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.”

Will Coy-Geeslin: Alchemy and the Shibboleth of “Amateurism” — My Letter to the UK President

Dr. Eli Capilouto

President, University of Kentucky

Office of the President
101 Main Building
Lexington, Kentucky 40506
                                                    
Dr. Capilouto,                              
I write in my capacity as a concerned UK alumnus. (B.A. 1995, J.D. 1998, M.L.S. 1999) I have recently come to the conclusion that college athletes have an equitable right to a fair distribution of the $6 billion revenue that their labor generates.[1] My goal is to persuade you to lead an initiative to recalibrate college athletics in a manner that achieves social justice for the players and restores higher education’s integrity. This letter will discuss how I became disillusioned with the status quo. I will then share my thoughts regarding a path forward that builds on reform ideas that Joe Nocera outlined in the New York Times Magazine.
I became sensitized to the issue by a thoroughly demoralizing article entitled “The Shame of College Athletics” by civil rights historian Prof. Taylor Branch.[2] I grappled with its implications throughout the 2011-2012 basketball season. Like many UK alumni, I have fervently followed UK basketball for the majority of my life. The inequity inherent in the fact that Rodrick Rhodes received no compensation as a result of my 1993 purchase of a 12 jersey never occurred to me. To the extent that the unpaid labor issue crossed my mind, I figured that the entertaining performers on court at Rupp Arena receive plenty of benefits: free tuition, lodging, coaching, food, travel, access to UK doctors etc.
My thinking evolved after reading Prof. Branch’s article. I learned that the value of the in-kind benefits that revenue sport athletes receive is a small percentage of the money that their labor produces: “[t]he average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000.”[3]
I finally decided that I could no longer consume college basketball in good conscience. The product is produced on the backs of a young, mostly unsophisticated (mostly black) group who are not permitted to have a voice to represent their interests. I am not content to merely avert my individual gaze. I hope to persuade you to take a public position in favor of UK’s withdrawal from the NCAA, market-driven compensation for the players and ending UK’s support of the myth of the “student-athlete.”
Alchemy and the Shibboleth of “Amateurism”
Prof. Branch eloquently argues that  “‘amateurism’ and the ‘student-athlete’ are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes.” He expanded this point in an NPR interview: “[t]he hoax is that it’s the only place in American society where we impose amateur status on someone without their consent. They’re not amateurs because they’ve chosen to be. They’re amateurs because we said that’s what you have to be.”[4] Prof. Branch’s article outlines the sad history that explains how the “student-athlete” concept was created to shield schools from workers’ compensation liability for incidents where players died or were paralyzed on the college football field.
Mark Emmert seems to perceive a threat in the expanding criticism of the NCAA cartel. In an apparent attempt to mute calls for reform, he instituted an annual cash stipend for college athletes in 2011. This was met with enough resistance by athletic directors that it was rescinded. The self-serving position that universities are unable to afford to pay $2000 a year to the performers in a $6 billion dollar entertainment industry brings the gross inequity of the status quo into stark relief.
On January 10, UK Athletics announced that it will fund the construction of new buildings on campus. It is hypocritical to suggest that paying the players would destroy the integrity of the competition but that it is okay for UK to spend the money without the players’ consent. I fail to understand the alchemy that leverages the shibboleth of “amateurism” to launder the otherwise corrupting loot into something virtuous when it funds UK facilities.
Recent incidents provide further evidence that the status quo is unjust. It was revealed on January 23 that the investigation of Miami football was compromised by NCAA investigator improprieties. The Miami controversy prompted Mark Story’s January 24 Lexington Herald-Leader column that asks this important question: “What if major college sports dropped all pretense of amateurism, adopted the Olympics model and allowed athletes to make whatever money the free market will yield?”. As Joe Nocera has written, the Olympics thrived after dispensing with silly amateurism absolutism.
Cleansing College Athletics: A Path Forward
Prof. Branch persuasively makes the case that college sports is shameful but he does not address the contours of what a fair system would look like. Joe Nocera added to the conversation by providing a viable path forward in his subsequent article entitled “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes.[5] His ideas for reform strike an admirable balance between fairness and reality. I want to offer some additional thoughts of my own that build on his piece. There are a host of other issues that would need to be carefully considered in any reform initiative. My purpose is to argue for a general paradigmatic shift that hinges on both a literal and philosophical withdrawal from the NCAA. Defenders of the status quo tend to find refuge in the thicket of details that would need to be addressed. My comments are based on a firm belief that the academy has sufficient expertise to debate and resolve them.
I think that we should acknowledge the reality that participating in big time college sports crowds out any opportunity for the athletes to receive a meaningful college education. Tensions between academics and athletics are always resolved in favor of the latter. As one example in a tsunami of others, a 9 p.m. Tuesday UK tip-off in Oxford, Mississippi is obviously incongruous with a reasonable academic schedule.
It is best to dispense with the charade that requires both the institutions and players to engage in Student-Athlete Theater. It is a self-evident facade that these people are equally interested in both athletics and academics.[6] Forcing de facto professional athletes to go through the motions of pursuing a degree corrodes higher education’s integrity. The players refer to this as Majoring in Eligibility: lowered admission standards (“special admits”), no-show classes, less-than-rigorous grading, and even outright academic fraud in the preparation of athletes’ work etc.[7] Rejecting the hoary sentimentalism that requires fealty to the “student-athlete” fiction would remove the incentives that drive academic corruption.
The players should have the same freedom as coaches to earn market-driven salaries and endorsements. Players who wish to become legitimate students can return to campus when their athletic careers end.Conforming to the requirements of the Kabuki Theater of Amateurism degrades higher education’s integrity. It also does great violence to the notion of fair treatment for the players.
In addition to a market-driven compensation that Joe suggests, I propose that revenue sport athletes receive a 1.5 year tuition credit for each year that they perform for universities. I think that a reasonable cap would be 6 years of tuition that can be used at any point during the athlete’s lifetime. The business of college sports can sufficiently fund this benefit if current growth is assumed. A lifetime credit would provide a fair opportunity for the 99% of athletes who do not end up in the NBA or NFL to achieve success beyond athletics. They would then actually be able to “receive [the] quality education” that you said they deserve in the Herald-Leader on June 19, 2011.
Universities should withdraw from the NCAA and bring the management of the business of college athletics into the academy. Universities have sufficient expertise to administer this system. Tenured faculty are expected to contribute to the campus community. Administration of of the business of college sports would fit within a reasonable expectation of their academic duties. Let’s return the nearly $300 million that the NCAA kept in the 2011-12 academic year to the players and universities. Let Mark Emmert find a new job that has a $1.7 million annual salary that is not a product of rent-seeking from powerless young people. Unmooring college athletics from the myth of the “student-athlete” would obviate any ontological justification for the NCAA.
The core fundamentals of a post-NCAA architecture should mirror other American pro sports: 1) roughly 50/50 split of the revenue between players and owner/universities; 2) the creation of a union that negotiates the terms of employment in a collective bargaining agreement; and 3) establishing a trust that will help provide affordable care to athletes that suffer long-term adverse health outcomes from playing college sports.
The tipping point of reform in college athletics appears to be approaching. There has been a rising tide of national criticism that has been published since Prof. Branch’s article.[8] The sordid affair was the topic of Frank Deford’s recent NPR commentary. He said that he seeks one college president to publicly admit that “the NCAA is a sham and we should get out of it.”[9] I ask that you demonstrate national leadership in the areas of integrity, institutional accountability and social responsibility by accepting Deford’s invitation.
In summary, I encourage you to revisit your thinking regarding the morality of the University of Kentucky’s support of a $6 billion dollar entertainment business that exploits young people and corrupts higher education. I ask that you read “The Shame of College Athletics” by Taylor Branch, “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes” by Joe Nocera and watch Frontline’s “Money and March Madness.”[10] The University of Kentucky’s regal college basketball history makes it uniquely qualified to be the institution that leads the movement to achieve social justice for the “student-athletes” whose interests the academic community purports to serve. The prospect of your publicly repudiating the cynical hoax of amateurism may seem difficult for you to imagine. However, the University of Kentucky should never be criticized for “dreaming too little dreams.”
Sincerely,
Will Coy-Geeslin
Cc: Dr. Richard Angelo, The Atlantic, Prof. Lowell Bergman, Jay Bilas, Prof. Taylor Branch, Coach John Calipari, Chronicle of Higher Education, Frank Deford, The Drake Group, Mark Emmert, Patrick Hruby, Romogi Huma, Sarah Jaffe, Matt Jones, Ashley Judd, Prof. Michael LeRoy, Lexington Herald-Leader,  Mike and Mike in the Morning, NAACP, Joe Nocera, President Barack Obama, Prof. Dan Rascher, Jalen Rose, Kevin ScarbinskyProf. Ellen J. Staurowsky, SVP & Russillo, Mark Story, Derek Thompson, University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, Up with Chris Hayes, Dick Vitale, Travis Waldron, Prof. Frank X. Walker, Dan Wetzel, Mary Willingham and Prof. Andrew Zimbalist.

[1] $6 billion is a conservative accounting. Prof. Dan Rascher, an economist at the University of San Francisco, explained to me that he erred on the side of exclusion in his analysis. A broader definition that includes other income (such as merchandise sales at university bookstores) as well as “non-revenue” sports income increases the figure to $10 billion. By contrast, the NBA earned $4 billion and the NFL took in $9 billion. The idea that college football and basketball are amateur nonprofit endeavors is at great variance with any reasonable definition of those terms.
[2] The Atlantic, October 2011.
[3] The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport, National College Players Association (2011).
[4] “The NCAA and Its Treatment of Student Athletes,” All Things Considered, September 14, 2011.
[5] New York Times Magazine, December 2011.
[6] Naturally, Ohio State QB Cardale Jones was suspended for questioning the visibility of the Emperor’s wardrobe in an October 2012 Internet post: “Why should we go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
[7] Tutors Knew of Lifted Passages in U. of North Carolina Athletes’ Papers,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 1, 2012; “UNC Tolerated Cheating, says insider Mary Willingham,” The News & Observer, November 17, 2012.
[8] One notable example among many others is UK alumnus Travis Waldron’s January 25 essay for Alternet entitled “Is The Outrageous Exploitation of College Athletes Finally Coming to an End?”.
[9] Morning Edition, “Dear College Presidents: Break the NCAA’s Vise Grip on Athletes,” February 27, 2013.
[10] PBS, March 29, 2011.

Saul Kaplan: 3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

Saul KaplanThis is the sixth 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

How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.

To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says.

She explains her network this way: Her consultancy, Mills-Scofield LLC, is her livelihood and passion; venture capital firm, Glengary, where she is a partner, is her way of giving back. She helps entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground by connecting them with clients and collaborators who are hungry for innovation. Furthermore, she mentors a small army of students at her alma mater, Brown University, introducing them to opportunities where they can help “kick things up a bit.”

Each connection Mills-Scofield makes is an iteration of her business philosophy, which is as old-school as it gets: she believes, simply, in “paying it forward.”

“Your network is not about you. A network is to be shared,” she maintains. “Networking is about people: seeing what makes them tick, and connecting them to someone to help them.”

She admits to being selective in networking, but her criterion is humble: “I only help people who are willing to help others.”

+++

Mills-Scofield grew up in Rumson, NJ. She and her sister attended public school, but every Tuesday, her mother took them into Manhattan to visit the museums. The girls were also encouraged to take another day off every week — to stay home and play.

“Right from the get-go,” Mills-Scofield says, “my model for education was that it is a personal responsibility.”

At Brown, she created one of the country’s first undergraduate majors in cognitive science. She went on to work for Bell Labs, where she was responsible for engineering the most lucrative messaging-system patent in the history of AT&T Lucent.

Long before corporate America started to sloganeer its rebellion, before “Work is Personal” and “All Business is Social,” Deb Mills-Scofield did business the only way that made sense to her — with curiosity and compassion. She called herself a “troublemaker.”

“Part of what I bring when I’m consulting is the fact that I care about you as a person, and not as your function,” she says.

In conversation, Mills-Scofield asserts a motherly kind of authority. She is frank but affectionate; she genuinely asks after your family. She doesn’t miss anything.

Her consultancy helps companies humanize their practice. “Any business that wants a return on investment needs to focus on how it impacts its community,” she says.

Mills-Scofield urges CEOs to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. “Have you ever tried to buy from yourself? Have you ever called your own customer service line?” she asks them. She teaches leaders to trust their employees’ desire to learn and create. “Treat them like adults!” she insists. “Give them the autonomy to innovate.”

Fundamentally, she believes that management’s job is to exercise “stewardship” over the organization, not control. “Business strategy is a living, breathing thing,” Mills-Scofield claims, “It’s not a plaque on a shelf, which is where most companies have gone wrong.”

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When Mills-Scofield visits the Brown campus in the fall, she will hold her “office hours” in the cozy kitchen of the student community service center. Over the years, the guidance she has offered her “kids,” as she calls them, has made her a household name within the institution.

This September, she looks forward to introducing her mentees to one of the greatest resources within her network: the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

In 2009, Mills-Scofield connected with Saul Kaplan, BIF’s founder, to encourage a student’s interest in local business innovation. She and Kaplan struck up a friendship, founded on their belief in the better nature of business, and he invited her to speak at the BIF Summit.

“We desperately need to see real examples of world-changing innovation and the “ordinary” people who come together to create it,” Mills-Scofield says.

“I call the BIF Summit a ‘wedding.’ It is better than any other conference at creating connections among strangers at a profoundly human level, because it provides the space — physical, emotional, and intellectual — for you to challenge yourself to think differently, surrounded by other people who are willing to take the risk with you.”

“I came to the BIF-6 Summit, and my network has never been the same since,” she says. “It’s a gift. I’ve been to every one and I can’t wait to go to BIF10.”

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.”

Saul Kaplan: The Splendid Exile of the Genius Richard Saul Wurman

photo-saulThis is the fifth 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.

Richard Saul Wurman, best known as the founder of the TED conference, has made it his job to produce clarity out of the complex. In Newport, RI, lives an old magician in splendid, self-imposed exile.

His eclectic body of work boasts over 80 books, including the original Access city guides, the bestsellers Information Anxiety and Information Anxiety II, as well as esteemed companions on all topics from football, to estate-planning, to healthcare. He has founded 40-odd conferences and chaired numerous information-mapping projects.

In conversation, Wurman speaks with unapologetic honesty, which one comes to appreciate. He has light eyes and a hawk-like profile. He describes himself as “abrasive, but also charming.”

Wurman lives with his wife in a 19th-century mansion on eight high-walled acres. They have few friends in Newport. He admits they prefer it that way. “I live reclusively behind a fence,” he jokes, “The town put it up to keep me in.”

Outside of Newport, Wurman is someone who enjoys what the New York Times describes as “a happy notoriety as a connector and king-maker.”

“My interests are only apparently varied,” he claims. “I’m Johnny-one-note. My passion is less the subject, and more the patterns. Everything connects and can be mapped, and the mapping of that is fascinating to me.”

Of his business philosophy, Wurman says he sees “every book, every conference, every design” as an experiment on how he can get people closer to “telling the truth.”

When asked about how he developed his mission, Wurman reflects on his college days. He had been an accomplished student of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with the highest honors. Despite this success, he eventually came to realize that he “didn’t actually understand anything.” He claims, “I realized that just because somebody told me something, it doesn’t mean I understood it. And that was terrifying.”

“I’m not very bright intellectually, but I’ve decided to not by humiliated by my ignorance,” he says. “What a joy it is, to really not know something and slowly fill it in with things you understand!”

Wurman claims to be consistently self-serving.

“I use myself as the basis,” he says. “Every time, it’s a journey from me not knowing, to knowing about something.” Nor does he believe in complicating his goals by worrying over how people will receive his projects. “If you try to have that effect, it affects your own work. I don’t want to change my work. I already have a client. That client’s me.”

His latest project is Urban Observatories, a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian (complete with its own app), dedicated to providing an intuitive platform to compare live-population trend maps of major cities.

“I’m just trying to understand things,” he says, “I’m not trying to change the world.”

Yet he acknowledges that the implications of the project are immense. From enabling governments to make use of the failures and successes of other cities, to helping families decide where to take root and companies where to relocate, Wurman’s project explodes the potential of comparative cartography by conducting its study on an unprecedented scale.

Richard Saul Wurman coined the term “information architect” to describe his particular set of talents.

It is easy to see how his architectural background continues to influence his work. Wurman’s projects deal deftly with questions of experience design, structural integrity and intention and result.

The 18-minute TED Talk had been his answer to question of how to deliver the “Next Big Idea” in an age pressed for time. He sold TED in 2002, after which, he claims, the conference began editing talks and using teleprompters, a practice Wurman finds appalling.  

In 2004, Wurman advised his friend Saul Kaplan as Kaplan’s nonprofit, The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI, was designing its first annual Collaborative Innovation Summit. As Wurman mentored Kaplan, they worked by subtracting from the usual style of business conferences.

They eliminated the podium and numerous projection screens in favor of a simple, well-lit stage. There was no dress code; “I don’t own a suit,” Wurman says. They requested from their speakers personal stories of transformation, not speeches or pitches.

Wurman looks forward to returning to the BIF Summit in September. The summit, he claims, “unequivocally attracts smart individuals who tell a fresh story about their passions, ideas and failures.” He adds, “Looking in the gray area between these stories is where good, inspiring concepts will arise.”

Wurman shares his secret to hosting a good conference: “Have a dinner party,” he says. “Invite people you’re interested in and have conversation with them.”

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.”

Saul Kaplan: On the Internet, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Saul KaplanThis is the fourth of a series of conversations 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.

Ethan Zuckerman’s job is to see the Internet for what it is.

As the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, Zuckerman studies civic engagement within digital infrastructures. He has made the case that we are not as connected as we appear to be.

Zuckerman’s research explodes what he calls the “myth of connectivity.” As he claims, “The world is more global. Our problems and economics are global. And though we are inundated with content, the media is getting less global.”

He believes it is important to expose and rectify this fallacy; after all, “this leads not only to shocking ignorance about the world, but also to missed opportunities for marketing and collaboration.”

As it turns out, Zuckerman says, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

“Atoms are more accessible than bits in many occasions,” Zuckerman says. “Fijian water is easy to access, but Fijian culture is not.”

He attributes the myth of connectivity to a lack of demand rather than too much supply. With the explosion of personal publishing and the “read-write web,” the issue isn’t so much the lack of stories told from other parts of the world, but rather, that these stories have been filtered out by the American attention span.

One of the problems of “free market journalism,” Zuckerman says, is that it relies on user behavior to recommend content. This filtering mechanism is deeply susceptible to what he calls “homophily.” Meaning “love of the same,” the concept is also known by the truism “birds of a feather flock together.”

Homophily explains the tendency of news coverage to cater to the lowest common denominator, or, speaking within the realms of Zuckerman’s research, of the disappearance of international or investigative reporting.

“What we need are new systems to help us stumble over things, to jog us out of ordinary reality,” Zuckerman says.

Zuckerman claims the key to integrating international or hard-hitting perspectives into domestic discourse is to provide relevant context. Fundamentally, he says, “What’s most important to you, is ‘you’ and ‘yours.’ If we’re not giving people some way in which they can interact with content, we’ll be missing giant opportunities.”

He forecasts that content recommendations of the future will be able to determine an audience’s interest and the “information rut” that they’re stuck in, before bridging that gap by suggesting novel, yet unexpectedly useful content. For instance, “following your interest in US mobile phones, you might find yourself reading about Chinese phone technologies, or about how much disposable income the mobile market captures in East Africa,” he explains.

“I was never in love with the narrative of the Internet startup,” Zuckerman says.

“Dot com” entrepreneurism did not excite him as much as the question of the Internet’s potential to transform the world.

Yet, for all his reluctance to view enterprises as one-stop fix-its for society’s ills, Zuckerman looks forward to returning to speak at the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

At the Summit, Zuckerman intends to engage the BIF community — which he knows to be composed of unconventional tinkerers and seasoned social entrepreneurs — with a critical question he has been wrestling with: how to innovate journalism.

The BIF Summit has been a site of meaningful connections for Zuckerman in the past. He recalls meeting his MIT colleague Neri Oxman there, and marveling, from her talk about her first encounter with snow, Oxman’s intuitive thought process as a materials scientist.

“What I value so much about BIF is this notion that you’re not there to give a presentation, but to tell a story,” Zuckerman says, “With stories, the interesting motivations are never completely rational. That irrationality, that underlying passion, is to me what’s fascinating about anybody who’s trying to change the world.”

He believes that in BIF’s passionate community, he will find a receptive audience. “Storytelling is hugely underrated as a form of human communication,” he says, “It’s really hard to make money while doing good, investigative journalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

“Ultimately, I think we need to be having a deeper conversation about what public goods we should be willing to pay for, that the market isn’t good at provisioning,” Zuckerman says. He recognizes, “Those tend to be fighting words in the United States, but I think this notion of having really high-quality information is something that we’re not talking seriously enough about.”

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.”

Saul Kaplan: Something Is Wrong With the Way We Aspire to Success

Saul KaplanThis is the third of a 10-article series of conversations 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.

“If you’re in business today, you’re running for office every day.” So says Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and a progressive Democrat who recently conceded his bid for governor of New Mexico.

Webber promoted an education-focused, pro-jobs campaign platform that leveraged his background in social business. The only candidate in the race not formerly involved in the state’s government, his supporters valued his outsider perspective and resistance to local political cynicism.

Running for office may seem to be a tricky venture for a media entrepreneur with a blunt, provocative journalistic record. But to Webber, running for governor was a natural culmination of his career-long mission to understand and transform broken systems.

Webber’s talk at BIF9, last year’s Collaborative Innovation Summit, articulated the broken place he sees now in both business and politics. In both systems, he claimed, “something is wrong about the way we’re aspiring to success.”

In his talk, Webber recounted an article by entrepreneur Mark Fuller, published in Fast Company’s first issue. “It asked, ‘How did the United States manage to win every battle in Vietnam, and lose the War?’— because they lost track of the point of the exercise.”

To Webber, the same is true for American business and politics. “Every 10 years, we drive the economic car into the ditch,” Webber said, “It keeps happening because our systems are designed to create this outcome.”

At the BIF9 Summit, Webber’s ideas were welcomed. “Some conferences give you a feeling that all the talks were written by the same person, memorized, and then delivered as a Forrest Gump-ian box of chocolates,” he reflects. “The BIF Summit is different. The design specs are human-centric. With BIF storytellers, you get the feeling that there’s actual alignment between who they are and what they’re doing.”

Webber and fellow Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor used their magazine to rally for a major cultural shift in business, a phenomenon that Webber referred to in his BIF talk as “the disappearance of the man in the grey flannel suit.” The concept of the company man who put himself aside so that he could put food on the table was no longer sustainable.

“Work is too important to be alienated from your sense of self,” Webber maintained.

Fast Company used the conceit of the worker drone to criticize America’s toxic work culture. The magazine aligned itself against an economy built upon principles of pure financial return at the expense of sound business practices.

Fast Company wasn’t a business magazine,” Webber notes. “We had a business model, but we also had a philosophical agenda and a political sensibility about what makes for a good life. It wasn’t articles; it was a curriculum.”

Alan Webber is tough to interview.

He refuses set questions. “Let’s have a conversation,” he insists. He openly shares what he’s struggling with and compels the same. He compliments generously, but does not endorse. He has deep laughter lines.

Yet, when prompted to talk about his new home state, his eyes light up. He tells many stories: of what he learned from meeting an education specialist at the local coffee shop, of listening to the stories of struggle of 16th generation Acequia stewards, of the privilege of having an audience with Pueblo heads of state.

He talks about his state’s resilience and cultural richness. “Santa Fe’s the oldest state capital in the United States, but you rarely hear about the history of Spanish exploration living at Plymouth Rock,” says the former Boston resident.

Webber claims he has no plans to disengage from public service. In his letter of concession he maintained, “It was not only a campaign to elect a candidate — it was a campaign to make an argument about New Mexico.”

The state, under the administration of Republican governor Susana Martínez, ranks 50th in the country in overall child well-being and job growth.

“When you’re number 50, you have no time to waste,” Webber says. To him, it doesn’t matter whether the case for New Mexico is made from the business, political or ethical angle “because today, they are increasingly the same.”

“Politics is not something you’d wish on your worst enemy,” Webber jokes. Yet, he also says, “I think running for governor was the right thing to do. I have met an amazing group of people through the campaign, people who’ve asked me to help them with their projects.”

He adds, “It’s a real a blessing when people think you can help them.”

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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