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Toilets Can Change the World

by Teresa on November 21, 2014

4.1.1Yesterday was the United Nations’ World Toilet Day and NPR had several worthy stories on the topic. Why toilets? Eric Ng, had a great answer to that question in his Denter of the Week interview:

What world-changing innovation from history do you find most interesting or inspirational?
Toilets. They’re deceptively simple as they elegantly hide the complex infrastructure needed to run them effectively at scale. India’s PM Modi recently pledged to give all Indians access to toilets (2.5b people still live without proper sanitation, including 600M in India). We’re fortunate to have them.

Indeed toilets, or rather the lack of them, is a hot topic in addressing the needs of the world’s poor:

We in the West don’t spend much time pondering that question (on or off the toilet).

“It’s something that’s always in the background that keeps everything else moving,” says Sam Drabble of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), a London-based nonprofit. “It allows us to live very busy lives, and it’s not something we ever need to think about.”

Others aren’t so fortunate. Geeta has no toilet near her home in northern India; she treks 2 miles in the dark to a field for privacy. If Vanessa’s school had private bathrooms, the 17-year-old wouldn’t have to miss class when she’s having her period. In Ecuador, Reverside, 37, wouldn’t have to visit her brother’s house to use his toilet, which is shared by nine other people from different families.

Singaporean entrepreneur Jack Sim wants to change all that. Sim, who made his fortune in construction, aims to bring toilets to every human being on earth:

What’s a misconception we in the world of high-end toilets have about toilets in the lower-income countries?

That if you give toilets to people, they will use them. Open defecation [in a field, on the street, wherever] has a lot of advantages: It’s free of charge and you don’t have to buy [soap]. You don’t have to empty the toilet. It’s a norm from centuries and generations. So first you have to make owning a toilet not just rational but aspirational. You have to make a toilet come with bragging rights, like a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Aspiration is important, as you can see even rich people have really nice toilets — they go for the highest level all the time. So this is the same as the poor people. They aspire to own products that have bragging rights, like a cellphone or television. The psychology is exactly the same.

What kind of toilet would appeal to the untoileted world?

A toilet should be as good as the house. So if the house is simple, then the toilet should be simpler. When it’s not compatible, interesting things happen. When we donated a toilet to a school [in rural China], later on the principal moved his office into the toilet because he found that the toilet is more beautiful than the school and his office.

[The toilet] must be close-looped. That means you can empty [the waste] and you can recycle the nutrients. If it ends up in the river and the lake and contaminates the water, it spreads disease.

And speaking of toilets as good as the house, this year’s award for America’s Best Restroom went to Longwood Gardens for…well, just click the link and see.


Why You Should Wear the Same Thing Every Day

by Teresa on November 20, 2014

Fashion is not a thing that geeks generally spend a lot of time thinking about. We’re all for the design of beautiful objects; but taking lots of time to intentionally put together a beautiful outfit each day doesn’t tend to be a priority for many of us. The standard uniform of a conference tee shirt and either jeans or khakis suits most of us just fine.

And it turns out that this sartorial monotony is actually good for both our personal brands and our brains:

Simply put, by stressing over things like what to eat or wear every day, people become less efficient at work.

This is precisely why individuals like President Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Albert Einstein decided to make life easier by adopting a monotonous wardrobe.

Whether you love or hate him, it’s hard to argue against the notion that President Obama has the most difficult job in the world. As the leader of the most powerful country on the planet, the president has a lot on his plate.

Regardless of what he does, he will be criticized. Simply put, he’s got a lot of important things to think about beyond his wardrobe.

This is precisely why President Obama wears the same suit every single day. Well, almost every day, we can’t forget about the time the Internet exploded when he wore a khaki suit. Although, that probably says less about him and more about us.

The majority of the time, however, Obama wears either a blue or gray suit. In an article from Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, the president explained the logic behind this routine:

‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits’ [Obama] said.

‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

As Stuart Heritage puts it for the Guardian, “Barack Obama has pared his wardrobe down to such a degree that he can confidently walk into any situation and make decisions that directly impact on the future of mankind.”


Bob Hope Left a Forgotten Dent in Comedy

by Teresa on November 19, 2014

bobhopeA new book by Richard Zoglin about the life of Bob Hope aims to reinvigorate the legacy of the oft-overlooked comedy pioneer:

This unabashedly ambitious book also makes much of Hope as inspiration, public citizen and inventor of the stand-up comedy monologue, the kind he delivered when hosting the Academy Awards, which he did more than anyone else has. “No one ever looked better in a tuxedo,” Mr. Zoglin hyperbolizes about that.

Why, then, is Mr. Hope so seldom thanked for all he contributed to American life? Why do stand-up comics forget to mention him as the great pioneer?

The answer, it seems, is that Hope became tragically out of step with the times during his later life, which turned the general public off greatly.

If he had ended his career before Vietnam he would have been a beloved American hero. But Hope lived past his 100th birthday and kept performing long past the point at which he could be funny. His vehement, conservative politics were held against him by angry protesters during the Vietnam era, and his efforts to acknowledge the differences between that war and World War II fell flat: From then on, he became unfunny and out of touch. On Woodstock: “Since the dawn of man, that’s the most dandruff that was ever in one place.” On AIDS: “Have you heard? The Statue of Liberty has AIDS. Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.”

Hope’s story is an interesting case study in legacies. We often ask one another, “what do you want to be remembered for?” but our answers rarely have anything to do with our personal foibles; and yet none of us are saints. So what makes one person a legend and another a forgotten yet impactful force?


The Marijuana Revolution

by Teresa on November 18, 2014

marijuanaAs more US states legalize marijuana, the New York Times has opened its “Room for Debate” series to discussion of the inevitability of “Big Marijuana.”

The debate centers largely around whether the drug should be decriminalized or legalized. Decriminalization would simply lift penalties for small-scale distribution and possession, while legalization would treat marijuana the same way we currently treat alcohol and tobacco distribution.

Three of the four pundits that participated in the debate argued that legalization and commercialization of marijuana would be bad for Americans:

It is especially ironic that as we try to close the painful chapter on Big Tobacco, we seem to be welcoming with open arms its contemporary version: Big Marijuana. And that, of course, is the real danger of American-style legalization. It would be one thing if recent legalization laws simply removed criminal penalties for adult possession – a revision of that nature is overdue – but the current legalization wave is driven by far more than social justice: it is about making a profit. After all, businesses that rely on habit and addiction can only really make money if a proportion of their customers are heavy, unhealthy users.

The dissenter on this point, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Industry Association, argues that full scale legalization and commercialization will increase transparency and safety:

A regulated market provides great benefits to consumers. First and foremost, they are able to enter a safe and secure environment, where they can purchase products grown under controlled conditions with labels that convey THC content and other important information.

But while the discussion of legalization vs. decriminalization continues, the cultural impact of marijuana legalization is not up for debate. This year, the Oxford English dictionary considered the term “budtender” (a person whose job it is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop) for its word of the year; and Time reports that the family of the late Reggae superstar Bob Marley has partnered with a private equity firm focused on marijuana products to create an official “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strain” that will bare Marley’s name and likeness.


Vicky TamaruSteve and I have always joked that we’re really good at putting together “an awesome event” (Biz Stone’s words), but not as good at telling people how cool it is.

Like all jokes, there’s a kernel of truth in it that makes it funny…neither of us has been particularly active in finding sponsorships (though we do manage to find GREAT sponsors, including Buick, SCOTTeVEST, and Silicon Valley Bank.)

Finding like-minded organizations to help sponsor and promote what we’re doing is like filling up the fuel tank on the rocket as we head out to “dent the universe.” In other words, it’s a vital part of making the awesomeness happen.

As attendees of Dent know, we are a community of talented thinkers and doers, and we knew that if we put the word out, we’d find someone who could really boost the engines.

Today we’re really excited to say that Vicky Tamaru (Twitter) is joining the Dent team as our new “Fuel Supplier.” Vicky has spent a little more than a decade adding and keeping happy clients at PlexiPixel in South Lake Union, a web-based development shop / agency she co-founded, so she knows her way around technology, entrepreneurship, and good old fashioned business.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Dent, or if you haven’t met Vicky and want to introduce yourself to someone who is great to know, please shoot Vicky an email: vicky AT dentthefuture.com.


aging-womenToday’s Wall Street Journal cites recent research indicating that your perception of your age may influence your cognitive functioning:

The association between a younger subjective age and better memory and executive functioning was independent of gender, educational achievement, marital status and chronic diseases, the adjusted results showed. People who feel older than their age might require closer monitoring, as this may be an early marker of impaired cognition leading to dementia, the researchers said.

Of course, the study only found a correlation between these two factors, so it may be that people’s cognitive functioning impacts their perception of their age; or there may be a third factor that influences both variables.


Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.


On The Art of Possibility

by Teresa on October 31, 2014

possibilityThe Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander is one of my all-time favorite books on personal and professional development. At the beginning of the opening chapter, entitled “It’s All Invented,” the authors relate the following parable:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to [a remote region] to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying, “Situation hopeless. No one wears shoes.” The other writes back triumphantly, “glorious business opportunity. They have no shoes.”

The point of the chapter, and indeed the whole book, is to give the reader practical tools for adjusting the story she tells herself and others about any given situation. Many books that claim to support such perspective shifts vastly oversimplify the approach and offer cliché encouragements to “think outside the box,” The Art of Possibility avoids both oversimplification and cliché, adeptly guiding the reader to develop modes of thinking that can prompt transformations of thinking.

Another useful tool that can be used in conjunction with Possibility to achieve greater effectiveness and mental clarity is the checklist of rationality habits we shared earlier this fall.


Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.


Denter of the Week: Skip Franklin

by Teresa on October 30, 2014

SkipFranklinEach week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Skip Franklin, co-founder of Serial Entrepreneurs Anonymous, an organization dedicated to helping future entrepreneurs.


Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
The dents I’ve made in the past seems like footnotes today… so I see ahead of me creating a “perpetual dent machine” where “denting” entrepreneurs help empower future entrepreneurs.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
That I expect you to be a resourceful self-starter and problem-solve through collaboration. Most of the companies I’ve founded have gone from zero to 60 employees in a relatively short time, working on projects and products that often have no precedent. There is little time for training, but lots of time for collaboration and trouble-shooting as we figure it out together. We will find mentors to help you, because (unfortunately) the founders are too often out fundraising, deal-making or developing key strategic partnerships.

What is your most useful professional or personal habit?
Vision and problem-solving, which are closely connected. While these skills are often focused outside of the company, I’ve learned how to manage internally with them as well. I will often ask team members what are the three obstacles preventing you from doing your job and then we’ll work together on solving those. I am often surprised at the list they give me, and I think they are often surprised at how quickly those items can go away.

If not yourself, who would you be?
After moving to Nashville in 2005, I caught the music bug. So if not me, I’d want to be a singer-songwriter with my own band. Fortunately, I been able to dabble in that world a bit the last few years: writing songs, singing on a Johnny Cash album, managing artists and producing concerts and festivals.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Dan Elenbaas at ClearShift, focusing on the future of work in a “free agent nation” environment. As employment shifts into a very liquid landscape of tasks and workforces that can be matched up in the future. Visualize areas and applications well beyond Mechanical Turk and you may grasp the potential.

Question from last week’s featured Denter, Dan Shapiro: What were you proudest about this week?
That while I was out of town, two of my team members were able to solve some big problems with relatively little of my input. I’m not sure if they could have done that six months ago.

What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
What past “dent” in the last 50 years had the biggest influence on your career?


Skip Franklin is the co-founder of Serial Entrepreneurs Anonymous, an organization dedicated to helping future entrepreneurs. The concept started as a humorous talk at an entrepreneurial summit, but post-event demand forced it into reality. Having founded over a dozen companies, Franklin knows what not to do in starting companies, and understands the value of matching entrepreneurial mentors and resources with new ventures. 

Skip is best known as the Zone Ranger/CEO of the online community for outdoor enthusiasts, MountainZone.com, which focused on skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, and climbing. The website was known for its live coverage of World Cup events and expeditions to the highest mountains on all continents, especially Mount Everest. The 1999 Mount Everest expedition made world news when they found the body of climbing pioneer George Mallory, who had been frozen in place on Everest for 75 years, skin and hair in tact. MountainZone was able to build an audience of over a million viewers and sold millions of dollars of mountain apparel and gear, becoming the first North Face dealer online. The company was sold in 2000 to Quokka Sports (Nasdac: QKKA). Franklin led a team that bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2001 and they sold it again a few years later. 

In 1990, Franklin co-founded Amaze, Inc!, the award-winning creators of The Far Side Computer Calendar as well as other licensed themes, such as Dilbert, Cathy, Opus n’ Bill and Trivial Pursuit. The Far Side product received great press and was recognized as product-of-the-year for its category. Other past start-ups include hDC (Windows pioneer), iTravel (online travel guides), SkiResorts.com, Phototrust (digital photography), OnTour (concert services), PassAlong (digital music technologies) and several others. Currently under development in Nashville is a new indie record label & artist alliance, Black Train 27 Entertainment.  

Skip has also learned from the many corporate and non-profit boards he has served on, as well as being a funding investor in Seattle incubator concept, iStart Ventures in 1999. He is currently working on a book about his entrepreneurial tales.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.


Bringing the Sabbatical into the Business World

by Teresa on October 29, 2014

xstop-working-and-take-a-break.png.pagespeed.ic._u8jh_yA8uThe Wall Street Journal has a piece this week on the adaptation of the sabbatical from academic tradition to corporate perk:

Unlike the semester- and year-long sabbaticals common among academics, the new leave programs, which usually come with full pay, are shorter—lasting as little as a week—and occur earlier in an employee’s tenure at a company.

Executives say that these programs help to stem employee burnout and force the company to develop redundant skill sets so that no employee becomes truly indispensable. But unsurprisingly, many American workers balk at the chance to take a break on a three to six week scale, even with full pay and benefits and an additional cash incentive:

U.S. workers tend to be shy about taking a week off, much less two. According to a new report from the U.S. Travel Association, American workers took off an average of 16 days last year, down from 20.3 before 2000.

Driving the trend is Americans’ “work martyr complex,” the report states, and a belief that too much time out of the office could harm their careers.

We’ve talked a fair amount on this blog about the false tension between humanity and productivity in a work environment. It seems that more managers are getting the message that thoughtfully tending to employees’ well being serves the company, but convincing employees that accepting an offer of leave will not damage their careers is another matter.


Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.



womencompWalter Isaacson – whose past biographies have covered the lives of innovators like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin – has turned his attention to the history of computer science. In his new book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, Isaacson profiles several women, from Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper to lesser known contributors.

In an industry where CEO’s feel free to advise women to wait for karma to give them pay equality with male coworkers, reminders about the role that female mathematicians had in sparking the computer revolution are sorely needed.


Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.