Slowly Boiled Alive

Feb 10 2011

Years ago, while trying to explain how a person can be caught off guard, someone shared an analogy with me of a frog being boiled alive. The explanation of the situation was that if a person threw a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog would immediately jump out, and the would-be cook’s future frog-leg dinner would be lost. However, if a person threw a frog into a pot of cool water and then gradually warmed the water to boiling, the frog would swim around happily until it was too late, and the frog-leg dinner would be a success.

I can empathize with that frog.

I’ve already shared on this blog my experience a couple years ago with rediscovering social enterprise and the work being done in developing markets. What I didn’t share was that I admired C.K. Prahalad’s (the late author of “The Fortune At The Bottom of The Pyramid”) expertise and imagination, and it occurred to me that there would be a lot of value in turning toward an academic career. That didn’t mean I actually wanted to do something with it. There was value in it, but there wasn’t a chance that I was right for something like research and clear academic rhetoric.

Fast forward a little more than a year, and I was a brand new student in BYU’s MBA program. I was vigorously working to learn as much as I could about the social enterprise space and trying to determine what the best way into the space would be. (Note: There is so much that I’ve learned that could be written here, and I’m hoping to catch up with it, but I have avoided putting down a lot of my thoughts, because it was looking like I was going to be getting a corporate internship, and I didn’t want to scare anybody off with my “distractions.”) The initial options I found for working directly with the BoP or starting my own social enterprise or consulting weren’t the right fit as a career, but I had observed some previous graduates entering into innovating in developing markets through multinational technological corporations. It also occurred to me that a PhD could be a strong option, because it gave me more control over my work, and it offered a solid situation for my family. I didn’t take it very seriously, but that time I did ask some colleagues about it.

At the same time, I was taking my MBA courses – courses taught by PhDs. I think I was lucky to have a set of professors that I unanimously enjoyed, and I often reflected on how much I appreciated the way they were engaged in their work and carried out the task of instructing us. Not only that, it occurred to me that I would enjoy teaching, and I thought I would be good at it. It didn’t really matter whether I was right about that or not. The thought was back.

It was about this time that I realized there was probably something up – the water around me was warming up.

I followed up with one of my professors (Dr. Curtis Lebaron) with some questions about my career, and it was during that conversation that the idea of a PhD was first brought up and entertained as legitimate. Dr. Lebaron asked me what kind of career options I was thinking of, and I shared some details about my goals and what I thought I could do, and then I told him that I’d even thought of a PhD, but I didn’t give that idea any real traction. I told him how I just couldn’t see how I could be a PhD, and then I rattled off a bunch of concerns I had about myself in such a role. They didn’t phase him a bit. He just smiled and said that he didn’t think I would have a problem at all – if that’s what I wanted to do of course.

That little bit of encouragement was actually pretty startling. I really hadn’t expected anybody to write me down as a PhD candidate. I’d been a salesman – persuasive communicator – for years, not a well-articulated deep-thinking academic. I was excited about making the world a better place, but it was going to be my enthusiasm and work ethic and drive that changed the world, not my ability to come up with the next big breakthrough in business theory. At least that’s how I saw it then.

Not only was I concerned about my own fit as a PhD, the fact is that going through a PhD would mean taking my family so far “backwards”, as I saw it, that I couldn’t even fathom the idea at all. A significant force for reducing the stresses on my family was focusing on making our home comfortable and inviting and having our family in one of the best neighborhoods on earth. A PhD would mean packing an active and growing family with 3 kids into a tiny house and a guarantee that I was going to be explaining at some point to my kids, especially my oldest son, why dad had taken them from comfort and friends to cramped quarters, toys that couldn’t be repaired, second-hand sports equipment, and a new school. At least that’s how I had seen it before, but the little bits of preparation I’d had prior to talking with Dr. Lebaron had taken that edge off, warmed up with water I’d been swimming in if you will, and my defenses were down. For better or for worse, I didn’t say no to a PhD. My family was doomed.

A month or so later the PhD finally started taking a very realistic place in my career path decision. One prominent factor was a pre-PhD information session that was put on by the faculty. I didn’t find out about this until later, but the secret sauce that PhDs use to entice students into the career path is the most fantastic sounding family life you’ll ever discover. That information session was covered in secret sauce, and I ate it up. I learned a lot about the career path and the demands of a PhD too, and by this time I was in so deep that I really wasn’t putting up a fight any more. Shortly after the information session, I went to talk with another of my professors Dr. Dan Snow to bounce the idea of a PhD off of him – an idea that I was now realistically considering. Dr. Snow was encouraging again, he really only had good to say about the opportunity and my ideas for it, and he wished me the best while I figured things out. That was good enough for me. I was two for two in professors giving me a thumbs up, and I was considering that enough of a vote of confidence that the option of a PhD was now a very strong contender for a career path.

A contender?! Seriously?!

To my wife and friends I imagine this was something like watching a jaded left-wing hipster friend take off for a couple months and return wearing an Izod shirt, Dockers and penny loafers and listening to Glenn Beck. Well, something like that. The change just begs the question: what on earth happened?

The reality is that while I had come a long way, and my awareness had changed a lot in a very short time, there was still a long way to go to make a decision. I’ll probably talk more about the actual decision (making the difficult choice took more time and skill than I would have expected) a little bit later. Right now I just want to stress that it took me another two months to read info on PhDs, to visit companies that I was interested in, to talk with my wife, to talk with my professors, to get my wife to talk with my professors’ wives and the rest of my career path due diligence. I think it’s also worth noting that I did a lot of learning about myself and how I make decisions during that time.

The decision has now been made, and if the subtext wasn’t clear, my wife and I have decided that a PhD will be best. I’m really pleased with the decision, and I’m excited by how closely it fits with all of my goals. It hasn’t been easy (I just sent an email to one of the best contacts I’ve ever made who was bending over backwards in ways that would have made a Chinese acrobat jealous to get me into the company I was most excited in. I can tell you that it seriously makes you question your sanity when you find yourself turning away from success at the same time you’re finding it.), but I’m confident the decision is right.

What’s so fascinating to me is how rewarding this experience of being “boiled” has been for me. This wasn’t an easy decision – it hurt to make it, and it’s going to be painful to a certain extent to adjust. I guarantee you if somebody had told me at the beginning of my MBA that I had to make a choice about a PhD or a professional career right at that time, I would have chose the professional career immediately without even thinking. The decision was just way too “hot”. Now, after swimming around in this gradually boiling pot, I’m really pleased to be where I am. I guess you could say that if there was a frog who was really happy about being a frog-leg dinner, I’m that frog. Once I was deep into the possibility of deciding on being an academic, I would have felt irresponsible turning away from something that had such great possibilities for allowing me to achieve my goals for my career and taking care of my family. I had to see it through, and I’ve discovered that seeing it through was a brilliant exercise in learning how I value my own work and my family and how to approach critical decisions. The decision process was painful, but it was right to go through it. The decision itself was somewhat painful, but it was right to make it.

I can empathize with the boiled frog, and the experience was transforming for both of us. I’d like to think that the results for my life will be a spectacular “dinner” made of success.

4 responses so far

The High-Performance Machine

Nov 18 2010

(The following is an article I wrote for the BYU MBA newsletter Student Wire. Cheers. – Christian)

When I wake up today, I’m a 31 year old MBA student-husband-father-friend-classmate with possibly overly divided attentions, a growing list of personal successes, an also growing list of mistakes and awkward ideas, and a rolling list of to-dos that just seems to exist no matter how much effort I put into eliminating it. I’m ambitious. I expect myself to make a difference. I want to contribute valuable insights and work. I want the next moment to be my best moment. I hope the last less-than-my-best moment will go away quietly.

I’m thrilled with this knowledge-building, friendship-gaining, connection-finding, experience-gathering opportunity. I’m also exhausted by it. I’m enjoying this experience, and I expect I’m going to get better at it, but, in the meantime, all of these roles and goals and activities are putting a lot of miles on me.

And that got me thinking again about what I’m doing to keep me going.

A while ago I found that I had to be a lot more careful about what I ate and how much I slept in order to be clear and engaged in my work. It wasn’t that I was suddenly motivated to turn myself into some superhuman gladiator capable of conquering anything I came in contact with. These changes were to just keep up.

I assumed I was getting old, and it was now my job to make sure I didn’t fall apart.

Recently, it occurred to me that needing to eat and sleep better might have less to do with being “old” than I had thought. While looking over a sports car, it dawned on me that the high-performance vehicle required special motor oils, the highest quality fuel, and special tuning in order to function properly. If the car didn’t get those necessities, then it would actually function worse than its less than sporty commuter-class counterparts.

The light went on, and I suddenly realized (rationalized) that I wasn’t getting old, instead, after growing up as a commuter-class “me” that could deal with irregular maintenance and lower quality fuels, I had somewhere transformed into a high-performance “me” that would accept nothing less than the best to manage this high-performance lifestyle I was living.

I know I’m not the only one balancing the student, family, friend, job-hunter, success, failure, feeling-found, feeling-lost lifestyle, and I believe I’m not the only one who’s suffering from “high-performance” maintenance requirements. So, I hope all of you are also enjoying this MBA experience, and I encourage you to keep diving in where you see fit, and, if you’re feeling like this experience is making you age quickly, I suggest to you that you see it instead as refining you into a high-performance machine that needs special maintenance and care, and then continue maintaining yourself accordingly.

2 responses so far

The Difference We Can Make

Oct 25 2010

It’s been too long since I’ve last written.

I don’t ever like writing a sentence like that for a couple reasons: First, it’s disappointing to admit that I haven’t been able to attend to this open-ended form of discourse that I enjoy so much. Second, what does “too long” really mean? Should I have neglected other important responsibilities in order to participate here? Am I saying that the opportunity to write has passed by?

No.

I have, however, missed that sort of mental afterglow that I find myself in after having a rewarding experience or intriguing thought. The memory, and the motivation to write it down are still there, but I find that some of the color that would have come with the delivery is lost, and I miss that.

I’d miss not writing it down at all even more.

COURT-SIDE SEATS TO CHANGE

The opportunity to make a difference is available to almost everybody. It’s not there at just any time, but for us in these lands of freedom and prosperity, it shows up regularly and often, and it does so in all sorts of ways. Let me explain what I mean. A day ago, a young man come up to me looking rather the worse for wear, and he asked me for some money to take a bus home after being mugged. I bought myself a train ticket, and I bought him a bus ticket. I got on the train, and he walked to the bus. I hope things work out better for him, and I’m glad I had that opportunity to help.

Sometimes the scope of the opportunity is far greater and arguably more significant.

I’m a member of the board for the Social Venture Competition (SVC) at BYU, and a little more than a week ago I met with the competition director to discuss a presentation I would be making in his place at BYU’s Business Plan Competition (BPC) kickoff event. In our discussion of how to fit all of our excitement for the competition into the two minutes of time each presenter was given, I learned more about the success of previous entrants to the SVC.

I learned that one of the previous entrants Bazari, is having great success with an SMS based data service for microfinance companies. They’ve recently signed Grameen Bank as a beta partner. I’m a bit of a mobile data geek, so I got especially excited about that one, but there are others like Ecoscraps who have gone on to reduce landfill emissions by composting the food waste from major companies like Costco and selling it as fertilizer or like Tipping Bucket who have a very effective platform for funding larger developmental projects from donations as small as one dollar. How exciting!

There is so much possibility to do great business and to make a positive impact.

After presenting at the BPC, I had lots of people approach me about the opportunity and what they could do to participate. One conversation with a friend stuck out to me in particular. He mentioned how interested he was in participating, and that he had some ideas, but he wasn’t really sure how to expand on the idea and make it a business plan. I explained to him that the Ballard Center (BYU’s social enterprise arm) and BYU’s business school had support systems and mentoring programs to help him go through that process, and then we kept talking for a while about how much opportunity there was for ideas and development in our world. He asked me about ideas that I had, and he told me about his excitement for being part of innovative business in the Bottom of the Pyramid space. He was even wearing a pair of TOMS shoes, and that took us off on another good tangent about being creative and doing good. The point is that I don’t know if it will be my friend who creates the next great social venture, but I’m seeing that those ideas are all around me, they can come from anywhere, and the opportunity to do good is ripe for all of us.

When I gave the young man a couple dollars of bus money, I made a difference in a small but significant way. Right now I’m also having the opportunity to help support the development of some grand ideas for innovation. It’s like having court-side seats to a playoff game – something special is about to happen, and I’m right in the middle of it.

It’s exciting, and I wanted to share that excitement with you. And, big or small, I encourage you to take the next opportunity to make a difference that comes your way. The difference you make for somebody else will make a difference for you.

One response so far

A Heightened Awareness

Sep 27 2010

I enjoy speed – and not just any speed, but speed that has one right at the edge of their ability to perceive their surrounding because everything is coming so fast.

I remember going dirt-biking with my Dad many times as a teenager. Whenever I had the chance, I loved to just “open up” the bike and push it as fast as it could go (at least that’s how I remember it). Later on I would take up snowboarding, and, again, I would often just point the board down the hill and enjoy the feeling of the snow flying under my board, nudging and pulling at its edges as I navigated the trails and passed over the varied terrain and consistencies.

Sometimes these experiences were literally nearing on transcendental. Sometimes these experiences were more transformative – like transforming a perfectly good thumb or wrist or ankle into a not-so-working thumb or wrist or ankle. I’m not sure that anybody can spend much time hanging on the very edge of their own ability for control without a crash here and there, and I had a few. Thankfully, though, the crashes were rare, and the experiences were far more often positive and genuinely thrilling.

I’m not a scientist, and I haven’t sat down and done a bunch of research on the anatomical changes that happen during such an experience, but I can say navigating a trail at speeds so high that details came at me almost faster than I could really consciously process them would lead to a sort of heightened awareness. Each moment was happening a little more clearly and each sensation was just a little more tangible. Also, not only would I complete the experience with a feeling of having completed a difficult challenge, but I would walk away feeling excited and invigorated and, in some ways, recharged.

How does this apply to an MBA?

Being an MBA student at BYU, and I’m sure many other programs as well, is an adrenalin rush!

The last four weeks have been fantastic. I’m really proud to be a student in BYU’s MBA program, and I could go on and on about the many positives of each of the faculty.

I could also go on and on, and it seems that so could the faculty, about how much there is to do as an MBA student.

BYU’s MBA program moves fast – really fast, and I’m finding myself right in the middle of a very similar experience to those I had while hanging onto the handlebars of a motorcycle or while flying down a snowy mountain. There is a lot of information coming at me, and it’s coming at me very fast. Thankfully, I don’t think my schooling is going to be leading to any broken bones (although the faceplant I did while hurrying up the stairs the other day brought me uncomfortably close), but there is definitely a feeling of being on the edge of my ability. And I’m grateful for it. Right now I’m being pushed significantly in my ability to manage a tight schedule, to digest large amounts of information, to find the right balance of education and extra-curricular, to network and look for a job, and to contribute back to the program and my peers.

It’s a little dizzying.

It reminds me of a nut or screw being turned tight. At first they are very loose and quite wobbly, but, as the nut or screw is turned in further, there is a lot less wobble and give until it is finally tight. I’m finding myself spinning a little bit right now, but I’m learning very quickly, and every day I’m getting a little tighter and little more sure.

It is a bit of a rush.

Because there is so much to learn, and the pace of the work is so fast, I’m finding myself challenged, and I’m quickly having to learn ways to better work with my team, to better manage my own time, and to find ways to effectively prioritize. It may not be exactly the same as being intensely focused on making a couple quick turns on a race track or on making sure an edge doesn’t catch wrong in the snow, but the need to raise my awareness is very much the same, and I’m already finding that the reward of satisfaction and excitement is too.

In fact, the experience has been, and I expect it will continue to be, rather transcendent.

2 responses so far

Breaking Down My Interest For Social Enterprise

Sep 15 2010

Being an MBA student, I have a lot of opportunities to tell people about my interests for social enterprise. I still have yet to meet even half of the class of students I’m studying amongst here at BYU, so there seems, sometimes many times a day, to be a new face and a new opportunity to introduce myself and my interests. Throw me into a networking mixer, and I’m telling my story 5 or 6 times in a matter of minutes.

I’ve learned there are a lot of people that have heard about social enterprise. I always enjoy that.

I’ve learned that most people think of social enterprise as working with non-profit organizations and providing charity.

They aren’t necessarily wrong about that, but I really want to clarify why I’m interested, because I think the distinction is meaningful. One of the very first people at BYU I told about my interests for social enterprise and making a difference in that space responded to me by asking why I was getting an MBA and not an MPA (Masters of Public Administration – commonly associated with NGO’s and non-profits). I explained that I love the work that those groups are doing, but what I really wanted to do was connect sustainable business methods with the Bottom of the Pyramid.

I explained in my last post that my excitement for the space was really catalyzed by the idea that business could play a role in eliminating world poverty. That resonated with me immediately – this idea that persons primarily interested in developing businesses can grow the most developing parts of our world. It was reading C.K. Prahalad’s book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid that really wrote that idea onto my heart. I highly recommend the book (it’s worth noting that I read the 2nd edition) for some inspired reading, but the gist the book is Prahalad sharing examples of companies doing profitable business among the Bottom of the Pyramid markets and explaining his theories on how these ideas can be replicated in other companies. He said that we could change the world over and over and over because the force of change was, instead of requiring reoccurring infusions of capital from donors, sustaining and providing for itself.

Now you’re talking my language. We’re talking about real, lasting change.

A couple quotes from The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (2nd Ed.):

…there is a growing recognition that the social and environmental challenges facing us in the twenty-first century are so complex and so multi-dimensional that they cannot be solved by governments alone. Industry has to be part of the solution. But perhaps the biggest catalyst for change has been the increasing awareness within business itself that many of the big social and environmental challenges of our age, once seen as obstacles to progress, have become opportunities for innovation and business development. – Patrick Cescau (former CEO of Unilever)

There are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others….to provide for the poor we need a system that draws in innovators and businesses in a far better way than we do today. Such as system would have the twin mission: making profits and also improving lives of those who don’t fully benefit from today’s market forces. For sustainability we need to use profit incentives wherever we can. - Bill Gates

That was the hook for me. An immediately sustainable force, although not a simple or easy one, for giving the poorest members of our world life-changing goods and services.

Let me clarify a little bit.

I’m still really excited about the “rest” of social enterprise. For example, have you heard of TOMS Shoes? The idea behind TOMS shoes is fantastic: Buy a pair of shoes, and TOMS Shoes will give a pair of shoes to a child in Africa that doesn’t have them. Simple. Effective. Life changing. I love that type of social enterprise. There is still a huge need for it. Frankly, there will probably always be a need for it.

However, TOMS Shoes is still a charity – sorta. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, has been clear about the fact that his shoes cost a little more because there is money built into the price to pay for the donated shoes that are going to Africa. The person buying the shoes is willing to pay a little more because they are buying into the lovely idea that TOMS Shoes represents. However, at the end of the day, that extra money is a donation.

I have absolutely no interest in getting rid of good will. I have every interest in using real market forces to change the lives of the community at the Bottom of the Pyramid in a manner that will endure on its own.

In some ways what I’m really interested in is connecting established companies with emerging markets. However, that’s also too simplified, because I just adore the work that so many of the socially oriented businesses are involved in, and it would be my privilege to make a difference through either venue. However, much of my own road through the social enterprise space will be learning how to connect new sustainable business ideas with the Bottom of the Pyramid as well as learning to help already successful business systems scale themselves to these same developing markets.

I can sum this up with an excerpt of an article by Carl Shramm from the Standford Social Innovation Review called All Entrepreneurship Is Social:

People tend to think that advancements in health care, for example, are the achievements of either government or the social sector. More recently, they note how the work of social entrepreneurs is improving population health, particularly in developing countries.

Yet the experience of the United States demonstrates that business entrepreneurs have done as much—if not more—for American health in the past century and a half as did medicine or public health. In the middle of the 19th century, most of the U.S. population was ridiculously poor by today’s standards. Americans not only had low incomes, but also spent the bulk of their money on life’s basics: food, clothing, and shelter. What they purchased, moreover, was of questionable quality. Because there was no refrigeration or ability to transport foods over long distances, most people subsisted on a kind of stew that, by all accounts, was simple and tasteless. A poor diet meant poor nutrition, which meant poor health.

One innovation that fueled prosperity, well-being, and further innovation was the American railroad system. The spread of railroads in the 19th century permitted something nearly unprecedented in human history: conquest of the weather. Better movement of people and goods reduced the vulnerability of the population (especially in rural areas, which still dominated the country) to cyclical vagaries. Even in the depths of winter, consumers could purchase food from afar.

Railroads also facilitated the rise of large-scale national companies and allowed a geographically disparate country to purchase new and better goods and services. Consider, for example, the contributions to American health and welfare made by just two companies: Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Their first catalogs were only single sheets of paper, but in short order they grew to include thousands of items. By making products such as iceboxes and better farm tools widely available, these companies empowered Americans to improve their lives.

I want to make a difference in the social enterprise space, and I’m especially excited about ideas and systems that have the ability to make real and lasting changes in the lives of our neighbors at the Bottom of the Pyramid. I’m still a toddler, so to speak, in this arena, but I’m excited about it, and it’s my privilege to be able to share this force for change with my community.

Now if I can just expand my community a bit.

2 responses so far

“Born Again” Into Social Enterprise

Sep 10 2010

I like social enterprise.

I really like social enterprise.

What is social enterprise?

I guess I don’t really know (that’s part of what this whole blog/road-to-discovery is about), but I would like to share with you why I’m interested.

A SEED WAS PLANTED

I’ve been aware of microbusiness for about 10 years now. My first exposure to the term was while taking a beginning accounting course from Norm Nemrow as an undergrad at Brigham Young University. I remember him sharing that he’d had some experience with microbusiness, but I especially remember perking up when he mentioned that he thought microbusiness had the potential for doing more good for poverty than any other model. That was it. I heard the term, I perked up at the idea, and then I moved on to various other stories and successes for the next 8-9 years.

(It occurs to me that one might need to be very cautious about how casually they throw out time periods like “8-9″ years. That’s almost a third of my life. But I digress.)

FAILURE

I had some failures.

First, the financial sales career (is it a career if you’ve only been working it for 5 years?) I’d been working in fell apart miserably and the company that I worked for shut its doors. Second, I had invested heavily into some real estate and mortgage related ventures, and those all went underwater when the market turned poorly in the end of 2008. After a very short time, I had no assets, some very significant debts, and I was without my significant income to provide some semblance of safety. The point is that I found myself at a point in my life where I was feeling vulnerable and therefore more sensitive to others’ vulnerability.

REDISCOVERY

In the latter half of 2009, still trying to rebuild my finances, I ran into a list on Forbes.com of some of the most influential business thinkers in the world. I’ve always been a sucker for those kinds of heavily summarized but easily digested lists, so I allowed myself a quick look through. The list was viewed as a slide-show from least influential to most. A couple of the names were easily recognizable from business rock star Richard Branson to technology godfathers Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to one of my favorite economists Paul Krugman and even another name that I quickly recognized in Malcolm Gladwell. I also noted a couple other names on the list that had some interesting points about them that I thought I would follow up on. However, I admit to becoming a bit distracted when I ran into a slide of a man named Muhammad Yunus who was captioned as being a champion of microcredit.

There was that term again.

Whoa. I remembered that. I didn’t even make it to the next slide for a while. I quickly opened up a couple new tabs in my browser, and I learned about the fascinating work that Yunus had done in lending to small groups of people (primarily women) in small villages and in developing Grameen bank. From a methodological standpoint I was fascinated by his work. I worked in the lending industry for years, and what he was doing really was very unique and, from the perspective of the average bank, very difficult. From a purely humanitarian standpoint, I was deeply touched. I was at a point in my own life where I had gone from a position of being in significant financial control to suddenly having a “bagful of mistakes” (even if they weren’t all my own) and feeling vulnerable. Whether it would do the same for somebody else or not doesn’t really matter, because this time, reading about Yunus’ work and the impact it was making on so many who really were very vulnerable and dependent resonated deeply with me.

But I wasn’t done. I hadn’t finished the list yet.

SEALING MY FATE

I didn’t know it at the time, but the next 5 minutes were about to completely change me. If there’s such a thing as being “born again” in the business world, it was about to happen to me.

I went through a few more slides, some of which I’ve already named, and nodded my head at some of the recognized names. I then clicked the arrow that took me to the last slide – the most influential thinker according to this list. The man listed was C.K. Prahalad, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. I’d never heard his name. I didn’t recognize him. I had just seen Steve Jobs, Paul Krugman, and Malcolm Gladwell. Who’s C.K Prahalad? The following is the direct quote of Forbes.com’s caption for C.K. Prahalad:

“C.K. Prahalad’s influence on the business world is immense,” says Des Dearlove, co-creator of the global ranking with Stuart Crainer. “He coined the term ‘core competencies’ in the 1990s, which set the strategy agenda for a generation of managers. More recently, his work on The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid has shown the role business can play in tackling world poverty.”

from Forbes.com

note: It turns out that the list I was viewing on Forbes.com was really a clipping of a list from Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove’s The Thinkers 50 list for 2009. You can find the full list here in www.thinkers50.com.

What struck me was the last line regarding the “role business can play in tackling world poverty.” First, it hit my taking-care-of-the-vulnerable-person bone again. Second, the number-one person on this list from a publication that I respected was the second person, previously unknown to me, that was referenced for the difference they were making with poverty. What was I missing? Third, and finally, the idea that business was the means to alleviating poverty resonated immediately with me as a sustainable solution (although I admit I didn’t think of it in those terms).

I had to know more.

Following that rather brief but very moving experience, I quickly went to Amazon.com, found The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and ordered myself a copy. I’ll explain more in future posts about why this book ended up being so important to me, but the gist of it is that this was really just the beginning of the story for me. I spent hours upon hours afterward looking up more information on Yunus and Prahalad and their work. I quickly learned about the work that Kiva was doing with microlending and the social venture work over at Acumen Fund. I couldn’t get enough of the subject of social enterprise, and I started telling lots of family and friends about it. I learned from talking to a couple friends who were already involved, one who had just finished an internship with Kiva, that there were opportunities to get involved here in Utah, where I live.

Now I want to do more.

That was about one year ago that I discovered Muhammad Yunus and C.K. Prahalad. I’ve learned volumes more about the subject, and it’s getting more and more clear to me that I still have only scratched the surface of what had already been happening for years as well as the dramatic changes that are happening in social enterprise at this time. I’m still not sure what role I’m going to play in the space. If all I get to be is an excited voice on the subject – fine. But I would like to do more, and I’m determined to find where my interests for business development and connecting sustainable business models with the most developing parts of our world (also the vast majority of our world) meet the social enterprise space.

See you there?

See you there.

note: C.K. Prahalad passed away earlier this year. For any interested the Harvard Business Review has a special page dedicated to his remembrance at their website.

One response so far

Thanks For The Instruction

Sep 07 2010

I’ve been wondering for a while now what people were thinking of my informational interview approach and how much it mattered that I’m still coming across as rather green on many of the subjects I’m digging into. I still feel like some of my questions could be better prepared (kind of a “get to the point” scenario), and my responses sometime feel a little long, and some of my questions were getting responses that seemed to have an apathetic not-sure-what-he’s-asking tone. The last thing I want to do is make the person I’m interviewing feel like they have to ask me to be clear or say that they don’t understand what I’m asking.

I received some welcome insight today when the person I was interviewing told me, after responding to a question about the clarity of my explanation of my background and interests, how they go about approaching informational interviews, included how important it is that I spend more time practicing getting my story clear and concise with alumni and other “more patient” sources. They then recommended that I send my resume for them to look over before they were willing to give me any information of more persons to talk to.

Subtle and effective and much welcomed.

No responses yet

MBA 2.0

Sep 06 2010

I’ve been looking forward to this.

At this point I imagine myself somewhat like a performer practicing and preparing for some imaginary audience. This is my first post. I’ve told my wife, my parents and a couple friends at school about Time In. There probably isn’t a large group of people about to read this tomorrow, but I still imagine my words reaching eyes, and I’m definitely writing to a group here. I intend for the content to be top notch and engaging, and I hope you enjoy it.

Let’s go then.

Here’s a thought related to my MBA:

I find that I don’t have much time for television, but I do find a bit of a guilty pleasure in the reality T.V. show, America’s Got Talent. Thank goodness for Hulu. The show displays some absolutely jaw dropping acts. The gist of my interest is that it puts two elements together that I really enjoy: One is the opportunity to see feats, skills and creativity performed at a level above the norm. The second is that the contestants are in an extremely challenging situation where they are going to have to stay very focused to make it to the end. The contestants are each fantastic, but so are a lot of other people around them, and they have to battle through a lot of uncertainty while continuing to practice and sacrifice, and it’s fascinating to me to observe the ones that rise to the challenge.

For example: Jeremy Vanschoonhoven from Talent, OR. He’s a trials bicyclist who decided to make a show combining the challenge of completing his course on stage and also the suspense the audience feels for his well-being. He’s already explained how he’s given up all other distractions to make sure that he was completely focused on practicing for the stunts he performs on the show. As a result, he’s performed stunning acts, and he’s gone to the finals. However, he almost didn’t. In the semifinals, during his rehearsal, he missed a stunt jump from about 10-15 feet up, and crashed badly resulting in a gash to his head, stitches in his elbow and an injury to his hip that made it difficult to stand. He decided to perform anyway. His pain showed during the live show, and he even missed a rather basic trick because his arm pain was making it hard to hang on to his bike. This is where it got awesome. He kept going. If you followed the link, you saw that he jumped his bike all the way to the top of this wild apparatus about 10-15 feet in the air, and then he jumped back down doing the same trick perfectly that he had crashed on so miserably earlier the same day. That was courage. That was also the result of sheer determination and focus and clear unrelenting practice. Now Jeremy isn’t my favorite act (If you’re one of my imagined readers that is actually reading this and wants to know who my favorite is, then ask me in the comments.), but he did stand out tonight as admirable.

I’ll bring this back to the MBA.

Here at school I’m among a multitude (300+ is a multitude when there’s this much talent) of very talented students who are all focused on achieving a significant goal. I can’t imagine that I’m going to go this next two years without “falling” a couple times. I do believe, however, that much of my own personal innovation will happen when I have to “get back up”. Balancing the networking for an internship and balancing my schoolwork is not going to be easy. I’m confident that I can do it, though. I’ve already had the privilege of working in a fantastic team that has significantly improved my own learning ability, and where, against all odds, it appears I might have made a couple helpful contributions myself. This is an uncertain time for a lot of us, but I have no doubt that we are going to be able to do it. We, the students, have already expressed our own confidence in our selves by enrolling, and the faculty has expressed there confidence in us many times as well. At this point, I don’t think that there is much question of whether or not we’re going to make through. The real question is what kind of grace, dignity and determination were are going to exercise throughout the process, and then what the quality of our award will be when we are finished.

To the Class of 2012: Here’s to the next 2 years!

To anybody else interested (imagined audience or otherwise), here’s to making a positive impact wherever we go.

Cheers.

Christian

2 responses so far