Friday, February 26, 2010

Dealing with Conflict

How to Confidently Deal with Conflict

How to Handle Conflict
I have to tell you that I’m not great at handling conflict.  I’d much rather have things run smoothly and make sure that everyone gets along, works together, has fun and delivers great results, so when conflict happens I feel awkward and uncomfortable.
I tend to do what I can to set things up ahead of time for smooth sailing, and I’ve really had to work hard at dealing with conflict when and if it arises.  Here’s what I’ve found has worked for me.

1. Don’t make it personal

Sometimes it’s easy to let your emotions get tangled up in things, especially if someone’s disagreeing or even attacking your position.  Anger, blame, hurt and a bunch of other provocative emotions can be at play, and before you know it you’ve got a bigger problem than you ever thought.
Don’t make it personal – people are allowed to disagree with your position, just as you’re allowed to disagree with others.
By all means be passionate, but that’s not the same as being defensive or coming out on the offensive with all guns blazing.  The moment you start taking differences of opinion as personal criticism and judgement (even if that’s exactly what’s being thrown at you) you’ll be on the defensive or offensive, so balance that passion with the facts and a healthy sprinkling of common sense and perspective.

2. Get the facts

There could be facts you need to know about or areas you need to explore before taking action.  Make sure you go deep enough into those areas to figure out the facts of what’s happening, but don’t dwell on detail after detail after detail.
This is often a tricky balance between doing enough due diligence to be informed, checking in with your instincts and leveraging your experience to anticipate the different paths, and it means you have to put a hold on resolving the conflict until all parties can do their due diligence.
Be clear on what do you need to know and the most effective ways to get those answers.  Work that out with an open mind and you’ll be in a stronger position to move forwards.

3. Listen

If you do one thing, make sure you hear everyone and respect their point of view.  This is not the same as understanding everyone’s perspective (that can take a lifetime), but it’s important to have a healthy respect for their position even if you strongly disagree.
Listening demonstrates the value of the relationships you have and that you’re willing to listen and engage with others.  That can speak louder than any amount of yelling.
Also, it might just mean that you discover a way through that hadn’t occurred to you before, giving you the opportunity to use nuggets of gold from different people to create a way forward that’s a workable and effective compromise.

4. Simple assertion

You have the right to be treated with respect and consideration, and coolly asserting that right is a powerful strategy.
To do that you need to watch that things don’t get overly complex – the more complicated you make things the more complex it’ll be for people to unravel and the more complex it’ll be to communicate clearly.  Keep things simple (jot down bullet points if it helps) and figure out the simplest, most effective way to move forwards.
If you’re in a leadership position there’s often a point where the debate needs to be over, and you need to communicate that in a way that engages rather alienates.  You might not have all the answers, but you need to be confident enough to be able to make a good decision.  Then your job is to let people know coolly, simply and unambiguously what the facts are, the way forwards and what’s expected.

5. Be ready to be wrong

If you’re wrong, admit it.  Don’t hang on to your position just for the sake of wanting to be right – that’ll just get you into more hot water, is sure to waste everyone’s time and will probably end up with you looking or feeling silly.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking being wrong is undesirable, it isn’t.  Allowing yourself to be wrong shows that you’re switched on enough to do the best thing for all concerned and find the best route through.  It demonstrates that you’re lead by integrity and are willing to take on new ideas if they work better, even if that flies in the face of what you were thinking previously.
Be ready to be wrong – that’s how you grow.

Steve Errey almost died at age 9 as he choked on a grape. Today, Steve is still feeling the effects of some extravagant spending but remains remarkably upbeat and positive. As a leading confidence coach with clients right around the world, Steve has a reputation for talking sense and getting results. Read more at The Confidence Guy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Modern Business Is Bad for Your Mental Health

Why Modern Business Is Bad for Your Mental Health

The secret backdating of stock option grants is not just corporate hanky-panky, it is criminally fraudulent. Yet starting in 2006, well over 100 US public companies were investigated for engaging in the practice. And over 50 of them hailed from within the boundaries of the Silicon Valley business community. Some executives went to jail, many more were fined, and some were barred from serving as officers of public companies.
How can this happen? In some sense, it is unbelievable — a wide swath of industry consciously engaging in criminally fraudulent behavior. It is as unbelievable as a nationwide mortgage industry gleefully offering 'NINJA' (i.e. no-income, no-job, no-assets) mortgages, then repackaging them in elegant slices and selling them to hopelessly na├»ve investors, almost bringing down the entire American economy. Where were the ethics and the values?
Bruce Springsteen explained the phenomenon once in his 1973 classic "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City":
"The devil appeared like Jesus through the steam in the street
Showin' me a hand I knew even the cops couldn't beat"
My point here is that the criminal behavior around both stock option backdating and NINJA mortgages can be understood once you understand the nature of the communities in which executives live; like the devil in Springsteen's city, these communities show their members hands that the cops find hard to beat.
It made sense to give compensation that doesn't show up on the books as compensation — an in-the-money option that is booked as a market price option — because it helps you win 'the war for talent' and maximize your shareholder value. You want to be a valued member of the Silicon Valley corporate community and that is what it takes in that community. And it is particularly important because the whole world thinks Silicon Valley is the paragon of business innovation. After the Enron fraud helped Congress gain the spine to take on Silicon Valley on the options expensing issue, Silicon Valley had the audacity to send emissaries to Congress to argue that even though it made accounting sense to expense options, it would destroy Silicon Valley and since it is the most important part of the American business community, Congress should continue to allow options to appear 'free'.
Similarly, it made sense for Wall Street investment bankers to slice, dice and repackage NINJA mortgages and foist them on investors who didn't understand what they were buying even as they were cleaning out their own portfolios of such trash — because that was what you did to succeed in the Wall Street community — and being a valued member of it was important because until late 2008, it was flying as high as high can be.
We simply have to acknowledge that the community created by a combination of shareholder value maximization dogma, executive compensation theories, Wall Street analysts and bankers, and the financial press creates an unhealthy and inauthentic community.
Think about it. A healthy community:
  • Believes in reciprocity rather than exploitation.
  • Believes in long-term relationships rather than one-off encounters.
  • Protects its weakest members rather than targeting them for gouging.
  • Worries about the externalities it creates rather than turning a blind eye to them.
  • Discourages its members from playing games that endanger the community rather than encouraging them.
Of course the vast majority of US public company executives eschew actual illegalities most of the time. That said, unless we change the fundamental quality of that community, we will continue to have periodic outbreaks of criminal behavior. After all, within the course of a single decade, we had the Enron/Worldcom/Tyco/Global Crossing/Adelphia accounting scandal, the options backdating scandal, and the sub-prime mortgage scandal. This is not an accident. This is the direct result of the rules of the unhealthy community we have created.
But as big a problem as this is — and as we continue to totter through the aftermath of the latest of the unholy trinity of scandals, it sure feels big — the bigger problem may be the effects of the inauthenticity of the community on business people as individuals. I would argue that the vast majority of US public company executives grow up in reasonably healthy communities — their extended family, their neighbors, their churches, their sports teams or music bands, their schools.
On the one hand, these healthy communities act as a prophylactic against the executive falling prey to the unhealthy corporate community into which they eventually graduate. But on the other hand, the executive experiences a profound schism between the healthy communities that shaped childhood and the unhealthy community he enters. The pressures on businesspeople to operate in ways that do not conform to the rules of a healthy and authentic community have the effect of rotting out the moral core of the modern business executive. He is encouraged to live a lie — believing one thing but living another; believing that long-term customer relationships matter but operating as if next quarter's EPS is the only thing that really does.
In 1978, Vaclav Havel wrote a wonderful essay called The Power of the Powerless in which he posited the reason that the Soviet Union was able to maintain control of its subjects at home and in the Warsaw Pact countries — including those in his Czech home, though not including Lech Walesa and his comrades in the Gdansk shipyards in Poland to whom the essay was addressed. The Soviet Union was able to maintain control by forcing its subjects to live a lie — which Havel illustrated by the story of the shopkeeper forced to keep a sign emblazoned with "Workers of the World Unite" in his stop window. Since the shopkeeper knew that the Soviet Union had long ceased to be about workers of the world uniting but rather the subjugation of its people by a ruling elite, he was living a lie by putting the sign in his window. For Havel, Walesa was refusing to live a lie by organizing a labor strike against the workers' paradise. Havel predicted that the act of refusing to live a lie would bring down the Soviet Union — and history suggests he was right.
By encouraging executives to live a lie and pay daily homage to an inauthentic and unhealthy community, we are sapping the moral authority and strength of the business community. And we are causing many young people to think that they want to avoid it like the plague because they want to be authentic. For that reason, it is imperative that we improve the health and authenticity of our business community. My next post will focus 100% on what I see as prescriptions for this situation. In the mean time, I'd like to hear your ideas.
Roger Martin is the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada and the author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Press, 2009). His website is

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Organizations Value in Leaders

What Organizations Value in Leaders: "Weekend Supplement

Bloomberg and Hay Group have have released the results of their annual survey which ranks the best companies for leadership and examines how those companies develop leaders.

Last year the quality that the Top 20 companies valued most in their leaders was execution—the ability of leaders to achieve results through others. This year, the most valued quality is strategic thinking. 'This year's emphasis on strategic thinking suggests that, like an individual recovering from a personal upheaval, businesses today are taking stock: reviewing their options, rethinking their strategies, considering new opportunities and innovations.' It also suggests more long-term thinking.



See the complete PDF summary.

'While the data suggest there is no one best way to grow leaders, the companies that do it best share certain key characteristics. The top 20 companies address leadership development on multiple fronts, from articulating how leadership behavior needs to change to meet the challenges of the future to managing their pools of successors for mission-critical roles. And, despite the chaotic, crisis-strewn atmosphere of the past year, they've continued to make leadership a top priority.'

leadership blog"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Michael Pollan: Forget Nutrition Charts, Eat What Grandma Said Is Good for You | | AlterNet

Michael Pollan: Forget Nutrition Charts, Eat What Grandma Said Is Good for You | | AlterNet

comments_imageCOMMENTS: 26

Michael Pollan: Forget Nutrition Charts, Eat What Grandma Said Is Good for You

The author of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' says science has supplanted cultural wisdom as a guide in telling us what to eat.
February 16, 2010 |
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This excerpt originally appeared in Political Awakenings: Conversations with History, published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission. Copyright © 2010 by Harry Kreisler.

Harry Kreisler: Where were you born and raised?

Michael Pollan: I was born on Long Island in the town of Hempstead and grew up the first five years in Farmingdale, on the South Shore, and then in a town called Woodbury on the North Shore.

HK: And looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

MP: Oh, in many ways, my parents and my grandparents. I got very serious about gardening as a young boy. I had a grandfather who had been in the produce business, and he was a passionate gardener--this is the late '60s--and he was very kind of reactionary, and there was not too much we connected on except plants.

I put in a garden at our house, too, in imitation of his garden, but I didn't call it a garden. I called it a farm stand, and every time I could get six strawberries together in a Dixie cup, I'd sell them to my mother. She was the only customer.

That was one thread. Another was that I have a mom who's a terrific cook and very aware of food. My grandparents still cooked very traditional Jewish food, used duck fat, goose fat, or chicken fat to cook with. I remember stuffed cabbage, big deal special holiday food, and blintzes, and a whole range of Eastern European Jewish cooking. My mother did not cook that way. She fashioned herself more of a cosmopolitan, and she cooked every different ethnic food--sometimes French, Chinese, Italian--it was the '60s, it was that moment, you know, the World's Fair.

You wanted to cook in every different kind of cuisine, and she was very good at all of them. And she doesn't cook the way my grandparents did; I don't cook that way now. So, one of the things that has struck me, writing about food, is how little stability we have in our food culture in this country, that we haven't held on to the immigrant traditions. Certain ethnic groups have more than others, but Jews? I don't think to such a great extent.

HK: It's part of the homogenization that comes with American culture.

MP: Homogenization and demonization in the case of traditional Jewish food. Everybody assumes that's lethal, to cook with all that animal fat, that that was too much meat, too much fat. It's all mythical, but the surgeon general didn't approve of a traditional Jewish diet for many, many years. So, I think that's part of it.

HK: Let's talk about being a writer and being a science writer. What are the skills involved here, do you think?

MP: I would argue that you could know too much about science to be a successful science writer. In other words, I don't have a deep background in science, and I have learned what I need to learn, article by article, book by book. I'm not far ahead of my reader. I don't take anything for granted. The jargon is weird to me, too; it's deeply unfamiliar, so I think I can write about it in a way that isn't so daunting. In one sense, science journalism is no different than any other kind of journalism. You find people who know the story, you interview them, you watch as much as you can, and you tell the story. A lot of journalists are intimidated because science seems so much more mystifying than politics, but it's no more mystifying than politics.

HK: So, being able to do research is important ...

MP: Oh, absolutely, and history in particular. I think if there's a failing of American journalism, and there are many, one is a disregard for history--very often in the origins of a phenomenon you discover the meaning of a phenomenon. And so, it's a perspective I always cover. I'm always very interested in digging back to find the history of whatever I'm writing about. So, even if it's a scientific subject, it's really important to understand the history behind it.

HK: For instance, history can make us aware that the way we get our food today really goes back to the early '70s, and that the appointment of Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz was a pivotal turning point.

MP: Well, that's a great example. We all know that subsidies are part of the problem and a waste of money. And then you dig back and you realize: oh, we changed every thing in the 1970s; we changed our agricultural policies. And there is a real turning point in the history of American agriculture and food, and that is when Earl Butz was appointed by President Nixon with the explicit mandate of forcing down the price of food, because we'd had this about food inflation. Americans took to the streets because food got so expensive in 1973. Nixon hired Earl Butz, who was very skillful in agricultural economics, and he kind of redesigned the whole system of crop support in this country in a way that stimulated farmers.

We used to hold up prices, basically, and he moved from that system to subsidizing crops and encouraging farmers to overproduce, to produce as much as possible. He was the guy who said: get bigger, get out, plant fence row to fence row, move toward monocultures, just crank out that corn and soy, and he redesigned the structure of the subsidies to encourage that.

And you can date the obesity epidemic and so many problems of the American food system to those policies--they are inadvertent consequences of what was a very popular thing, which was driving down food prices. Which he did. Americans only spend 9.5 percent of our income on food today. That's less than anybody in the history of civilization, and we have Earl Butz to thank.

HK: In understanding food and agribusiness, politics is very important.

MP: We're not aware of it, but food, like everything, is political. It is the biggest industry in the country; it's the most essential thing. We've had the luxury of not having to think about it for the last thirty years, thanks to Earl Butz and having all this cheap food around. But you know, if we as a society have to live without gasoline, which is unimaginable, we will figure out how to do it. We did it for millions of years. We've never lived without food. Food is really essential, and when you have anything that's essential, there is enormous political and economic forces that contend about how it will be organized.

In the last thirty years, we have had this kind of agriculture industrial complex, which by some measures has worked quite well. It's kept the price of food low; it's kept the food industry healthy; it's given us a lot of power overseas--we're big food exporters--but what we're getting in touch with, I think, is that the by-products of that system, or the unintended consequences and costs, are catching up--every thing from obesity to diabetes.

Because that was a system that specifically encouraged the consumption of cheap corn sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils from soy, processed foods of all kinds, a lot of cheap meat. So, there's been a public health impact that's dramatic. That is what's bankrupting the health care system: the fact that half of us suffer from chronic diseases linked to the diet.

There are $250 billion a year in costs tied to that. So, that's one set of problems.

The other set, of course, is environmental. The food system contributes more greenhouse gases than anything else, any other industry, and that happens at every level. It happens at the field, the way we fertilize crops, in the amount of energy that goes to produce that fertilizer, the way we use machinery on the farms, the way we process the food, the amount of animals, and the methane we release. It's about a third of greenhouse gases [that] come from the food system, and transporting the food all around the world, not to mention the agricultural pollution. Feed lots are the biggest source of pollution we have.

I mean, it's quite an accomplishment that you can go to a restaurant, eat a fast food meal, a big chunk of meat, French fries, large soda, for less than the minimum wage. In the history of humankind, that's quite an achievement, but it's come at a very high cost, and that cost, I think, is what we're getting in touch with right now.

HK: You've suggested that part of the problem is that industrial capitalism and agro-capitalism essentially take a discovery and then find the best way to make the most money as soon as possible ....

MP: With incomplete information.

HK: Right.

MP: Well, genetically modified crops is another great example. We figured out something about genes, and we understand some connection between a gene, a protein, and a trait, and so we figured out a couple crops where we could introduce new genes from other crops. It works, but we overlook a whole lot of complexity, which we just dismiss as static. Why is it that when we introduce this gene, 90 percent of the time you get a freak plant?

Well, we don't really know; it has something to do with gene expression; it has something to do with junk DNA. Look, reductive science is very powerful, but it's always important to understand that you're missing some of the complexity. When you apply that reductive science you can get into trouble because you're mistaking what you know for all there is to know. So, there's a lack of humility involved, and there is a tendency to apply these things long before we know what's working and what's not working.

HK: A key turning point here is the Haber-Bosch process, which you've written about. Talk a little about that because it is a major turning point in seeing synthetic fertilizer as the be-all and end-all of every thing.

MP: The great crisis of 1900 was there's not enough nitrogen to feed everybody. Before then, all the nitrogen that was used in agriculture came from bacteria in the soil fixing it. That was proving to be inadequate; crops were failing. The Haber-Bosch process is basically the fixing of nitrogen, synthetic nitrogen, and it was a great invention; by some estimates 40 percent of the people on earth are here because of that process.

However, it's a great example of a powerful technology that's had a lot of negative effects. Synthetic nitrogen, when it oxidizes in the soil, becomes nitrous oxide, which is a very potent greenhouse gas. Nitrogen fertilizer became so cheap and is used so profligately that it runs down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created this dead zone. And over time we have found that using too much synthetic nitrogen ruins the structure of the soil; it becomes too salty and basically nothing will grow. And you have the declining yield curve that we've seen all through the green revolution countries because of too much nitrogen in the fertilizer.

The green revolution, for example, is the application of these technologies to the developing world: hybrid seed, fertilizer, ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and irrigation techniques, and growing in monocultures. There're a lot of very good intentions. There was a serious goal of feeding the world, but over the long term, it's been a disaster.

So, a lot of these technologies are double-edged swords. They're wonderful and powerful, and they're horrible and disastrous.

HK: And what happens, it seems, is a loss of checks and balances, that we don't continue to monitor the process and, as more information comes along, think about what the implications are. Is journalism at fault here, because we have no language to address the problems?

MP: Journalism could play a more aggressive role in assessing these things, but, in the end, journalism reflects the political culture of a country. One of the reasons we didn't have a debate about genetically modified crops before we introduced them in this country is because both the Republicans and the Democrats supported Monsanto and GMO technology, and when both political parties are on the same side, there's no space for journalists to operate.

When you're introducing technologies, you need a public discussion, and you need to think through what are the benefits and what are the risks. And that must be decided publicly, not privately.

I think a lot of our problem is that we assume all technologies are innocent until proven guilty, in this country especially. We're technological utopians, and we think you're a party pooper if you raise questions about genetically modified crops. There's a lot of money and potential in it, a lot of interesting intellectual property for a lot of people, and you're a Luddite if you raise any kinds of questions. And then forty, fifty years later we deal with the possible impacts. It's not to say that synthetic fertilizer was something we should not have done, but had we applied more of a precautionary science to it, we might have anticipated some of the problems and been able to mitigate them before they got too serious. So, I think it's a society problem.

HK: You've written about 'nutritionism' as a kind of ideology that purports to be a science--tell us more about that.

MP: We've adopted the reductive language of nutrition from the scientists: we all talk about saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup. It's fascinating to listen to Americans talk about food today. They sound like a bunch of amateur scientists. They don't talk about foods; they talk about nutrients. It's bizarre when you think about it, and it's been a fascinating phenomenon to watch.

"Nutritionism" is an ideology about food that's become general, and it's got four basic principles. The first is: foods don't matter, nutrients do. A food is essentially the sum of its nutrient parts, and a food, like steak, is a vehicle for carrying protein and saturated fat, because that's what matters.

The next premise is that you can divide the world into good and bad nutrients. There's always an evil nutrient that we're trying to rid from the food supply--trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, or saturated fat--and, on the other side is a blessed nutrient: if you could just get enough of that you'll be fine, you'll live forever. And that, of course, was fiber for a long time; now it's antioxidants or omega-3 fatty acids.

A third principle is if the important thing in food is a nutrient, and nutrients are invisible to normal people, then you need experts to tell you how to eat.

And the fourth premise of nutritionism is that the whole point of eating is health. You're either ruining your health or you're improving your health with every meal. And that's a kind of bizarre view of food. I mean, people eat for a great many other reasons.

So, I think we've lost our sense of food; we've lost our sense of eating as a complex social, as well as biological, phenomenon, involving community and identity and pleasure. All these categories have vanished under this regime of nutritionism. My last book is kind of a manifesto against nutritionism and in favor of returning food to the center of our discussion about food and making health a byproduct of a happy relationship to food, rather than the goal of eating.

HK: And that takes you back to the culture of food that you might have found at your grandparents' table, I think.

MP: You're right. We've essentially displaced culture as a guide in telling us what to eat and put science in its place. We think cultural wisdom about food is just old wives' tales; if your grandmother thought it was true--I mean, what did she know? We have scientists now who can tell us all about antioxidants.

Yet the grandmothers were right about a lot of things. I was on a call-in show in Australia recently and a woman called and said, "My grandmother used to always say, eat your colors." Now that's a very interesting rule. We now know that the important plant chemicals all have a different color, and indeed, eating different colored foods is a guarantee that you are getting the diversity of antioxidants and phytochemicals you need to be healthy.

How did that grandmother know that? This was before we knew what an antioxidant was.

So, my premise in this book is that culture still has a lot to teach us about food, and indeed, it is still wiser about food than science. I have enormous respect for nutrition science, and I hope that someday they'll figure it out, but they haven't yet. Nutrition science is approximately where surgery was in the year 1650.

We would do well to tune down that whole debate about fats and carbs that you read in the media, and not put so much stock in the latest nutritional finding, because it will be contradicted by the next nutritional finding, and to return to the cultural wisdom about how to eat, which guided people very well for a very long time.

HK: You write about creating your own garden, which is a source for you not only of the subjects of interest but also of the values that drive your perception of the world. In that discussion, you also make a distinction between a gardener and a naturalist. Talk a little about that, because you seem to be suggesting that to see things whole, you have to be whole yourself, and gardening is a way to get there.

MP: I think that's right. Look, a lot of my work grows out of my experience in the garden. My first book, called Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, was really an attempt to use what I was doing and experiencing in the garden as a place to explore our relationship to the natural world.

Traditionally in America, if you wanted to explore your relationship to nature you'd go to the wilderness, you'd do the Thoreau thing, the Emerson thing, the Melville thing. You have your confrontation with wild nature, and that's essential and authentic and a beautiful discussion, and it's given us things like the wilderness park, an American cultural invention, the idea of preserving a wild place that for most of history was regarded as wastelands and ugly landscapes. We learned how to appreciate them, and we've elevated them, and we've saved them.

But that whole discussion--and that worship of wilderness-- doesn't help you with many other questions, or with the 92 percent of the American landscape you can't lock up. There are so many places where we need to engage with nature without destroying it, but we also can't just leave it alone. And the garden, in a way, is the great symbol of that place.

It's a place where we mix ourselves up with nature, where we are in this reciprocal relationship with other species affecting us, and we're affecting them, and it's a beautiful place, ideally. There is conflict, though; there are weeds; there are bugs. You can't get away from that, but merely sitting back and worshiping it will give you a disastrous garden and no crop to eat.

So, I began then, with that very first book, getting interested in that messy place between the human world and the wild, and trying to figure out how to behave in that world in a way that I could get what I wanted while also not destroying or diminishing nature. Food is another one of those messy places. I think that the garden is a really important model and that if we would let the garden guide us in our dealings with the natural world--and by that, I mean agriculture, architecture, design--I think we would be better off.

HK: How has agribusiness failed to consider this?

MP: Basically it's pushed too hard on the culture side of that dialectic and not appreciated that nature can't be bent to our will completely. Agribusiness essentially conceives of a farm or a garden as a factory: you put in these inputs--fertilizer, irrigation water, hybrid seed, pesticide--and you get out those outputs, and nature is just the factory floor.

That doesn't work because nature has its own interests. Nature pushes back. Nature is an obstacle to certain things we want to do, so that you need to think more like a gardener than a factory manager. When you do that, you find that there are ways to grow food of incredible quality, beauty, and healthfulness, while nature goes about getting what she needs. And that's really the challenge of good farming, figuring out a non-zero sum way.

Most of our farming is like mining: we extract from the earth, we extract nutrients from the soil, we diminish the land the longer we farm it. So, is there a way we can get what we want from nature and leave nature not just undiminished but actually improved?

The garden shows that yes, that's possible. You have to know a lot; you have to know about ecology, entomology, soil science, but we have models. I've been on farms that are doing that right now. So, that's really the challenge--to bring the wisdom of the gardener to these larger arenas like the farm.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More on Motivation: Knowledge Workers like Progress

More on Motivation: Knowledge Workers like Progress

Catherine Gewrtz, EdWeek, make great observation here that the ability to see progress is a great motivator.  Check out Harvard Business Review, ”this is worth a look.”

Catherine continues:
It’s an argument for the importance of feeling that you are making progress in your work. The authors studied “knowledge workers” of many stripes, and found that recognition, incentives, interpersonal support and clear goals are not as high on the motivation scale as that sense of making progress in your work.”
Some schools and students will soon jump from no data to full keystroke data (tracked responses to instructional experiences to the keystroke level).  The instantaneous feedback, as we see from game playing, is addictive and instructive.

The power of individualized learning models (eg, RISC in Alaska, AdvancePath, EdVisions) is the ability for students to influence and monitor their own learning path.

Progress is motivation.

And motivation is everything in life and learning.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Five Stones of Pro�Food - The Snap Blog - Sugarsnap - Fresh, Healthy Food from Farm to Table

The Five Stones of Pro�Food - The Snap Blog - Sugarsnap - Fresh, Healthy Food from Farm to Table


The first leap one must make in embracing Pro Food is that significant change is required in how we grow, process, distribute, prepare and consume food.
As nearly a month has passed since Pro Food Is was published, it is safe to report that people, mostly industry and corporate representatives, don’t see the need to change. They vigorously defend the status quo, while refusing to seriously consider the concerns of a growing percentage of consumers, entrepreneurs and sustainable food advocates. Worse, they regularly deflect any inquires by claiming that those asking questions and/or seeking change are “demonizing” farmers and taking away individual “freedoms” and “choices.”
What I fear the entrenched industrial food system is missing are historic indicators that should give them pause, at a minimum, and ideally get them to gain new perspective and seriously consider embracing some or all of Pro Food’s core principles. What they need to do is consider the following transcript from an interview in the film Blind Spot with Utah State University historian and anthropologist Joseph Tainter:
In ancient societies that I studied, for example the Roman Empire, the great problem that they faced was when they would have to incur very high costs just to maintain the status quo. Invest very high amounts in solving problems that don’t yield a net positive return, but instead simply allowed them to maintain what they already got. This decreases the net benefit of being a complex society.
While the dominate food industry players try opening their minds to the idea that their now-overly-complex system may be on the verge of collapse, Pro Food entrepreneurs are busy working to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Like the early days of the Internet, when foundational ideas were taking shape, today’s foodpreneurs sense openings throughout the food chain to disrupt the status quo. These foodpreneurs will be armed with Pro Food’s unique set of tools that will be difficult, if not impossible, for most industrial food companies to emulate.
I like to think of these tools as The Five Stones of Pro Food, each specially designed to attract mainstream customers, while striking at one of several core weaknesses of industrialized food (a.k.a., Goliath). Over time, as more Pro Food entrepreneurs jump in, building on earlier successes, Goliaths will begin to fall, some faster than others.

Stone #1 – Decentralization

The foundation of America’s economy is best represented by millions of small businesses that start, grow, prosper and fail every year. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2006 identified nearly six million firms with fewer than 100 employees, representing 98 percent of all U.S. firms, 35 percent of all employees, and 30 percent or nearly $1.5 trillion in annual payroll.
A handful of these ventures, starting with nothing, grow to levels never imagined, e.g., Wal-Mart, which belongs to the elite class of U.S. firms employing over 10,000 employees (one of 953 such firms in 2006). With such growth, ownership nearly always moves from within the company to outside investors, contributing to these companies gradually losing sight of the path they took to such prominence and dominance in the first place. This trend is especially troubling with regard to food, something that every American needs to survive, which has ended up being controlled by few.
Thankfully, Americans love the underdog. We distrust power. We are inspired by Herculean efforts against equally big odds. And, at the end of the day, we value community over corporations.

Stone #2 – Triple Bottom Line

While decentralization is an outcome of the Pro Food revolution, it’s the bottom line focus of Pro Food companies that will fuel momentum. And unlike the pure profit plays dominating today’s industrial food landscape, true Pro Food companies embrace a triple bottom-line approach to building great companies.
Haven’t heard of triple bottom line? You’re not alone, as corporate America, with few exceptions, hasn’t either. In the simplest terms, “triple bottom line (TBL) accounting means expanding the traditional reporting framework to take into account ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance.” You may also hear TBL referred to as “corporate social responsibility.”
While some companies, e.g., Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Seventh Generation, have done a great job of integrating these ideas into day-to-day operations of traditional corporate structures, today’s new ventures, including those formed by Pro Food foodpreneurs, have new options for incorporate their mission and values into the actual structure of the company’s charter by forming a low-profit limited liability corporation (L3C) or B Corp. In my 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley and beyond, there has never been a better time to be a socially responsible company than today.

Stone #3 – Sustainable Food

As outlined in Pro Food Is, our efforts center on “fresh, healthy, and sustainable food,” which starts with farmers and ends with consumers cooking and eating meals incorporating those foods. Seems straightforward enough, but not to those defending cheap calories as a substitute for real food.
As a consumer-driven economy, they know that what matters most at the end of the day is how consumers spend their food dollars. Sustainable foods face the daunting challenge of competing against their heavily subsidized highly processed foods, cheaply made and cheaply sold. This cost advantage is unlikely to change anytime soon.
For the foodpreneur, this represents opportunities to create new, more effective ways for consumers to engage with the food they eat, which can happen anywhere in the food chain, including at the farm, processor, distributor or retail level. Innovations in retail experiences, from how foods are packaged to how retail space is configured, offer fertile ground for change. As the number of ventures increases, consumers will gain more access to sustainable foods, while the established industrial food system will simultaneously find itself being challenged on multiple fronts. In the end, sustainable food will triumph over cheap calories.

Stone #4 – Transparency

Beyond increasing access to sustainable food, what consumers will most quickly recognize is how the sustainable food they are finding offers transparency all the way the back to its source. This is a significant departure from today’s cheap calories, chock full of highly processed ingredients, many of which come from genetically modified (GM) crops, especially soybean and corn, which respectively account for 85 percent and 45 percent of all crops planted in the United State. Moving downstream, it has been estimated that 70-75 percent of processed foods contain one or more GM ingredients.
The problem is that consumers have no way of telling if the food they are buying or eating contain things like GM ingredients. Does it seem like too much to ask to know what is in our food? Apparently it is for companies like Monsanto and name-brand industrial food (calorie) manufacturers. Why? Because they know that given the choice, many consumers would opt for foods without GM ingredients, which would devastate profits.
With transparency, on a voluntary basis, comes trust. Industrial food doesn’t do voluntary, although it points to those who do as an example of food people can buy without, say, GM ingredients.
Pro Food entrepreneurs value transparency as core to their missions. Consumers deserve the right to know where food comes from, how it was grown/raised/processed and what is in it. By practicing transparency from the get go, Pro Food ventures will quickly intersect with growing consumer demands, and thus accelerate a shift in market share away from the hidden ingredients at the core of cheap calories.

Stone #5 – Accessibility

What may be Pro Food’s greatest competitive advantage is its ability to build new ventures, leveraging triple bottom-line structures and sustainable food as its primary product, to address food security issues that plague low-income and disadvantaged segments of the U.S. population.
What industrial food tells the public, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising expenditures, is that it can feed the world. While I work hard to maintain my objectivity, this particular marketing message crosses the line. There are one billion people around the global that go hungry every day, while a billion more are characterized as obese. How can a food system make claims of feeding the world when it is clearly leaving both ends of the global population wanting?
It can’t. Pro Food can and will, as one of its most important core principles is ensuring communities are enriched, including every citizen, despite socio-economic status.

Clearly, new food ventures utilizing The Five Stones of Pro Food have the opportunity to disrupt the industrial food system at various points. There are already examples of this happening throughout the food chain, from Will Allen’s Growing Power to an alliance between Good Natured Family Farms and Ball Food Stores, to name a few.
Early Pro Food pioneers, with dirt on their hands, lessons learned and progress made, played a critical role in defining the right set of stones. Some of those companies have grown dramatically, e.g., Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR; market cap of ~$2.5 billion). Others have been acquired by larger companies, e.g., Stonyfield Yogurt (acquired by Groupe Danone), Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), Burt’s Bees (The Clorox Company). Still others have remained independent.
The next wave of start ups, which I characterize as Pro Food 1.0, will have the advantage of leveraging the many lessons learned by these pioneers, which will allow them more time to focus on how best to utilize their Pro Food Stones, e.g., as a set of stones to take down a Goliath, to build a strong arch with the all important keystone for locking other stones in place, or to create a long and formidable path through dangerous terrain (more on this in future posts).
The potential of The Five Stones of Pro Food is clear. With concerted entrepreneurial effort, and corresponding consumer support, these five stones have the potential to take down the industrial food Goliaths.
It is no longer a matter of if, but when.
Pro Food – The Business of Sustainable Food™

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Harnessing Your Brain Power - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Harnessing Your Brain Power - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Harnessing Your Brain Power

In my last post, I described the unique talents of a middle-aged brain. To take full advantage of these skills, which include an increased ability to see patterns and make connections, you need a brain that is healthy and functioning.
And here recent science is helping, too. Old ideas that we lose 40 percent of our neurons as we age have been discounted. Now we know we keep most of our brain cells. The task, then, is to help those brain cells stay in shape.
And for that, some solutions are surprisingly simple. One of the best things we can do for our brains is to continue to work. Most modern jobs — even most modern hobbies — are multi-layered and involve socialization as well as problem-solving.
But we also have to, as brain scientists say, "get out of our comfort zones.'' Research shows that it helps to search out people — and ideas — that are different, to rattle established brain patterns, and shake up the cognitive egg to spur growth. (And another good reason to listen to younger colleagues.)
In particular, we need to push our brains in new ways to force them to use their most sophisticated section, the frontal lobes, the part right behind our foreheads that helps us focus, plan, and think strategically. Scientists are investigating whether certain video games can be developed to keep the pathways to our frontal lobes smooth and open. But in the meantime anything that makes our brain work really hard — and wrestle with the new — will help keep your frontal lobes in tune.
There are tricks, too, of course. It helps, when trying to cement a new fact or face to use different parts — or more parts — of our brains. If you want to remember a name, it can help to attach a facial feature to it — Bob, big forehead, for instance. In a similar way, the simple act of visualizing yourself doing something you need to remember to do — writing a memo to Bob — creates a bigger "neural footprint'' and gives you more ways to retrieve the information you need.
And, while you're busy visualizing, you also might consider getting up and moving around. The current star in brain science research is exercise. The brain, like the heart, needs oxygen and blood flow. Old ideas that nutrients and growth factors produced in the muscles don't cross the blood brain barrier are no longer valid.
Indeed, using your body may be the best thing you can do for your body's most crucial part — your brain.
Barbara Strauch is a deputy science editor and health and medical science editor at The New York Times and author The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind (Viking), coming out in April.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Neighborhood Pride: Ten Ideas To Boost Block Spirit - Walking Distance - GOOD

Neighborhood Pride: Ten Ideas To Boost Block Spirit 

Neighborhood Pride: Ten Ideas To Boost Block Spirit

crest_002Creating community is easier than you think.

Is it just me or, is the modern urban neighborhood getting remarkably old-fashioned? In the Los Feliz (locals pronounce this los-FEE-liz) community of Los Angeles where I live, it feels like everything that was old is new (and smart) again. Things my grandparents in Kentucky have always done—checking in on neighbors, sharing a new crop of tomatoes—seem not so much folksy as generally just a good way to live, even if you are in the big city.

So, as my way to welcome you to this new space on GOOD, here’s a list of ways (organized from most ambitious to least) you might improve your little corner of town. Welcome toWalking Distance.

1.Turn your front yard into a farm.

Grass is an expensive, water-intensive waste of space. Rip out the sod and start a small front yard farm to produce food for your household and some of your favorite neighbors. Sounds daunting (or don’t have a yard)? Organize some other like-minded urban agrarians and transform a vacant lot into a community garden. You may even get a tax credit.

2. Start a neighborhood time bank.

Time banks are a fantastic way to leverage skills the larger economy doesn’t always value. “In a time bank, everyone’s time is valued in the same way” says Autumn Rooney, organizer of the Echo Park Time Bank in Los Angeles. Exchange a French lesson for a ride to the airport or watch someone’s cat for a tennis lesson. The key is to have a system in place to facilitate the exchange. Oh, and make sure you know how to throw a party. “You should be a people person,” says Rooney. The group hosts biweekly parties to recruit new neighbors and refine the process. Learn how to start your own here.

3. Make every Sunday a block party.

Sundays are lazy time, and the worldwide movement Ciclovia has taken advantage of our weekend sloth. “There’s less traffic on Sunday,” says Tim Joe Linton, one of the organizers of cicLAvia an initiative to bring the car free days to the car capital of the world. Aside from the obvious benefits of music and picnics in the street, letting the bikes take over can be a boon to the local economy. “Many local shops see their business double,” Linton says.

4. Start a bowling league*. 

Robert Putnam wrote a treatise on the decline of civic participation in America rooted in unlikely data: Americans aren’t bowling together anymore. What does bowling have to do with civic engagement you say? Read Bowling Alone (keeping in mind it was written before the Obama campaign) and in the meantime, choose a team color, a regular night to meet, and see how bowling together makes you feel not so alone.

*If you and your neighbors aren’t the bowling types, find another team sport that requires matching uniforms and a regular meeting time. Kickball? Capture the Flag? 

5. Leverage social media for you library and other neighborhood resources. 

Start a blog (or Facebook fan page) for your library branch, a city wiki, or Google map for your neighborhood. This will help you (and your grateful neighbors) make the best use of your local resources. The more input the better, so enlist your neighbors to help and you’ll be amazed at what you discover about your local haunts. Davis, California’s, Wiki is about as good as it gets.

6. Throw a potluck with your neighbors. 

All of them. This may mean inviting people you may not know, like, or otherwise find interesting, but that’s what makes this fun: everyone is invited. If you want to add some entertainment, include a slideshow. Learn from the experts at Slideluck Potshow.

7. Bring back hide and go seek.

Nothing makes a block come alive like kids (or adults) playing games outside. Other games to teach the youngsters: freeze tag, dodge ball, and how to catch lightning bugs (and free them, of course).

8. Build a community treehouse.

Do I really need a reason? Get some treehouse inspiration here.

9. Install a bench in front of your house (and create other types of informal public spaces).

Temporary dog parks, hop scotch zones, and dumpster pools work too.

10. Say hi to your neighbors. 

Now that one’s not so hard, is it?

Here's to dynamic neighborhoods, smarter communities, and the treehouse making a comeback. How are you breathing life back into your neighborhood?

Kyla Fullenwider is the Pepsi Refresh Project Ambassador for Neighborhoods. Learn more about the Pepsi Refresh Project here, and submit your own idea for how to move the world forward here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wendell Berry's 17 Rules for a Sustainable Economy

Wendell Berry's 17 Rules for a Sustainable Economy: "

Migrating Robin
Robins coming through on their way back North

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness
of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work,
unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding
industries for local products to ensure that the community does not
become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the
local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures
outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest
in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without
dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its

12. See that the old and young take
care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not
necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no
institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community
knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now
conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be
debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic
value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly
increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face
their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will
depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are
talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than

Robins and Wachovia Bank
Robins fly by Wachovia Bank