Five Moving Statements About Prison

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In Maya Schenwar's latest book, she discusses how prisons in the U.S. do incredible damage not just to prisoners but also to society due to the inhumane way in which prisoners are treated which leads to them being released back into a society where they are neither welcome nor familiar with, leading to high recidivism rates.

While the facts and figures speak for themselves, here are five strong literary statements by well-known historical figures and writers about the nature of prisons and what they do to people:

1. "It had long been true, and prisoners knew this better than anyone, that the poorer you were the more likely you were to end up in jail. This was not just because the poor committed more crimes. In fact, they did. The rich did not have to commit crimes to get what they wanted; the laws were on their side. But when the rich did commit crimes, they often were not prosecuted, and if they were they could get out on bail, hire clever lawyers, get better treatment from judges. Somehow, the jails ended up full of poor black people."

-- Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

2. "How feeble is all language to describe the horrors we inflict upon these wretches, whom we mason up in the cells of our prisons, and condemn to perpetual solitude in the very heart of our population."
 -- Herman Melville, Typee

3. "To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live without mirrors is to live without the self."

-- Margaret Atwood, Marrying the Hangman

4. "No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones."

--Nelson Mandela, A Long Walk to Freedom

5. "There are worse prisons than words."

-- Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind


Five Pieces of Evidence Proving That Women Make Better Business Leaders and Partners

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Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas' latest book argues for the need for more female partnerships in business. They dig deep to show how unfounded myths and shoddy social science has kept women from collaborating together for greater success.

Of course, there are bound to be many who may want to dismiss this sort of argument as "compensatory" or  being too "Yay! for women!" but not have any real substance, but the evidence speaks otherwise. So why not tackle this argument in the most male-centric corner of the economy: the entrepreneurial world? Here are five darn good (evidence-backed) reasons why women are taking the leading roles in independent and entrepreneurial business environments:

1. Women are better leaders. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman conducted extensive research on women in business and their findings are quite impressive: women build better teams; garner higher respect as leaders and managers and demonstrate better awareness of their actions and thinking. Two of the traits where women outscored men in the highest degree were in taking initiative and driving for results -- both of which have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.

2. Women deliver better company performance. A recent Dow Jones VentureSource report concluded that venture-backed companies with female senior executives were more likely to succeed than those companies with only men in charge. This finding was echoed by the SBA Office of Advocacy which reported that VC firms that invested in women-led businesses performed better than all men-led businesses.

3. Women are better money managers in the most volatile marketplace:tech. Female-led private tech companies achieve on average a 35% higher return on investment, and when venture-backed, bring in on an average a 12% higher revenue than male-owned tech companies according to research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation. Illuminate Ventures recently concluded their research showing that high-tech companies built by women are more capital-efficient than the norm and could achieve comparable early-year revenues as those companies run by men but using on average one-third less committed capital.

4. Women are becoming more prominent not just as builders but as wealthy investors.  Women angel investors account for just 22% of all investors but that's still a 50% jump ftp, 2011. Mary Quist-Newin's research at the The American College of Financial Services shows that not only that women represent more than 40% of all Americans with gross investable assets above $600,000 but also that 60% of high-net-worth women earned their own fortunes versus inheriting it and the rate of wealth-growth among women in the US is at twice the pace it is for men.

5. Many prominent men think women are the answer. There are many men who are looked up to as the business gurus to emulate but not many realize that these men have publicly stated that the nation's economic future rests mainly with women being at the helm. Warren Buffett feels women are the key to national prosperity while Vivek Wadhwa continues to argue that women entrepreneurs are the future of tech. Prominent male entrepreneurs and researchers such as John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio, or male-led firms such as Zenger/Folkman weren't seeking to do research to support the effectiveness of women in business, it's just where the data took them.

Is that enough "hard" evidence for you?


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.