I love New York

Why do I like Citibike so much (when it works)? True, it helps me cut my long commute (a bit), and it’s a rare innovation in transportation in a country that, thanks to our love affair with cars, radically underinvests in transportation infrastructure. It’s got some geeky software and data tie ins too, which I like, and it also serves as commentary on modern “public services” that, due to the need to show financial sustainability, aren’t as public as they used to be – hence the concentration in Manhattan south of 59th street.

But there’s something bigger and much more personal going on.

As a native New Yorker, I’ve watched my city change a lot in the last 40 years. It used to be a grimy, dangerous place, where you never took the subway if you could avoid it, where most of Central Park was dirt and dust, not lush, fenced-in fields. When I was a kid I watched bodegas and locksmiths on the Upper West Side turn into ristorantes and, eventually, high end, bobo-fied chains. I saw Times Square morph from the underbelly of the city, where 3-card monte players would set up on cardboard boxes to fleece tourists and locals alike, to a place that you could almost drop into Disney Land.

And yet, through all the facelifts and gentrification, New York City is still New York City – even if it’s become a kinder, gentler, more upper class version of itself.

My new, daily, Citibike-powered, two-and-a-half mile ride through the heart of Manhattan is a chance to see all the things that haven’t changed about New York City. It’s a daily glimpse of the kaleidoscope that still is this city if you just scratch the surface. It’s a reminder that, despite all the changes, New York City is still a crush of people and cultures and races mixing together, mostly, without much trouble.

New York is my experience on each and every afternoon ride. It is Sikhs driving Lincoln Navigators, edging into the bike lane. It is smokers with white earbuds, scowling; Japanese tourists with H&M bags; tourists of all stripes looking up and not forward; businessmen in a rush, looking down at their BlackBerrys.

New York is, still, bleary-eyed med students in scrubs, blinking in the afternoon light; watch repairmen, falafel-makers, computer repair hideouts. It is Yankees fans in pinstripes, Rangers fans on an open bus, barreling towards Madison Square Garden, bike messengers with Beats headphones and giant canvas bags, drummers in Hawaiian surfer shirts spinning their sticks and dreaming of their next gig. New York is Bangladeshi kids in strollers talking to moms wearing shawls; it is tourists snapping pictures in front of minor landmarks and yellow mobs of taxis vying for a fare. It is throngs and throngs and throngs of jay-walkers in high heels and high hair, sweating on an early summer afternoon

I (still) Love New York.

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Lean for Social Impact – June 23rd

I’m thrilled to announce that on June 23rd I’ll be the lead instructor, together with Bob Dorf as Chief Mentor, for the new +Acumen course Lean for Social Change.  This is our first large-scale launch of this course, after a very successful pilot late last year.  Sabrina and Afzal wrote a great post sharing what they got out of the first course.

You can sign up for the course here.

Bob is a startup guru, and having the opportunity to partner with him is incredible.  In case you don’t now Bob, he’s the co-author, with Steve Blank, of The Startup Owner’s Manual: A Step–By–Step Guide to Building a Great Companyand he’s a serial entrepreneur who has started seven companies (he describes them as “two home runs, two base hits, and three great tax losses”) and coached or invested in dozens more. More than just an expert who travels the world helping startups, incubators, big companies and governments, Bob is exceptionally kind and humble, he’s an incredible coach who is quick with a smile. And, lucky for us, he’s bribable with Diet Cokes.

This is going to be a fun, rubber-hits-the-road course – highly practical and hands on, and intensive.  It will push you to take the steps you need to take to get out of the building, talk to customers, put your minimum viable product in their hands, and get the real feedback you need to make your social venture a success.

No expertise required!  But like everything you’ll get out what you put in.  If you have a social venture that you’re working on, or planning to work on, this course will kick you out of first gear.  It’s hands-on. You’ll take powerful frameworks and put them into practice.

Here’s the deal, so you know what to expect going in:

  • It’s an intensive, eight week course.  Best guess is that you’ll need to put in 10 hours per week.   (The time you put in for this course will be highly leveraged, so think of this in terms of time saved not time lost.)
  • You’ll be using the business model canvas to map out your business; you’ll build out a real prototype; and you’ll get of the building to get the feedback you need from customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors etc.
  • Work is done in teams.  You’ll be learning from and supporting each other, not sitting alone in front of a computer.
  • Course participants will have an idea for a social venture tackling an issue of poverty.  If you don’t have a fully formed idea yet that’s OK, the course will help you form and shape one.

This course is a chance for you to take a big leap forward.  It’s an opportunity to use tools that have revolutionized Silicon Valley and apply them to your social venture.  It’s kind of the start of a revolution.  Be part of it.

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What we already know

I spent a few hours this weekend with my 10-year-old son taking apart an old HP Photosmart A636 photo printer. It’s surprisingly difficult to do. All the screws have beveled heads so you can’t take them apart with a regular screwdriver, and the whole thing acts like a ball of sealed plastic you’re not supposed to break in to.

After a good deal of grunting, bending, hurting our hands and using the screwdriver as a lever, we got as much of the casing off as we were going to get off, and we were left with the motherboard and not much else. We were proud, and tired, with red ink stains on our hand. Beaming, my son asked me to explain how the motherboard worked. We talked for a bit, but outside of the absolute basics I didn’t feel like I had much to say, so I went online to search for a diagram or video that would explain how a printer motherboard worked better than I could. No luck. After a bit, we got pulled away to our next Sunday afternoon activity.

The next morning I woke up and he ran towards me, motherboard in hand, but now it was covered with a bunch of mini Post-It Notes diagramming the parts.

“Dad! I’m going to bring this into school to show it to everyone and explain how it works!”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s amazing. How did you learn all of that?”

“You taught me, when we were talking yesterday.”

I looked more closely and read the labels. They were things like “microprocessor,” “USB port” and “motor.” They didn’t actually explain how a motherboard controls a printer, but there was enough for him to teach his friends something about what this green metallic thing was made up of.

It’s so easy to diminish what we already know, to see it as not enough to answer the question we are being asked. Let’s not forget that what we already know is a lot, that in the act of sharing what we know we enlighten others, and that in so doing we start a conversations that will teach them, teach us. And that the most important part is our enthusiasm for what we know, our desire to learn more, and our willingness to share what we know with others.

 

Bonus: “how a motherboard controls a printer” diagrams would be welcomed in the comments.

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Threaded conversations

In my forever battle to beat back my (Outlook) Inbox, I’m in the middle of a tweak that I’m enjoying.

I switched over to show all conversations as “threaded” conversations. This is standard in Gmail and is the default on my iPhone but I’ve never done it in Outlook and had turned it off on my iPhone (it’s on again).

It’s taken some getting used to, but one week in I’m finding getting through my Inbox feels easier and faster, and overall it’s less work to keep track of things.

The way you do this on Outlook is under the “View” menu, click on “Show Conversations.” As a bonus click on “Show Messages from Other Folders” and then you’ll see your own sent replies as well as any filed messages (if you file into folders, which I don’t).

Show conversations_1

It takes some getting used to, especially because in Outlook there’s no “RE:” in the subject line, so everything feels like a new message. That’s confusing but otherwise I like it.

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Why isn’t this working?

…asks the helpful critic.

Why has this project lost its mojo?

Why aren’t we wowing our customers?

Why do we keep missing our deadlines?

Why hasn’t the tough decision been taken?

Why aren’t we getting to the heart of the issue?

Good to raise the question. Much better, though, to realize that every single one of these questions offers an opportunity for leadership with a big and small “L.”

Leadership is not about authority or seniority or permission. It is about stepping up, taking the risk that others won’t, taking a point of view, putting yourself on the line.  It’s about saying the things you wish someone else (your boss, your colleague, the young new member of your team) would say.  It’s about grabbing the agenda, or ending the meeting early, or even walking with a new sense of purpose.  It’s about changing something in your own behavior in a way that shifts the structures and the attitudes of everyone around you.

We know you’re smart enough to ask the tough questions. What we need more of is the courage to lead.

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Why we read you

We read you because you are you. Because you sound like you, talk like you.

You are identifiable, clear, and you have a point of view. Whether that is polished or rough, grammatical or not…whether you use ellipses and start your sentences with “and” are all part of what make you you.

We read you because you teach us, or challenge us, or make us laugh.

You give us a feeling we’ve come to expect most of the time, and a feeling that surprises us some of the time.

By reading you we tell ourselves a little something about who we are. When we share what you’ve written with others, we are sharing what you’ve said and, also, shared a glimpse of what makes us us.

We can’t read “you” (an identifiable someone) if we can’t identify you, if you don’t sound like something.

If you’ve read this far and are still nodding, you’ve got no choice but to conclude that your organization’s voice isn’t supposed to sound like nothing and no one. If you’re nothing and no one, we won’t miss you when you’re gone.

 

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What if he’s conning me?

“What if this story this guy is telling me isn’t true? What if he, 70 years old, scraggly hair, sitting in a wheelchair, knee brace on his left leg, with a couple of bags and a book on his lap, didn’t really lose his place in Hurricane Sandy? What if that’s not what pushed him over the edge and shoved him back into a life of homeless shelters and benefits checks that don’t go far enough?”

Sure, that goes through my head.

But as I stand there listening I cannot help but stand face-to-face with my own good fortune, all the challenges I don’t face every day, all the barriers that aren’t in my way.

So, instead, I endeavor to think, “maybe this is a chance to help. Maybe a little bit will make a difference. Maybe experiencing the indignity of asking for money on the subway is something that this articulate guy shouldn’t have to go through.”

Maybe the chance to help even a little is a chance worth taking.

Posted in Generosity | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment