Social Change

Cole Thompson: The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

Cole Thompson is an award-winning black and white photographer who has been creating some of the most amazing and brilliant BW images that I know over the years. His art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous leading publications and has received many international awards.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and read his blog Black and White Photography. You can also purchase his Prints, Posters, Booklets and Folios (click to purchase).

The following is an interview with Cole Thompson where he shares the journey of a photographer who became an artist by gaining his own internal success, which inspires me most.

Niaz: Dear Cole, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Cole: I am more thrilled than you Niaz, and honored that you would invite me!

Niaz: You are a “Fine Art: photographer. Year after year, you have been creating amazing art with the integration of photography, creativity, concept and authentic attitude. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about “Fine Art” photography?

Cole: Well this will be a funny and ironic discussion Niaz, because I really don’t really know what “fine art” photography means! And is there a difference between “art” and “fine art” photography?

Honestly, I only ask myself two questions:

  1. Do I like the image?
  2. Would I hang it in my home?

So why do I call myself a “fine art” photographer? Because people generally know what I’m talking about when I use that title and the term also tells people what type of photographer I am not:

  • I am not a documentary photographer
  • I am not a portrait photographer
  • I am not a wedding photographer

The term “fine art photographer” implies that I am creating something that I consider art and it’s something they may want to hang in their home.

What is fine art? Who cares!

Niaz: You’ve once stated that there’s a difference between a photographer and an artist and you strive to be an artist. I think you’re absolutely right but I would like to hear your explanation of that statement.

Cole: I do think there is a difference and it’s a huge one.

I think of a photographer as someone who documents or “takes pictures” and an artist is one who “creates images” according to their Vision.

For many years I thought of myself as a photographer and felt it was wrong to manipulate an image or to change it in any way.

I grew up believing that I lacked creative skills, and so as a photographer I tried to make up for that by excelling in my technical skills. It seems preposterous now to think that technical skills could compensate for creative skills, but that’s what I thought.

But as I matured with the help of an artist mentor, I started seeing images in my head and found myself wanting to manipulate my photographs to bring them into conformance with that Vision.

“The Angel Gabriel” is the first time that I purposefully “created an image.”

The Angel GabrielThe Angel Gabriel by Cole Thompson

I’d like to tell the story of this image, because I cannot separate the story from the Vision I had of it:

This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. 

He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph, and in return I would buy him lunch.

The pier was very crowded and used a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. 

We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those who lingered long enough for the camera to record their “ghosts.” 

Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands.

I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.

I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; for he had everything that he needed. 

Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.

“Creating” this image was a breakthrough for me and marked the beginning of my transition from photographer to artist. No longer would I document and record, but rather create.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be a photographer, but there were images in my head that wanted to get out!

Niaz: So how and when did you get started in photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Cole: I discovered photography as a 14 year old boy living in Rochester, NY and I’ve never taken a photography class in my life.

I was out hiking one day when I stumbled upon the ruins of a home that was once owned by George Eastman. That piqued my interest and so I read the biography of George Eastman.

Before I had finished that book and before I had ever taken a picture or seen a print come up in the darkroom, I knew I was destined to be a photographer. I know how silly and pretentious that might sound, but that is how I felt then, and it’s how I still feel to this day.

I am self taught, from the age of 14 and until I was 20, I lived and breathed photography. Photography was my entire life and I spent every waking moment photographing, working in the darkroom, reading how-to books or studying the works of the great masters. Photography so dominated my life that I rarely attended classes and almost didn’t graduate High School.

Gull and MoonGull and Moon by Cole Thompson (created when he was 16 years old)

Learning on my own was good for me, it reinforced a life view that I could do anything I set my mind to and was willing to work hard for. I believe it also helped me avoid “group think” and thankfully I avoided learning the “rules of photography.”

At age 17 I briefly considered going to school for photography, it seemed the natural course for me, but then had this premonition that earning a living through photography would eventually dilute my passion for it.

Instead I earned a business degree and that’s how I’ve earned my living for all of these years. I’ve never regretted that decision, for I still love photography as much today as I did when I was 14 years old.

Niaz: As a photographer what is the most complicated issue you experienced & how have you overcome?

Cole: Overcoming the desire to please others and to receive external validation.

For most of my photographic career I created to please others, to earn accolades and to become famous. As I started achieving some success, I noticed that it felt great for 15 minutes, but the next day I was left feeling hollow and empty.

I realized that no matter the accolades, in the morning it was still just me, my work and what I thought of it. If I was not creating for myself and did not love my images, then no external praise could make me feel good about my work or myself.

And so I began to question my motives and asked myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I creating?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • What do I want from my photography?
  • How do I define success?

I found it curious that it was very difficult to be completely honest with myself. But it was only by answering these questions with brutal honestly, that I was able to stop chasing transitory praise and focus on the things that would result in personal satisfaction.

From these answers I was able to define what success meant to me and that’s what I now pursue.

In the past I considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by what others think about my work, but rather by how I feel about it.

While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art…this is an extra benefit of creating but not success itself.

I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.

Niaz: You’ve citedMy art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous publications and has received many awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments.” Why? Can you expand on coming to these perspectives?

Cole: It all goes back to my motivations for creating. For too long I found myself working to create a long resume just to impress: look at all the wonderful places I have exhibited and the awards I’ve won! I must be a good photographer.

But when I found my Vision and defined success for myself, I saw how silly all of that was. My goal is not to impress others, but to please myself by creating images that I love and am proud of.

I’m also against judging a person’s art by their resume. I feel that my images are my resume and that’s all anyone needs to decide if they like my work or not. It should not matter where it has exhibited or what awards it has won.

All I want a viewer to ask themselves is: do I like it? The resume should be irrelevant.

I recently had an experience where a venue wanted to exhibit my work but first wanted to see my resume. I told them that I didn’t keep one and they made it clear that they needed the resume before they could make a final decision.

I think it’s sad that someone cannot judge art unless they know who else has exhibited it, what awards it has won or what critics think of it.

Niaz: What is “Photographic Celibacy”? How has it become your good practice?

Cole: Photographic Celibacy means that I do not look at or study other photographers work.

Why? Simply to keep my focus on my Vision and to not be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to copy others.

I’ve spent much of my life copying others; their look, their style and sometimes I’d even try to recreate a specific image by going to exactly where they created it! (Sorry Ansel)

Here’s the story on how I came to practice Photographic Celibacy: Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.

Review-Santa-Fe

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like your trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better. What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

It was then that I committed to find my Vision and one of the first steps that I took, was to stop looking at other photographer’s work. I figured that if I immersed myself in the Vision of others, I was likely to copy their work, either consciously or subconsciously.

I’ve been practicing Photographic Celibacy for about 6 years now and I’m often asked how long I’ll continue it. The truth is, I still find the practice useful and needed.

Let me give an example of why I still practice it: I had an image published in the book “Why Photographs Work” by George Barr. The publisher sent me a copy and I eagerly flipped through the book looking for my image. Along the way, I saw an image by Brian Kosoff that I just fell in love with:

kosoffThreeCrossesThree Crosses by Brian Kosoff

I contacted Brian, purchased the print and would look at it enviously. And for the next several weeks I found myself driving around looking for telephone poles that I could arrange like Brian’s Three Crosses! I’d stop and chastise myself, but then later I’d find myself doing it again subconsciously.

I’m clearly still prone to be influenced by the Vision of others and so Photographic Celibacy is something I continue practice. Most people who read about it disagree with the practice and its usefulness and recently I had someone write to me to boast that they practiced Photographic Promiscuity!

Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not for everyone, or perhaps it’s a practice that should only be considered at a certain point in ones creative development. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it has helped me a great deal to both find and follow my Vision, and to feel good about the work that I create, knowing that it was created honestly and not copied.

Niaz: You’ve formulated your rule of thirds and I have to fully agree with you. Can you tell us more about your rule of thirds?

Cole: I am self taught and was fortunate to have never learned the “rules of photography.”

Just a few years ago someone came up to me during an exhibition and criticized one of my images for not following the rule of thirds. I was amazed that instead of seeing the beauty of the composition, she could see only rules.

If she would have said to me: I don’t think this composition works or I don’t like this image, I would have respected her opinion even if I disagreed with her. But when someone ignores the image and focuses on some imaginary rule, I have no respect for that opinion.

I think it is foolhardy to think that you can distill great composition down into to a few rules, that if followed, will create great images. It reminds me of the “Paint by Numbers” kits that I loved as a kid.

Paint by NumbersPaint by Numbers – Follow the rules and create a masterpiece!

We were promised that if we followed the rules, we would produce a masterpiece.

Mona-Lisa-Paint-by-Numbers-ComparisonCompetent…maybe…but no masterpiece!

Well, as children we were proud of what we created, but it was certainly no masterpiece!

I have no doubt that if you follow these supposed rules of photography, that you will create “competent” images. But they will be just like thousands of other competent images created by thousands of other photographers who are all following the same silly rules.

If you want to create great images, then forget the rules and create according to your Vision.

So in response to this experience, I created my own rule of thirds:

Cole’s Rule of Thirds

A great image is comprised of 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot and 1/3 processing

A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is a tough concept to describe, but I think each of us instinctively know how we want our image to look and our job as an artist is to bring that image into compliance with our Vision.

When we pursue an image with Vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.

Vision is everything.

Niaz: I think the shot – basically technical skills – can be taught and learned, the same applies to the editing. But what about vision? Can you learn vision? Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Cole: I don’t believe Vision is learned, but rather discovered.

I grew up in a modest home where there was no money for art, music or creative pursuits. Perhaps because of this, I grew up believing that I lacked creative abilities. I came to believe that you were either born with it or you were not…and I was not.

But several years ago I was challenged to find out if I had a Vision. Part of me was very afraid to go down this path: what would happen if I discovered that I didn’t have “it?” Perhaps I would be better off never knowing?

No, I had to let the genie out of the bottle, even thought I knew that I could never put him back in. I decided that I must know the truth and off I went. I was unable to find a “how to guide” on finding your Vision and so I just made things up as I went along, creating a 10 step plan that I followed. (You can read about it here: finding vision)

It took two years of hard work and honest soul searching, but I did find my Vision and learned a lot more in the process. Here is what I learned:

  1.  Vision is simply the sum total of our life experiences that make us see the world in our own unique way.
  2.  Everyone has a Vision.
  3.  Vision is not developed, but rather discovered.
  4.  Finding your Vision is hard, following your Vision is even be harder.
  5.  Vision is what makes great images, not equipment, techniques, styles or gimmicks.
  6.  Finding and following your Vision gives you and your work strength, confidence and independence.
  7.  Vision has less to do with photography or art and has more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent person.

Why do I say that Vision needs to be discovered or found? Because I believe we all have a Vision, but many like myself have buried it under so much “stuff” that we forget that we ever had one.

What is this “stuff” that we bury our Vision under? It’s things like caring what others think, fearing that our work will not be liked, wanting to fit in, trying to please, creating for attention, fearing failure and a whole host of other insecurities.

Once I started to address these issues, I was able to uncover my creativity and find my Vision.

The second part of your questions was: Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Yes, basically they are doomed. If a person relies on technical skills alone, then they are doomed to create technically perfect but soulless images, with the exception of the occasional accidental great image.

I really believe that Vision is everything!

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, and tripod, cleaning equipment other) do you use? Do you use any special equipment for long exposure?

Cole: For the past several years I have been on a mission to simplify everything that I do, which includes my equipment.

I have a very small and simple kit: my camera (Canon), three lenses that cover from 24 to 400, a tripod and an assortment of neutral density filters including my important tool, the Singh-Ray Vari ND filter.

I find that more equipment does not mean a better image, and in fact I could argue that it gets in the way more often than it helps. I say master the basics and only add equipment when there is a specific need to fulfill your Vision.

Keeping it simple also helps me stay focused on what’s really important: the image.

Niaz: What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing, if any?

Cole: As with my camera equipment, I try to use the simplest equipment, processes and software that will get the job done. These things are merely tools and while I want the best tools for the job, I also want the simplest.

I use a PC, Photoshop, a pen and tablet and an Epson printer. That’s it.

I think it’s important to mention what I don’t use: I don’t use special b&w conversion programs, plug-ins, curves, layers, RIPs, monitor calibrators, special paper profiles or inksets.

My workflow is so simple and unsophisticated, that for years I would not let anyone watch me work because I was afraid that they would lose all respect for me. Now I realize that it’s not about the equipment or process, but about the image. Nothing else matters.

I like to show people my before and after images and emphasize that I create them with only six tools in Photoshop. I like to expose the myth that great images require extensive and complex procedures or special plug-ins and programs.

Here is my image Iceland No. 4, before and after:

Before  After

I am not suggesting that others need to process their images using the six tools that I use. But I do want people to know that you can create great images using only simple equipment and processes.

Before AfterThis is “Skelton” and the image on the left is how my eyes saw the scene, and on the right how I envisioned it.

When I show people my before-and-after images, sometimes they come away with the impression that they must improve their Photoshop skills. Unfortunately that is the exact opposite message that I want to convey!

My Vision is what created this image. My equipment and technical skills are mere tools and I use the simplest tools that will get the job done.

There is a great little story told by Sam Haskins that illustrates the role of equipment in the creative process:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’

Camera

He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:

“That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.”

StoveSam Haskins

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Cole: I don’t read any photo magazines, subscribe to newsletters or visit photo websites.

I am self taught and I learn by trying things, experimenting, sometimes failing and many times succeeding.

Instead of mastering a wide range of technical skills that I might someday need, I have approached learning in the opposite way. First I gain a Vision of the image and then I learn the skills necessary to express that Vision.

For example, when I created the series “The Fountainhead” I first envisioned the images in my head, and then learned the skills and techniques to put that Vision on paper.

Cole Thompson 01 Cole Thompson 02 Cole Thompson 03 Cole Thompson 04
The Fountainhead Series by Cole Thompson

I knew that I wanted to portray skyscrapers in a distorted and futuristic way, but didn’t know how to do that. With time and determination, I finally came upon the idea of photographing the buildings reflection off of a bent ferrotype plate (think funhouse mirror).

Cole ThompsonCole photographing the reflection of skyscrapers from a bent ferrotype plate

I do believe that “necessity is the mother of invention.” When I have a need, I will find the technical solution.

Many believe the opposite, that you must have a myriad of skills before Vision can be expressed. I disagree and believe that this puts the emphasis on processes as being the key to the image.

Anyone can be a great technician but it’s hard to be creative.

Niaz: Do you have any photographers/ artists who inspire you consistently? Please share few of your favorite artist/photographer whose work could encourage for creating an art.

Cole: I do not follow any other photographers or artists.

Being celibate, I do not look at others work. The heroes I did follow (Adams, Weston, Caponigro, Cunningham, Strand, Bullock) are all gone now, but they are still influential on my work because those images are forever burned into my memory.

The photographer who has been most influential on my work is Edward Weston, I love his philosophies and the way he lived. In Ansel Adam’s biography he recounts the first time he met Weston and it illustrates one of the qualities I love about him:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered.

Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

I love Weston’s images, but I love his attitudes even more; he created for himself and he did not care what others thought.

Another artist that has similarly influenced me is the author Ayn Rand. I first read her novel The Fountainhead at age 17 and like Weston, she taught creative independence. These ideas were mere seeds for much of my life, until several years ago when they germinated and have grown into my current philosophy.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Cole: These are books from my past that I still treasure:

  •  Edward Weston’s Day Books
  • Ansel Adams’ Biography
  • The Family of Man

And while it is not a book, I am very inspired by the movie “Finding Vivian Maier.” Her work is amazing but even more inspiring to me is the mystery of why she never showed her work to others. I’d like to think it was because she created for herself and did not need external approval.

Niaz: What is your inspiration to do what you do? How do you stay focused and keep making impressive art?

Cole: I can’t explain why I’m compelled to create, I just am. It brings me pleasure and so I do it.

How to I inspire myself? Well, first of all, there are times I feel inspired and there are times I don’t! Those “down times” used to trouble me, but not anymore. I have come to appreciate the down times as much as my up times. Like a farmer who leaves a field fallow for a season to rejuvenate it, so those down times serve a purpose.

In the past I would fret over those dry periods and try to hasten them along, but now I just enjoy them knowing that a creative season will return as certainly as the winter gives way to the spring. And with each returning creative season, a renewed enthusiasm will result.

So, what do I do to find inspiration? First, I have to get away by myself and create alone. I cannot create with others around, even other photographers.

I’ll spend 2-3 days just looking until my eyes start to see, as I call it. I think it takes me a couple of days just to clear the mundane routines and worries of life out of my consciousness.

I’ll read the Weston’s Day Books and for whatever reason, those really make me want to get out and create.

I’ll listen to the Beatles. Why the Beatles? Because they remind me to keep growing and evolving, even at the risk of offending current fans or upsetting a winning formula.

Many people ask how I go about choosing the subject for a new portfolio. I tell them that whenever I get an idea I write it down, and right now that list is about 50 ideas long. Then I tell them that I’ve never yet used one of these ideas.

The truth is that every idea for one of my portfolios has come spontaneously, in a moment of inspiration. The best example is “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” which was conceived and executed in under two hours. Here is the story behind the images:

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 500The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

My wife and I were visiting my son who was serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and while there we decided to visit Poland and took a train to Krakow. Upon arriving discussions began on what to see and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau was high on everyone’s list, but secretly I hoped we wouldn’t visit the camps because I did not want visit a place of such sadness.

However the family voted to go and so I agreed.

We took a bus tour that would spend about 1 hour at Auschwitz and 45 minutes at Birkenau. Even though I had my equipment with me, I had not planned on photographing the camps because it seemed that this might be disrespectful.

The tour began indoors and we saw the meticulous records the German’s kept of their victims and then the iconic piles of personal effects: glasses, shoes and hair.

This was just all too overwhelming and I felt like I was suffocating, so I signaled to my family that I was going outdoors. Breathing in the open air I began to feel a bit better and I began to slowly walk, looking down at my feet.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 1 - Final 2-1-2009 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Then I began to wonder: how many had walked in these exact footsteps and now were dead? How many had taken this same path and then had been murdered? And I began to wonder if the spirits of those who were murdered still lingered?

And then it suddenly struck me that I must photograph the spirits of those who had died here. I instinctively knew how I would do that, I would use long exposures of the other visitors at the camps, who would stand in proxy for the dead.

The enormity of this task hit me as I realized that the bus was leaving in 45 minutes and so I ran from location to location, working incredibly fast. Each location had its own challenges, I had to photograph people without their knowing it, because if they thought I was photographing they would politely move out of my way.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 3 - Final 8-11-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

I quickly developed a technique to fool people into thinking I was not photographing, I would set up my equipment and then talk on the phone or look in my camera bag, and then trigger the camera with a remote shutter release.

I do feel that I was inspired, both in concept and execution. As I looked at each scene I knew in my mind exactly how the finished image would look. However if you were to see the original shots and compare them to the final images, you would be surprised to see the extensive Photoshop work it took to bring the “shot” into compliance with my vision.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a depressing place, but I am glad that I went. I hope my images have portrayed the camps not just as a historical location, but as a place where real people lived and died.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 8 - Final 6-24-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Niaz: There are so many photographers working with long exposure photography techniques in black and white that sometimes it is hard to be original. Yet your work is very original. Can you give our readers any tips for finding an original approach to long exposure photography?

Cole: My suggestion will be predictable: find and follow your Vision.

Do not set out to pursue long exposures or any other style or technique, but rather set about to follow your Vision and go wherever that takes you. I honestly don’t know if my long exposure work is unique or not, I only know that it is original and honest for me.

Sometimes my Vision takes me somewhere that is not so original. For example I created a series called “Grain Silos” several years ago and submitted them to LensWork.

2007-5-25 Silos - Final 6-11-2007 750Grain Silos by Cole Thompson

The editor Brooks Jensen replied that he’d love to publish the work but that they were featuring almost identical images in the current issue by a photographer named Larry Blackwood.

Larry and I are friends and we created an almost identical series without each other knowing it! My point is that my work was unique to me, but not necessarily unique in the world of photography.

I’m okay with that as long as my work came about honestly.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Cole: Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about being a fine art photographer:

Carefully decide if you want to try to earn your living from your art (please note the emphasis). Will you enjoy it if it is your job? From my experience, you will need to focus on what sells and what the market demands, not on what you truly love. Some people can live with that, and for others this takes the joy out of the work.

Early on you should define success for yourself and not just pursue the standard definition that society sells: limited editions and high prices, big name gallery representation, long resumes and book publishing. Perhaps you do want some of that, but be sure to examine that question carefully before you go down that path.

Focus more on finding and following your vision and less on technical skills.

Only create images that you love, not those images that bring praise or sales. You may think you’re winning in the short term, but that that type of success will sour with time.

Be a good person. Success in any field is affected by the kind of person you are. Be sincere, honest, helpful and just plain nice. Those qualities will help you no matter what you do in life.

Niaz: I can see from your portfolio that you are widely traveled, especially within the United States. How important is the contribution of travel to developing your portfolio from an artistic point of view? How has travel helped you develop as a person?

Cole: Travel is not as important as I thought it would be when I was starting off. I initially thought a great location would produce a great image. I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

I have been to unique locations and have not created anything unique and I have been to mundane and pedestrian locations and have created something wonderful. Much more important than location is your ability to see and imagine.

I once wrote an article about this, how with the right eye your backyard is enough. I assembled all of the images I had created within a few miles of my home and to illustrate the point.

Best of Cole ThompsonCole Thompson Photography

But yes, I am well traveled. I’m fortunate that my full time job took me all over the US and my children have lived all over the world, so I’m often able to combine work and family with my photography.

Niaz: What defines a good photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message? What will last longer or is the phrase ‘mood’ just overrated?

Cole: What defines a good photograph, in my opinion, is simply how I feel about it. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s as deep as my thinking goes.

I am terrible when it comes to using words to describe images and the feelings they evoke. I think that’s why I became a photographer, so I wouldn’t have to use words.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I say let it speak for itself!

Everyone’s definition of “good” will be different and that’s why I don’t believe I can define a good or bad image, I can only say which ones I like and don’t like.

Niaz: And what defines a good photographer in your view? Does s/he have to be a celibate, just like you are or does s/he need to absorb all art, all influences and then try to pick out the best of all these influences and combine and integrate it into his then newly created art?

Cole: In my view, a good photographer is one that creates images true to their Vision and which they love. Achieving that does not guarantee commercial or critical success and it doesn’t mean that others will love your work as much as you do. But I do think that it guarantees personal satisfaction, which I think is worth more than money or fame.

As strongly as I feel about the principles and ideas that I espouse, I am not so naive to think that my way is the only or best way. People learn differently and have different experiences, so I have to believe there are many paths that work.

Niaz: With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, sites like Flickr, apps like Instagram and other social media, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world. We’re flooded with photos on the Internet by people who are self proclaimed photographers and artists, and not only are we now confronted with a lot of bad work that I wouldn’t call art but at the same time I see so many artists who are just fantastic and who would never be discovered if they would’ve lived 30 years earlier. How do you look at this and how do you personally see the future of photography? Is this digital era a curse or a blessing for photographic art?

Cole: I think these new digital tools are wonderful for many reasons.

First, more great artists are being revealed. The technical threshold of digital is much lower so that more people can express themselves more easily. This is a good thing, even though at times it seems that there are so many new and great photographers in the digital world that there is no room left for me!

I also think that digital helps people stay more focused on the image and less on the technical process. In the film world, a photographer had to invest such an enormous amount of time, money and knowledge before they could produce a decent print. Back then photographers became such technicians that many neglected the creative element of photography.

And for me personally, digital allows me to do so much more with my images. My work has never looked so good since I switched to digital. It’s so much easier to manipulate my images to match my Vision. I have many, many fond memories of working in the darkroom, but I’d never want to go back!

And then there is the issue of exposure, in the old days my work would be seen by the few who entered the galleries who carried my work, or those who saw my work in a photography magazine. This meant a relative few people in the world ever would see my work.

Now, I have people contacting me from almost every country in the world. I am now more in control of my destiny, not having to rely on the gallery system. There are of course some downsides and challenges, but all in all, I love the opportunities made available in this new world.

Niaz: How can an artist remain fresh, unique, and on the cutting edge (whatever that actually even means)?

Cole: I never seek to be different, but to simply illustrate what I see through my mind’s eye. Sometimes that means my work will not be very different as in the case of my Grain Silo portfolio resembling my friends work. And sometimes it will be very different as in my Auschwitz images.

But I never worry about that, I simply follow my Vision and create for myself. That’s the best way to stay fresh, unique and most importantly: satisfied.

Niaz: How do you define the term success? What and who comes first when you hear the term success? And why?

Cole: One large mistake I made in my photographic career was to not stop and question what success meant to me. I wasted so much time chasing things that didn’t bring about personal satisfaction.

It was late in life that I defined success for myself, and it’s a very simple definition:

To do what I want.

To create what I love.

For me success has nothing to do with sales, resumes, exhibitions, how popular my images are or any other external measure.

Niaz: I believe you earn a living, or at least a part-time living, as a fine art photographer. Do you have any advice for our readers on how they can work towards achieving the same goal? What can they do from an artistic viewpoint to improve their work and a practical viewpoint to selling their work?

Cole: I do not earn my living from my art, but rather support myself through a full time job in business.

You cannot imagine the freedom that gives me, I am free to pursue any idea, any project and to take as long I need to produce my work. I do not depend on sales and so I don’t care if my work sells or not. I am completely free, aside from my vanities of course!

I am glad that I never chose to earn my living from my “fine art” photography and would advise your readers to seriously consider the impact of that decision on their freedom and independence as an artist. I personally think money and art do not mix well.

If you choose to earn your living by selling your work, then be prepared to create images that the market demands, which is rarely the type of work that you love. Selling to earn your living always means compromising and I have chosen not to make that tradeoff.

Now that doesn’t mean that you cannot do both, create one type of image to sell and then also create your personal work on the side. But I have to be honest, many people write me who have tried to do that and complain that they don’t have the time and energy to do both.

And in that situation, guess which one languishes? Maslow taught us that eating always comes before art.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Cole: Niaz, I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world. I have a job that pays the bills and I create art that I love. How could life be any better?

I have my honest views based on my experiences, but I do not suggest that they are right for everyone. Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not the best for you, perhaps earning your living from photography is something you really want and your definition of success is different than mine!

But if any of my ideas resonate with you, then maybe there is something to consider. If anyone would like to ask me further questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Cole: Thank you Niaz, I appreciated your questions, they cause me to think and to analyze my beliefs. Thank you for your website and this opportunity!

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Further Reading:

01. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Philip Delves Broughton: What they teach you at Harvard?

Editor’s Note: Philip Delves Broughton is the author of The Art of the Sale, published in the UK as Life’s a Pitch, and Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, published outside the US as What They Teach You at Harvard Business School. His first book, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School was a New York Times bestseller and a Financial Times and USA Today business book of the year.

He spent ten years as a reporter and foreign correspondent with The Daily Telegraph newspaper, serving as its New York and Paris bureau chief. He then left journalism to obtain his MBA at Harvard Business School. He has since worked as a writer at Apple Inc. and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education and as a contributing columnist at The Financial Times. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The Atlantic.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Delves Broughton recently to gain insights about The Art of the Sale, The Greatest Salespeople in the World, The Soul of the Salesman, What They Teach You at Harvard and The Point of a Business Education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Philip, thank you so much for managing time to join us amidst your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are the New York Times best selling author, blogger, business philosopher, speaker and an inspiring mind. Your books ‘The Art of the Sale‘ and ‘What they teach you at Harvard Business School‘ are truly instrumental for self-help, self-growth and for the success in 21st century. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about you, your work and your current involvements?

Philip: I grew up in England, was a newspaper journalist and foreign correspondent for the first ten years of my career, then decided to go to business school at Harvard. Since then, I’ve written and published three books, the memoir of going to HBS, The Art of the Sale, and a book called Management Matters, which is basically a collection of the pieces on management I’ve written for the Financial Times. I write regularly for the FT, the Wall Street Journal and am affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education, a wonderful institution based in Kansas City which funds a wide array of programs designed to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Niaz: Why are you very passionate about ‘Sale’? Can you please tell us what exactly is Sale?

Philip: Sales is very simply the process of turning a product or service into revenue. I’m fascinated by it, because as one great salesman told me, it’s the greatest laboratory there is for understanding human behavior. In sales, we see business at its most raw. We see the truth, lies, greed, decency, ambition and value of any business and business person exposed at the moment of the sale.

Niaz: As you know social media revolution, cutting edge technology, disruptive innovation, widespread uses of smartphone and a whole new digital world have been changing everything. This trend is bringing revolutionary change in the way we do business. Living in such an exciting era, what’s new about sale now in comparison to sale 15-20 years back?

Philip: There’s evidently much more transparency. It’s much harder to deceive customers in a world where so much information about products and pricing is available at a keystroke. Reputation has become far more important as it can so easily be damaged in a world of viral reviews. Transactions have also changed. We can buy and sell in so many different ways these days. Social networks have certainly made prospecting for customers and checking on people’s reputation easier. But I still believe real, lasting relationships require in-person contact over time. Technology hasn’t changed that.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the art and science of selling?

Philip: The science is in creating value around your product and service and then finding ways to convey that value to the right customers. It’s about mapping your product and sales process to their needs and schedules, not your own. The art is in having a supple, imaginative grasp of human behavior. It’s about finding the right balance between science and intuition, because it’s still the case that humans make decisions, and technology, though vastly improved, is still far from being a complete substitute for human intelligence in sales.

Niaz: You have cited, ‘Without a sale, there is no business’. We have seen, most companies fail only because they can’t make enough sale even though some of them are using state of the art technologies, are embracing science and disruptive innovation and despite they have great products. Sometimes customers don’t want the products and most of the time they fail to make sale. As a result the success rate is very little and almost 90% Start Ups fail. Why art and science of selling remain necessary to succeed in most of the human business disciplines? Why is sale the core part of any business?

Philip: Sales is often the last thing many people like to do, because it’s the final judgment on their product or service. It’s a moment of truth. At the moment you sell, you’re risking rejection, which can be painful. Smart, highly educated people in particular aren’t used to rejection, and so try to minimize the risk of it. Sales isn’t forgiving. But if you don’t sell and earn a profit, you’re pursuing a hobby not a business. I often hear people try to make a virtue of their reluctance to sell. They say they’re not aggressive or bullying enough. Or that they don’t like asking people for money. But really, all they are is bad at sales. If you can’t sell yourself, or hire or partner with someone who can, you have no business being in business. It’s not a very complicated concept. The flip side is that people who do push through the rejections and difficulties which precede almost any sale, find their eventual success a great rush which they want to repeat as often as possible. Those people tend to be the ones who succeed in business.

Niaz: Do you think sale is the advanced human game? What are your suggestions on mastering this advanced game?

Philip: I’m not sure how advanced it is, but it can certainly be viewed as a game between consenting adults. There’s an old Quaker tradesman’s saying I cite in the book ‘I shall not cheat thee, but I shall outwit thee.’ I think this is a useful moral code for any salesperson. Ideally, your product, service and price perfectly match a customer’s need and willingness to pay and the sale is easy. But most of the time you’ll need to do some modifying, persuading and course correcting to close a deal. If you lie, you’ll likely end up being exposed. But you can certainly out-think and out-strategize to win, while balancing the short and long-term consequences of your actions. People have very different comfort levels about what they’re willing to do to sell. But good salespeople, however they choose to do it, have thought the compromises and risks and have set firm boundaries on their behavior.

Niaz: What do you think about the salesmanship of Steve Jobs? How has he become one of the greatest salespeople in the world? What are the characteristics, views, ideas, skills and insights of Salesmanship of Steve Jobs that fascinate you?

Philip: Jobs was indistinguishable from his products. He never ceded the role of Apple’s chief salesman to anyone else. That’s a very powerful model and the way he did it inspired enormous belief in his company and products. He used the language of religious evangelism, such as “transformation” and “magic”. He also made brilliant use of persuasive techniques such as “social proof”. All those glass windows in Apple stores allow passers by to see people like themselves using Apple products. The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads similarly made the case that buying Apple products wasn’t just above buying software or hardware. It cut to the very heart of your social identity. It’s rather creepy, actually, but Jobs was brilliant at it. It’s easy to forget what a marginal company Apple was in 1997, when Jobs returned as CEO. His salesmanship helped turn the company around internally by restoring belief among employees, and then got customers to try the products at at time when Wintel was still dominant.

Niaz: Were there some universal qualities you found in great sales people?

Philip: An optimistic frame of mind, enthusiasm, self-discipline, the ability to tell a story and to be energized rather than crushed by rejection. They are terrific listeners, but also ruthless closers. They also tend to be very good company, which made writing about them such fun.

Niaz: Despite the new opportunities in social media, marketing and measurement, selling still frequently comes down to two people looking each other in the eye and deciding how to sell and whether to buy. Business continues to need great salespeople along with all the creativity, tenacity and optimism they bring. Great salespeople come in very different packages. Some are the best at high volume transactional selling and others thrive at building long-term relationships. At this point can you please tell us about the great skills of 21st century salespeople?

Philip: They’re the same as they’ve always been. You need to keep abreast of the prospecting and pitching tools, such as LinkedIn and Salesforce, but ultimately the edge still belongs to those able to build trust, inspire repeat customers and develop healthy books of business. Maybe there’ll be fewer steak and cigar dinners in the 21st century, but you still have to find ways to develop meaningful relationships and that doesn’t happen virtually. Personal networks and interpersonal skills will count as much as ever.

Niaz: What happens when the business and non-business worlds no longer understand each other?

Philip: Revolution.

Niaz: You have had said ‘The cleverest invention or product will disappear — creating no income, no employment — unless someone can sell it.’ Is sale resided in the core of capitalism? How does sales drive economy?

Philip: If all an economy consisted of was things we needed simply to survive, it would look very primitive. No one needs a BMW or a Jamba Juice, or a Macbook or a work of art. But such things make life more appealing. Profit incentives are also essential to the creation of more important things such as new medical treatments or healthier cities. It’s by selling each other new, interesting and life-enhancing, rather than just life-sustaining, that economies grow. Sales leads to revenue leads to profit leads to investment leads to growth.

Niaz: Do you think by creating better understanding of selling, and the many challenges it involves, we can build better world? How can that become possible if I want you to discuss from removing poverty to solving international fights, solving environment problems to stop international war?

Philip: This a long way above my pay grade! All that counts here is that we continue to search for the healthiest balance between market forces and social justice. It’s a constant adjustment for all of us. As individuals, we struggle with our material, emotional and spiritual desires. Companies must balance shareholder with employee interests. Governments seek a way to grow national economies while protecting the weakest in their societies. Sales matters in all this because, as I said, it cuts right to the heart of these discussions. How we choose to sell says everything about how we’re balancing the good and bad in our selves.

Niaz: In 2004, you gave up a career in journalism to attend Harvard Business School. Three years later, you published the New York Times bestseller ‘Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School’, in which you described and questioned the value of a business education. You have cited ‘Most top business schools don’t teach selling’. And you believe ‘Selling should be the first thing to teach, as everything in business flows from the sale’. Can you please tell us about the point of a business education? What’s going wrong with our business education?

Philip: A business education should enable someone to pursue their interests in a way that makes good financial sense. A lot of MBA programs charge a lot of money while under-delivering on this basic purpose. I also think the top business programs need to do a better job educating students on the social purpose of business. Better basics, more humility and lower fees would go a long way to fixing this.

Niaz: Still folks from different countries, states and cities across the world hope that teaching business and entrepreneurship will lead to initiate more start-ups and better businesses. Is their hope justified?

Philip: Education is always a good thing. But I think the teaching of business and entrepreneurship can be pretty crude and ineffective and there’s a lot of work to do in improving it. Also, it’s not just about educating individual entrepreneurs. The social and political context also has to favor them.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the aspects of business which can and cannot be taught, those which must be taught better, and those are not worth teaching at all?

Philip: Sales, evidently, should be more a part of MBA curricula. I’m intrigued by new just-in-time business education programs, which deliver teaching at the moment a businessperson needs it. That seems to make a lot of sense. The issue here isn’t what should or should not be taught at a high level. It’s about delivering value to the person who needs it. Business isn’t law or medicine, with a body of knowledge which has to be learned before you can practice. It’s much more fluid than that, and business education needs to reflect this fact.

Niaz: How educators and policy-makers should teach business as a means to improving the rate and quality of economic growth?

Philip: Focus on developing communities of businesspeople. Help facilitate connections. Listen to what these people ask for. Then get out of the way.

Niaz: What are you doing now at The Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education?

Philip: Writing about entrepreneurship programs, what works, what doesn’t.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors. Happy New Year Philip.

Philip: Thanks Niaz.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Naeem Zafar: Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Editor’s Note: Naeem Zafar is the president and CEO of Bitzer Mobile, a company that simplifies enterprise mobility. On November 15, 2013 Oracle announced it has acquired Bitzer Mobile. As a member of the faculty of the Haas Business School at the University of California Berkeley, he teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the MBA program. He is the founder of Startup-Advisor, which focuses on educating and advising entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting and running a company. His entrepreneurial experience includes working directly with six startups, and he has extensive experience in mentoring and coaching founders and CEOs.

Mr. Zafar holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Brown University (magna cum laude), Rhode Island, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He is a charter member of TiE .He is also a charter member of OPEN where he serves as the Board member.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Naeem Zafar recently to gain his ideas and insights about StartUp, social business and entrepreneurship for better world which is given below.

Q: You’re a successful entrepreneur. As a member of faculty of the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, you teach entrepreneurship and innovation in the MBA program. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us what exactly is entrepreneurship?

A: Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It is a way to look at a situation and see how could you make a profitable venture out of it. It is very innate. People, educated or not in urban or rural setting, are just as likely to spot an opportunity and drive it to commercialization.  The likelihood is there just as it is for a Silicon Valley hotshot startup guy. So it transcends all boundaries of education, race and gender. It is a state of mind.

Q: You believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful tool to alleviate poverty and extremism of the world and social businesses can fill the gap where public institutions often fall short. Can you please tell us more about that?

A: If you think about the definition of a business….its objective is to maximize shareholder return. So the shareholder who invests in the company has an expectation that the management should do whatever it can to maximize return; that is perfectly fine. We have seen tremendous companies and innovation come out of that model. But if there were a concept of setting up a company with the sole purpose of not  maximizing shareholders return but to address its social ill….. that can work for alleviating poverty.

It can be something as simple as the city doing lousy job of collecting garbage. Let’s say the garbage is not being collected on time which is very unpleasant as we know. We can set up a company so that there speedy pick up and disposal of garbage. The purpose of that company is to address this social ill. It is not to maximize shareholder profit. Imagine setting up the company with that objective and shareholders putting in money. This company’s objective is for this social ill to be addressed and not to maximize profit. Now, it is still a for profit company. It still pays market wages and hires the best people to address the issue but it is not trying to maximize profit.

This model which can be very rewarding for the shareholders as it is a new way of looking at solving many of the problems which governments are not well suited to solve. That’s called social business. I think the concept is a powerful one. It’s put forward by the Nobel laureate, Muhammad Yunus, in his 3rd book and I think it is a tremendous way for communities to organize and address issues which plagued them without having to wait for government to show up.

Q: How do you connect these three dots: social entrepreneurship, alleviating poverty and making a better world?

A: If you look at my previous answer I just connected the three dots for you.  Making a better world is about alleviating poverty and giving people a chance to participate in economic growth and well-being. Social businesses and entrepreneurship is a way for them to have that opportunity.

In the country that I grew up in you look for government to give you a good job. However, the government is not well equipped to provide a job for everybody. On the other hand, the private sector is well positioned. As we have seen in US, the private sector produced even submarines, bombs and fighter jets. This was quite shocking to me when I came to this country.

The government’s job is not to produce goods. Its job is to set policies and systems so that companies and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Q: How did you find the idea for Bitzer Mobile? Can you please briefly tell us about Bitzer Mobile?

A: Bitzer Mobile’s technical founder, Ali Ahmed, was working as a software architect for large companies in insurance and oil verticals for many years. He continued to recognize that people were struggling to allow employees mobile access to data.

Ali was having to solve the problem for every company in a unique way. So the idea was, why not come up with the way so that the employees can easily and securely access corporate data and be productive from wherever they happen to be. And that gave birth to Bitzer.

Q: As far as I believe for changing the world, we need to find complex, interesting  and  big problems of the world and then have to build great organizations that will sustain in the long run to keep solving those problems as well as to keep contributing for the betterment of the mother earth. Can you please tell us how can we find interesting, complex and big problems of this world?

A: First of all, I don’t agree with your definition. It is not about solving big problems. It is about solving problems. Problems of all sizes. Sometimes all you have to do is look around you. There are problems in your community, where you live, where you work. Solve those problems. Big ideas come from people trying to solve small problems which turn into great movements. So looking for the great problems to solve is not the only way and may not be most efficient way to do it either.

Q: What are your suggestions on finding interesting ideas and bringing the ideas to life to solve?

A: Interesting ideas to solve come from deep domain knowledge. It’s very difficult for entrepreneurs when they are young to come up with ideas as they can be light weight. The average age of an entrepreneur in America is 37. This means that many people are older than 37 when they start their company. So only if you worked in the industry for 5-10 years you really understand what issues are, what the problems are, and then you can see how you can solve them. So my advice is:  look around you, work in some industry, learn the hard skills. Then you will see the problem and you will be well equipped to solve them. This is how you address this issue.

Q: What are your takes on finding the right business model and identifying early customers?

A: To find the right business model and early customers is simple. You should be able to answer these two fundamental questions: what problem are you solving and who has this problem.  If you cannot concisely answer these two questions you don’t have clarity in your head. I insist that people should talk to 5 to 10 actual users and buyers of whatever product they’re planning to buy and try to understand what their pain is. If you cannot clearly articulate what pain your customers have do not start the company. Then discuss with customers what you are planning to do and if this would be interested in it. If you cannot generate this early customer interest, do not start the company.

And stop worrying about confidentiality. People have other problems to solve in their lives. They are not running to copy your idea. It is the execution of your idea that is the hard part. By bouncing these ideas off suitable customers and users and consistently getting positive feedback, you may be in a position to start the company and then they likely will buy it. Everything else will clarify itself during the course of this process.

Q: Can you please tell us about the legal process of starting a company?

A: Legal process depends on in which country you are starting the company in, what the local regulations are.  My book which is a legal guide for entrepreneurs goes into fair amount of details: What is the process, what options you have in the United States. So read the book. It’s available at naeemzafar.com.

Q: As you’ve seen during Internet bubble, there were so many companies founded and were committed to change the world. But with the changes of time around 90% of them got obsolete. And we ended up having some great companies. Now, there are also so many startups working with cloud computing, big data, wearable technologies, space, robotics and so on. The data shows most of them will also get obsolete as the success rate of startups is very low. But there are always some common characteristics, values,  philosophies and ideas that  keep some startups alive and helps to sustain in the long run. You have profound experience of seeing all the trends as you have been advising companies and working with great entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. What are your suggestions on building the next big organization?

A: Aspect of building the next big organization is about solving a big problem. It is easy to spot what are the problems that need to be solved. All the trends you mention have tremendous potential.

Big data and business analytics can pinpoint precisely if you put a restaurant in the corner of this street and that street. They tell you what will be your monthly sales when you put it in the corner of that street and that street. So, the way businesses will be making decision could be based on not intuition but actual data.

If you read the book or watch the movie called Moneyball, it is about applying statistics to baseball. It is about how a mediocre team became the number one team by using big data. And that is applicable to every single business. So look for a big idea around you and build a great team with high caliber people. If you can put together a right market with the right team, you can build a lasting company too.

Q: How do you think about hiring remarkable people and let them scope to work on achieving vision that will change our world for good?

A: I think it’s good idea to hire remarkable people. You should do that. It’s not easy to do that. Remember the good people  will follow somebody which they can respect and whose vision they share. If you don’t have the passion and vision yourself why would A people, A players, best players follow you. Best players want to follow someone that they believe in. If you have that you shall attract the right team. And yes, you will be able to do great things. So step up to the stage and stage could be yours.

Q:  Whenever we talk about changing the world, thing that always comes first is changing ourselves. After changing our own life, we can go and change our family, then our society and then our country and then we can have a mission of changing the world to make it a better place to live in. But changing the world is hard, complex, challenging and hurting. You have come a long way and have already left a body of works to make this  world a bit more special. Can you please tell us about what your life has thought you in this amazing journey?

A: What my life has taught me is that it’s not a sprint. It is a marathon. So you have to create your own brand. You have to be genuine and honest and people will follow you . If you have  a vision that attracts people, you will have easy time attracting them.

So my advice to myself and other people around me is that if you’re a genuine person and a truthful person and you have a strong vision and can articulate it, you will have people willing to follow you. Once you have people willing to follow you then there is no challenge you cannot take tackle, no matter how big it is.

You will be able to overcome it over time and there are plenty of problems to follow around the world. But be true to yourself and always look for the team who is willing to follow you.

Q:  Last but not least, can you please give some advice to entrepreneurs who are on the mission of changing the world?

A: Changing the world is important and changing the world sometimes happens. But that is not the goal to start with. It is too big goal. It is too audacious and maybe even too arrogant to have this goal.

Martin Luther King did not have the goal of changing the world. He was just trying to change some laws so that black people could have equal rights. When Steve Jobs was starting Apple he wanted to do a music iPod. He was not trying to change the world. So I’m a little bit suspicious of your question because changing the world has come up multiple times.  Forget about changing the world. Do something meaningful for the people around you and your community. If you’re lucky enough it will have a big impact.  So think more practical and try to make local change. Stop worrying about changing the world – that will come later if you’re so lucky.

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Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Jillian C. York: Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

Editor’s Note: Jillian C. York is Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Before joining the EFF, York worked at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where she contributed to the OpenNet Initiative. Her work is at the intersection of technology and policy, with a focus on the Arab world. She is a frequent public speaker and has written for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Atlantic, the Guardian, Global Voice, Foreign PolicySlate and CNN.  With Katherine Maher, she has a regular web show, Interrobang, hosted on Bloggingheads.tv.

Jillian contributed chapters to the upcoming volumes Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communication, Journalism and Society (Palgrave Macmillan) and State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Political Engagement Worldwide (Ashgate Publishing).  She serves on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and on the Advisory Boards of R-Shief, Radio Free Asia’s Open Technology Fund, and Internews’ Global Internet Policy Project.

She says “I talk a lot around the Internets, and in real life–about free expression, privacy, anonymity, culture, and MENA.  I also talk about travel and post pictures of food.” You can get her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +.

To read her full bio please click here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Jillian C. York recently to gain her ideas and insights on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jillian:  Thank you for having me.

Niaz: As an activist, you have been working with all great organizations and setting a trend of doing great works. You’re also a writer and a speaker. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about yourself, current works, projects and involvements?

Jillian: Certainly.  Right now, I’m working on some really interesting projects.  One is an effort to create a set of educational resources to teach people how to be more safe online…there are a lot of great guides and tools out there, but many of them are difficult to understand, or the resources are scattered all over the web.  We want to create a definitive set of resources that are easy to access and comprehend.

Another thing I’m working on with my colleagues is pushing governments to commit to a set of 13 principles for the application of human rights to communications surveillance (they’re at necessaryandproportionate.net).  We’ve gotten more than 300 organizations all over the world to sign on, and dozens of academics and experts, too.  Now we’re taking these principles to governments.

Niaz: You’re the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Can you please briefly tell us about EFF, it’s activities and vision?

Jillian:  EFF was born in 1990 in response to a basic threat to speech.  Since then, the organization has grown to encompass a variety of issues—free speech, privacy, intellectual property, open access—that face us in the digital realm.

In the United States, much of our work is done in the courtroom, but we also have a strong team of activists who raise our issues in Washington, DC and get support from all over the country and the world.  Our technology team builds tools and advises people and organizations on security.  And our international team, the team that I work with, works with organizations all over the world to create good policy, fight online threats, and help build a movement in favor of online free speech and privacy.

Niaz: What are the other organizations out there working for freedom of expressions?  Do you think we should have more organization in this area?

Jillian: There are so many!  There are global organizations like Access and Global Voices Advocacy and US-focused organizations like Free Press and Fight for the Future.  There are organizations all over the globe that I love and support, too…just to name a few, there’s Bolo Bhi in Pakistan, La Quadrature du Net in France, Derechos Digitales in Chile, 7iber in Jordan, MADA in Palestine, Digitale Gesellschaft in Germany, and so many more!

Niaz: How building similar organizations from different parts of world can help EFF to achieve its amazing vision? What are your messages for the youngsters working in nonprofits?

Jillian: Fundamentally, we believe in certain ideals, but we also believe that those battles are best won by local organizations, rather than by a US organization like ours coming in and trying to fix problems.  And so our strategy is to work in partnerships with organizations in other countries to help them build capacity or support them in their fight against a particular threat.  Of course, in this process, we also learn so much from our colleagues everywhere.

My message to youngsters would be that it’s worthwhile to do what you’re passionate about.  I’ve spent my entire career working in the nonprofit sector, and have found it incredibly rewarding.  It helps too that, through my job, I’ve developed friendships all over the world, which means I always have a place to sleep wherever I am!

Niaz: You also serve on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online. It has already become a true Global Media where people from all over the world doing citizen journalism and sharing amazing stories in different languages. At this point, can you please tell us about citizen journalism? How has citizen journalism been changing our traditional media?

Jillian: The problem that I have with traditional media is that it’s limited.  In the US, it’s limited by the (false) idea of “objectivity”, but also by the experience of its journalists.  I don’t think mainstream media is or should be dead, far from it, rather, I think that citizen journalism provides a supplement to more traditional media.  It helps us gain the human perspective of a story.

Niaz: How is Global Voices different from other traditional media? Why is it important to be different?

Jillian: Global Voices began as an attempt to cover what people were saying in the blogospheres of places where the mainstream media didn’t always reach.  Since that time, a lot has changed: we can now access more mainstream publications from different places in the world, giving us an insight into the perspectives of journalists there.  There is also a lot more content from certain places in English than there was a decade ago, which is helpful.

Today, Global Voices still seeks to accomplish that goal, but it’s also now available in dozens of languages, which I often think is even more valuable – it allows people in Madagascar, for example, to read content in their own language by and about people in say, Venezuela or Japan.  It’s that cross-cultural pollination that I find fascinating.

Global Voices is also unique in that it’s almost entirely run by volunteers.  There are fewer than 10 paid full-time employees, and more than 300 people working on the project at any time.

Niaz: Your work focuses on freedom of expression.  And you’ve a profound body of works on freedom of expression. Now can you please tell us about Internet Censorship? How does Internet Censorship affect freedom of expression as well as democracy?

Jillian: Censorship happens all over the world.  We often hear about China and Iran, which are by far two of the worst offenders, but we hear much less about the Internet censorship that happens in Vietnam, Jordan, and many other places.  In Vietnam, political content is censored and bloggers that challenge the state can be arrested for unrelated crimes.  In Jordan, more than 300 news websites were recently blocked after they refused to obtain licenses.  Censorship can be used for all sorts of purposes, but governments that censor the Internet tend to have one thing in common: they fear their citizens.

Niaz: Social media coverage is becoming increasingly common across media; do you see a fundamental shift happening in the way news is covered, particularly internationally?

Jillian: I do – I’m seeing a lot more agency given to the subjects of news articles.  It used to be that an American journalist could parachute in, write a story about a place, and have that story become the definitive narrative of a given situation.  Today, the Internet allows the “subjects” of that narrative to challenge it.  So when, for example, Tom Friedman writes a story about Egypt, you will often see Egyptians on Twitter challenging him about it.

Unfortunately, this is happening on the fringe of the media.  The Atlantic, for example, is doing a pretty good job of it, but the New York Times by and large still seems fairly oblivious.

Niaz: What do you think about social media revolution in terms of freedom of expression?

Jillian: I think that we’re looking at a net positive for freedom of expression, but with a serious caveat: the social media companies that host our speech can also exercise control over it.  This can be insidious, such as Facebook banning entire categories of expression (such as nudity or its ill-defined “hate speech”), but it can also be subtler.  We should be cautious and aware of the fact that the spaces we think of as the online public sphere are not public at all, but privately-owned companies.

Niaz: Do you think social media revolution is also the revolution of free speech? What do you think about the future of Citizen Media that will be able to scale freedom of expression?

Jillian: Yes and no.  I think that the social media revolution is about broadening the set of voices we can hear and that we listen to, but I don’t think we’re nearly there in terms of access to call this a speech revolution.  There are places in the world, like Yemen, where Internet penetration still rests below 5% of a country’s population, and there are other places, like Nigeria, where women report not feeling safe accessing public Internet spaces.  We need to solve the access gap before we can really proclaim social media as a revolution of free speech.

Niaz: What’s new about democracy in this digital era? How do you connect democracy, freedom of expression and social media revolution?

Jillian: I’m not sure we’re even close to solving the problems of democracy, but I do believe that social media opens up space for citizens to make their voices heard in an unprecedented way.  Take, for example, the recent nuclear deal between the US and Iran.  I watched while right-wing journalists decried the deal on Twitter, but their voices were drowned out by those of the people, the citizens, all over the world.  Before social media, those “expert” voices would’ve carried far more weight than they do now.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book chapter in the volume ‘State Power 2.0’?

Jillian: Sure – I wrote this chapter with Katherine Maher.  It covers the history of the Tunisian Internet—its infrastructure, censorship, surveillance—as well as the forces that led to a change in policies after the fall of Ben Ali.

Niaz: What are your suggestions to make our non-profit sector much more productive, scalable, efficient and effective?

Jillian: I think one of the key challenges is for non-profit organizations to think more like businesses, particularly when it comes to finding sustainable funding models.  Non-profits are all too often tied to foundations, which means they risk losing their funding at any moment.  We’re lucky in the United States, in that donations are tax-deductible, which means that organizations have a much easier time at getting individual support.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your new book ‘Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism & Society?

Jillian: Sure – this is a fantastic book put together by a group of academics. My chapter looks at the history and effects of leaking in the Arab world, starting with the Iran-Contra Affair and moving toward the future.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you very much for your invaluable time and also for sharing us your amazing life story, great ideas, insights, experience and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for your good health and safe living along with for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Jillian:  Thank you so much, Niaz, this has been great.

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Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Diego Comin: Entrepreneurship, Technology and Economic Development

Editor’s Note: Diego Comin is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. He received his B.A. in Economics in 1995 from the University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain and his PhD in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, Comin has been Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. He is also Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. Comin has also been fellow for the INET and Gates foundations and consultant for the World Bank, IMF, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Citibank, and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) of the government of Japan.

You can read his full bio from here. To learn more about his research, ideas and knowledge, check out this this this and this.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Diego Comin recently to gain insights about entrepreneurship, technology and economic development which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Comin: The pleasure is mine.

Niaz: You’ve received your bachelor degree in Economics in 1995 from Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain and PhD degree also in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, you were the Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. And you have been Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. You’re also an honorable Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us something about ‘Entrepreneurial Economics’?

Comin: Entrepreneurial economics is the area of economics that studies the causes and consequences of entrepreneurship.

Niaz: How would you define the connection and contribution of economists and entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial economics to accelerate economic growth?

Comin: Often, when entrepreneurs found new companies they tend to utilize new technologies in production accelerating their diffusion. In other instances, new technologies are created to develop and commercialize new technologies. Hence, entrepreneurship may foster economic growth both by contributing to the creation and to the diffusion of new technologies.

Niaz: You’ve been working for so long with primitive technology dataset. What does actually the primitive technology dataset measures?

Comin: I should refer the reader to my paper with Erik Gong and Will Easterly “Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000BC?” at the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics (July, 2010). Basically, it measures whether certain significant technologies were present in the geographic areas that correspond to modern-day countries long time ago. For example, printing presses in 1500 AD.

Niaz: Can you please share your knowledge with us about Primitive Technology?

Comin: There are basically three key findings. First, cross-country differences in technology adoption were very large in the distant past (i.e., 1500 AD, 0 and 1000BC). Second, past levels of technology are highly correlated to current levels of technology. In particular, the levels of technology of our ancestors in 1500AD predict 50% of current cross-country differences in productivity or technology. Finally, the reason for this humongous persistence is that some technological knowledge associated with the adoption of historical technologies helps adopt current technologies.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the diffusion of technology?

Comin: The moment technologies are invented, in principle they are ready for people around the world to use. However, most people and companies do not use them right away. Technology diffusion is the field that studies how and why technologies are adopted the way they are.

Niaz: What are the factors that affect the shape of the diffusion of technology?

Comin: There are several factors that may affect the shape of diffusion curves. How long ago a technology first arrived to a country, the level of income and its evolution, how intensively the technology is eventually used in the country, the rate of improvement of the technology and the productivity gains associated to these improvements, the potential complementarities of one technology with others, and the diffusion of technology in neighboring countries.

Niaz: Your research consists on studying the process of technological change and technology diffusion both across countries and over time. As you know, cutting edge technology, super innovation and evaluation of social media have been changing everything. We are in the golden era of Digitalization. Economy is also transforming to Digital Economy. Can you please tell us about Digital Economy? What has changed and what’s new in this digital economy?

Comin: The digital economy lowers the costs of transferring information. And by making information cheap it reduces the costs of bringing new technologies to all the corners of the world. However, it is important to be aware that the reduction in the costs of transferring information precedes (by a lot) the digital economy. One advantage of having direct measures of technology that span 200 years is that one can uncover long-term trends that are not obvious to the naked eye. When looking at my data, I observe that the acceleration in the speed of diffusion of technologies started with the industrial revolution and it has been unraveling smoothly since then.

Niaz: Things are not happening in the same ways all over the world. Digital Divide, Broadband Connection, Availability of Technology, Lacking of Knowledge and some other constraints have been putting under developed, developing and poor countries behind. How large is cross-country differences in technology adoption? How can underdeveloped, developing and poor countries take optimum advantage of digitalization?

Comin: That question raises an interesting point. Though technologies are more readily available in all countries than 100 or 200 years ago, the gap in the intensity or use (or penetration rates) that we observe between rich and poor countries has widened. (Marti Mestieri and I document that in a recent paper “If Technology Has Arrived Everywhere, Why has Income Diverged?” NBER wp#19010.) It is not easy to explain why this has been the case but it seems that the super low cost of transmitting information are not sufficient for a large number of potential users to know how to apply new technologies (in developing countries). Information is not the same as Knowledge.

Niaz: In near future, I hope we won’t have that much difference in our online and offline life. At the same time, we have started to live a life that is more likely science fiction. Living such an exciting era what do you think about the future of digital economy?

Comin: It seems safe to conjecture that in the future (and probably in the present too) the constraint will not be information but our ability to do something with it. I guess that the challenge for the digital economy will be to help on that front.

Niaz: What are you economic advice to young entrepreneurs, startups founders and CEOs? What are the things they should always keep in mind to grow and excel with their startups?

Comin: I think it is important to be always aware of what’s the core of the company; the area/activity where the company is really great. And always evaluate how actions or strategies affect/complement the core.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Comin: Both as a fundamental driver as well as a manifestation of other drivers, technology is key for the economy and society.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas knowledge and insights. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your future endeavors.

Comin: Thanks very much. I also wish you good luck with eTalks.

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Further Reading:

1. Philip Kotler on  Marketing for Better World

2. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

Ely Kahn: Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Editor’s Note: Ely Kahn is the Co-founder and VP of Business Development for Sqrrl, a Big Data Startup. Previously, Ely served in a variety of positions in the Federal Government, including Director of Cybersecurity at the National Security Staff in White House, Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Protection Programs Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security, and Director of Risk Management and Strategic Innovation in the Transportation Security Administration. Before his service in the Federal Government, Ely was a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. Ely has a BA from Harvard University and a MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more about his Big Data Startup Sqrrl [here]

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ely Kahn recently to gain insights about Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Ely, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Ely: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Niaz: You’re a former management consultant and senior government official who turned Big Data Entrepreneur. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us something about entrepreneurship? What is entrepreneurship? Why are you an entrepreneur?

Ely: While in government, I viewed myself as an “intrapreneur”, and I focused on developing new public sector programs that could disrupt traditional ways of doing business.  Moving to private sector entrepreneurship was a natural evolution for me.  Entrepreneurship takes all different forms, but the type of entrepreneurship that is most interesting to me is modeled around Clayton Christensen’s theory of “Disruptive Innovation.”

Niaz: You have a BA from Harvard University and a MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. You’ve served in a variety of positions in the Federal Government and before your service in the Federal Government; you were a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. How have you transformed your career into entrepreneurship and why? What’s the most exciting thing about entrepreneurship to you?

Ely: Innovation has been a key theme in all my jobs so far and cuts across consulting, government, and startups.  However, business school was actually an incredibly valuable tool for making the transition from government to a technology startup.  More than anything, it was two years that allowed me to explore different startup ideas in a very low risk environment.

The most exciting thing about entrepreneurship for me is the continuous learning environment.  Every week it seems I am picking up something new across a wide variety of functional areas, including sales, marketing, business development, product management, and finance.

Niaz: You’re the Co-founder and VP of Business Development of Sqrrl, a Big Data company. How did the idea Sqrrl come up and how have you started?

Ely: Sqrrl’s technology has its roots in the National Security Agency (NSA) and that technology is called Accumulo.  Accumulo powers many of NSA’s analytic programs.  I was introduced to the NSA engineers that helped create Accumulo while I was in business school, and from there I started to put together the business plan and investor pitch to commercialize Accumulo.

Niaz: At this point, can you please kindly tell us a bit of funding? Who are the core investors at Sqrrl?

Ely: We have two world-class investors:  Atlas Venture and Matrix Partners.  We closed a $2M seed round with them in August 2012.

Niaz: So everything you are doing at Sqrrl is all about Big Data and Big Data Products. Can you please tell us what is Big Data?

Ely: Big Data is generally referred to as data that cannot be processed using traditional database technologies because of the volume, velocity, and variety of data.  Big Data typically includes tera- and petabytes of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, and examples are sensor data, social media, clickstreams, and log files.

Niaz: Why do you think Big Data is the next big opportunity for all of us?

Ely: Big Data technologies like Hadoop and Accumulo enable companies to analyze datasets that were previously too expensive or burdensome to process.  This analysis can become new forms of competitive advantage or can open up completely new lines of business.

Niaz: How do you define Big Data Product? Can you please give us some examples of Big Data products?

Ely: Big Data products span a wide range of technologies, including storage, databases, analytical tools, and visualization platforms.  Two classes of Big Data technologies that are of particular importance are Hadoop vendors and NoSQL database vendors.  Hadoop + NoSQL enable organizations to process petabytes of multi-structured data in real-time.

Niaz: How will Big Data products change the perception of building products?

Ely: Many Big Data products are still “crossing the chasm” from early adopters to mainstream users.  However, these products have the potential to bring the power of massive parallel computing to many companies.  Historically, these types of capabilities have been the domain of massive web companies like Google and Facebook or large government agencies like the NSA.

Niaz: Now can you please briefly tell us about Sqrrl?

Ely: Sqrrl is the provider of a Big Data platform that powers secure, real-time applications.  Our technology leverages both Apache Hadoop and Apache Accumulo, which are open source software technologies.

Niaz: What are your core products and who are the main customers of Sqrrl?

Ely: Our technology offering is called Sqrrl Enterprise and it enables organizations to securely bring their data together on a single platform and easily build real-time applications that leverage this data.  Some of the use cases for Sqrrl Enterprise include serving as the platform for applications that detect insider threats in financial services companies or serving as the platform for predictive medicine in healthcare companies.

Niaz: You’ve started at August 2012. How’s company doing now?

Ely: The company is doing great.  We now have about 20 employees and a number of customers in a variety of industries.

Niaz: What is your vision at Sqrrl?

Ely: Our vision is to enable organizations to “securely analyze everything.”  Our Big Data platform helps organizations perform analytics on massive amounts of data and often times this data has very strict privacy or security requirements on it.

Niaz: How big is Big Data industry?

Ely: According to the analyst firm Wikibon “the Big Data market is projected to reach $18.1 billion in 2013… [and] on pace to exceed $47 billion by 2017.”

Niaz: What do you think about the other Big Data startups? How’s Big Data community doing?

Ely: There is an amazing ecosystem of Big Data startups that are doing some amazingly innovative things.  I am paying particular close attention to startups focused on machine learning and data visualization, as these are complementary areas to our product.

Niaz: Well, we all know that starting a company is not an easy task for us. So, can you please put in the picture what are the difficulties of starting a company we may face?

Ely: The thing that is fascinating about doing a startup is that there is a never ending series of challenges:  raising funding, hiring, finding product-market fit, customer acquisition and retention, and the list goes on.  The key is to be continuously prioritizing where to spend your time.

Niaz: What have you learned by starting a company?

Ely: I have learned many things, but the lesson that I am continuously learning is to be resilient.  Startups are inevitably filled with small failures, but the key is to quickly learn from them to avoid any large failures.

Niaz: What are the mistakes an entrepreneur can make in the early stage?

Ely: I think the biggest mistake that an entrepreneur can make is being afraid to make mistakes.  Early stage entrepreneurs need to be continuously running experiments to find product-market fit.

Niaz: Can you please share some of your life lessons for our readers?

Ely: Stay humble.  Entrepreneurship requires both luck and skill, and I think people sometime mistake luck for skill.

Niaz: Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your invaluable ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for the greater success of Sqrrl.

Ely: Many thanks.

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Further Reading:

1. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

Gerd Leonhard: Big Data and the Future of Media

Editor’s Note: Gerd Leonhard is a well-known Futurist and Author of 5 books, a highly influential Keynote Speaker, Think-Tank Leader & Adviser, and – since late 2011 – the Founder of GreenFuturists.com. Wall Street Journal called him ‘one of the leading Media Futurists in the World’. He is well-known as the Co-author of the influential book ‘The Future of Music’ (Berklee Press, 2005), and as the author of ‘The End of Control’ (2007), ‘Music 2.0’ (2008), ‘Friction is Fiction’ (2009, Lulu Publishing), and ‘The Future of Content’ (Kindle-only, 2011). His new book is “From Ego to Eco”.

Gerd is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (London), a member of the World Future Society, and a visiting professor at the Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil. A native German, he now resides in Basel, Switzerland.

You can read his bio and learn more about his works from here, here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Gerd Leonhard recently to gain his ideas and insights about  Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Leonhard thanks for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Gerd: My pleasure.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Big Data? How is Big Data revolutionizing our life and work?

Gerd: I define Big Data as the result of exponentially increasing velocity, variety, volume, virality and value.  All of us are generating increasingly large amounts of data, whether it’s by using Google, or sharing a location, rating a site, tweeting, facebooking, photo uploading etc. – and this is primarily driven by the Social-Local-Mobile SoLoMo revolution on the Internet. Once this data can be harnessed – and safeguarded i.e. refined and permitted – it will allow for substantial cost savings (such as with networked public cars, logistics, p2p energy etc.) as well as for pretty dramatic new values such as prediction and anticipation offerings like Google Now and Siri.

Niaz: Why does Big Data excite you most?

Gerd: The possibility of generating real user value from the raw data, i.e. faster understanding of complex issues, realtime, customized news and content feeds, and an overall dramatically improved digital content experiences.  The downside – as we have just recently discovered see my post on this, that we may all become permanently naked and subject to whatever data obsession governments may follow.

Niaz: What do you think about Big Data Products?

Gerd: They are more like services, platforms and experiences then they are products — but we are still very nascent with this; kind of like the beginning of Search, 10 or so years ago.  Every major technology company, every internet portal and every media company is now diving into Big Data as the next big thing – and this connects to Social Media of course, and to The Internet of Things (IoT)

Niaz: How the futures of products (Big Data Products) are going to be changed?

Gerd:  Big Data, unlike Big Oil, will be all about ecosystems, about creating win-win-win solutions, about interdependence and mutual respect i.e. permission and trust. Unless we have that worked out, it will fail.

Niaz:  As you know, Big Data has started revolutionizing almost everything. Marketing is changing significantly. Can you please tell us about the impact of Big Data in Marketing?

Gerd: Basically, IF users allow marketers to track them i.e. if there is a ‘like’ relationship, than big data feeds are a goldmine for marketers – everything will be 99% track able, customized and personalized.  Again, IF value is there for the users, this is dream come true for marketers. The main focus will be on securing and maintaining TRUST – which is why the PRISM debacle is such an issue

Niaz: What do you think about the future of Marketing?

Gerd: We wont need Marketing as we know it. It will all be about sense-making, curation, experiences, added values, timeliness and conversations (see my HBR piece)

Niaz: If you go for buying foods, soda or any house hold things you will have so many good alternatives. Considering broader area, if you go for buying smart phone, computers or even cars, you will have so many good alternatives too. But living in such an exciting era, we just have only one good search engine, only one good micro blogging site, only one good social network and only one good professional network. Are we going through any crisis?

Gerd: I think we have a multitude of platforms and services – innovation is moving much too fast!

Niaz: How can we recover this crisis? What is the future of this trend?

Gerd: The only way forward is to create some kind of ‘sustainable capitalism’ based on hyper-collaboration and new, interdependent ecosystems of money, media, energy, food and data (See ego to eco).

Niaz: As you know, as long as we are watching adds on social media or web, we are no longer human beings, we become products. Social media companies are making billions of dollars but they are not making their consumers wealthy and not even enriching the life of consumers. What are the core problems of our social media?

Gerd: As the saying goes: if you don’t pay you ARE the product. This is not per se a problem – unless we lose control of our bargains. Too much too fast too deep can become a real problem for the human brain, as well, so… deteching will increase as well.

Niaz: How do you see the world of social media evolving over the next 10 years?

Gerd: All the web is social, mobile, local – there will be no difference in online and offline in less than 7 years, and the same goes for ‘social’.

Niaz: By this time, Google has become very gigantic. It controls almost all information available on the Internet. It shows us that information it wants to. So many people have already started to believe that Google is going to control the whole world. We have also seen Google to use its monopoly power. Google’s search algorithms “decide” what is relevant and valuable. What do you think about Google’s monopoly? What could be better for the whole world?

Gerd: If Google behaves like a monolith and stops earning our trust it will die very quickly as we will feel be betrayed – this is why WE control these big web companies, in the end.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about real-time approach?

Gerd: Everything is going real-time because of mobile internet, cameras, social media, big data — in many ways a torrent of noise, in other ways a treasure trove. We will need better filters and curators.

Niaz: What are the impacts of real-time approach in everything we do now?

Gerd: Basically if it’s not realtime we won’t care.

Niaz: Dear Gerd, we are really grateful for giving us time and sharing us priceless ideas, insights and experience for eTalks community. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Gerd: Thank you Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

Joseph Nye: Global Politics

Editor’s Note: Joseph Nye is an American political scientist and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He currently holds the position of University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University where he has been a member of the faculty since 1964. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. He is an author of some great books including Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; Understanding International Conflict; and The Power Game: A Washington Novel. In 2008 he published The Powers to Leadand his latest book published in 2011 is The Future of Power. He also spoke at TED on Global power shifts.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here. To learn more about his ideas, insights, research and experience on global politics, you can read his personal blog and huffington post blog.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Joseph Nye recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of global politics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Joseph, thank you so much for joining us. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Joseph: Thank you Niaz for having me.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about ‘21st Century’s Global Leadership’?

Joseph: As the National Intelligence Council report on the world in 2030 concluded, the US is likely to remain the leading power in world politics, but it will be primus inter pares and have to pay attention to others.

Niaz: Who are the current aspiring global leaders to you?

Joseph: The most important is China, but Europe remains important when it is able to act as an entity, and India and Brazil are increasing their roles.

Niaz: As you know globalization, information technology, social media, technological innovation and digital media have been revolutionizing our life significantly. Now, in what kind of international world do we live?

Joseph: I use the term ‘Global Information Age’ to describe the current world.

Niaz: As the rise of globalization and as the spread of international community, how our society is changing? Is the way to achieve socio-political success also changing?

Joseph: I believe that global interdependence and the current communications revolution will continue to increase, so success will require adapting to these forces.

Niaz: Keeping in account this configuration, how do you see the near future?

Joseph: It will vary in different areas. I expect the US to remain strong, and China to grow at a slightly slower rate than in the past decade.  I worry about how long it will take Europe and Japan to recover higher rates of economic growth.  The future of the Middle East remains most uncertain.

Niaz: In 2004, you have published your book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics’. What does soft power mean?

Joseph: Power is the ability to affect others to get the outcomes you want, and that can be done by coercion, payment or attraction. Soft power is the ability to get the outcomes you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment.

Niaz: How is soft power the means to success in world politics?

Joseph: Soft power alone is rarely sufficient for success, but it is often necessary for long-term success.

Niaz: Some people have started to believe that Google is going to control the whole world. By this time, we have seen Google to use its monopoly power. Google’s search algorithms “decide” what is relevant and valuable. Isn’t it tempting for democratic and free-market states to seek control of these technologies in order to exert the kind of “soft power” you describe?

Joseph: Google is a powerful company, but it faces competition from other companies, and anti trust scrutiny from the European Union and the United States.

Niaz: In your book The Power to Lead you argued that leaders need both soft power and hard power. Can you please tell us a bit about hard power? And how leaders can combine soft power and hard power?

Joseph: The ability to combine hard  power (coercion and payment) with soft power  in a manner in which they reinforce each other is what I call a smart power strategy.

Niaz: As you know there’s a dilemma between individual power and power of society, because if one person has power to attract and control whole society, what others can do?

Joseph: It is important to have constitutional limits to prevent one person from controlling the whole society. The American founding fathers accomplished this by creating checks and balances so that power could not concentrate in the chief executive. It makes for inefficient government, but it preserves liberties.

Niaz: We see from time to time, people with power dominate and control the whole society. As a result, mass people, businesses, democracy, capitalism suffer profoundly and the society starts malfunctioning. Can you please briefly tell us about how to use power to make our society a better place?

Joseph: In addition to the constitutional checks and balances, it is important to have a strong civil society, including a free press able and willing to criticize the government.

Niaz: And what are the responsibilities and roles political leaders should play to make sure that no one is abusing power?

Joseph: Self-restraint by leaders is also part of the solution.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your latest book, which was published in 2011, ‘The Future of Power’?

Joseph: The Future of Power has chapters on the meaning of power, military power, economic power, soft power and cyber power.

Niaz: Having said that, which countries are going to play major roles in the future power game?

Joseph: In addition to the US, China and other countries mentioned above, non state actors will play a larger role in future power games.

Niaz: What are the challenges for other countries? And how can they come forward and join in this power game.

Joseph: Keeping a strong civil society that is open to the outside world is crucial to success in the long term.

Niaz: Dear Joseph thanks again for your invaluable time. We are enlightened with your ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you good luck for all of your endeavors. Take very good care of yourself.

Joseph: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

F. M. Scherer: Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

Editor’s Note: F. M. Scherer is Aetna Professor Emeritus in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Born in 1932, he received an A.B. degree with honors and distinction from the University of Michigan in 1954; an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard University in 1958; and a Ph.D. in business economics from Harvard University in 1963.

From 1974 to 1976, he was chief economist at the Federal Trade Commission. His research specialties are industrial economics and the economics of technological change, leading inter alia to books on Patents: Economics, Policy and Measurement; Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance (third edition with David Ross); New Perspectives on Economic Growth and Technological Innovation; The Economics of Multi-Plant Operation: An International Comparisons Study(with three coauthors); International High-Technology Competition; Competition Policies for an Integrated World Economy; Mergers, Sell-offs, and Economic Efficiency (with David J. Ravenscraft) and Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed F. M. Scherer recently to gain insights about Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: You are an expert in Industrial Economics.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Industrial Economics?

Scherer: “Industrial economics,” the name commonly applied in Europe, is also called “industrial organization” in the United States.   It is primarily concerned with studying the functioning and malfunctioning of real-world markets, using an array of methods – theory, econometrics, and history.  It also has substantial policy implications, for example, encompassing all varieties of regulatory policy and antitrust policy (called in Europe competition policy).

 Niaz: How is industrial economics different from our traditional economics?

Scherer: The main differences are a strong real-world orientation and a focus on individual industries or markets rather than generalized markets or the overall macro economy.

Niaz: As you know, the economy is transforming to a digital economy.  What revolutionary changes have occurred in this era of digital economy?

Scherer: Virtually every era experiences changes that might at the time be viewed as revolutionary.  The digital economy is not really different.  I suspect most readers know the main elements: the enormously increased capacity and reduced cost of digital devices following Moore’s Law; the evolution of much more capacious means of transmitting information from one place to another – notably, optical fiber cables; and the application of information theory to compress more information into a given transmission medium, either cable or over-the-air.  Building upon these fundamental changes are a host of specific applications, ranging from smaller and more powerful computers to smart phones to the use of computers and robots in automation.

Niaz: What are the impacts of industrial economics in our digital economy?

Scherer: The field of industrial economics has evolved to track and understand the economic implications of the changes mentioned earlier.   We’ve done a lot, for example, to measure the economics of learning curves, which are one facet of Moore’s Law.  Perhaps our most important contribution has been a rethinking of the proper framework for, and means of, regulating specific industries, including telecommunications.  Regulatory reform in telecoms helped open the way for optical fiber cable networks and reassignment of the ether’s frequency space to new modes of information transfer.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the future of the digital economy?

Scherer: Economists don’t have a particularly good reputation for predicting the future, try as we may.  It’s quite clear, e.g. from studies by economists such as Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT, that more powerful computer systems are helping to raise industrial productivity, as non-digital innovations have been doing for at least two centuries.  Among other things, computerized systems have improved inventory control and logistics in industries such as retailing.  Wal-Mart has been a prominent example here.  But the phenomenon is not really new.  In the 1960s, for example, Anheuser-Busch applied computer-based operations research to optimize its plant structure and shipping patterns, becoming in the process the nation’s largest and most efficient brewer.  And my own experience as a scholar using computers for quantitative data analysis suggests that the changes have been less than revolutionary.  I was able to analyze some rather large data sets successfully in the 1960s using computers that were by today’s standards primitive, but the analysis went through nevertheless.  Long processing queues meant foregoing instant gratification, but the gratification was all the greater for the waiting.  True, today one can access richer data bases – e.g., data on millions of health care interventions, complete retail product transaction tape records, and the whole historical set of U.S. patent grants – that would have been impossible in 1965.

The digital revolution affects not only industrial productivity, but also diverse consumer activities, including communication patterns and entertainment methods.  Here I’m much less confident about the consequences.  Surveys show prodigious numbers of hours spent in the average week, especially by younger people, on computer games and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many individuals’ use appears from my observation to border on addiction.  (Disclosure: I seek an e-mail fix several times daily.) I suppose people get a lot of pleasure, some narcissistic, from social networking, but I’m much less sure that we are becoming better or more productive human beings as a result.

Education is likely to be affected with special force through the growth of massive open online courses (MOOC).  I’m personally thankful that I’m exiting from teaching just in time, for I know nothing more alienating than talking to an anonymous video camera.

Niaz: There is a tremendous problem of digital divide in under developed, developing, and poor countries.  What are the core challenges for those countries to embrace the blessings of digital economy?

Scherer: Yes, there is such a digital divide, just as there is a less immense digital divide between the United States and nations such as South Korea, Japan and Belgium with faster and more extensive internet connections.  The good news is that cell phone technology is diffusing rapidly into many relatively poor nations, permitting richer intercommunication generally and better information, e.g., on future weather events and market prices, which farmers can use in their planting, harvesting and crop shipping decisions.  From the base that has been established, there will be growth into more advanced generations of digital phone capabilities.  Important to this future progress is the construction of additional cells and high-capacity optical fiber cables to interlink them.  Cheap computers are also becoming available to students in less-developed nations, giving them richer access to the world’s information resources and enhancing their educational progress and, among other things, introducing them to writing software.  These things take time and money.  Both are in short supply, but progress will occur, perhaps faster than I suppose.

Niaz: So what are the new perspectives on economic growth and technological innovation?

Scherer: I suspect the wording of your question implies the identical wording of a short book I published in 1999.  My answer incorporates some of the pessimism I expressed in that book.  The world’s most advanced nations have experienced truly extraordinary technological progress and productivity growth during the past two centuries.  Some nations once viewed as less developed, such as China, are joining in, taking advantage of what has been learned elsewhere to advance at even more rapid rates.  But in the most advanced nations, growth rates have been ebbing, and nations like China and other later developers will experience diminished growth rates once they have extensively installed imitative  capital goods and must then innovate to advance further – a phenomenon called convergence.   The key question is, what can we sustain?  My own view is that environmental constraints, even if not raw resource constraints, will make future growth more difficult than it has been in the past.  But I confess I could be wrong, as other skeptics have been in the past, and indeed, I hope I am wrong.  I also worry about the increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth that has occurred over the past four decades as skill requirements, patterns of international trade, and modes of competition have changed.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book, ‘Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives’?

Scherer: That was a collection of articles, mostly previously published, issued by the MIT Press in 1984.  It pretty well reflected what I had accomplished during the first two decades of my professional career, at least in the field of technological innovation.  Its main emphases were identifying salient characteristics of how innovation occurs and works its magic on the economy, how market structures affect incentives for investing in innovation, and  how innovation shortfalls contributed to the productivity growth rate slump experienced by the United States beginning in the early 1970s and continuing up to the time the book was published.  (Growth did pick up, at least temporarily, in the 1990s.)  These were, I believe, some of my best contributions.

Niaz: What are the new scopes and opportunities of innovation and growth?

Scherer: As I said before, predicting what will happen is difficult.  In the 1984 Innovation and Growth book, I included one 1978 article with my characterization of technologies that were still evolving rapidly.  My list of potential breakthrough areas included molecularly engineered pharmaceuticals, hormonal insecticides, asexual plant reproduction, optical fiber message transmission, and energy from thermonuclear fusion.  Making allowance for developments that emerged in somewhat different forms than I visualized, I was pretty much right on the first four.  I missed badly on the nuclear fusion score, which people had been cultivating intensively beginning in the 1960s and are still pushing without evident success.   Earlier in the list, I also erred seriously in classifying digital computers as “approaching maturity.”  I completely missed the PC revolution!  The big continuing breakthrough areas, as I look to the future, are further developments in human and plant gene sequencing and splicing, among other things revolutionizing some aspects of health care, and of course, continuation of the information revolution.

Niaz: Do you think we have already solved all of our interesting problems with technology and innovation?  If not, what are your suggestions to come up with big ideas and solve big problems?

Scherer: Clearly, we have not solved all the interesting problems.  The previous answer listed two of my breakthrough candidates.  The biggest yet-unsolved problem in my view is learning how to use energy in ways that will allow the world’s huge and increasing population to prosper without precipitating disastrous climate change.   Seeding the atmosphere with sunlight-deflecting substances is one possible solution, but it is unproven and poses significant risks of getting the balance wrong.  How do we come up with the big ideas?   The essential facet in my view is continuing support of first-rate basic scientific research across a wide diversity of fields.  Chairman Mao was right in urging that we allow 100 flowers to bloom, because we can’t accurately pre-select which ones will thrive best.

Niaz: What is the economics of technological change?

Scherer: It’s a sub-specialty in several fields of economics concerned with the issues I have alluded to earlier.  I’ve been working in the area for more than five decades.  In the 1950s and 1960s, there were only a handful of us.  We were the “happy few … the band of brothers” in Henry V’s soliloquy.   Now there are hundreds of us working in the vineyards.

Niaz: My readers will love to know about your new book, ‘Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the 18th and 19th Centuries’.  Can you briefly tell us about it?

Scherer: It unites two dominant interests in my life: classical music and the study of innovation.  It uses among other things a statistical sample to reveal how 646 composers kept body and soul together in pursuing their chosen profession or avocation.  Among other things, it investigates composers’ education, their motives, their employment modes and entrepreneurship, their remarkable geographic mobility, and how they were affected by the spread of music publication and the emergence of copyright law.

Niaz: Last but not least, can you please leave us some points, ideas and advice to build a strong economy in this era of digitalization?

Scherer: You left the hardest question until last.  Education is of course critical.  We’ve come a long way, but there is very much more to be done, especially in the less affluent nations.  And even in the United States, our results leave lots of room for improvement. Among things, we need to provide higher status and pay for primary and secondary school teachers.  For economic strength, we also must reverse the increasing inequality of income distribution.  If the majority of our citizens don’t share the gains from our economic growth, it will be difficult to sustain continuing advances in broad-based consumption technologies.  And discontent is likely to manifest itself politically in ways that could destabilize the economy.   And finally, we need to avert disasters such as rising sea levels and adverse crop-growing conditions likely to be associated with global warming and to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.  I grew up under the ominous shadow of nuclear disaster.  We had some frightfully close calls.  We’ve been fortunate thus far to avoid that fate, but the danger continues, and we need to keep it in check.

Niaz: Dear Scherer, I am thanking so much for finding time, sharing invaluable ideas and educating us with impressive thoughts in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health as well as for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Scherer: I am happy to contribute.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Robert Stavins: Environmental Economics

Editor’s Note: Robert Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Program in Public Policy and the Doctoral Program in Political Economy and Government, and Co-Chair of the  Harvard Business School-Kennedy School Joint Degree Programs, and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

To read his full bio, please visit here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Robert Stavins recently to gain insights about Environmental Economics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Robert, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are so honored to have you at eTalks.

R. Stavins: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are one of the most influential voices in environmental economics and the field of environmental economics is more important than ever.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about environmental economics?

R. Stavins: In a market economy – the form of economic system that is now found in nearly all countries of the world – the cause of environmental problems are fundamentally economic, namely the fact that environmental pollution is an externality, a negative, unintended consequence of economic activity, whether carried out by individuals or firms.  In addition, the consequences of environmental problems have important economic dimensions.  For these two reasons, economics and economic analysis provide an exceptionally useful lens through which to examine environmental problems, so that they are fully understood, and so that as a result public policies can be designed which are environmentally effective, economically sensible, and therefore more likely to be politically pragmatic.

Over the past two decades, environmental economics has evolved from what was once a relatively obscure application of welfare economics to a prominent field of economics in its own right.  The number of articles on the natural environment appearing in mainstream economics periodicals has continued to increase, as has the number of economics journals dedicated exclusively to environmental and resource topics.  Likewise, the influence of environmental economics on public policy has increased significantly, particularly as greater use has been made of market-based instruments for environmental protection.

Niaz: Do you think environmental economics is conflicting with capitalism or market economy? Why or why not?

R. Stavins: At first blush, many people think of the phrase “environmental economics” as oxymoronic – an internal contradiction – since it’s either the economy or the environment.  Although there are typically trade-offs between environmental protection and narrowly-defined economic well-being (i.e., financial well-being), for the reasons I stated above, environmental economics is not an internal contradiction, but rather an effective discipline with which to study the performance of proposed and implemented environmental policies.

Niaz: What are the distinctive perspectives of environmental economics that make it the next big thing for entrepreneurs, innovators, economists as well as researchers?

R. Stavins: Given the threat of global climate change, which will bring seriously economic damages when it occurs and which will require significant economic sacrifices to mitigate, an environmental economic perspective is increasingly important for a broad range of sectors in private industry.

Niaz: Dear Robert thanks again for finding time in the midst of your busy schedule.

R. Stavins: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Daniel Pink: To Sell is Human

Editor’s Note: Daniel Pink is the author of five provocative books– including the long-running New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mindand Drive.His latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller, a #1 Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and a #1 Washington Post nonfiction bestseller. Dan’s books have been translated into 34 languages. His articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired, and The Sunday Telegraph (See a sample of articles here).

His TED Talk ‘The puzzle of motivation‘ has almost 6 millions views and RSA Animate Talk ‘The surprising truth about what motivates us‘ has more than 10 millions views. Dan has provided analysis of business trends on CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the U.S. and abroad. And he lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the new workplace.

In 2011, Thinkers50 ranked him one of the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world. To read his full bio, please click here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Daniel Pink recently to gain insights about Conceptual Age, To Sell is Human, Art and Design which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Dan, thank you so much for joining us. We are very honored to have you at eTalks.

Dan Pink: My pleasure.

Niaz: As you know, we have been living through the agricultural, industrial, and information ages. According to you, we are now living in a conceptual age. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about ‘Conceptual Age’?

Dan Pink: We are leaving the Information Age — an economy and a society built on logical, linear, computer-like capabilities — and entering an economy and a society build on inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities — the Conceptual Age. The defining skills of the Information Age — what I call “left brain” capabilities — are still necessary, but to them we need to add “right brain” aptitudes and qualities. In A WHOLE NEW MIND, I identify six essential aptitudes for the new age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

Niaz: You say, in today’s world, we are all sales people. Your most recent book ‘To Sell is Human’ has become New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s and Washington Posts’ Best Seller. We must comprehend now, whoever we are, whatever we do and wherever we belong, we do sell. Why do you believe ‘To sell is Human’?

To Sell Is Humna

Dan Pink: Like it or not, we’re all in sales now — whether we have sales in our job title or not. But sales isn’t what it used to be. We’ve moved from a world of information asymmetry (sellers have lots more information than buyers) to one of information parity (sellers and buyers are more evenly matched). And that has nudged us from a world of “buyer beware” to one of “seller beware.” Selling effectively — whether it’s your idea or your product or yourself– in a world of seller beware depends on three key qualities: Attunement (taking another’s perspective); Buoyancy (staying afloat in an ocean of rejection); and Clarity (moving from accessing information to curating it and from solving existing problems to identifying new problems.) I talk about these qualities keeping in mind the skills you need to become more effective at selling, but in the end I hope that what this book shows is that selling is more important, more urgent, and more beautiful than we realize. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are.

Niaz: You’ve said that abundance changes the way we see material goods. We no longer just want to have things; we want cool things. We want well-designed things. We want things with a meaning. On the other hand, you’ve also said that the new master of business administration is the master of fine arts. Why do you think art and design are the next big things?

Dan Pink: We live in a world of such abundance and prosperity that, for businesses, it’s no longer enough to make a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful. Design – the marriage of utility and significance – has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success in the Conceptual Age.

Niaz: As you know, so many of us now want to contribute amazing things to make this world a better place. We also see people want to change the world to make it a bit more special. In reality, it is so tough to change the world. But having a wish to change the world is really appreciating and great. Can you please tell us about the top most problems of this planet which has to be considered greatly to make this world a better place?

Dan Pink: The general story of humankind is a slow (and often unsteady) march toward progress. If you look back from today, things are much better for most people than they were 100 years ago, let alone 500 years ago. That’s not to say we don’t have contemporary challenges. Here in the U.S., I’d put two issues at the top:

1. Our economy is increasingly leaving a slice of our population behind, marooning them without meaningful work or a sense of hope;

2. Our government, particularly at the federal level, is close to dysfunctional.

On a world level, I’d put at the top of the list two more issues:

1. Global warming and the fact that we’re not fully ready for its consequences;

2. The fact that while you and I are conversing via email, more than a billion people still live in poverty.

In general, though, I’m optimistic that we’ll slowly resolve these challenges — because, as I said earlier, that’s been the trajectory over time.

Niaz: Dan, thanks again for giving us time in the midst of your busy schedule and sharing us your invaluable ideas.

Dan Pink: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Stephen Walt: Global Development

Editor’s Note: Stephen Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. He has been a Resident Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he has also served as a consultant for the Institute of Defense Analyses, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the National Defense University.

Professor Walt is the author of The Origins of Alliances (1987), which received the 1988 Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award. He is also the author of Revolution and War (1996), Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005), and, with co-author J.J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby (2007).

You can read his full bio from herehere and here. For reading his blog on international relation, foreign policy and global affairs please click here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Stephen Walt recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Global Development which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Stephen, thank you so much for joining us. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Stephen: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are a realist in an ideological age. You have been a leader in the field of International Affairs. You have done a significant amount of research and added gigantic amount of knowledge in this field.

As you know, by this time, we have developed superb technologies, published millions of great books and developed a lot as human beings. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us, how far have we progressed?

Stephen: From one perspective, human progress is remarkable. In the past 500 years, we have identified many of the basic laws of the physical universe, discovered the principles of evolution and genetic inheritance, eliminated many diseases, and lifted millions of people out of poverty.  And along the way humans have created a vast and diverse array of music, literature, and art. Yet these same creative impulses have also been used to create powerful technologies of destruction and various harmful ideologies. Human progress remains a decidedly uneven phenomenon.

Niaz: What are the lacking, scope and opportunity to progress?

Stephen: By developing language, humans became able to record and communicate their discoveries and to work together to create new realities and possibilities. That capacity remains the greatest source of human potential: our collective ability to work together to achieve common ends.

Niaz: Despite all of the progresses we have, why countries keep fighting each other?

Stephen: At the most basic level, conflict between nations arises from a combination of fear, greed, and stupidity. Humans are social beings, and we are hard-wired to establish group identities and loyalties. Once formed, social groups tend to worry about what other groups may do to them, and this basic insecurity drives competition that sometimes leads to war. That’s fear.  States also fight because individual leaders have dreams of glory, or because they seek wealth through conquest and plunder. That’s greed. And finally, wars occur because leaders are fallible; they often misperceive or miscalculate. In particular, they convince themselves that victory will be swift and easy and then discover too late they were mistaken. That’s stupidity. Unfortunately, humankind remains all too prone to all three tendencies.

Niaz: Why do countries fail to build and sustain international relations? Can you please explain us the reasons? 

Stephen: In fact, countries form all sorts of valuable international connections. Global trade and investment has grown steadily, allowing millions to live more comfortably. Previously war-torn regions such as Europe have now known decades of peace. Information now flows all around the world at very low cost. Global institutions like the World Trade Organization or the United Nations have not eliminated global conflict, but they have helped keep international rivalries within bounds.

Yet there are still limits to what global institutions can accomplish. In particular, they cannot keep the most powerful countries from acting as they wish and from competing with each other for advantage. Nor can prevent some individuals and groups from using violence to advance their own political agendas.

Niaz: What do you think about the core problems of building sustainable international relations?

Stephen: I believe the core problem for the next century will be managing the development and rising power of Asia, and grappling with the political and social effects of environmental change. These two challenges will make many of our current concerns seem trivial by comparison.

Niaz: How can countries overcome those challenges?

Stephen: I believe the key to more effective global cooperation lies primarily in encouraging more honest and open global discourse. When countries are guided by myths, self-serving national narratives, and inaccurate information about political and natural phenomena, then clashes and errors are inevitable. By contrast, when humans are able to confront shared problems honestly and openly, they can identify where they disagree and are more likely to develop solutions that work. But it is still a fragile process.

Niaz: Is there any net gain from wars?

Stephen: In some cases, yes. States are sometimes able to improve their position via warfare, or at least can prevent others from gaining an advantage. But “rolling the iron dice of war” is always risky, because no one can be 100 percent sure how things will turn out. For example, it was clear in 2002 that the United States would not have much trouble defeating Saddam Hussein’s army, but the occupation of Iraq quickly turned into a costly quagmire and the final result is far from what the Bush administration intended. Because warfare is always an uncertain enterprise, wise leaders will go to war only when forced to fight.

Niaz: Can you imagine a world without any war? If yes! How can we build that world?

Stephen: I can. For one thing, as my Harvard colleague Steven Pinker has recently shown, the overall level of human violence has been declining fairly steadily for quite some time. Furthermore, I believe nuclear weapons are a powerful deterrent to great power wars, and it is these sorts of wars that cause the greatest human suffering. Lastly, I believe that our species has the capacity to learn, and this capacity can help us avoid some of the circumstances that have fueled war in the past. But none of these measures makes war impossible, which is why we need to remain vigilant against its occurrence.

Niaz: What are the responsibilities of developed countries to restrain them from war?  

Stephen: Because developed countries have the most military capability, they have the responsibility of not using it to oppress others. Sometimes developed countries can use force to deter or halt aggression, which is a good thing. But other times they use their superior power to coerce others, or they wage low-level conflicts that kill innocent people to no good purpose.

Niaz: As a global citizen what are our responsibilities for stop killing each others?

Stephen: I think the first step is for global citizens to try to inform themselves about events, and not to trust just what their own governments and media are telling them. A second step is to develop empathy, by trying to imagine how international problems look to others. We don’t have to agree with those whose interests may be different, but we should try to figure out how they see things, and why.  

Niaz: As you know, there are millions of NGOs and social organizations who work for removing poverty, protecting our environment and so on. But what happens in reality? Business Organizations do the harm. Chinese version of capitalism doesn’t work. Governments are corrupted. And NGOs form for doing good. NGOs keep taking donations from business organizations to survive. Overall, this is a strong circle which continues for hundreds of years. Where do our core problems reside actually?

Stephen: I think we need to be very careful here. There are many NGOs and business organizations who do wonderful work in a number of areas. At the same time, there are other organizations whose activities are actively harmful. What we need most is greater transparency: the more we know about what different organizations are actually doing, and the more we know about who is paying for these activities, the easier it is to judge whether they are a positive or negative force.

Niaz: Do you think we can remover poverty by these poverty removal activities?  Why or Why not?

Stephen: Yes, but the record here is mixed. On the plus side, economic development in countries like China and India have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and similar miracles have occurred in a few other places. But on the negative side, the gap between the richest countries and the poorest has actually grown over the past 100 years. When you combine this level of inequality with global communications you have a recipe for trouble, because people in the poorest countries or the poorest sectors can see how the wealthy people are living.

Niaz: What are your ideas to remove poverty and to make life better to contribute in this mother earth for making it a better place?

Stephen: I’m not an expert on economic development, but I think there are several obvious answers here. First, the only way to eliminate poverty is to increase productivity. Second, increasing productivity requires increasing educational levels, and bringing women into the work force in large numbers. It also rests on eliminating barriers to investment and trade, while at the same time creating a legal and regulatory environment that discourages corruption and prevents excessive concentrations of political power in the hands of the wealthy. But none of this is easy or automatic, and when you add it all up, you can see why sustained economic growth is so difficult to achieve.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Stephen: Only this: it is tempting to look for radical solutions, in the belief that some bold stroke will suddenly solve all our problems.   But I think history shows that grand schemes that are supposed to produce some magical solution rarely work, and often cause great misery. Human progress is due to more to patient, steady, trial-and-error efforts, and not from idealistic visions.

Niaz: Dear Stephen thanks again for your invaluable time. We are really enlightened with your ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you good luck for all of our endeavors. Take very good care of yourself.

Stephen: You are welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Joseph P. Newhouse: Health Economics

Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph P. Newhouse is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education, Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy, and Director of the Interfaculty Initiative in Health Policy.  He is a member of the faculties of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Faculty Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Joseph P. Newhouse recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of health economics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Joseph, thank you so much for joining us. We are very honored and delighted to have you at eTalks.

Joseph: It’s my pleasure to join with you.

Niaz: You received B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Economics from Harvard University. Following your Bachelors degree, you were a Fulbright Scholar in Germany.  You are John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education, Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy and Director of the Inter-faculty Initiative in Health Policy.  At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about your educational journey and the transformation of your career from Economics to Healthcare?

Joseph: I have always thought of myself as an economist who worked in the applied area of health and medical care.  After I finished graduate school I joined the RAND Economics Department, intending to spend about half my time working on projects related to health and the other half of my time in other applied areas of economics.  In the domain of health I was interested in the demand for medical care and early on designed what became known as the RAND Health Insurance Experiment.  That projected required my full time – really more than full time – attention for 15 years, by which time I had given up any notion that I would work on topics not related to health and medical care.

Niaz: You are one of the nation’s top health economists. What do you think about health economics?

Joseph: I think health economics has two main streams of work.  One relates to medical care, with the seminal paper being Kenneth Arrow’s 1963 American Economic Review paper, Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care.”  This stream focuses on issues that arise because the market for medical goods and services differs in so many ways from the model of a perfectly competitive market in introductory economics textbooks.  The second relates to health as opposed to medical care, with the seminal work being Michael Grossman’s 1972 Journal of Political Economy paper, On the Concept of Health Capital and the Demand for Health” and his earlier National Bureau of Economic Research Monograph, “The Demand for Health.”  This line of work focuses on the actions of individuals that affect their health, and sometimes the health of others as well, including not only seeking medical care but also investing in education and engaging in various behaviors that are either beneficial or detrimental to health.

Niaz: What are the nucleus aspects of health economics that every policy maker should keep in mind?

Joseph: In answering this I take the perspective of a middle or high income country; the issues in low income countries differ somewhat.  The issue at the front of mind of most policy makers I interact with, as well as most citizens, is the cost of medical care.  In almost every country spending on medical care has risen faster than income, meaning it takes an ever larger share of tax revenue and often of households’ after tax income as well.  There are, of course, a huge number of suggestions and approaches coming from health economics to address the cost of care, but in the interest of being succinct, I will just mention two, both of which relate to the distinction between a high level of cost and a high growth rate of cost.

Every health care system has its share of inefficiencies; not surprisingly, most solutions proposed for dealing with health costs are directed at these inefficiencies.  One example is reducing paper work.  Although it is laudable to reduce inefficiency, success means one will have achieved a once-and-for-all reduction in cost, which will not necessarily reduce the steady state growth rate of cost.  In other words, once the inefficiency is eliminated, those savings have been achieved and costs will start to rise again unless a new action is taken.  Yet in the long run it is the steady state rate of growth that is the larger problem.  In other words, by all means minimize inefficiencies, but ultimately policy makers need a strategy for dealing with the growth rate.  Peter Orszag, when he was the director of the US Congressional Budget Office, called such a strategy this bending the curve.

The second observation relates to policies that address cost.  The growth in health care cost stems partly from the growth in income and partly from new and improved methods for treating patients of all sorts such as new drugs, new medical procedures, new medical devices, new imaging, and new diagnostic tests.  Growth in income and growth in knowledge interact; the developers of the new therapies expected to find a market for them, or they would not have proceeded to develop them.  Efforts to reduce the growth rate of cost will almost certainly slow development, but need to be done in a way that considers the benefits that may be foregone by adopting the new policy.  There are many diseases for which current therapy is not very effective, for example, many cancers as well as Alzheimers and other neurodegenerative diseases.  It would be worth giving up quite a lot to have effective cures for these diseases.  I hear too many discussions where it sounds as if the only objective is to reduce cost or the growth rate of cost rather than reduce or eliminate those activities that do not provide sufficient benefit.

Niaz: As you know, millions of people are now living under poverty line. They can’t afford to have food every day. Health care is mostly a day dream for them. After living hand to mouth they depart. And it has been happening decades after decades. What are your suggestions to save those people to live a healthy life and to contribute for this mother earth?

Joseph: My expertise pertains to higher income countries, but economic growth has pulled tens of millions out of poverty in China and India, and many low income countries have started to grow at good rates.  Such growth not only means higher household incomes but also enables public investment in infrastructure that can improve health.  That plus good governance are undoubtedly important in helping these people.

Niaz: Why private Medicare plans don’t cost less?

Joseph: Private Medicare plans are called Medicare Advantage plans.  They generally provide those who join them rather than joining traditional Medicare lower premiums, lower cost sharing, and/or additional covered services, but this is in part because of higher reimbursement.  My own view is that the larger benefit of well run plans, however, is better medical management of many chronic diseases such as diabetes. (I should note that I am a director of, and own equity in, Aetna, which sells Medicare Advantage plans.)

Niaz: We are living in the age of superb technological innovation. Most developed countries are taking optimum advantage of technological innovation for better health care. What are your ideas for under developed, developing and poor countries to take the advantage of technological innovation to build a better health care?

Joseph: Again, my expertise is around higher income countries, but I think an innovation with large promise for low income countries is mobile telephony because medical advice can be given over the phone to lower level personnel when transportation to physicians with more training is not feasible.

Niaz: Different countries have different health care policies. According to you, what should be the most priority for a country in setting health care policy?

Joseph: Each country has its own values, traditions, and health care institutions which quite properly shape its policy. For that reason I doubt that there is a general answer to this question.  But aspects of life styles in many countries are inimical to health.  For example, obesity rates have increased rapidly in many countries, so much so that some demographers predict life expectancy will fall.  Any use of tobacco is damaging to health, and its use varies substantially among countries.  Trying to promote a healthy life style plus insurance coverage to protect households from being devastated financially by illness are priorities that seem applicable to a wide range of countries.

Niaz: What will be the potential challenges/roadblocks in the way of implementing those top priorities? How can countries achieve those priorities?

Joseph: Lifestyles are difficult to change, but we know that taxes can change use of goods such as tobacco.  Changing social norms also help; restricting the use of tobacco in public places, for example, has contributed to an overall fall in use.    Achieving universal coverage is largely a political issue, although there are certainly technical issues.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your book ‘Free for All: Lessons from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment’? 

Joseph: The booksummarized the results of perhaps the largest health services research project ever done.  The Experiment was a randomized trial that varied the level of initial cost sharing for medical services; some families received all care at no cost to them, others had (approximately) a large deductible, and still others were intermediate.  The cost sharing was scaled down for lower income households.

The use of services clearly responded to what patients had to pay out of pocket; use was roughly 30 percent higher if patients didn’t have to pay that if they faced a large deductible.   For the average person we found minimal deleterious effects of cost sharing on health outcomes, but low income hypertensives had their blood pressure better controlled if care was free.  In addition, some families were randomized to a Health Maintenance Organization, where care was free if it was sought at the Organization.  Those families made markedly less use of the hospital than families in the fee-for-service system and we detected no adverse effects on their health.

Niaz: Our readers will also love to know about ‘Pricing the Priceless: A Health Care Conundrum’. Can you also please tell us about it?

Joseph: This book is an elaboration of the Walras-Pareto Lectures given in Lausanne in 1997.  I tried to summarize the many years I had spent on Commissions that advised the American Congress on setting reimbursement in Medicare.  I went through several examples of how easy it is to misprice in administered price systems and then went on to consider mixed systems of reimbursement, part fee-for-service and part capitation.

Niaz: You have been doing all exciting works in your whole career. You have achieved a wide variety of prestigious awards. You have been leading great organizations. What does excite you always to do the next big thing?

Joseph: To learn what is not known, to teach the next generation, and to learn from my colleagues.

Niaz: I have learned that you love to spend your spare time with your grandchildren and playing golf? Do you actually get spare time? 

Joseph: Most definitely.

Niaz: Can you please share us about the secrets of your sustainable remarkable career? 

Joseph: Thank you for the compliment.  I have tried to work on problems that I felt were important, and I have been blessed to have many wonderful colleagues who have helped me enormously.

Niaz: What is your advice to people who want to follow your footsteps?

Joseph: Choose important problems to work on that motivate you and are tractable, and surround yourself with persons whose skills complement yours.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Joseph: Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Niaz: Finally, we are grateful to you to have your precious time. Thanks again to share us your invaluable ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you luck for your good health and impressive works.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

Barry Schwartz: Wisdom and Happiness

Editor’s Note: Barry Schwartz is one of the very few people who thinks Really Big. He is an American psychologist and Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for thirty year. He spoke at TED Main Stage for three times. He has over 5 Millions Views on his three thoughtful, profound and impressive TED Talks: The paradox of choice, Our loss of wisdom and Using our practical wisdom.

He is the author of several outstanding books including: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing and The Costs of Living. You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Barry Schwartz recently to gain his ideas and insights about Wisdom and Happiness which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Schwartz, thank you so much for joining us. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

B. Schwartz: My pleasure, Niaz.

Niaz: In 2010, you along with Kenneth Sharpe have published a book called ‘Practical Wisdom’. You call practical wisdom the “Master Virtue”. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about practical wisdom?

B. Schwartz: I call it the master virtue because it helps us decide whether, how, and how much to display other virtues. For example, courage is the mean (Aristotle’s word) between cowardice and recklessness.  It takes wisdom to find the mean.  Honesty is a virtue and kindness is a virtue but sometimes we have to choose between them.  Wisdom is what enables us to do so.

Niaz: You’ve said in the past that we’ve lost practical wisdom. How and when did we lose it?

B. Schwartz: Wisdom has to be nurtured by giving people the opportunity to use their judgment, get feedback, and improve their judgment over time.  We have substituted rules for judgment.  As a result, people can do the same job for 30 years and have the same bad judgment after 30 years as they had when they started.

Niaz: Why do you think “The good news is you don’t need to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn’t enough.”?

B. Schwartz: Because it takes judgment to do the right thing in the complex social world.  Being brilliant does not mean that you have good judgment.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about how wisdom applies to happiness?

B. Schwartz: Here is how I think wisdom applies to happiness.  Two key determinants of happiness are meaningful, engaging work and close relations with other people.  I think wisdom is essential for both of these things.  If you are wise, your work is better and your social relations are better.

Niaz: Why does ‘the secret to happiness is low expectations’?

B. Schwartz: Because we evaluate what we get by comparing it to what we expected to get.  If our expectations are too high, we’ll be disappointed with even good results.

Niaz: I have one other major question. You said that what makes people happiest is close relationships, not having things, even though these relationships constrain our choices. But don’t relationships also expand our choices — in a superficial way, by people giving us information about movies to see, places to vacation, etc. — and also in a more profound way, by giving us a chance to experience the world through other eyes, and see other ways of viewing things?

B. Schwartz: You don’t need close relationships to get movie recommendations.  Close relationships imply mutual concern and obligation.  That constrains choices.

Niaz: And in terms of happiness, what is your word on decision making?

B. Schwartz: My word is that too many options can undermine happiness inducing paralysis, bad decisions and dissatisfaction with even good decision.  So also can having standards that are too high—always wanting the best.

Niaz: You say that rules are the enemy of moral skill. But many people are saying that the country’s current financial meltdown was caused by an absence of rules and regulations.

B. Schwartz: Yes.  We need rules. Absolutely. But anyone who thinks that the “right” rules will solve the problem of financial irresponsibility is kidding him or herself.

Niaz: As you know, modern times, technological innovation and western prosperity have enabled us to do just about anything we want. What is the downside?

B. Schwartz: First, now that we can do anything we want, we can’t figure out what we want to do.  Also, we adapt to good things we experience in life so that they stop feeling like good things and we look for even better things.

Niaz: In 2005, you have published ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less’. What is the “paradox of choice”?

B. Schwartz: The paradox is that more choice should enhance our sense of freedom but for many it leads to paralysis.  The paradox is that lots of choice should enable us to make better choices and thus be more satisfied but it makes us less satisfied.

Niaz: In the NYT magazine, scientist Roy Baumeister talks about decision fatigue: His theory is that too many decisions wear us out and negatively affect our judgment.

B. Schwartz: Yes, and he’s correct.

Niaz: What’s the scope of the paradox of choice?

B. Schwartz: I don’t know, but I suspect it applies to everything.

Niaz: What about outside consumer goods?

B. Schwartz: Jobs, places to live, what to study, where to study, romantic attachments.  It operates in all of those domains as well.

Niaz: What happens as we become more, if not over-reliant on filters?

B. Schwartz: Relying on filters helps us solve the problem of too much choice.  Of course the filters have to be good ones.

Niaz: How far would you take your experiment before you offer, to quote Henry Ford, “any color, as long as it’s black”?

B. Schwartz: I would never do that.  Choice is good.  The trick is to figure out how much choice allows us to derive the benefits of choice without paying the price.

Niaz:  Do you think people in their 20s and 30s are having more problems than earlier generations in making some of these major life decisions — are putting off choosing a career, a mate — some of those really big decisions?

B. Schwartz: Yes.  Absolutely.

Niaz: Finally, how do you nurture people to do the right thing?

B. Schwartz: You do it by setting an example, by giving people a chance to use their judgment and by being there to catch them when they fall and help them improve their judgment.

Niaz: Thanks again for joining us and sharing your enlightening ideas and knowledge. We wish you good luck as well as we want your healthy and safe life. Take very good care.

B. Schwartz: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

3. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

4. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

5. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

6. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Philip Kotler: Marketing for Better World

Editor’s Note: Professor Dr. Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He has been honored as one of the world’s Leading Marketing Thinkers. He received his Master’s Degree at the University of Chicago and his PhD Degree at MIT, both in Economics. He did post-doctoral work in Mathematics at Harvard University and in Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago.

Professor Kotler is the author of several bestselling books including Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control. It is the most widely used marketing book in graduate business schools worldwide. He has published over one hundred articles in leading journals, several of which have received best-article awards.

He has been a consultant to IBM, General Electric, Sony, AT&T, Bank of America, Merck, Motorola, Ford, and others. The Financial Times included him in its list of the top 10 Business Thinkers.

You can read his full bio from here, here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Kotler recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of marketing and creating better world.

Niaz: Dear Kotler, thank you so much for joining us. We are delighted and honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip Kotler:  Niaz, thank you for having me.

Niaz: You are an economist trained at the University of Chicago (M.A.) and MIT (Ph.D.). Three of your Professors were Nobel Prize Economists – Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, and Robert Solow. But you have been cited as the world’s foremost expert on the Strategic Practice of Marketing. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and why marketing became such a big factor in your life?

Philip Kotler:  Throughout my study of economic theory, I was bothered by the absence of discussions of distribution institutions (wholesalers, retailers, agents, jobbers, etc.) and promotional tools (advertising, sales promotion, and salesforce).  It seemed to me that the level of market demand and individual company demand are heavily influenced by these institutions and activities as well as price (which absorbed the most attention of economists).  When I was offered a position to teach either economics or marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, I chose to teach marketing so that I could show that it was a branch of economic science.

I moved into the question of what influences the level, composition and timing of customer demand and what are the determinants of individual demand.  Classic economics assumes a world of rational buyers and rational producers.  I always felt that this grossly oversimplified the understanding of customer behavior and producer behavior.  The recent growth of interest in behavioral economics in contrast to classical economics is bringing many missing institutions and activities into economic focus.

Niaz: So how do you define Marketing?

Philip Kotler: The shortest definition of marketing is “Finding needs and filling them profitably.”  However, I would rather cite the American Marketing Association’s definition that says “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for consumers, clients, partners, and society at large.”  (American Marketing Association, 2008)

Niaz: In this hyper competitive era, what do you think about the Position of Marketing in Total Business Operation? How can marketing change the entire game plan?

Philip Kotler:  In spite of the fact that marketing is now headed by a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) who presumably participates in the company’s strategy development, I find in many companies that the CMO is not invited or expected to be an active participant in strategy development.  It’s as if senior management wants the CMO to continue managing the marketing work without interfering with long range strategic planning.

The irony is that the CMO is the person in the company who is closest to the changing marketplace and is in the best position to spot new opportunities for the company.  Because the CMO is probably going to have a left brand (analytical) and a right brain (creative), CMOs are more likely to work as game changers during the planning process.  We expect CMOs to have a very deep understanding of customers, competitors, distributors, and suppliers.

If I ran a company, I would want my Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to be modeled on Steve Jobs and come up with big, new ideas and also be modeled on Bill Gates with a deep grasp of business analytics.

Niaz: Your Marketing Management book is in its 14th edition and is used in most MBA Marketing courses worldwide. A certified classic, the book has ranked among the Top 200 Titles on Amazon.com and been named among the 50 Best Business Books of All Time by Financial Times. You published the first edition of this book around 46 years ago. So what are the revolutionary changes has occurred by this time in our society?

Philip Kotler: During this period, I have witnessed a lot of changes in the marketplace and I have managed to portray them in each new edition of Marketing Management, now in the 14th edition.  My editions helped emphasize the need to adopt a customer orientation; to precede the 4Ps with segmentation, targeting and positioning (STP); to move into higher mathematics and better marketing metrics to show accountability; to emphasize the social responsibilities of marketing; to broaden marketing to cover the marketing of places, people, and ideas; to recognize the importance of relationship marketing over transaction marketing; and to recognize the revolutionary power of digital and social marketing.  My next edition will enlarge on some new trends such as co-creation, crowdsourcing, sustainability, dynamic pricing, digital marketing, marketing automation, and growth strategies.

Niaz: What are the biggest shifts you see happening among consumer attitudes and behaviors right now and how is technology influencing this?

Philip Kotler:  Consumers are worried about the future and their ability to keep their job and hopefully earn a good and growing income.  They see the high level of unemployment in the U.S. and Europe and see a growing number of industries – music, publishing, movies, retail book stores – being disrupted by online and digital marketing.  This leads consumers to save more and spend less which only increases the loss of jobs.  And companies see only two ways to compete, either by presenting a lower price to reach the mass market (Wal-Mart) or by presenting a higher price to reach the affluent (Gucci).  The middle is gone.

Niaz: How are those shifts affecting Marketing?

Philip Kotler:  The big problem facing companies today is how to grow in a low growth market. My answer is that marketers face more opportunities and hidden pockets of growth than they normally recognize.  I just published Market Your Way to Growth: Eight Ways to Win. There are eight chapters and each examines a specific pathway to growth.  I worry that companies get stuck in one strategy that is now showing diminishing returns and fail to shift in time to any of the other seven pathways to growth.

Niaz: What kind of impact are the Internet, Social Media and other Advances in Communications Technology having on marketing?

Philip Kotler:  The Internet is having an impact today that is comparable to what the world felt when Gutenberg introduced the idea of printing.  The Internet, social media and new communication technologies are major game changers in marketing.  No longer does the company own its brand by having a monopoly on communications about their brands.  It is the consumers and their peer-to-peer talk that is shaping our images of brands and what to buy and how much to pay.  Furthermore, no company can afford to deceive customers without being quickly exposed on the Internet.

Niaz: Are the ‘four Ps’ still a useful framework?

Philip Kotler:  Yes.  Please appreciate that the 4Ps are the basis of a marketing plan.  Any respectable marketing plan must discuss the company’s decisions on Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If the company wants to add some other things, they are either already implied in the four Ps or could be added.  For example, services are part of the product, and sales force is part of promotion.  Packaging is part of the product.  Recently Professor Jagdish Sheth introduced the four A’s – Availability, Affordability, Acceptability, and Awareness – but I see the 4As not as a competitor but a useful complement that precedes the setting of the 4Ps. The 4As identify the consumer conditions that should be satisfied and it is the job of the 4Ps to follow upon the 4As.

Niaz: What do you see the role of technology being in the new marketing mix?

Philip Kotler:  New technologies affect all of the 4Ps. The advent of 3D Printing will help entrepreneurs design new products cheaper and faster.  The development of software to do dynamic pricing will allow airlines to change the price of seats depending on the number of seats already sold. The development of new distribution channels such as online selling and eBay are increasing the ease of transacting.  The development of social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are changing our tools for promotion.

Niaz: Well known marketers like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, believe that “traditional advertising is dead.” Is he correct or misled, and why?

Philip Kotler:  This statement makes a good headline but it is inaccurate.  Traditional advertising will continue in its role as brand builder but it will have to do it with a lower budget.  Some percentage of every advertising budget will have to move into digital and social media marketing.  Right now this may be 5 percent, then 10 percent, and conceivably in five or more years 50 percent.  The more correct statement of Yvon Chouinard would be that traditional advertising will increasingly partner with digital marketing, one supporting the other in a synergistic way.

I will add one more thought about advertising.  What is most important in advertising is copy, not media.  The best media won’t make up for poor copy.  I don’t think advertising agencies come up with exceptional campaigns.  Of the last 10 campaigns that you saw, you are unlikely to be impressed with more than one.  Most campaigns simply lack originality and punch.  I prefer to hire three advertising agencies and pay them for three campaign ideas for the same product and then choose the best campaign idea and hire a separate media agency to develop the best media mix to carry the best of the three campaign ideas to the target audience.

Niaz: Let’s look at marketing in the future. What changes are going to occur within in next couple of decades?

Philip Kotler:  Here are four changes out of many:

1. Companies will increasingly invite customers to co-create products with the company.

2. Companies will increasingly resort to crowdsourcing to get ideas for new products, new advertising campaigns, and new sales promotion ideas.

3. Companies will increasingly move to marketing automation where they use artificial intelligence to carry out marketing activities that were formerly done by skilled marketers.

4. Companies will increasingly learn how to produce “lovemarks” with their customers and employees.

Niaz: What are the points that a CMO must remember now before setting marketing plan?

Philip Kotler:  The first need is to get each marketing planner to carefully define the target audience and deeply understand their needs and desires and the main triggers to purchase.  The aim should be to discover something new about that target audience, some new insight into their psyche that will cause them to want to take the offer.

Niaz: As you know Disruptive Innovation sometimes makes Customer Driven Company obsolete. In addition to giving most priority to customers, companies now need to focus on some other important factors like changing technological trend, innovation, market shifts and so on. Now, what are your suggestions for companies to set marketing plans in order to save their companies from getting obsolete for Disruptive Innovation?

Philip Kotler:  Every company and industry is in danger of disruption.  The choice facing a company is whether to be disrupted or be the disrupter.  I would advise a company to run a meeting ever so often to consider everything that might disrupt the company, whether it is a new technology, a shift in consumer tastes or their pocketbook, etc.

Each possible disruption needs to be assessed for its severity and its probability of happening.  A serious probable disruption poses the following choice.  Either sell the business now before it loses its value due to the imminent disruption, or invest in the disruption to replace your business and become the disrupter.

Niaz: How can marketing help Startups to survive in front of giant competitors like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple?

Philip Kotler:  Many entrepreneurs precisely try to take a bite out of a giant competitor.  Right now, several companies are trying to hit Google by setting up a more focused search system.   Their aim is not to slay Google so much as ironically to sell out to Google.  Giant companies are well prepared to buy up any company that carries a disruptive potential and either bury it on the shelf or expand it into another business opportunity.

Niaz: What are the secrets of revolutionary marketing?

Philip Kotler:  I don’t use the term revolutionary marketing.  You might mean Guerrilla Marketing whereby a small company attacks a giant firm on a hit and miss basis.  Or do you mean a company that will create a paradigm change?  For example, Tom’s shoes has proven that online selling of shoes works.  Tom’s offers to send three different sizes of the same shoe, expecting the customer to buy the best fit and return the other two pairs.  In addition, Tom says that it will give a free pair of shoes to a poor person for every pair sold to a customer.  This principle is now adopted by a new eye glass company that will send several glass frames by mail from which the customer makes a choice, and in addition the company will supply a free pair of glasses to a poor person who can’t afford to pay.

Niaz: One of your recent books is Chaotics. Can you please give us a brief of ‘Chaotics’?

Philip Kotler:  John Caslione and I wrote Chaotics right after the financial crash that took place in 2007 to caution companies against making the wrong responses to the crisis.  Most companies wanted to cut their costs and lower their prices.  This is not always the most appropriate response in chaotic, turbulent times.  Some companies should actually increase their marketing spend and take advantage of the crisis.  Consider that some competitors are weakened more than your company and this is the time to attack, not withdraw.  This is the time to build your market share which in normal times cannot be moved a few points.  We discuss the appropriate decisions that companies in different situations need to make in their marketing, production, finance and other functions to take advantage of the turbulence.

Niaz: You have published the seminal article in 1971 coining the term “Social Marketing” in its original use. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Marketing’?

Philip Kotler:  Forty two years ago, Gerald Zaltman and I published “Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change” in the Journal of Marketing.  We felt that marketing science can apply to more than the marketing of goods and services.  Marketing can help in designing and promoting solutions to social problems, such as smoking, hard drugs, poverty, hunger, and others.  Marketing always starts with a customer analysis of the barriers and benefits that influence customer behavior. In the case of tobacco use, we need to distinguish the different segments of smokers and prepare a different 4P marketing campaign to help facilitate the decision to stop smoking.  We could have named this “cause marketing” but we chose to name it “social marketing” to imply that marketing has a social side, not just a commercial side.  Today there are thousands of social marketers trained in the basics of marketing and applying marketing to alleviate problems of poverty, hunger, poor nutrition, education, and health.  Recently the third World Social Marketing conference was held in Toronto, Canada with 600 attendees.

Niaz: You are the first recipient of the American Marketing Association Foundation’s “Marketing for a Better World” Award. Can you please tell us how can marketing be used to make this world a better place?

Philip Kotler:  We can create a better world through marketing in several ways.  Commercially, we can improve our products and services and find ways to lower their prices and costs.  Socially, we can work on specific social problems and reduce their severity through the application of social marketing.  Societally, we can assist companies in defining the areas where they can make charitable contributions and work with others to improve the quality of life.

Niaz: Is there a personal influence or anecdote from your own life that you can share regarding the attention you’ve given to solving social problems?

Philip Kotler:  When HIV/AIDs broke out as a major disease and took the lives of so many young adults, I developed a strategy for influencing young adults to avoid situations where they could contract AIDS.  It was important to avoid these situations and also get early testing if they might have contracted the disease.  I worked with the YMCA and other organizations to help them develop campaigns.  I didn’t think that straight education campaigns on the dangers of AIDS would be enough to demotivate certain behaviors.  Happily, modern medicines began to appear to help AIDS victims lead a longer life.

Niaz: Why do you think marketing is a great tool to change the world?

Philip Kotler:  Marketing’s starting point is with consumer well-being. Marketing is about the maximization of consumer well-being.  It also takes into account the well-being of employees, distributors,   suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. 

Niaz: How does Marketing can help us profoundly to change the world to make it a better place to live?

Philip Kotler:  There are at least three types of marketing that will contribute greatly to making the world a better place to live. 

1. Commercial marketing, in assisting companies to make better products and services for the poor, the middle class, and the affluent.

2. Social marketing, in assisting governments, nonprofit organizations and “caring” companies to influence more salutary behaviors such as better nutrition, regular exercise, desisting from smoking or using hard drugs, being environmental, etc.

3. Place marketing, in assisting cities, regions and nations to attract tourists and visitors and new residents and factories and retail chains so that life can be improved for all in those places.

Niaz: Thanks you so much for your invaluable time. All the best wishes for your good health and impressive works. We are grateful to have you at eTalks. Your ideas, knowledge and expertise are worth spreading. Thank you once again.

Philip Kotler:  You are welcome Niaz. I must compliment you on raising very good questions.

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Further Reading:

1. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

2. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

5. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

6. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Rita McGrath: Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

Editor’s Note: Rita Gunther McGrath, a Professor at Columbia Business School, is a globally recognized expert on strategy in uncertain and volatile environments. She is an author of three books: The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Marketbusters and Discovery-Driven Growth. She is about to publish her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Review Press). In addition, she has been a regular contributor at Harvard Business Review. Her thinking is highly regarded by readers and clients who include Pearson, Coca-Cola Enterprises, General Electric, Alliance Boots, and the World Economic Forum. She is a popular instructor, a sought-after speaker, and a consultant to senior leadership teams. She was recognized as one of the top 20 management thinkers by global management award Thinkers50 in 2011.

She’s also been recognized as one of the top ten business school professors to follow on Twitter. In 2009, she was inducted as a Fellow of the Strategic Management Society; an honor accorded those who have had a significant impact on the field. In 2013 she will serve as Dean of the Fellows.  You can read her full bio from here. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Read her regular write ups at Harvard Business Review Posts.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Rita McGrath recently to gain her ideas and insights on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Rita, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Rita McGrath: It’s a pleasure.

Niaz: You are globally recognized expert on Strategy in uncertain and volatile environment.  Can you please tell us about the term ‘Strategy’? Why is strategy so much important?

Rita McGrath: Strategy is fundamentally about making choices.  Choices, of course, about what to do but equally importantly about what not to do.  I think of strategy as a central, integrated concept of how we’re going to achieve our objectives.  In a business sense, it’s what customers we seek to serve, what we’re going to do for them that is better than other options they have, and how we differentiate our offerings.

Niaz: How to differentiate between ‘Personal Strategy to live everyday life’ and ‘Business Strategy to Run Google’?

Rita McGrath: Personal strategy obviously involves your own choices about how you are going to spend your time, invest your resources and plan for your future.  A business strategy is different in that it involves persuading many more people to support you and take actions that are consistent with your vision for the future.

Niaz: How can we integrate personal and business strategy to ensure that both personal life and professional life are going smooth and exciting?

Rita McGrath: I think you need to allocate personal time to different activities and then let the best uses of your time in each case “win”.  I don’t think you always have personal and professional life in perfect balance – but you can try to get them to work together.  I like to use the metaphor of a gyroscope – never falls over but adjusts to its environment.

Niaz: You have written an article at Harvard Business Review Blog ‘The world is more complex than it used to be’. How the world is more complex than it used to be? And why?

Rita McGrath: As I say in the article, it’s because things are more connected and interdependent than they have historically been.  That means that you can have interactions that are unpredictable, so that you can’t predict the outcome by knowing the initial conditions.  The net and advanced communications technologies have made many more connections than used to be possible.

Niaz: In your book ‘The Entrepreneurial Mindset’, you have said, ‘We have to have Entrepreneurial Mindset to succeed in unpredictable world’. Why do you think entrepreneurial mindset can help us to succeed in unpredictable world?

Rita McGrath: Because in a world of temporary advantage, you need to innovate to create a pipeline of new advantages even as old ones fades away.  That requires thinking like an entrepreneur at all times.

Niaz: How can we stop acting by the old rules and start thinking with the discipline of habitual entrepreneurs?

Rita McGrath: Adopt what I call the “new playbook” for strategy – stop thinking in terms of sustainable advantage and start considering what strategy looks like when advantages are temporary.  For instance, get away from industry analysis and realize that you are competing in arenas.  And that your most significant competition may come from other industries, not within your own.

Niaz: As you know we love to talk about ideas, spreading ideas and getting inspired by ideas. But at the end of the day, Business Models are very important to implement and survive with those ideas. Can you please tell us about Business Model and its importance?

Rita McGrath: Well, an idea without a business model behind it is simply entertainment, in my view.  A business model describes what you are going to sell, to whom you are going to sell it and how you are going to get paid for it.  If you don’t have that, you don’t really have a business.

Niaz: In this world of full of uncertainties how to make great and sustainable Business Model?

Rita McGrath: I think it’s going to have more to do with networks and longstanding ties than with product or service innovation.  It will also have to do with the customer experience – that’s much harder to copy than a technical innovation.

Niaz: What should be the strategy of startup companies those who are getting all giant companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon as competitors?

Rita McGrath: Find a customer niche that really wants what only you can provide and service them with well designed offerings that create a complete experience.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your best selling HBR article ‘Discovery Driving Planning’?

Rita McGrath: Discovery Driven Planning was developed to create a disciplined way of planning for new ventures, when you don’t have a lot of information.  It emphasizes learning and incorporating new information into your plan when you hit key checkpoints in the development of your venture.  It provides a discipline, but one that is suitable for uncertain environments.

Niaz: Why do we need ‘Discovery Driving Planning’?

Rita McGrath: Because conventional plans don’t work without a great deal of information that you simply don’t have with a new venture.  It’s a recipe for developing big, expensive  flops, like the Iridium project or the recent bankrupt casino in Atlantic City.

Niaz: In your books ‘Market Busters’, you cited, ‘Companies must grow to survive’. Can you please tell us how to identify specific types of growth opportunities?

Rita McGrath: In marketbusters, we look at 5 lenses to find new growth opportunities.  First is the lens of the customer experience – how can you make that better.  Then, are there ways to reconfigure products and services to better match customers’ desires. Next, could you develop a new business model?  Or anticipate and take advantage of shifts in your entire industry?  Or finally discover entirely new market spaces where you could compete.  We find that any one or more of these can help to identify opportunities.

Niaz: You have said, ‘For Growth, New Ideas Aren’t Enough’. So what do we need in addition to ideas for growth? 

Rita McGrath: A systematic innovation process, with a governance process, a funding process and concrete ways for ideas to get transformed into businesses.

Niaz: By this time we have created much knowledge, generated many ideas, innovated important tools and gained efficient and effective productivity. In such an exciting time, we see companies to fail to grow. Why so many good companies fail at growth?

Rita McGrath: Because they are trapped in old ways of thinking.  Many try to exploit old businesses, even though that isn’t where their future lies.

Niaz: Could you explain the principal steps that a company needs to go through to create a growth framework?

Rita McGrath: Sure. These are the steps-

  1. Identify the growth gap
  2. Obtain senior level support and resource commitment
  3. Set up an innovation governance process
  4. Build a system to deliver the key steps – ideation, incubation, launch, acceleration – of a successful  venturing program
  5. Create the supporting processes for innovation

I go into this in more detail in my new book – I can send you a copy if you’d like.

Niaz: I would really love to get a copy. Rita, Thank you so much for giving us your invaluable time, sharing us you impressive ideas and illuminating us with your great experience. All the best wishes for your upcoming book ‘The End of Competitive Advantage’.

Rita McGrath: You’re welcome Niaz.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Big Data Revolution

Editor’s Note: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He has published nine books (most recently Big Data: A Revolution That Transforms How we Work, Live, and Think with Kenneth Cukier) and is the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the governance of information. He is a frequent public speaker, and sought expert for print and broadcast media worldwide. He and his work have been featured in (among others) New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Nature, Science, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Tribune, WIRED, Ars Technica, Daily Kos. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Viktor Mayer-Schönberger recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Big Data which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Viktor, thank you so much for joining us. We are very delighted to have you at eTalks

Viktor: My pleasure.

Niaz: Big Data has become a talked topic in these days. A very tight hype about Big Data is going on over tech industry. Big Data means ‘Making sense of the New World’ to many people.  Can you please tell us about this ‘New World’? What has actually changed? And what does ‘Making Sense of New World’ mean?

Viktor: What’s changed is that in the past, we weren’t able to apply to data to help our decision-making since the cost of collection, storage and analysis was so high. But as those barriers have fallen, we are not able to harness lots of data — and when we do, we can unlock new insights from it.  Take predictive maintenance. We didn’t know when an engine part would break before it did in the past. Now, looking at lots of sensor data like sound, heat and vibrations – from tens of thousands of vehicles, through big data analysis companies can spot that a part is likely going to break in the near future, and change it before it actually breaks. That’s new. It’s a new way of interacting with the world in a more empirical, quantified way. And it’s because of the data.

Niaz: How do you define the term Big Data?

Viktor: We resist giving a concrete definition since that would limit it. But basically, it refers to the idea that we have so much more information these days that we can apply new techniques to it, to spot useful insights or unlock new forms of economic value. There are things we can do with a large body of data that we simply couldn’t when it was in smaller amounts. In our book, we identify three features: more, messy and correlations.

Niaz: What is Data Science?

Viktor: The idea is that a new profession that has emerged in recent years, that combines the skills of the statistician, software developer, infographics designer and storyteller. Instead of peering into a microscope to discover the mysteries of the world, the data scientist looks into massive databases to uncover a finding. That said, since it’s a new job title, what it means will surely change over time.

Niaz: What is more important: Big Data vs. Data Science?

Viktor: The two are not at all at odds with each other. Big data is when there is vastly more data available relative to the phenomenon or question to be investigated than before; when we are accepting of some level of messiness of the data; and when we are using big data correlations to tease out the “what” rather than aiming to understand the “why”. The data scientists work with data, sometimes but not necessarily always “big data,” to analyze the information and extract meaning from it.

Niaz: Who is a Data Scientist?

Viktor: These are people who serve a useful interface between the hard-to-understand data, and the people who need to understand and make decisions from it.

Niaz: Do you think Data Scientists Job is the sexiest job in 21st Century?

Viktor: There are lots of sexy jobs in the 21st century. A data scientist is just one. Statisticians, machine-learning expert are others.

Niaz: What are the educational backgrounds, trainings, skills and expertise that someone needs to become a Data Scientist?

Viktor: The data scientist will need a multidisciplinary background that spans math and statistics, to computer science, design and the humanities. This is because one needs to be fluent in the language of data — how to run regression models and double-tailed T tests. But also possess coding skills to write programs to scrap data, clean data, or simply collect data. Then, one needs to eye of a designer to present the data visually. And storytelling skills to have the data reveal a narrative. Finally, one needs a deep sense of humanity — to ensure we are not beguiled by data’s false charms, and we keep our common sense amid the spreadsheets.

Niaz: You along with Kenneth Cukier have published a book ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’ which has already become a best seller. Can you please give us a brief on your impressive book?

Viktor: In “Big Data” we aim to go beyond the big data hype, and explain why big data represents a paradigmatic shift in how we understand and make sense of the world. We suggest that three qualities characterize big data: more, messy and correlations (see above), and that big data analysis is founded on our ability to datafy the world – that is to render more and more aspects of the world into data format that then can be calculated and analyzed. We look at the value of data – and the importance of secondary uses, as well as the emerging big data value chain. We explain who will be winning and who will be losing in the big data era. But not everything is rosy. We talk in detail about big data’s dark sides – from its challenge to privacy to the threat of punishment by propensity. We suggest concrete safeguards to ensure that the dark sides of big data remain contained, including suggesting the need for a new cadre of professionals – the “algorithmists” – that will help protect us against big data abuse. We end with a cautionary chapter about the importance of the human element in a world of big data.

Niaz: After publishing the book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, you have been speaking, engaging with readers and getting feedback. Now what are your new findings?

Viktor: It’s still the first inning — it’s still round one for big data. So before we think about what’s next, we need to get the word out about how transformational this will be. That said, every day brings new case studies of how companies and organizations are unlocking new value by harnessing information in new ways.

Niaz: Now Big Data is becoming an integral part of the organizations. Organization has started to hire Data Scientists having a strong belief that Big Data means Big Opportunity. Do you think Big Data means Big Opportunity?

Viktor: Absolutely. For those with the right mindset, data offers huge opportunities. There is a gold rush under way – as people, companies and society realize that most of data’s value remains to be uncovered.

Niaz: What is the dark side of Big Data?

Viktor: In the book we look multiple dark sides. In addition to privacy, we are particularly concerned about propensity – the use of big data analysis to hold individuals responsible for acts they are only predicted to commit. That we fear negates human volition – our ability to decide freely whether and when to act. Punishing people for predicted rather than actual behavior is undoing the notion of justice in our society.

Niaz: How to overcome this dark side?

Viktor: On privacy we suggest we need a significant adjustment in the way we protect it from big data surveillance, so that big data benefits can be reaped without making a mockery of individuals’ justified privacy concerns. But we also suggest that in the era of big data we need to broaden our understanding of justice – and what it entails.

Niaz: As you know Poverty has been ruling the world for centuries. Billions of people have been living hand to mouth and suffering from lack of nutrition, lack of education, lack of sanitation, lack of food etc.. There are hundreds of social organizations those who have been working with poverty and social problems. At the end of the day, these social organizations are unable to measure the changes they have made. Or we could say, they might fail to bring sustainable changes though billions of dollars have been invested by donors and other sources. But these poor people have been suffering and living almost the same life for decades after decades. Now can you please tell us how Big Data can be a help to analyze, map, measure and formulate the problems of poor people?

Viktor: Yes. There are two problems with measuring the plight of the poor in a small data age: it costs a lot of time and money to collect data about them, and it is hard and costly to analyze that data. In the big data age, we can use data that is collected for other purposes – say micropayments through mobile phones – and reuse it to better understand the economy of poverty. And because big data analysis is relatively cheap, and no longer requires huge upfront investments in processing and storage infrastructure, sophisticated big data analysis can be undertaken by a handful of people working for instance for a civil society organization.

Niaz: Do you think we can design and program solutions of our social problems with the help of Big Data analysis?

Viktor: Big data can provide us with a much better sense of what policy areas need to be addressed first, and what results our policy decisions might produce. But at the end of the day, machines cannot take decisions, humans do. And so whether or not we find solutions to our social problems depends not on big data, but on human empathy and resolve.

Niaz: Please tell us about how Big Data can be a great help to measure the changes that social organizations bring?

Viktor: Social organizations often do good things, but their impact is hard to measure – in part because in a small data world collecting such information was very costly. In the age of big data that may change, and thus give social organizations perhaps for the first time a chance to analyze and see how well they are doing, and where. That helps these organizations to learn and evolve, and to improve their impact.

Niaz: Can you please suggest us ways of changing this world with the rigorous use of technology and innovation to solve our social problems to make this mother earth a better place to live in?

Viktor: Take medicine: Today we are using medication developed for the average person, rather than customized for a particular individual. This means that today we over- and under-medicate. As a result billions are wasted, and people are suffering. Big data provides us with the ability to change this – so that we can treat illnesses on an individual level, and learn. It increases effectiveness, but more importantly it improves lives. But for that to happen we need to be able to collect and use the data.

Niaz: Viktor, thank you so much for your time and for all of these impressive ideas.

Viktor: You’re most welcome Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Juliana Rotich: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Editor’s Note: Juliana Rotich is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company. She has worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry for over ten years. She is a Technologist, African Futurist and TED Senior Fellow. She was named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, andSocial Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum. Currently she has selected as a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. You can read her full bio from here, hereand here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Juliana Rotich recently to gain her ideas and insights on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Juliana, we are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Juliana: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a Social Entrepreneurial Innovator. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Entrepreneurial Innovation? How can social entrepreneurial innovation change the world?

Juliana: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation refers to entrepreneurs that create and establish resourceful and inspired ways of dealing with social problems. The core of this kind of entrepreneurship is skillfully and systematically acting, doing things in new ways to solve increasingly persistent modern challenges like poverty, health or education to have the greatest social impact. “Innovation is itself invariably a cumulative collaborative activity in which ideas are shared, tested refined, developed and applied.”  Bill gates called this creative capitalism – our ability to stretch market forces and make them work better for the poor and reduce the great inequalities that exist in modern society. For the world, it is practically the emergence of a social conscious geared both at turning profits but improving lives, incomes and turning all people in to productive beings where their inert behavior includes building their community to be a better place.

Niaz: You are the co-founder and executive director of ‘Ushahidi’. Those who don’t know about this amazing social revolution, can you briefly tell about ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as website set up by a collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists, bloggers and the tech community during the post-election crisis in Kenya at the beginning of 2008. The Site Mapped incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. Its Success which gathered 45,000 users in Kenya – catalyzed the realization amongst its developers that the platform had potential beyond Kenya’s borders and have relevance and use for others around the world. Ushahidi is now a non-profit technology and data company. Ushahidi creates platforms which provide services, tools and strategies for Crowdsourcing and data flow management. We focus on bottom up systems with a vibrant global community of mappers and an ecosystem of open source experts. Ushahidi demonstrates how free and open source software enables organizations and communities to improve collection of data, contextualizing issues they care about and create effective information flow of stories and engagement into localized action and change. We catalyze initiatives and communities like The CrisisMappers group, the iHub in Kenya and support many others who are trying to change the world through technology.

Niaz: What is your vision at ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: At Ushahidi, we want people to truly be able to collaborate and change the status quo of where they are through collaborative problem solving.  With our tools we want, individuals, groups, & organizations to be fully able to participate in their democracy, and to have their voices heard. Empowering citizens to collect and contextualize information and change the way information flows in the world by making easy to use crowdsourcing tools that provide change agents globally. Ushahidi’s mission is to change the way information flows in the world.

Niaz: As a technologist you have been working to bring social revolution in the field of social work with the art of technology. Why do you think technology is a surprising tool to solve our social problems?

Juliana: I actually think technology is a natural tool to solve our social problems. In the book What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, defines The Technium – “We all realize that we’re kind of surrounded with technology: there’s little device here recording us, there’s tables, chairs, spoons, light bulbs. Each of these things seem pretty mechanical, pretty inert in a certain sense, not very interactive, you know, a hammer, roads. But each one of these technologies actually requires many other technologies to make and produce. So your little thing in your pocket that you use for a phone might require thousands of other technologies to create it and support it and keep it going, and each of those technologies may require hundreds of thousands of subtechnologies below it. And that network of different technologies and the co-dependency that each of those technologies have on each other forms a virtual organism, a super organism.  We can keep stepping back and realize that all these technologies are in some ways co-dependent and related and connected to each other in some way and that largest of all the networks of all these technologies together I call the Technium.”  Social problems are often ecosystem problems, and appropriate, creative use of technology is just what may help to accelerate the problem solving that is much needed for the world’s problems. Technology helps to make systems more efficient, helps to close feedback loops and to inform. I think of technology as a catalyst for change and innovation representing immense untapped opportunities just waiting to be built and utilized. What brings it all together is an ecosystem of people and technology. In my generation I have seen how African people have interacted with mobile phones, computers and how increased connectivity to the Internet across the continent has helped spur Trickle Up Innovation to address social problems. Ushahidi is an example of this as is Mpesa, apps like iCow, Mfarm and Tusaidiane are emerging as part of the growth of tech entrepreneurial culture coming out in Africa and its collaborations globally.

Niaz: As you know, we have hundreds of thousands of social organizations those who have been working to bringing sustainable social changes. Most of these organizations have been lacking behind to accept the blessing of technology and innovation. What are the core challenges for them?

Juliana: The origin of not for profit organizations and their leadership at times represent the greatest challenges to technological innovations for social change and by that it takes much longer for them to develop the tools or procure the right personnel to develop the tools in house with a clear vision. We are lucky as Ushahidi that our founding and core is based on a group of developers, tech savvy change makers, bloggers, human rights activist, that bring their A game to the table in the different fields they have mastered. Our organization, leadership, commitment, culture, and mentorship in the cause has enable us to be particularly responsive.  With time and the greater adoption and exposure to technology nonprofits are picking up the pace in this area.

Niaz: How to recover those challenges to bring sustainable changes in the society with technology and innovation?

Juliana: It is not easy but can be achieved by attracting good talent. I would like to add this Harvard Business Review Article here.

Niaz: On the other hand, non profits are highly dependent on donors. Do you think technological innovation can provide them a platform to overcome this dependency and to empower them with financial independence to work to change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Juliana: It is possible. At Ushahidi, we have an external projects team that is ostensibly in charge of completing projects that bring in additional money. With our cloud based Services Crowdmap and SwiftRiver, we are diversifying the revenue base and thus on a sustainability track. It also helps to have impact investors like Omidyar Network who are not just donors, but partners in realizing the greater social and economic impact through not-for-profit technology work.

Niaz: Do you think we can bring technology and innovation rigorously for bringing social change, for removing poverty? How?

Juliana: If you had asked me this question last year, I would not have had an answer for you. This year, I can certainly say it is possible. I met Martin Burt in Davos early this year. I was completely encouraged and inspired by his work in Paraguay, he is doing extensive poverty mapping with the goal of giving the government clear data on where the critical areas are for interventions that can help lift people out of poverty. That his organization is using Ushahidi software is only a small part, the important work of linking on-the-ground data with policy is nothing short of amazing.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a TED Senior Fellow. How you’re involved with TED now. What are your plans with TED?

Juliana: In 2007, I was selected as part of the inaugural class of TED Fellows. There I met other technologists, particularly Erik Hersman, whom I had collaborated with online with the AfriGadget website. I also met Ory Okolloh, Dr. Sheila Ochugboju, Mulumba Lwatula and Segeni Ngethe just to name a few.  More on what I wrote then about TED. In 2009 I was named a TED Fellow again because of our work with Ushahidi and the Technology ecosystem in Kenya. This was great, as I was not only able to enjoy the conference (It is an amazing brain spa) but to meet other amazing individuals who would collaborate with Ushahidi and iHub over the years. The network and support from the TED team, from Chris Anderson, June Cohen and Tom Rielly made Ushahidi a household name spoken in tandem with the likes of Wikipedia and Twitter. Moreso the friendships forged as part of the TED community continue to this day and make up a very important part of my life. To meet other technologists who do not fit neatly into one box was completely refreshing. It is like meeting a long lost ‘soul sister’ or rather in this case ‘brain sister’. The community is extraordinary.

Niaz: You were named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, and Social Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum.  What are the set of advice you want to give to young social entrepreneurs? 

Juliana: Find a way to serve people through your work. The rest is hard work and persistence. The core is service and community. Keep the core strong and be flexible enough to handle the flux.

Niaz: How do you inspire women to come forward and lead?

Juliana: Inspiration comes in many ways. For me, it came from my late grandmother and my late father. They lived their lives making things. They taught me to first and foremost be a maker, to fix whatever is broken with whatever resources available. When you are needed, to stand up and do what you can. I hope that women can look around and find inspiration that works for them.

Niaz: Recently you have become ‘MIT Media Lab Directors Fellow’. It’s the finest place of innovation. Now you are bringing social problems and ideas at MIT Media Lab. What are we going to see in recent future with your ideas  for social change and Medial Lab’s innovation?

Juliana: I am so honored and thankful for the MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellowship. It is indeed the finest place for innovation. I often tell people that there are two places I feel most at home. The first is the iHub in Nairobi, a great space started by the Ushahidi team, led and grown by Erik Hersman. The second place is the MIT Media Lab. It is indeed Nerdvana as I like to call it. I am most excited about learning from the different research groups at MIT and linking them back to creative and innovative centers in Africa. There are incredible artists and innovators in Africa who are affiliated with emerging spaces like iHub, BongoHive, CCHub and others who would greatly benefit with that interchange of ideas, solutions, and approaches.  I suggest to read more from here and here. I am yet to fully grasp what I will do with the Media Lab fellowship, but one thing is that it will be in service of the amazing entrepreneurs I have the privilege of interacting with at the iHub in Nairobi and other parts of Africa.

Niaz: Juliana, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas and for your time.

Juliana: You are welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Hugh Mac­Leod: Creativity and Art

Editor’s Note: Hugh Mac­Leod is one of the leading authorities on the creative process. He is the author of  ‘Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity’, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination’ and Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear.  He is about to publish his new book ‘The Art Of Not Sucking’. He is a cartoonist, entrepreneur, technologist, speaker and professional blogger, known for his ideas about how ‘Web 2.0′ affects advertising and marketing. After a decade of working as an advertising copywriter, Hugh started blogging at gapingvoid.com in 2001. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Hugh Mac­Leod recently to gain his ideas and insights about creativity and art which is given below.

Niaz: Hugh, I know you as a Cartoonist, Best Selling Author, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Blogger, Marketer and this list goes on and on and on. What do you think about your best identity?

Hugh: Cartoonist! I am a Cartoonist.

Niaz: But you are doing a vast array of activities. Why do you think being Cartoonist is your best identity?

Hugh: Well there is no point of being a billionaire if you don’t feel it. Being cartoonist is the thing I can be from my inner soul and cartoon is the thing I can do my own where everything else is just the tools that you need to interface with the world. They come like the delivery mechanism.

Niaz: As a cartoonist what is your vision?

Hugh: My world vision is to make people think differently about office art. I want to transform the world of business art. From my personal view, I want to make better and faster cartoons.

Niaz: So you are creating art. Changing minds. Telling a long story with impressive creative art by using only few words. Integrating complexity and problems to provide easy solution via your cartoon, sometimes via your art and sometimes via telling an excellent story. So what do you think about the significance of creating art now?

Hugh: I don’t think that there is any difference of creating art now then which was thousands years ago. Art is the reflection of our inner soul, our beliefs and the fact that we love from our heart. I think creating art means showing the world that we are not alone. I don’t know what Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang. I don’t understand whatever language he did speak. But you know there is a spiritual dynamic to his work that connects you somehow. You go and look Ancient Art, Native American Art, Chinese Art, Hindu Art or whatever; you will find the spiritual dynamics that connect you genuinely. So when you ask, why should we make art, you should have asked ‘why should we pray’ and then you should have asked ‘why should you believe in god’.  Creating art is always significant. It doesn’t belong to any time dimension. It’s innocent. It’s the true connection.

Niaz: You are a great marketer. You have been working with all big corporations and helping them for getting things done. Now, what does the term marketing mean to you?

Hugh: Well marketing to me, is the art, science and everything. Marketing is associated with all of the things that you need to get your idea spread.

Niaz: What do you think about the core problems of marketing?

Hugh: I think the core problems are marketing is very selfish, marketing is very loud, marketing is ill-mannered, marketing is wasteful and marketing is all kind of horrible things.

Niaz: So what are your ideas about how ‘Web 2.0’ affects advertising and marketing in this connected digital economy?

Hugh: Well from my perspective, it takes a way to need to scale. For example when I was a kid, when I was in your age, self publishing was so hard and expensive as there was no internet. So the way to be successful was hardest. Your cartoon had to be discovered by the Magazine, Newspaper, TV Shows or something like that. You had to get the approval of the record company. What I figured out a while ago, how much I need for living? I just need paying my bills. I have figured out, if I have 10,000 people who will give me money whether to buy t-shirt, cartoon, book, print or painting, I can make a living. And so to me, finding these 10,000 people using the Blog, Twitter or Facebook is cheaper, faster and easier that we couldn’t do before that. For example, in the old days, you ran a cartoon in the magazine. Then you had to wait until a person saw your cartoon in the book shop or saw your add that you pay at the back of the magazine and tell someone. It would also need a lot of peers. You had to wait for other people to tell your stories. So you had some other things beyond your own control. Now internet has made this business model for a cartoonist that is cheaper, better and faster. As a result our advertising and marketing has been changing revolutionary.

Niaz: You have been creating Social Objects. Can you please tell me about ‘Social Objects’?

Hugh:  The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that ‘node’ in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

Niaz: Can you please give an example of ‘Social Object’?

Hugh: Oh there are so many. Social object is something that is cool. When people mean cool, they mean it only because it is social object. Cool doesn’t reside in products. It resides in the interactions. Once Nokia Phone was cool. Now the social dynamics has changed. So it’s no longer social objects. I would say, it’s not social object because it is cool. It is cool because it’s social object. I love Bangladeshi Cooking. I love Seth Godin. I love Beatles. All of these are social objects.

Niaz: I first came to know about your impressive creative arts at the beginning of 2006 via your most popular manifesto ‘How to be creative’.  Till now, it’s the most popular manifesto of ChangeThis.com. Why do you think creativity is so much important of doing and making things happen?

Hugh: Well that’s how we are designed to survive. You know we aren’t cockroaches, tigers, or elephant. We have our brains. And our brain is genetically designed to figure out how to hack the world. If you look at our species, our ability to evolve, survive and dominant the world is all about creativity. It’s a biological spiritual necessarily. God made us creative. And it’s our nature.

Niaz: Can you please explain the title of your book ‘Ignore Everybody’?

Hugh: Well this isn’t saying to ignore everybody from the day you born to the day you die. I think there is a trouble to ignore everybody. What I mean is that nobody can tell you whether you’re idea is any good or not, especially in the beginning. All you can do is soldier on alone…. ignoring everybody.

Niaz: What are the secrets of being creative? Can you please tell us some points on being creative and asking interesting questions?

Hugh: You already are. You already born that way. Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. Keep it consistent. Practice. I think you could be loaded up with complexity and problems. But keep patience. Keep trying. Grow up your stamina.

Niaz: Hugh, Thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you very good luck for all of your impressive works.

Hugh: You are welcome Niaz. Thanks for having. Good luck to all of your ideas and endeavors.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

Trond A. Undheim: Entrepreneurship and Social Change

Editor’s Note: Trond A. Undheim, Ph.D.,  has over fifteen years of multi sector experience in strategy, policy, communications, academia, and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. Formerly, he was a Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at Oracle Corporation, with wide responsibilities in long-term business development, strategy, public policy and standardization globally and in Europe. Trond is an executive, speaker, entrepreneur, author, traveler and blogger. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Trond A. Undheim recently to gain insights about Entrepreneurship and Social Change which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Trond, thank you so much for your time in the midst of your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks. You teach Global Economics and Management as a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. You are a leading expert on strategy, technology policy, entrepreneurship and the role of technology in society. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about entrepreneurship?

Trond: Entrepreneurship is to see, seize and share an opportunity to change something for the better in a lasting, institutional way, by creating a company, entity, program or initiative which provides services, generates products or makes concepts that can be traded or enjoyed by many. That was a mouthful, I guess: entrepreneurship is about embracing risk, change, and convincing people—this is sometimes hard.

Niaz: What is the significance of entrepreneurship in global economy?

Trond: As the trading of physical commodities gradually shrinks, entrepreneurship is about to become the only valuable commodity in the global economy. The reason is—it is all about flexibility. All sources of comparative advantage are temporary. The time window for innovation is arguably getting somewhat shorter every minute. This being said, entrepreneurship takes many forms. It is not just about startups, and the culture of entrepreneurship is different in each country. In my work with Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), at MIT Sloan School of Management, I have found that even as emerging markets are at different stages of development and each have their own culture, the desire to innovate is the same among young entrepreneurs everywhere. All they want and need is to see good examples in front of them. Our student teams help out with getting quicker through the process, escalating change throughout society. But it starts one-on-one. It must build up. So, as significant as entrepreneurship might be, it is a slow force.

Niaz: How are technology, innovation and entrepreneurship integrated with each other? How can this integration be a help for the global economy?

Trond: There is entrepreneurship without technology but it is less effective. There is technology without entrepreneurship but it is futile and short lived. There is innovation wherever there are people connecting the dots between entrepreneurship and technology.  Without integrating the three, there will be no global economy, only elite pockets of internationalization.

Niaz: Do you think technology, innovation and entrepreneurship could be the solution to Poverty? How?

Trond: Despite new solar cooking devices, peer lending schemes, or cell phone empowered social movements, there is no single solution to poverty. For too long, technology has been thought of as a panacea that solves all problems, but we are far from it. Technology opens certain opportunities and forecloses others. Moreover, even though it initially may seem technology transforms opportunities for everyone, it usually, in the end favors the established elite or those who have resources to take the most advantage of it. This is the reason there are still problems everywhere we look around us, despite what many call ‘technological progress’, ‘information age’ or ‘globalization’.

We have increased the differences between people, and hence the opportunity both to succeed and to fail, spectacularly. Herein lies the challenge of integration; the globally economy theoretically connects things, but someone needs to establish those connections and re-establish connections when broken. Innovative initiatives that mobilize people, share information, gather knowledge, discuss best practices, or create marketplaces of ideas, products and services across boundaries of time, place, resources, and ability, will definitely contribute to the poverty issue in various ways. However, the issue is too complex for one strain of innovation to transform it all. Change needs to trickle down. Change needs to spread out. Change needs to bubble up. Poverty is clearly a multi-faceted problem that will fascinate, frustrate and motivate smart people, organizations and institutions to act for decades to come.

Niaz: Throughout history, high tech industries mostly belong to developed countries. As a result, under developed and developing countries alike have lagged behind. Can you please suggest us some ways to help those countries to come up with proper strategies to get involved with high tech industry to contribute to the global economy?

Trond: High tech industries are fostered by individual initiative, investors who are willing to take risks, and by a willingness to go to or even create markets where there yet are none. However, as small ecosystems of high tech entrepreneurship start forming even in countries that are not yet on the radar as emerging economies, each time, it gets easier. The challenge is to get enough launch momentum. Typically, what we see is that entrepreneurs, given such challenges, either are funded from outside the country by particularly risk prone or long perspective persons or institutions, or are a result of family money. Only in a few cases will angel investors emerge on their own, since they typically are former high tech entrepreneurs themselves. One strategy is for government incentives to stabilize and attract expats back to contribute. Another is to focus attention on particular locations around a strong university. A third is to build the products at home but use the born global concept to immediately try to act on the global market, or more realistically, one selected foreign market.

Niaz: You worked at Oracle Corporation as the director of standards strategy and policy, where you lead global business development, drove standardization, and influenced government policy in the EU. What do you think about the core challenges of entrepreneurs of third world countries have in order to come up with great ideas to build global technological business as well as to contribute in global economy?

Trond: The core challenge is to acquire the right set of skills and grasp the attention of funders and potential customers early enough, and before your money (and motivation) run out.  Moreover, another tough challenge is to convince the establishment that ideas matter, which means people around the entrepreneur—the first clients and investors must not just nod to existing power structures. They may need to be prepared to accept causing a bit of a stir. Entrepreneurship is a dangerous force to those not prepared to change or to those with vested interests to defend, such as established ways of doing things, monopoly markets, successful products, or healthy revenue streams that may be threatened by a new entrant, however small.

In terms of standardization, entrepreneurs should keep in mind that one thing is to have a novel idea, but a whole other thing is to be able to enact infrastructure change across a whole new market. To do that, you need to think in terms of standards, following standards, shaping standards, creating new standards that people will go along with. It is a negotiation game. You either join or try to create an ecosystem and then try to make it surround you and your customers. You cannot go it alone. Even Oracle learned that, early on, as that company was a startup facing the giant IBM. Oracle picked up the importance of having a database standard and built a great product around it. Look at where it is today. Larry Ellison can create a Japanese lake in California, own luxurious boats, and buy a Hawaiian island. Not a bad life to some. But, frankly, I think entrepreneurship is about much more than the money you create. It is about the relationships you build and the pride you get out of creating something new and at the same time something lasting.

Niaz: How to overcome those challenges?

Trond: I think the best way to overcome such challenges is to enlist team members who have experience from abroad. That way, you can bring change along with you. The other thing is to align with the forces for change within the country. You cannot turn everyone, but you actually only need to turn one-by-one. Every entrepreneur has heard this, and everyone knows what it means: be prepared not to take no for an answer. Beyond that, you need to find something that is actually doable. There are many good ideas out there but not all are doable. Doable for you, that is, in your situation. Make sure you have a good story. Storytelling can overcome most challenges. Even dictators, monopolists, and old money love a good story.

Niaz: You have also served as the national expert of e-government in the European Commission, where you created ePractice.eu, the world’s most successful best practice initiative in e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion. Can you please give as a brief of these terms: e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: E-government is when public services are reorganized and ideally improved or made cheaper or more convenient using ICT, although that is a tall order. E-health applies ICT to citizen/patient interaction, health-service providers, institution-to-institution transmission of data, or all of the above. E-inclusion aims at reducing gaps in ICT usage in order to improve economic performance, employment opportunities, quality of life, social participation, and cohesion.

Niaz: What is the response to the ePractice.eu initiative? What are the significant changes that have occurred because ePractice.eu?

Trond: ePractice.eu blends online and offline interaction on good practices in using ICT for services of public interest. It brings a varied set of around 100,000 stakeholders together, government policy makers, consultants, the ICT industry, NGOs etc. So far, it contains 1626 self –submitted cases from 35 countries around the world, For the EU, it has radically improved information and knowledge sharing. It has achieved significant momentum. Joining the community has tangible value, people attend workshops, contribute views, share, and learn. It is a true knowledge community, virtual and physical.

Niaz: What are the steps could be taken by the policy makers of third world country to get the maximum benefits of e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: As the UN e-government survey reveals each year, there are indeed gaps between nations’ internet readiness. This is unfortunate but something we all need to take into account. The issue is not just access to the internet, but what content is accessible once you are on the internet and which skills you have to make sure you can benefit and contribute. The challenge is multifaceted: education, training, specific skills, infrastructure, and content. Even the countries who have invested a lot of resources occasionally, some would say too often, get it wrong. This stuff is not simple. You need awareness across the supply and delivery chains.

Niaz: You have published your book ‘Leadership From Below’. Can you please give us a brief of ‘Leadership From Below’?

Trond: Leadership From Below, for me, is two things. A perspective on leadership: No need for a position in a hierarchy to have influence. A perspective on life: lead when you need.  There are many books out there right now tapping into the fact that the web seemingly has lowered barriers to lead. However, what I am saying is not that. There are still barriers. Technology is not really the point here, although it can help (and hurt). The point is to reconfigure the notion of what it actually means to lead. It simply has nothing to do with somebody giving you power from above (despite what those who elect the pope might think). True power can only emerge from below, from trusted relationships. Even God Almighty in Christendom was of the opinion that it was wiser to send his son Jesus to earth to convince people of the state of things than to simply tell them with a roar from above.  Even smart CEOs realize this. They know they are accountable to the Board, to shareholders, and to society at large (well, at least some CEOs think this way).

Leaders at all levels need to reflect upon what it takes to achieve real, lasting influence. Using force always has a cost. In fact, getting your way always has a cost, especially if it is recognized that you benefit from it. Instead, leaders need to embrace the somewhat slower, but surer process of involving peers in small-scale change efforts that have ripple effects across teams, organizations, and societies.

So, leadership from below is not simply a message to a new generation of leaders, or to small-scale leaders. It is the essence of true leadership. Leadership from below is not just a trend. In fact it is a stable feature of any society but it has recently become trendy. Oh, and one more thing, I did not write the book to say we should not accept any authority. My view is not anti-hierarchy, but a-hierarchical, or beyond hierarchies. I say: Follow when you can. Lead when you need.  Finally, since I wrote the book back in 2002, I have reflected a bit more and taken in some criticism, too. As it turns out, hierarchy remains systemic part of society. The reason is complexity. Things are getting complicated out there. The other is delegation. People love to delegate. Once you delegate, you give up power.

Niaz: What is the set of advice you would like to leave behind for technology geeks, innovators and entrepreneurs?

Trond: I wanted to leave a little piece of advice from my research on strategy failures in high tech entrepreneurship. First of all, it seems too few of us are willing to take a serious look at negative outcomes. This is unfortunate because there is a lot of learning to be had. But since those stories are often buried (although I am about to uncover some), every time you hear of a success story, try to find out what challenges have been overcome to get there. You will soon find that it is often those who have overcome the greatest challenges who succeed in the long term. Why, well, because they have also learned resilience.

If you want to learn more about this, follow my research on strategic outcomes in Cleantech firms. Essentially, we know that a lot of cleantech companies have failed over the last decade. There are many reasons why, but for the benefit of humanity, we need to ensure that some succeed and clean up our planet before it is too late. This is my agenda. It turns out both governments, multinationals, VCs, and entrepreneurs are interested in my work. We should indeed learn more from failure and we should talk about it. There is no shame in failing as long as you can reflect around how to do things different next time, or tell others about the perils of the unforeseeable unforeseen.

Niaz: Thank you so much for sharing us your ideas. I am wishing you good luck for all of your endeavors.

Trond: You are very welcome. It was a pleasure to speak with you, Niaz, and best of luck in your exciting entrepreneurial endeavor, eTalks. What a great concept: asking a set of great questions to people and change agents across the globe over email and letting them answer these questions on their own time without the pressure of a word limit or timeline. This is perhaps one of the keys to the future of communication: letting people speak. Sounds simple but it rarely happens.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Shaka Senghor: Writing My Wrongs

Editor’s Note: Shaka Senghor is a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. He is also a recipient of Knight Foundation’s BME Leadership Award. He is a writer, mentor, and motivational speaker whose story of redemption has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Shaka Senghor recently to gain insights about his ideas, books and works which is given below.

Niaz: Shaka, Thank you so much for joining us.

Shaka: My pleasure.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a Director’s Fellow of MIT Media Lab.

Shaka: Thanks so much Niaz.

Niaz: You are a writer, mentor, motivational speaker and role model of hundreds of youngsters.  Your fearless life has inspired so many minds. You have been a dedicated social activist. Now what are you doing at MIT Media Lab?

Shaka: As a Directors Fellow, I am currently working on the Atonement Project. It’s a collaboration between the Civic Media Lab, PCAP Prison Creative Arts Project and Mothers of Murdered Children. The project promotes healing between victims of violent crime, and bullying and those who perpetrate those offenses.

Niaz: Great. So what is your plan with MIT Media Lab?

Shaka: My plan with the MIT Media Lab is to expand the work I do as a mentor and a writer. I am looking forward to working with the Lab on a variety of projects that connect the resources and innovation of MIT Media Lab to people in communities who normally wouldn’t have access to the Lab.

Niaz: As far as I know you have an astonishing story. It is a story of redemption which has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. Can you please tell us about your story of redemption?

Shaka: My story of redemption grew in stages during my 19 years of incarceration. Early into my sentence, I was introduced to literature through an author name Donald Goines who was from my hometown in Detroit. After reading his work I began to read everyday and it was during this time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm-X which made me think about my life as being one worthy of redeeming. I did a lot of soul searching and journaling and worked through the baggage of my past. With each book I read, I learned something about my own humanity and felt like it was important for me to share what I was learning with young men and women in my community.

Niaz: You have published your new book ‘Writing My Wrongs’. What were the reasons behind writing ‘Writing My Wrongs’?

Shaka: The reason I decided to write ‘Writing My Wrongs is because I wanted to help young people who come from hard scrabble backgrounds. I also wanted to show people what causes young men and women to go from wanting to be doctors and lawyers to ending up in prison serving lengthy sentences. I take readers deep inside the violent filled Detroit streets through the eyes of a teenager who was abused as a child, taken advantage of by older hustlers and ultimately made the worst decision in the world-pulling the trigger. I also wanted people to understand the far-reaching implications of gun violence and post traumatic stress disorder, both of which are causing devastation in cities across the world.

Niaz: That’s really impressive. My readers will love to know about your book ‘Live in Peace: A Youth Guide to Turning Hurt into Hope’. Can you please give a brief summary of it?

Shaka: Live In Peace is a companion piece to a project I started called Live In Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project. After winning the Black Male Engagement leadership Award for work I do in my community I launched the project in two local high schools. The book is comprised of essays, short stories, chapters from my memoir and my poetry. Each chapter deals with some of the major problems we are dealing with in our community from gun violence and sexual abuse to teenage drug abuse and teen suicide.

Niaz: What is your motivation to motivate others?

Shaka: The students, my son and the youth I work with motivate me to work as hard as I can to make a difference. As a man and a father I want our youth to inherit a better world then the one we inherited and so I will continue to do my part as best I can.

Niaz: What have you learned from your fearless life?

Shaka: The thing I learned from my life is that no matter how hard or far you fall, you can always get up if you have the will and desire.

Niaz: As you know, the baby boomers generation is going to retire within couple of decades. Today’s youths are going to take the positions to lead the world. What are the set of advices you want to give to youths so that they can lead the world to make it a better place to live in?

Shaka:  The thing I share with the most with youth about the future is that there is nothing more important than the decisions they make in this moment in our time. They are the decision makers of tomorrow and they have to start working now to make life better for them and those coming behind them in the future. I also advice them to be conscious of the information they take in on a daily basis. When they have healthy thoughts they will make healthy life choices.

Niaz: Thanks so much for your valuable time.

Shaka: Thank you so much for having me.

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Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

3. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Gautam Mukunda: Leadership

Editor’s Note: Gautam Mukunda is an Assistant Professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit of Harvard Business School.  He was the National Science Foundation Synthetic Biology ERC Postdoctoral Fellow resident at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.  He received his PhD from MIT in Political Science and an A.B. in Government from Harvard, magna cum laude.  His research focuses on leadership, international relations, and the social and political implications of technological change.  His first book, “Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter,” was published in September 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Gautam Mukunda recently to gain his ideas and insights about Leadership which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Gautam, thank you so much for giving me time in the midst of your busy schedule. I believe we will be able to find some interesting facts about leadership today. You studied at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  At the same time, you have been working with giant companies as well as advising nonprofit organizations. As an assistant professor, you have been teaching ‘Leadership’ at Harvard Business School. Recently you’ve published your book ‘Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter’. At the very beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about how do you see ‘leaders’?

Gautam: You’re welcome. And I am happy to be here. So when I study leader, I study basically anyone with the possession of power in an organization. I would say about the people particularly at the top of the organization. By having their office and by being at the top of the organization, they are the leaders. So when I look at in my book and in my other research  about the question ‘When does it really matter who the person at the top of the organization is’ or ‘What is the circumstances when it’s important that it was this person and not one of the other people who might possibly have the job’.

Niaz: That’s really impressive. So how do you define leadership?

Gautam: I would say, in an essence, leadership is what leaders do. It could be anything. For my work, in some sense it doesn’t matter. So leadership is just anything leaders do as part of their job descriptions. More broadly in other people research, there is a distinction between leadership and management. Management is kind of the process of the organization and taking care of the certain things and leadership is more of the emotional side of the organization like inspiration, culture and that kind of things.

Niaz: I have read your book ‘Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter’. But those who are not familiar with your book, can you please tell us briefly about your book?

Gautam: Sure. So my book proposes an explanation as to when the individual leaders really make a big difference in the behavior or performance of an organization. The book is essentially a way to answer this question ‘When an individual leader matters’ or more broadly to answer sort of traditional debating question ‘Individual leaders make history or it really about larger social forces or individual leaders don’t matter’.

Niaz: What are your new findings in your book?

Gautam: So my book says, in most of the time, leadership is all about larger social forces. Most of the time individual leaders don’t matters.  But sometimes under very clearly identifiable circumstances, individual leaders can matter a great deal.

Niaz: What is most significant: Nurturing Leadership for Years or  Hiring Rock Stars.

Gautam: So in general it is almost always better to nurture leadership for long term within the organization. The people who work within the organization are the people are well known to you. You understand them and know their performance. Organization that are successful for long periods of time, are successful in part because they consistently able to develop and nurture leadership within the organization. They don’t need outsider. The companies that are successful for long time always tend to bring insider. Even though they don’t get Steve Jobs but they never just get a complete failure.

Niaz: Suppose you have been in business for 20 years, how will you hire a CEO for your billion dollars company?

Gautam: So the first question I would want to ask is whether I want someone from inside of the company or from outside of the company. Because it’s very different such of things. If you want someone from inside of the company there is relatively low risk choice because s/he is someone you know very well. So if your company is doing well and it’s in pretty good shape, you probably want someone from inside of the company. But if your company struggling or there is a major change in the market or something happening that cause you to think about trouble and you don’t have any one inside of the company with right approach then you have to start looking outside of the company. And when you are doing that then there are a variety of things you have to think that I have described in my book. May be the most important thing is that you have to realize that in general there is little chance of getting someone who is good at all of the skills sets needed to lead the organization. People have different skills sets at the same time organizations need different skills sets. So, Instead of looking for the best leader, what you really need to look for the right leaders.

Niaz: What sort of advices do you have for youth in becoming successful leaders?

Gautam: I would say that the most consistently successful leaders are people who do have many qualities. May be the one hardest and you need to work deliberately to cultivate is they are intellectually open. They draw on resources, concepts and ideas from a wide variety of areas. And they are not only open to other sorts of ideas but also the possibilities  they might be wrong, and they think very seriously and very constructively about how to recognize when they are wrong and how to learn from their mistakes and what to do about it. If I were giving sort of advice to people who are trying to develop leadership skills and to become a leader I would say read broadly, think broadly, engage in a wide variety of activity and do it with a learning orientation.Do it as someone who is consciously thinking about what am I am learning here that tells me that these are the things I knew I believed, isn’t true.

Niaz: Finally, are leaders made by history, or do they make it?

Gautam: Yah!That’s of course the topic of my book. And the answer is most of the time leaders are made by history. But sometimes, when a leader gets power, who hasn’t been thoroughly evaluated by the system, before they get power, is a little bit of unknown or a little bit of a surprise that person has the potential to do things radically different that no one else would do. And those people can really make history.

Niaz: Thank you so much for your time. And all the best wishes for your all upcoming projects.

Gautam: You are welcome. Good luck to you Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

3. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

4. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

5. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

6. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Ovick Alam: BridgeWee

Editor’s Note: BridgeWee is a StartUp which assists English medium students to access public universities in Bangladesh. They are doing amazing works to open the doors of opportunity to English medium students. Ovick Alam, Founder and CEO of BridgeWee, has been working tirelessly to give access public university education to English medium students.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ovick Alam recently to gain insights about his ideas, current works and projects to bring positive changes in Bangladesh which is given below.

Niaz: What did bring about your interest in the Entrepreneurship theme?

Ovick: I have always wanted to make a difference to the society and entrepreneurship is a great way to create positive change and leave your mark. In developing countries like Bangladesh, you can find many problems and problems like opportunities for entrepreneurs. Being a student of country’s premier business school gave me confidence about entrepreneurship. When I was preparing for the fiercely competitive admission test of the public universities in Bangladesh, I faced many difficulties due to lack of guidance and proper support. Moreover, as I came from an English medium background, I found the process especially difficult. The admission process was different, but it was not clearly communicated and transparent. There was no preparation center to help English mediums students. More than 30,000 candidates fought for only 930 seats in the business school, so it was quite competitive! My struggle during this time inspired me to bridge this profound, yet ignored gap in the education sector of Bangladesh.

I think entrepreneurship is about developing innovative model to solve society’s problems sustainably and profitably. It is about really understanding the deeply rooted problems of the society and devising idea to solve that problem. It is not all about profits, it’s more about a meaningful contribution to the society. If the contribution is substantial, the society will reward you with profits and high brand equity. Successful organizations really make a difference to their community through their actions. They create a place in peoples’ hearts and minds through good work. In Bangladesh, businesses have a very narrow focus on financial returns. They miss out the broader picture of positioning powerful brands in consumers’ minds and use a holistic approach to business by acting as a responsible citizen. I want to see this change take place in Bangladeshi business culture.

Niaz: Please provide details of the actions you have taken that portray your passion and interest for the Entrepreneurship theme. What did make you decide to be actively involved in this theme?

Ovick: The fact that there was no one to help English medium students prepare for public university’s admission tests in Bangladesh. It gave me an opportunity to form an organization and help them out. I think it is very important for a country to make its public universities accessible to all segments of the society. It can help to bring all the different kinds of people with the different backgrounds under one platform and bridge the gap between them. There are a lot of differences and a huge gap between different mediums of education in Bangladesh. I was inspired to close this gap and help them understand each other and grow collectively. For that to happen, studying together in the best public university of the country would be a big step. I was also, motivated to help English medium students in taking preparation for the public university admission tests because they preferred going abroad as there are no other good educational institutions in Bangladesh.

Therefore, I started an organization called BridgeWee – which prepares English medium students for the public university admission tests of Bangladesh.

Niaz: Have you taken any sort of initiative (e.g. campaigns, fundraising, raising awareness of issues, starting a company, etc) related to this theme? Where did you get your inspiration to start the initiative?

Ovick: I have undertaken marketing campaign on campus and through Facebook. I went to different schools and gave small presentation about the idea that English medium students can also access country’s best universities like The University of Dhaka. I went to many coaching centers and talked to their teacher who taught senior students and tried to spread the words. I spent many hours explaining the complicated process of the admission procedure. I found that many people were interested, but did not have any guidance before I met them. This motivated me even more.  I used the social networking site Facebook to reach many students whom I could not reach physically. It really helped the flow of communication, both ways. Apart from that, I had to raise the money for my initial investment (which was very small). I did that through digging into some of my savings and then borrowing some money from friends.

Niaz: What’s the current status of the initiative you’ve taken?

Ovick: In 2009 BridgeWee started its journey as a pilot project in the Faculty of Business Studies in The University of Dhaka.

In 2009 – We prepared 6 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s C-Unit admission test and 2 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 33.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 3.5%.

In 2010 – We prepared 12 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s admission test and 7 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 58.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 2.88%.

As a part of expansion with an objective to accommodate more students, we have moved to a new place out of my home; it is a rented place in Mohammadpur, Dhaka. This is the first step towards bridging the gap in our education system; a unified one with equal access for all. BridgeWee allows the country’s jewels to congregate in one platform, interact and learn to serve the country – thus reducing brain drain from Bangladesh and taking the student community one-step closer to achieving greater concord.

Niaz:   What are the current problems you’re facing in carrying out this initiative? What measures are you taking to try to overcome them?

Ovick: Most start-ups face the same problem in Bangladesh – funding. BridgeWee had the same problem. When it started, I arranged classes in a room in my home. From then onwards it grew. This year due to higher demand, we have rented a new and bigger space in Dhaka. However, funds for investment and expansion are extremely difficult to get. Local banks do not support these small ventures and there is no way to get a loan on against your ideas in Bangladesh. Getting a place in the capital city is difficulty and expensive. However, BridgeWee managed some money to finance its expansion, mainly form previous two years’ profits and with the help of loans from relatives.

Another difficult task was to bring about an adaptive change in the minds of English medium students. Many students from this segment think they do not belong to this country and that public universities discriminated against them. Therefore, they want to settle abroad from a young age. They are also very frustrated because they do not have the same access as the mainstream students do. I had to work very hard to bring about this adaptive change in students, their parents and among the teachers and administration of English medium schools.

Niaz: How has your proactive involvement changed your views about this theme? What have you learnt from the actions you’ve taken? What are your insights on Entrepreneurship?

Ovick: I have been proactive about this issue and taken an initiative at the right time. Moreover, I did not start big because the time was not ripe; I mean the market was not big enough in 2009. Today I can say that I have been successful in changing the mind-set of many English medium students and there is a solid demand for Bridgewee’s service to satisfy them profitably. I had to do a lot of research to develop the materials and develop the curriculum. This knowledge or intellectual property is not available to others and this fact has helped me to create a blue ocean with no competitors in the market. I believe early bird catches the warm. That is what I tried to do. For any leader or entrepreneur, it is very important sense shifts in social needs and understands the dynamics of the change very well. A good understanding of the society is the first step to bring about any change.

My experience with BridgeWee has taught me that one has to be very proactive and hard working to bring about the desired change in the society. It is also important to get help form people. Whatever little I have achieved is due to invaluable help form some people who has always guided me and supported my initiative. Moreover, you need to form partnerships with various individuals and/or organizations – which will be mutually beneficial for both of them. At the same time, you have to shrug-off the pessimistic judgments that others will make about your work or its potentiality. To be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in what you do. For me, I believe that BridgeWee is making a difference to the society and it is very fulfilling and inspiring for any entrepreneur. If you can really create an impact, rewards will follow. However, it is not easy to work against uncertainty, especially when you have invested a lot of time and money on something.

Another important learning from my work is that ‘Patience is a virtue’. Sometimes you try very hard and yet nothing happens, then all of a sudden, everything falls into place. However, if you give up during the bad patches, then you will not be there to enjoy the harvest of your hard labor. William Feather framed it precisely “Success is a matter of hanging on when others have let go”.

Niaz: What do you think of your peers are thinking about this theme?

Ovick: I am a third-year student in a business school in a third world country with very low per capita income. Moreover, I do not belong to some of the few rich, lucky families. Therefore, life is very difficult. I have to ensure that I contribute to the family and study at the same time. Most of the profits from BridgeWee goes to finance everyday expenditures of our family and financing my younger sister’s education. With this situation, it is very difficult for any person to be an entrepreneur because you don’t get money to invest. However, BridgeWee is a kind of initiative that requires little investment. However, as we(My peers and I) look to the future, it is extremely difficult for us to deal with the uncertainty associated with business. Most of my peers advise me to try to get a good job after my under-graduation next year. That is a much more safe option; you get a decent amount of money coming in every month. You do not need to deal with uncertainty and you a lead a decent life.

Although few in numbers, there are some friends who want to become entrepreneurs; but they suffer from harsh realities. Most of them come from a humble background like that of mine. They have great ideas and are very bright with excellent education in country’s premier business school. However, in Bangladesh you will see hardly see a young person getting loans for investment if they do not have a rich background. This fact has kept our country small, the gap between rich and poor is stretching everyday and most of the educated people are passive observers of the situation as they are not powerful.

 Niaz: Thank you so much Ovick for your time. And all the best wishes for BridgeWee as well as for your all of your upcoming endeavors.

Ovick: Thank you too!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

3. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

4. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

5. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

6. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

7. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Shaba Binte Amin: Poverty Fighter Foundation

Editor’s Note: Poverty Fighter Foundation (PFF)is an Youth Based Non Profit Organization in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Shaba Binte Amin, the founder of Poverty Fighter Foundation, has been working to educate underprivileged children by providing quality education for free.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Shaba Binte Amin recently to gain insights about her recent works to bring positive changes in Bangladesh which is given below.

Niaz: Shaba, thank you so much for joining us. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about Poverty Fighter Foundation?

Shaba: Thank you Niaz for your concern about The Poverty Fighter Foundation. PFF  is a non-profit organization. Our primary goal is to eliminate poverty from Bangladesh by ensuring food, shelter, cloth and education to the underprivileged and providing them with pure water and medications. Our aim is to make some substantial changes instead of giving some temporary solutions. We aim to make the impoverished population self-reliant, so that they can free themselves from the curse of poverty. Children are the future of a nation. Poverty Fighter Foundation works to provide English version education to the underprivileged children through a free of cost English medium school. Our dream is to build full facilitated hospitals in every part of Bangladesh, which will ensure proper treatment to the poor people. A small contribution from us can help someone to a great extent. If we can change the life of a few, we will consider it as a great achievement.

Niaz: It is really a great initiative. When did you start?

Shaba: PFF was founded on the 21st of October, 2010. But one of its main project, Poverty Fighter Foundation School, started its operation on the 14th of February, 2011. Primarily, the school started with 30 children. The school marked its first anniversary on the 14th of February, 2012.

Niaz: Why the date of inauguration of the school is 14th February?

Shaba: 14th February is celebrated as Valentine’s Day. The day of love. But the day is not just about giving gifts to significant other or family members, but also about loving everyone else. That’s why we mark this day as the day of inauguration of the school through which we look after the underprivileged children.

Niaz: How many projects you do have?

Shaba: Including PFF School, Poverty Fighter Foundation has two other main projects. These are: i) Mission hygiene and ii) Healthy human. But the foundation puts much focus on its primary project, Free Schooling for Underprivileged Children.

Niaz: Can you please explain the term ‘Free Schooling for Underprivileged Children’?

Shaba: Basically students for this school are picked up from families that are under the poverty line. Most of the children, now student of PFF school, once used to be a victim of child labor. But now they enjoy all the modern schooling benefits at free of cost. Most of these students live in Uttara slum area and are aged between 5 to 9. And they don’t have to pay anything for getting their education.

By the way, PFF School started its journey with 30 kids and after 1 year all of them have been promoted to Play Group from Nursery. The Nursery class features Arabic, Spoken English, English, Bengali, Art, and General Knowledge. Play Group consists of all these subjects including Mathematics and English and Bengali rhymes. PFF believes that the opportunity it brought to these underprivileged children’s lives will ensure a bright future for them.

Niaz: What is ‘Mission Hygiene?’

Shaba: Besides studies, students are also taught about hygiene as it is important not only for their health but also for their employ-ability and general reception into different levels of the society.

The underprivileged children of slums are completely unaware of hygiene. As a result they often suffer from diseases, such as: diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, food poisoning, etc. Their parents are unable to provide them with hygiene products, as they can hardly provide them with food and cloth. The students, who are under the free schooling project of Poverty Fighter Foundation, are provided with different hygiene products, such as: soap, shampoo, detergent, toothpaste, toothbrush,  etc. They are also taught how to use these products properly, as many of the students have never used any of them.

Niaz: And what about ‘Healthy Human’?

Shaba: Children chosen for PFF School are from the families that lead life under poverty line. As a result of this, most of the students come to the classroom with empty stomach which makes it rather difficult for them to concentrate on study. To fight this, PFF provides healthy food to children.

The menu includes egg, bread, butter, etc. However, due to insufficient funding, PFF can’t offer them food every day. Instead, it provides these healthy foods once in a week.

Niaz: That is really sad. I hope you will be able to feed them as much as they need. What is your prime objective with PFF?

Shaba: Building a better Bangladesh is my primary goal that I want to achieve through my foundation. I believe that small changes can one day turn out to be a big change for the entire country.

Niaz: What are the Challenges?

Shaba: Insufficient fund is the main challenge in keeping Poverty Fighter Foundation going. It’s somewhat difficult to get people agree to donate funds to the foundation. Lack of manpower is also one of the challenges PFF is facing at the moment.

Niaz: So, how are you surviving?

Shaba: I have been been spending a lot of money from my personal fund to support various activities and projects being operated under PFF. Along with that, occasional loans, support from volunteer as well as a few people from the society are what keep PFF stand and survive despite of all difficulties and challenges.

Niaz: How volunteers, supporters, donors or some one having enthusiastic mind can contact to PFF?

Shaba: Well,  anyone who is interested to support PFF can visit our website (here). We also have a Facebook Fan Page (here).  We welcome everyone to contact us.

Niaz: Any last word?

Shaba: Please come and see what we are doing together to change the lives of underprivileged children. Keep us supporting and let make a better Bangladesh.

Niaz: Thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you good luck in achieving your vision.

Shaba: Thank you Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

3. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

4. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

5. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

6. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

7. Ovick Alam onBridgeWee