Anatomy of the Economic Crisis

1 10 2008

Much fuss has been made about the nature of the current economic crisis and the potential beneficiaries of a very likely federally-sponsored buyout (I don’t call it a bailout) of unmarketable assets.  Whether folks are pitting Wall Street against Main Street or lamenting the private profits and socialized losses suggested by the federal plan, I don’t think the average American going to work this morning yet understands how the situation came about and could get MUCH worse without intervention.

So I’ve diagrammed out this little sketch of how the money flows – and where it stopped.  Hopefully this is a simple way to wow your friends at this week’s happy hour.

Capital is needed to purchase large assets and finance regular business operations

Capital is needed to purchase large assets and finance regular business operations

To put a size on the increased demand for housing, I’ve heard that during the past five to eight years, the number of Americans owning their home (or at least owning the mortgage liability for it) grew from the long run average 50% to 60% of households – an increase of over 10 million families.

The constriction of lending isn’t just a Wall Street problem.  Businesses are going to have trouble when accounts receivable don’t get paid, inventory can’t get financed, and employees can’t get paid.  Main Street people are going to get shocked by rising unemployment, tighter credit standards, and no available cash to help make ends meet at the end of a month.  Folks will have greater difficulty financing car or home purchases and students (as well as those newly-unemployed seeking to advance their education in the downturn) may have trouble finding lenders to finance their tuition bills.  Drops in income – or even fear of future unemployment – will constrict charitable giving, putting essential non-profit services at risk as well.

This isn’t a problem just for Wall Street, and they’re certainly not the only ones who shared in the gains of home ownership.  I lament the transaction profits predatious mortgage brokers earned in the heat of the housing market and I hope for a better system (and better educated and protected buyers).  But let’s fix the liquidity problem that will affect everyone and not spend our breath pitting Americans against each other.


Growth Leaders | Jeanne Liedtka on

14 07 2008

I studied with Jeanne Liedtka in Darden’s full-time MBA program while we successfully proposed a new design-oriented Strategy Lab and executed a “blue ocean” consulting engagement with a major international architecture firm. Here, Jeanne discusses some of the bigger points from a forthcoming study on “growth leaders,” the individuals who consistently lead innovating organizations to better serve customer needs and deliver market-leading performance.

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Jeanne and her co-authors, including Sean Carr, director of corporate innovation programs at Darden’s Batten Institute, recently produced an article in the Sloan Management Review detailing some of their findings on growth leaders as well.  Follow the link for the article:

In Search of Growth Leaders

An American Self-portrait | The art of Chris Jordan

1 02 2008

Chris Jordan presents an evocative series of wall-sized prints that beautifully convey a tragic story. See more of this and other series at

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TED | Talks | Isabel Allende: Tales of passion (video)

31 01 2008

I recently read “Eva Luna” by Isabel Allende – a book that has become infinitely more moving after seeing Isabel in this live presentation. She illuminates the great power of storytelling for social change and inspiration. Interestingly, someone pointed out how devoid current political debates or the State of the Union address have been in good storytelling.

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Innovation in Services: Miriam’s Kitchen

18 10 2007

The value creators in our new economy are providing exceptional experiences by outperforming their niche in an industry network or tying together the nodes of the network and packaging the whole thing in innovative ways.

As part of my recent course at Darden on Innovation and Integration in Services – The New Economy, I made observations on a number of innovations as examples of value creation in this flat, networked world. This is my submission on Miriam’s Kitchen.


This organization falls strongest in the “Make Their Day” and “Be There” categories of the Fish! Philosophy. Miriam’s Kitchen, a provider of meals and additional services to homeless people in Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC


Miriam’s Kitchen is noteworthy for a number of characteristics. It has always used hot meals as a way to gather people who could benefit from the area’s social services and introduce those services in a non-threatening manner. In that sense, the dining room aggregates a target audience and makes additional, highly valuable services know. Second, Miriam’s Kitchen attracted a great New York chef to run the soup kitchen. His culinary smarts have helped form food partnerships with local distributors and restaurants Read the rest of this entry »

What are we working for?

30 05 2007

Originally published August 14, 2006.

I just finished an invigorating read through Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ best-seller, Built to Last.  I love the way these researchers capture the epic mythology of doing great work – of finding purpose and meaning beyond the dollar signs.  Their research showed that “visionary companies,” as they defined them, are more often built with some motivating purpose other than making money when compared to less successful competitors.  This point is one that captures my entrepreneurial spirit – to do something that matters for the long haul, something that makes a lasting impact on the world around me and improves the lives of others. 

The MBA program guides and consultants I reviewed during my application to business schools all seemed to have one thing in common: discussing the ROI of business school.  The rationale was always the same – since you’re going to business school, now’s a great time to examine the return on your investment!  It’s generallly a winsome argument, since many MBA graduates leap ahead to substantially higher salaries among multiple job offers than their pre-MBA careers would provide.  But this argument woefully discounts the non-financial return of two great years of investing in one’s self and a tremendous network of peers who are capable of leading the next generation of world-changing organizations.  To put it more directly, the prospects of learning extensive practices to create and guide organizations have much more value than the immediate salary commanded by MBA graduates.  That is why my MBA admissions essays focused on learning to make an impact on others more than making more money for myself.

As I see it, my MBA studies are a priceless time to learn about the development and management of organizations, a time to learn more about how to impact teams of people motivated toward a common goal.  I expect my education to be valuable both in my professional career and in my volunteer efforts, as I join the leadership of my church and community non-profits to make lasting impacts in the social sector as well.  While I do find it important to believe that my education will pay for itself in career successes, I also believe one of the greatest advantages of an MBA education must be to share it with those who could benefit from my service but could not otherwise afford it.

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not opposed to earning high salaries and ensuring that one’s MBA education earns significant results.  I am, however, suggesting that making an impact on others is more important than will be reflected in one’s salary, and that the financial rewards of doing good work are best invested to increasing the impact of future work.  For those who share this vision (particularly those who are  Darden MBA students), I look forward to meeting you and exploring the possibilities.

And, as a post-script, it turns out the purpose-driven “visionary companies” of Built to Last dramatically outperformed their comparison companies and stock market indices…

The making of young innovators

30 05 2007

Originally published May 18, 2006.

A reader sent me a thoughtful email about the difficulties for young innovators and the structures of the educational system that don’t seem to lend themselves to developing new innovators and entrepreneurs.  This is a provocative topic, so I thought I’d post a copy of my reply and invite others to join the dialog:


Thanks for your comments about my blog and your provocative thoughts about entrepreneurship and innovation.  What are you studying at
Virginia?  I was an Electrical Engineering undergrad at UVA, which gave me the opportunity to take a number of design and invention-oriented courses (and I’d be happy to recommend courses and professors).  I think the Architecture school also has a number of “innovation enhancers” in its curriculum.  I personally know a number of very successful ventures (and serial entrepreneurs) to come out of UVA.
I think I understand your concerns about innovation among the twenty/thirty-something set.  Especially as I work around DC now, I feel greatly undervalued by my age – in this town, until you’ve got a crown of gray hair and a record of financial giving (politically) and success (business-ly), it’s hard to be taken seriously.But I also understand that professional innovation is a highly risky venture – those that do it well are celebrated because there’s inherently a high amount of experimentation.  Just starting a new business is a risky venture, particularly for recent graduates which may have limited business networks and experience as well as college debts to pay (to say nothing of rent, food, insurance, car, and other expenses).  New businesses may typically go several years before turning a profit as the venture traverses its own growing pains; business incubators are established all over the country (there’s one at Darden) to help shelter those businesses from the high-risk environment of a start-up. Often times the “risk equation” makes it much more palatable for new young professionals to work several years, develop business acumen and networks, then consider a new business venture (or continue their ascent through corporate ranks).I also think there’s simply a very small percentage of the population with the business sense and creativity necessary to innovate marketable solutions (much less to build successful and growing companies).  It’s more sensible (but not necessarily right) in our economic constructs to “create jobs” than to create innovators.  For most people, who need a lot of support to even enter the workplace, they rely on others to create jobs.  But as for the smaller percentage of the population which is really eager to innovate AND capable of doing so profitably (e.g. with good management, marketing, manufacturing, logistics, etc), I don’t know that there are sufficient development tracks in the educational or professional systems to identify and “incubate” those future business leaders – perhaps there’s an opportunity for innovation!Is there also a sense in which successful innovators buck the system, as did Bill Gates or Richard Bronson?  Would efforts to form a support system for entrepreneurs (who may be fiercely independent) be doomed to fail?  I suspect not, and I would offer the Kauffman Fellows Program as one high-profile example.  But how do we link these programs to undergraduate and graduate education?  How do we identify and actively develop those young business leaders who will transform the world?