Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Taking off in a few minutes and driving my grandfather down to North Carolina to visit some family. I'll probably go quiet on here until next Monday. Might be some action over at Radical Transparency, though. We'll see.

Quick little Thanksgiving thought before I go...

It's incredible to me that humans have invented the crazy comforts in our lives. Hot showers. Electricity. Pumpkin pie. Books. Totally weird and truly impressive.

But sad sad sad that the inventions haven't spread to everyone.

And maybe that's because those of us that have them don't fully appreciate our comforts. For, if we did, wouldn't we smile and smile and smile and feel overwhelmingly compelled to share? To introduce those comforts to everyone? Everyone, everywhere, sustainably, forever?

If we truly appreciated the showers, truly appreciated the pie, I think sharing would be a priority.

Much love and thanks to all my friends that do appreciate and have made sharing their work. Economic development people. Microfinance people. Education people. Community health people. People working to bring new, hopeful, sustainably abundant lives to the poorest places on Earth.

And special thanks one of those friends, Lander, a Kiva fellow in Indonesia, who, yesterday, told a story about a man that appreciates, a man that shares.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leave a Trail

My grandfather has been relentless over the past month.

Hal: Your site online yet?
Jake: Not yet.
H: When?
J: We're close. Just finishing a few things. You'll be the first to know.
H: Do you have a date?
J: Next week maybe. Maybe the week after.
H: So you don't have a date?
J: No. I don't have a date...

At least twice a day with that conversation. At least.

This past Friday, finally, mercifully, it stopped. We put up the beginnings of the beta community space, and I'm off the hook with Hal. For the moment.

Now he'll go make up stories about what the website is and does, spread them around the YMCA in downtown Wilmington, DE,* and confuse everyone he can.

To do that most efficiently and effectively, however, he needs a URL, and, this morning, he requested one.

He pulled a scissor-trimmed quarter section of an index card out of his wallet and asked me to write on the back.

"What's on the front?" I asked, as I took the card and flipped it to have a look.

A quote. A quote that Hal has been carrying for more than sixty years.

Do not go where the path may lead,
Go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.
-R.W. Emerson

Feels good to get to share a piece of index card with that.

*Hal, 87, spends about two and a half hours a day at the Y, mostly talking Delaware politics, naked, in the locker room.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Words, Carrots, and Hearing What I Want to Hear

Cartoonist blogger Hugh MacLeod wrote something the other day that I can't get out of my mind.

My three big marketing successes...didn't work because I had some clever, rocket-science metric for them to play with. They succeeded simply because I convinced all three parties to talk to their markets in ways they simply hadn't been talked to before.

He says language is big. If you want strangers to listen, make your language noteworthy. Use it to distinguish yourself. Surprise people.

Or that's what I pull from Hugh's post. Or maybe it's what I want to pull from his post, what I want to believe.

And I want to believe it because I want to care about the noteworthiness of language. Because I want to surprise. Because (and I know I'm a broken record here, but it's true goddamnit) if we can't do it with a smile on our face, if we can't do it with love in our hearts, then children we ain't got no right to do it at all.

And because I'm already starting to do it. For fun.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Crunchy Con

A few months ago, a close friend of The Carrot Project told me I ought to start reading Christian conservationist Rod Dreher.

At first I was scared. Dogmatic monotheism is definitely not my thing.

I'm a little bit obsessed with evolution. I consider Richard Dawkins brilliant not only for his biology and physics but also for his unrepentant atheism. And Bertrand Russell's defense of curiosity and creativity in Why I Am Not a Christian has shaped me philosophically as much as anything I've ever read.

But, because Dreher came into my life through this crazy startup project, I took more notice than I otherwise would have, and I've been reading the man almost every day. And while I struggle sometimes with the standard social conservative vs try everything agnostic disagreements, I'm recognizing more and more common ground.

Food, for example. Dreher reads Pollan. He loves Joel Salatin. And he's on the turn a piece of the White House lawn into a mini organic farm bandwagon.

I think he's a little bit crazy. I'm sure, if he knew me or read what I've been writing, he'd have similar suspicions about me. But I want Rod Dreher in the community. I want the movement to embrace him. I want the Obama people to listen to him. And, of course - and this, I think, will be the ideologically easy part - I want him in on The Carrot Project.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hope and Lovins

Yesterday evening, The Rocky Mountain Institute emailed out a fundraising letter from Co-Founder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins. It's all about applied hope, the force with which Dr. Lovins and his colleagues are trying to save the world.

Here are my favorite snippets...

On Applied Hope and Optimism:

Applied hope is not mere optimism. The optimist treats the future as fate, not choice, and thus fails to take responsibility for making the world we want. Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head. The optimist, says RMI Trustee David Orr, has his feet up on the desk and a satisfied smirk knowing the deck is stacked. The person living in hope has her sleeves rolled up and is fighting hard to change or beat the odds. Optimism can easily mask cowardice. Hope requires fearlessness.

On Applied Hope and Fear:

Fear of specific and avoidable dangers has evolutionary value. Nobody has ancestors who weren’t mindful of saber-toothed tigers. But pervasive dread, currently in fashion and sometimes purposely promoted, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can, “Does feeling that way make you more effective?”

On Applied Hope and Transformation:

At RMI we’re practitioners, not theorists. We do solutions, not problems. We do transformation, not incrementalism. In a world short of both hope and time, we seek to practice Raymond Williams’s truth that “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.” Hope becomes possible, practical—even profitable—when advanced resource efficiency turns scarcity into abundance. The glass, then, is neither half empty nor half full; rather, it has a 100 percent design margin, expandable by efficiency.

I think his definition of optimism is pause-givingly harsh. I think his counter to despair is brilliantly simple. And I think the half glass metaphor adjustment is beautifully geeky.

I didn't reprint the whole letter because I feel kind of weird doing that without Dr. Lovins's permission, but, if you want to read those paragraphs in context, the letter is the first section of RMI's annual report. Download the .pdf, or download Vuzit, and ctrl + click on the .pdf link and open the in a new browser tab.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hippie Poet Geeks

We're thinking about using The Carrot Project to push a small-scale linguistic revolution.

We don't like the clunkiness of asking our users what they think a company could do to become more socially and environmentally responsible. Too many words. Too dry. Too meaninglessly professional. Too little metaphor.

So we're wondering if people might take to calling the most responsible, most worldchanging, most sustainable, most humane, most transparent, most innovative, greenest companies crunchy. And we're wondering if we can facilitate that with constant links to a crunchiness explanation page.

I just took my first stab at an explanation.

Imagine you see the word crunchy somewhere on the site. You're confused. But fear not: the word is hyperlinked. And you click. And you get this...

Carl told me he didn't like "socially and environmentally responsible." He said it was long or boring or something.

I mean I don't even believe in boring.

But he's my lead developer, and I love him, and, without him, I might die, so I kept my statistically outlying beliefs to myself and listened.

He said he wanted me to come up with a brilliantly unboring alternative. A word that communicates all the loveliness of "socially and environmentally responsible" but gives it a little spice. Spice and flavor and crunch.

And there it was.

Crunchy. Like a hippie. Or a carrot.

And I'm pretty sure I wasn't the one that said it. I think it was Eric, who was on the three way conf call and giggling in the background at the ridiculousness of our earnestness. Little did he know.

And so what if we wish we were hippie poet geeks. I think that's a totally reasonable life aspiration.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ask the Araboolies

No Impact Man has a problem:

A neighbor has threatened to have the police remove one of our rickshaws from the sidewalk where we park it. She says it makes the street look untidy, and the implication is that it brings the neighborhood downmarket.

Understandably frustrated, No Impact Man thinks the city needs bike parking. And bike lanes. And a healthy bike culture. But he also thinks his neighbor need a new attitude.

So he asked his readers how to change her mind, how to "get people past the limitations of the old ideas to see the possibility of the new."

I can't help but think of the Araboolies, The Araboolies of Liberty Street. Maybe they can teach us something.

For those of you that don't know the story...

Liberty Street is an extraordinarily orderly place. All the houses are identical. All the kids go to bed on time. Lawns are raked. Shirts are ironed. Shoes are tied.

General Pinch and his doubly militant wife run the show. When they make rules, people obey, for everyone's scared, and they do what they're told.

And there's not a lot of laughter.

But, one day, a new family moves in.

They speak a strange language. Their skin and hair are all different colors. They come with a busload of jungle pets. And toys. And paint. And they splash and spatter and stripe and spot their house all kinds of wild colors. And they sleep on the lawn, every one of them, in one huge bed. The pets sleep inside.

The Pinches are predictably furious. But the Araboolies know no anger. They sleep on and play on and paint on. And they make friends with the children in the neighborhood.

And those children, the orderly children, play too. And they laugh. And run. And fall. And get dirty. And laugh some more.

And the Pinches lose it and call in the army.

And I'll leave it at that. The book is good. Read it.

Sam Swope wrote it for children, but he also wrote it about children. About the influence they have. About their impact. About the fact that, even when their parents are helpless, they can change the world.

New York City and Liberty Street are significantly different places, but kids do love bikes, wherever they live.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unsolicited Video Advice

I watched the first ever weekly update from the Office of the President Elect, and I couldn't resist...

Silly silly. Video blogging. Something I'm still convinced would be better suited to Wiley than me. It is pretty fun though, even if it does convince you you're developing a lisp.

Anyway, if anyone wants to read the Michael Pollan article, click here, and if anyone hasn't already seen my favorite GW Bush inspired comedy moment, click here.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Inching Closer and Closer

Front pages are tough. They're supposed to explain everything. Instantly. Perfectly. Magically.

We've taken our first real shot.

I'd be surprised things don't look totally different in 3 months, but, when we start dropping the friendliest of the friendlies into the soon to be live beta space next week, the front page will look a lot like this.

Maybe not yet magical enough, but I'm excited nonetheless.

If you want to get on the site soon, and I haven't emailed or called you, get in touch, and I'll make sure you're included.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A New Ambassador?

Anybody else think Thomas Friedman is on his way to becoming the face of the climate stabilization | environmental | eco | green | sustainability | cleantech movement?

He reaches a wider and more diverse audience than Al Gore. He's more recognizable than John Doerr. He has more intellectual street cred than Leonardo DiCaprio. He's older, whiter, and more male than Majora Carter. He has less personality scandal on his hands than does Bill McDonough. His mustache is more stately, more distinguished, and has a much deeper downward curve than that of Amory Lovins. My grandmother loved him so much that, when I was living in Beijing, she mailed me clippings of almost every one of his columns.

And his message today is bigger and broader and tougher and more optimistic than ever. The man seems to have found a space in which he can operate with grace and charm and credibility.

Watch him talk about his most recent book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Watch him run a panel at the last World Economic Forum. Read the Green is the New Red, White, and Blue editorial. Read this little piece, on GM and a conditional government bailout, from yesterday's New York Times.

Who knows. Maybe the movement needs no big fancy face. Or maybe, if it does, it needs one that glows more radically than that of a Middle East peace process journalist. Majora or Doerr or Adam Werbach or Ray Anderson or Van Jones or Michael Pollan.

Anyway, just a thought.

Or a prediction.

Yeah, let's make it a prediction. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. If I'm right, I'm psychic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Waste Management, Storytelling, and the Law

My cousin is applying to law school, and he wrote me yesterday, asking if I had any advice for him as he works to put together a personal statement outlining his reasons for pursuing a law degree. He wants to write something that shows his commitment both to social justice and environmental issues, and he wants to explain why he thinks the proper legal training will help him work toward a cleaner and more equitable world.

I told him good plan, and I asked him to call me and yank me away from what I'm doing and make me think about it seriously with him sometime this week.

This afternoon, my aunt, his mom, totally independently of my back and forth with him, sent me this:

Watch CBS Videos Online

THAT is why the law is important.

Because people try to cheat. Because they try to get rich quick. Because creativity gets misdirected. Because innocent people get hurt. And because they need help. Sophisticated help. Help that can operate internationally and follow the footprints wherever they lead.

Note: Makes me sad to see the China in that video. I don't think 60 Minutes was unfair. That's an important story, and I think they went about telling it as honestly and completely as they could. But China is so much more than that. And the good stories ought to get out too. Wokai? You guys are on that I hope.

Another Note: Big love and respect to Beijing veteran Jamie Choi for the Greenpeace interpretation that starts 7 minutes and 45 seconds into the video.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Too Much Truth

An observation from journalist Melanie Warner:

Retailers haven't figured out how to inspire customers to buy, say, organic cotton. It's bad marketing. If consumers knew how many chemicals it takes to grow and manufacture conventional cotton goods -- how it affects our water, food, air, and our risk of cancer -- maybe that would change. In a crowded marketplace, it is an unexploited competitive advantage.

Bad marketing is one way to look at it.

Another possibility is that companies are afraid to tell too much truth.

If, say, Gap gets jump up and down excited about a new line of safe, clean, worldloving organic cotton jeans, then what about those shelves and shelves and warehouses and warehouses full of the old stuff?

If they push the new product, suddenly they're competing with themselves And if they market the new product too well, they'll market their old jeans right out of business. And that might not be a problem if they could know for sure that (A) their customers are ripe for a change, (B) their marketing will be good enough to harvest every one of those ripe customers, and (C) their production facilities and/or suppliers will make the transition seamlessly and pump out shelves and shelves and warehouses and warehouses of organic cotton green jeans.

But they don't know for sure. So they're scared. Big and bureaucratic and conservative and scared.

And that's a tougher problem to solve than bad marketing.

Social intrapreneurs maybe? Smaller companies challenging for market share? Highly educated and purposeful consumers? Nonprofit marketing gurus taking matters into their own hands and telling that truth, whether the companies like it or not?

Friday, November 7, 2008

In Defense of the Crowd

Jason Calacanis, in an email blast on Wednesday, wrote about the trends he sees emerging in the startup space. He noted, among other things, a virtuous drift from reliance on user generated content.

The age of crowdsourcing your way to success is over, and we're heading back to the age of expertise and curation. Startups like are not crowdsourcing--they're paying experts. When faced with two options--a professionally produced version of a product and an anonymously gamed version of the same product--it's fairly obvious which one users will select. Wikipedia has operated without a competitor for a very long time, and there is no guarantee that they will be number one forever. ;-)

I think he's wrong.

Partially, anyway.

As a general observation, I think what Jason says makes perfect sense. I'm an internet consumer, and I want expertise. I want curation. And, under the perfect circumstances, I might even be willing to pay for those things.

But, when considering sustainability in business and social and environmental responsibility, the world in which both GoodGuide and The Carrot Project are operating, I don't trust the experts. I see uncertainty and disagreement. I see imperfect comparisons. I see controversy over the relative importance of labor standards versus carbon emissions versus solid waste management.

I'd rather seek truth by motivating a transparently imperfect crowd than proclaim truth by marrying subjective science.

For starters anyway. While we're tiny and experimental and close to zero cost. Which we are right now.

So crowdsource we will. We'll figure out which sustainability experts tell us to support which companies. We'll explain and organize those recommendations. And we'll ask our users to offer opinions, voice disagreement, amend information, and otherwise donate their knowledge to the community.

Maybe we're crazy. Maybe GoodGuide's science will hit it out of the park and render much of what we're doing irrelevant.

But professional production does have limitations.

And maybe a worldsaving mission can produce a worldsaving crowd.

Note: Add your email address to Jason's list. The man has wisdom, and he communicates it clearly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let It Grow

Barack Obama won that race with community.

The movement started small. It grew organically. It grew virally. It grew step by step, door to door, one on one.

Barack and his inner circle gave big love to their early adopters and innovators and turned them into grassroots evangelists.

They let that first generation of evangelists anoint the next.

They asked for help. Bitesized help. Donate ten dollars. Pass a YouTube video to your friends. Invite other local supporters over for dinner.

They thanked people. They confirmed that the help was meaningful. And they asked for more. Because they needed it. Because it truly would help the cause.

And they communicated excitement and possibility and creation, not fear.

So we communicated the same. We, the bitesized evangelists.

And, now, no matter how little time or money we gave, we feel a part of this.

Not just the win. Not just the history of last night. But, more importantly, we feel a part of the years to come.

So I have a message for the team...

Keep the community in tact. Keep asking us for help. Keep telling us you need it. And keep encouraging us to grow the community.

All campaign teams harness community to spread the message and get out the vote. But they stop there. They thank their supporters one last time and tell them they'll be in touch when the next election rolls around. They hunker down and filter all discussions through stumps, pressrooms, and hallowed halls. And they forget that they can change the world with things other than rules and regulations. They forget that in their community they have an overflowing supply of time and energy and passion.

In my opinion, if Barack Obama keeps in touch with his community, if he keeps his love for the community, if he keeps telling his community what he's up against, if he keeps asking for ideas and advice from his community, and if he keeps giving credit to his community when it creates and inspires, then the evangelism will roll right along, and he'll have millions of vehicles through which to solve big problems and make big change. Bitesized, evangelical vehicles. Vehicles that, in sum, are likely far more sustainably powerful than any law.

Note (to McCain supporters and Obama detractors): Please don't be afraid. This win and this country's immediate future belongs to you too. Join the community. Voice disagreement and concern. Recognize the convergent long term vision, and make the movement wiser.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Opportunity

I sent this note to my cousin the other day. Because he's undecided. Because he's 22. Because he's creative. Because he's fundamentally kind and generous and thoughtful. And because I love him and want him to share my excitement...

I don't like the idea of voting for an old man. Not unless his eyes sparkle with youthful ideas.

I want to vote for love and generosity and curiosity and open mindedness. The stuff of the young and inspired.

Battlescars aren't wisdom unless they teach change. Attachment to the status quo is despair. Yearning for a happier yesterday is helplessness. Conservatism is admitting that we can't be any better than what we are now or what we were then.

And, even if that is true - if there are limits, and we've hit them - I say we bite, smash, and hammer away at them anyway. Because it's more fun to hope than to hoard and hide and isolate.

Because if we can't do with a smile on our face, if we can't do it with love in our heart, then, children, we ain't got no right to do it at all.

We're supposed to be some kind of different.

And I think there's a chance that Barack Obama is some kind of different.

The More Perfect Union speech was beautiful. The tire gauges were, silly as they sounded,quite possibly the most reasonable energy policy idea the US government has had in long time. The man is cool under pressure. He's thoughtful and knowledgeable. He's curious. His wife is a superstar: absolutely rightfully unsatisfied with this country and working to make it better.

Warren Buffet and Colin Powell and Fred Wilson and Marc Andreessen and Eric Schmidt and James Fallows and Oprah all believe in him. Smart people. Reasonable people. Innovative people.

So we'll see.

If Obama's not different, if he's nothing but an actor, bummer. But we'll move on. We'll save the world despite the US government. We'll clean up its mess. Tirelessly. We'll make it irrelevant. We'll do all its work for it. With philanthropy. With sustainable business. With literature. With poetry. With simple acts of kindness and love.

And without fear.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't vote. It doesn't mean we shouldn't hope. It doesn't mean we shouldn't take this opportunity to support the candidate that inspires musical genius.

Peace. Love.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hard Selling, Howard Stern, and Investing in the Ocean

Am I crazy to think that this is a weird way to sell investment research on ocean energy?

It makes me think of the summer before my senior year of college. I was working smack in the middle of Long Island. Hauppauge, NY. My employers were a roomful of musically inclined programmers that charged boutique financial services firms big money for fully customized fund management software.

As a group, they took great pride in their immaculately sculpted facial hair.

And I was their intern. I went with them to visit clients. They sent me around asking questions. I took lots of notes.

But I'm drifting. As you've probably noticed. I'm enjoying myself, though, and, relevant or not, we'll call this background info: I'm setting the stage for a very important observation.

Anyway, I spent most weekends that summer not on Long Island. I had rented the cheapest room Hauppauge had to offer. A single bed and reading lamp in the basement of a totally bizarre house with a totally bizarre family. There were heavy doors between every room in the house. All doors were closed all the time. And there were, at the very least, five other boarders in the building. Heaps of cars in the driveway and on the street outside. Vaguely familiar sleepy faces on the front walk every morning. Far more toothbrushes than expected in all the bathrooms. And lots of tiptoeing, quietly cracking doors, and tentative eyes peeking around corners.

Everyone in the house was a little bit afraid of everyone else, and my colleagues were musical geeks with families, so I spent my weekends elsewhere. Either visiting friends in New York and New England or visiting family in Pennsylvania. And by weekends I mean Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Regardless of how far I was from Hauppauge, I would sleep wherever I had been on Sunday, wake up early on Monday, and drive straight to the office. Two, three, four hour trips. Early. Before rush hour.

And on every one of those drives, at 5am, I flipped the radio to Howard Stern. Never listened to him before. Never since. But, every Monday that summer, I tuned in.

And Howard, every Monday that summer, gave at least one hard sell pitch for a fine white powder in a yellow plastic jug. You scooped it out, mixed it in with your orange juice, and it cleaned out your system. Perfect poops. Huge, regular, perfect poops. And Howard raved on and on about how intensely awesome his poops had been since he started using the powder. He pulled out all kinds of silly quotes, all kinds of crazy numbers. He described pictures that customers had sent him. He read testimonials. He trashed the competition. He offered special call now prices. And he did it relentlessly, repetitively, and for way longer at a time than was necessary to get the message across.

And when I look at Alternative Energy Speculator's sales site and read its outrageously bold claims about our ocean powered future and the deliciously undervalued companies that are going to lead us there, I can't help but think of Howard and his powder.

And I'm surprised.

Alternative Energy Speculator's target market is people that would consider investing in alternative energy technologies. Back in the summer of 2002, Howard's target market was people that would consider buying giant yellow tubs of fairy dust and mailing in pictures of their enormous poops.

I assumed that the techniques used to sell those two products would be a lot less similar.

Apparently not.

It's a strange world out there. Beware. And enjoy.