Posts from the ‘Business’ category

Building Resilience in a Changing World

If you know me, you know I’ve been to a lot of conferences. Mostly, they’ve been for business, fundraising, and entrepreneurship, with a smattering of science.

comic about ebusiness conventions with what you need to know versus what you want to hear

Sums them up, except for the one I just went to.

Check out the conference’s title:

THE SCIENCE, BUSINESS, AND EDUCATION OF SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE

Building Resilience in a Changing World

My alma mater, good ole (not really, the program’s not even six years old) Bard MBA, offered us a free ticket to the conference a week ago. I had to read the title three times before I realized how amazing it was. I think that I just couldn’t believe that a conference existed for my three favorite things (and probably in this order): Science, Business, and Education. And Resilience! Wow. They sure knew how to push my buttons.

I tried to talk myself out of going to it, because I was still strapped for cash at the time. And I’m in Maryland and the conference is in VA and that’s sooooo far away. Like on the OTHER SIDE of DC.

Then I realized that it would be my first conference in the epicenter of politics, and arguably, America. So I jumped on the ticket, and so did someone else, and the program ended up gettings tickets for both of us. YAY!

The morning of the conference, I got up at 5am, made it out of the house by 6, and got to the train station by 6:30am. Then I tried to pay for my ticket using the machine. But it wasn’t accepting Mastercard. So I tried my Visa. And it wasn’t accepting my Visa. I went to the window, and she says, “They did a system update this morning, and now the whole country’s machines aren’t accepting Visa or Mastercard.”

“Well, that’s all I have. I don’t have any cash on me.”

Fucking Amtrak. I don’t understand how some businesses are in business.

She waves me to the ATM, and I grudgingly head over, knowing that I’ll be paying a fee of at least $3. Already, this trip is getting expensive.

Then the Capitol One ATM eats one of my debit cards.

Gif of conan doing the suck it motion.

Fuck you, Capital One.

Well, I saved myself a fee.

I try to talk myself out of going to the conference again, saying, “Maybe it’s not meant to be.”

Then I feel gross for letting obstacles get in my way. There’s a difference between, “I know I shouldn’t get on that plane, because I know I will die” and “What a pain in the ass.”

If you don’t know what the difference is between those feelings, I encourage you to become one with the universe.

So, I call my Mom, and ask her to come back, and she dutifully sits in hellish traffic, and I grab a wad of “just in case” cash that I stash in my car. Actually, I probably shouldn’t have told you that.

Thanks, Mom.

It feels weird, cause I’m not saying that sarcastically.. Oh, being a 90’s kid.

Finally, I make it to VA, sadly missing the beginning (and the breakfast noshing and networking), and awkwardly creep into the side and sit on the floor. I feel like a kid wearing my bright red pants and sitting on the floor, but whatever. I was close to the front and had a perfect view.

Here are my cleaned up notes from the talks I went to. Keep in mind, I was late, so if you look at the agenda, I missed a bunch.

Biggest regrets: Being late, even though there’s nothing I could have done about it. Not being able to be everywhere at once – during any symposium or workshop, at least a dozen were going on and you had to choose only ONE! Every talk felt like the best talk and discussion I’d ever been to. I can’t even imagine getting to go to all of them!

Talk 1 – Panel on Sustainable Infrastructure: Building Resilience in the Face of Disasters

*What do social scientists learn?

What do sociologists know?

2017 needs to become the “new normal”, the baseline from which we gauge everything now from natural disasters to resource scarcity. We can’t say, “100-year” anything because it’s probably “every year everything” moving forward.

How many resources does the private sector offer to natural disaster stuff?

Who within an organization assesses an emergency response in the aftermath? In all sectors, is it a department? Leadership? How do we know how well we did and what has room for improvement?

The world needs skills-based volunteering and money. No more giant piles of socks, although they’ll take the socks.

Are the people who make money on natural disasters, like construction and building contractors, incentivized and actively blocking disaster preparedness?

How is the mental health of impacted communities being dealt with, if at all? If it is, does it include resilience training or education on climate change and natural disasters?

Will natural disaster areas with repeating occurrences or high-risk result in people moving? (This was later answered. Unless you’re Japanese, where apparently they aren’t in complete denial, the answer is no).

Natural disasters tend to occur, at least in the US, where property values are highest – ocean/waterfront. If counties are responsible for where the rebuilding occurs after disasters, and the risk and impact is offloaded to everyone, how do we educate or incentivize counties to build elsewhere? We need a counter-incentive, and it probably has to be beyond education. Will is ever become illegal to live in certain areas, post-disaster? Because it’s costing all of us.

What’s AI doing for weather? Is there or will there be a degree for sustainability AI? (This was later answered by one of the head people from The Weather Channel. AI’s doing a lot, but unclear on the degree/major.)

Talk 2 – Resilience of Nature-Based and Built Infrastructure

Will government job hiring ever move to problems to solve versus jobs to fill?

“Resilience Scientist” – is that a thing?

*Resilience has become conflated with risk. The 1973 definition of resilience is

Resilience = a stable system -> disturbance -> stable system

The key point is that stable also means a desired system. Because nature will always go back to a stable system. But what we want and what nature wants are not necessarily aligned.

How do you think about defining the boundaries of a resilience system? Graham Cumming has a paper from 1973 about it. He defines the types of boundaries as spatial and spatial regimes.

How conservative are scientists and engineers when they assess the damage/impact? (The answer was extremely. Which is alarming.)

The following bold text are names I made up for the talks. I didn’t write down the actual names and am too lazy to look up every single powerpoint I saw.

Japanese Resilience after the Tsunami

Technology to recycle and reuse disaster debris is a thing! They did it all over Japan.

How different was the prediction and reality of recovery of Japan? Their goal was to rebuild the city better than it was before – more resilient. But also as quickly as they could.

How does Japan’s response to their natural disaster compare to the rest of the world? (It’s actually an example of what to do, but what they did is realistically not even close to what needs to be done.)

How many people can realistically fit in Japan’s shelters? It reminds me of the Titanic. Are there enough boats? Is underground even safe?

Coastal residents were moved to higher ground. They didn’t just rebuild near the coasts, which had the highest property value, like American counties do. In fact, they are rebuilding whole towns 8 meters (that’s over 26 feet!) above sea level.

Soil Matters!

CO2 is the glue that binds soil together. Soil loss and erosion are happening at 20x the rate at which soil is being made.

What’s Happening in Brazil?

How do we quantify sustainability? Using the Envision Rating System, which has about 60 criteria. The next edition will have more. Are they the only folks assessing response post-disaster? They are using drones to see the impacts.

In Brazil’s Amazon, absentee stakeholders plan the infrastructure with zero input from the people who live there. They are building hydroelectric dams all over the forest, but the communities right next to them don’t get any electricity!

What the Army Isn’t Doing About Climate Change

Smartgrids are super hot right now and most people think they’re the answer. But they don’t work for big problems, only small, because of the central control. Picture a hierarchy – what happens when the top is cut off?

Why is everything assessed in silos? When do they bring it together?

Are network systems similar to systems thinking? (the answer was no, they didn’t even know what that was.)

(He also presented a diagram of a smartgrid and the silos that we currently operate with, pointing out the flaws with both. When he failed to present a network or other model, I asked, “Why isn’t it a network? Why isn’t it 3D?” The answer was that we don’t have the visualization technology for those things right now. And even though we know it’s the best solution, we can’t use it, because we can’t easily visualize it. YIKES! Hellooo000oooo Systems Diagramming! It’s not 3D, but it’s a great next step! The speaker was well aware of the limitations, and lamented that he and other scientists in the army are now being largely ignored.)

A Panarchy’s Adaptive Cycle

Ecology is obsessed with the conservation phase of a panarchy’s adaptive cycle.

diagram of panarchy's adaptive cycle

OMG he’s voicing one of my biggest frustrations with environmental science, nature preservation, and ecology!!!

All of the investment after a natural disaster is focused on how quickly we can get ourselves back to the original stable state. Faster is considered better. The key point here is “original”. We are incentivized by speed, not resilience. Our paradox is that we strive to preserve that which must change. A solution is “creative collapse,” new feedbacks in the system. For example, controlled burning of grasslands. This prevention creates a means of co-existence.

Talk 3 – Climate Changes Health: Justice, Equity, Mitigation, and Activism

Many resources can be found at apha.org, including The Environmental Health Handbook.

Scientists in the 1920’s predicted that we’d be feeling the impacts of climate change in 100 years. (OH DAAAAAAMN)

Fact Sheets – Climate Change Health Tools to Communicate the Problem

How has the NIH not listened pollution or heat on the lists of the top causes of deaths in the US? (This was later answered. It’s because it’s very difficult to quantify the health impacts of pollution as there are too many impacts and sources of pollution. YIKES!)

MIssissippi is being hit hard by climate change. But the states nearby dont care. Why don’t they care more? Is it because half of these states are too far from the Mississippi to be, erm, educated or open enough to understand it?

How do you deal with the psychological phenomena of how saying facts cause people to believe the wrong thing with even more conviction?

Can we tax properties with property tax based on how well the property’s land drains water? Would this money help with when the properties in high-risk areas are destroyed?

Canada has a CO2 tax that goes into income tax refunds. The recipients have the option to put the money back into the community! Yay!

When talking with low-income folks, health does help to open the door. Talk about it in the context of loss of income. Also, just listen.

Good examples of dealing with hospital hazardous waste are the organization, “Practice Green Health,” Kaiser Permanente, and The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.

(This was the most disappointing talk I went to. On the one hand, I didn’t realize it would be a lecture about how to do activism. I fell asleep for a lot of the talk. On the other hand, I asked them what phrases or talking points resonated with low-income folks, and they refused to give any other than “talk about the health impacts and how that affects their income.” When I have canvassed, one of the most useful things I’ve gotten out of it is what key phrases resonate with people. If they are spending all of this time talking with stakeholders so they can make their reports, surely they’ve learned more than generalities! Talking about generalities doesn’t teach us anything. They’re scientists for crying out loud! Tell me how much pollution or natural disasters costs in hospital bills and missed work when a low-income person’s child gets sick or injured. They should know this number. Also, this is my biggest frustration with lecture. Give me a case study! Give me concrete details and results!)

During a networking portion, I milled around the foyer, creepily looking at people’s name tags. I was mostly looking for NASA, NSF, and other cool stuff. Much to my dismay, almost everyone had an academic nametag. Disappointed and confused, I asked someone who was running a University booth (they had some booths in the foyer) what the heck was going on. He said that because of the surprise furlough the day before, many government employees couldn’t fly out that day. Some changed their plane ticket, and some couldn’t make it for other reasons. When I asked an army person if they thought the administration did it on purpose, given that this conference was all about something it was adamantly against, their response was perfect. “I don’t think they gave it that much thought. I think it was just a coincidence.” Conservative response from a government representative or the administration is really that lacking in strategy?

homer pretending to be thinking

Hmmmmm

Talk 4 – Panel on Resilient Infrastructure and the Sustained National Climate Assessment

How can we identify the early adopters in government among the sea of laggers? Are there any early adopters? I suppose they’re the ones at this conference.

Why aren’t we just assuming the worst-case scenarios and using the best technology that exists right now? (This was later answered. Turns out, it’s just too expensive. So, the places that are doing it right are building in stages toward the worst-case scenarios.)

Given that almost everyone is predicted to live in cities, has anything thought about building cities in the most high-elevation parts of the country? I think we should be at least thinking about this now because these high-elevation points are probably incredibly difficult to build on in their current states, such as mountains.

A town or city’s fear of being on their own when a disaster strikes is incentivizing governments to work together. Yay!

Can you use wells when they are underwater? Or does the sea ruin all the groundwater pretty quickly?

Maybe I can move to the highest elevation part of the country and get elected into office.

What the world needs is for theoretical scientist to move to applied science. What are the usual applied science degrees, job titles, or fields?

Scientists can be useful by adding comments and feedback to existing, open-source climate change help and guidance documents. This reminds me of how the book, The Martian, was written. He just started writing and posting it around and all sorts of scientists starting telling him, “Actually, if this were to really happen, it would happen this way…”

How can we get communities to trust models if they don’t trust evidence? (BEST QUESTION OF THE CONFERENCE!)

Is there a good foundational material to build floating cities on? I need to hoard that material.

We need to ask already fucked up areas how they have adapted, if at all. Not just natural disaster areas, but also areas starting to be affected and how they’re adapting. One of the speakers used farmers as an example. He went to speak with them as stakeholders, and they were full of all sorts of useful ways of getting around climate change.

Do we need to be building everything for the 100-year scenario?

If everything is already happening a zillion times faster than predicted, can’t we also realize that it’s too late for the 1 degree C goal? Can we finally just accept that and get to work?

Ironically, finance does think about things 50-100 years out. It’s also helpful to look at 100 year old companies.

Will high elevation property skyrocket in property value?

How quickly does sea level have to rise before the government uses eminent domain to seize the land because it’s “necessary”?

One of the speakers mentioned that when his house was destroyed, he hasn’t bothered to get it insured because there’s nothing to insure. But I wonder, can you insure not just the property, but also the land lost if it ends up underwater? Because, doesn’t the land itself have value? And like a destroyed house, underwater land won’t be salvageable.

Talk 5 – Panel on Teaching to the Future: Education for Sustainability

What if sustainability and resilience were part of gen-eds at colleges? Why aren’t they already?? A ton of the folks here are from academia!

How many scientists are in elected office?

He’s talking about how in the 1970’s, the sustainability movement thought they were apolitical and convinced themselves that climate change was. Many folks wrote books about how sustainability has to be political, but they weren’t listened to. It reminds me of a recent blog post by Laura Gitman, arguably the best professor at Bard MBA. It matches perfectly how the sustainability movement regrets being apolitical in the early days – perhaps things could be different. Laura says she wonders if making the “business case” for sustainability all this time was the right move. Instead of appealing to capitalist interest in the bottom line, she and other sustainability consultants could have created momentum around the triple bottom line much earlier. Over time, values have been completely removed from capitalism. You’ll hear more about that later, when an ambassador from France gives a talk. Please read her blog post. It’s extremely insightful. And at this point, history repeating itself.

There is a Green Tea Party in Georgia doing good things.

At Penn State, scientists and teams doing interdisciplinary work are being rewarded just as much as depth-based professors. Currently in academia, scientists are pigeonholed into deeper and deeper research of one thing because that is rewarded in grant money and tenure. It’s the safe way to go. An example is one of my former employees, who had spent her entire career studying Vitamin D. At Penn State, they reward professors for doing valuable work, regardless of how safe it is or how much grant money they get.

Bill is a biochemist who wrote an article about how we don’t need to discover new science, but need to rediscover old science. PREACH! (I tried to find this article, but couldn’t figure out the right search terms).

We need to prioritize knowledge and what needs to be learned. Right now, we’re just mindlessly studying whatever with zero intention. (More on this later).

Business is so much more efficient in impact and getting people to adjust mindsets. Even CIE is doing this. Why is this conference so much about academia and not about business? Why are the only business speakers I’ve seen so far from Mars junkfood and a bank!?

climatefixes.org – how to get out of doom and gloom and do something about climate change!

Dr. Debra Rowe – a rockstar and my hero. She tells it like it is and what we can do about it with specific detail! Are you listening apha.org?

National Science Foundation – they’re embracing Centers of Excellence! Shout out to Rocky Mountain Research Station, who came up with it! NSF says they’re doing it to be healthy learning and work environments for everyone.

Scientists can’t be “unbiased” anymore because it’s not even scientifically accurate. No one’s unbiased, so science isn’t and has never been unbiased. We need to BRING IN VALUES, because sustainability is really about values.

Boldness, Genius, Magic, and Power!

Talk 6 – Achieving an Integrated Surface Transportation System for All Users

Roads

The 2017 Environmental Excellence Awards. What cities, towns, whatever did the best stuff this past year. Learn from them.

Collaboration always makes things go way quicker.

Head to the FHWA website for tons of resources, including anything from how to talk about climate change prep to how to facilitate a collaboration.

Environmental Justice Fact Sheets

Sign up for their newsletter to learn about Successes in Stewardship. For example, the West Coast is helping the East Coast with what to do about salmon.

CSS – Context-sensitive solutions. It’s the holistic development of projects. The FHWA has guidance docs for how to do collaborations for consensus, creativity, and flexibility. Wow!

Public Transit

What about roads and the oil industry? Is that why our public transit and rail system sucks? (This was later answered…an undefinitive probably.)

They are thinking a lot about self-driving cars in the future. They don’t have any projects on how long it will take.

Will self-driving cars increase overall transit system use? (They are doing pilots all around the country. So, maybe).

EJ Screening Tools Peer Network Summary Report. (This symposium track has too many links to keep looking up. Look it up yourself!)

NHI Fundamentals of EJ Course

The Why & How of Measuring Access to Opportunity, A Guide to Performance Management

The Purple Book – assessing socioeconomic activity

They don’t have an opinion on gentrification or equity, their job is to share case studies, best practices and tools, and meeting multiple objectives. In a way, whatever ends up in the documents are their opinions. One solution that a state could do that seems to work is subsidizing housing. One factor of assessment is how many jobs can someone reach in their locale? Especially from public transit.

What’s an example of a health impact? Is it like getting to the hospital or the impacts of VOC’s?

Aren’t tolls a form of capitalism and decreasing equity? Are there subsidized toll lanes?

Measuring Multimodal Network Connectivity, Like Bikes + Cars

How much do they talk with companies and their distribution systems? UPS, Walmart, Amazon. Are companies helping?

Are more bike lanes increasing biking or are people still complaining about the creation of bike lanes? Well, in some cities, they don’t have to! Road Diets are when car lanes are narrowed to add bike lanes. This reminds me of when I first moved from Maryland to California and was like geeze, these are some skinny lanes! Also, natural disasters in Houston actually increased bike use.

Small Town & Rural Planning – make better use of the shoulders for bike lanes

New administration is heavily focused on rural networks. (WTF? What about low-income urban areas like West Baltimore??)

What about teaching people how to bike on highway-like lanes? What’s the etiquette?

They are crowdsourcing traffic data.

Why wasn’t Seattle on the map of cities that need attention cause of bike fatalities. (Because Seattle’s so safe for bikes.)

Deaths decrease and traffic flow improves when you go from 4 lanes to 3. (How neat! I am now thinking about this everywhere I drive.)

The website even has a pretty picture library for people to put in their powerpoint presentations.

Talk 7 – Ambassador Gérard Araud, Ambassador of France to the United States

This talk was not very good in general.

But I got very mad when he said that it’s easy to get things done in America because all we care about is money. He claimed that “France’s barrier is that it’s culturally theological.”

Well, Mr. Araud, maybe America and the world wouldn’t be such a climate change shitshow if we hadn’t taken out the theology, or had at least included some values!

sailor moon crying

Are shitty, religious values really better than pure greed?

Sadly, like I’ve noticed at many other conferences, no one remembered him dropping a bomb, and most people laughed when he had. SIGH.

Ugh, moving on.

Accidental Talk 8 – Co-Designing Community Resilience: A Hands-On Workshop to Launch New Community Science Projects

Like any good conference, some of the schedule rooms had typos. I ended up in the wrong room, and much to my disappointment and surprise, was seeing an introduction to Design Thinking. But before I realized that, something gelled for me that I had mulling over the whole conference.

The speaker in this design-thinking workshop started with some work he’d done with malaria. They wanted people to stop getting malaria, and instead of collecting a bunch of data about mosquitos and the weather and geographic concentrations of malaria outbreaks and whatever else, they just looked at what times of the year malaria outbreaks occurred. Turns out, whenever humidity got to a certain level, there would be a humidity outbreak. This! they could work with. Turns out, it happened at extremely predictable times, so they could take preventative measures with drastically fewer resources and huge impact.

Then he said something that blew my mind:

If you accomplish the goal with correlative data, you don’t really need to know the causation.

Oh, snap! Science just got p0wned.

You see, in business, government, and any sort of stakeholder engagement, folks are realizing that a top-down approach doesn’t work.

Top (CEO’s) –>other people in the hierarchy –> Bottom (factory workers). We are now realizing that in addition to listening to everything our customers have to say, we need to listen to the people who are on the ground floor! Because they know substantially more about the business than the disengaged top. Finally!

So in this context, the goal is to have a “Bottom-Up Approach”.

EXCEPT FOR SCIENCE

In science, it’s currently a Bottom-Up Approach.

Let’s collect a shitton of data –> Let’s use the data to determine what the risks are –> Now that we know the risks, let’s work on mitigation and prevention

THIS NEVER WORKED. And in order to survive, we can’t do anything this way anymore.

Check this out:

What’s our goal? No more malaria. –> Malaria comes from mosquitos. When are there the most mosquitos? –> What data do we need to collect in order to know how to mitigate this risk? Mosquito populations explode when a certain humidity threshold is met.

OH SNAP!

To bring it full circle:

If you accomplish the goal with correlative data, you don’t really need to know the causation.

We really shouldn’t give a shit about the causation if our problems get solved!

There were several themes that kept repeating throughout the conference.

  • The problem with government conflating risk with resilience
  • The importance of focusing our efforts on the local level
  • The signs that we were already seeing of climate change, such as California’s Sonoma County burning down or New Orleans now being the southernmost city on the Mississippi because the other got swallowed up by sea level rise.
  • The need for better ways to communicate, collaborate, and especially for the scientific community (and IMHO EVERYWHERE), cross disciplines. DOWN WITH SILOS!
  • Science is becoming irrelevant in the face of climate change
  • Courageous satire. So many great examples of witty, heartachingly truthful satire said by some of our country’s grittiest, tenacious, and generous people.

Many folks had presented about these topics and potential solutions to them. I wish they could have seen each others’ presentations, because almost every problem I heard was solved in another presentation.

So it occurred to me that while I was in college, student-designed majors were frowned upon.

“Oh, you’re doing a student-designed major? Have fun being unemployed.”

Now, I realize that they were geniuses! This is how education should always have been! It’s the whole point of MOOC’s! All majors and education in general should be student-designed!

Learn the skills that are relative to the problems you want to solve and the impact you want to have in the world. Why pigeonhole ourselves into a “discipline” or “field”? If you think about it, IT’S A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME!

Just like collecting random data with no direction. It’s all about the goal! The direction! It seems so obvious now.

Talk 8 – The Backbone of Sustainable Infrastructure: Cooperative Ownership & Public Banks

After scribbling down all of these revelations, it finally sank in that I was not in the talk that I wanted to be in. And that I already knew most of what was going to be taught, even if it was in a different flavor.

The speaker announces that we’re going to do an icebreaker (it is, after all, a room of introverts :P). Turn to your partner and introduce yourself, answer some questions, and tell them about yourself. WOMP WOMP

I turn to my partner and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be the biggest asshole right now. I just realized that I’m not in the talk I had intended to be in, and I’m going to leave. I’m so sorry.”

She said no worries, and sat there for a second with no intention of getting to know anyone. I wasn’t going to let her totally off the hook, so as I was walking out, I said to the two folks on the other side of her (because there was now an odd number of people at the table), “Hey, I’m heading out. So you two are going to be a threesie.” They turned to her to include her, fully accepting her into their duo, and I hustled out the door.

As I walked into the talk I’d meant to be in, of course, it was exactly my turn to introduce myself to the room because everyone else had just finished their introduction.

I asked what were the three things they wanted me to say about myself, and they told me.

“Hi, my name is Heather Bowden, and I have a biology and nanomaterials background (I mean, I wasn’t going to say Marketing Director. It was a conference for scientists!). I am here because I just moved to Maryland from Seattle and fell in love with cooperatives while I was there.

One of the panelists immediately chimed in with, “Seattle! Why on earth would you leave Seattle?”

So frazzled from being late, I muttered, “Oh, you know. Mental breakdown.”

Fortunately, everyone was half asleep and didn’t notice. But sheesh, I gotta work on keeping my cool.

One panelist was from Amalgamated Bank, which has a sustainability practice.

Another had a book called, “The Public Bank Solution” and a talk show.

There was also a guy who knew stuff and worked with the author at The Public Banking Institute.

Apparently, some of them were also last minute panelists, like at so many other talks, all because of the furlough

shaking fists angrily

Damn you, Voldemort!

Public Banks – finance infrastructure internally by the people, which results in projects requiring half the cost. Yeah, you heard that right. It’s been proven all over the world.

Big Ideas

1) Banks, not governments, produce vast majority of the money supply.

In the UK, banks are not intermediaries. They create money digitally through loans and extending credit. It’s kind of like funding prosperity because it’s community development and infrastructure at half the cost.

This idea is a great example of rediscovering old knowledge, at least for America.

M0 – Coins, $

M1 – Coins, $, checkbook money

M2 – Coins, $, checkbook money, CD’s and Long-Term investments

M3 – Coins, $, checkbook money, CD’s and Long-Term investments, and Shadow Banking.

Shadow banking is why 0.1% of people who almost all of the wealth.

2) While creating a banking system, it should not fund fossil fuel infrastructure. We need to convince banks to divest because it’ll put the biggest dent into the fossil fuel industry.

3) We as creators for credit, can create financing we want because money determines policy. We need to reclaim democratic control of money by moving into a new paradigm. Logic won’t cut it. It needs to include the emotional, national, metaphysical, and faith. We need to empower ourselves to speak openly about these things. (Sound familiar? Re: Laura Giftman’s post on the Triple Bottom Line).

We need to find ways to finance each other, such as nationalized banks for public interest.

Myth: Money is scarce. FALSE. Money is not scarce, it’s just in the control of a small group.

Don’t try to go head-to-head with bad power. Come up with something better!

The Bank of North Dakota is a 98-year old bank that was fine through the financial crisis. In fact, it was in the black! It’s the only state-owned bank in the country. The Wall Street Journal said that it was more profitable than the top 3 big banks combined. In their charter, they say that they don’t compete with local banks and actually are have to partner with them!

Book – Killing the Host

The current banking system is just like a cartel run by the mafia.

Budgets should be moral documents.

Google: Davos Forum, Global Alliance for Banking on Values, B-Corp certified banks to choose from

In Germany, banks only invest in the community, so it’s low risk.

New Jersey is getting a state bank. Probably. Almost certainly.

Banks are corporations and can therefore be Benefit Corporations and Social Purpose Corporations as legal entities.

What would the language of the policy be to prevent regulation that allows banks to create new financial instruments as others are made illegal (only after financial collapse…)? It reminds me of pesticides, where every 80 or so years, a bunch of people get sick and die, the pesticides are made illegal, and they’re just replaced with new, just as bad ones. What policy could get us out of this terrible cycle? (Answer: It’s not possible :()

In Conclusion

The speakers at almost all of the panels were super good at telling tangible and illustrative stories.

There were a few heated (probably more like warmed) debates, but for the most part, everyone was on the same side.

Some were getting cynical, but most were still resisting cynicism.

The three main takeaways were: focus on the local level, interdisciplinary is a bazillion times better than silos, and resilience is our goal – not just getting back to baseline (which as we saw in the beginning of the conference, is now 2017).

The last talk was The John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science, Policy and the Environment. John H Chafee isn’t around anymore, but his bff’s son was around to give the talk.

I’ll do my best to share the story Senator Sheldon Whitehouse shared with us to end the conference on a positive note.

When the furlough happened, the Senate was handed a memo saying that the furlough was happening. They were not included in the conversation whatsoever, along with the other brand. The Senate, turns out, includes a lot of climate change sympathists. But thanks to good ole super PACs, they feel like their hands are tied. Cowards.

Except for the day when the furlough was announced. Senator Whitehouse said that the Democrats and Republicans were so fed up with being ignored by the executive brand and excluded from the conversation, that they met in the middle and got something done IN AN HOUR. Which never happens. The Senator indicated that both sides of the Senate were teaming up to finally use their checks-and-balances power, as the Senator noted, was the whole point of having it in the first place.

We’ll see what comes of it.

I hope to go again next year. But a part of me wonders if there will even be anyone left to attend. It could be cause all the scientists are finally fired. Or science is scrubbed from academia. Or we experience that mass human extinction a decade sooner than predicted.

I’m not going to edit this because it’s 12:30 am, and it’s bedtime. Whatever state this blog post is in, I’m sure you’ll get the jist, if you make it this far.

If any of us make it this far ::dramatic pause::

Just kidding.

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Why I Went to Graduate School

School sucks. I hated school so much that my brain would instantly fall asleep when I went to class. If I went to class. The same for when I got carsick or drove. Just an all around unpleasant experience. If I were an animal, I’d be a bunny. Who just passed out when shit got terrible. It all started in 3rd or 4th grade, when I started to get bored.

I had sleep studies done. They put me on adderall. Ritalin. I mostly just had more pocket money cause I hated that shit.

I tried everything.

Except going to a school that taught differently.

I went to Pinchot because it was what I thought school should be. You see, when I was looking at MBA programs like Stanford and MIT Sloan, they seemed like slogs. And they’d only teach me a tiny bit of the picture using a traditional teaching method.

Traditional is our tragedy as Americans.

I thought to myself, “higher ed should be taught on frequent, village-sized campuses, where everyone lives together in a community. And learns by doing at a rigorous pace with an inventive, memorable, workshop-based curriculum. The professors shouldn’t just be PhD’s like they are at MIT Sloan. They should have stories. They should have already made a big impact. And teach from experience.” I wanted entrepreneurial teachers who listened.

Sadly, I didn’t think this existed.

I opted out of getting an MBA even though it had secretly been a dream of mine to get those three, shiny letters. Walking away seemed better than throwing away a few hundred grand for something I’d do much better on my own (and did).

I put together a MOOC-based MBA. But only two weeks after I’d started, I found what I had been looking for.

At Impact Hub Seattle, we were suddenly awash with Sustainability MBA’s from upstairs. These new hosts were pretty great to work with. What’s more, they didn’t suck to work with.

Upon investigation, I learned about Pinchot (Chapter 3).

  • Taught systems thinking
  • Workshop and project-based
  • Everyone came from diverse work backgrounds.
  • The whole curriculum was integrated…like a system.
  • It was taught in the woods where we got to hang out and live together for almost a week.
  • The day I happened to visit, they were doing the Lean Canvas. Basically, my favorite thing to do.
  • The perfect amount of our assignments were, go out into the wilderness and write about it, then tell us about it.
  • While most schools studied systems, we did our own deep analysis by the end of December. It was also a white paper.
  • While most schools studied case studies, we wrote our own by the end of March. Our whole curriculum was a case study.
  • Our first field trip was living in a spectacular version of what’s possible on an island in the British Columbian wilderness.
  • While most schools took five months (a semester) to teach entrepreneurship and how to write a business plan, we did it accelerator style in three. We got one big assumption though (e.g. our technology works), so it was great for learning at the maximum speed. Cause the second year was for actually doing a business, not the first. But sometimes folks used both for a real business.

I’m not even mentioning the sustainability parts, which are HUGE. I think we are queued up more than anyone on the planet to deal with what’s to come.

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Even better, I transferred my second year to a Sustainability MBA program on Wall Street. It uses a non-integrated curriculum, so I can do deep dives into whatever I want. Which I have. And it still is almost entirely workshop and project based. Except now we work for clients at real companies to see what that’s like. Good, lord, I don’t know how people do it. Do meetings ever start on time? Seriously? How lazy can we be?

But I digress.

Can you imagine if traditional MBA’s taught this way? Both a sustainability-focused way and then a hybrid way?

The book, Makers and Takers, says that traditional MBA’s go into the program thinking that their job is to “benefit a diverse group of stakeholders.” But by the end of the second semester, they think that “greed is good”. And they think that the way to be greedy is to “increase shareholder returns at any cost and produce less high quality goods and services.”

What the fuck.

What’s worse is that every year we church out 156,250 of these people. Not you, of course. Because you’re not in a traditional MBA program.

Just the majority of 156,250.

Yikes.

Giving Voice to Values says that in traditional MBA ethics classes, they learn how to rationalize and justify unethical behavior and choices. Literally, a handbook of arguments.

So, I joined Pinchot cause I didn’t want to be an asshole.

MBA’s aside, most education in the US is garbage compared to what it could be.

Everyone knows the story of the Indian kids who were given a computer.

A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.

If children have interest, then education happens.

Arthur C. Clark

Our education squashes curiosity, so it’s no wonder that our skills gap is being filled with immigrants. Except that we stopped letting immigrants here. So we’re still going to have a bunch of unemployed people, and on top of that not enough skilled labor. Then American businesses will just die. And we’ll get wiped out because other countries are educating their people properly.

Great.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hypotheses for the Successful Adoption of Mental Models around Entrepreneurialism

  1. Learning
    1. The vast majority of people have experienced oppressive, suppressive, overly structured, unimaginative, wasteful learning methods for the majority of their education. These methods are based on the industrialization of the world in the early 1800’s and haven’t been updated with the pace of technology and science, despite being scientifically disproven and one-upped again and again. Bureaucracy and insecurity prevents us from improving education. It’s our greatest tragedy in America.
    2. The vast majority of people have not experienced a proper workshop with a proper team in a proper space. Experiencing this would make a positive and profound difference on how they see the world, themselves, and their life. Some percentage of these people will have a viral difference on the people around them.
    3. It’s been a while since Americans learned by doing, such as apprenticeships. Which is such a shame, since they’d be so easy and economical now, and other countries are doing them.
  2. Empowerment
    1. The vast majority of people have not experienced a proper work environment and culture.
    2. The vast majority of people do not know how to plan for the future and are not prepared. They also have no hope for retirement.
    3. The corruption behind ITT Tech and University of Phoenix continues to set off a tidal wave of disenfranchised, negatively impacted students. When ITT Tech closed in Sept 2016, just at that time, they had 40,000 students and 8,000 employees. Students have been suing since 1998. That’s a lot of people, their families, and a giant chunk of our country.

Hypotheses for the Target Audience (at least one is true)

  1. They have no hope for retirement.
  2. They don’t want to have to work for anything.
  3. They’re afraid their job will be replaced by a robot. For example, truck drivers, factory workers, and accountants. In addition, I predicted that self-driving cars would predominate major cities within 4 years. Last Friday, Tim Ferriss predicted 3.

In which direction should I go to run a beta test? A small pilot with about ten people in the boonies. Eastern or Western Washington?

I say this with urgency as I’d love to just target kids and the education system. But the reality is that no one’s invested in our kids for a while, especially not us. And, we don’t have enough time to wait for them. We need engaged adults now. Like, right now. Now. Yes, now.

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Am I A Wantrepreneur?

diagram of the wantrepreneurial cycle of delusion

The horror!

Wantrepreneur is a derogatory term in the West. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists use it to describe people who like the idea of entrepreneurship, but fail at execution.

Wantrepreneurs:

  • Think that entrepreneurship is easy. Set your own schedule, be your own boss, you’re Facebook.
  • Like the idea of being an entrepreneur. The identity of entrepreneur. The extroverted ones go to meetups and stuff and feel super cool, like they always have a great conversation piece.
  • Think they have come up with an original idea and are terrified that someone will steal it. Their business is crippled by attempts to protect the idea, either through isolation or the black hole of patents. But they don’t google the idea to see if it already exists. And they direct no effort to validation or getting their first customer. And oftentimes, successful business takes a village that they can’t create if they don’t talk to anyone.
  • Think that entrepreneurialism means being in control, often after a lifetime of feeling like they lack it. But true entrepreneurialism is about focusing on what they actually can control, which is typically only themselves.

Chapter 1: A Hustler

I started my first business in 6th grade selling lists of the hottest boys to local socialites. This was before printers, so it was a handwritten list that I updated whenever I felt like (usually weekly), and for $5, you could look at it.

Then I sold concert tickets. Which failed miserably because as it turns out, I was the only one willing to pay premium prices for tickets to sold out festivals and concerts. I had convinced my Dad to be an investor in this one, and I lost all of his money.

Fast forward through a bunch of shitty and not so shitty businesses to undergraduate school.

I thought that I needed this piece of paper to do real things and real businesses. I did not see it as an opportunity to explore, discover, experience, and learn, so I asked my Dad what I should major in. He said biochemistry, and at the time, it was an excellent choice. I ended up with biology, and it took over six years. It was here that I discovered that I’m not someone who can accomplish a goal that I don’t fully buy in to. Buy-in is so important!

Why do I want to go to college?
Because I was told that I needed it to get my ticket punched.

What is getting my ticket punched?
An easy ride.

Yeah, I was one of those. A super super senior. On the upside, in addition to Biology, I’d thoroughly meandered through English, Psychology, and Film.

But I desperately wanted that easy ride. And turns out, the path of least resistance results in a waaaay longer path.

Chapter 2: A Quitter

The search for the easy path started when I heard, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Instead of asking why this was true, I asked, “Why bother being strong at all? It sounds terrible. Let’s just avoid the trauma altogether.” I didn’t know about post-traumatic growth.

To me, the X-Men were the ultimate easy-riders. Xavier said to mutants, “Come live at my estate for free and be a hero because you won the genetic lottery of magical abilities and superhuman hotness.” I saw what I wanted to see, which wasn’t how powers were extremely challenging to control and being a hero meant persecution, fear, and loads of baggage. I saw Jean Grey as a badass, not as a target for love triangles, enemies, and cosmic entities. My filter blocked the broken bodies, death toll, and persistent tests of moral fiber and strength of will. Plus the time toiled away in the Danger Room, where everyone worked hard. I never saw their failures and how they just kept picking themselves back up and trying again.

Unfortunately, my lizard brain, after decades of denying my cravings for challenge, invented a self-defense mechanism I’ve named Self-Sabotage Sally. Whenever I’d lose sight of possibility, I’d quit.

The most tremendous instance of this was ARCBio. I was introduced to some folks at IBM who had a problem that I could solve. I didn’t know how to solve the problem, but I knew that I could. And after two months of figuring it out, I landed a year-long contract to do it.

At first, I wanted ARCBio to revolutionize in vitro (non-animal) testing. The European Union had just banned animal testing for cosmetics, and I wanted the US to do the same. But by the end of the first year, I burned myself out and got fat. By year two, I revolutionized non-animal testing, but didn’t share it with anyone because I didn’t think anyone respected or listened to fat women. I hated myself. In year three, I focused on maximizing shareholder profit. I was the only shareholder, so I had a pretty sweet lifestyle business. I ate my money. By the beginning of the fourth year, I could see myself doing ARCBio forever, but was miserable as hell. I refocused on scaling the business and hiring some full-time people to run the lab. But by the end of the year, I quit.

Here are a few of the thousand reasons why I chose to close ARCBio:

  • I was so unhappy that my experiments were no longer reproducible. After spending years optimizing scientific protocols to the point of absolute reproducibility, all of my experiments failed. With clinical precision, I tested every single perimeter to figure out what was going wrong. At the end of the day, the common denominator was me.
  • I was a horrible boss who made an intern cry through an email. I was the villain.
  • One of the people I was working with was incredibly toxic and we all knew it. He’d spent years 2-3 blaming me for a mistake that he finally confessed to (he hadn’t taken good enough lab notes…::facepalm::). He was brilliant, which is why he was kept around, but he and I were like, “oil and water.” IBM was my biggest customer, and I worked with other groups, but I couldn’t see a way to avoid him.
  • I had fallen out of love with the life sciences after hearing the same story for the twentieth time:

“I found the cure to cancer and big pharma bought it up. I thought they were going to bring it through clinical trials because I couldn’t, but they locked up the cure and threw away the key.”

The same went for diabetes and others too. I was heartbroken and jaded. Other things about the life sciences were crushing including the regulation and corruption. I swore off the whole industry.

  • I hated California. But the business was in California, and I couldn’t see a way to move it elsewhere.

California was a whole other story.

I lived in San Jose, my first time living in a big city. This part is going to be very not PC, but this was my experience. Skip down to Chapter 3 if you’re from Seattle.

In Baltimore, people of color are so frequently and publicly beat down (figuratively and literally), that you can give unwanted attention a single look, and they would start heading the other way. To this day, I cannot imagine what it is like for super attractive women who are constantly threatened and harassed physically and verbally. To this day, I cannot imagine what it is like for people of color who are constantly oppressed and disempowered.

But I digress. In Baltimore, I felt like I had power and control because of my white-looking privilege. San Jose was completely different, where I was a target.

In Man Jose, men outnumbered the women 1.23 to 1. One-third was Hispanic and one-third was Asian or Asian Indian. It was a tough place to be a woman, where I would get the same attention I got in Baltimore except these men were relentless. I was seen as a white hole that could be captured with a wide enough net and enough intimidation, heckling, and body-shaming. Not a great selling point for diversity. Perhaps they should include an equity workshop with every work visa.

But I digress.

I was at dinner with a Korean and two Indians. One of the Indians said that he was only in the US to fool around, and that if he got a white girl, great. But if not, whenever he was ready, he would call his mom and ask for a wife. She’d send him a binder with Facebook-like profiles of all the suitable girls in his village, and he would pick one. Did the girls have a choice? Yes, but they never said no. The other Indian guy chimed in and agreed. Ultimately, they did not see women as equals, but as something to be acquired. The Korean guy was jealous.

Another time, I was downtown at night when an Indian guy yelled at me across the street. He was with his friends, and when I smiled and shook my head, he yelled, “Whatever. You are fat and disgusting anyway.” And this was my experience in San Jose time and time again.

The Hispanics would drive alongside me in their unmarked, white vans while commenting on my appearance out their window. As a single, white-looking female in a big city for the first time, my mind would run with the horrific possibilities. The best case scenario was when they’d just yell at me and drive away. Other times, I’d have to walk to places other than my home until they went away. The same went for when we were both on the street, but they were much more aggressive when in their vehicle.

I didn’t know how to handle any of this and didn’t have any friends or support. I would have nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep or leave the house at night. I constantly strategized escape and fight scenarios.

At some point, I got so fat that the harassment stopped. Then I’d be told I was fat and disgusting, so I’d start to lose weight. Then I’d get fit, receive unwanted attention, and would binge eat again. This was a vicious cycle. Well, it still is. Damned if I’m fit, damned if I’m not. And I let it cripple myself and ARCBio.

Chapter 3: A Wantrepreneur and a Hypocrite

When I first moved to Seattle, I spent a year and a half working on over 100 businesses. I used to say that as if I was bragging, like I’d defeated 100 businesses.

During the era of 100 businesses, I found myself overwhelmed and stressed. When I counted, I realized I was working on 9 different projects, both with others and individually. I was unfocused and there were always reasons to not do something.

  • I didn’t want to do a STEAM coworking space because two people I respected didn’t give me its blessing, Seattle already had 37 coworking spaces at the time, and a well-publicized and funded makerspace had recently failed.
  • I didn’t want to do decorative, portable plastic raincoats because plastic. And plastic is based on the petroleum industry and so on. And I’m not going to do better than China.
  • I didn’t want to do purse inserts because they’re already a thing. And I’m not going to do better than China.
  • I didn’t want to pursue Refreshing Renton because all of the industry people I spoke with gave me dozens of reasons why it wouldn’t work. I wanted Washington to be the first VOC-free state. Turns out, I was too early because a year later, almost all new Seattle buildings were tested for indoor air pollution and VOC’s.
  • I didn’t want to do Caffeine Vape because of, well, the target demographic. It felt wrong. Turns out, caffeine vapes are now a thing.
  • I didn’t want to do a restaurant that focused exclusively on business lunches with inhalable cocktails that had you buzzed in seconds and sober in 15 minutes. Because food was hard.

There are tons more that can be found in countless pro formas, pictures of whiteboarding, lean canvasses, and Evernote’s up the wazoo. A lot of them are at Ideas from Last Night, a graveyard for my killed ideas. You’ll find that most of them are now real businesses run by other people.

After watching this happen over and over again, my Dad finally worked up the courage to ask me something that had been bugging him. I’ll paraphrase.

Are you a wantrepreneur?

graph of wantrepreneur vs. entrepreneur vs. heather

The horror!

There are two things to point out here.

  1. Validation of an idea didn’t mean whether or not it worked. I never had any doubt that any business I wanted to do would be successful. But what I did doubt was whether or not a business was for me. Tim Urban of Wait But Why points out that every economic revolution has people freaking out about what to do with their lives – create widgets or come up with something new? For me, it was also, “Is this what I want to do for the next five years?” And, “Is this going to make a big enough impact on the world?”
  2. I also noticed that when I got serious enough about a business to have a cofounder, my cofounder would often leave to become an employee. I have a graveyard of cofounder agreements. I don’t know what the problem was. Was I getting the cofounder too early? Was I picking the wrong cofounders? Was it me?

I can recognize a wantrepreneur more easily than I think others can for two reasons.

  1. I was a wantrepreneur to the tune of 100 businesses.
  2. During this time, I did pro-bono small business consulting at Impact Hub, a coworking space in Seattle. I did paid work for small businesses too, but they were already up and running. I really thought that I could help founders, but soon became frustrated at the inaction. They would talk on and on about their idea, would say they’d do the next step, and never would. The most popular was due diligence or a pro forma. Have you googled to see if anyone else is doing this? Have you made a pro forma to see how this could meet your financial expectations? I realized that this procrastination was not only a form of self sabotage, but a self-defense mechanism. It’s easier to imagine being an entrepreneur than to find out that the idea your whole future hinges on won’t work. By the way, no one’s whole future hinges on one idea.

Chapter 4: A Student

So I decided to give school another shot and do it right this time. No more easy ways out for me!

I joined a Sustainability MBA program with a heavy emphasis on leadership and personal development.

From this, I finally got that I could have it all: positive environmental, social, and economic impact. But it had to start with figuring out my own shit.

Here are a few things I’ve learned these past two months:

  • Once I figure something out, I lose interest. No matter how much I think the world needs it. And come hell or high water, I won’t bring it to the world or finish. The best of example of this was when I was holding women’s events. I discovered that most of my attendees were looking to make a career transition. So I informational interviewed and researched my way to the secret sauce of a successful career transition. But my writing didn’t keep up with my learning, so it just sits on my Evernote and a few blog posts.
  • Someone on my school team thought I should bring more of my own experience to the table. At first, I was like wah. My experience is mostly in the life sciences. And we don’t do any life sciences. But now I realize that I tend to just translate my experience and skills immediately into action. Then, I communicate the action with no explanation.
  • I have a fear of abandonment in teams. For years, I peeled myself like an onion only to discover that my fear of abandonment started when I was a baby. My Mom had read a baby book that said she should never pick me up when I cried, because otherwise I would never be independent. Sadly, this was incredibly damaging, even though my Mom had the best intentions. What I didn’t know was how this manifests itself when I’m working with other people who I deeply care about. I will do absolutely fantastic work for the first half. Then I will react to an externality such as competing commitments or negative feedback, hopelessly decide that I’ve let everyone down, and will hide lest I screw up things even more. I will communicate the whole time and complete my work, but it won’t be my best and every task feels like an avalanche. Others will be supportive, but I won’t hear it. Because…
  • I don’t hear or remember good things. I literally filter and forget them. For example, shortly after Trump got elected, I was leading Circle at school. When it was over, I spent half the day pondering what I’d done wrong and what I could have done better. While talking with a classmate about this, she stopped me and asked, “Do you not remember when [the cofounder and Director of the school] thanked you, talked about how much of a difference this had made for him, and everyone clapped for you?” Suddenly the memory came back. But I don’t remember the other times.
  • I want to save the world from climate change. It is my deepest desire. But I am doing nothing to fight climate change right now, and it’s all rooted in ego. I just want to be the hero.
  • Nothing makes my heart swell more than heros. Like Dumbledore’s Army or the Order of the Phoenix. Or all of Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows Part II. I watched all of Harry Potter over the holidays and it was glorious.
  • I’m a liar.
  • I’m a hypocrite.
picture of my cork board with cards that say nice things

My latest experiment.

Chapter 5: A Balance

I have an undisciplined pursuit of more.

But by having an undisciplined pursuit of more, I’ve ended up with less.

picture of balancing feedback loop of my strengthsfinder results

Yikes!

What we have here is a balancing feedback loop. A problem presents a challenge. The greater the challenge, the greater the impact. The greater the impact, the greater my interest in it. The more interested I am, the more I strategize. The more I strategize, the more actions I come up with. The more actions I try, the more solutions I come up with. The more solutions there are, the less challenging the problem.

If we started with a less challenging problem, the whole loop would repeat again with less challenging, so less impactful, so less interesting, so I quit. I’m not enough of a perfectionist to do a third redo to include the quitting, but just know that there’s a line that goes out of Interest to something like Rate of Quitting.

My goal is to stick with something, so I want to turn this balancing feedback loop into a reinforcing loop.

What are the leverage points? What variables do I focus on?

For starters, I’ve found 100 problems and didn’t commit to any of them. There’s no shortage of problems. If I redid this again, Problem could be a stock with unlimited supply.

Next, I’ve definitively proven, at least in my mind, that I love, love, love challenge. No more easy ways out for me!

Impact is tough. I can’t save the world, at least not singlehandedly. And knowing how systems work, it can’t be by doing one thing. Since it’s the challenge that influences the impact, maybe the challenge needs to be big enough that problems need to have a constant flow.

Oh, shit. I just realized that the goal of this system is to be heroic. Yikes!

picture of systems diagram

Okay, okay. Here’s a redo. Click to enlarge. 

I find out about these challenges and once I understand them and have solutions, sometimes I’ll go straight to feeling heroic and QUIT. Wtf.

So, the leverage point is somewhere around ideas to tackle the challenge. Feelings can be pretty powerful, but in this case they’re causal!

Time to head to work. Happy New Year!

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Seattle Startup Week and Sustainable Business

Seattle Startup Week. My favorite time of the year!

Sadly, I missed the first two days being in New York and the third doing homework.

By Thursday, I kicked off the week with a Pinchot friend who had just graduated from a full-stack web development school. We were interested in doing a business together, so naturally, we had a meeting with angel investors two hours later. We prepared by googling, “questions for angel investors.”

When we got to the meeting, we learned that in addition to the angels, there was one entrepreneur who had just exited her company. Perfect! We’d prepared about half a dozen topics, so I was going to size up the room and make an on the fly decision for the ask. After all of the entrepreneurs had shared their businesses and needs, it would be a free-for-all of who talked with whom.

The first entrepreneur had a food startup with black-eyed pea hummus. The angels immediately liked her, said that her product sounded delicious, and that they’d love to help.

We were next. When cofounder shared that he and I knew each other through sustainable networks, two of the angel investors’ eyes shot open with a quick eye roll.

I immediately got a flashback of the last time I told a woman angel investor that I was into sustainability, and how she couldn’t get away from me fast enough.

It took effort, but I quickly re-presenced myself to the room.

It was already clear to me that the first entrepreneur was the favorite, and that the angels were going to rush her at the end. Wanting to be certain of a meaningful conversation, I asked for help with strategically building a business for exit (aka being bought by another company). It was our biggest ask, and we had the perfect person to talk with.

After the third entrepreneur shared what she was looking for, one person offered to help her, the entrepreneur with the recent exit offered to help us, and everyone else rushed the food entrepreneur.

What happened next wasn’t very interesting. But I want to highlight the reaction in the room from hearing the word, “Sustainable” and how important it was to be present.

Next, cofounder and I got some lunch at Impact Hub. Startup Week had a delicious spread and a plethora of entrepreneurs to chat with. Shortly after, we parted ways for him to head to a job interview and for me to head uptown to Google for a talk on Grit and Resilience.

For me, grit and resilience are most powerful when entrepreneurs engage in personal and professional development. They don’t waste opportunities for growth by being stubborn or deeply rooted in, “I’m right (you’re all wrong).” Grit and resilience come from being present. Present to the mission, to the values, to the purpose. To the whole point. Not from living in fear of not being good enough, constantly comparing ourselves to other people, and focusing exclusively on achievement. This and more are a recipe for entrepreneurs committing suicide.

The first presenter passionately declared that he never invests in entrepreneurs who want entry-level luxury cars. They aren’t hungry enough. “You mean to tell me that you want the Porche Cayenne? The entry level Porche? The poor man’s Porche?”

Everyone laughed.

Disgusted by that and other comments, I angry Tweeted, “ this dinosaur on grit is completely out of touch. Chasing frivolous luxuries and breaking shit means grit?” It got 45 impressions, a few engagements, and no likes. Not surprising. I was extremely familiar with this kind of talk, and knew from personal experience that it’s sounds-good bullshit.

The fourth speaker was the founder of a $15M brand that started with a passion for soapmaking, turned into an escape from working at a prison, and resulted in the conglomerate she has today.

Here’s a gem from that one:

Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.

I couldn’t agree more.

But still, sustainability principles were missing from the whole conversation. No one took the time to create space, most of the powerful messages fell flat, and one of the speakers read their presentation. Sustainable learning was missing. I saw most people walk away feeling good, like it was a great event. An entertaining event. But as someone who has experienced intentional space, facilitation, workshop-based learning, and more, I felt let down. Last year, I would have walked away feeling good. And I had.

But as I have learned over the last year, feeling good doesn’t make an impact. Neither does wearing a safety pin. And neither does ruthless pursuit of achievement and money in the name of entrepreneurialism.

Shortly after 4pm, I found myself at K&L Gate’s Law Offices on the 29th floor of a downtown building.

::insert picture of the view that I didn’t think to take::

The talk was industry specific on fundraising, and I’ll spare you the details as it was fairly in depth. Let’s just say I’m in a much better place than I was last year, when I’d heard a similar talk. Plus, this talk was much more accessible. Kudos to K&L Gates for being a bunch of fundraising nerds and considering their audience.

After the talk, I reconnected with a friend. While lamenting the Porsche talk, a nearby investor asked, “Was so and so speaking?” Turns out, the same “grit” speaker had given a talk the day before. Can you guess what about? What matters most in life: family, love, etc. How’d he learn it? When his life went to shit after achieving success.

Weird.

During the post-talk networking, I met the 18 or 19 year old Chief Science Officer of a healthcare startup. After hearing him parrot numerous sustainability buzz phrases, I asked him where he got it from. Turns out, his father was the CEO and rocking sustainable business to the core. He also had an army of children on whom he had instilled his values.

  • Sustainability values on day one
  • Chose the customer segment, got to know them 100%, and then built what they needed
  • The company name was Jumpstart CSR. CSR. You heard that right.
  • They had no interest in investment from investors who weren’t values aligned
    • They wanted to scale smartly and sustainably, not because of shareholder pressure

Here I was, grappling with whether or not to shield my sustainability background. And here he was, with CSR in the business name. I had been fearing rejection or missed opportunity instead of seeing sustainability as the opportunity itself.

Again, I was confronted by choosing between living in my bubble, playing the game, or changing the game.

Curious about the kid’s experience growing up with these values, I asked him, “When you went to school in Virginia and later here, in Seattle, was sustainability ever discussed?”

No.

Dammit. He was lonely, and it showed.

Both deflated and encouraged, I headed over to the IBM Pitch Competition.

Here’s where I got my energy back. After a long day of feeling like something was missing, I saw three out of the five companies pitch for the second time. I questioned the rat race of pitch competitions and the pigeonholing of entrepreneurs (of all people!). There has to be a better way.

Last updated November 18, 2016. 

If you or someone you know would resonate with this, please consider emailing it to them using the email button below. 

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Entrepreneurship – 2009 until Now

Chapter 1: ARCBio, Inc.

I started ARCBio less than six months out of undergrad. ARCBio was lonely, stressful, and maddening. But it was also rewarding. I learned more in just over four years about business, the life sciences, and myself than I think I would have doing anything else. My mission was to eliminate animal testing from all cosmetics in the US, just like the European Union had. I wanted ARCBio to impact the regulation of the entire life sciences industry.

And then I got to business. And nothing was what I had thought. You could say I was a total n00b who got schooled by Good Laboratory Practices certification, bureaucracy, office politics, and a million other things. A lot of the time, I was in my own way. I only succeeded thanks to the support of others.

It took over 4 years, but I made my first $1M and was ready to figure out why I was so unhappy. So I saw a life coach who introduced me to Landmark. I said, “I want to be the best person I can possibly be as quickly as possible.” After three months he said, “I don’t normally tell people this, but just do Landmark.” When I did it, I knew why.

Quotes that helped me through

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.
~James Allen

Don’t be yourself – be someone a little nicer.
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

Would I rather be feared or loved? Umm, easy: Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.
~Michael Scott

Insecurity is the source of all conflict.
~Me

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.
~Mary Wollstonecraft

The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.
~G.K. Chesterton

You should never settle for who you are.
~Michael Scott

Things are only awkward if you make them awkward.
~Me

Chapter 2: Cofounderslab

I closed the company and did some soul searching. I was 29.

When I first moved to Seattle, I joined a website called Cofounderslab. I knew I wanted to start another business and that it had to meet some positive constraints.

  • Fun
  • Scalable
  • Hugely Impactful
  • Cofounder
  • Customers will love

I met and worked with some of the coolest and most intelligent people on Cofounderslab. Here are the most interesting ones:

  • A serial entrepreneur with mad coding skillz.
  • A genius Swiss web developer who built a video platform in two weeks with multiple interruptions.
  • A robotics engineer.
  • An insect entrepreneur.
  • A veteran who’d invented his own electronics repair device.
  • A YC alum.

Here’s an analogy that will help describe why this was so amazing.

Do you prefer:

  • Smartest person in a dumb room
  • Dumbest person in a smart room

or

  • Nicest house in a crappy neighborhood
  • Crappiest house in a nice neighborhood

I was definitely in the first category in Chapter 1. As a result, I got regular dopamine spikes, didn’t have many close friends, and was extrinsically motivated. Other times I experienced imposter syndrome, surrounded by PhD’s at IBM.

But with Chapter 2, I felt like I was engaging with peers. I discovered that passions were not a real thing, and that mine were fleeting. Lastly, I could start a company in anything and everything, I just needed to choose.

Chapter 3: Pinchot

After touring most of the coworking spaces in Seattle, I chose Impact Hub Seattle. They had the right vibe, layout, and host program where I could exchange membership for making coffee and giving tours.

On the fourth floor of the building was Pinchot University. Ironically, they sold Master’s-level certificate programs and two MBA’s in Sustainability.

After working with numerous Pinchot students at Impact Hub, I decided to check it out. The visit to Islandwood sold me on Pinchot, and I enrolled. They offered workshop-based learning, low-residency, an executive + sustainability MBA, and more. Every student got a coach, and I was lucky enough to get a healthcare executive one. It was just what I was looking for and more.

Our orientation was at Channel Rock, a beautiful island three ferry rides away in British Columbia. We experienced six glorious days in the stunning Canadian wilderness. I never wanted to leave.

While sitting on a cliff, cushioned by moss, overlooking islands and ocean, I got really angry at humanity. I seriously asked myself if the right thing to do was to let humanity kill ourselves. After two angry pages of writing and perturbing, I saw an opportunity.

I believe that I will get to witness, if I survive climate change, a massive unleashing of human creativity and prosperity. I believe that every single human being is born full of love, creativity, joy, and curiosity. When life happens, these features can become diminished. Some people mistake evil for happiness. I believe that we now have the technology to do a phenomenal job of starting from scratch after sh*t goes down.

What I want to highlight here is that I saw myself working in the life sciences.

I resented the life sciences because I felt beaten down by it. The life sciences was too stubborn about change, especially waste management, firing teams for clinical trials, big pharma’s buying patents and throwing away the key, and a million other things. There were too many opportunities and too many industries to go back to the life sciences.

But while sitting on that clifftop, I realized that the experience I had was not unique to the life sciences. If I really wanted to make a difference, I needed to accept that I loved the life sciences and that there was no running away to another less terrible and more amazing industry.

In that moment, all of my resentment and baggage vanished. I felt liberated.

Chapter 4: Researchful

Three days later, on 9/11/2015, I met [name redacted].

[name redacted] was working on Researchful while CTO of another organization. He had worked for several startups but really wanted to start his own thing.

After two months of working together and gaining real traction, he sent me an email saying his company had offered him a pile of money, a ton of stock, and wanted him to move to San Francisco. He had to cut all ties with Researchful. With everything that had happened, I was shocked and hurt. This was the perfect segway to my building a life sciences empire that saved the world and brought humanity to the prosperity the universe needed. He was also amazing to work with.

We had a Skype call where I asked him point blank, “May I have everything in writing?”

He agreed.

For another month, I ran with it. But I was back to being unhappy.

I revisited my positive constraints.

  1. Fun
  2. Scalable
  3. Hugely Impactful
  4. Cofounder
  5. Customers will love

It wasn’t fun, and I had no luck finding a new cofounder.

I loved Researchful. It was going to revolutionize how clinical trial research was done to the tune of tens of billions of dollars all over the world. But combined with a long-term relationship breakup, my Dad getting cancer, having to move with no time to prepare, and seeing the impending doom of my school, I was stressed. Combined with climate change, my executive coach said, “You need to stop working on this company and take time for yourself.”

picture of girl from snoopy selling psychiatric help for 5 cents

This isn’t what I paid for.

Researchful was the perfect storm I had been looking for. There were no competitors, several investors wanting to give me money, one client lined up, and tons of industry changes coming together. Plus, I’d already done a business by myself. This time, I would do it successfully.

But it was a bad idea. Over the past year and a half, I had figured out what conditions I thrive in. In this case, success would not have been what I was looking for again.

And not working on Researchful was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It was also biggest risk I think I’d ever taken. I had no idea how long I’d need, what the outcome would be, and if Researchful would even be viable when I got back.

I pitched at my first Feature Friday event, won second place, and said goodbye to Researchful.

Chapter 5: Breakthrough

This was probably my second breakthrough, the first being when I did Landmark.

From February until June, I worked at a part-time internship to pay the bills, moved into a mother-in-law cottage by myself, and got to work.

Here are some of the things I tried for at least one month:

  • Meditation
  • Morning Pages
  • Affirmations
  • Visualization
  • Gratitude Training
  • Gamification
  • Trail Running
  • Swimming
  • Walking on a treadmill while reading nonfiction
  • Listening to music (realized I hadn’t done it in three years! Only podcasts for so long because they were more “productive”)
  • Baths
  • Progress excel spreadsheet
  • Planned extroversion (Fun fact: I’m an extrovert. Everyone but me knew this. I think I was in denial because I grew up in the 90’s, when it was cool to hate everyone and indulge isolation and depression. What a relief to make this discovery!)

The ones in bold are the ones that worked that I still do to this day. The ones in italic bold are ones that I do almost every day.

During this time, my Mom also visited. This Chapter was a chapter of letting go of control (she’s an avid Trump supporter). For you Pinchoters, it was a test of my assumptions.

Being tourists.

Being tourists.

At the tail end of this time, a good friend was interested in becoming the new cofounder of Researchful. Then an alum of Pinchot became interested in joining, conveniently as he was in the middle of Galvanize’s coding bootcamp. I had vetted a salesperson who I’d known for 7 years. The list goes on. It looked like the team was coming together.

Over lunch with one of my mentors, I found out that he was one of the partners at a fund. He asked me, “Could you pitch in 7 days?” Yes! I can recreate this perfect storm!

I got to work only to discover that in the past six months, six competitors had popped up. Direct competitors who were deploying our unfair advantage. An unfair advantage that clinical researchers had been begging for for ten years, now being done by six companies within six months.

I shared this with my friends. Many asked me, “Do you feel dumb for waiting?”

Now, you’ll hear a lot of folks say that investors want to see competition. Competition means that it’s a good idea because multiple people are doing it. But I can spot a good idea from a mile away, having tracked over a hundred for the past two years. I had also spent two years vetting investors who were cool with brand new ideas and being first to market. So, early on I had made a more subtle positive constraint that I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or compete on purpose. For me, it’s about the bigger picture, so if the problem is being solved and well, I’m not interested in competing. If I’m first and others follow, bring it on! That sounds fun.

So I had a call with one of the directors of our biggest competitor. I shared with this person my insights in the industry, and what I thought were the next big directions. At the end of the conversation, I said, “I’m just relieved to know that everything I needed to see happen in clinical research is getting taken care of.” Now, I could transition fully to Chapter 6 with peace of mind.

Chapter 6: Bugs

I spent today car shopping. It wasn’t great. I ended up getting nothing and renting a car for 3 days. I have big plans for that car. By the way, I don’t have a car.

You see. When I was figuring out where I wanted to live next, I narrowed it down to three cities: Montreal, Seattle, and San Diego. San Diego got ruled out because it was too sprawling. And a goal of mine had been to be car free.

Anyway, I chose Seattle and became car free on January 2, 2015, selling it for more than I paid because my Carfax told me to.

Then I had happy hour with the insect entrepreneur. She shared with me that she was hiring folks, including for sales. Without really thinking, I pointed to myself. It was slow, jerky, and felt incredibly unsure, but there my finger was, pointing at myself. 

And this morning, I signed the offer letter and employment docs.

These past few days have been full of verbal processing, asking people for their thoughts, talking with sales & marketing folks who work for startups (three to be exact), and more.

These were a few of the clues.

  • While hanging out with a friend, I said, “Well, if ever there was a job that I’d have, it would be that one.
  • While hanging out with another friend, I said, “If I don’t help take that company international, I should go to jail.” I mean, if that’s what insect entrepreneur wants, which I think it is.
  • I had a dream about the job. I don’t remember what it was, and I hope I told insect entrepreneur about it when we had our call.
  • I had another dream about it, anxious but super excited.
  • More calls.

I start tomorrow.

Here’s some solid advice my Dad gave me given my temperaments.

  • Don’t try to control anything other than your job.
  • Let others make their own mistakes.
  • If you do your job correctly, they will have enough money to do everything.
from website of betahatch

Thanks, finger!

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