Five Reasons for Optimism

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Everywhere you look, there is calamity and tragedy, and that is mostly because the media likes to focus on negatives. However, as Jurriaan Kamp shows in his latest book, there are plenty of reasons to actually be optimistic about the future. This is not foolish, blind optimism that overlooks the real concerns of our current situation, but the intelligent optimism that sees greater potential for good than bad in the long run.

To illustrate the point, here are five negative statements you probably considered to be facts but which are in direct opposition to the positive truth:

1. The global population is not growing out of control.
There have been cataclysmic prophecies and even books dedicated to how current population growth is out of control. Actually, this is not true at all. The average number of children per woman has been declining rapidly for decades. According to official UN data, the average number of children per woman worldwide for the period 1965 to 1970 was 4.85. Yet 40 years later, for the period of 2005 to 2010, that number dropped nearly 50% to 2.52. And the numbers continue to decline. Most experts predict that global population will level out by about 2100 at around 10 billion and may even decrease after that. And if we use our resources wisely, we can easily support that number of people.

2. Our dependence on coal, gas, and oil will destroy us (and the planet).
it certainly seems this way but only because major business interests and corporations rely on fossil fuels for their profit margins. However, as new trends become increasingly difficult to ignore, alternatives are popping up on the horizon. There are already many ways in which solar energy has been made cheaper. In Europe, solar energy is as cheap as grid electricity, and it is only going to get cheaper. Plus, there are many other resources we have not even begun to explore that hold a lot of promise. We have more resources than we think (or know).

3. Electronic media and mediums are detaching us from "the real world."
It's easy to assume that because we see people walking down the street staring into their phones that we are growing detached from people, but we are in fact connecting more meaningfully and more widely than ever before. Instant communication at almost no cost regardless of geographic location or time means that everyone is connected to everyone else and ideas and conversations move freely between continents in real time. Think about how connected you were to your family and friends before email and the internet took off (unless you were lucky enough to be born within the last two decades), and how connected you are now. Case closed.

4. Power is being centralized and growing larger in the hands of the elite.
Power has always been in the hands of the elite, and yes, it has grown, but a big part of the argument is what constitutes power? Is it material or economic clout or is it knowledge and information? The most powerful people and organizations can be taken down by a single person with a cheap cel phone. We live in an age where almost everyone has access to the technology that makes them a citizen journalist. This means that things that could once be hidden or kept in secret can no longer be and revolutions and injustices can be recorded and displayed to the world in color, with sound, and in real time. It's not that power and injustice is growing, it's just that now, we are more aware of it than ever before because of our access to information.

5. Violence and crime continues to grow globally.
Violent crime rates have been dropping dramatically for 20 years. Official U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that violent crime rates of 2010 were 1/3 the rates of 1994. Other countries are experiencing a similar decline. Consider also that just centuries ago, rape and pillaging were considered the natural spoils of war. War atrocities were once the norm, where today they are prosecuted in international courts. We are not only becoming less violent, we are stating unequivocally that we will not tolerate it, either.

Eight Reasons Why B Corps Are Superior to Other More Traditional Sustainable Businesses

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The B Corp Handbook lays out the plan for how anyone can create a better company that serves everyone (and the environment) with the highest levels of ethics and integrity -- a recipe for true profitability in every sense for every entity.

But what makes B Corps better than even other sustainability-touting businesses? Extensive research across the world into B Corp practices (and requirements) resulted in the following eight findings which prove the benefits that B Corps create for their communities and themselves over other such businesses:

1. B Corps are 68% more likely to donate at least 10% of their profits to charity.

2. More than half (55%) of all B Corps are more likely to cover at least a part of their employees' health insurance plans.

3. One-site renewable energy is more likely to be used by 47% of all B Corps.

4. B Corps are 45% more likely to give bonuses to non-executive employees.

5. B Corps favor suppliers from low-income communities and 18% of them are more likely to use such suppliers.

6.  Women and minorities are 28% more likely to be in management positions in B Corps.

7.  B Corps are four times more likely to afford professional development opportunities for their employees.

8. B Corps are over twice as likely to give employees at least 20 hours per year paid time off to volunteer in their communities.

Keep in mind that these differentiations are not between B Corps and "regular" companies, but B Corps and other businesses that self-identify as sustainable or socially conscious. It's a higher standard within the higher standard.


Three Ways to Fight Poverty That Don't

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Jeffrey Ashe's latest book delves into how savings groups are the answer for impoverished regions to get back in control of their own finances and expenditures and therefore become truly independent.

But do we really need another poverty alleviation method? Don't the ones we have already work? Unfortunately, no, they don't. Below, Jeffrey highlights the three most popular methods currently in use, and why they are so ineffective:

1. Donations and Charities: In principle these are good things -- money with "no strings attached" that is given to those in need so that they can secure food and shelter and other necessities. The problem, however, is that donations only secure an environment of dependability where people are not self-sufficient but completely dependent on the support of others. Given how charities boom and bust these days, there is no guarantee that money will always flow to those needy hands, and the consequences can be dire.

2. Microfinance: Another idea that in principle was actually quite brilliant but in practice was not as effective. Micro lenders need to make a profit on their loans and when they are loaning such small amounts, the profit margins are even thinner unless they charge a heftier interest. (A 10% interest on a $5000 loan is appealing, but a 10% interest on a $50 loan is a lot less so.) So interest rates are higher and lenders can often be ruthless about collecting payment or penalizing people for delays, and all this does is put borrowers in debt to the tune of many times more than the amount they initially borrowed.

3. Business Enterprise/Entrepreneurial Ventures: Introducing entrepreneurial techniques to those in need is certainly one way to make them self-sufficient and in control of their own financial destiny but there are two problems with such programs: (a) Entrepreneurial ventures fail more often than they succeed -- even in the developed nations the failure rate for new enterprises is over 70% within the first two years, but in this case, you are dealing with a demographic who stand to lose a lot more if their startup fails; and (b) resources are limited as are potential revenue-generators in many rural areas, which means one person could generate a decent income producing handicrafts and beads for export, but given the lack of other options, now twenty or thirty people will also have to compete with one another to sell handicrafts to the same markets. This benefits no one.

With savings groups, the money is kept within the group, and all stakeholders have an equal share and equal responsibility and reason for maintaining the savings, so there is no competition and no outsider trying to collect. That is why savings groups triumph where others have failed.


Five Methods of Motivation That Don't Work

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Susan Fowler's latest book is all about how to do motivation right. The problem, as Susan points out, is that we've been going about motivation entirely the wrong way with the carrot-and-stick metaphor when in fact research has shown us that there are far more effective methodologies.

Susan describes below five "traditional" methods of motivation that are still widely used today -- and why they are deeply ineffective.

1    1. Verbal  Cheerleading. "You can do it! Keep up the effort! Give me just one more!" Recent research finds that coaches who verbally encourage people in training sessions are significantly less effective than quiet coaches. The verbal encouragement generates external pressure, diminishing people's sense of autonomy and internal fortitude. Whether coaching athletes or individuals in the workplace, your cheerleading may be undermining your good intentions.

2     2. Competitions. Setting up a competitive situation to “motivate” people begs the question—why are people competing?  People’s creativity, innovation, and long-term productivity suffer when they are competing to beat someone else, gain power and status, win an award, or receive an incentive compared to competing as a means to learn, gain experience, and obtain insight into development needs. Most competitions generate external pressure that ultimately defeats people and undermines long-term skill building and sustained high performance.

3    3. Imposing values. The most well-intentioned and values-based leaders often do this: Through their own sense of purpose and passion, they unwittingly impose their values on others. It doesn't matter how noble your values may be, if you impose them on people you run the risk of eroding people’s sense of autonomy and the opportunity for them to explore their own reasons for acting.

4    4. Incentivizing. Despite compelling research on the undermining effects of rewards and incentives to positively affect and sustain behavior, leaders and organizations still use this technique as a way of motivating people. Here's the problem: People are always motivated. The question is why. Giving people an incentive to motivate them is akin to feeding them junk food. The initial energy spike quickly falls and so does the quality of people’s motivation.

5    5. Praising. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you praise people as a means of “motivating” them, it often has the same implications as an incentive or a reward—externalizing the reason people take action (to please you)! Focus on providing pure informational feedback, trusting people to evaluate their own performance. (Don’t confuse praising with sharing your gratitude. A heartfelt expression of thanks is always appropriate.)


Three Good Reasons Not to Be Selfless (and Three Better Reasons to Be Selfless Anyway)

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In Seth Adam Smith's latest book, he talks about the value of selflessness in a world that is focused on pleasing only the self. There are other books like this but none with the humor and frank confessions found in Seth's writing (not to mention his thoroughly imperfect and anything but holier -than-thou persona).

Being selfless is a pain. Why do it? Seth presents below three good reasons why you shouldn't bother being selfless. Then he goes and ruins his own arguments by saying why there are three better reasons to be selfless:

#1 - Nobody Notices Selflessness: Turn on the television or surf through the internet and it’s painfully obvious that the world cares WAAAAY more about selfish, egotistical people than people who are trying to make a positive difference in the world. (Small example, Justin Bieber has fifty-four MILLION Twitter followers. Whereas the Twitter account for Malala Yousafzai’s Fund to help girls go to school has just a fraction of that).

A Better Reason to Do It Anyway: But are we in it for the glory and praise? Or are we in it to make a positive difference? Acts of selflessness might fly under the radar of the public eye, but they often change lives for the better. And anyway, the idea of being "selfless" kinda argues against the need for recognition and adoration (otherwise it wouldn't be selfless, would it?) Besides, within a few short years, the name and fame of selfish celebrities will fade. In contrast, the light and influence of truly selfless people will continue to grow stronger and brighter with time.

#2 - I’m An Introvert: Selflessness requires you to, you know, deal with people and being around...others. I hear ya. I’m a pretty serious introvert myself and social events often drain me of energy. Whenever I’m approached by extroverts (who always seem to have really, really big teeth) they seem to believe that it is their mission in life to rescue me from my solitary (yet voluntary) confinement.

A Better Reason to Do It Anyway: But I’ve learned that being selfless doesn’t mean ignoring my natural need for space and introspection. It simply means that I consciously allow room in my heart for others, because true happiness is found with others. I've learned that our joy in life is inexorably determined by the degree to which we love, so it's not a matter of losing your own space, just creating more space for others.

#3: Selflessness is a Loss - Self-sacrifice and giving is very draining -- both physically and mentally (not to mention emotionally). When you keep giving selflessly, the result is often a jaded soul that can be cynical and depressed with all it has seen.

A Better Reason to Do It Anyway: Actually, there's another side to this argument. Have you noticed that some of the best things in your life come to you because of your willingness to give time and energy to others (love, marriage, family, friends)? In a paradoxical way, selflessness—giving healthy levels of time and energy to others— is the best way to serve yourself.

And now, a message from my dear friend Ron Swanson on how to give to others.


Five Terrible Names for Products (and What They Could Have Named Them Instead)

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In Alexandra Watkins' latest book, Hello My Name Is Awesome, she talks about the various qualities that good product and business names should have and also what pitfalls to avoid.

Every year, corporations and individuals spend a lot of time and money creating names for themselves and their products, and every year, despite their best efforts, many of them arrive at names that are, well, terrible.

Of course, some products and companies have become successful despite having a troublesome name. (But to Watkins’ point, why would you want to start there?) Here are five awful product names and what Alexandra would have named them instead.

1. Iams
Named after its founder, Paul Iams, the uninviting name of this super premium pet food fails to evoke anything about caring for our beloved pets. It’s difficult to pronounce and hardly cute and cuddly. Plus it sounds like it tastes terrible. Thank goodness pets can’t read.

Better Name: VET’S PET
Iams products are distributed through veterinarians. When you’re at the vet, you want to know what he feeds his or her pet. That’s why a simple name like Vet’s Pet works. It evokes “this is the doctor’s choice for your dog or cat,” in a friendly and approachable way.

2. e.p.t.
When it was introduced in 1978, e.p.t. was the first early pregnancy test. Now 38 years later, competitors abound. While the brand is well-known thanks to quality products and millions spent on advertising, the name is makes no emotional connection with most women in their child-bearing years.

Better Name: MAYBE, BABY
The uncertainty of not knowing if you’re pregnant is a nail biter. A friendly, love-at-first-sight name like “Maybe, Baby,” makes a woman smile, and reduces her anxiety level. The name is lyrical, fun to say, and would incite “just in case” impulse purchases and wedding shower gifts.

3. Salonpas
This name sounds more like a fancy French hair salon than a pain relief patch. Like many bad names, it’s a loose amalgamation of two words (Salicylate + pass), which is completely lost on us. Plus, for a powerful product, the name is way too feminine and could turn off the tough guys who need it most.

Better Name: SMACKDOWN
You smack on the patch and it smacks down your pain. This name brings a smile, which is a pain reliever in itself. Big companies are terrified of names like this because they (pardon the pun) are outside the comfort zone. Yet fun names are the ones we love to Instagram.

4. Massage Envy
I’ve had massages in Bali, Fiji and Thailand. Now that’s something to envy. But an “affordable massage” in a shopping mall? Not so much. Massage Envy sounds awkward and would have made more sense as Envy Massage. I suspect the domain name was available for $9.95, which is never a good reason to pounce on a name.

A gentle transition from the current name (often recommended for a name change), Massage Well is a much deeper name. “Well” has a double meaning – “we massage well,” and “we’re committed to your wellness.” Plus men wouldn’t be embarrassed to go there.

5. Planter’s NUT-rition
This silly and misleading name drives me nuts. They have wrecked a perfectly good word to make a perfectly bad word. Worse, the name (and green packaging) evoke that nuts are good for you. Sure, in small quantities. But even a single serving packet has a whopping 17 grams of fat, 6 more than a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

Better Name: GO NUTS
Planters is trying to align their brand with a healthy lifestyle. So for people on the move looking for energy sustaining snacks, Go Nuts, makes sense. The name is fun, doesn’t make claims or trick consumers into thinking this is something healthy you should eat by the handful in front of the TV.    


Five Fascinating Historical Meetings

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In their latest book, Dick and Emily Axelrod tackle the topic of meetings and how to make them meaningful and productive instead of the time-wasting, soul-sucking chores they can become.

In celebration of meetings that had great impact, here are five such events that stand out in modern history:

1. Pope John Paul II and Mehmet Ali Agca: the meeting that demonstrated the power of forgiveness.
In 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group shot and wounded Pope John Paul II. On Decenber 27, 1983, the Pope visited Agca in prison and they became friends. The Pope also connected with Agca's family. In 2005, when Pope John Paul II died, Agca begged and pleaded to be given leave to attend the Pope's funeral but was refused. This friendship that resulted from this meeting best demonstrates the healing power of forgiveness and faith. Agca's brother reported that when the Pope died, the entire family remained in mourning.

2. Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito: the meeting that demonstrated how full personal accountability can change the course of a nation.
On December 27, 1945, MacArthur met with Japan's emperor in Tokyo following Japan's surrender. MacArthur thought that the emperor may deny wrongdoing but instead, Hirohito stated that he took full responsibility for all actions and decisions made by Japanese forces during the war and that he would readily accept whatever judgment given to him by the allied forces with no debate. MacArthur, who at that point had been under pressure from the Russians and the British to punish Hirohito severely for war crimes, decided that the emperor was a man of honor and that rebuilding Japan would be much easier if they let him remain as ruler (but not a Shinto deity). Hirohito was a man of science and took this opportunity of clemency to help Japan rebuild by focusing the nation on modernization and technology.

3. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant: the meeting that demonstrated how even opponents  should always be treated with respect.
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee met with General Grant  at Appotomattox Court House in Virgina to formally surrender and put an end to the bloodiest conflict in US history. During their conversation, they realized that they had met previously -- when fighting for the same side in Mexico. Lee informed Grant that his men owned their horses and asked that they be allowed to keep them, which Grant agreed to. After signing the surrender letter and as Lee began to leave the courthouse, Grant -- the victor -- raised his hat and formally saluted Lee (a salute which Lee dutifully returned). Grant then sent thousands of pounds of rations for Lee's men who had not eaten in several days.

4. Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov: the meeting that demonstrated how we can overcome political and idealogical borders.
On July 17, 1975, astronauts Thomas Stafford of the United States Apollo mission and Alexei Leonov of the (then) USSR Space Program met and shook hands through the open hatch of the Soyuz space station and then linked with one another for almost two whole days. During this time, crew members visited each other's ships, ate together, and spoke at length. When they parted, they gifted one another seeds of indigenous plants from their individual countries. This may just seem like a sweet story now, but at that time with the Cold War paranoia that had each nation fearing an immediate nuclear strike from the other at any moment, this was considered outright crazy.

5. Edwin Booth and Abraham Lincoln: the meeting that demonstrated that our lives operate by sheer random chaos or that there is an ominous pattern to everything well beyond our comprehension.
Everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. What is less known but is still a fact is that John's brother, Edwin, saved Lincoln's eldest son's life just one year before. Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was waiting at a train platform to buy passage on sleeping cars. As the train began to move unexpectedly, Lincoln lost his footing and started slipping on to the rails. Edwin Booth immediately reached out and grabbed Lincoln by the collar and pulled him to safety. Edwin Booth was a very well-known Shakespearan actor and so Lincoln recognized him immediately. Booth had no idea of the identity of the man he had just saved,