Monday, September 5, 2016

"A Message to Garcia" and Other Odd Business Inspiration (Labor Day2016)

On the evening of February 22, 1899, editor Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) wrote a short, inspirational essay that ran as last-minute filler in the March 1899 issue of his magazine, The Philistine.  

This “literary trifle,” as he called it, took just an hour to compose.  But, Hubbard said, it “leaped hot from my heart” after his son suggested that “Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban War.”

By "Cuban War," Hubbard was referring to the Spanish American War.  And “Rowan” was Andrew Summers Rowan (1857-1943), a lieutenant in the United States Army charged with the dangerous mission of delivering a message from President William McKinley to Cuban rebel commander Calixto Garcia.  Rowan's mission was a success; he made contact with Garcia, who went on to play an important role during the war in support of U.S. troops.

This is how Hubbard framed the challenge:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Our National Parks at 100 - It Didn't Have to Be

One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill which created the National Park Service (NPS).

Stephen Mather (1867-1930) was named the NPS's first director.  A millionaire and marketing genius behind the "20 Mule Team Borax" brand, Mather was also a ferocious conservationist who worked tirelessly to protect the nation's wilderness areas and make them accessible to all Americans.

Mather's equally talented lieutenant, Horace Albright (1890-1987), took on all the nitty-gritty projects the "big picture" Mather disliked, including shepherding the National Park Service bill through Congress in 1916.  Albright would become the superintendent of Yellowstone (the first national park), and the second director of the National Park Service upon Mather's retirement.

The story of the birth of the National Park Service is told by Albright (from his book Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years [1999]) and is a reminder that one of America's crown jewels didn't necessarily have to be.  That's still true today; our national parks are under threat from climate change, pollution, encroachment of mining/oil and gas, traffic, invasive species, and under-funding.  (The sum: 84 million acres, 59 national parks, 353 national monuments, battlefields [including my favorite] and historic sites, $12 billion in deferred maintenance, and an NPS budget that's grown 1.7% annually from 2005 to 2015 while the federal budget grew 39%.)

Albright's tale, then, is one of tenacity, vigilance, success--and warning:

The summer of 1916 was one of the hottest on record in Washington.  It seemed to drag on endlessly . . . .Getting the national park bill through Congress was a thankless job, for 1916 was an election year.  More importantly, it was a presidential election year.  To the incumbents, getting reelected was the only thing that counted, so they were frequently back home campaigning . . . .

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Luxury of Feeling Good

A few weeks ago I took Amtrak round-trip to New York City.  I enjoy riding the train, which usually gives me three or four undisturbed hours to work each way.  On this particular day I was feeling just a wee bit green, like that time I should have gotten off the sailboat 15 minutes earlier than I did. 

I knew I was in trouble when I opened my iPad and tried to read.  A little rumbly.  A little hazy.  A little green.  I closed the cover, and my eyes, and thought happy thoughts. 

Maybe it was too much sun the day before, or maybe something I ate.  Maybe it was simply the human condition.  Whatever the case, I was just slightly off my game that day—not too sick to cancel the trip, but not quite well enough to be comfortable and productive.

There exists in our modern world the presumption--or maybe better--the luxury of feeling good.  Some combination of the right food, enough sleep, exercise, aspirin and flu shots, and access to real medical care when required have been foundational to my decades in the workforce.  Yours too, undoubtedly.  I know there are unfortunate people who suffer without relief, but most of my co-workers through the years have been able to function comfortably on a daily basis thanks to the many blessings of modern life, from coffee to cold packs to dentists to Tylenol, that keep us upright and productive.

What makes the luxury of feeling good so special is that we are among the very first generations of humankind to expect each day to be pain-free and generally comfortable.

Expecting to Die on Your First Job

Monday, July 25, 2016

Roger Babson and the Wisdom of Dogtown, Redux

If you are interested in hiking Dogtown, see here.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a beautiful fishing and summer community located on Cape Ann, adjacent to the town of Rockport.

Nested away from the shoreline between the two towns is an ancient neighborhood of about 3,600 acres once called the Common Settlement, but known today as Dogtown. At the time of the American Revolution, the Common Settlement was one of the town’s most prosperous areas, home to about 100 families. 

After the War of 1812, however, farmers seeking less rocky soil and residents desiring homes along now-peaceful beaches began to depart from the area.  The neighborhood gave way to the poor and outcast, faithfully captured in Anita Diamant’s The Last Days of Dogtown.  By 1830 the once prosperous area was abandoned, leaving behind old cellar holes and packs of feral, howling dogs.

Babson was an entrepreneur, investor,
naturalist, and historian.
During the Great Depression, Roger Babson (1875-1967), founder of Babson College, commissioned unemployed Finnish stone-cutters to carve inspirational inscriptions on some two dozen boulders spread throughout Dogtown. Babson's family, which owned the land, was entirely underwhelmed by the project.  In 1935 he wrote:
Another thing I have been doing, which I hope will be carried on after my death, is the carving of mottoes on the boulders at Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts. My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family with these inscriptions, but the work gives me a lot of satisfaction, fresh air, exercise and sunshine. I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper.
Today, Dogtown is dense woodland crisscrossed by hiking trails.  Dogtown Road is still the main thoroughfare and features the remains of cellar holes.  

And, like tweets left by a retreating glacier, Babson’s wisdom remains.  Some of the inscriptions are universal.  Some are quaint.  Some may have been tongue-in-cheek.  But for the stonecutters who needed the work, they must have been a godsend.  And for those who hike the area (as I did a few weekends ago), seeking out these boulders is like an Easter egg hunt.

These three inscriptions will give you the general drift, as well as an idea of Babson's sense of humor:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Entrepreneurs and the Mythical Big Dream (Weathermakers 2016)

Today is the 114th anniversary of modern air conditioning, courtesy of Willis Carrier.  It was on this day in 1902 that Carrier signed a set of design drawings that would become the world’s first modern air-conditioning system, installed at the Sackett-Wilhelm printing plant in Brooklyn. 

This year also happens to be a milestone of sorts because it's the first anniversary on which no American alive today was alive then; the country's oldest supercentenarian, Adele Dunlap, was born on December 12, 1902, a few months after Carrier's design was installed.  The gentle passage from current event to history is complete.

Over the course of Adele Dunlap's life, the global HVAC market has grown to more than $90 billion annually.  It’s responsible for untold productivity--including keeping the Cloud up and running so you can read this blog post.  It’s also made millions of people more comfortable and happier—including me as I write this post on a 92F New England day. 

In Weathermakers to the World we trace this remarkable story, the full trajectory of modern air conditioning from Brooklyn to the Vatican, the Sun Belt to Singapore.

But Who’s Your Daddy?

Willis Carrier is called the Father of Air Conditioning, in part, because of this famous 1902 design.  But he really earned his claim to fatherhood in 1911 when he gave to the entire industry a decade of intellectual capital in the form of his Rational Psychrometric Formulae, and a series of foundational equipment designs.  Carrier and his engineering teams had come so far, so fast--and saw so much opportunity they couldn’t possibly address--that by 1911, if they really wanted to lead an “industry,” they had to invent an industry by putting some competitors in business. 

That’s one way to build a $90 billion legacy.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Plutarch, Brand, and Tickets to "Hamilton"

Earlier this month, Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that he is leaving Hamilton, the Broadway hip-hop musical he wrote and in which he stars.  And when the Tony Award-winner departs after July 9, he’ll be accompanied out the door by another Tony-winner, Leslie Odom Jr., who plays co-star Aaron Burr, and a third mainstay of the cast, Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Hamilton.  That means the hottest ticket on Broadway, the winner of 11 Tony awards, called “the great work of art, so far, of the twenty-first century” will lose its three major leads.

So, if you happen to have tickets for Hamilton on July 10, will you really still get to see Hamilton?

I’m reminded of an old thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus. 

Theseus, the founder of Athens, had an impressive ship that won many battles.  When the ship was finally retired, the grateful citizens of Athens preserved it in their harbor.  But every so often a rotten plank on the ship would need to be replaced.  The question Plutarch asked was: After replacing the first plank, was it still the Ship of Theseus?  How about when half the planks were replaced, would it still be the Ship of Theseus?  And how about all the planks?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Zen of Fish: Everything I Knew About Sushi Was Wrong


I just finished The Zen of Fish, and I am now completely and totally intimidated by sushi.

Author Trevor Corson observed a female sushi-apprentice and her classmates over a 12-week class at the California Sushi Academy, reporting on the personalities, the fish, and the history of the fish. And I now understand why the chef has been scowling at me from behind the sushi bar all these years. To wit:
1. Stirring green globs of wasabi into your soy sauce overwhelms your capacity for taste and smell and is very distressing to the chef, who probably got up at 4:30 a.m. to find the freshest fish possible--fish that you can no longer taste.

And by the way, real wasabi is a rare plant that is notoriously difficult to grow; what you're eating is a mixture of horseradish, mustard powder, citric acid, yellow dye no. 5 and blue dye no. 1. Which you have now mixed in soy sauce to make soy goo. Which won't kill germs or parasites, contrary to urban myth. Only your tastebuds. Only the chef's self-esteem.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Useful Math for Liberal Arts Majors

In 1988, John Allen Paulous authored Innumeracy, a great little book that wondered why so many smart people are numerically illiterate, and what the consequences of such ignorance are.  Last week Paulous hit home for me when Donald Trump complained about delegate theft--despite having won 45% of all delegates on just 37% of the popular vote. 
Four out of three Americans have trouble with percentages, I’m told.  And something like 104% struggle with fractions.
I learned long ago, however, that numbers can be the key to success and happiness, if only presented in the proper fashion.  With that in mind, I have assembled some of the numerical rules and laws which can be understood by anyone--a hack for my fellow liberal arts majors--and can truly improve your life.
The 50% Rule of PowerPoint Fonts 
Most people know Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.  But here’s another, even simpler “golden rule” of PowerPoint presentations that will keep most of your decks in good working order: Always use a font size at least as large as half the age of the oldest person in the room. 
So, if you’re addressing the 70-year old Chairman, go no smaller than a 36-font.  If you are charming a 45-year old VC, insist on no less than a 24-font.  And it’s almost impossible to go too big.
The secret here is that large fonts aren’t just more legible but also mean fewer words.  Which helps with a corollary law that says managers over 50 will only pay attention for about 50% of the time you are presenting, anyway.

Three ingredients--a not unreasonable recipe.
Only Make Recipes with Three to Five Ingredients
Less than three and it’s mixing, not cooking.  More than five and it’s hard work, and easier to order a pizza.

Pain is Always a 10

If you should ever find yourself in a hospital emergency room dealing with something less than imminent death, and the nice lady at the check-in desk asks, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly does it hurt?"--you must say "10."  Do not let her see you hesitate.  You may not say, "Mostly 7 with spikes of 10." Anything less than a constant, unrelenting 10 and you will be placed at the end of the line.

Everybody lies about how many hours they work in a week, how much they read, how much they weigh, how old they are, how much TV they watch--and how much it hurts.  Lie about your pain or lose your place in line.

Double the Feeders, Triple the Feed

I'm not entirely sure why this is true, but my local Wild Birds Unlimited dealer, Henry, warned me--and he was right.  Suppose you have one bird feeder in your yard and you fill it with one bag of seed each week.  If you then install a second, equal-sized feeder, you will end up purchasing three bags of seed every week to keep the two feeders full.

There is some underlying socio-economic principle at work that probably has much broader applications.  Maybe Ayn Rand or Karl Marx could figure it out.  Maybe John Audubon.  There's maybe even a graduate economics thesis here.

Never Buy the Second Cheapest Bottle of Wine on the Menu

Sommeliers know where you live, and it's quite likely to be at the intersection of "don't know much about wine" and "don't want to look like a cheapskate."  Consequently, what you'll inevitably do is skim the wine list and purchase the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu.  That's the one with the massive mark-up.

Why?  Because sommeliers know where you live.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Greatest Race in History: Climate Change vs. Artificial Intelligence

In 2014, two technology historians authored a short essay called The Collapse of Western Civilization.  Naomi Oreskes of the University of California and Erik Conway of the California Institute of Technology assumed the role of a future historian from the Second People's Republic of China, writing in 2393 to mark the tercentenary of the end of Western Civilization (1540-2093).  

The essay is a reflection on what befell Earth and its people, searching throughout for an answer as to why the “children of the Enlightenment” failed to act on overwhelming information about climate change and the damage it would bring.  The only conclusion this future historian could reach was that Western Civilization had fallen into the grips of a second Dark Age “in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy.”

In other words, future historians would one day decide that we knew what was happening but were powerless to stop it.  Climate change would be seen as the great, slow-motion train wreck of our time.

According to this "future" history, the tipping point for the collapse of Western Civilization came in 2041 when a heatwave destroyed food crops around the world and incited rioting in virtually every major city.  With a mean global warming of 3.9 degrees Celsius, water and food rationing became universal.  Governments toppled.

Richer and better protected than most countries, the U.S. still saw great swaths of its farmland become desert.  The government announced plans with Canada to create a United States of North America to allow a northward population migration.

The second half of the twenty-first century included a devastating shutdown of the Indian monsoon, collapse of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet, some 70 percent extinction of species, and a Second Black Death.  Human life was decimated.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Food Foolish #6: A Year Later

What a difference a year makes.

It was about this time in 2015 that we began assembling material for Food Foolish.  Food waste was an important topic then, but nothing like it’s become in the last twelve months.

I now follow about 70 food-related Twitter feeds, from the Michael Pollans and Mark Bittmans of the world to groups focused on campus kitchens, ugly produce, food banks, and climate action.  Together, they present a picture of improved understanding and rapid acceleration around solving the issues of food waste and climate change.

Some of the 70 or so feeds I follow to keep track of food waste and related climate issues.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More Dead Entrepreneurs: Grove Street Cemetery at Yale

If you're serious about collecting luxury watches, eventually you'll need to add a Patek Philippe.  If you're a baseball card aficionado, you must, one day, buy a Honus Wagner.  And if you're a serious birder, you'll need to take a bush plane to record the grey-headed Chickadee.

But if, like me, you're trying to collect dead American entrepreneurs, you'll eventually need to bag the Big Kahuna.  The original Steve Jobs.  The Henry Ford-before-there-was-a-Henry Ford.

So, that's what I did.  On my way home from a visit to Gettysburg I stopped at the Grove Street Cemetery, in the shadow of Yale's impressive Sterling Law Building.  That's where I found Eli Whitney. (My first post on this early entrepreneur and his incredible, final invention is here.)

Whitney is the Father of Interchangeable Parts--maybe.  He's the patron saint of the American System of Manufactures--perhaps.  He's the inventor of the cotton gin--quite probably.  And in the 20th century, Whitney became a major bone of contention among technology historians--for sure.  At his death, however, there was no confusion.  The prestigious Niles Register termed his loss in 1825 a "public calamity."

So, on a snowy March morning in 2016, we finally met.



Monday, February 29, 2016

"Hamilton": How Entrepreneurs Really Innovate

This is the second in a series of occasional posts adapted from material I am preparing for my next project,  A Nation of Entrepreneurs.

The musical Hamilton is an ingenious, hip-hop-rich[1] stage performance that tells the life story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804).  The show arrived on Broadway in August 2015 with $32 million in advance sales.  Scalpers commanded prices as high as $3,000 for a pair of tickets,[2]  topping off an average audience at 101.8 percent of capacity.[3]  A few months after the show’s opening, the Hamilton cast album became the highest-debuting Broadway musical since 1961’s Camelot--and America’s No. 3 rap album.[4] 

Critics were uncommonly effusive.  One referred to the show as “the great work of art, so far, of the twenty-first century.”[5]  The overnight review in the New York Times stated simply, “Yes, it really is that good.”[6] 

The room where it finally happened, June 19, 2016.
If an entrepreneur is defined by his or her ability to introduce an innovation that disrupts an economic flow, then Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda (b. 1980), is a classic success.  Miranda’s work attracted an audience that otherwise might never have ventured onto Broadway, luring new entertainment dollars from around the world.  Hamilton returned 25 percent of its $12.5 million cost within five weeks of its Broadway opening.  At a weekly gross of $1.5 million, the Broadway show should hit one billion in revenue in less than two years,[7] meaning about $300 million in profits[8]  to investors—or a 24X return in 24 months.  And then there are the other seven Hamilton productions that will be staged globally.

But the disruption of Miranda’s Hamilton is far more than financial. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Forty Years After: The Fortune 500, 1976

Forty years ago, the 1976 version of the Fortune 500 appeared in Fortune's nearly-2 lb., 350-page May issue.  The list itself turned 21 that year, and along  with its ads and articles, painted a vivid picture of business in a long ago world.  

Just how far back was 1976?  Well, young entrepreneurial hotshots like Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square) and Travis Kalanick (Uber) were both born that year, but so too was old, decrepit  Peyton Manning.  That contrast, I think, defines 1976 as "early middle age."

Those of you alive then might remember the Bicentennial celebration, held in the midst of a pretty rough decade.  The elite 500 itself had taken a beating in 1975; “gripped by recession,” the editors wrote, “the 500 suffered the most severe earnings drop in seventeen years.”  

Exxon ($44.8B) was the largest industrial in America in 1976, followed by General Motors, Texaco, Ford Motor, Mobil Oil and Standard Oil of California.  This was the fossil fuel economy in living color.  Tech first appeared in 7th position with International Business Machines ($14.4B) followed by Gulf Oil, General Electric and Chrysler.  Of the next five positions, three were also oil companies.  


Incidentally, the top 10 Fortune 500 companies last year included three oil companies and two automotive—perhaps not so different 40 years later.  Apple had replaced IBM as the only tech.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Modest New Year’s Resolution: Opening the Shower Door

About a month ago we had our shower door repaired.  In the process, we reversed the door so that it now swings into the shower instead of swinging out and dripping onto the bathroom floor.  I should note that we moved into our home on July 21, 2000, so I’ve walked in and out of that shower--give or take for travel and vacations—some 5,651 times.

I’ve just been through my morning news feed of New Year’s Resolution articles.  There’s a rich harvest this year.  It turns out Carli Lloyd makes resolutions everyday.  Donté Stallworth is trying for the 10th year in a row to stop cursing.  Laurene Powell Jobs is going to practice mindfulness.  Barney Frank says coming out of the closet in 1987 was his best and last resolution.  

But back to my shower door.  I get three tries to swing it in the right direction every morning: once when I open it to turn the shower on, once about a minute later to get in, and once to get out.  The first morning after the repair I did it wrong all three times: pushed when I should have pulled, pulled when I should have pushed.  0-for-3.  It made me laugh.  That wouldn’t happen again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Things I Learned in 2015, A Very Hot Year

The head of the Senate Environment Committee:
If climate is changing, it's because of God, not man.
These are some of the things I learned in the year 2015.

It was the warmest on record, and by a staggering margin.  As of November, no one under 29 years of age had ever lived through a single month that was cooler than its 20th-century average.  

The rainforest in Washington state’s Olympic National Park caught fire for the first time in living memory.  London reached 98F during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.  Miami Beach may have less than 50 years to go before it's completely underwater.  Poison ivy under high carbon conditions is now growing bigger and more toxic.  Warmer temperatures are helping bark beetles destroy thousands of acres of Western pine forest in the US.  In America's Southwest, evergreen trees may virtually disappear in the next century.  Cranberry farmers in Massachusetts are facing warmer springs, higher incidents of fungus and pests and warmer falls; Ocean Spray has begun growing cranberries in New Brunswick, Canada.  Meanwhile, Canadians are losing their reputation as winter people.  

A blue marlin was caught near Catalina Island--1,000 miles north of its typical range.  The shells of pteropods are dissolving due to ocean pH.  Six percent of the world's reefs could disappear before the end of the decade.  Mount Everest’s glaciers are turning into lakes.   If the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru continues to melt at its current rate, it will be gone by 2100.  Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is at its lowest level in 500 years.  There is a“high probability” that the planet’s 26,000 polar bears will suffer a 30% decline in population by 2050 due to the loss of their habitat, which is disappearing at a faster rate than predicted by climate models. (As a small consolation, they can now at least mate with grizzly bears.)  China released a detailed scientific report on climate change that predicted disastrous consequences for its 1.4 billion people, including rising sea levels and the likelihood that more than 80 percent of the permafrost on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau could disappear by the next century.  Glacier retreat in western Asia now threatens China’s water supply.  The International Energy Agency recently reported that the global energy sector emitted as much CO2 in the last 27 years as in all previous years of the Industrial Revolution.  Climate change is slowing down the rate of the earth's rotation.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax.  He noted, "It's very, very cold out.  Very unseasonable."  Chris Christie announced, “Hell no,” America shouldn’t lead on climate change.  Ted Cruz said, “If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming.”  Donald Trump said, “I believe in clean air, immaculate air, but I don’t believe in climate change.”  Ben Carson said, “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on,” and that “as far as I’m concerned that’s irrelevant.” Marco Rubio said, “I believe climate is changing because there’s never been a moment when the climate is not changing,” but “we’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government we’re under wants to do.”  And Carly Fiorina added, “Here we have a bunch of liberals and people in the EPA who are willing to sacrifice other people’s lives, other people’s livelihoods at the altar of their ideology.”  

Mark Twain (or maybe Robert Heinlein) once said, “Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.”  Perhaps they meant that weather is what you get but climate is what you deserve.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

From Both Sides Now: A Note on Whack-a-Mole Leadership

I was fed in the 1980s on a diet heavy in strategy.  It was the heyday of GE’s Reginald Jones, who had introduced something called strategic planning into one of America’s great companies--and would later introduce a successor by the name of Jack Welch.  And just up the coast, the Boston Consulting Group was organizing the world into growth-share matrices. 

When I graduated from business school I believed it was a mortal sin to run a company without a strategic plan: Envision an End State 3-5 years out.  Decide where you wanted to compete.  Decide how you wanted to compete.  Write it all down, carve it all up, and make it all so.

This was how the world ran, or ought to run.  Leading a business without a strategic plan was like driving blindfolded on the interstate.

I have since learned that the way we wish the world to work and the way it actually works are two entirely different things.  I would guess, in fact, that far more businesses lack strategic plans than have them.  Some have plans that aren't strategic.  Others have plans but don’t read them.  Some that read them don’t follow them.  Some that follow them execute so badly that the plan might as well not exist.

In other words, the world I was taught to create--and expect--might represent the smallest share of all global business activity.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Food Foolish #5: Some Lessons from the Field at Thanksgiving

Thanks to Gettysburg College and the Gettysburg Foundation
for hosting an evening of Food Foolish discussion.
Since we published Food Foolish in July 2015, my co-author John Mandyck and I have been on a variety of calls, Webex’s and in-person lectures to talk about the issues of food waste and climate change.  John has been especially busy, so if you have an interest in these topics, you should be sure to connect with him on Twitter (@JohnMandyck).  (And I'm on Twitter here.)

As I meet with folks, I get asked a lot of questions that, frankly, I can’t answer.  So I've been studying up on everything from food security, ugly fruits and vegetables, drought, precision farming and composting, to agroecology, urban gardens, food banks and even so-called Frankenfish.  I have found Twitter to be especially helpful in channeling the daily flood of material being generated.  Food + Tech Connect in particular is a terrific feed for entrepreneurial news, and the Guardian in London seems to have the broadest coverage of food and climate change news.

Now, as the season of food (and thanks) is upon us here in the States, I thought I might share just a few of my many lessons from the field.

Getting Mom to Waste Less.  Let’s begin with the very nice woman in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who asked me how she should deal with her mother, who refuses to eat the dark meat from the turkey.  I am still formulating my answer, which might require as much Dr. Phil as Michael Pollan.  (My own dear mother hated parsnips, though it never came to a crisis stage.)  

It’s worth noting, however, that Americans toss out 204 million pounds of turkey annually, worth nearly $300 million and containing about 105 billion gallons of embedded water.  In fact, if we start counting embedded water on our Thanksgiving plate, we’ll find that a can of cranberry sauce has 1,559 gallons, a gallon of apple cider nearly 1,500, and a bowl of mashed potatoes some 2,528 gallons.

So, as I think about how to motivate Mom, let's all plan and shop wisely.  And once the big event is over, work on those leftovers.  I discovered in my travels that many folks now plan “Leftover Parties” on the Friday after Thanksgiving to insure that they reduce things down to the carcass.  This, along with the budding “Meatless Mondays” movement, are small signs that there is a fundamental change in the way Americans are thinking about their food.  (See “The War on Big Food” from Fortune here.) 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ages Matter: The New Anthropocene

What Ages do we live in?

It seems like a silly question, but think of it this way:  How many people can you name who lived between 500 AD and 1000 AD?  Yes, Charlemagne; everybody gets Charlemagne. 

Joan of Arc?  Sorry; off by 400 years. 

Venerable Bede?  Well yes, but now you’re Googling.

There were maybe 200 million human beings alive in 500 AD and 300 million alive in 1000 AD.  If we figure on a good 30-year life span, that means several billion were born and died across those 500 years. 

This period is traditionally called the Dark Ages.  It’s a half-a-millennium stretch in which most of us can remember the name of exactly two people who lived--and on one we had to cheat.  This was not mankind's happiest era.

Ages matter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

4 Takeaways from One Day University

One Day University was back in Boston this month with four terrific lectures--or, to be more precise, three terrific lectures and an interesting, slightly disorganized chat.

First up was Anna Celenza, Professor of Music at Georgetown University.  Her presentation focused on "the American sound," a concept which arose in the years following WWI.  She told its story by highlighting George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Duke Ellington's Symphony in Black, and closed with one of the most spectacular pieces of American music I had never heard.


Takeaway 1: Download Ellington's 1964 version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.  Put your headphones on.  Turn it up (a little).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Treasures of Innovation at the Smithsonian

We had the opportunity last weekend to visit the Smithsonian's current exhibit on innovation and enterprise.  What a treat!   Below are just some of the items on display.

This is the 1837 prototype receiver for Samuel B. Morse's telegraph.  By sending electric pulses, Morse was able to record a message as a wavy line on a strip of paper.  Morse was an excellent artist, so it's no surprise the frame is an artist's canvas stretcher.