Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Your Invention is about to Launch: Did You Consider ALL Ramifications?

Do you think it’d be wonderful to have government departments with such lofty titles like the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Truth, the Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Love? OK, maybe that’s a bit too on the nose, as most people have probably read (and/or heard of) 1984. The point I’m trying to make:

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Huh? Let me explain.

You’re a burgeoning, young social entrepreneur who can’t wait to set the world on fire with this idea you’ve been cultivating for years. This invention has all the hallmarks of a game-changer in its industry and will surely have a spillover effect into other industries. It will revolutionize the way business takes place for years to come. You know that as soon as your invention goes to market, the world will be a better place. Finally, the day is here and your invention goes live. There is an enormous uptake rate. People start using it instantly – across the world. You’re so happy and can’t believe how quickly people have adapted to making it part of their daily lives. You always hoped and thought they would, but to see it actually happening – wow!

Two months later, you start to notice something peculiar in how your invention is being used. You notice that people are starting to use the invention in a way that you hadn’t intended and that this is starting to have an adverse effect in some areas. Weeks pass and you see that the trend has continued. People are continuing to use your invention in the “wrong” way and as a result, some people are starting to get hurt. More weeks pass and you realize that your invention, while if used in the way you intended is wonderful, has become a main driver of pain and suffering in the world.

Recognizing this, you wish with all your might that you could go back to the day before you launched the invention to undo it. Take it all back. Unfortunately, the proverbial cat is out of the bag and there’s no going back. The internet is here to stay…

I share this anecdote on account of something I read in The New Yorker recently:

In an influential piece that appeared in Rolling Stone in 1972, Brand prophesied that, when computers became widely available, everyone would become a “computer bum” and “more empowered as individuals and co-operators.” This, he further predicted, could enhance “the richness and rigor of spontaneous creation and human interaction.” No longer would it be the editors at the Times and the Washington Post and the producers at CBS News who decided what the public did (or didn’t) learn. No longer would the suits at the entertainment companies determine what the public did (or didn’t) hear.

“The Internet was supposed to be a boon for artists,” Taplin observes. “It was supposed to eliminate the ‘gatekeepers’—the big studios and record companies that decide which movies and music get widespread distribution.” Silicon Valley, Foer writes, was supposed to be a liberating force—“the disruptive agent that shatters the grip of the sclerotic, self-perpetuating mediocrity that constitutes the American elite.”

Fifty years ago, people thought computers would bring us closer together in a way that we hadn’t imagined. Certainly, we can say that that’s the case, but we must also say that they’ve brought us closer together in a way that we hadn’t imagined!

When we aspire to bring things into the world through entrepreneurship (or) intrapreneurship, it’s extremely important that there be someone there to play the role of “devil’s advocate” to consider ways in which this “wonderful idea” might literally set the world on fire. Optimism is great, but without a healthy dose of pessimism in the planning process, we might be closer to a Ministry of Plenty than we’d like to believe.

NOTE: This was cross-posted.

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The Complications of Spoken Confidence

Sometime last year, I came across a speech from the 2015 Toastmasters World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani. If you have a few minutes, I really suggest you take the time to watch it. OK, let’s say you only have a couple of minutes: just watch the introduction.

**SPOILERS BELOW**

While I’m not a fan of Qahtani’s parenting style (either option), I’m going to skip over that for now, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post. I’m also going to skip over the stereotypical portrayal of scientists, again, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post (but I will say that I’ve never meant a scientist who confirms that ‘stereotypical portrayal’). The main reason for writing this post is the first few minutes of the video. The startling anecdote that Qahtani shares about smoking and diabetes. Be honest — did you believe him when he said, “the amount of people dying from diabetes is three times as many dying from smoking?” Based on the audience’s response, I suspect that there are probably — at least — some of you who didn’t know this. To be clear, it’s not my aim to make you feel bad about this. If this isn’t a piece of data you’ve been exposed to at some point in your life, you probably have little reason to know. (Unfortunately, smoking is part of my family history, so I knew Qahtani was up to something when I heard him make that statement. Oh, and if you’re curious, WHO posits that smoking is the leading cause of death where 1 in 10 adults worldwide [!] die as a result of it, whereas diabetes is ‘only’ the 7th leading cause of death in the US.)

Circling back to the video… conviction. Did you notice the conviction with which Qahtani parroted the statistics about diabetes and smoking? He said it so assuredly that it almost makes you want to believe him (or at a minimum, question whether what you thought you knew about those two pieces of statistics was true or not). When I saw him do this, it reminded me of the hundreds of articles you see published each year that advise people on how to sell themselves or their company. The infamous elevator pitch.

Invariably, when you read articles (or books!) about how to give a good elevator pitch, you’re going to find that it’s very common that one of the most important things you can do in that elevator pitch is to be confident (or passionate or some other synonym that fits nicely into the author’s acronym). Don’t get me wrong, confidence is certainly important when it comes to making your elevator pitch, but in seeing Qahtani express himself with an air of confidence, it made me wonder about the human fallibility, with regard to elevator pitches.

Sure, I suspect that for people who’s job it is to listen to elevator pitches on a constant basis will tell you that they have a finely tuned BS-detector, but what about the rest of us who haven’t spent 10,000 hours listening to elevator pitches? I bet you’re thinking that you don’t have to worry about that when it comes to your field because you’re an expert. OK. Let’s accept for a moment that you are — what about all the other fields that you haven’t achieved “expert” status in — what do you do there? Well, I suppose you/we could perfect y/our BS-detector, but I suppose there’s still the possibility that you might make a type I/II error (depending upon your perspective). That is, there’s still the possibility that you might miss the BS for what it is and it’s also possible that you might incorrectly assess something as BS when it’s actually gold!

On that note, I want to leave you with the powerful words of Dr. Maya Angelou, on words:

Soup Scoop Crackers: A Million Dollar Idea

Are you in search of a million dollar idea? Great! I’ve got one. Soup scoop crackers. Sound crazy? Read on.

A couple of months ago, I was eating soup. There happened to be a little bit of nip in the air, so I thought I’d dive into the soup cupboard. After heating my soup on the stove, I got the crackers out of the cupboard and proceeded to sit down at the table. Upon opening the package of saltines, I then dipped my cracker in the soup and used it as a scoop to get some of the ‘stuff’ onto the cracker and into my mouth. Yum. As I sat there doing this with the remainder of my crackers, I wondered: How come there aren’t soup scoop crackers?

There are scoops for salsa and dip in the form of chips, but we don’t have this same luxury for soup. Why? Well, I thought about the way people eat soup. I’ve seen a lot of people who simply dip their cracker into the soup and then eat the cracker (almost as if the soup is warming the cracker and adding some flavor to it). I’ve also seen people who break the cracker into bits and then eat their soup with the broken crackers in it. But there’s another group of people… People like me who like to scoop the stuff out of the soup with crackers.

After I had this idea, I thought that someone must have thought of this, right? Maybe I’ve just missed these soup scoop crackers when I go shopping. It turns out, that’s not the case. I’ve done a number of google searches for crackers and I never see anything resembling a scoop cracker. Then I thought, it’s possible that I’m using the wrong terms, so let me go to the grocery store and see if there just might scoop crackers. I checked Mom’s Organic Market. I checked Whole Foods. I checked Wegmans. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing!

There doesn’t seem to exist something in the form of a scoop cracker. So, all of you entrepreneurs out there (maybe the more food-inclined ones), here’s a million dollar idea: soup scoop crackers.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship: Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities, Part 1

I enjoyed sharing the work that I’d done several years ago curating those quotes from various religious scriptures into a number of posts. As a result, it got me thinking of some of the other papers I’ve wrote and whether they’d be appropriate to share here. Since I just finished an MBA, I’ve gone through quite a number of case studies. Since professors tend to reuse those cases, it seems inappropriate to share the papers I wrote for those cases (as some students might try to pass it off as their own work). With that being said, yesterday’s post about fines vs. fees reminded me of a paper I wrote about a year ago for a class in social entrepreneurship. This paper wasn’t for a case, so I thought I’d share it in a number of installments. In today’s post, I’ll share the executive summary and the first section: defining social entrepreneurship.

Executive Summary

This aim of this paper is to answer two main questions: (1) are externalities essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship? (2) are the economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship? To answer these questions, the definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities are explored, along with the different categories of externalities. There is also a short examination of the different solutions to externalities. Following this, an analysis of the intersection of the two concepts (social entrepreneurship and externalities) is conducted, the results of which return answers of “yes” to both of the main questions of this paper.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship

Before moving into a discussion about social entrepreneurship and externalities, it is important to define these terms. As one delves further into the literature – both academic and popular – it quickly becomes clear that there are myriad understandings that cloud the space around these terms[1] and thusly make the task of definition that much more important. To begin, I will define social entrepreneurship, but before that, it might be more appropriate to start with a definition of entrepreneurship.

Most definitions of social entrepreneurship begin with an attempt to define entrepreneurship and logically so, as ‘social’ acts as a modifying word to entrepreneurship. One definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur that I particularly like, “A person is an entrepreneur from t1 to t2 if and only if that person attempts, from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[2] Subsequently, the definition of entrepreneurship follows as, “The process of attempting from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[3] While there is disagreement among some about how to define entrepreneurship, this basic understanding will suffice for the purposes of this paper.

Now that we have defined entrepreneurship, ‘business profits by innovation in the face of risk,’ we can move on to define social entrepreneurship. Similar to entrepreneurship (and maybe understandably so), social entrepreneurship lacks a consensual definition among those who study it. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford defines social entrepreneurship as, “[being] about innovative, market-oriented approaches underpinned by a passion for social equity and environmental sustainability.”[4] Others believe that social entrepreneurship is, “ a process that catalyzes social change and/or addresses important social needs in a way that is not dominated by direct financial benefits for the entrepreneurs.”[5] While those definitions are similar, one could identify differences. The first definition includes an approach and the second definition includes a process. Part of the issue surrounding the definition of social entrepreneurship is that, “it means different things to different people.”[6] I may be a bit biased as I’m currently interning with Ashoka, but I think the person [Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka] who ‘created’ the term[7] should have a great deal of say in the definition of said term. As such, Ashoka defines social entrepreneurship in following way:[8]

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

One of the important distinctions regarding Ashoka’s definition of social entrepreneurship is that the idea precedes the doing. That is, the social entrepreneur plans to address the problem (or social ill) before s/he begins the venture. This will be important later on when we talk about externalities. Another important distinction here is the specification of ‘changing the system.’ This is key because one of the more recent academic articles published on the topic of social entrepreneurship isolates four main factors of the definitions of social entrepreneurship, none of which are ‘changing the system’. They include: characteristics of individual social entrepreneurs, their sphere of operation, the processes and resources used by social entrepreneurs, and the mission of the social entrepreneur.[9] Let’s use the definition of social entrepreneurship provided by Ashoka and move on to define the next piece: externalities.

~

Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section: defining externalities. Below, you’ll find a list of footnotes from this first section of the paper.


[1] For social entrepreneurship, see: Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365. For externalities, see: Barnett, A. H., & Yandle, B. (2009). The end of the externality revolution. Social Philosophy and Policy, 26(2), 130-150.

[2] Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2004). Social entrepreneurship: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1), 36-44.

[6] Dees, J. G. (1998). The meaning of ‘social entrepreneurship.’ Stanford University: Center for Social Innovation. See: http://www.caseatduke.org/documents/dees_sedef.pdf

[9] Dacin, M. T., & Dacin, P. A. (2011). Social entrepreneurship: A critique and future directions. Organization Science, 22(5), 1203-1213.

 

Protection from Nuclear War: Look to the Cockroaches

Yesterday, I saw a post from Mental Floss about whether or not cockroaches would be able to survive a nuclear war. That is, not whether or not the cockroaches would put up a fight in a nuclear war, but whether or not they would survive the radiation from a nuclear war that happened where they existed.

The post cited research done by MythBusters that concluded cockroaches have a much higher tolerance for radiation.

Does anyone else see an opportunity for innovation here?

If I were a scientist, (aside from ethical conundrum), I might be interested in seeing how much radiation cockroaches could withstand before it affects their ability to function. Why? Because then I would want to study what it is about the cockroaches that allows them to withstand such radiation. Then, I’d want to see if I could design some sort of protection for humans. To be fair, it’d be very hard to get this to pass through any kind of Institutional Review Board (IRB). That is, the IRB would probably balk at any kind of research where humans were being used to test the strength of some kind of cockroach shield. Though, I imagine that scientists might be able to work around this by using human cells in the lab, right?

Room for Innovation in Wind Energy Industry

I was driving down the 401 in Toronto and I noticed a wind turbine setback from the highway. As I looked at it, I remembered seeing it when I used to live in Toronto over 10 years ago. That’s a long time. On one of my first trips across the USA, I drove north through the California desert. As you’d expect, there were lots of wind turbines. When I traveled through New Zealand, there were lots of wind turbines there, too.

The extent of my knowledge (at this point) of wind energy is that the energy is captured through the use of a wind turbine. And because of the structure of the turbines, there are lots of folks who oppose wind turbines. There concerns are understandable and shouldn’t easily be dismissed. That being said, I think about the abundance of wind on the planet I think that there’s gotta be room for innovation in this industry, right?

If I had to choose, my guess is that solar energy is going to be what revolutionizes energy on our planet, but while we’re still trying to perfect energy storage (batteries just won’t cut it), I have a hunch that there’s something we can do about the wind energy industry. I don’t have a grand idea to propose in this post, but there are many inventions or discoveries that come from people who weren’t working inside that industry. My guess is that I don’t have many readers who work in the wind energy industry, so it might be people like you and I who come up with an idea that revolutionizes the wind energy industry.

The next time you get a few minutes, think about the abundance of wind on the planet and how we might capture and store that energy. It just might be a million dollar idea…