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Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Making Your Company Socially Responsible

Monday, May 15th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this in 2012 with high hopes that more bosses would move in Chris’ direction, with an eye to making their workplaces more socially responsible and individuals more aware of the world outside their little corner of it. Sadly, the importance of ‘me’ has grown considerably, dwarfing, at least in the media, those who strive to move beyond that narrow focus.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI met an interesting guy over the holiday.

“Chris” has a small startup in the financial services sector and is starting to gain traction.

He said it’s been an uphill battle and that he wishes he had spent the same energy doing something “socially responsible,” because it would be a lot more satisfying.

I’ve heard similar comments from other entrepreneurs and small biz owners.

Happily, this is one of those times it is possible to “have it all,” because all it takes is changing the way you look at the world.

Having a socially responsible business doesn’t require a focus on solving social ills and it certainly doesn’t mean forgoing profit—without profit your business won’t be around.

It does mean running your business in a responsible manner

  • pricing fairly, passing on savings whenever possible and never gouging
  • fair wages and other compensation
  • fair employee treatment (not playing favorites, etc.)
  • reducing your carbon footprint
  • community involvement and contributing whenever possible; and
  • believing that it’s not all about you.

None of this is rocket science and all of it makes good, profitable, business sense.

In fact, Chris and others who feel the pull to help fix the world would do well to read Richard Branson’s Screw Business As Usual to see how others are ‘doing well by doing good’.

Note: the unseen pause is between ‘screw’ and ‘business’, not between ‘business’ and ‘as’,

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Tech And Responsibility

Friday, May 12th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAlthough I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.

KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.

The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.

First, a quick story.

Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school.  Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.

It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.

People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.

Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.

How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?

Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.

Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.

Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.

Are they truly amoral?

Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?

What am I missing?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Chatbots

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/4543027041/

I’m not a fan of a lot of AI, especially chatbots.

Most have speech patterns similar to human speech, lousy diction and rapid speech, which leaves most people with poor hearing our in the cold

And I find them relatively dumb.

Most of us have had run-ins with unhelpful customer service chatbots; the ones that are unable to respond to any but the most mundane quarries — which is why I usually just start by saying ‘representative’ until I get to a human.

I have no understanding why it is better to talk to your TV, rather than use the remote.

The first thing many of my friends and family do on a new iPhone is turn off Siri,

I know that many people love them, which is fine with me; whatever floats your boat.

That said, I learned about one that has more on its mind than ordering pizza.

An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful.

That’s useful. And free.

Still more interesting is the fact that its creator is a 19 year old, with a history of using his skills creating tools for nonprofits, since he was 13.

I may be a digital dinosaur, but I’m not to old to learn and change.

Hopefully, this kind of usefulness is the future of bots.

And who knows. Perhaps by the time I need assistance the young developers will take into account the millions of hearing-challenged people who will be their biggest market, especially in healthcare and daily living.

Flickr image credit: Chris Yarzab

Ducks in a Row: Marc Benioff on How to Run a Company

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/15192444615/

By any measure Mark Benioff  runs a successful, highly profitable company.

Moreover, he runs one of the most socially responsible companies in the world.

This BI interview with Benioff captures in a short read how Salesforce is a perfect example of a founder who incorporated his values into his company.

His socially conscious approach began when he launched Salesforce as a startup;  long before it was profitable.

I view that as a critical part of my business. That’s why when I started Salesforce, on day 1, we put 1% of our equity, 1% of our product, and 1% of our time into Salesforce.org.

Where other CEOs talk, wring their hands and use media time to bemoan the problems, Benioff fixes them.

Gender pay disparity is a good example.

When he saw proof that women were being paid less he made changes to eliminate the disparity and did it without whining or handwringing.

Two women, one our head of HR and one who ran our women’s group said, “Hey, we’re paying women less than men at Salesforce.” I didn’t believe it at the time, when we actually looked at the information we were actually paying women $3 million less than we were paying men for the same amount of work, and so we made an adjustment to how we pay women.

When asked how other companies handle the issue he furnished not only the how, but also the why it doesn’t happen.

Every company has an HR system, every company knows their salaries, that’s obviously how they pay people, and all a CEO has to do is push a button and look at, “Do I pay women the same as men?” Most CEOs are afraid to push that button.

Furthermore, Benioff  sees an attitude from a few academics in the 1970s as responsible for much of today’s inequality, — in short, he doesn’t believe that that a company’s primary purpose is to maximize shareholder value.

I believe that for business, which is where I can speak, we have to shift from shareholder maximization to stakeholder maximization.

Salesforce has been ranked as one of the top innovative companies year after year for a very simple reason.

They can’t look to me for all the answers. I don’t have them, and that’s not our culture. They are coming to me with their ideas and their visions. It’s not my role to be the only visionary in town.

All in all, Marc Benioff is a superb role model, whether your company is large, small or just starting up.

Flickr image credit: TechCrunch

Entrepreneurs: Change the World — or Yourself?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/9670184989/The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.

This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.

How does one truly change the world?

Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?

Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?

Better by what yardstick and whose standards?

Change isn’t always a positive.

What is your responsibility if you do change it?

In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”

For better or worse, change is the only true constant.

Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com

A New Corporate Era?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6551525739/

There is change afoot.

Workers today crave more from work than just a paycheck.

They want to work for, or start, companies that contribute to the greater social good, from encouragement and time to volunteer and sanctioned participation and support in various forms of fundraising to companies who (gasp) give up some profit in the name of “doing good by doing well.”

Candidates and customers flock to companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker that guarantee to donate an item for every item sold.

There was a time that companies seemed to give more of a damn about their communities and employees.

Yes it was more paternalistic and I’m not suggesting a return to that, but the enshrinement of greed in the name of profit goes deeper.

What happened?

Milton Friedman, his cronies and a media frenzy happened.

In 1970, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine in which he famously argued that the only “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

And as that mantra took hold so did the attitude that the only stakeholders that mattered were shareholders.

The belief that shareholders come first is not codified by statute. Rather, it was introduced by a handful of free-market academics in the 1970s and then picked up by business leaders and the media until it became an oft-repeated mantra in the corporate world.

Which, in turn, entrenched Wall Street’s quarter-long, short-term thinking and gave rise to the Carl Icahns of the investing world.

Friedman’s statement gave tacit approval and wide latitude to corporate raiders, leveraged buy-out firms and others to do literally anything in the name of profit and investor returns.

Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell University Law School, said these legal theories appealed to the media — the idea that shareholders were king simplified the confusing debate over the purpose of a corporation.

And we, i.e., society, accepted that attitude for half a century.

The results can be seen every day and they aren’t pretty—unless you’re part of the so-called 1% (or even the top 25%).

While there is change afoot, it begs the question—is it too little too late?

Flickr image credit: 401(K) 2013

Entrepreneurs: The Three Ps

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

What drives entrepreneurs?

According to Daniel Isenberg, “entrepreneurs are contrarian value creators. They see economic value where others see heaps of nothing. And they see business opportunities where others see only dead ends.”

But Isenberg also believes (along with many others) that “the main motivator for entrepreneurs is the chance of making big money.”

Richard Branson believes, “If you get into entrepreneurship driven by profit, you are a lot more likely to fail. The entrepreneurs who succeed usually want to make a difference to people’s lives, not just their own bank balances. The desire to change things for the better is the motivation for taking risks and pursuing seemingly impossible business ideas.”

Branson has a great belief that Profit and social good are not an oxymoron or mutually exclusive.

In Screw Business As Usual Branson says that from the very start his entrepreneurial drive wasn’t for money, but to have the wherewithal to fund his charitable efforts.

And over the years he’s done exactly that by funneling much of his wealth into Virgin Unite and through Virgin Unite to many entrepreneurs in the developing world and beyond, as well as creating and funding The B Team: “Our mission is to deliver a Plan B that puts people and planet alongside profit.”

Three cheers for Plan B and the three Ps.

Video credit: The B Team

Entrepreneurs: Seth Goldman, Barry Nalebuff and Honest Tea

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman

Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman

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In 2008 Coke paid $43 million for a 40% stake in Honest Tea and acquired the other 60% in 2011 for an undisclosed amount. The founders are still running the company and (so far) it’s stayed true to its mission.

But that’s not what today is about.

If you aren’t a reader, and even if you are, you’re probably tired of plowing though business books.

Even the good ones are often over-written; publishers want a certain number of pages to warrant the price, so there is often a lot of same thought/different words repetition, while customers’ assume there’s a direct correlation between length/weight and price.

It’s even harder to find business books that provide solid advice for startups that are focused on sustainable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible along with financial success.

Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, founders of Honest Tea, are hoping to fill that gap with a 302 page comic book due out in September.

We’d like to think this isn’t your typical How I Built My Business book. For starters, it looks like a comic book. We designed the book this way because we wanted the story to come alive. You get to share in our journey, meet some colorful characters, and not take us too seriously.

That’s right, comic book style; here’s a preview of the first chapter.

Different company, different business advice, different marketing.

The pair, with a budget they did not disclose, are focusing on online and social media efforts, and have created a Web site, missioninabottle.net, where, for $25, a customer can buy a book, a signed bookplate and a T-shirt.

I haven’t read the book, but the first chapter (all of four pages) makes at least three important points painlessly in very few words. (My kind of writing!)

And skipping a few trips to Starbucks will pay for the signed book and T-shirt.

Such a deal!

Flickr image credit: Mission in a Bottle

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If the Shoe Fits: What and When

Friday, March 8th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMany of the people who start companies are focused on getting rich—period.

Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life as most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t. –Anon

But there are many others—more now than ever before and growing—who start companies with a different focus.

They aim to do good by doing well and make the world a better place.

Both would like the tiny bit of immortality that comes with real innovation.

The one thing they all agree on is that whatever it is needs to be done now, because there may not be a ‘later’.

Of course, that goes for everything in life, not just being an entrepreneur.

The most elegant phrasing of ‘why now’ was in a short essay I read recently.

You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent.

That pretty much says it all, so whatever you’ve been “thinking about doing” or “planning” STOP.

Make the future your now and just do it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Defy the Norm

Friday, September 28th, 2012

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you recommend sharing entrepreneurial skills and experience with others?

Are you willing to put you’re money and time where your mouth is?

Creativity, innovation, focus and execution are as much key factors in crimes as diverse as financial scams and drug dealing as they are in entrepreneurism.

Defy Ventures is the name of a non-profit in New York.

Defy (v.): To challenge or dare a person to do something deemed impossible.

Defy Ventures shows felons how to pivot and put their entrepreneurial skills to work legitimately.

Today, whether you are an entrepreneur or investor, I defy you to start a similar effort wherever you live.

And if you choose to accept the challenge, please let me know and share your experiences here.

Option Sanity™ defies conventional ISO allocation.

Come visit Option Sanity for an easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement stock allocation system.  It’s so easy a CEO can do it.

Warning.
Do not attempt to use Option Sanity™ without a strong commitment to business planning, financial controls, honesty, ethics, and “doing the right thing.”
Use only as directed.

Users of Option Sanity may experience sudden increases in team cohesion and worker satisfaction. In cases where team productivity, retention and company success is greater than typical, expect media interest and invitations as keynote speaker.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

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