Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reimagining the Smithsonian

A call to action: given new ways of learning, how can the Smithsonian Institution be more relevant in a digital age?

Much more on their wiki.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Pay Pal Wars

I read The Pay Pal Wars upon Tim Kane's recommendation. Radley Balko at Reason wrote a favorable review as well. Do check it out. It's a wonderful look at entrepreneurial individuals and their experiences as they went from startup to IPO. Fascinating reading.

Perhaps I should mention, in order to comply with the FCC and all, that I either purchase books myself or get them from the library, but do not receive free copies or have other incentives to recommend any readings.

Startup Nation

At a recent event Robert Litan of Brookings and the Kauffman Foundation strongly recommended Dan Senor and Saul Singer's Startup Nation. I haven't read it, but it seems promising. If you have an interest though, Dan Senor is speaking next week as part of Politics and Prose speaker series at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC. Note that there is a fee associated with the event ($6). Some details about the book from P&P:
Senor, a business analyst, wanted to know how it is that Israel—a country of just over 7 million, only 60 years old, with no natural resources—produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan or the UK. He and Saul Singer, editorial editor of The Jerusalem Post, attribute Israel’s success to the social networks and leadership training afforded by the nation’s mandatory military service, and to an open immigration policy that continually restocks Israel’s population from people around the world. They note that the Jewish tradition of questioning also fosters openness and self-criticism. Publishers Weekly says this is a book “not just for business leaders and policy makers, but for anyone curious about contemporary Israeli culture.”
Interested readers may also find Innovation and the State: Political Choice and Strategies for Growth in Israel, Taiwan, and Ireland, by Dan Breznitz to be rewarding as well, if a bit more academic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

It's also worth recommending this Wired article about Scott Adams.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Web Database of Social Entrepreneurs on Twitter

Help create a big list of Social Entrepreneurs that use twitter. TweepML aggregates lists of twitter users and are setting up one for social entrepreneurs. You can enter yourself or your group or nominate others. Please participate and make the service more valuable. (HT)

Information Overload

Lots of wisdom in that FT piece. Here's a bit more (FT):
Those under 30 tend to consume media and entertainment in a different way to their older peers: they refuse to pay for content, they like interaction, and they use electronic screens rather than paper. They also use various devices at once, and they want everything accessible via their mobile.
And Tyler Cowen, writing for a special feature in The Wilson Quarterly about "The Future of the Book," touches on similar themes:

The arrival of virtually every new cultural medium has been greeted with the charge that it truncates attention spans and represents the beginning of cultural collapse—the novel (in the 18th century), the comic book, rock ‘n’ roll, television, and now the Web. In fact, there has never been a golden age of all-wise, all-attentive readers. But that’s not to say that nothing has changed. The mass migration of intellectual activity from print to the Web has brought one important development: We have begun paying more attention to information. Overall, that’s a big plus for the new world order.

It is easy to dismiss this cornucopia as information overload. We’ve all seen people scrolling with one hand through a BlackBerry while pecking out instant messages (IMs) on a laptop with the other and eyeing a television (I won’t say “watching”). But even though it is easy to see signs of overload in our busy lives, the reality is that most of us carefully regulate this massive inflow of information to create something uniquely suited to our particular interests and needs—a rich and highly personalized blend of cultural gleanings.

The word for this process is multitasking, but that makes it sound as if we’re all over the place. There is a deep coherence to how each of us pulls out a steady stream of information from disparate sources to feed our long-term interests. No matter how varied your topics of interest may appear to an outside observer, you’ll tailor an information stream related to the continuing “stories” you want in your life—say, Sichuan cooking, health care reform, Michael Jackson, and the stock market. With the help of the Web, you build broader intellectual narratives about the world. The apparent disorder of the information stream reflects not your incoherence but rather your depth and originality as an individual.

The "Establishment" in a Digital Era

The FT channels Clay Shirky (FT):

We have entered the Digital Age, but most of those in control in business, and indeed politics, are not digital natives. By the time they get to be the definitive boss, leaders are generally in their 50s. At that point in their life, they are unlikely to be ready to reinvent what they and their company do. “The Establishment” is just that – by nature, they are not dramatic reformers.

Unfortunately, a chief executive only a few years from retirement is hardly motivated to sack loyal colleagues to bring on board lots of teenagers to turn their company upside down. Psychologically, we are congenitally opposed to tearing down what we have helped create in order to build anew. Hence the status quo prevails, even if it is the demoralising task of managing decline with no salvation in sight. And so all efforts are applied to preservation in spite of a realisation that the economic model is broken – because no one is forcing the company in a new direction.

[...] If you have enjoyed the heyday of legacy media industries such as newspapers, magazines, radio or books, today’s tumbling sales, margins, profits, salaries and influence seem an unfolding tragedy. But lamenting change is like regretting the weather – futile and destructive. The only answer is to hire as many bright young things as you can afford and hope their dynamism will counteract the inevitable conservatism of an existing institution. [emphasis added]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power of Data Visualization

Last year NY Times Graphics Directer Steve Duenes answered a bunch of reader mail. Among many insightful bits, Duenes pulled out this email from Nicholas Kristof regarding the Gates Foundation and how Bill and Melinda settled on the idea of supporting public health initiatives. It makes for fascinating reading (NYT):

From: Nicholas Kristof Subject: the power of art

in september i traveled with bill gates to africa to look at his work fighting aids there. while setting the trip up, it emerged that his initial interest in giving pots of money to fight disease had arisen after he and melinda read a two-part series of articles i did on third world disease in January 1997. until then, their plan had been to give money mainly to get countries wired and full of computers.

bill and melinda recently reread those pieces, and said that it was the second piece in the series, about bad water and diarrhea killing millions of kids a year, that really got them thinking of public health. Great! I was really proud of this impact that my worldwide reporting and 3,500-word article had had. But then bill confessed that actually it wasn't the article itself that had grabbed him so much -- it was the graphic. It was just a two column, inside graphic, very simple, listing third world health problems and how many people they kill. but he remembered it after all those years and said that it was the single thing that got him redirected toward public health.

No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in africa and asia.

Business Schools Increasingly Focusing on Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship is gaining ground at business schools (WSJ):

This type of social entrepreneurship – that is, building a for-profit company with a social conscious or linked with a social cause – is becoming increasingly attractive to would-be business founders. The idea is to make money while either directly impacting consumers with its services or funneling a portion of profits to charities. Often, these companies employ people or source resources from economically depressed areas of the world that then also benefit from the charitable donations from the profits.

And with an increased interest in socially-responsible money-making, business schools have been pushed to create a whole host of courses and study tracks to help M.B.A. students sort out the best way to pull it off. Schools like University of Oxford, Cornell University and Dartmouth College have all seen increased demand for instruction in social entrepreneurship.

Some administrators say it's a generational progression of business-school students who have grown up more socially aware. Others say a lack of traditional jobs has spurred an interest in entrepreneurial ventures—and the focus on societal impact is partly a matter of trying to escape the stigma of the "greedy M.B.A."

"I think the interest in entrepreneurial ventures with social value [is about] more than the fact that people can't get jobs as easily," says Colin Mayer, dean of Oxford's Saïd Business School in the U.K. "There's also a sort of underlying sense of guilt about what happened during the crisis."

Obviously a company doesn't have to be a for profit enterprise to fall under the banner of social entrepreneurship. I also don't believe guilt from the financial crisis is much of a motivating factor. Social entrepreneurship's been on the rise for decades and has been a legitimate academic field for at least ten years. But the basic point that more schools are offering courses is very important. Traditionally social entrepreneurship has been taught in public administration departments with a focus on non-profit management, so it's definitely important to move to a broader conception and educational curriculum that reflects the true diversity of these entrepreneurs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A New Era of Rent-Seeking?

A couple of months ago the always awesome Michael Lewis wrote, in the voice of a Goldman Sachs executive (Bloomberg):

Every time we hear the phrase “the United States of Goldman Sachs” we shake our heads in wonder. Every ninth-grader knows that the U.S. government consists of three branches. Goldman owns just one of these outright; the second we simply rent, and the third we have no interest in at all. (Note there isn’t a single former Goldman employee on the Supreme Court.)

While GS won't be able to get anybody on the Court in time for this session, they are going to have an interest in what's being discussed (NYT):
The new Supreme Court term that begins Monday [October 5, 2009] will be dominated by cases concerning corporations, compensation and the financial markets that could signal the justices’ attitude toward regulatory constraints at a time of extraordinary government intervention in the economy.

The term will provide important hints, said Richard H. Pildes, a law professor at New York University, to “how much the worst economic crisis since the Depression is going to shape the court’s general stance toward markets and economic regulation.”

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Via @auerswald, this video is wonderful. And from @stevecase: Congrats!!! RT @wkamkwamba: I can't believe it. "Boy Who Harnessed Wind" just got into top 10 on Amazon

For those still unfamiliar with Twitter, "RT" simply stands for re-tweet. It is a way for people to forward something from another writer.

The Barefoot College is an amazing organization, but Mr. Kamkwamba was entrepreneurial enough to build a windmill with no training at all and seeing just a few pictures from a library book. It's an empowering story and Jon Stewart gets a great line in about half way through the interview. Mr. Kamkwamba gets the last laugh though. Do watch the whole video.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Extraordinaries

The Extraordinaries is a for-profit social enterprise micro-volunteering platform. If that is too confusing you can see the video below.

After months of anticipation and tons of press, the platform is now up and running. From a recent email, here's a rough sketch of what's already been accomplished:
14,000 image tags.
33 U.S. Senate votes tracked.
6 defibrillators mapped.
And counting...

You are doing extraordinary things. From helping track animal abuse cases, to helping Americorps Alumni compile congressional voting records, to helping Christel House bring words of encouragement to school children around the world, YOU are Being Extraordinary... and it's about to get even better!
There is a live feed of what is being accomplished at their site. The Extraordinaries are currently applying to become a B-corp, something we've talked about before. This is just another example of the enabling power of cell phones.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Assorted Links

  1. The NYT considers one proposal to give firms tax breaks if they hire new workers. Greg Mankiw's take seems to make the most sense, but also read Mark Thoma if you want to read someone who's in favor of the proposal.
  2. A great couple of sentences from Tim Kane (growthology): "And isn't a bigger deal whether we continue to mix the war on drugs with the war on terror? My guess is that we can win one of those wars, or lose both."
  3. A few more great sentences, this time from the ImmigrationProfBlog: "[A]ll six Nobel Prize winners announced so far this week are U.S. citizens. Here's something else you should know: Four of those winners were born outside the U.S. We should be particularly proud that these people did not go to Russia or Germany, but came here."
  4. Zoltan Acs on the Global Entrepreneurship Index.
  5. The Boston Globe profiles Iqbal Quadir, the founder of Grameenphone, Director of the Legatum Center at MIT, and co-editor of Innovations (via @auerswald).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Faculty

Some new faculty joined the School of Public Policy at GMU this year. I've included brief bios, from the most recent issue of Currents, below. The article has more info but you can also see their home pages.

William Schneider, a leading U.S. political commentator, is the Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. He is also the Cable News Network's senior political analyst and a contributing editor to National Journal and The Atlantic Monthly.

Michael V. Hayden is a Distinguished Visiting Professor with Mason’s School of Public Policy. He is a retired United States Air Force four-star general and former Director of the National Security Agency (1999-2005) and the Central Intelligence Agency (2006-2009).

Robert L. Deitz joins School of Public Policy as Distinguished Visiting Professor & CIA Officer-in-Residence. He was Senior Councillor to the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency between 2006 and 2009. Between 1998 and 2006 he was the General Counsel at the National Security Agency where he represented the NSA in all legal matters. Professor Deitz has also held positions as Acting General Counsel at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and as Acting Deputy General Counsel, Intelligence, at the Department of Defense. He began his career as a law clerk to the Honorable Justices Douglas, Stewart, and White of the United States Supreme Court. He has also been in private practice and was Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and to Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano during the Carter Administration.

Katrin Anacker joins School of Public Policy as an Assistant Professor. Her research interests are housing, housing and urban policy, race and public policy, real estate markets, statistical methods, qualitative methods, and research writing.

Todd Olmstead is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, where he conducts health services research and economic analyses, primarily in the field of addiction. His current research interests include the impact of substance abuse treatment on health services utilization, estimating the elasticities of demand for illicit drugs, and the cost-effectiveness of using computer-based therapies to treat drug addiction. In addition to his recent work in the field of addiction, Dr. Olmstead has published in the areas of intelligent transportation systems, highway safety, and administrative rulemaking.

The Evolving Textbook Market

Outside Innovation has a great post about
Just over a year ago, Nature Publishing Group's new Education Division quietly launched the Beta of a revolutionary idea: Replace expensive textbooks with a free collaborative learning space for science. went live in January, 2009 and has quickly become a magnet for serious students of genetics (the first field that Nature is addressing).
A follow-up post looks at how the founder, Vikram Savkar, identified the broken parts of the textbook market and how he seized the opportunity to redress them, when given the chance.

Charter Cities

William Easterly interviews Paul Romer. One bit from Romer (Aid Watch):
To understand how to alleviate poverty, we must understand growth and progress. Progress comes from new and better ideas. Ideas come in two flavors, technologies and rules. To foster growth and development, the world’s poorest residents need an opportunity to copy existing technologies and existing rules that are known to work well.