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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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entrepreneur

In the race to find the next great investment, some venture capital firms are using big data to find potential founders and innovators before they try their hand at founding a company:

Roy Bahat’s VC firm [Bloomberg Beta] teamed up with the data research firm Mattermark to conduct a study of 1.5 million professionals in New York and Silicon Valley. An algorithm evaluated work history, educational history — information publicly available online.

From that, Bahat says, you can deduce a lot: “For example, if somebody’s ever worked at a startup that’s backed by venture capitalist then they’re much more likely to start a startup in the future because that’s the world they’ve seen.”

Based on their findings, Bloomberg Beta reached out to 350 prospective entrepreneurs and invited them to a networking meeting. Bahat says that they had to reach out to some of them twice, because “several people thought it was a scam.”

Obviously, this approach can’t yet screen for the personality traits or vision that make a great founder; but it can help narrow the search field and get potential founders in touch with venture capitalists before they even start bootstrapping.

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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.

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The 700 Terabyte Gram of DNA

by Jason on October 27, 2014

Some folks at Harvard have figured out how to write — and read — insanely large amounts of data in strands of DNA:

The work, carried out by George Church and Sri Kosuri, basically treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).

The data can be read, too, by reversing the conversion. The coverage I’ve seen so far doesn’t mention anything about read/write speed (in other words, it might take quite a while to write or read the data from DNA at the moment), but obviously this is still pretty experimental.

Regardless, it’s an impressive feat of data storage density. If the interface to DNA as data storage can be worked out, we are on the verge of being able to store quite a bit more data than we’re used to. I bet we could fit some DNA into a phone, for example.

Read the coverage at Extreme Tech for more details.

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Google Aims to Reinvent the Housecall

by Teresa on October 24, 2014

housecall

The modernization of medicine has all but eliminated the housecall, but Google aims to bring it back – after a fashion – with it’s “Helpouts” offering:

Google’s “Helpouts” product — a service where people can search for experts and talk to them over video — is running a trial program in which people who are searching for symptoms like pink eye and the common cold can video-chat with a doctor. The company is working with medical groups including Scripps and One Medical, which are “making their doctors available and have verified their credentials,” according to a spokeswoman.

Telemedicine is  an old concept. Doctors have been using the telephone since the telephone was invented. And they have been sharing X-ray images and using videoconferencing for at least 40 years, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

“This year, between 800,000 and one million consultations will be done over the Internet directly to consumers in the United States,”  said Jonathan Linkous, chief executive of the American Telemedicine Association. “So clearly consumers want this.”

The next time I’m running a fever or suffering from some mystery pain, it would be utterly delightful to be able to speak with a doctor by video conference instead of having to leave the house. I guess I’m Google’s target market. But I wonder how soon this service will be available so that I can speak to my doctor. Continuity of care is really important, especially when patients are taking multiple medications and seeing multiple specialists. Talking to a doctor one-off in a special situation is one thing, but the real revolution will come when I can talk to a doctor who actually knows me.

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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.

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Denter of the Week: Dan Shapiro

by Teresa on October 23, 2014

Each 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 Dan Shapiro. Dan is (most recently) CEO and founder of Robot Turtles.

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?
It’s a cliche, but I’d rather be known for my passionate, smart, kind, and happy kids than anything I’ve done.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
I have a terrible habit: I don’t worry about the same things as you.

This seems insane on its face. You come to me and tell me that the most important thing right now is Problem X. The solution is three months late, the team is working overtime, we need to hire two more developers yesterday.  I’m going to listen, nod, and ask how I can help. Then I’m going to ask you about problems F, Q, and Ö (yeah, that’s an umlaut). Why am I concerned with everything except Problem X?

Because you’ve got that, of course. You’re clearly more concerned about it than anyone, and I trust your capabilities, and you’re obviously focused on it.  So I want to help however I can… then be sure that everything else is covered, because while you’re taking care of the top priority, someone’s got to keep an eye on the rest of the pack.

What fault in others do you have the most patience for?
I love collecting data. I’ve forced myself to move past “Let’s just try one more thing before we decide…”, but when I see it in others, I have buckets of sympathy. I’ll let people experiment happily for a long time (probably too long) before I gently intercede and ask for progress.

If your 18 year-old self could see you now, what would surprise him most?
I thought I was going to be a physicist, then a patent attorney, then a politician. I’m 0/3.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Kristin Hamilton at joinkoru.com is reinventing the college degree. That’s pretty amazing.

Question from last week’s featured Denter, Eric Ng: If failing is a key to success, what was one of your most substantive failures and what did you learn from it?
My first attempt at a startup – 2000 – was a dismal disaster. We went out to launch a massively multiplayer online game. I say “launch”, but we really had a 40-page specification and nothing else. My cofounder and I had no idea what we were doing.  We couldn’t get meetings with anyone, and this was the height of the bubble!  After months of flailing around, we somehow convinced the Navy to put together a million dollar funding round for us to develop this. The administration changed and so did our sponsor at the Navy. The project went nowhere.

The list of what I learned is long, but it includes:

  • Make progress at all times, no matter what else is happening
  • Deals fall through; when you’re not working on a deal, work on the backup
  • Don’t bet on politics.

What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
What were you proudest about this week?

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Dan Shapiro is the CEO and primary turtle wrangler at Robot Turtles, LLC, a company created when he accidentally launched the bestselling boardgame in Kickstarter history. Dan spent the last two years leading a Google subsidiary that operates comparison shopping products. Shapiro landed at Google when they bought his previous company, Sparkbuy Inc, where he was founder and CEO. Sparkbuy was a comparison shopping website that offered a happy fun face on top of scary good data.

Before Sparkbuy, Shapiro was founder and CEO of Ontela, a pioneering mobile imaging company, where he was named CEO of the Year by MobileBeat. Ontela was frequently recognized including the Dow Jones Top 10 in Wireless list, the CTIA award for Best Social Networking Application, and Breakthrough Startup of the Year by the WTIA. Ontela is now a part of Photobucket Inc.

Prior to founding Ontela, Shapiro managed development of the RealArcade service at RealNetworks, enabling thousands of end-users to play classic games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Rollercoaster Tycoon on their desktops. He arrived at RealNetworks by way of Wildseed, where he managed software development for the Identity Cellular Phone. Shapiro started his career at Microsoft working on Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.

Shapiro’s articles have been published in the Washington Post, Wireless Week, and the Seattle PI, and he is a frequent speaker at conferences and events. He serves on the board of the nonprofit Washington Technology Industry Association. He is a mentor for the Founder’s Institute, 500 Startups, and Techstars. He has been awarded eleven US patents, and received his B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

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.

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Prosthetic Limbs that Can Feel

by Teresa on October 22, 2014

prosthesis

Phantom Limb Syndrome is most commonly thought of as a painful and distressing disorder, in which an amputee experiences pain, tingling, or other unpleasant sensations in a lost limb. The phenomenon is thought to originate in the cortical homunculus, the collection of neurons that represent a map of the body in space. Even after a limb is severed, the neurons that represent that limb still exist in the brain.

Now scientists are using the phantom limb to develop prosthetics that can not only be moved by an amputee, but that can actually experience sensation in the phantom limb:

We show that implanted peripheral nerve interfaces in two human subjects with upper limb amputation provided stable, natural touch sensation in their hands for more than 1 year. Electrical stimulation using implanted peripheral nerve cuff electrodes that did not penetrate the nerve produced touch perceptions at many locations on the phantom hand with repeatable, stable responses in the two subjects for 16 and 24 months. Patterned stimulation intensity produced a sensation that the subjects described as natural and without “tingling,” or paresthesia.

Hat tip: New York Times. Photo by Russell Lee.

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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.

 

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prozac

Last week, we looked at the history of the birth control pill, one of the most important innovations of the 20th century. Another pharmaceutical innovation in the latter half of that century changed the way we think about the human condition. A new documentary short in the New York Times’ “Retro Report” series looks at the cultural and medical impact of Prozac and the entire class of drugs that followed in its wake:

In the late 1980s and the 90s, Prozac was widely viewed as a miracle pill, a life preserver thrown to those who felt themselves drowning in the high waters of mental anguish. It was the star in a class of new pharmaceuticals known as S.S.R.I.s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Underlying their use is a belief that depression is caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Pump up the levels of this brain chemical and, voilà, the mood lifts. Indeed, millions have embraced Prozac, and swear by it. Depression left them emotionally paralyzed, they say. Now, for the first time in years, they think clearly and can embrace life.

If some users deem Prozac lifesaving, others consider it sensory-depriving. A loss of libido is a common side effect. Some writers and artists, while often relieved to be liberated from depression’s tightest grip, also say that Prozac leaves them mentally hazy. In his 2012 book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb offered this: “Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s ‘spleen,’ Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced.”

As someone who suffers from a depressive illness and takes medication to combat its debilitating effects, I feel the need to editorialize a bit. I find Taleb’s argument supporting the myth that mental illness enhances creativity to be very dangerous. Nobody can deny that those who possess extraordinary creative gifts are also frequently troubled by mental health complaints; but in my experience, alleviating those symptoms has actually improved my creativity and my ability to take action with my ideas. More importantly, alleviating those symptoms has saved my life.

We do ourselves a great disservice when we look at the painful past through rose-colored glasses. Just because our grandparents walked uphill to school in the snow (both ways) doesn’t mean we have to. I, for one, am grateful for the dent that anti-depressants have put in the universe.

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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.

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