As the purpose of this blog has become exceedingly clear to me over the last several weeks, it has seemed only appropriate to re-brand.

My passion lies somewhere in the intersection of social entrepreneurship, human-centered design, and behavioral economics, and I want this blog’s title and address to reflect that.

In the future, I hope you’ll come find me at:

Human Ventures –


Nancy Lublin from Do Something wrote a great column in this month’s Fast Company on overhead as the bogeyman of the non-profit sector.

She’s right.  There is nothing inherently evil about overhead.  Of course, some types of overhead are wasteful (think: auto execs, private jets, and Obama).  However, other overhead is good and extremely worthwhile. IT spend in a telecommunications company, for example, is not only necessary but can be a source of strategic differentiation if applied appropriately (think: 3G).

My day job is in HR and leadership consulting.  There, we struggle with this issue on a regular basis. While “people are our greatest asset,” they show up in only one place on the financial reports.  That would be under expenses.  So how do we tend to manage people?  That’s right, as liabilities.

The good news is that the earth is moving in HR.  Companies are finding increasingly accurate ways to measure  the productivity and capacity of the workforce as opposed to just payroll expesnse. Let’s hope that we start to see a similar shift in the NGO world.  Because simply viewing overhead as a necessary evil is not only flawed thinking but can severely constrain our organizations in their ability to grow and more effectively serve their constituencies.

Georges Doriot, the purported father of the venture capital industry, firmly believed that there was no shortage of good ideas out there, but rather a shortage of individuals capable of carrying them out.

My own conversations with modern-day venture capitalists confirms that one of biggest challenges for VC firms continues to be predicting the capacity of the entrepreneur to successfully startup and manage the business.

Startable blog has a great post, complete with advice, echoing these sentiments here:

YOU are the problem: the reason why so many startups don’t get venture funding | Startable.

It turns out that even medical doctors are subject to the whims of irrationality and the phenomena of behavioral economics.

This would come as no surprise to Nassim Taleb (whose next book I fear will not be very kind to the medical profession –, but is likely to be a bit disturbing to the rest of us who tend to be guilty of assigning god-like status to our physicians.

If you ever wondered whether pharma companies are effective at influencing the behavior of doctors, please read the linked article below.

The Ethical Taint of Post-It Notes — and the Power of a Company Policy « Lead Good

I recently had the pleasure of returning to my college workplace – a resort in northwestern MN – for an alumni reunion.

The work at this resort was far from being inherently satisfying or intellectually stimulating. Yet, the job brought an enormous amount of joy to my life. The people I worked with were intelligent and talented, and we were given and created opportunities to play, take risks, and put our minds together to solve all kinds of problems – large and small. Those interactions engendered levels of both enjoyment and interpersonal trust that I have yet to find in any other employer.

Play is vitally important to self-actualization in our personal and professional lives, and yet somewhere between childhood, adolescence and adulthood we seem to forget how to play.

The following three TED talks pay tribute to this idea in amazing and inspiring ways. Please watch and have fun with them!

Hat tip to A Blank Slate Blog for this interesting snippet. Racial segregation has been a serious interest of mine, and sparked an exploratory study on the experience of students of color at predominantly white colleges, which essentially became my undergraduate thesis. What my co-collaborator and I found were very much along the same lines.

Hope you find it interesting.

…Not that Google ever really stopped innovating in search, but the buzz coming out of Mountain View over the last several years has seemed to deal with everything but search.

Overall, it’s great to see Google continuing to innovate in this core area. And it can’t hurt their business. The more time you spend sorting through data and actively researching on their pages, the greater the ad revenue.

Hat tip to El Canasto Mini

Marketplace is fantastic.  If you don’t already listen, please start.

Here is some nice commentary and analysis on the stress tests and how banks are reacting.

APM Marketplace: Stress Tests

From the_amandas photostreamI majored in sociology and anthropology in college.  A couple of weeks before graduation, my academic adviser asked me, “What is the most significant thing that the major has taught you?”  

Of course, he had to ask the question in a public venue, so I felt obligated to provide an intelligent-sounding answer (I believe I spouted off some B.S. about the role of identity in decision-making).  However, I knew that I didn’t really know.  And so did my adviser, who informed me that my answer was unsatisfactory.  The question has stuck with me since.

Now, in my defense, his question was entirely unfair.  Nobody could provide a really good answer to such a fundamental question without some perspective.  I’ve been thinking lately that my study of economics may be providing just that.

As I learn more about traditional economic theory and its corresponding mathematical models and methods, I can’t help but envision a set of perfectly crafted boxes.  These boxes are elegant and glossy.  They are well structured, with clean lines and a logical size and form.  And they are strong, capable of withstanding virtually any weight or impact.  

These boxes have a single purpose in life – to get your personal possessions from point A to point B – and these boxes are designed to carry out that mission optimally, assuming the items in your home conform to particular “standards” and common assumptions.  When that’s the case, all of your items will fit in the minimal number of boxes, while also being maximally protected from damage during the move. 

But your home doesn’t quite fit the standard.  It’s full of third generation hand-me-downs, like your grandmother’s kitchen table, and all of those unsolicited wedding gifts (ooh, another crystal bowl!).  It includes various-sized mementos from international vacations and the six months you spent overseas in India after graduating from college (you were a child of the 60’s, after all).  And then there’s the antiquated microwave – oh, and those baseball trophies from your high school glory days will need to come, too.

In this world, the econ boxes break down.  You try your hardest to shove your belongings inside them, but despite their seemingly perfect design, their size and shape feels awkward and unaccommodating.  Not only that, but a number of your items aren’t even well-suited to boxes.  Some plastic bubble wrap and duct tape would do just fine.

This is the world where sociological and anthropological theoretical models and methods thrive.  As moving boxes, they come in all kinds of odd shapes and sizes.  Some are neat, new, and glossy. Others you collected from the local grocery; they are a bit dirty inside and smell of rotting fruit, but they fit your old college textbooks just right.  Several more you’ve been saving in your basement since your last move, as they worked perfectly for that mismatched set of pots and pans in the kitchen.  

In this way, theoretical models and methods in social sciences like sociology and anthropology often lack the grace, elegance, and appearance of perfection in engineering of their economics counterparts. Yet, the “boxes” in which these disciplines organize their thinking and interpretations of human behavior are often better-suited to our messy and unpredictable world.  Not only that, but the lack of a true canon in these fields makes problem-solving and research a much more creative and inductive, rather than prescriptive and deductive, process.  

It’s that open-ended manner of thinking and approach to understanding the world that makes these “other” social sciences so valuable, and why I am ultimately proud to have undertaken that course of study.

As the current economic and financial crisis is showing us, traditional economic theory is fragile, at best.  While the mathematical rigor that economists bring to their work is admirable, it will only be through the intersection with “messier” social sciences that economics will truly realize its potential.  I hope to be part of that movement.

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