and storefronts have lost the clout they had 50 years prior.

“What customers really crave is a sense of humanity,” claims Taylor.

“Leaders of economically successful organizations are every bit as rigorous about the human side of their enterprises as they are about R&D and acquisitions,” he maintains. Taylor encourages us to recognize the influence of passion brands. “Apple, Google, HBO” he lists, all have dominated their industry sectors thanks to the might of a zealous group of consumers.

“Ultimately, your culture is what sustains your strategy.”

The aspect of technological revolution that currently fascinates Bill Taylor is the power of businesses that are facilitated by technology, but driven by a human touch.

As a primer, he shares three guidelines for companies looking to embrace this new culture of work:

  1. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Breakaway success requires a commitment to the unprecedented.

“If your customers can live without you, eventually they will,” warns Taylor. “You can’t just be the best at what you do—you have to be the only organization that does what you do.”

Taylor looks up to an early adopter of this principle: Southwest Airlines. “They were never a “low-cost” airline,” he argues, “they were a “big idea” airline.”

Taylor says, “Southwest’s purpose from day one was to ‘democratize the skies,’ to give rank-and-file families the freedom to fly. In the early 1970s when they began to operate, air travel was a luxury of business travelers and the well-to-do.”

Southwest was successful because “their strategy was completely at odds with the rest of the airline industry.”

  1. Create meaning and camaraderie at every level of the organization.

Instead of giving their employees the chance to amass power to get rich, companies must instead help them unleash freedoms from within, allowing people in their ranks to give input about the goods and services they produce.

“People want their work to be consistent with what they care about as human beings,” Taylor says. “The best leaders unearth the passion, energy, and commitment of their people by enabling them to make a real difference to their customers and one another.”

He urges companies to examine themselves. He asks them, “What does it mean—in terms of the language, the daily rituals—to be a member of your organization?”

Taylor shares a revolutionary tip: “The real use of social media is not so that we can market our product to a broader audience, but to give our people the capacity to humanize our brand.”

  1. Be kind—it’s more important than being clever.

We can’t thrive in a corporate world that sacrifices humanity for the sake of profit, Taylor maintains.

At a BIF Summit several years ago, Taylor shared a story of two automobile dealers his father encountered while shopping for a car.

The first dealer sold Cadillacs, a brand Taylor’s father had long been loyal to. Cadillac sent the man a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, but because he wanted to buy a car 24 hours after the coupon expired, the dealer refused to honor it.

The second dealer sold Buicks. After a conversation with Taylor’s father, this dealer offered to honor the expired Cadillac discount. The same dealer let the man test-drive the car over a weekend, and, when an emergency surgery prohibited timely return of the vehicle, sent a lovely bouquet of flowers with a “hilarious note.”

“Which car do you think my father bought?” Taylor asks.

“Small gestures of kindness send big signals about who we are and why people should want to affiliate with us.” He adds, “It was the highest ROI on a bouquet of flowers in history.”

Bill Taylor says he “always looks forward” to the Collaborative Innovation Summit, hosted by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI. Taylor has joined the lineup of radical business thinkers at BIF Summit more than once.

“I’m proud to say I crashed the first BIF Summit in 2004,” he says, “because I’ve been back every year since. It is one of the most exciting and authentic learning laboratories I’ve ever encountered.”

“Community is an overused word, but BIF truly is a community. We come together once a year, and learn from and support each other all the rest of the year.”

“I live for months off the energy that I get from the BIF Summit,” he professes. “It’s a poetry slam for innovators. What a refreshing break from standard operating procedure.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Lauren Mayer: Costco Vs. Walmart

I often struggle to reconcile my progressive values with my love of shopping.  I don’t want to patronize companies whose policies are at odds with the environment, LGBTQ rights, fair treatment of workers, and so on, but I also love a good bargain.  (My ultra-liberal husband gets weekly updates on which businesses we should avoid based on a wide variety of criteria, making it almost impossible to find an acceptable retailer or gas station!)

But fortunately, it turns out that there is a retailer which is ‘good and good for you,’ where we don’t need to sacrifice our own needs for those of the community – and it even manages to make great profits while espousing progressive values. In any head-to-head comparison with Walmart, and Costco comes up on top regarding employee benefits & wages, ratio of executive to average worker pay, overall customer satisfaction, AND profit.  Meanwhile, there are all the stories lately about Walmart forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving, spending a fortune on lobbyists while paying employees poorly, and making taxpayers pay to compensate for those lousy wages and huge executive bonuses, not to mention the pitifully small fraction of a percent the Walmart heirs contribute to any kind of charity, and the Scrooge-like requests for employees to donate canned food to their equally underpaid colleagues.

Isn’t it great to be able to feel morally superior while getting a great deal on everything from toilet paper to tires?

Saul Kaplan: Thankful Innovation Junkie

photo-saulI love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. What’s not to love? Food, family, and football are three of my favorite things. The prodromal smells of homemade cooking pervade the house which means turkey and pecan pie are only days away. Smiling is easy this week while making sure everything is perfect for the welcome cacophony of our kids and grandkids returning home to our empty nest for a holiday visit. Thanksgiving spirit warms the soul.

The best part of Thanksgiving is taking time to reflect on the things we’re most thankful for. It’s a strange tumultuous time and yet it seems as if there is more to be thankful for than usual. Perhaps it’s during trying times, with so many people suffering around us, that we are grateful for things we otherwise would take for granted. I am thankful for many things and thought if I shared them openly perhaps others would share what they are thankful for too. Who knows, maybe the Thanksgiving spirit will catch on.

Here are eleven things I am particularly thankful for:

1) A wife who is my best friend and the love of my life. I met her 40 years ago on December 7th, a day that will live on in infamy! She is a saint for tolerating this innovation junkie.

2) Three great children who despite our parenting have made us proud by becoming incredible young adults. They learned their lessons in irreverence well and are all exceeding my one expectation, to be interesting. (I should say four great children, including our son-in-law who makes us a better family and fires well on the aforementioned irreverence and interest dimensions.)

3) Incredible twin granddaughters, now three years old, who light up everything and everyone around them and give me incredible hope for the future. Being a ‘Papa’ is the best.

4) The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) team who keeps me young and continues to stick by me while I keep reinventing myself. I learn by hanging around them every day and I intend to stick by them. Together we are catalyzing an inspiring movement to transform our important social systems. I can’t believe we just celebrated our tenth anniversary together.

5) A growing network of smart and passionate people that remind me every day that social isn’t something you bolt on to the way your life currently works but an entirely new way of living. Connections seem an impersonal way to describe it. More like friends and fellow innovation travelers.

6) Living in a time when so much innovation is possible. We are blessed with the tools to enable purposeful networks to work on the real social system challenges of education, health care, and government. Transformation seems within our reach.

7) The temperament to thrive on steep learning curves and the confidence to realize how much I have to learn. The goal is to get better faster.

8) The blessing of time to write and for a network of innovators who encourage me to write more.

9) Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google, and Apple for enabling this free agent to punch above his fight weight. Self-organizing is no longer an oxymoron.

10) Being surrounded by people with an incredible sense of humor who make me laugh every day.

11) The opportunity to do what I love and to love what I do. Passion really is the secret sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for?

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

photo-saulThis is the eighth in a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI.

Innovating in Afghanistan certainly brings new meaning to the corporate term “change or die”. Over the course of the project, Col. Fritz had to resolve vast technological limitations and overcome cultural and language barriers. Together, he and his team synchronized the activities of 16 nations, spread across six geographical locations within Afghanistan, to build air power capability and ensure security for the country’s future.

The colonel, who in his spare time curates a blog at  GeneralLeadership.com and tweets management insight from his @fritzmt account to 95,000+ Twitter followers insists that lessons gained on the battlefield have many applications in the boardroom.

“People may not see innovation as one of the core competencies that come out of a military career,” Fritz says, “It’s actually the opposite — military leaders deal with change in complex situations every day.”

As a leader, “I am constantly finding ways to make my message connect with my team,” Fritz says. He considers himself a firm believer in “getting feedback and exchanging stories” — perhaps an unusual admission from a colonel who commands such authority.

Expected to deliver change on an incredibly tight schedule, Fritz encouraged his team to engage in conversation with their Afghan counterparts, in the hope of getting valuable feedback. The result: the coalition and their Afghan partners participated in one of the most open exchanges in the history of the mission. As a result, Fritz claims, they were able to “question basic assumptions and together, transform the training process.”

He adds, “Leaders often get wrapped up in the brilliance of their ideas and forget to include their teammates… Americans are used to doing things the ‘American way’; but in this case, what’s important was being Afghan-right.”

In conversation via Skype from Afghanistan a few weeks before his return to the U.S., the square-jawed, direct-speaking Col. Fritz makes it clear that he will not discuss politics (“because I don’t influence that”). He is a man of ideals – “more than just a guy in a uniform,” Fritz says.

One ideal Fritz lives by is that everyone should embrace “service” in their day-to-day lives, “in businesses, teams, churches and communities,” he says. He believes service should not be a concept singularly assigned to the military.

Fritz traces this ideal back to his grandfather, a shopkeeper in small-town Arthur, Illinois, who also served as the town’s mayor. Grandfather modeled for grandson the behavior of the ideal citizen — committed, engaged, proactive. “He used to say, “If it’s to be, it has to be me.’ That’s something I grew up with. Especially in a small town, you’re expected to participate in church, community and school; otherwise it just isn’t going to work.”

As a first step, Fritz recommends that we slow down and be more intentional. Talk to people, listen to them, see what they know, he says, just as his grandfather did while sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store.

Matthew Fritz looks forward to sharing his story this month at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit, a storytelling jam featuring transformation leaders, hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

How he helped to bring the Afghan Air Force to self-sufficiency is a tale about how to drive complex change management simply, a tale Col. Fritz is hopeful will resonate with the BIF10 community, a group he began to engage with via Twitter from Afghanistan.

He adds, “I hope to share a perspective into the military that might be a little bit different, and engage in the conversation.” He is “beyond excited” to be participating in his first BIF Summit. “I’m nervous,” he confesses. “I have worked with congressmen and ambassadors, but the folks at BIF10 are real movers and shakers. People whose work I’ve read and learned from, now I get to meet in person!”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Credit Card Fraud

jyb_musingsI was just notified I have been–again–a victim of credit card fraud.

Someone in NY manually charged some product from Nevada that costs 99 cents.

I thought it was kinda pitiful. If I had met the man on the street and he’d told me about the 99 cents and that he was about to commit a major crime for it, I might have given him the money myself. Especially if it would have meant he would have left my credit card alone and I wouldn’t have to go through getting a new one. Heck, that would be worth maybe $1.50 to me. Just to avoid the hassle.

If you are out there and thinking of stealing my credit card information to buy something less than $1.50 (like this last guy), talk to me first. Let’s see if we can’t work something out. If you are interested in more than that, we are going to be negotiating for a while and I am not willing to be shaken down for more than, ohhh, $2. Tops!!

Erica and Matt Chua: 10 Minute Trip Planning

Traveling around the world is not one trip; rather it is a collection of many small trips.  Each country we visit brings unique challenges, especially arranging visas and transportation.  Given our travel experience, we can usually nail the logistics down in 10-20 minutes.  Here are the most important aspects we’ve learned in planning a trip to another country and pointers that you can put to use for your next adventure.

These steps are in order; they should be followed in this order, because the steps are dependent on each other.

WHERE TO GO

Obviously, you need to know the country or region you want to visit.  When we were doing some advance trip planning we ran into a challenge, which I will use as an example; getting to Patagonia in the right time of the year, from Europe, without paying visa fees.

VISAS

First and foremost, do you need a visa?  Is there a fee to enter the country?  We are budget travelers, we avoid these fees whenever possible.  To figure this out, I google “US citizen visiting [insert country name]” and look for the US State Department website, specifically the “Entry/Exit Requirements for US Citizens” section.  Also useful is Project Visa.  I avoid visa service websites, they try to steer you towards paying them.  If you are a citizen of another country, you should check your State Department equivalent.

OUR EXAMPLE: We will be visiting Brazil, but won’t have time to get a visa prior to our arrival in South America.  I checked to make sure we could get the visa while traveling (read: not only in our home country).  Chile and Argentina charge $120 for American citizens to enter their country…or so it seems.  This fee is only charged at airports, probably only Santiago and Buenos Aires, therefore to gain entry to these countries for free, you have to enter via land.  I have traveled overland between the two countries more than a dozen times, never having to pay.

OK, so we want to get to Chilean or Argentine Patagonia as quickly as we can from Europe.  What are our choices?  Looking at Google maps, the land borders are: Brazil (already ruled out), Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay or Paraguay.  Knowing we are flying from Europe, we need a major airport, major airports are generally in wealthy, commercial countries, making Peru and Uruguay the targets (no visa fees, good transport to Chile and Argentina).

Returning to Chile from my first date with LOCAVORista, I took a bus from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile.  It was a grueling 56 hour ride…and Santiago is only halfway to Patagonia.  Even being a lovesick adolescent, I promised myself to never take that bus again, therefore, Peru is out.  That leaves Uruguay.  Checking out the US State Department page, I see there are no visa fees or needs for me to enter Uruguay.  Even better, it’s major airport, Montevideo, is a short ferry ride from Buenos Aires.

The more entry points that you have, the better deal you can get on flights.  In this case, due to visas and fees, our options were pretty limited.  Obviously planning around visiting one country is much simpler.

WEATHER

After knowing the visa situation, the most important thing to know is when to go.  Figure out what exactly you want to do, and what months are best.  January is summer in Chile, the best time to go to Patagonia, but the worst time to go skiing there.

I get this information from Wikitravel or, if I have it, Lonely Planet.

GETTING THERE CHEAPLY

This takes a little practice to get the hang of, but try it a couple times, it could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over several flights.

Figure out all cities that you could possibly leave from and arrive in.  Is there a reasonably short bus or train ride you could take?  For example, if you wanted to go to Paris, the cheapest could be to fly into London, Amsterdam or Brussels, then take the train to Paris.  The transport from another city is irrelevant for a moment.  Write down all the possible locations you could fly to/from.  Write departure and arrival country vertically on a piece of paper.

OUR EXAMPLE: even though I know my target is Montevideo, I am going to check prices for Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Sao Paulo, and Montevideo.  If the ticket price to Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Santiago are the same, it is cheaper to go to Montevideo, but it is possible there will be a fare sale and if flying to Buenos Aires or Santiago is $120 or more cheaper, per person, it is worth paying the high visa fee.

Go to www.kayak.com and type in each possible departure city, one at a time, and write the three-letter airport code for each city down.  If there is a code for the city, versus a specific airport, use that.  For example, “LON” is “London, England-All Airport” so you can search Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and London City with one code.

SOME POINTERS:

  • If you want to visit Australia, you will probably go to Melbourne and Sydney.  If you are flexible in timing, switching the order you visit each may save you big money.
  • If you want to visit the East Coast of the USA, there are inexpensive buses connecting many of the major cities including the “Chinatown” buses between New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
  • If you want to visit Disney World you could always fly to Jacksonville or Miami and drive.  (And who doesn’t want to go to Disney World?  Random aside: My senior year of high school I went to LA to visit colleges.  My mother had a meeting the day I was supposed to visit USC…I never actually made it to USC, I went to Disneyland instead.)
  • If you want to visit South East Asia, you should look to fly to SIN (Singapore), BKK (Bangkok), or KUL (Kuala Lumpur).  From any of these you can get discount airline tickets or buses around the region.

Here’s the greatest thing about KAYAK.com: the ability to search for up to four departure and arrival cities at once!  Put in each three-letter airport code, followed by a comma.  Chose your travel dates and click “My dates are flexible” to see the range of prices you could pay.  Click search.

If you get a pop-up to set a “price alert” do it!  This allows you to watch the price for your itinerary, you can even set an alert based on price such as “flights from Minneapolis to Mexico for under $300”  Anytime a fare falls below this, you’ll get an email!  Seemingly at random, a link will appear in the left sidebar that says “Get a price alert”, allowing you to set it up.

Read the rest of…
Erica and Matt Chua: 10 Minute Trip Planning

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Credit Card Fraud

jyb_musingsI was just notified I have been–again–a victim of credit card fraud.

Someone in NY manually charged some product from Nevada that costs 99 cents.

I thought it was kinda pitiful. If I had met the man on the street and he’d told me about the 99 cents and that he was about to commit a major crime for it, I might have given him the money myself. Especially if it would have meant he would have left my credit card alone and I wouldn’t have to go through getting a new one. Heck, that would be worth maybe $1.50 to me. Just to avoid the hassle.

If you are out there and thinking of stealing my credit card information to buy something less than $1.50 (like this last guy), talk to me first. Let’s see if we can’t work something out. If you are interested in more than that, we are going to be negotiating for a while and I am not willing to be shaken down for more than, ohhh, $2. Tops!!

Saul Kaplan: Here’s Why It’s Not All About Your Personal Success

photo-saulThis is the seventh of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

Keith Yamashita vividly remembers one smoggy school day from when he was eight years old. He and fellow classmates at the local elementary school in Santa Ana, California, spent their recess corralled in the indoor gymnasium to watch a movie.“That film stuck with me for the rest of my life” Yamashita later recalled while sharing a tale of personal transformation onstage at the Collaborative Innovation Summit, a storytelling event hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

The 9-minute film, “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, begins with an overhead view of a couple lounging on top of a checkered picnic blanket in a park. The camera zooms out and appears to rise into the atmosphere, marking off the distance from the picnic blanket in powers of ten, until it is far outside our galaxy. Then it zooms back in, ending at the atoms in the husband’s hand.

“Up to that point,” he said, “I had no idea that anything existed beyond my house and school, existed outside of what I knew.”

Yamashita is the chairman of SYPartners, a fast-paced consultancy whose work has realigned the visions of numerous corporate titans.

SYPartners encouraged Nike to make a greater commitment to corporate responsibility. General Electric, a company with a 20-year track record of acquisitions, was helped to welcome internal growth. That SYPartners took Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on a field trip, visiting artisanal businesses and food shops to rethink the meaning of connoisseurship, remains an industry legend. Shortly after, Starbucks closed all of its U.S. locations for a day to retrain its staff.

“Companies that get the most stuck are often ones that have been very successful at doing something,” Yamashita observes. “It’s always easier to perpetuate what is, rather than to invent the new.”

In his talk at the BIF Summit, Yamashita used the Eames film to demonstrate the importance of collaborative perspective. From different viewpoints, the sun may be a mere pinpoint, while a proton may be a critical force.

It is no longer enough to aim for personal success, Yamashita tells his clients. Companies must adapt to see themselves as units within a bigger system; they must collaborate while being able to articulate what unique part they play.

Yamashita started his career at Apple, as Steve Jobs’ writer. “My job was to get on paper the things that were floating around in Steve’s mind,” says Yamashita. He credits Jobs to teaching him his first lesson on business innovation: “the power of galvanizing vision. Steve had this wonderful capability of permitting himself to see what the rest of the world did not yet see, and holding steadfast to that as a compass.”

Keith Yamashita founded SYPartners with Apple’s former creative director Robert Stone. The firm, headquartered in a sunny loft in San Francisco’s warehouse district, boasts an eclectic team of strategists — “designers and technologists, poets and MBAs.” They navigate their practice through a compass of innovation, devised from their collective experience. The compass has the following points: “See, Believe, Think, Act.”

“What we permit ourselves to see affects and challenges what we believe, which changes what we’re willing to think about,” Yamashita explains. Consequently, “what we’re willing to think about builds confidence and courage to take action.”

To Yamashita, “the process of innovation is going around that circle dozens of times to come up with something that disrupts and that’s valuable.” He adds, “They’re super simple words, but the practice of it goes deep.”

Though Yamashita spoke to a rapt audience at BIF’s Collaborative Innovation Summit, he claims his most meaningful experience there did not come from sharing his vision, but from sharing the visions of others.

“I remember eating lunch with three remarkable individuals — BIF storytellers” he says. Their table started a “round-robin conversation,” letting each person forecast the future of their industry.

Yamashita recalls that Carmen Medina, a former director within the CIA, predicted, that “in several years, open systems will be closed systems.”

Another luncher, Ben Berkowitz, founder of SeeClickFix, an app that enables citizens to report community problems to the local government, anticipated “an increase of people mobilizing not through structure or hierarchy, but by the will to contribute on their own terms.”

To the right of him sat Fast Company founder Alan Webber, (“my life-long mentor,” says Yamashita), who stressed the idea that our most pressing problems cannot be solved without better integration of government, business resources and public initiative.

“Over the past four years, all of those predictions have turned out to be true,” says Yamashita. “To me, that’s such an emblem of what the BIF Summit is about — convening with others to be able to see things that none of us could see on our own. I’m thrilled be to able to go BIF10 this year.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

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