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April 2006

Social Entrepreneurship at Zino Society

The Zino Society Roundtable meeting had a social entrepreneurial flavor -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say several such flavors -- this month.  Two of the four companies presenting their plans to the Zino investors (SoilSoup and MadreMonte) had goals of creating greater social and/or environmental welfare, and another (Jookster) was incorporating social and community dimensions into an important technology application area.  Moreover, during the discussion after the presentations, it's clear that new ventures that seek to "do well by doing right" are appealing to this group, which, as one member put it, has a predilection for "noble purposes and high ideals".

One of the best definitions of social entrepreneurship, and some of the most compelling examples of this energy in action, can be found on the web site for the PBS miniseries The New Heroes:

A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.

Although the ventures being pitched at the meeting may not [yet] have the level of impact exhibited by the examples shown in The New Heroes, some of them offer a local opportunity for socially responsible investing.

Cathi Hatch, Zino Society's founder, CEO and Primo ZINOrina, started things off by introducing Kay Syrrist, Director of Operations and CFO of Small Vineyards Imports (a company I wrote about after attending an earlier Zino Society Roundtable meeting).  Small Vineyards has organized a consortium of small wine producers in Italy that creates economies of scale in a way that offers a win-win value proposition for all stakeholders (producers, retailers, consumers).  There is a social entrepreneurial aspect to their efforts, given their focus on wines that are "customarily hand harvested, earth friendly, and always of superior quality".  Kay announced that, as a result of their presentation at the January Roundtable, they were able to secure investment to continue their efforts to bring "the wine, the stories, and the passion of these Italian winemakers to America", and so represent one of the early success stories for the Zino Society.

The keynote for the April meeting was delivered by Jeffrey Parker, Consul General of Canada for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  Jeff spoke primarily about his prior role as Executive Director of Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), a Canadian government program for providing early stage investment in companies engaged in research and development of advanced technologies.  This seed money is intended to attract later stage private sector investment and eventually produce "tangible economic, social and environmental benefits for all Canadians".  As might be expected, some of the investments have not yielded the desired results, but there have been some notable successes, such as Research in Motion, who was able to use the TPC money to create the Blackberry pager.  Jeff also noted the strong ties across the U.S./Canadian border, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and his interest in strengthening those ties, especially along the entrepreneurial dimension.

The first company to present was Formotus, which offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to "enable enterprises to easily create and deploy mobile data applications for their employees."  Joe Verschueren, the co-founder and CEO, shared some details about pilot deployments, but as I don't see any information about these on the company web site or elsewhere on the web, I won't say more here.  Formotus co-founder and COO, Adriana Neagu, was one of the creators of Microsoft Office InfoPath.

SoilSoup President and CEO, Ken Hunt, was next up, sharing some of the environmental and economic benefits of their Organic Liquid Compost Brewing Systems.  As an erstwhile homebrewer (of beer), I appreciate the Do-It-Yourself nature of their current product line, and as an environmental advocate, I appreciate the benefits offered through using biology (beneficial bacteria derived from worm castings) rather than chemistry for nourishing soil.  Ken referred to an Ohio State University study that demonstrated the positive effects of using SoilSoup on a field planted with winter squash: a 40% increase in marketable yield and a 50% increase in the percentage of marketable fruit.

Kapenda Thomas, Founder and CEO of Jookster, presented his company's goal as combining the best of MySpace and Google.  Jookster users can identify an interesting/useful site by "jooking" it -- a one-click operation via a browser plugin (the Jookster Toolbar) to add it to a favorites list.  If a user has a community of Jookster friends, their ratings can be used to order the results of a search, as can information about the location of the user (e.g., via geotagged IP addresses) [Update: Kapenda clarified that localized search results were a natural outgrowth of their community-oriented ratings, e.g., if a user's friends tend to jook sites in a particular locale, such as the Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle, then searching for the term for "Queen Anne" is more likely to return results relating to that neighborhood than, say, a member of the British Royalty] providing what Kapenda calls context through community.  The revenue model is based on contextual advertising, and so they will need to build a critical mass of users; as noted in the Q&A, if they are able to demonstrate better contextualized search results, they may be able to command higher advertising rates.  An interesting exchange on various approaches to -- and assumptions about -- community search, including those embodied in Jookster and Wink, can be found on this post at TechCrunch.

The last presenter was the first presenter, Joe Verschueren, this time representing another venture, MadreMonte Coffee, whose mission aligns most closely with the examples of social entrepreneurship highlighted in the aforementioned PBS series ... and shares some similarities to Small Vineyards Imports.  MadreMonte markets fair trade organic coffee grown by small family farmers in the Cauca Valley of Columbia.  The goal is to foster peace, economic development, sustainable agriculture, food security and organic farming in Columbia, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  The company seeks to leverage the high quality of Columbian coffee -- Joe said it was finest in the world (I am rather partial to Indonesian Sumatra, myself) -- and a "girl scout cookies" marketing strategy channeled through the Jesuit network (two Jesuit priests are the other co-founders).

After the presentations, and an investors' discussion period, all the participants were offered a chance to partake of wine and wisdom, and as usual, both dimensions were exemplary.  The wines included

  • Robert Sinskey 2003 Los Carneros Pinot Noir: one of the darkest, full-bodied and long-finishing Pinot Noirs I've tasted (though I admit to not drinking much Pinot, given my preference for big reds).
  • Baer 2003 Ursa: a predominantly Merlot / Cabernet Franc blend that was my favorite (while still in the barrel) during a vertical tasting at Baer Winery of the 2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages a year and a half ago.
  • Kennedy Shah 2004 Auntie Meredith's Picnic Blend & 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: the Picnic Blend, consisting of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, tasted like it would be an ideal accompaniment to a picnic on a hot day, but I liked the full-bodied cab, which was a blend that also included Merlot and Cabernet Franc, much better.
  • Marchetti 2001 Rosso Conero Riserva: a blend that I believe is primarily Rosso di Montepulciano, whose name derives from "cherry" and is grown in small vineyards that are typically surrounded by cherry trees ... and thus there is a strong cherry component to the nose and taste of this full-bodied red.
  • Giuseppe Lonardi 1999 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico: my favorite of the tasting.  As Kay was opening up the first bottle, he described Amarone as "sex in a bottle", and so I pointed to the proactive display in the corner and noted that my "ticket2talk" image was a bottle of Amarone, and my caption read "Amarone: Ecstasy in a Bottle" (and I swear I didn't know Kay would be there, nor that he would be pouring an Amarone).

Ticket2talkzinosocietyjoe  Ticket2talkzinosocietyapril

Unlike the earlier Zino Society meetings I attended -- at one of which we deployed our proactive display -- some of the wine was offered as people were arriving and before the presentations began, and so conversations and connections were already flowing rather well by the time the "wine and wisdom" hour rolled around.  We did a better job of highlighting sponsors this time, thanks to the active engagement of Mary Holmes, Zino Society's VP for Business Relations, and I saw some people paying some attention to the display during the event.  However, I'm not sure there was much room for improvement in creating opportunities for interactions using technology: the wine and inspiring presentations offered pretty good tickets to talk.

Coming around full circle, I view Interrelativity itself as an example of social entrepreneurship.  The motivation behind Interrelativity is a fundamental belief that we are all kindred spirits on some level, each interesting in his or her own way, with untapped value we can offer -- and receive from -- others.  Strangers are simply friends who haven't met yet, and so our goal is to introduce technology into settings where it can help introduce people, by revealing interests and passions -- that people have chosen to share -- that go beyond what might be gleaned from faces, names and affiliations.  If this approach and capability to facilitate connections gains traction, it will help transform society in ways that benefit everyone.

Unfolding Radiance

Dan Oestreich is one of my favorite bloggers. One of the insights that has unfolded for me, through regularly reading Dan's blog, Unfolding Leadership, is that everyone is a leader: like it or not, I am always "leading by example", intentionally and unintentionally.  His latest post, On the Capability to Lead, weaves together many rich, resonant threads on capabilities, confidence, change, openness, flow and radiance: 

Our leadership is a reflection of the Radiance pouring through us

Dan invokes one of my (our) favorite quotes, from Marianne Williamson's book, A Return to Love, a printed copy of which constitutes one of the ways I've personalized my workspace. The combination of simultaneously reading and listening to Dan's post, with this quote on the wall in front of me, inspired me to snap a photo to capture the radiance of the moment:


I'll include the quote below, as it bears repeating ... and in fact I invoked it myself in an earlier post that marked a period of unfolding radiance. [Aside: other elements in the photo above are my computer with Dan's weblog in a browser window and a live webcam feed in another window, and a quotable magnet with the Zen saying "leap and the net will appear" in the lower left.]

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.'
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Dan sheds light on the challenges -- and rewards -- in acknowledging and exploring our shadows, noting that our greatest gifts often lie concealed in those dark, protected areas:

Knowing we are in part imperfect, inconsistent and insecure, we can practice the art of gradually allowing more of these parts to open, allowing more of the Radiance intended for our personal "channel" to flow through us into the world.

He outlines three stages of this unfolding (descriptions of which I include here, with his permission, along with links to evocative images -- or mandalas -- he created to represent each stage):

Stage One: Defending

When we are defending, the interior world is a dark and vulnerable place. We protect it, and we wear the mask of a fencer who is mostly "on guard" to defend our unknown territory. The darkness leaks out as we continually make sure neither we nor others see what is going on inside. If there are problems, they are caused by what is outside of us, not within.

Stage Two: Learning to Open

If, by chance, we become curious about the interior world and just brave enough to begin the journey, we enter the stage of opening. Here we discover that there are more and less conscious aspects of Shadow -- our unconscious side. The more conscious aspects sometimes appear as self-critical voices that remind us of our weaknesses and can sometimes overwhelm us. The more we enter, the darker it seems to get but, in truth, something waits for us on the other side of the Shadow's darkest walls. Eventually light and life begin to appear in new forms. A seed we plant germinates. We discover some aspect of our interior light that, like an angel, contains the message of a destiny or purpose. Like the Roman god, Janus, the god of doorways and windows, we begin to identify with looking both inward and outward.

Stage Three: The Radiance

As more areas within us awaken, as we discover and break old patterns in our conditioning, we find ourselves to be channels for a Radiance that gets brighter the more it is allowed to pass through. While some Shadow energies always remain as mysteries to be gradually unlocked, the Radiance wipes out the distinction between looking out and looking in. What is left is the flow, an infinity that is neither wholly one or nor wholly the other, but both combined.

The images were powerful for me, and I found myself wondering what they would look like if they were combined into an animated GIF ... something I'd long wanted to learn how to do. So, I channeled my wondering into action, found a guide to creating an animated GIF, which recommended JASC Paint Shop Pro -- which I had never used but remember seeing on my Dell desktop computer -- and in short order had created the animated GIF shown below.


There were many other gems of wisdom throughout Dan's post, but I'll include just one more here:

If I look [within] and see nothing or feel drawn into a dark vortex of uncomfortable feelings, then I know I am at the starting point. If I can see and acknowledge my most positive attributes and values, then perhaps I have begun to move down the path. If I have gone even farther, to examine my own blind-spots, discovering a true gift or two and feel a rising tide of light within, then I know my confidence is beginning to genuinely express itself. And if this light, this "inner wisdom," this "genius" is a radiance I can no longer contain, if it is music that I no longer play as an instrument of change but instead is what plays me, then surely, this is the way.

As I noted in my comment on Dan's post, this reference to "music [that] plays me" reminds me of a Rumi poem, Each Note ... which I've been longing to include in a blog post for a long time now:

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don't try to end it.
Be your note.
I'll show you how it's enough.

Go up on the roof at night
in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

These references to music, in the context of radiance, reminded me of the lyrics to Pink Floyd's song, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, from their Wish You Were Here CD:

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision,
rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

And finally, mapping these allusions to radiance and shining from the visual dimension into the aural dimension brings to mind Stephen Covey's 8th Habit:

Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

As I had noted in another earlier post during the aforementioned period of unfolding radiance, I find that blogging provides a perfect channel for this habit. After a two week period of blog silence and shadow dwelling, Dan's post inspired me to find my voice [again], and while I write this post without attachment, it would be icing on the cake if this entry, in turn, helps others find their voices ... extending the virtuous circle(s) of flowing radiance.

Workspace Personalization: Physical, Digital and In-Between

I've encountered a number of articles lately about organizational and personal aspects of ubiquitous cubicles (UbiCubes?), and these have brought to mind a number of ways that people have explored personalizing their workspaces with atoms and/or bits.


Fortune recently posted an article, Cubicles: The Great Mistake, providing an historical overview and future predictions for the use of these open-plan modular units in the workplace.  The original design intention behind cubicles, created in the 1960s by Bob Probst, director of research at Herman Miller, as part of their Action Office initiative, was to boost productivity by providing more surface area for work materials, including multiple desktop surfaces, shelving and partitions.  But a combination of rising real estate costs and new tax incentives added a financial efficiency aspect to the equation, quickly leading to the domination of the cubicle as the office furniture unit of choice for many companies.  Unfortunately, the efficiency gains from the proliferation and packing of cubicles came at the expense of some of the original effectiveness goals:

... what businesses wanted wasn't to give employees a holistic experience. The customers wanted a cheap way to pack workers in.

In another recent article, Why Dilbert is Right, the Gallup Management Journal reported the results of a survey on worker comfort and engagement, and found that

  • "Employees working in a comfortable environment [with respect to temperature and noise] are much more likely to be engaged and to make a positive contribution to the organization's financial success" [this follows an earlier Galllup survey reported on the high cost of employee disengagement]
  • "... the problem might not be the type of workspace that employees are given -- it might be that employees aren't allowed to make that space their own."

Cubicle_img_1716 Cubicle_img_1717 Cubicle_img_1718 Cubicle_img_1722

In some organizations and work sites, people have gone to great lengths to modify their physical spaces in personal and inspirational ways.  Among the most compelling examples I saw of this was in the workspaces inhabited by my former Intel colleagues in the User Centered Design group, where it was sometimes difficult to see any of original surfaces in the designers' cubicle areas.

[Xerox] PARC did some seminal work on Responsive Office Environments in the early 1990s, which enabled office workers to exert a new level of control over their space, and included the capability for an technologically-enhanced office to learn how to adjust the temperature to balance the preferences of office workers and energy conservation goals. 


In the late 1990s, IBM Research worked with Steelcase on a joint research project called BlueSpace, which which offered workers additional dimensions of personalization and control over workspaces:

  • Project: BlueSpace, a next generation workspace solution encompassing multiple software and hardware components that integrate sensors, actuators, displays and wireless networks into architectural elements.
  • Goal: To increase knowledge workers' productivity by deterring unwanted interruptions, improving awareness and fluid communication among team members, and providing greater individual comfort through personalized environmental settings.
    A longer-term goal is to create modular workspace solutions that can be combined in different ways to optimize workspace utilization and worker efficiency.


More recently, a Chicago Tribune article lamented iPod Isolation, the increasing tendency of many workers in cube farms to personalize the aural aspect of their individual workspace environment through the use of headphones and digital music players.  Some employers frown upon this practice because it may signify a "personal playground atmosphere" at work, or signal a "do not disturb" status to other employees.  However, another employer noted that music offers an opportunity for employees to learn more about each other, through sharing playlists on a network drive.


If the headphones are removed, additional opportunities for learning about each other may be provided through music in the workplace.  We experimented with this notion through the MusicFX project at Accenture Technology Labs in the late 1990s, where we designed and deployed a system to automatically adapt the music played in a corporate fitness center environment to the preferences of the people working out there at any given time.  One of the unintended consequences of this system -- which was in daily use for over 3 years -- was that the music sometimes changed abruptly upon the arrival of a new person, revealing that person's taste, or distaste, for a certain genre of music to everyone else present ... resulting in new opportunities for people to learn about each other ("Oh, I didn't know you liked 'Hawaiian Music'!" or "What have you got against 'Rap'?").


Dennis Chao and his colleagues at University of New Mexico took this notion a step further with their Adaptive Radio project.  Their system offered a shared music listening opportunity -- again, without headphones -- in the workplace (vs. workout place), and explored whether and how a balance could be achieved between minimizing the need for user input while maximizing the responsiveness of the shared aural environment.


Back at Accenture, we also turned our attention to the workplace, but decided to explore the ways that an office environment could sense and respond to people in the visual domain rather than the aural domain, with what we called ubiquitous peripheral displays.  This project included a a suite of applications illustrating a future wherein video displays will be everywhere, permeating a broad range of physical environments throughout the workplace: inside an individual workspace (UniCast), outside an individual workspace (OutCast) and in a common area adjoining a cluster of workspaces (GroupCast).  All of these applications involved the use of personal profiles containing a range of information sources in which a person was interested -- photos, headlines, weather, and about a dozen other information sources -- and a network of infrared sensors and personnel badges.  [GroupCast was the forerunner of the proactive displays I've written about many times before.]


I recently experienced deja vu when I installed Google Desktop, and discovered that I could park a virtual peripheral display on the right-hand side of my WXGA laptop screen. Although it doesn't allow the level of personalization we incorporated into UniCast, it's nice to once again have a channel offering peripheral awareness of interesting, but not terribly urgent, types of information.  I'm particularly addicted to the Photos pane, which periodically reminds me of the important people and events in my life, and I look forward to experimenting with the "Send to" feature that enables people to share information through their respective News panes.  It would be interesting to conduct a study on the impact of Google Desktop among people in a cube farm ... whether and how the personalization of virtual workspaces that are in close proximity to one another in physical space affects socialization -- and engagement --throughout the larger workplace.

[Update, 10-Apr-2006: a little searching for cubicle psychology in response to Dan's excellent comment turned up a Psychology Today article, Betrayed By Your Desk, which references some very interesting and relevant work by Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues, on the everyday manifestations of personality in a variety of environments:

  • Physical environments (e.g., bedrooms, offices)
  • Virtual environments (e.g., webpages)
  • Aural environments (e.g., music)
  • Social environments (e.g., the places and activities where we spend our time)

This work has resulted in some scales for measuring some important aspects of these environments:

  • Ten Item Personality Measure (TIPI)
  • Short Test Of Music Preferences (STOMP)
  • Personal Living Space Cue Inventory (PLSCI)

I haven't read the papers on this work yet -- beyond some brief skimming -- but I'm delighted to have discovered yet another kindred spirit from a different dimension!]