Forward Thinking

By Marta Bright, Bobbie Hartman, Christopher Null, Kate Pavao, Joe Shepter, Lia Simpson, and Tara Swords, August 2009

Life Pursuits

From escaping homelessness on the streets of San Francisco to becoming a hugely successful financial broker and best-selling author, Chris Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness, has walked away from the school of hard knocks with a few bruises and many successes. In his new book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Gardner shares what he believes it takes to move forward in times of uncertainty. Profit caught up with Gardner as he was preparing to head out on his Start Where You Are book tour.

Profit: In your book, you talk a lot about resourcefulness. Do you believe that resourcefulness comes from within, or is it a quality that must be learned over time?

Gardner: I think it’s something that you learn through necessity. I had just come off of a bout of homelessness when I started my business in my house with just $10,000. When you’re homeless, you have to be resourceful. And when you’re starting a small business with limited resources, you need to be very, very resourceful. My mom used to say, “Son, I have done so much with so little for so long that I can do anything with nothing.” It might sound a little kitschy, but the truth of the matter is, I saw her do it over and over again, so I knew I could do it too.

Profit: Why did you write a follow-up to The Pursuit of Happyness?

Gardner: We received more than 20,000 letters about The Pursuit of Happyness. People were asking me things like, “Chris, when this happened, what made you think you could go on? Why didn’t you quit?” This book is a response to all of those wonderful folks who took the time to write letters and who stopped me at airports, on the street, at the supermarket, just about any place you can imagine. It was truly amazing.

Profit: How important is personal choice and responsibility when it comes to being successful?

Gardner: Imagine there are three people on a bus, each with about the same amount of intelligence. When the bus stops, one person is going to say, “OK, this is a nice spot. I’m going to get off here. I’m comfortable.” Another person will say, “Well, I want to see how far this thing goes, so let’s keep rolling.” The savviest person on the bus is going to say, “You know what? I want to drive this bus.” In other words, choice is everything. Choice is power.

Profit: What are you encouraging people to do in these uncertain times?

Gardner: One of the things I’ve encouraged people to do is to just turn the TV off. Use it for entertainment purposes only. All of the smart-guy pundits you see on television are saying, “The feds should do this. The Treasury should do that. Credit markets need to do this.” The truth is nobody really knows. Too many of us allow what we do to define who we are. If you’ve been laid off, fired, downsized, outsourced, or pushed out of a job, you really need to ask yourself, “Who am I?” It’s important not to confuse your self-worth with your net worth. Net worth is going to fluctuate, because that’s what markets do. They go up, and they go down. Your self-worth, who you are as a person, what’s important to you, and what you care about, those are the things in life that won’t fluctuate.

Profit: How did you cultivate your no-nonsense way of writing and speaking that people really seem to respond to?

Gardner: I learned that from my mother. It’s just a matter of good, plain common sense expressed with plain English. The comedian George Wallace once said, “You got to keep your message so low a goat can get at it.” I think that makes pretty good sense.

Profit: What would you like your epitaph to be?

Gardner: That’s a tough question, but I think the answer would be, honestly, in the simplest form, “It made a difference that he was here.” That’s the most important thing that I think could ever be said about anybody’s life: “It made a difference that this person was here.” How much money somebody made, so what? Folks want to make money. Not everybody wants to make a difference.

Watch and Wear

The concept of a TV you can watch from behind the lenses of a pair of eyeglasses has been a sci-fi staple since at least the Star Trek era. But in the last few years, something surprising has happened: these devices have become almost commonplace. For a long while relegated to niche applications—helicopter pilots, military fieldwork—head-mounted displays have made a dramatic move into the mainstream.

One such offering, the Myvu Crystal, couldn’t be simpler. In fact, it doesn’t even include a manual—just a cardboard sheet explaining which cable to use depending on whether you’re hooking up to an iPod, Zune, ARCHOS, or other video source.

Myvu images are totally in focus, and the image is sharp and easy to watch, although extended viewing can be disorienting. At US$300, the Myvu is not cheap, but it is enticing for gadget hounds who spend a lot of time traveling and suffer from strain while watching an iPod or laptop video in a nonergonomic fashion. Learn more at www.myvu.com.

Backyard Farming

For clients of Your Backyard Farmer, an urban yard can become a thriving farm. That idea came to company founder Donna Smith four years ago, while she was looking for farmland near Portland, Oregon. Driving around, she noticed dozens of empty backyards and realized they could be used to grow food. “It was one of those moments,” she says, “where you know that this is what you are supposed to do.”

Together with partner Robyn Streeter, she founded the first of a now-growing number of companies that turn backyards into organic farms. The farms use intensive growing methods and crop rotation. With 400 square feet, they can easily supply a family of four with a year’s worth of vegetables.

Your Backyard Farmer is currently advising 22 similar companies, in locations including Boston, Massachusetts; Jacksonville, Florida; and—internationally—Hobart, Tasmania; and Barcelona, Spain. For more information, visit www.yourbackyardfarmer.com.

Disaster Recovery—People, Not Data

Most businesses have plans for what to do when something bad happens to their data. But what about when something bad happens to their people?

After on-the-job accidents, plane crashes, or natural disasters, employee survivors and their families need help. Outsourced employee assistance programs offer long-term counseling, but the immediate aftermath may leave employees or family members so traumatized that simple questions—whom to call, where to go, how to get there, what to say to the media—may be incapacitating.

“Family members usually need to get somewhere to be with people, but they’re in shock and they don’t even know how to start,” says Carolyn Coarsey, founder of the Family Assistance Foundation. The foundation trains employee volunteer “care teams” to support survivors, handle family logistics, and deal with media inquiries after traumatic events happen to their coworkers.

Compassionate assistance is particularly important when an employee is injured or killed on company business. Lawsuits can ensue, employee morale can dive, and the company’s reputation can suffer. Coarsey offers four steps to establishing volunteer care teams:

1. Get buy-in from the top. 2. Identify an infrastructure. 3. Recruit and train volunteers. 4. Remember why you’re doing it.

“When the company does a good job, it really causes a cultural shift in that company,” Coarsey says. “I can’t tell you how many employees say, ‘I never knew what a great company I worked for until I helped this family, because then I knew they’d be there for us, too.’”

Meat Local

With the growing concern about the health and environmental risks of raising livestock in large, overcrowded farms, community-supported agriculture (CSA)—which has been around for about 20 years as a way for consumers to buy fresh produce directly from local farms—has taken things to the next level. It’s using social networking as a means to bring like-minded meat eaters together, giving them the opportunity to connect and share in the purchase of, for example, a side of beef.

“A lot of people are waking up to the quality issue between regular meat that was produced on an enormous scale and farm-fresh, grass-fed meat,” says Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest, an organic and local food Web site. A few clicks on the LocalHarvest site will hook you up with a CSA in your area as well as local farmers markets and restaurants that feature sustainably produced meats on their menus. Barnett expects that more ecoaware individuals will be connecting online, particularly as the demand for sustainable meats continues to grow. For more information, visit www.localharvest.org.

A Road Warrior’s Guide to Etiquette

Navigating the protocol for international travel can be daunting even for the savviest of voyagers. Terri Morrison, coauthor of Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, advises travelers to learn a thing or two about their destination beforehand. “Showing appreciation for a culture’s music or literature will go a long way toward achieving your goal,” says Morrison.

File these tidbits away before you head to the airport:

India, China, Japan, and Korea

  • Sample all food but don’t clean your plate (unless you’re in Japan); eating everything implies that your host did not offer enough to satisfy hunger. South and Central America
  • Make direct eye contact and expect to be greeted in close proximity.

 

Europe

  • Don’t smile at colleagues on the streets of France. It leaves the impression that you’re foolish.

 

Middle East and Africa

  • Use your right hand when you eat or greet; it’s considered unclean to use your left hand.

 

Tech Events

Los Angeles Technology Forum
September 14-15, Los Angeles, California
Oracle is a sponsor and participant in the 2009 Los Angeles Digital Government Summit. This program facilitates sharing and learning about new technology solutions and strategies for embracing unprecedented challenges.

Gartner PPM & IT Governance Summit
September 14-16, Orlando, Florida
Join hundreds of project portfolio management (PPM) leaders and Gartner analysts for timely discussions, workshops, and presentations built around “take action” themes and ideas.

Oracle OpenWorld 2009
October 11-15, San Francisco, California
Oracle OpenWorld brings you more than 1,800 sessions, 400 partner exhibits, keynotes from the world’s technology leaders, hands-on labs, special networking events, and more.

German Oracle User Group/DOAG 2009 Conference
November 17-19, Nürnberg, Germany
The DOAG (Deutsche Oracle Anwendergruppe) conference offers access to the know-how of more than 3,200 colleagues whose knowledge in using Oracle products can help you drive success in your own company.

 
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