Startups

Fun stuff I learned in Manhattan

In New York last week, I attended a social entrepreneurship conference called “The Feast” (for a layman’s definition of social entrepreneurship, see below). There were lots of exciting speakers, fancy videos, etc. Some bits that were interesting enough to copy down:

  • In deciding what to be and what sort of organizations to build, we can make one slight but game-changing syntactical shift. Instead of trying to be the best ______ in the world, we should strive to be the best ______ for the world. Think for a moment about the difference between a firm being “The best investment bank in the world” and “The best investment bank for the world.” (From Uffe Elbaek, the founder of some project in Denmark I don’t understand).
  • Make the smallest investment possible to achieve your goals; make bets that give you room to maneuver; bet big when you’re happy with either outcome. In addition to making better poker players, professional poker player Annie Duke suggested applying basic game theory to the rest of life’s conundrums: kids, families, jobs, and the like. For example: if you’re taking six children to Disney World and one of them is acting up, a threat to cancel the trip will prove wholly ineffective. The kid knows you won’t follow through, you know you won’t follow through, and you’ve left yourself little room to maneuver.
  • Keep your eye on the periphery. I’ve been long convinced that tomorrow’s solutions to global problems won’t come from existing businesses, governments, nonprofits or news agencies but will come from unexpected places. Some guy involved in the health care debate (whose name I didn’t catch) put this much more eloquently.
  • The food debate in the US is as much about social justice as it is about efficiency and competitiveness. Half of today’s black and Latino kids will develop diabetes over the course of their lifetime, according to the boss of Slow Food USA. A fifth of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural production. And “if we really wanted to manufacture a system that would lead to a health care crisis with real staying power, we would design something that looks a lot like our school lunch program.”
  • Success in entrepreneurship comes from deep expertise and commitment over time. Yeesh. Guess it’s time to get back to school.

One more thought, this from a street musician in Grand Rapids:

“If you’re a fan of what works, you become a student of the world pretty quick.”


*Social entrepreneurship, for those of you unfamiliar with or skeptical of the buzzword, is the application of resources designed for entrepreneurs to social ventures: nonprofits, socially minded businesses, etc.

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