Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Blog

Visit my "new" blog:

I'm going to stop posting on this blog now. See you at the Savvy Capitalist!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Business/Enlightened Self-Interest

Since well before publishing my first book and turning from businessman into consultant, I've been preaching the gospel of Enlightened Self-Interest: that doing the right thing pays. With our language school, the pitch is that employers who pay for the English lessons of their workers benefit immensely through better-trained/more efficient workers whose morale and loyalty is unshakable; a greatly expanded pool of potential managers (no matter how talented you are, you can't manage if you don't speak the language), greater morale among the rest of the workers, who (a) don't feel their co-workers are talking about them in Spanish, Vietnamese, etc. and (b) love working for a company that actually cares about its people, even its lowest-wage workers; vastly-improved customer service; increased customer loyalty, because they too like buying for a company that shows it cares... The list of benefits goes on and on.

The trick here is, there's no trick. Our clients tell us these are the tangible results of our training. They pay a little (but not too little!), and benefit a lot.

That is the case with workplace ESL lessons, but the point carries over to the entire realm of enlightened management. A quick review of the companies out there that treat their people better than the market demands, that conduct themselves ethically even when no one is looking (the only legitimate test of ethics), that treat their suppliers and customers fairly rather than exploitively, that give to charities either directly or (better) through matching employee contributions - these companies perform better than their competitors.

Of all his points, the one I take most exception with is Milton Friedman's notion that there is a duality between doing the right thing for "pure" motives and doing the same exact right thing for selfish gain. Try as you might, you can't separate the two!

When I was in college studying philosophy, I came to understand the same thing regarding altruism: there is no such thing as a purely unselfish act. Even if no one else knows what you've done, and even if it harms you while helping strangers, it still benefits you in some way, at least through a feeling inside that you have done the right thing. So too with corporations: there is nothing "right" that a company can do that will not benefit that company in some way...

...although I must make clear that sometimes the right thing to do could cause the company's demise. Imagine if Phillip Morris simply stopped making cigarettes - didn't sell off its operations, just closed them. They'd go bankrupt the same day.

Some companies are inherently good; it's built into their DNA, part of their founding culture. I have to research this company better, but I think Johnson & Johnson is one such firm (either that or they've really done a great snow job!) Other companies are inherently evil and destructive, and that's also built into their DNA starting with their founders: Blackwater, Halliburton; all tobacco companies.

But the vast majority of companies are wandering around in the middle of the road, pursuing profits as best their leaders know how without bothering (or daring?) to stand for anything ethical or good. I really believe that such companies - and such leaders - need "permission" to do the right thing: that most would like to, but how can they do the right thing when they're just getting by?

One of the main functions of The Naples Institute, as I envisioned it from before I even approached Gene Landrum and Bernie Turner with the notion, is to create an authoritative, revered institution that gives business leaders that permission. An organization that teaches enlightened leadership, that publically recognizes enlightened management, and that plainly, undeniably illustrates how doing the right thing - being enlightened - serves the best interest of the individual, the leader, and the organization.

Reader, your thoughts are not only welcome, but sought after.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Education/Teach for America

Let me preface this article by the source - The Wall Street Journal - is suspect now that Rupert "Fox & Friends" Murdoch owns it. Still, it's brilliant: this is exactly what my Naples Institute colleagues and I have been discussing.


Amazing Teacher Facts
June 14, 2008; Page A10

This month 3,700 recent college grads will begin Teach for America's five-week boot camp, before heading off for two-year stints at the nation's worst public schools. These young men and women were chosen from almost 25,000 applicants, hailing from our most selective colleges. Eleven per cent of Yale's senior class, 9% of Harvard's and 10% of Georgetown's applied for a job whose salary ranges from $25,000 (in rural South Dakota) to $44,000 (in New York City).
Hang on a second.

Unions keep saying the best people won't go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What's going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money – the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy. Participants need only pass academic muster and attend the summer training before entering a classroom. If they took the traditional route into teaching, they would have to endure years of "education" courses to be certified.
The American Federation of Teachers commonly derides Teach for America as a "band-aid." One of its arguments is that the program only lasts two years, barely enough time, they say, to get a handle on managing a classroom. However, it turns out that two-thirds of its grads stay in the education field, sometimes as teachers, but also as principals or policy makers.
More importantly, it doesn't matter that they are only in the classroom a short time, at least according to a recent Urban Institute study. Here's the gist: "On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience."

Jane Hannaway, one of the study's co-authors, says Teach for America participants may be more motivated than their traditional teacher peers. Second, they may receive better support during their experience. But, above all, Teach for America volunteers tend to have much better academic qualifications. They come from more competitive schools and they know more about the subjects they teach. Ms. Hannaway notes, "Students are better off being exposed to teachers with a high level of skill."

The strong performance in math and science seems to confirm that the more specialized the knowledge, the more important it is that teachers be well versed in it. (Imagine that.) No amount of time in front of a classroom will make you understand advanced algebra better.

Teach for America was pleased, but not exactly shocked, by these results. "We have always been a data-driven organization," says spokesman Amy Rabinowitz. "We have a selection model we've refined over the years." The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. "It's mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities."

Sounds like the way the private sector hires. Don't tell the teachers unions.

End note: While the Wall St. Journal has historically always been a knee-jerk union-basher, I am union-agnostic. Nothing is truer than the old saw, "A company (or school system) that goes union deserves a union." Workers choose to join a union when they feel they need protection from their employers. And American school teachers certainly need protection from most school systems.

Still, I am firmly opposed to the position of teachers' unions that seniority, and not skill, decide issues such as pay and job security. So while I won't join the gleeful abuse being heaped out by the WSJ, I abstain with that caveat.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Capitilism 2.0

A few days ago a colleague at The Naples Institute commented on the notion that the sole purpose of a business is to make money for its stockholders, who are then free to do what they like with it, including giving it to charity if they choose. That's not a new idea, of course; it is one of the tenets of Primitive Capitalism (my own term). Indeed, in a public corporation, stockholders have been known to sue management in order to compel them to maximize profits.

I don't think that choice will disappear anytime soon, and I don't think it necessarily should. I personally enjoy choice and variety in the world.

Here's the thing, though: that is becoming only one option of several in the modern economy. One thing I would really like to see happen with The Naples Institute is for us to establish ourselves as leaders in what many are calling Capitalism 2.0 - the more sophisticated view of businesses as potential instruments for positive social change as well as of profits.

Look at the "For-benefit corporation," such as Newman's Own, which is legally a for-profit company, but which gives 100% of those profits to charity. That's hundreds of millions of dollars so far. There is another for-benefit corporation, TMI, in Immokalee that I hope we get to tour at some point. Michael, Jane, and I are in the process of turning Naples Social into a for-benefit corporation. The model makes more sense to us, especially as we are not going to ask for donations to fund our operations.

Many profit-oriented companies are still agents of social responsibility. Starbucks and numerous other firms sell Fair-Trade Certified coffee. Whole Foods is very serious about its giving. And we already talked about Tithe and More (, the local real estate firm that gives 30% of its profits to charity.

Gene Landrum and I have just started a venture fund. 10% of our profits from that will go to charity. Also, the companies we create will give 10% to charity. Our first firm is already set up to do so.

The question came up at the last NI meeting, does Tithe and More benefit from its dedication to charity? Is this a marketing ploy? My answer is, (a) I'm certain it is useful to its marketing - I myself would prefer to give them my business than another realtor - but (b) it is not a ploy. I've met Bill Ventress, the broker/founder. He is a remarkable man who honestly, to his core intends to help others.

Capitalism 2.0 is all about companies doing more than just maximizing profits. It's about doing Good, with a capital G. It is also about Enlightened Self-Interest. Chew on this: overwhelmingly, the companies I am familiar with that are socially responsible are also much more competitive than their less generous competitors.

My argument for even the most Neolithic, primitive business person who wants to make money and nothing else: give. Behave ethically. It pays - in actual money.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What is Social Justice?

As Dr. James R. Fisher, Jr. ( points out, the purpose of a think tank is to create and disseminate original thought. As The Naples Institute is a think tank dedicated to fighting for social justice, I sent this one-question survey out to our members. I'd love to hear from you as well.

Q - In your view, what is "Social Justice?"

My own thoughts, to get your juices flowing:

I think that social justice is present in a society where everyone shares legitimately equal opportunity. If we live in a society where any child, even those born poor to the most miserable, unfit parents, has the unfettered chance to gain a top-notch education and pursue any career she chooses, then we have passed the most important litmus test of a just society. Add to that the consistently-applied, unbiased rule of law; freedom from governmental corruption; a safety net that ensures every person will not starve or suffer malnutrition, be exposed to the elements, or lack adequate health care; and that those honestly incapable of work can live free from poverty (the elderly, the truly infirm, the mentally incapable).

If our society delivers on this promise, then I view it as just - not "generous," but "fair."

I think a "generous" society is one that stunts adversity. Adversity has, throughout history, been the prime motivator for people to excel. I wouldn't want to take that benefit away from anyone.

By the way - this is from Jim's website:

Dr. Fisher is also a chartered member of THE NAPLES INSTITUTE, a leadership think tank fighting for social justice by identifying leadership problems of the world, producing new leaders, and promoting leadership consistent with its aims of social justice for all people.

I couldn't have said it as well - or as succinctly - myself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Laptops/What the kids are actually up to

Okay, so yesterday we gave laptops to a bunch of kids. What are they going to do with them, exactly?

What indeed? They are going to be tricked into learning critical reasoning skills, computer-code writing, high school math, graphic arts, coherent and interesting story-telling... we're teaching these little school kids how to actually think! Something that doesn't happen nearly often enough in today's schools.

Specifically, the kids are learning digital storytelling. The 30-hour/30-lesson Waveplace Foundation project is all focused on one end result: an animated story, created, designed, and executed entirely by the children. The teachers give them the guidance they need to manipulate the software, and they help the kids along the way if they forget something. If a child wants to try something even harder than what the course teaches - which has already happened, just in the first class - then that's great, and the teachers are there to lead them through it. The children also teach each other to a remarkable degree. I was shocked to see how helpful and kind they can be. My peers and I weren't exactly as nice to each other when I was a squirt.

Most of the learning takes the form of trial and error. For instance, my project is to take my dog Stubby surfing (she'll have a goal and some obstacles along the way, but I haven't gotten that far). I drew Stubby yesterday in Lesson 1, then learned how to make her move around the screen in Lesson 2. I wrote code, which made her complete a square, 90-degree angles included (yes, the kids are learning high school geometry!) To get Stubby to go in a triangle instead of a square, I'd have to remove one line of code (3 sides = 3 turns, not 4, of course), and I'd have to turn those 90-degree angles into 120-degree angles.

We actually did this very exercise when Tim Falconer, the founder and president of Waveplace, was here in February. 25 migrant kids from RCMA, 8- and 9-year-olds, were plugging in numbers, trying to get the cartoon to travel in a triangle. They made many mistakes, learning that it was not only okay to do so, but that it was actually a lot of fun. Then they hit upon the right numbers, and - voila! The cartoon moved the way they wanted it to.

Imagine if you will how powerful they felt at that moment! These are some of the most disenfranchised children in the entire country. But they had just learned a skill, worked diligently to figure out a problem, failed and tried and failed and tried, and finally made it - all on their own.

As I said, that's in lessons 2 and 3. They'll be doing that tomorrow. By next Monday, they'll be even further along. First, they'll learn to create art, move it, and make it look like it's actually moving - legs walking, head turning, mouth opening and closing (one project is a dinosaur eating stars, for some reason). All that's just warm-ups. Once they've mastered all that stuff, they'll outline their actual story and begin to craft it on the screen.

Can you tell I'm excited? Spend an hour with these kids, and you will be, too. You can't sufficiently express the magnitude of this project with the written word - though I dare members of the press to try!

Business & Economics/Unions

My CFI friends and I are discussing unions today. Here is my take on that. Please note that my father was the personnel negotiator for two companies during two very contentious strikes in the 50's and 60's. For one of them, at Florida plants of Virginia-Carolina Chemical, he and other executives had to be helicoptered into the plant for their own safety. When not at the negotiating table, they worked the lines in order to keep the plants open.

Unions helped our nation, starting around the '30's as they began to gain traction. Somewhere around the '50's, the scale began tipping the other way in many industries. The problem today is, we're stuck with the public distaste of excessive union abuse from the 50's-80's, but legitimate need for strong unions in some fields even today.

I think it would work out a lot better if more companies were run like Nucor (a steel manufacturer). Nucor managers had to intervene for the safety of outside union organizers at one of their plants - because the workers were on the verge of physical violence! Now THAT is a company that understands Enlightened Self-Interest. By treating their people well, the people feel no need for the protection of a union.

Southwest Airlines is another famous example. They actually have MORE unions than any other airline (little-known fact), but have better labor relations - and they are singularly profitable. My pal Dr. Jody Gitell wrote a great book on the 10 reasons for that, The Southwest Airlines Way.

Neither companies nor unions are inherently good or bad. They're all just collections of individuals. It is the leaders who are good, bad, or (sometimes) indifferent.

Management whose workers choose to go union deserve a union, bottom line. I think the technical term for such managers is "knuckle-head." Currently, a large local employer is a fascinating example of this brand of leadership.

Laptops/Profusion of low-cost options

This article in The Economist is very interesting.

We've been watching this issue closely. So far, the alternatives to OLPC's XO computer measure up on price or features. But that may very well change sooner, and probably will change later.

That's fine. The Waveplace courseware we're using in Immokalee and the Caribbean can be used with any computer, be it XO, Mac, or PC. So the device we use does not matter one bit.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Laptops/Tomorrow it starts!

I can't tell you how excited I am. Tomorrow, 43 fourth-grade migrant kids - the most at-risk children in our community - will each get his very own XO laptop computer, along with the first two-hour lesson in how to use it. Our Waveplace pilot will begin. (

I've been waiting four years for this. That's when I first read about the adorable little green-and-white XO, and the mission of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit spin-off of the MIT Media Lab. (

For four years I've watched, waited; tried to help and been rebuffed ("We aren't set up to take donations at this point," I was told when I first reached out to OLPC all those years ago. How hard is it to open an envelope and deposit a check!?!?)

Now, it's actually going to happen. You may think I need a life, but tomorrow's event will mean more to me than my birthday. Of course, I caught the flu this year on my birthday and my family was away in Boston, but still....

Tim Falconer, the creator of Waveplace, is flying into town tonight with another of our board members and our documentarian.*

Tomorrow at 9:30, the teachers assemble to begin their training, which will cover 30 hours in the next five days. Two of the teachers are only 14 years old. The idea of teenagers stepping up to lead in this way - that's a whole new dimension that we hadn't even anticipated.

This project we're about to launch is transformative on multiple levels.

Joining us will be Valerie Alker of WGCU Radio. That is just the beginning of some outstanding media coverage which will include Wink TV, the Naples Daily News, and even National Public Radio.

This is a national news story.

At 1:00 the children will arrive for their first lesson. So will Bill Ventress, my new idol, who is funding one of the two pilots. His company,, is nothing short of inspirational. I'm sorry to gush like a school kid, but that's how I feel right now.

Of course, tomorrow is only day one of a week-long training with Tim, and a 10-week program with the kids and the teachers.

I promise to keep you posted as we go.

Oh, almost forgot: I guarantee you, we will stumble along the way. That's why this is called a pilot. It's the first time we'll have this many teachers involved, for one thing, and they have never worked as a team before. Jane, John Lawson, and I haven't worked in-person with Tim before - I hope we don't let him down, but we'll just have to see.

That's okay, though. Even with the occasional glitch, we will be learning and improving on the fly. We'll all be better for the experience.

*I'm pretty sure I made that word up, or at least that's what spell check wants me to believe. Go ahead and use it. Just give me credit if you would.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

One Terrific Triathlon

Congratulations to Linda Gregory, my pals at The Bike Route, Bikes for Tykes, the Zonta Club, and the Red Cross, and all those who helped for pulling off yet another excellent Naples Fitness Challenge Triathlon last Sunday. It was my first triathlon in 20 years, and it was absolutely the best-run tri I've ever participated in.

Man, am I out of shape! I've put on 50 pounds since starting our first company in 2001. As the saying goes, "All work and no play makes Ted a chubby boy." A friend took a picture of me as I emerged from the water, and... oh, boy. Let me apologize right now to everyone who had to see such a sight. A fat dude in a neon Speedo... it wasn't pretty. I wasn't pretty.

Let's use this as a starting point. I've been accused of being a motivational speaker: let's see if I can motivate myself to shed some lard.

Stay tuned.