Archive for the ‘Social Innovation’ Category

Changing course

News  from New York: in a moment of historic irony, the $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced it will divest itself from fossil fuels. The family that became synonymous with the oil industry is making the decision to join the growing ‘divestment movement’ that now includes 180 institutions (including Stanford) and hundreds of wealthy individuals.  Aware of the complexities involved Stephen Heintz, President of the Fund, noted “We’re moving soberly, but with real commitment.”   Is John D rolling in his grave — or would he approve?

The Roaring Twenties

Have you ever thought that it doesn’t matter what you do in your early adult years, as you still have plenty of time to change course and take another path later? Clinical psychologist Meg Jay argues that the choices you make in your twenties have more of an effect on the rest of your life then any you make in the decades after that, and provides true life examples to illustrate it. In The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now, Dr. Jay discusses: 

  • the concept of “identity capital” (which might be described as the qualities that make your resume stand out) and how to build yours;
  • the value of mining “weak ties” to open unexpected doors;
  • the effects of “sliding, not deciding” in relationships; and
  • making your own certainty

The Defining Decade is in our Popular Books section, and circulates for two weeks.  Check it out!

For another take on life lessons geared toward your third decade, take a look at Tina Seelig’s What I wish I knew when I was 20: A crash course on making your way in the world. This lively and readable account of life lessons and cogent observations is food for thought at any age.  Seelig, MSE professor and Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, uses anecdotes from many luminaries and her own life to illustrate principles such as:

  • the influence of direct and indirect messages
  • the advantage of challenging assumptions
  • the value of viewing problems as opportunites, and turning failure into success
  • what a successful career really looks like (hint: not a straight line)
  • the importance of doing the right thing instead of the smart thing

What I wish I knew when I was 20 is in our main stacks on the lower level, call # LC 1037.5 S44 2009.  Check it out!

No silver bullet

The “Big Data backlash” continues …  Authors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times take Big Data to task, enumerating  the logical pitfalls that can bedevil answers and inferences. The authors provide several examples of ways that mistaken connections can produce meaningless conclusions. They also highlight the infamous example of the much-hyped Google Flu Trends, which came in with a roar but has left with a whimper. Big Data’s apostles are making Big Claims these days; some argue that we might be able to accumulate enough data to actually predict the future. But Marcus, Davis and many others are calling for restraint.  No silver bullet — not yet.

Big Data, Big Mistake?

Tim Harford explores the brave new world of Big Data in the March 29/30 Financial Times Weekend edition. In ‘Big Mistake?’, Harford ruminates on the claims and the pitfalls of what some are calling a new panacea for all past deficiencies of marketing, statistical gathering, government programs and more. He examines and challenges four major claims advanced by the proponents of Big Data, in the process recounting now-classic anecdotes, such as the famous example of Google Flu Trends, and the case of the father who discovered his daughter was pregnant when Target started targeting her with baby products. Is Big Data just the latest media darling — or does it have the potential to rock our world?

Art and Innovation

The Economist reported this week on San Jose’s Zero1 Garage, a company that describes itself as  “part think-tank, part incubator, part exhibition space.”  Its purpose?  To include artists, “by far the most radical experimenters in society,” in the early stages of the tech innovation process. Innovation has long been an important component in the success of Silicon Valley startups, and now companies like Google and Adobe are partnering with Zero1 to bring artists into the mix.  If it’s anywhere near as successful as TED, whose founders saw the value of combining technology with entertainment and design, this may be one company to watch.

Labor unions go social

Remember some of those 1930’s movies where the cigar smoking union boss and his cronies made back room deals in the wee hours of the morning with the appropriate background music? Well actually most or some of you reading this havn’t even watched an old 1930’s movie, oh well. Jump to the new world of Facebook and Twitter where union members are Facebooking and twittering outside of the bargaining rooms to let members know what’s happening as soon as it happens. Read more about it.

The Oracle Speaks

Warren Buffett,  the Oracle of Omaha,  is making waves.  Not only in his call in the New York Times  to increase taxes on the very wealthy, but in highlighting the shocking disparity of income in America.  On Charlie Rose yesterday he noted that some 60 million Americans are living on an income of around $20,000 or less.  Others  have studied the distribution of wealth in America, and even allowing for exaggeration  it is not a pretty picture.  Whatever his faults, Mr Buffett has done a public service by dragging these issues onto the national stage, exposing them to the sunlight.  And as Judge Brandeis famously observed,  “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”


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