Category Archives: Opportunity

Lessons from the Lab: The Magic of Consistency

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It’s been five months since we welcomed Schooner and Katy into our lives.  Since then, we’ve drastically altered the rhythm of our days in order to nurture them and keep our belongings from ending up as chew toys.  We’ve cleaned up every kind of canine body waste, cajoled them through crate training, and unintentionally conditioned a salivary response to the iPhone camera. Through this process, I’m reminded of a Keith Cunningham quote,  “Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.”

Everyday, twice a day, we walk them.  During, we work on three simple commands: “Sit”, “Stay”, and “Leave it”.  There’s no trick to it, no professional dog trainer – just consistency.  The results have been fantastic. While they are technically still puppies, they can be trusted to follow our commands on and off the leash.  People we meet along our walks can hardly believe how young and well-behaved they are.

And so I’m left wondering…how much more I could accomplish in life if I just consistently practiced three simple skills twice daily?

Schooner: The First 6 Months

Katy: The First 6 Months

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Happiness vs. the 5 P’s of Thriving

So why don't I give a frack?

Since the gist of Oliver Segovia’s Harvard Business Journal article “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion” conflicts with my beliefs on thriving, I was interested in this brainiac’s (HBS ’10) ideas.  He argues we have to be solutionists – find a problem and solve it in order to be happy.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense.

What he fails to mention is that we aren’t going to be effective or even enjoy solving problems that we aren’t passionate about.  I’ll use myself as an example.  Fracking is a big deal right now in El Paso County.  It’s has been linked to water pollution and earthquakes.  But it offers opportunity to reduce unemployment and increase school budgets.   According to Segovia, I should be eager to get educated on the local issue of fracking since it deals with two areas I care about:  the environment and economic opportunity. So why doesn’t fracking push my happiness button? 

Grant Crowell answers my question in his comment, “Segovia is short-sighted when he says for happiness, we should not rely on passion and instead focus on solving problems.” Crowell instead offers 5 P’s to focus our efforts in thriving:

1) Passion: the emotional drive and sense of self
2) Purpose: our need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves
3) Profit: because we need reward for motivation
4) People: because our network and relationship skills make us truly powerful
5) Push: giving as much as we have even when no one but us is paying attention

How Do You Thrive?

Fracking issues don’t fulfill the Ps for me: I’m ambivalent because I don’t see tangible or intangible reward to finding solutions – I have neither the network nor skill set to effect positive change. Thus, I can’t push myself to get going on the solutions.  To thrive, I must focus in areas where I have the 5P’s.

What about you? Does your work fulfill the 5P’s?

Workforce Diversity Does Not Equal Affirmative Action

The United States Olympic Committee has introduced measures to address the fact that its workforce is not reflective of the demographics of the Colorado Springs community where it is located.  This diversity effort, commonly seen as an organizational best practice, is apparently not popular with Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor, Wayne Laugesen.  Accompanying his critical article was the following online poll asking readers if the “USOC should give preference to minorities” as part of their hiring process.

Regardless of implementation, affirmative action along with Equal Employment Opportunity laws are designed to support diversity. They are not synonymous with it, as Laugeson’s polling language would suggest.  Workforce diversity is a strategy for increasing an organization’s competitiveness in a global marketplace.  Moreover, it is much harder to implement than the hiring quotas Wayne is suggesting: Attracting and retaining racial and ethnic minorities, females and people with different abilities requires committed effort and innovation.  And, in the case of Wayne’s world, overcoming ignorance of the issue.

Re-framing the Immigration Debate

"Promised Land" by Christoph Niemann

I was pleased to hear at least one of the GOP contenders speak sanely on immigration during the CNN debate last week.  Specifically, Newt Gingrich re-framed the rhetoric in a more accurate context by noting that many immigrants are long-standing members of our community who contribute by working and paying taxes.  “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,” said Gingrich.

An on-going poll at msnbc.com currently shows that a majority of you, whether you’re for Newt or not, agree.

Should illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for many years be allowed a pathway to live in the United States legally?

While this shift in the conversation is helpful, I’d love for at least someone to recognize corporate America’s culpability in our immigration issues.  Or has everyone forgotten how large US companies such as Tyson were indicted for bringing immigrants here to work illegally?

Think You’re Too _____ to Change the World?

On Becoming an Anonymous Extraordinary

I was COMPLETELY inspired by Natalie Warne’s TEDxTeen talk! Rather than worrying about what limited her, she looked beyond the confusion and conformity of high school and realized her potential to combat social injustice.

The video is a great teaching tool for parents and educators who want to give kids an opportunity to engage positively in their community and in public policy.  It’s compelling proof that you don’t need to be Bill Gates, Oprah, or Leymah Gbowee to save the world.  Rather, Warne demonstrates it’s up to the anonymous extraordinaries, “people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in,” “people who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.”

Clearly, all of us can strive to make a positive impact, no matter how fill in the blank we are!

A Roadmap for Social Change

"All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual." Albert Einstein

Since a perk of my work is learning what amazing non-profits are doing to help families survive these difficult economic times, I was thrilled to talk to Crittenton Women’s Union, an .org located in Boston, MA.  CWU provides direct services, conducts research, and advocates for public policy to better support low-income women in their journey to economic self-sufficiency.

The foundation of CWU’s work is a theory of change for what moves a family from poverty to self-sufficiency, Bridge to Self-Sufficiency.  This model not only provides strategy and internal structure for developing programs and measuring outcomes, it gives the CWU clients a tangible set of goals to strive for in the difficult journey from poverty to economic independence.

CWU has a keen focus on specific, relevant data such as their Economic Independence Calculator that determines the actual costs of living depending on family size and location. A single mom in Boston with an infant and school-aged child knows she’ll need earn almost $60K/yr (about $28/hr) to achieve economic independence.  This data is linked to Hot Jobs, “careers that require two years or less of post-secondary education or training, meet the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index income level for a single-parent family with two children, and currently post high-vacancy rates.”  CWU is giving a woman clear, meaningful data to develop a career path that offers opportunity for advancement and breaks the cycle of poverty for her children.

To see what your community’s livable wage is, visit the National Center for Childhood Poverty’s Basic Needs Budget Calculator.

What is your community doing to support upward economic mobility of disadvantaged families?  I’d love to share your story!

Should Occupiers Take a Stand or Keep Marching Along?

"Make Jobs Not War!"

First, let me say I support the #Occupy movement.  This country was established to be a fair and just society and it’s clear for 99% of us it is ceasing to be so.  As Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz pointed out,

“We have a social problem, not only an economic problem. We have this strange situation of a country where we have increasing numbers of homeless people and increasing numbers of vacant houses.”

Watching city parks across the US fill up with occupiers intent on tweeting grievances but no concrete ideas, I’m wondering if protesters have read the  American Jobs Act?

The AJA has several initiatives that would positively impact our economy.  Two in particular would provide relief to the unemployed: 1) Reauthorization of unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year; and, 2) Establishing the “Pathways Back to Work Fund” to create jobs for low-income and unemployed youth.  The former is a given, or 6 million people might lose whatever economic stability they have left.  The latter is a proven success in states as diverse as Mississippi and Michigan.

So, occupiers, while you’re marching for jobs can you take the opportunity to help create some?

Make funny signs AND jobs!

Opportunity is Like a Cupcake…

…or is it?  UC Berkeley College Republicans think so.  Their “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” charged customers different prices based on race and gender in order to demonstrate opposition to California legislation SB 185, which would allow public universities in California to consider race and gender in university admissions policy.

Goodies were priced at $2 for Caucasian students, $1.5 for Asian and Asian Americans, $1 for Latinos,  $0.75 for African American students, and $0.25 for Native Americans. Women got a $0.25 discount.  “The pricing structure is meant to be discriminatory,” said Shawn Lewis, the group’s president.

Accordingly, Native American women qualified to pay nothing for the cookies which inspired some enterprising  individuals to don feather headdresses in order to get free cookies.

Satire? Oops! I thought we were going for irony!

If demonstrators meant to highlight opportunity gaps by race and gender wouldn’t they’d have used a more accurate pricing strategy? Regardless of whether the metaphor is a fair one (bake sale = opportunity via college education), the question remains: “Is legislating affirmative action an effective strategy for increasing access to opportunity?”

Justice Restored?

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night, Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis exhausted all appeals for clemency. At 11:08pm EST he was put to death for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.

Troy Davis

While CNN switched between the jail where Davis supporters congregated and live interviews with the victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, legal pundits commented on the convoluted Davis case which polarized people into two camps, those desperate to save a life versus those determined to see it ended. At the heart of both arguments was the idea of justice; or, “a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal”.

Is the death penalty just? Does it protect society? An overwhelming majority of the country’s top academic criminology experts reject the idea that there is “any deterrent effect from the death penalty.”

Perhaps Davis’ case will highlight the need for restorative justice. Restorative justice differs from our current system in that it views a criminal act more holistically; instead of defining crime as “breaking the law”, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. It recognizes that the criminal justice system is not effective in reducing crime; rather than rehabilitating or deterring criminals, prisons make offenders less likely to reintegrate successfully into society. Studies show a majority of felons released were rearrested within 3 years. Importantly, restorative justice acknowledges victims’ dissatisfaction with their treatment by the criminal justice system.

Looking at “justice” not by how much punishment is inflicted but by how much harm is repaired or prevented means we try to get a head of the problem rather than constantly react to it.

What do you think? Is it time for a change? Is our current system of justice working for us?

What Does a Great Teacher Look Like?

Research shows the most important factor determining the quality of education  a child receives is the quality of his or her teacher.

But what does a great teacher look like?

If you throw all the qualities of great teachers into an algorithm and ask it to define the most important characteristics, this is what it might look like: