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from "Trout, the Dow and our Bottom Lines," by Makoto Fujimura, Refractions, 7 December 2008 :: first posted here 8 December 2008

[If Paul] is right [in 1 Corinthians 13], then all things or systems that work against the principle of love will fail eventually. Sacrificial love, in other words, is the only sustainable operating force in the universe. We can complain that we simply cannot accept the assumptions proposed here; but Christians should not be able to operate, if we do indeed believe these principles, in some halfway land, on one hand claiming to believe the ordinances, but also functionally accepting the worldly systems at work as the only reality.

The medium of beauty in a business world is the workers that make the businesses run. It’s not the stock options or profit. They comprise far more capacity, and far deeper longing and invigorated promise for future generations than the system gives them credit for. So the question is not whether they are paid enough, or given enough work: the question is, does the workplace enlarge humanity, or endanger humanity.

Thus, we need to see the market not just as a tool to make money, but a complex labyrinth with a generative creative order. In such an ecosystem, we need to consider investments as a form of stewardship. Conversely, we may redefine investments as a way to create and sustain beauty, rather than gain power for ourselves. And true beauty, at her truest aim, is a humble stream that flows through the heart of a city, re-humanizing its inhabitants, and allowing them to breathe in what would otherwise be unbearable air.

from "Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: Early Mistakes," by Joe Ippolito, GOOD, 17 August 2009 :: first posted here 18 August 2009

Don’t be humble, either. This was one of my early mistakes. I was well aware that I was going to be subjected to this sort of skepticism. As a result, my initial projections were extremely conservative. Bad idea. In my first few meetings, I got the same reaction: People loved the concept, but were surprised at how little money we were going to generate. Despite the fact that our idea had potential, I’d attempted to temper expectations. Turns out, I’d tried so hard to avoid looking unrealistic that I ended up looking unimpressive. There was a middle ground I was missing. Don’t go overboard, but don’t sell yourself short.

In fact, this is the reason many people advocate integrating a situational analysis into your projections. Take three scenarios—not great, good, awesome—and show how they affect your profits and the amount of good your company can do. Make it as easy as possible to understand. “If we get this many customers, here’s what happens.” It takes a bit more research and a bit more time, but it’ll show that you’re planning ahead for contingencies—something any potential investor will appreciate.

from "The IKEA Effect," by Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business Review, February 2009 :: via more than 95 theses :: first posted here 9 September 2009

When instant cake mixes were introduced, in the 1950s, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes were too easy, suggesting that their labor was undervalued. When manufacturers changed the recipe to require the addition of an egg, adoption rose dramatically. Ironically, increasing the labor involved – making the task more arduous – led to greater liking….

When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored of their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.

We also investigated the limits of the IKEA effect, showing that labor leads to higher valuation only when the labor is fruitful…

from "‘Whitening’ the Résumé," by Michael Luo, The New York Times, 5 December 2009

Nevertheless, the strategy of hiding race — in particular changing names — can be soul-piercing. It prompted one African-American reader of the article to write that he was reminded of the searing scene in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots” when the runaway slave Kunta Kinte is whipped until he declares that his name is Toby, the name given to him by his master.

Black job seekers said the purpose of hiding racial markers extended beyond simply getting in the door for an interview. It was also part of making sure they appeared palatable to hiring managers once race was seen. Activism in black organizations, even majoring in African-American studies can be signals to employers. Removing such details is all part of what Ms. Orr described as “calming down on the blackness.”

In “Covering: the Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” Kenji Yoshino, a law professor at New York University, wrote about this phenomenon not just among blacks but also other minority groups. “My notion of covering is really about the idea that people can have stigmatized identities that either they can’t or won’t hide but nevertheless experience a huge amount of pressure to downplay those identities,” he said. Mr. Yoshino says that progress in hiring has meant that “the line originally was between whites and nonwhites, favoring whites; now it’s whites and nonwhites who are willing to act white.”

"Obsessives: Soda Pop," a interview with John Nesse, proprietor of Galco's Soda Pop Stop, 10 August 2009 :: via Boing Boing
from "Trapped in cubicles," by Julie Schlosser, FORTUNE, 22 March 2006 :: via The .Plan - A Quasi-Blog

Another critical factor in the cubicle’s rapid ascent was Uncle Sam. During the 1960s, to stimulate business spending, the Treasury created new rules for depreciating assets. The changes specified clearer ranges for depreciation and established a shorter life for furniture and equipment, vs. longer ranges assigned to buildings or leasehold improvements. (Today companies can depreciate office furniture in seven years, whereas permanent structures—that is, offices with walls—are assigned a 39.5-year rate.)

The upshot: A company could recover its costs quicker if it purchased cubes. When clients told Herman Miller of that unexpected benefit, it became a new selling point for the Action Office. After only two years on the market, sales soared. Competitors took notice.

That’s when Propst’s original vision began to fade. “They kept shrinking the Action Office until it became a cubicle,” says Schwartz, now 80. As Steelcase, Knoll, and Haworth brought their versions to market, they figured out that what businesses wanted wasn’t to give employees a holistic experience. The customers wanted a cheap way to pack workers in.

Propst’s workstations were designed to be flexible, but in practice they were seldom altered or moved at all. Lined up in identical rows, they became the dystopian world that three academics described as “bright satanic offices” in a 1998 book, Workplaces of the Future.

Designer Douglas Ball, for instance, remembers the first installation of cubicles he created for a Canadian company in 1972. “I thought I’d be excited, but I came out depressed,” says Ball, now 70. “It was Dilbertville. I’d failed to visualize what it would look like when there were so many of them.”

from "Infrastructure for Souls," by Joseph Clarke, Triple Canopy, issue 6 :: thanks James!!

The correspondences between the Googleplex and Saddleback are remarkable: Rigid building models were broken down into amorphous, disaggregated masses, screened from their parking lots by trees and artificial hills; both campuses include plush lounges, landscaped paths, beach-volleyball courts, and cafés (with “outdoor seating for sunshine daydreaming,” Google’s website boasts). The architecture is meant to persuade church members or secular employees—especially younger people—to spend their most productive time there. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said, “knowledge workers believe they are paid to be effective, not to work 9 to 5.”

It’s no coincidence that Saddleback mirrors the top office environments of its day. Warren was a good friend of [Peter] Drucker’s (the consultant died in 2005), and the books he has written for pastors quote Drucker liberally. Drucker, in turn, was so impressed with the business acumen of evangelical leaders that in 1998 he declared the megachurch “surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”


D: So the problem isn’t small-town Kansas—it’s a toxic mixture of small-town Kansas plus adolescence?

R: I think so. I like the small-town Kansas where we are now but, believe it or not, small-town Kansas is very heterogeneous. The town where we live now and where I grew up have a lot of significant differences in culture.

D: Tell me more…

R: Mainly it has to do with how people treat each other and how people approach problems. Here, problems are meant to be solved and people have a lot of respect for one another. We have “community conversations” when there’s something that impacts the whole town, and everyone who wants to speak can have their say. Where I grew up, on the other hand, people say all manner of things about other people, and if there’s a problem that affects the town everyone just complains to everyone else. The population even since I left has declined really sharply and everyone just says, “Oh, poor us, look at our dying town, who will save it?” Whereas here they formed an economic development commission and went out looking for new businesses to bring to the community. Some problems are similar, but by and large I think this is a positive place to grow up, and the graduating seniors we know well have said so too.

The other great example of small-town heterogeneity is to look at the counties to the north and south of us. To the north we have County A, where people routinely farm well into their 80’s, have active sex lives into their 90’s, and there has not been a teen pregnancy in almost 10 years. These are the ruddy-cheeked insanely healthy country folk you may have read about. To the south, then, we have County B, where everyone over 40 has diabetes, the obesity rate seems like it’s about 90%, STI’s are rampant and there are currently 8 pregnant girls in the high school. What’s the difference? I have been trying to figure this out. The medical care is exactly the same (it’s our group). The physical infrastructure is not that different. But culturally, people in County B have this victimizing, back-biting mentality.

D: It’s that stark a difference, huh? That’s astonishing.

R: It really and truly is.

from "In Praise of Dullness," by David Brooks,, 19 May 2009

[P]eople in the literary, academic and media worlds rarely understand business. It is nearly impossible to think of a novel that accurately portrays business success. That’s because the virtues that writers tend to admire — those involving self-expression and self-exploration — are not the ones that lead to corporate excellence.

For the same reason, business and politics do not blend well. Business leaders tend to perform poorly in Washington, while political leaders possess precisely those talents — charisma, charm, personal skills — that are of such limited value when it comes to corporate execution.

Fortunately, America is a big place. Literary culture has thrived in Boston, New York and on campuses. Political culture has thrived in Washington. Until recently, corporate culture has been free to thrive in such unlikely places as Bentonville, Omaha and Redmond.

from "Happy Mother’s Day," by John Maeda, Our (and Your) RISD,10 May 2009

When I was a child and worked in our family business, a tiny tofu store in the International District of Seattle, I recall that although my father’s silently arduous, craftsman approach to tofu was what drew customers from far abouts, it was my mother’s warm Hawaiian personality (she was born and raised in Oahu) that seemed to keep the customers drawn close to our little, and literal, “hole in the wall” shop. By growing up and watching the two of them work together, I learned the basics of business — a superior product delivered with superior customer service. Were it not for my mother, I’d probably have never discovered a way out of my paternally-inspired introverted ways of the silent craftsman; it was my mother that showed me that talking about what you do with a sense of humor and plenty of irreverence was just as important as the tofu that my father made.


I have often gone into B&H to purchase a specific product, only to be talked into something cheaper. For example, once I went in to buy a field video monitor to use for some interviews I was conducting. I expected to pay $600 until the salesperson said, “Why don’t you just get one of these cheap consumer portable DVD players? They have video inputs, they work just as well, and they’re under $100.” This was no accident. “The entire premise of our store is based upon your ability to come in, touch, feel, experiment, ask, and discuss your needs without sales pressure,” B&H’s website says.

But wait: The conveyer belts, the prices, the smart salespeople, the fact that they recommend cheaper products almost as a rule—none of these is actually the most amazing thing about B&H. Really, the most amazing thing is that because the owners of B&H are Orthodox Jews—Hasidim, in fact—the store closes every Friday afternoon for the Jewish Sabbath, and on Jewish holidays. Moreover, B&H’s website, which reportedly accounts for 70 percent of sales, shuts down, too. is, to my knowledge, the only major online retailer that closes for 25 hours every weekend.


My basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it, and all the king’s horses, all the king’s men, and all the creative talent of Madison Avenue cannot put it together again. . . .

It is frequently argued that the advertising industry will provide sufficient innovation to replace the loss of traditional ads on traditional mass media. Again, my basic premise rejects this, suggesting that simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail. It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information. We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising. We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind. The conventional wisdom is that this is exactly what paid search helps us to do, but all too often they are nothing more than a form of misdirection . . . [later defined as] diverting customers to companies that they do not wish to find, simply because the customer’s preferred company underbid.

excerpt No-toy story
from "Pixar’s Latest Film Has Wall Street on Edge," by Brooks Barnes,, 6 April 2009 :: via GigaOM

Adjusted for inflation, Pixar’s films have generated a combined $2.65 billion at North American theaters, a spectacular showing. “Finding Nemo” in 2003 was the high point, selling $405.6 million in tickets.

Pixar’s last two films, “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille,” have been the studio’s two worst performers, delivering sales of $224 million and $216 million respectively, according to Box Office Mojo, a tracking service. Attendance for Pixar films has also dropped sharply over the years, suggesting that ticket price inflation helped prop up overall sales for “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille.”

Retailers, meanwhile, see slim merchandising possibilities for “Up.” Indeed, the film seems likely to generate less licensing revenue than “Ratatouille,” until now the weakest Pixar entry in this area. (“Cars” wears the merchandising crown, with sales of more than $5 billion.) . . .

Perhaps Wall Street would not care so much if Pixar seemed to care a little more. The co-director of “Up,” Pete Docter — who also directed “Monsters Inc.” — said in a recent question and answer session with reporters that the film’s commercial prospects never crossed his mind. “We make these films for ourselves,” he said. “We’re kind of selfish that way.”

John Lasseter, a co-founder of Pixar and now Disney’s chief creative officer, routinely says in interviews that marketability is not a factor in decisions about what projects to pursue. Instead of ideas that feel contemporary, he aims for stories that are rooted in the ages.

“Quality is the best business plan” is one of Mr. Lasseter’s favorite lines.


“If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

I’ve spent the past week reading a book that finds revealing patterns and surprising depth in even the most superficial trends of popular culture, that takes you on a journey to unlikely corners of our world, coins a number of would-be-buzzwords (Magic People, murketing, the “postclick” generation), and, like all the best journalism, puts into plain words things we already knew but didn’t have the language for.

And it’s not by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s way better than that.

The book is Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by New York Times Magazine “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker, and if ready-for-airport-bookstore titles like that make you suspicious (and they should), you should give it a shot anyway. Walker has that Gladwell-like knack for weaving together anecdotes and first-person reportage, combined with a better-than-Gladwell ability to weave them into a clear arc of careful argument about how consumerism has changed our culture and our sense of ourselves. Perhaps more importantly, he demonstrates that consumer culture itself is changing in ways that neither its critics nor its promoters have fully understood. Walker even ends his book with some intriguing observations that, to this reader, lead directly to the threshold of issues of faith—including a perceptive reading of the success of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life.

I’ll be excerpting some of Walker’s more piquant insights here over the next few days. Enjoy, and if you are at all interested in our consumer culture, I encourage you to take up Buying In and read.


The holding period [for equity-based compensation] should be the longer of age 65 or two years after retirement. That will ensure that key executives make decisions that truly are in the long-term best interests of the company (as opposed to decisions aimed at a shorter period — after which an executive could depart, taking all his marbles with him). Note that holding-through-retirement also addresses the major concern about top executives’ unnecessary risk-taking.

Holding equity compensation through retirement is perhaps the single most important — and fundamental — fix to getting executive compensation back on track because it also addresses all the past outstanding excessive option and restricted stock grants. And, by requiring chief executives to keep their skin in the game for the long term, it will go a long way to restoring public trust in our companies and our market, which is so important to restoring stability to the markets.

“If we don’t remember that our customers are in charge,” our trainer warned us, “we turn into Kmart.”

—Charles Platt on his brief employment at Wal-Mart :: via Ideas Blog

from "The best and the brightest," by Seth Godin, Seth's Blog, 18 December 2008 :: via Steve Johnson

Perhaps we’re on the verge at getting much better at making useful things, spreading ideas that matter and helping people, and not quite so good at leveraging capital for financial institutions. Imagine what would happen if 5,000 investment bankers or 500 M & A lawyers put their talents to work doing something else…

As I look through all the notes and applications I received for the program I’m running next year, I’m not just optimistic. I’m thrilled. There must be hundreds of thousands of movers and shakers out there, people of all ages who are smart and get things done. And more and more, they’re being motivated by the quest, or the outcome, or the people they work with, not just the cash payout. It’s exciting beyond words. The ten people I’ve chosen are just astonishing, each and every one of them.

If you can’t find people like these, you’re not looking in the right places. And if you can’t figure out how to work with them, you’re missing out.

photo Copies
"Copies," photo by Jules Vernacular, 5 December 2008
excerpt Wallpaper
from "The best use for butcher block paper ever," submitted by reader Margo Mueller, Nudges blog, 8 December 2008

During a long road trip between California and Missouri, I stumbled on a gas station on Interstate 40 in Adrian, Texas, that had come up with an ingenious way of protecting the walls of their restrooms. In an effort to reduce the number of times the restrooms needed to be painted, someone came up with the idea to tape sheets of butcher block paper to the walls. The sheets were inside every stall and on the walls in both the men and women’s restrooms. On the top of each piece of torn white paper was written “Please tell us about your trip”. What followed on every sheet were stories about why people were traveling across the country. Some stories were sad, some were happy, some were angry. The whole gamut of emotions was posted on these sheets. (I wish I had a picture.)

The amazing thing was that the real white walls of the restroom were not defaced in any manner, not one piece of graffiti.  After asking at the checkout who came up with the idea, the clerk told me that, to clean up graffiti, the owners had been stuck with a painting the walls of the restrooms twice a year. Since they had put the butcher block paper up five years ago, they had never painted the restrooms.Yet they remained clean and sparkling white. Obviously, the management nudged the public for everyone’s benefit.