Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Luxury of Feeling Good (Redux 2021)

As I recuperate from recent surgery, still too green around the gills to research and write an entirely new blog post, I'm re-upping this post from August 2016. I will never again take the luxury of feeling good for granted.

I'm also thinking today of long-haul COVID survivors, hoping we can find a way to heal them.

(August 2016) A few weeks ago I took an Amtrak round-trip to New York City.  I enjoy riding the train, which gives me four undisturbed hours each way to work.  On this particular day, however, 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 healthy food, enough sleep, exercise, aspirin, 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, December 28, 2020

Tweets for Tweets (3): My Favorite Bird Photos H2 2020

Harbor Seal off Salisbury Beach, checking me out
For many of us, the second half of 2020 meant staying as far from microscopic, aerosolized harm as possible. For 50 million Americans, birding turned out to be a silver lining, an activity suited for a world where COVID favored crowded indoor venues. I count myself among that lucky 50 million.

Unlike H1 and my excursion to Colombia (see first half-2020 favorites here and 2019 favorites here), H2 2020 instead involved exploring some of the birding locations on the North Shore of Boston. Fortunately, these locations are also some of the best birding spots in America. 

Hosting 365(ish) species annually, Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is usually ranked in the top 5 birding locations in America.  An 11-mile long barrier island, it's a collection of beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes and pannes, freshwater impoundments, and maritime forests. It's bonkers during spring and fall migration, a good spot to see Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks in the winter, and a breeding area for the endangered Piping Plover. 

Salisbury Beach State Reservation sits across the mouth of Merrimack River from Plum Island. It's another site ideally suited for birdwatching, though (for me), a preferred cold-weather site after the RVs have disappeared. Great rafts of Eiders and Scoters float around harbor seals. Snow Buntings practice their takeoffs and landings. In irruptive years like 2020, flocks of Crossbills feast in the pines. And, like Plum Island, Salisbury can host Snowy, Saw-whet, Long-eared Owls, and Eagles . . .

Salisbury is where I saw the Eagle surfing an ice floe from the Atlantic down the Merrimack River in December 2019.

My home base for birding is the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Mass Audubon's largest sanctuary and part of the Eastern Essex County Interior Forest Important Bird Area. Its magnificent 2,800 acres are also the hub for a collection of sanctuaries that, though I'll spare you the details, made getting out during COVID not just possible but pleasurable. (One of these sanctuaries, Rough Meadows, took me back to my business school days and one of business history's greats, Professor Alfred Chandler. I wrote about my visit to that sanctuary here.)

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Kinder, Gentler Holiday: Innovating Christmas in America

Thomas Nast's famous "Merry Old Santa
Claus" from the January 1, 1881 edition
of Harper's Weekly 
Reupping the story of John Pintard and his innovation of the Christmas season, a deleted chapter from the final draft of "Innovation on Tap." Pintard engaged in social engineering, a type of innovation that almost always fails, almost. . .

Between 1790 and 1840, the combined population of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston grew from 94,000 to 626,000 residents.  An antiquated colonial watch system, overwhelmed by disorder and crime, gradually gave way in the 1830s to the first police forces, themselves overwhelmed by corruption and incompetence.  
Politics, religion, immigration, and race were all divisive issues.  A sudden financial panic could swell the numbers of unemployed.  Urban poverty and vagrancy grew.  The threat of violence hung in the air.  Mob activity was seen by many as a valid way to deliver justice when the law hesitated or failed. 
“A man ought to fear God, and mind his business,” congressman Reuben Davis wrote, summing up one version of the American credo.  “He should be respectful and courteous to all women; he should love his friends and hate his enemies.  He should eat when he was hungry, drink when he was thirsty, dance when he was merry, vote for the candidate he liked best, and knock down any man who questioned his right to these privileges.[1]  Violence, Davis believed, was simply part of how an American protected his freedoms. 
Likewise, when Frenchman Michel Chevalier toured the country in 1839, he noted that citizens gathered in the morning to share the news of hangings and floggings—“and then go on to the price of cotton and coffee.”  There was little difference North or South, East or West.  “A riot which in France would put a stop to business,” he wrote, “prevents no one here from going to the Exchange, speculating, turning over a dollar and making money.”[2]
For wealthy New Yorkers such as John Pintard (1759-1844) and his friends, escape from these terrifying moments of “mobocracy” meant heading north, away from the old, congested Dutch settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan to the pastoral areas of what is now the city’s grid of numbered streets.  Even this exodus proved inadequate in the face of ceaseless population growth.
In the years following the Revolution, a kinder, gentler city seemed out of reach.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Charles Beard: Historian Entrepreneur


[Author’s note: This essay was intended for Innovation on Tap but was cut for length—and as part of a (losing) debate I had with several editors who did not see Charles Beard as an entrepreneur.  I took the position that if Lin-Manuel Miranda is an entrepreneur, attracting a new audience to Broadway by combining the Founding Fathers with rap, then Charles Beard was an entrepreneur by selling a boatload of books to Americans who never thought to measure the creation of the Constitution against economic interest and greed. I continue to believe that intellectual innovation is as important as social or technological innovation, but that belief didn’t do much to get Beard his own chapter in Innovation on Tap.]

In a nation whose sense of identity comes not from geography, ethnicity, or religion but from a set of ideals, history is a high-stakes proposition. 

Even today, America’s Founding Fathers sit in influential positions.  Twenty-first-century citizens wonder, for example, what Jefferson and Hamilton might think of our national debt, campaign finance laws, and healthcare reform.[1]  Would Washington endorse military activity in the Middle East?  Would Madison allow handguns on the streets of Manhattan?  

Invoking the voices of 250 years ago is a business fraught with peril because challenging America’s Founders tend to challenge Americans’ sense of identity. 

That makes what Columbia University historian Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948) brought to market in 1913 not just an important innovation, but perhaps the most influential history book ever written in America.[2]

Monday, August 17, 2020

Answer the Note: Lessons from Ben & Jerry's and Warren Buffett

I was struck by a letter printed on Sunday in The New York Times Magazine from Andrea, 37-years-old and living in London.

Andrea grew up in Cancun and loved Ben & Jerry's ice cream so much that he "wrote to them (in my 7-year-old nonnative-English) to let them know I had the best idea: They could add chocolate syrup in a little plastic bag to their ice cream."

Much to Andrea's surprise, the company responded, saying his "idea sounded delicious, but not great for the environment.  They taught me a great lesson," Andrea added, "(and gave me coupons!).  Such a lovely company and lovely people, caring for all their customers, even if they lived in other parts of the world, or were 7-year-olds."

Thirty years later, Andrea credited Ben & Jerry's with encouraging him to think about corporate values and the environment.

His letter was a reminder of my interview with Sweeten CEO Jean Brownhill for Innovation on Tap.