Myopia and the Snowball Effect



Climate Change.  Inequality.  Epidemics.  Water shortages.  Biodiversity.  The list goes on.

We know the issues are out there, but we choose to ignore them.

It’s not my problem.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Someone else will take care of it.  Maybe it will just go away.

We tell ourselves these things to avoid acting as we’re too busy, too tired, too overworked, too whatever to get involved.

So we bury our heads in the sand and hope it goes away. Continue reading

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It’s time to reframe corporate sustainability

Flickr/Martin Rødvand
Flickr/Martin Rødvand

This post first appeared at

My first big CSR/sustainability event was the 2010 Net Impact Conference held at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School. I had been invited there to speak on a panel on the topic of intrapreneurship, which gave me the opportunity to sit in on a number inspiring and insightful talks. One of the sessions I attended was an interview with Aron Cramer, the CEO of BSR.

As I recall, much of that hopeful, engaging discussion centered on transparency – a topic that’s close to my heart. The concept of radical transparency is pretty simple. It’s the idea that firms will endeavor to be as transparent as they possibly can, both externally with customers, communities and competitors and internally throughout the organization. It’s akin to asking a fully armored knight to strip down to a fig leaf. This is an idea I fully agree with, and it’s one that helped give rise to the idea which prompted this post. Continue reading

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Am I Pavlov’s Human? Part II

A quick update to my last post.

In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d share a snapshot of the tracking sheet that I developed for this project.  I typically spend about forty minutes each day (M-F) on my bike commute and have been at that for the past two and a half years, so I’m netting that out of the totals for the exercise that I track during the work week as the goal is to track incremental exercise.  (The plan didn’t take shape until yesterday, so let’s agree to ignore Monday.) Continue reading

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Am I Pavlov’s Human? Part I

I have a fitness tracker.and it has changed my life in unimaginable ways.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I do have one, but I can’t say that the magic of data has made much of a difference in my health.  Not yet anyways.

I bought my fitness tracker in December of last year and I dutifully started tracking my sleep.  Unfortunately, you have to remember to tap the monitor a few times to put it into “sleep mode.”  Being the type of person that reads/writes basically to exhaustion most nights, I’m not exactly at peak alertness when I head to bed, so I was able to keep that process going for about a week. Colleagues tell me that the sleep tracking function is great, but it doesn’t appear that I’ll ever share their experience.

Then there’s the exercise tracking.  I thought that the device would track my biking activities via smartphone/GPS connection.  I assumed wrong.  It only tracks walking/running, so my daily commutes, trips to the store, and mountain biking adventures are invisible to the device.  Shame on me for not doing the proper research, but I’m still shocked that it doesn’t handle this.

Fortunately, I do walk a fair amount, so the tracking does come in handy there. But, I thought the app would do more to encourage me to get up and move when I’ve been sedentary. If such functionality exists, I haven’t found it.



My Plan

I’ve decided to try a new approach with this and am going to use the device’s silent alarm feature to help drive behavior change.

I’ve already used this functionality to help nudge me towards bed in the evening by having it go off thirty minutes before my desired bedtime. As one who had virtually no sense of time, it’s easy for me to go down the rabbit hike of a book, or the web, and not realize that it’s “suddenly” hours later than I suspected. Using the silent alarm as a reminder that it’s almost time for bed forces me to prioritize and make relatively good use of that time, while also helping me get to bed at a reasonable time much more often than I did before starting that practice.

My next effort will attempt to incorporate the same feature into an exercise regiment. I’ve set the silent alarm go off every ninety minutes throughout the workday. When the alarm goes off, I will assess where I’m at in my work, and if possible, go for a quick walk or a bike ride.

The goal of this is to increase my physical activity by at least thirty minutes per day. I’m going to do this for the next four weeks and will report back with the results (unless I forget about this tomorrow).

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What’s for dinner? (Part 1)

I fear we’re still doing it wrong.  Well, it’s kind of obvious that we’re doing it wrong, but I think we’re trying to get it right in ways that don’t seem close to what we need to do to get it right.  As a society, we collectively shrug our shoulders at the specter of things like the ecological impacts of climate change.  The slow-moving, amorphous nature of which has us treating the issue as if it were equal to a day at the spa, when in truth we’re already actively engaged as boiling frogs.

August 19 was this year’s Earth Overshoot Day, the day in which the Global Footprint Network estimates that we’d used up the annual replenishable bounty the earth provides for us.  With 134 days left in the year, the cupboard which the planet’s ecosystems had filled with this year’s “crops,” was already bare.  That means we’re going into our ecological savings account for over a third of the year’s needs.  Increasing demand from the existing population base, paired with a growing population, leads to a compounding of an issue that’s already highly problematic.  In fact, the original Earth Overshoot Day occurred in early October of 2000.  So, in the space of just fourteen years, we’ve moved this date forward over forty days.  I have to wonder how much longer we can press in this direction.

Continue reading

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The Apptrepreneurs won’t save us

The sharing economy has been widely praised, but I wonder if many of the firms are deserving. The Apptrepreneurs promise untold riches of convenience, but do they create value?  Before we print further billions for them, we might want to take a moment to explore exactly what it is that they’re sharing.

I’ve been planning to write something on this for a while, as there are numerous reports of worker exploitation to discuss, but there’s a new development that I wanted to take a look at tonight.  A report from The Verge avers that Uber has been systematically working to muscle out their competition.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like sharing to me. In fact, I believe the fake Jeff Jarvis account might be on to something.

To be blunt, the sharing economy often isn’t about sharing.  In fact, the operative word ought to typically be usurping.

Let’s put that idea to the test.  What is Uber sharing?  They’re sharing YOUR CAR.  What about AirBNB?  They’re sharing YOUR HOUSE.

What does this mean?  It’s something I find to be pretty incredible.  They’ve managed to get us to buy and maintain the assets, while they take a tidy fee for coordinating transactions.  Think about it.  They’re running a cab service without buying, maintaining and running cabs.  They’re running hotels without buying, maintaining and running hotels. Hiring, training, benefits? Piff!

If we’re talking in terms of profit maximization, then this just might be the most brilliant thing to come along in years, but don’t call that the Sharing Economy.  Call it what it is, usurping.

Fortunately, there’s some good news.  There are real sharing economy firms.  Yerdle is probably the one I’m most familiar with.  They give you the opportunity to share things you no longer use and then to find things which you actually would use.

Flickr/Alan Levine

Flickr/Alan Levine

Did you give up kite surfing after the move to the Midwest?  Offer the gear up on Yerdle and someone who can use it will take it off your hands.  You earn points for the things you provide, and then use then use those points when you find something which you’re in need of.  It’s a pure gift exchange.

Depending on your perspective, value is either created, or at least the unnecessary creation of waste is obviated.  One less thing sitting in a closet pining for use is one less thing being needlessly made.  I find that to be a fair and worthy deal. So there’s the yardstick.  Are the Apptrepreneurs using your stuff to make a quick buck, or is it a true sharing opportunity?  Are they an engorged tick feeding off the corpus of an existing industry, or are they blithely facilitating desired transactions which would otherwise likely not occur?

Ask those questions and I think you’ll have a much better idea of whether it’s really sharing, or whether usurpation is ruling the day.  If it’s the latter, I’d steer clear. Expect radical transparency from sharing economy firms.  Find out what you can about the way they treat their “employees,” as well as the competition.  How do the reasons to complaints on social media? And what kind of performance do they have along environmental lines?



If you feel good about what you learn, then jump in with both feet. If it seems like they’re playing dirty pool, I’d advise steering clear of their queue.

Here’s even better news.  There’s no long-term viability for a usurper.  Anyone can hire a team of developers and provide an as good or better tech offering.  The only thing that holds this together is the community.  If people feel they’e being unfairly treated, they’ll jump ship for another service.  And I’m sure it won’t be long before there’s a Kayak or type of meta service which will hit multiple apps and bring back all of the options.  (Do you want the $80 surge pricing ride from Uber, or the $55 ride from Lyft?)

The only way that Uber can sustain it’s current model is to find a way to keep out the competition.  Hence the aforementioned efforts to do just that.  That may allow them to pump up their value for an IPO, but that’s a recipe for look out below over the long haul.

Caveat emptor.

You’ve schemed more than you have

You’ve borrowed more than you know

Better to steal the crumbs

It makes it easier to go

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Are you a Radical Intrapreneur?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what we need from business leaders.  And by business leaders, I mean everyone who is actively making (or influencing) business decisions.  We know there are myriad problems which we need to deal with.  We know we have a limited amount of time with which to right the ship.  As such, we have to rethink the way we do business, but I think there’s a growing cabal of folks who can help get us where we need to go.  I call them as Radical Intrapreneurs.

I know the word radical tends to make folks fret, so let’s try to uncoil that reaction with a few definitions.Radical 1

“Whoa Nellie!”

“Children, avert thine eyes!”

Okay.  There’s the definition that can make folks a bit queasy.  Fair enough.  But that’s not the one I intended.  So let’s try the next one on and see how that fits.Radical 2

How does that sound?  A bit more palatable?  I hope so.

If you’re still feeling a bit uncomfortable with the word, that’s okay.  It’s bound to be a long journey, so there’ll be plenty of time to get used to the idea.

The Framework

Being a Radical Intrapreneur is to accept the helm of change leadership.  And not just any kind of change, but the kind of changes that we need to get business to work in a way that benefits the bulk of humanity, while replenishing (instead of destroying) the planet.  The 2-by-2 graph below charts the path which I’ve tread and I think most who are in similar shoes have taken a similar journey.

The Passion/Capability Martrix

The Passion/Capability Martrix

We start out in the lower-left quadrant with little or no knowledge of csr/sustainability issues.  A sort of awakening occurs from there as we become aware of issues caused by extant business practices.  Our sense of justice is triggered.  We dive in looking to learn more.  What problems exist and what might we do about it?  We move into the advocate phase where we’re often driven more by a sense of injustice than by any specific knowledge.  We talk to anyone who will listen about the problems.  We might get a little preachy, but we’re trying to fix what’s broken, right?  As advocates, we’re good at getting these issues in front of others, but we might not yet have the skills and knowledge necessary for the next phase.

What we need now is two sets of skills: business and sustainability.  These two skills have often been seen as mutually exclusive.  Pin-striped suits off to one side and dirty hippies to the other; and never the twain should they meet… until recently that is.

Times have changed.  Businesses can’t go on externalizing social and environmental ills forever and environmentalists can’t expect businesses to give up the ghost to save the whales.  There has to be a middle ground.

And so there is.

Radical Intrapreneurs occupy this middle ground.  They work to gain the knowledge necessary to consider triple bottom line values and the business acumen necessary to design and implement solutions which optimize performance on a range of factors.  It’s not easy.  Honestly, it tends to be hard as hell.  But when you get it right, it’s a thing of beauty.  And we have to get it right.  We don’t have a choice.

I suppose I’ll be writing a lot on this topic in the coming years.  I hope you’ll join me in the conversation.  More importantly, if you’re not already there, I hope you’ll join me on this path.  All are welcome and in fact quite needed.  And if you’re out in front of me, all the better.  Be sure to light the way.  I’ll need all the help I can get.

See you there?

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