Category Archives: Business, Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital

Waste hemp for cradle-to-cradle and biomimicry

Research shows that “Hemp fibres ‘better than graphene'”.    Scientists have made graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price – and with waste.   They “cooked” cannabis bark into carbon nanosheets and built supercapacitors, high-performance energy storage devices, which are “on a par with or better than graphene” – the industry gold standard.  Graphene is too expensive to produce, but “hempene” will not be.  A great illustration of cradleto-cradle design and looking to nature for answers.

Scientists presented their work at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco and have described the device in the journal ACS Nano.

The hemp is perfectly legal to grow. It has no THC in it at all, so there’s no overlap with any medical or recreational activities.

BBC: Hemp fibres ‘better than graphene’

 

The “Google Office” doesn’t always work

Open offices can be excellent environments for creativity and collaboration, but need to be complemented by work space where focus and critical thinking can take place, without distraction.

Home office workers know what that means.  It’s great to have a personalised flexible space to work in.  It is liberating and fresh and doesn’t dull the mind.  But if you can not wear “day clothes”, turn off the TV, leave the coffee machine alone, and avoid Facebook and YouTube, it can be very unproductive.

So, yes, brighten up the office and provide comfort zones and creativity and collaboration zones, but beware of a drop in productivity especially where diligent thinking is needed.

BloombergBusinessWeek: Too Distracted to Work: The Dark Side of Open Offices

Be a “B Corp” for sustainability.

BTC-BCorps-Ad“B Corps”, started in 2006, are a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

It aims to certify businesses that serve a globally responsible initiative.  If you care about sustainability, social equity, eco-energy, ethical business, saving the planet or things like that consider using companies on the B Corp roster or even getting your company certified as a B Corp.

Find out about B Corporation here.  It’s an international network.

 

There’s nothing wrong with hard work, unless …

Working hard is fine, and many people have to work hard just to get by, but whether it’s by choice or necessity when it makes you sick, stressed, stupid, off-balance and disengaged, the balance is wrong.

The Washington Post offers 5 reasons why you shouldn’t work too hard, at least from an American perspective.

What working like crazy and taking no time off really gets us:

1. Sick. Americans spend almost twice as much on health care per person than people in other advanced nations – paying out of pocket, while other countries pool resources — and we suffer more injuries and illnesses and die younger, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report.

2. Stressed. America may be the richest nation on earth, but the World Health Organization has found it is also the most anxious, with nearly one-third of all Americans likely to suffer from anxiety in their lifetime.

3. Stupid. In a study of brains using functional MRI technology, scientists at the Yale Stress Center have found that subjects who both lived through stressful events (and who hasn’t?) and felt stressed out had smaller brain volumes than less-stressed subjects in critical areas of the prefrontal cortex that govern thinking, planning, decision making, learning and remembering.

4. Off Balance. The United States ranks toward the bottom of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s work-life balance scale. And a growing number of Americans report feeling rushed, pressed for time, that they don’t spend enough time with their families, and at the end of the day, haven’t gotten to all the things they needed to do, much less wanted to do.

5. Disengaged. Gallup estimates that 70 percent of all workers are disengaged from their jobs, costing between $450-$550 billion each year in productivity. And although American productivity looks mighty in international comparisons, slice that productivity by hours worked, and the United States falls several rungs – in some years even below those countries whose workers stroll home in the evening after a shorter, more intense work day, stop by a café and take the entire month of August off. Off.

Well that would be a bit French.  Ha ha.

But seriously, jobs and work lives can be designed to be interesting, stimulating, enjoyable, educational, social as well as remunerative instead.  It must be possible, after all, “we can fly to the moon”.

Open management.

Being an advocate of open management systems, an article by Inc. Magazine: Why You Should Let Your Employees Do Whatever They Want, drew attention.

Caution, however, was raised by the tag line: “Focus and discipline are relics of 20th century business. Here’s what’s taking their place in the virtual, open source era”.  No, sadly, that would be foolish.

The author is focussed (see) on creativity, innovation and marketing, so the article’s tone is understandable.  But the message is garbled; “open source” is a reference to software used inappropriately in the sub-title.

Nevertheless, the essence of open management systems is captured when it says, “By letting your team do whatever they want, you’ll attract the best people with the best ideas.”

Yes, move to open management systems, but it is not an invitation to chaos and free loading.  Sometimes focus is important and discipline is welcome in any endeavour.

A minimum wage stimulates the economy?

I’ve always been against the hand of the state in private decisions and forcing a minimum wage is one of those interferences which has always grated.  However, in a world where technology is raising productivity and reducing the demand for labour there ought to be a popular desire for everyone to have the ability to work for a living.  And that means that if you work “full time” you can enjoy life.  Well that is not the case if you are on minimum wage.  In teh US, if you are on minimum wage you earn 36.0 percent below the poverty level and 62.7 percent less than median income.  That is destabilising as well as seeming immoral.

There is also a case to be made for a minimum wage for stimulating the economy because when people have spending money, they spend it and that boosts the economy.  And it is well known that distributions to people with less are spent, not saved, whereas rich people tend to hoard their capital.

It is a sad conundrum: We don’t really want to legislate a minimum wage, but if people aren’t getting a living wage even when they work full time and are employed by huge corporations, something has to be done to change it.

I can not afford to pay minimum wage for much of the work I do.  It would be nice to employ a professional on the farm but the yield from the land does not compensate for the wage cost because people want machine produced food shipped from far away instead of locally grown, clean, zero-carbon food.  So we scrape along, trying to protect nature and know that we can not afford to pay minimum wage.  But if a big agro-industrial conglomerate is employing people, it ought to be humane and that means above the poverty level.

We know the whole system is going to have to change because business sense says: “put in more machines, which are cheap and efficient and you own them”, while humane morality says “give people work on a living wage”, the supply of which is dwindling fast.  The gap between “have a lots” and everyone else is growing, but it should be shrinking.

Some truths from Barry Ritholtz in his article Taking a Closer Look at Fast Food Minimum Wages:

workersin publicprogrammes2014A full-time worker (40 hours a week) in the U.S. making minimum wage earns only $15,080 a year. For some context, median individual earnings are $40,404 a year (BLS), while the U.S. poverty level is $23,550 (HHS). Full-time minimum wage earners make 62.7 percent less than median income and are 36.0 percent below the poverty level. (The number you probably hear quoted most often is median household income at $51,017, according to the census. The minimum is 70.4 percent below that).

If the minimum wage had merely kept up with price inflation since 1968, it would currently be at $10.77. That is $22,401.60 per year, bringing wages closer to the poverty line. Beyond inflation, if it kept pace with productivity increases, it would be closer to $20 per hour; annual salary would be $41,600, higher than the U.S. median. And just for laughs, if the minimum wage kept up with the earnings of the top 1 percent, it would be higher than $22, or about $45,760.

What does all of this have to do with McDonald’s and Wal-Mart? Plenty. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year, net total public assistance to the fast-food industry is about $7 billion dollars. (This does not include future medical costs associated with diabetes or heart disease). If the minimum wage were suddenly raised to $15, it would drive fast-food prices 25 percent higher, adding a $1 to the cost of a Big Mac.

As the accompanying chart shows, employees of the industry receive more taxpayer aid than any other sector.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Making the Economic Case for More Than the Minimum Wage

Winning without trying.

Sun Tzu’s philosophy was to avoid conflict if possible.  He recognised the waste of resources and the cost of the risk that aggression creates.  Many modern managers think that he was all about fighting, but his philosophy was much ore about fighting without fighting, as Bruce Lee said, and if you have to fight, do so with the least cost and greatest chance of victory.  Sound like common sense, right?  Yet business culture has yet to understand the logic.

Deepak Chopra presents the philosophy with a more spiritual perspective in The Law of Least Action.  The insight shared is that universal laws of nature underpin the behaviour of everything from atoms to planets, and even humans in between.  While the busy manager or professional might have been taught a military discipline of focussing on objectives, following procedures and getting things done, the reality is that pushing against the universe results in wasted efforts and, often, failure.  That is not to say, “Sit on your hands”, but rather to be aware of situational dynamics that are signals to alter strategy or tactics.

Read Chopra’s article for the scientific logic.  Here are his tips for implementing it.

Tips for promoting least action:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Promote an open environment for the exchange of ideas
  • Allow free communication at every level of work and management
  • Support the whole group emotionally
  • Ask for honest feedback
  • Make every worker feel valued

Tips for getting out of the way:

  • Stop using undue pressure
  • Don’t promote stress as an incentive
  • Don’t use intimidation
  • Don’t isolate management from workers
  • Let go of old, familiar ways of doing things

 

Listen to your gut.

It’s not always what you want and it’s not always right, BUT it is at least as good as your head when it comes to emotional response and relationships, and life is all about relationships.

A study on gut-feeling as it relates to the longevity of matrimonial relationships indicates that it is a better predictor than a person’s rationale.  (BBC: ‘Love-test’ identifies newly-weds true feelings)  The study focussed on marriage, but has direct implications for work and business, since their success are also founded on the comfort of relationships, whether that be with boss, customer, supplier, banker, advisor or colleague and so on.

So don’t discount emotional sensitivity in your quest for success.

Make the new CEO an intern first.

This sounds like a really good idea.   “Experience matters? The Impact of Prior CEO Experience on Firm Performance” discusses research by Monika Hamori of the IE Business School in Spain and Burack Koyuncu of the NEOMA Business School in France which indicates that “past performance is not an indicator of future success”.  That sounds like the waiver in most financial documents, and good advice.

Their suggestion on how to ensure that a new CEO hits the ground running is smart.  They suggest putting CEOs with prior experience in an interim position for at least a year before they take on the full CEO role. This, they say, would enable them to acquire company-specific knowledge and also to “unlearn” some of the assumptions about the job.

Forbes: For CEOs Past Performance Is No Guarantee Of Future Success by Roger Trapp

The power of emotional intelligence in a cognitive world.

Breathe to focus.

It sounds simple, even foolish, but it’s not.

Daniel Goleman recently gave a presentation on his new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, which was reviewed by IMD.   Goleman explains why attention is a little-noticed mental asset that makes a huge difference in how well we find our way in our personal lives, our careers, as parents and partners, and in virtually everything we do.

In the business environment, mastering focus is crucial. And there’s a simple mind exercise we can all do to improve our focusing ability. Simply close your eyes, relax and breathe calmly. Listen to yourself breathe, over and over. And slowly, as your mind starts to drift to a foreign thought, stop it and bring it back to focusing on just the breathing. Over time, the exercise will expand your focusing ability.

“The brain captures and records everything we do in life and makes a mental recording of what works and what doesn’t,” said Goleman. “All decisions that we make are related to these recordings. By engaging in the mind exercise, you work on your cognitive control, keeping the mind focused on a goal, while forcing out distractions.”