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January 2006

Cancer be Gone: All Quiet on the Southern Front

Amy had a biopsy on Wednesday to search for traces of the anal cancer that was detected last May and treated last fall.  Much to our delight -- and more to our relief than we expected -- the results were negative, i.e., there was no evidence of carcinoma in any of the samples taken.   There is still some chance (5-10%) that the cancer is alive and well -- there will be more followup tests, but fewer and farther between -- and, of course, there is always the chance that a new type of cancer will be detected at some point (a risk we all increasingly face), but I choose to embrace uncautious optimism, celebrate life and enjoy the moment(s)!

I'm practicing using more graphics, and less words, to express myself, so with the help of Mutual Magick, I'll simply say

grinhoppy hopepose woohoo

Input, Processing, Output (IPO): A Multi-dimensional Balancing Act

I often view life through a computer metaphor, and think about my range of actions in the world as some blend of input, processing, and output.  This is due, no doubt, to previous career chapters in which I was a computer science student and then a computer science teacher ... and then a computer science student again.  A recent post by Kathy Sierra, "A Crash Course in Learning Theory", prompted me to revisit this metaphor on multiple dimensions.


But first a review.  When I was first learning -- and teaching -- introductory computer science (about 20 years ago), we started with a diagram (such as the one above, from, and explained the basic operations and functional units of the computer in terms of input (keyboards and cardreaders), processing (central processing unit, which includes storage) and output (a video display unit or printer).  This "IPO" framework was also useful in learning and teaching introductory programming, where problems can be specified in terms of their input and output, and the challenge is how to design processing steps to transform the former into the latter.

When I start mapping the IPO model onto [other] dimensions of my life, I see that many of my dilemmas come down to choices of how much time and energy to devote to each of these three modalities.  With respect to blogging, how much time do I spend reading other blogs and/or opening up to other sources of inspiration and ideas?  How much time do I spend processing these ideas, mapping them onto my own insights, experiences and goals, or otherwise transforming them in interesting or useful ways?  How much time do I spend composing posts on my own blog, or comments on others' blogs?  The fact that blogging is often a conversation, means that this cycle may repeat within any given thread.

In my business, I face similar challenges with respect to balancing my time and effort.  How much time do I spend seeking out new ideas or opportunities, e.g., new features, new products or services, new customers (in the broadest possible sense of "customer") or new ways of going to market?  How much time do I spend processing those ideas and opportunities, framing or transforming them in ways that make them applicable to my business?  And how much time do I spend expressing these ideas, through writing code, creating marketing literature, or more generally, adding value and/or articulating value propositions?

I don't believe I have any particularly useful insights into how best to allocate efforts in either of these dimensions (or any others), I just try to make good choices on a case-by-case basis, increasingly trusting my intuition to guide me.  This notion of good choices, and prioritizing time and effort, reminds of Stephen R. Covey's book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", wherein he talks about a variation of the IPO model, using the psychological terminology of "stimulus / response":

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.

Steven Paglierani provides a nice visual diagram (and associated commentary) to capture this:


Here's to freedom, power, growth and happiness!

[Update, 2006-01-29: Dan Oestreich recently shared some whole-hearted reflections on the importance of providing enough time and space for input or stimulus: slowing down, and being more open to inspiration, before rushing to process and generate output.  Dan wrote that post before I wrote this one, and although I regularly read Dan's blog, I had not checked in for a while, and so I was not able to take advantage of processing Dan's input before generating my output ... providing yet another example of the delicate balance of input, processing and output in the blogosphere ... and of my ongoing willingness to wakefully make mistakes :-) ].

Business is Good


Doug Rushkoff recently wrote an article for his Arthur Magazine column entitled "Business is Good" in which he articulates a very positive view of commerce, arguing that the problems with our current corporate culture are inherited rather than inherent, and inviting bizfolk to [re]orient themselves toward intentionality, integrity and passion.  His title reminded me of my Life is Good ultimate frisbee disc (pictured above, with a slight modification), and more generally, the positive attitude evoked by the phrase "it's all good".  Yesterday, I was feeling rather non-positive about my own business, but I continued listening to the audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink", and was reminded of the power of priming (the words we write or say influence both our self-image and our performance).  So, if you were to ask me today "How's business?", I'd be able to reply -- with much more authenticity -- "Business is good" ... and I wouldn't be surprised if this rather colloquial usage was one of multiple possible interpretations Doug intended in choosing a title for his provocative article.

Doug starts out with a critique of the increasing "groupthink" of major media, and then shows how this problem applies more generally to any business that worries more about following trends than focusing on its core competencies and using common sense.  A fascinating, brief history of the corporation is presented, highlighting "the zero-sum game of resource capture" and "the philosophy of competition between individuals as the dominant and positive force of nature" and the narrow view of running a company as "an exercise in resource management - maximizing efficiencies".

This brings us to the current business paradigm, where corporations are often disproportionately focused on one group of customers, it's shareholders, to the exclusion of all others:

... spreadsheet management favors short-term visible revenues at the expense of the development of expertise, continuing innovation, values-driven decision-making, and, perhaps worst of all, fun...

... the minute you sell your company—and this includes going "public"—you're no longer a shoemaker, muffin baker, or airplane designer. You and the company you built are the asset of a group of shareholders. And believe me, most of those shareholders don't even know or care what you do or believe. They just want your shares to pop so they can sell for a fast buck.

Fortunately, after describing the problem, Doug offers a solution, which is very much in alignment with the notions of "do what you love, the money will follow" (a thread I've been thinking -- and blogging -- about recently), and concludes with a positive prognosis:

Making money should really just be a happy result of contributing to the world what you do best. ...

Rather than confirm businesspeople's sense of inadequacy by maintaining some angry, counterculturalist posture, I'm instead inviting them to reorient to their businesses from a place of passion and concern rather than timidity and terror. ...

I believe that commerce, enacted mindfully, can liberate itself from the neocon mythology that it currently serves, and instead turn both our labors and economy toward serving needs instead of a central authority that—quite frankly—does not exist.

I was so inspired by this article (written last month) that I ordered his new book, "Get Back in the Box : Innovation from the Inside Out ".  It arrived yesterday and I started reading it last night; I'm in the middle of several books (plus the aforementioned audiobook), but I'm hoping to finish this one before Doug's presentation at the next Idea Day meeting on February 15.  From the little I've read so far, Doug's prescriptions for businesses -- discover, nurture and do what you do best -- are every bit as applicable to individuals ... and I imagine that if everyone really did what they loved, then business, and life, truly would be good.

Everyone's a Customer: The Importance of Empathy, Respect and Helpfulness

I increasingly see how a variety of roles in society might be viewed from a customer service (or customer care) perspective, and how all our interactions can be seen as manifestations of customer relationship management ... and how we all might be better off if more members of society adopted this view, especially those in authority roles, such as doctors, teachers, corporate executives and politicians.

Whenever I start focusing on something new -- buying a car, siring a child, or learning a skill or job -- I become keenly aware of examples all around me: suddenly, I see my make and model of car wherever I turn, the world seems filled with pregnant women, or the new skill or job seems universally applicable or useful.  I suspect this perspective shift is at work in the current context, as I seek to learn everything I can about sales, and so everyone seems like a potential customer ... and, actually, I don't think this is a bad thing.  In yet another series of examples of "When the student is ready, the teacher appears", I've been encountering all kinds of teachers who help me better understand the value of customer orientation.

Yesterday, I was listening to the audiobook version of "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell.  In the first chapter, Gladwell describes research by John Gottman and his colleagues into specific affective factors that are highly correlated with successful and unsuccessful marriages (or, more precisely, marriages that last more than or less than 15 years ... I suppose "success" is a value judgment).  The research revealed that contempt and condescension are highly correlated with divorce.  Contempt and condescension is also predictive of another type of legal action: malpractice suits.  A doctor's relationships with his / her patients is a much more significant factor in predicting whether the doctor will be sued for malpractice than any other factor (even, surprisingly, the number of medical errors the doctor commits).  Doctors who spend more time with patients, who treat them with respect rather than condescension -- and yet make mistakes -- don't tend to get sued.  I'm not sure how much this trend benefits the patients, or society -- and I don't want to delve into the malpractice reform controversy (here) -- but I'd argue that this customer service orientation at least benefits the doctors.

Kathy Sierra consistently models a customer care orientation, both by writing her blog posts with her customers (readers) in mind, and by offering guidelines to help other bloggers to be more customer oriented.  She recently provided a Crash Course in Learning Theory in which she shared some of her insights about this orientation:

One formula (of many) for a successful blog is to create a "learning blog". A blog that shares what you know, to help others. Even--or especially--if that means giving away your "secrets". Teaching people to do what you do is one of the best ways we know to grow an audience--an audience of users you want to help.

Kathy goes on to teach by example, sharing her considerable insights and experiences into teaching: the importance of getting and keeping attention and interest, viewing learning as a process of co-creatiion, and relentlessly focusing on -- and making the benefits clear to -- the customer (er, I mean, student).  The notions of empathy, respect and offering meaningful benefits recur throughout many of her blog posts (e.g., on teaching and advertising), and I expect she would concur that a stronger customer care orientation on the part of teachers would be A Good Thing.

As I mentioned previously, Dan Fine espouses a rather comprehensive view of one's customers, including in that set a broad range of people with whom we regularly interact in a business context: vendors, employees, partners, media, investors or people who purchase your product or service.  The unifying theme is that you need to "sell" a compelling value proposition to all of these stakeholders. I was reflecting on this view during my recent equity negotiations with a potential partner ... and how important it is not only to treat all prospective customers with respect, but also to cultivate a relationship of mutual respect (as would also be the case with doctors and teachers).

Politicians are another group that sometimes appears to lack a customer care orientation.  As with doctors who are sued for malpractice, I wonder whether politicians such as Tom Delay would be in their current legal predicaments if they were more inclined toward empathy, respect and helpfulness.  Perhaps part of the problem is who they view as their customers ... and perhaps I have too narrow a view of who a politician's customers are ... or ought to be.

[Update, 2006-01-24: after further rumination, I'm adding two new paragraphs (directly below) that I don't think warrant a separate post.]

I admit to not being entirely clear about who my customers are.  The proactive display applications developed by Interrelativity are designed to facilitate networking ("interrelating") among people attending an event by showing content from attendees' online profiles on a large computer display when those people are nearby (creating "tickets to talk").  I don't expect that attendees themselves will pay extra -- directly -- for the enhanced networking opportunities, but rather that event hosts and/or sponsors would pay for our services, and I'm exploring other potential groups that might value some exposure on a proactive display.  Thus, there are different value propositions for different stakeholders, each with different costs and benefits, which adds complexity as well as potentially conflicting goals.

Having different groups of stakeholders may also be part of the customer orientation problems in the other examples listed above.  Doctors (in this country) tend to be paid primarily by insurance companies, rather than their patients ... and I don't get the sense that there is a strong tradition of empathy, respect and helpfulness in the relationships between medical professionals and insurance professionals.  Perhaps this lack of full, direct payment interferes with the perception of the patient as a customer on the part of some doctors.  Teachers often do not get paid directly by the customers they have the most interaction with (students), and in the case of K-12 public school teachers, they don't even get paid directly by another group of customers (the students' parents and guardians), and so the intermediating layers may similarly complicate the adoption of a customer care orientation -- by some teachers -- toward their students.  And, while we, the people, typically pay the salaries as well as vote for our elected officials, there is not a direct payment connection between most constituents and politicians.  Politicians have a broad array of people and groups who may offer them financial and other types of compensation -- with varying degrees of directness -- for their attention to specific interests ... and so it's hardly surprising that some politicians may have different ideas about their customer base: who they are really serving (and why).

In general, I think it's difficult to clearly distinguish customers and potential customers from people will never be -- or know -- any customers or potential customers ... which is a powerful motivation to always be a mensch.

Establishing a Fair Equity Allocation within a Startup Venture

A while back, when I was offered an exciting consulting engagement, I had to determine how to establish a fair consulting rate. I did a lot of research, found some excellent resources on the web, and posted some notes on an approach that I adapted to compute a rate that I considered to be fair to everyone.

Recently, I became excited about the prospect of someone who wanted to join the company I founded, Interrelativity, Inc. Aside from the aforementioned consulting engagement, Interrelativity has not generated revenue, so I'm not in a position to offer anything beyond a share of the equity and/or a share of future revenues, and I want to do so in a way that is as generous as possible but also fair to all past, current and future associates of the company. Unfortunately, unlike my last search, I wasn't able to find much useful information on the web; fortunately, I have some friends in the Northwest Entrepreneur Network who provided tremendously valuable help in this quest for a fair way to allocate equity in the company.

Doug Miller, who has founded several startups and now offers his insights and experiences to other startups as a business and strategy consultant, shared some of the data he had collected about equity allocation and other compensation factors in technology startup companies. Although the data varied by different years, industries, company sizes, funding stages, etc., they were fairly consistent with respect to the relative proportions of equity based on title or role in the organization (e.g., the ratio of shares allocated to CEOs vs. VPs of Business Development ranged between 7:1 and 10:1). This provided a good start, but applying this to a company of one was somewhat problematic, since [in this case] the roles are not clearly delineated.

Mike O'Donnell, another serial entrepreneur, and current Chairman of the Board of NWEN, presented another way of approaching the allocation of equity in a startup during his Entrepeneur University 2005 presentation. Mike argued that entrepreneurs should use contractors rather than W2 employees, and offer 3-month contracts that clearly specify deliverables for each contractor. He also offered his approach to determining an amount of shares to offer for each contract: determine the valuation of the company and the number of outstanding shares, use that to calculate the share price, and then for the three month contract, offer an amount of shares whose value equals the hourly rate that the contractor would normally charge for his or her services.

This sounds like a very reaonable approach ... assuming one can determine a valuation of the company. Unfortunately I didn't have a good sense for how to do this. Instead, I decided to use what I did know: I knew how many shares I had allocated myself, and I knew my own consulting rate (from the previous exercise). So I determined how my shares would vest in quarterly installments over four years (the vesting schedule I've been using for all my calculations, based in part on my experience at former employers, but also on recommendations in "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Business Law", a fabulous resource for this, and other, legal issues for startups). I estimate that I'm working somewhere between 60-80 hours per week on this venture, so I divided the number of shares that would vest in one quarter by 720 (60 hours / week * 12 weeks / quarter), and used this as the valuation basis. Actually, I've invested a fair amount of money, as well as sweat, into this venture, and so I used this valuation to go back and subtract out the number of shares that would equal the financial investment, and then used the difference as the basis for the division by 720 (well, actually 11,520, since I was using 16 quarters).

In my discussions with the candidate who wanted to join Interrelativity to help with business planning, development and sales (areas in which I have no experience), we determined that his current salary was pretty close to my own when I left my last job, and so, assuming we would be adding relatively equal value to the success of the venture per hour worked, his hourly rate would be the same as mine. Since he intended to continue on in his full-time [day] job, he proposed to work 20 hours per week on Interrelativity business, and so I offered him a 3-month contract that included an allocation of stock equivalent to one-third of what I would be earning in a 3-month period.

Unfortunately, this offer fell considerably short of the candidate's expectations, and so our discussions concluded amicably, but without an agreement. On the plus side, I was given a powerful opportunity to practice Don Miguel Ruiz' second agreement (don't take anything personally) -- since, according to my reasoning, my assumption about "equal value per hour worked" must not have been shared (although, as I write this, I recognize that this may have been a missed opportunity to practice the third agreement, don't make assumptions) -- and I now feel much better prepared for any future discussions with other candidates who may be interested in joining Interrelativity. And, as always (or, at least, as is increasingly often the case), I trust that this will all work out for everyone's greatest good.

Blog What You Love, The Money Will Follow

I signed an agreement with Newstex yesterday to include the Gumption weblog feed in the collection of online content they make available to their customers:

The revolutionary Newstex Blogs On Demand product delivers value-added full-text blog content. Newstex processes blogs in real-time through its NewsRouter technology to automatically tag each blog post with key data such as company names, stock tickers, key executives and government officials, and detailed topical categories for distribution to downstream enterprise customers to ensure greater exposure and reach for this valuable content.

I will receive a percentage of royalties generated by subscriptions that include the content from this blog.  My intention is to continue ruminating on what inspires me, what I aspire to, and/or what I perspire about without being influenced by this arrangement with Newstex.  The only change I expect is to have more incentive to blog more often (though my uncertainty over whether this will help me be a better blogger continues ... perhaps increasing the quantity of my blog posts will help me gain clarity on this issue -- doing something, rather than simply thinking, about it).

Gene Becker recently posted some of his insights into and experiences with the use of advertising in blogs, commenting on the impact of advertising on relevance, aesthetics and public and personal morality.  I have noticed an increasing number of blogs that have Google Adsense frames on them, and I have to admit that the more advertising I see on a blog, the more I question the motivation(s) of the blogger.  Gene's comments on the personal morality issue are particularly relevant to my decision to link up with Newstex:

This is the bad one: having ads changed how I thought about blogging. Instead of focusing on my own interests and creative expression, I started to think about what kind of content would attract ads with higher CPM rates. Mind you, this didn't show up in actual behavior b/c I've just been 2B2B (too busy to blog, eh?). Nonetheless I'm amazed by how quickly and easily the money influenced the content; this seems immoral on a very personal level.

Like Gene, I do not want to be influenced by monetary considerations; however, I consider Gene a man of the highest level of personal and professional integrity, and so if he found there was a creeping influence of financial considerations into his blog during his experiment (he has since removed all advertising from his blog), I know I need to be extremely vigilant.

I have never checked on any statistics for my weblog (e.g., subsribers or visitors); the only way I know about whether / when anyone reads anything I post is when they post comments, use trackbacks or send email.  I do not want to pay attention to subscriptions or readership via Newstex, but I suppose that if royalties do flow my way, the checks will be accompanied by some kind of accounting statistics, and so I will not be completely ignorant.  However, I do not want Newstex to tell me how my blog (or entries) are categorized, or what kinds of people and organizations are reading or subscribing to this blog -- although if there are any such entities out there, "welcome!" :-). 

I have seen increasing signs that the Internet is creating an entirely new set of tools for realizing the promise of "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow".  At a recent Idea Day presentation on podcasting, Alex Williams and Matt Day highlighted a number of ways that people are creating podcasts (many of which, presumably, are about things they love), and making money from them.  One of the insights I came away with from a recent panel discussion on eBay was that people who are creating specialty niche products (many of which, I again assume, are labors of love) have a new channel through which to make a living via eBay.  There are already a number of bloggers who have money following them because they blog about what they love.  I don't know whether I will be joining their ranks, but I'm willing to open myself up to yet another dimension of the abundance of the blogosphere.

Passion, Knowledge and Wine

Phil Condit, former chairman of Boeing, and four groups of entrepreneurs gave presentations emphasizing -- and exhibiting -- passion and knowledge at an Executive Roundtable meeting of the Zino Society last night at The Rainier Club ... then we all tasted some wine.  It's hard to imagine a more winning combination for a successful meeting!

I first heard of the Zino Society when Megan Schindler left her position as Assistant Director at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network to become the Zino Society's Director of Operations this summer.  When I took a quick look at the web site at that point, I remember thinking that this was a social club devoted to wine enthusiasts ... and while I love socializing and wine (especially when combined), my venture, Interrelativity, was not -- and, regrettably, is still not -- generating enough revenue to support such an indulgence.  When Kenny Byrne told me that he was giving an investment pitch at a Zino Society meeting this week, I went back to the site, and discovered that the organization is devoted not only to socializing and wine but also to matching up investors with entrepreneurs.  While I don't think I'm quite ready yet to seek investment for my own venture, I thought this meeting would be a great opportunity to find out more about this potential future path to investment.

Phil started things off by advising "Whatever you do, you have to follow your passion."  This is advice he gives not only to students trying to figure out how best to channel their energies to build their careers, but also to investors seeking opportunities for channeling their money (which, I suppose, may be thought of as simply another form of energy).  He said he is wary of entrepreneurs who exhibit a "spreadsheet mentality" and instead pays attention to the passion an entrepreneur has for his or her idea(s).  When asked about whether anything else matters, Phil added that [business] knowledge was pretty important, too, and that the next best thing to a passionate and knowledgeable entrepreneur was a deeply passionate entrepreneur who knows his/her areas of knowledge deficiency and builds a team to fill in all the holes.  [Note to self: build that team!]

After Phil's opening presentation, four entrepreneurs -- and members of their teams -- gave presentations to make the case for investing in their respective ventures (in case it's not obvious, there were a number of prospective investors among the Zino Society members and guests in the audience).  Because of my uncertainty about the confidential nature of some of the material, I'll restrict my comments to information available on web pages and general observations, and I want to explicitly note that I have no business relationship with any of the people or companies who were presenting (but do have a personal friendship with one of the presenters, as noted above).

Chris Rathe, co-founder, president and CEO of PriTest ("Illuminating Biodetection"), made a strong case for the need for and benefits of his company's products for food safety testing and life science markets.  In addition to the content of his presentation, I was impressed with the quotations he included from luminaries who corroborated the need, the benefits, or both.

Brian Carter, winemaker and COO of Brian Carter Cellars (and winemaker at Apex Cellars), and Mike Stevens, general manager and CFO of BCC, gave a presentation on their passion for -- and knowledge of -- the art of winemaking.  Their presentation concluded by augmenting the more traditional financial return on investment figures with some winery-specific perquisites, such as special events, discounts and wine labels, that I suspect were of particular appeal to this audience of wine aficionado investors.

Kenny Byrne, CEO of iSoldIt of Washington, presented the business value of his franchise, which helps make it easier to sell goods on eBay (the importance of which I blogged about recently).  One of the insights I got during Kenny's presentation was that alot of his business is related to major life stressors -- people who are selling things due to big changes such as the death of a loved one (estate sale), divorce, job change and moving.  He also noted that the success of eBay (and his company, and his customers) is due to openness and transparency -- everyone on eBay can see what and how everyone else is doing (reminding me of some of the principles of Open Book Management articulated in Jan Jewell's NWEN presentation a while ago).

Kay Syrrist, co-founder and Director of Operations,  and Josh Hanson, co-founder and Director of the Wine Group, showed how their venture, Small Vineyards Imports, is forming a channel for funneling the passion -- and quality -- of small wine producers through a consortium that creates economies of scale in a way that offers a win-win value proposition for all stakeholders (producers, retailers, consumers ... not so sure about the distributors, but that's another matter).  One of their producers from Italy, Antonio Sanguineti (shown below), arrived midway through the presentation and was available afterward to pour wine and share his perspective on Small Vineyards and other wine-related topics.


Ah, and this brings me to the wine tasting.  In addition to wines made by Brian Carter Cellars and others by imported by Small Vineyards (my favorite of which was the Duet made by Edi Simiic in Slovenia, in Antonio's left hand -- and so shown on the right side of the photo -- above), two other sets of wines were being offered for tasting.  Bob and Cathy Betz of Betz Family Winery brought their 2003 Clos de Betz, Père de Famille and a southern Rhone-inspired blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (whose name I can't recall).  The 2002 Père de Famille was one of my favorite Washington wines of that vintage, but I liked the Rhone blend best of the three poured last night (unfortunately, it's not yet available).

Hope Moore, of Make-the-Dash-Count Foundation, poured their 2002 Merlot, made by winemaker Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery.  The wine was very good, but I was even more inspired by the story behind it:

The Dash between the dates on our tombstone is a simple mark carved in stone that represents our lives and what we did with them. Have you ever stopped to consider this thought? Are you making your Dash count?

In December 2002 the idea was born to create a non-profit foundation called Make The Dash Count and establish a winery called Heaven's Cave Cellars. The concept was simple. I wanted to utilize the talents of experienced wine makers from Washington state wineries to create a premium red wine that would showcase not only their commitment to wine making excellence, but also their dedication to philanthropy and giving back to their communities. I wanted to take the two things I'm most passionate about and blend them together to make a difference, a way to make my own Dash count.

A potent combination of passion, knowledge and wine, indeed!

Honor and Consciousness on MLK Day

Yesterday, I was struck by the multiple interpretations of a poster I saw at the King County Library announcing their closure in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday:

[the sign reads: Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday]

One interpretation is that the library is closing in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.  Another interpretation is that the sign is inviting its readers to honor Dr. King.  Yet another interpretation is that the sign is suggesting that honor is what Dr. King was about.

I like this last interpretation best, both because I see Martin Luther King as an honorable man and I see his mission as striving to help us see that we all are brothers and sisters, each equally deserving of honor.

Today I had the honor of enjoying lunch with Dan Oestreich, who I first "met" in the blogosphere exactly a year ago, when I was searching to augment a post I was writing on boxing, belly dancing, boldness and dreams with an inspiring and relevant reference to Martin Luther King.  Dan's insights on Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, posted on the last MLK Day, fit the bill perfectly.  I have since become a regular reader of Dan's blog, and his post today, once again, contains some keen insights into this great leader.  Clare, the 17 year-old daughter of one of Dan's friends, gave a speech at her school about how the racism that Dr. King was fighting against was a result of unconsciousness, and so the best way to elininate racism (and other forms of hatred and fear) is to become more conscious:

To understand racism today, we need to look underneath the surface because no matter who we are, we all feel feelings about people who are different than us. The problem is not that we feel differently about others but that we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel differently.

This lack of insight leads to unconscious behavior. Often, I, as well as others, do not take the time to think back to the roots of where our feelings come from. It is so important to know what our feelings are and where they come from because that is how we can learn to change. If you do not know what you feel, you are likely to act unconsciously. Unconsciousness breeds fear and fear breeds hate.


I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King,

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

[The entire speech can be found here.]

So, on this day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., I spend a moment of silence, visualizing a world filled with consciousness, unarmed truth and unconditional love.

The Price of War ... and Peace

The Seattle Times published an article yesterday on "What will war cost? Studies weigh oil prices, lost produtivity, more", based on two recent studies on the topic:

The Seattle Times article reports that Congress appropriated $357B between 2002 and the end of 2005 for the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan), but these two studies estimate the true cost of the Iraq war as being between $657B and $2T[rillion] (!), when other factors are taken into consideration, e.g., lost productivity of troops wounded or killed in the conflict, the lost productivity of National Guard troops who are taken away from their jobs (and families), the higher costs for military recruitment (and, I imagine, retention).  One of the many disturbing issues raised in the article is the lack of evidence that the Bush Administration did any cost estimate for the war, and that when one of its members, Lawrence Lindsey, when he was Director of the White House National Economic Council, finally did offer an estimate, the person was ejected (one of many examples of the administration's preference for loyalty over competence and its zero tolerance for dissent).

Another study, "The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the Troops", an Institute for Policy Studies report by Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver, compares the cost of the Iraq war (see above) to the cost of the Vietnam war ($600B, adjusted for inflation), highlights the human, social and economic costs to Iraq (give that 10 times more Iraqis than Americans have been killed ... so far), and enumerates the dimensions of costs to the world (with respect to diversion of attention and other resources, and the undermining of global law, security and alliances).

Then, of course, there are the opportunity costs to this war.  What if the United States had applied this much attention, energy and money in other ways?  I earlier wrote about the diversion of funds from repairing New Orleans levees to fighting the war in Iraq, but that $250M is just a drop in the bucket when one considers these larger cost figures.  The Center for American Progress published a report on "The Opportunity Costs of the Iraq War" back in August 2004 (when most cost estimates were considerably lower), enumerating 18 different projects to enhance U.S. national security that all could have been funded with the amount of money allocated for Iraq (which then was a mere $144B).  These projects include

  • Adding two new divisions to the Army
  • Putting 100,000 new police officers on the nation's streets
  • Doubling the size of the Firefighters Grant Program
  • Doubling America's Special Operations forces
  • Undertaking significant improvements to safeguard ports
  • Funding important initiatives to safeguard loose nuclear weapons

But I think the larger opportunity costs are not the other national security projects that have gone unfunded, but a wide range of other projects that could help make the world a better place.  The National Priorities Project has a page devoted to the opportunity costs to the war in Iraq that shows a real-time counter of the money being spent so far on Iraq (which appears to increase by approximatel $2K every second) as well as pages that show how much impact this money could have had if it were instead allocated to a number of other programs, including:

A while back, I wrote about a report that more than half (57%) of Americans believe that "before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda", due (in part) to key members of the Bush administration repeatedly mentioning "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in the same sentence with "Saddam Hussein".  Maybe if we get enough people to mention "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in the same sentence as, say, "world hunger", we can get as many people in the U.S. thinking that world hunger is responsible for 9/11, and we can muster more support for reallocating resources toward toppling world hunger, and/or other, more humanitarian, purposes. 

Put that in your podcast and smoke it.

eBay: I Think I Get It

I always go to the Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) Venture Breakfast Meetings; even when the topic doesn't really excite me, I never fail to make or renew valuable connections with wonderful people during the earlybird networking.  And, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised by a topic and/or speaker(s) being far more interesting than I expected, as was the case yesterday.  [Disclosure: I am a member of the all-volunteer Venture Breakfast Committee for the not-for-profit organization.]

My only experience with eBay was in bidding on a handbag that my daughter really wanted for her birthday last fall.  I was far too laid back on the first one, and failed to win the item; I paid a little more attention the next time, but still lost on that item, too.  The third time, I was ready to pounce; I monitored the auction carefully, and placed my final bid -- $2 higher than the previous bid, when there were 2 seconds left -- and won the item.  It was exciting, and I could see how people could become addicted to this kind of activity, but the effort exceeded my cost/benefit threshold, and I have not returned to the site ... and so, frankly, I wasn't all that interested in learning about how much money people are earning, or saving, by using eBay.

After starting off with a prominent and ominous (prominous?) slide warning about copyright restrictions on her presentation material, the moderator, Janelle Elms, an eBay Universty Instructor, polled the early morning audience on our experiences and intentions with respect to eBay.  About 5% of those present had sold something on eBay, a little less than half had bought something on eBay, and perhaps 2% were interested in making a living by selling on eBay (I imagine that all of these percentages were significantly lower than her usual audience at an eBay University session, especially that last number). 

The moderator and the two panelists, Greg Harrison, co-founder and CTO of mpire (which provides "personal ERP software for online sellers"), and Howard Hawk, co-founder and President of Bidadoo ("the easy way to eBay" for individuals, businesses and non-profits), helped open my eyes to the much larger potential of eBay.  A number of statistics were shown about the amount of items bought and sold on eBay, but it was the types of items, buyers and sellers that I found really interesting, as well as some of the second-order effects. 

I thought eBay was primarily used for selling used goods (an online garage sale), but new goods are increasingly part of the mix.  I also thought that most transactions were between individual consumers (C2C), but businesses -- large and small -- are increasingly buying and selling through eBay (though I didn't think to ask, then, what the proportion was between B2C and B2B transactions).

And, it's not just products being bought and sold on eBay -- services can be bought and sold as well!  Janelle used the example of an insurance agent who was holding a seminar about some "boring" product he was offering; the man sold tickets to the event via eBay (for some token amount), which created a significant buzz around the event, and helped fill the seminar.  Gaylé Morrison (one of my favorite NWEN members) later suggested that this kind of thing could be extended more generally for speakers, creating a new kind of speakers' bureau within eBay; as a former conference chair, I think this would be really cool, since the reputation system could be used to help event planners select speakers who are knowledgeable, articulate and passionate (the latter two are not always easy to determine from speaker bios).

Extending this idea a bit further, given the rise of free agency, I wonder if eBay could become a marketplace for assembling teams, in which people can more effectively and dynamically form partnerships and other business relationships for new ventures.  And, could eBay create its own currency to provide a barter capability among different people and organizations?  Perhaps eBay could provide the means to "enabling a community-driven marketplace for civic good" envisioned by the Interra Project, which I blogged about a while back.

Another interesting aspect to the growth of eBay is the crossovers between the online marketplace and the offline marketplace (another example of what Alex Pang refers to as the impending end of cyberspace, where the distinctions between the so-called online and offline worlds will fade away).  Janelle reported that eBay sellers who have "bricks and mortar" stores see a 25% increase in foot traffic in their stores, so setting up an eBay storefront can be an effective new marketing channel for such businesses.  Other interesting tidbits include Janelle's observations about passion and self-fulfilling prophecies: "eBay sellers are the most excited group of entrepreneurs I've ever seen" and "If you treat eBay like a garage sale, you will get garage sale prices".

Apparently, more and more people (and businesses) are treating eBay not like a garage sale, but a full-featured marketplace.  I started wondering what implications this has for Amazon.  I noted earlier that I personally find bidding rather tiresome, and prefer to simply buy things outright ... I'm reminded of different preferences in buying automobiles (more and more of which, of course, are being bought and sold on eBay): perhaps eBay will be the marketplace of choice for those who like to haggle over prices, and Amazon will be the marketplace of choice for those who prefer a fixed price.  If eBay offers non-bid purchasing options, then I suspect Amazon may be in real trouble.

Primed by my recently increased appreciation of the potential power of podcasting, I now see that eBay -- and companies like mpire, Bidadoo and iSoldIt -- are [also] reducing barriers to entry and enhancing the long tail in the marketplace.  I also see that biztrust, an essential element of bizlove, will be increasingly important in driving these trends (eBay users' increasing trust is one of the significant factors in the increasing average transaction price on eBay).  And, based on some of the statistics and examples mentioned throughout the talk, it appears that eBay is enabling tens of thousands of people to realize the promise of "do sell what you love, the money will follow".