Friday, June 26, 2015

Going Bold

I’m proficient in chess but no expert. Or maybe I’m not really proficient. Let’s just say I enjoy playing chess. I taught my son when he was little and it was one of the few games we have continued to enjoy together into his teen years.

When he was learning the rules I would help him, making my move and then working with him to outfox me. Once he became proficient he was on his own. For a long time I still usually won. The day he beat me was a happy one (really). The day he beat me twice in a row I doubled down. I got careful. It got personal. And after he beat me three times in a row I didn’t want to play for awhile.

There were a few years where we played very little. I would ask to play but he didn’t want to. He said I took way too long to make a move. I was slow because I was being careful. I plotted every move as if my life depended on it. Or at least my self-respect. The problem is that it didn’t make me any better of a player and it made the game less fun.

Then this past winter we went on vacation and over the long flight I suggested we play chess. It had been a long time - maybe six months since we last played. He was bored enough to say yes. And something changed for me. I got back in touch with the fact that it was only a game. I knew if I lost there would be another game. I also knew if I continued to plot and plod he would get annoyed (happens easily at 16) and it wouldn’t be as much fun. So I got bold. I worried less about defense. I worried less about all the what ifs.

We played many games. His crowning glory was getting me into checkmate in 4 moves. Mine was giving myself the freedom to fail. And in doing so I won more. We played more, I won more, and lost more, and we both had more fun.

I came home thinking this might be the lesson I took from vacation this year. To be bold. I’m over 50. What really do I have to lose? I want to do something for the greater good. My accomplishments are small but I’ve helped bend the arc in my own personal way. I don’t want to let other opportunities pass me by while I play defense. Against what? Failing? Being laughed at? Financial ruin? It’s time to let go of fear and be brave enough to be bold.

Robert Frost said “Freedom lies in being bold.” So does fun, and so does progress. We live in a time that needs bold ideas, bold people, bold moves. There was a time where perhaps caution was advisable. If I didn’t play my cards right I might lose the opportunity to try again. Today there are fewer opportunities to go big and so I will swing for the fences.

Next month is my birthday. My gift to myself will be the freedom to be bold - for all the right reasons. That, and to beat my son at another game of chess.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

To the men (and women) in the arena

My 16-year-old son David hobbled out the door on his way to a whitewater kayak competition. He made finals after competing in three events: downriver, slalom, and freestyle. I cheered him on from the shore back home he dragged himself off to bed shortly after dinner. But he was up and out again the next morning by 7 a.m. without complaint, even though he was limping on a sore foot that he had somehow injured on one of his runs and his hands were bandaged in an attempt to protect skin cracks that wont heal in the constant exposure to cold river water. Bowed but unbroken. Damaged but determined. I dont know if hell win today, and I dont really care. Im more proud of his dedication, his passion, and his dream than I am of how it all ends. And I recognize in my son a kindred spirit

We have different reasons for doing what we each do. He does what he does for fun. When I suggest more sleep, cross-training, or a better diet to help give him a more competitive edge, his 16-year old voice drops an octave and he says, Mom, dont make this not fun.”  

I get it. I started my business with the idea that it would be fun. And it mostly was (in some twisted way), though  eventually, for me, fun wasnt enough. At some point the concepts of meaning and legacy became more important motivating ideas. Thats when I decided to convert Walker to a social enterprise, committing a third of distributed profits and a minimum of 2% of revenues to community. It was also the beginning of reSET which is a nonprofit I started at about that same time to advance the social enterprise sector. And while running a business-or two-is still often fun,  it feels meaningful to have a more important goal to work toward.

The challenge of growing a business or rising up through a sport requires focus and a dogged, sometimes zombielike persistence. Teddy Roosevelt summed it up beautifully in a speech he gave 100 years ago:

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;

who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;

who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be
with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.

The first time I read this ode, it made me weep.  We had just tasted defeat at reSET, having failed to pass our package of social enterprise legislation for the second year in a row.  I felt played out. But anything worth doing is worth failing at again and again. So we picked ourselves up and started anew.  And that next year, we finally got our legislation passed. I know there are other fights out there. I know its more likely that Ill go down in the ring rather than retire, and  when I do there will no doubt be critics ready to point out the things  I could have done better. But Im ok with that, because Im proud to be in the game.

more on David and freestyle whitewater kayaking
David has now left again to compete in the National Team trials and a chance to go on to the Worlds.  I wish him  luck , but hes already a winner in my book, as are all the warriors for good -those who are willing to wake up every morning with aches and bruises and too little sleep, but ready to step into the arena and fight the good fight.

Heres to all the men and women in the arena!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Bonny's Dream

When do you tell a fun, talented, passionate, loyal employee who happens to have a rare and scary heart condition to take a hike?  When she asks for it!

Our own Bonny MacInnis is leaving us to hike 500 miles along the Appalachian Trail, raising awareness and funds for  Left Ventricular Noncompaction Cardiomyopathy (LVNC).

I’ve gotten to know Bonnie at Walker where she works on the on-call team supporting our clients and leading our community service team.  She is a generous, kind soul who laughs easily and often.  She’s the kind of employee that makes being boss easy:  She is appreciative, reliable, team-spirited, and always looking for ways to contribute.

Bonny found out she had LVNC a few years ago and after having a pacemaker implanted she lived in fear -  until she decided not to.  She hatched the idea for her hike as a way to raise awareness and funds for LVNC and to not let a disease define her.  This was the beginning of and Bonny’s dream.

She worked incredibly hard to get into shape for this hike, losing over 65 pounds and working out for a couple of hours before and after work.  On weekends she took practice hikes.  And planned her trip.  Now she’s ready to go.

We talk a lot about leadership at Walker, and at a recent gathering we agreed on several of the attributes of a true leader:


Bonnie has all of these.  

We wish her well!  

There’s an Irish blessing that comes to mind:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall softly upon your fields…
And might we add:
May the critters you meet be friendly and small
May your blisters heal without pain
May black fly season be over by now
And may your tent not leak in the rain
May you inspire us to wonder
As you wander the wood
What dreams we might reach for
If only we could!
But we can’t 
Someone has to work 
While you’re off
Wandering  the wilderness
But that’s ok
Go knowing we will miss you
And your warm, bright, kindly sass
And we’ll pray every day for our
Brave, Bonny Lass

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nancy P. Roberts Award

The Connecticut Council for Philanthropy presented the 2015 Nancy P. Roberts Award to THE WALKER GROUP. The award honors a grantmaking organization for demonstrated innovation in philanthropy.  This means a great deal to me as the founder and CEO.  We’re in the technology business so innovation is in our DNA and having started Walker almost 30 years ago I’ve seen my share of transformation:  Today we offer Internet Security Planning, Web and App design and other services that didn’t exist 30 years ago.  But the transformation that I’m by far and away the most proud of is our conversion to the social enterprise model.
I’m deeply grateful to the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy for the recognition that social enterprise is an innovation in philanthropy because it is every bit as much a new twist on philanthropy as it is a new twist on business - It’s a hybrid.  It’s an opportunity to harness the mission of philanthropy to the engine of commerce.   Mohamed Yunus, grandfather of microfinance once said “show me a problem and I’ll show you a business opportunity!”   
We are living in a world full of problems and opportunities and I’m thrilled that we’re waking up to the power we have as human beings to tap our creativity to help the world around us.  I’m thrilled that through Walker’s support of reSET we hare helping to launch the next generation of social entrepreneurs who will turn these problems into opportunities.  Supporting social enterprise is an investment in impact driven businesses who use profits as a means to greater good, because business is a very powerful force in our world today and it can be a force of great good!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Come check out the new digs

1429 Park Street - with plenty of free parking!
reSET has a new home at 1429 Park Street in Hartford.  Our entrepreneurs wanted more space for co-working, private offices, a media lab, a cafe, more programming, more access to mentors, experts, and funding to help launch and scale their businesses.  It will all happen here and with free parking to boot.   We’re a hop away from the Parkville Fastrack stop, it’s bike friendly, and near some great eateries!  It’s the perfect place for entrepreneurs of every stripe to call home.

Come visit!  Become a member!  Get involved!

  • If you’ve got an idea for a new business we want to hear from you!
  • If you’ve got skills or services that an entrepreneur needs we want to hear from you!
  • If you’ve got investment dollars, we want to hear from you!
  • If you just like the idea of using business to solve community problems, we want to hear from you!

Come visit!  Become a member!  Get involved!

We’d like to give a special shoutout to the Walker Group our founding partner, Connecticut Innovations, DECD, all of our sponsors and to our newest partner  The MetroHartford Alliance for helping to make this possible.

Our grand opening will be on June 18 starting at 4:30 so mark your calendars, or join us at any Open House Orientation on the  third Wednesday of every month at 4pm.

Check it out!  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Flat is where it's at!

Weve been looking for a Senior Vice President at reSET for some time now.  We needed someone to manage the day-to-day operations and oversee the talented work of the team thats in place, freeing me to concentrate on strategic development.

In the months of searching, a funny thing happened: The team stepped in, stepped up, and kept moving the ball forward. In the absence of a leader, they took the lead.

Program manager Rosie Gallant pulled in Ben Simmons-Telep to assist her in delivering the programs she leads, giving her bandwidth to start developing new programs. Ben didnt just step up and help with the existing work, he took on a whole new initiative - setting up an Internship program - and saw it take off. 

Ojala Naeem, who has been managing the day-to-day operations of our co-working space, took it upon herself to research several co-working spaces from here to Toronto. She then put together various space crawls and surveys to find out what local entrepreneurs are looking for and conducted an exhaustive search in the Hartford area for suitable spaces for us to relocate to.  We signed a lease earlier this week and will be open for business at our new location-where there will be easy, free parking-May 1 (more to come on that!).

James Woulfe, who was instrumental in helping us propel the nations most comprehensive social enterprise legislation through the Connecticut Senate and House of Representatives (while at the same time working his way through law school), began establishing the connections we need within the city to help entrepreneurs navigate through and connect with the resources they need to succeed.

And Joanne Donaghue continued to plug away at sowing the development seeds, applying for grants, and developing relationships that will support our efforts.

Meanwhile, the search continued. We interviewed many strong candidates. But as the days became weeks and weeks became months, the perfect match did not emerge. And then the reSet team approached me to suggest that perhaps we didnt really need to find a single leader. Perhaps, they ventured, they could lead together.

Yeah, butI felt the need for a right hand to take details off my plate. (My other important role is as CEO of The Walker Group, a large and growing technology services firm. Its my day job and takes at least half of my 80 hour week.) I dont have the time to not have strong leadership  I dont have time to take on that leadership role I explained. I wouldnt have to, they explained

And heres what happened: They created a tight-knit team that got the job done. They met among themselves to figure out what was needed and made it happen. They pulled me in for the high level discussions or when a tie-breaker was needed but for the most part they figured it out on their own. For my part, I found myself enjoying my time at reSET more than ever, because watching a well-oiled team at work is a thing of beauty, and because I was increasingly able to work at the strategic level that interests me and where I can add the most value. Theres respect and silliness, hard work and ping pong, planning and follow-through action. What were distinctly lacking is petty BS.  There is no whining, no games of one-upmanship, no grand-standing, no turf wars, and no passing the buck. The work is getting done. And then some.

So as of April 1 (no fooling) weve decided to forgo the position of Senior VP.  Instead we now have a team of directors who will blow you away:
  • Joanne Donaghue will continue as Director of Development
  • Rosie Gallant is now Programs Director
  • Ojala Naeem is now our Director of Operations
  • James Woulfe is our Director of Advocacy and External Affairs
And Ben Simmons-Telep -  our new Program Manager
When you next see one of these guys - congratulation them on their well-earned new roles. I am grateful and inspired to be working with them and excited to explore the possibilities of this flat, nimble organization thats trying to do so much for a community thats ready to rise.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Opposable minds want to thank David Brooks!

Opposable minds want to thank David Brooks for his editorial How to Leave a Mark editorial in the New York Times on January 27, 2015.  He talks about changing the way we do business by having “opposable minds: part profit-oriented and part purpose-oriented.”

I started one of these hybrids,  The Walker Group, a technology services firm, 30 years ago; it is  now one of the largest in Connecticut. I restructured it as a social enterprise in 2007.  Among other commitments, The Walker Group now  gives one third of any distributed profits to community, one third to employees, and one third to shareholders.  I also founded reSET ( to protect Walker’s status as a social enterprise and to promote this new business model.

Today reSET is the largest center for social enterprise in New England. It offers programs in social enterprise development, an investment fund to help startup social enterprise, co-working space, and other resources to help social entrepreneurs get the resources they need to start, grow, and flourish. Last year we awarded more than $50,000 in cash and prizes  to startup social entrepreneurs.  We also spearheaded  passage of the most comprehensive social enterprise legislation in the nation, which makes it easy for companies not only to establish themselves as a social enterprise but to protect that status in perpetuity if they want.  

For the skeptics who say we’re better served by having business focus only on the profits I suggest telling your kids the only thing in life that counts is grades.  Tell them nothing else matters and however you manage to get the A’s is fine so long as you get them.   Try that and let me know how it works out.  I’ll give you hint from the business world - Enron.

All market innovation is a response to a problem.  And while we can argue about the reasons for the number and depth of the problems we face today, nobody denies that we’ve got problems.  And when the problems confronting  a company, a country, or a species get big enough the only choice left is evolution or extinction.  Steady as she goes becomes less and less of a viable option. 

Alternative solutions are springing up but many require complicated, long term-fixes and cooperation from factions so dysfunctional they make the Hatfields and McCoy’s look like bosom buddies.  Social enterprise is different. To start a social enterprise you only need an idea and social entrepreneur who wants to bring it to life.  And a social entrepreneur is just someone who is looking to make a positive difference in the world and who is willing to build a business to help make that happen.  

We’re waking up to the fact that we can build a businesses to be  something more than a money making machine.  We can ask for a double or even triple bottom line; and while measuring social and environmental impact is tricky, it doesn’t make it any less important.  As Einstein wisely put it - Not everything that counts is countable.

And to those out there who say that the business of business is solely  to make money for shareholders, I say - “it’s a free market!  You have your goals, we have ours.  May the best business win.”   Increasingly, customers, employees, and investors are saying they want more than just a financial return.  They want to be part of the solution rather than a cog in someone else’s money making machine.

Social enterprises  are impact driven businesses with  a  purpose beyond profits.  Profits are important, but as a means to an end.  It’s like our health.  We work hard to stay healthy, not because health itself is nirvana, but because it enables us to do all the other fun/important/fulfilling stuff we do.

Will there be problems and abuses?  Of course.  Greenwashing is rampant - expect the same for goodwashing.  But when you get people talking the talk, then they’re increasingly inclined to start walking in the right direction.  It’s a start.

No single fix, no single model, no single law will solve every problem.  The road to equality for non-white, non-male people did not reach it’s desired goal with the passage of a law and the road ever since has  been fraught with speed bumps, detours, and highway robbers, but that’s how it works.  We start where we can and tweak as we go.   Martin Luther King taught us that the arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice.   Social enterprise helps bend the mighty arc of business toward something that better serves us all.

That’s evolution.  And it’s working.  Momentum is picking up.  If our social enterprise bill had passed the first year we introduced it just three years ago we would have been the 8th state to recognize this new business type.  When it passed just last year we were the 26th state to do so. That’s momentum. 

Business is arguably the most powerful force on the planet right now and through social enterprise it can be a force for great good.
The social entrepreneurs we see and serve at reSET are every age, from kids coming out of school who want to make a difference with their business degrees to encore entrepreneurs who have retired or been retired from traditional businesses and are looking to do something meaningful with the next chapter of their lives.  We also see a lot of women including mothers returning to the labor force after raising a family but not wanting to return to their old unfulfilling jobs.  This kind of entrepreneurship is not limited to young white men of means.  These are people of all stripes who are passionate about a particular social issue and who are willing to  work hard, using business as the engine for change.

At reSET we’re teaching people with a dream how to make it happen in Connecticut.   Other states have similar programs.  And soon this way of doing business will become less alternative and more mainstream.  

We tend to think that “business as usual” is how it has always been done and the way it must continue.   But business is culture and paradigms change over time - slavery was once acceptable business practice, as was child labor, as was firing airline stewardesses on their 30th birthday.  

Someday we’ll look back on the single-minded focus on profits that characterizes business  today and will regard that era with equal parts disbelief and dismay. Really?  Were we once so limited that our only tool for measuring success was money?  Thank god we evolved those opposable minds!!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year's Resolution Habit

How are you doing with those New Years resolutions?   If you’re struggling  or already defeated stop beating yourself up. Your lack of success may not be the result of a character flaw but simply a lack of understanding of how to build or break habits.  

Last year one of the most useful books I read was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  He explains the anatomy of habit, showing us where its secret power comes from and how you can use it to change your life.  Duhigg breaks down the anatomy of a habit into three simple steps:  Cue - the thing that triggers the habit (you’re frustrated); Routine - the thing you do (light up); and Reward - the result (ahhhh).  It’s simple and it’s very powerful.  

Once you understand the Cue, Routine, Reward recipe of any particular habit you can change a bad habit by identifying the Cue Routine Reward combo and  then while keeping the Cue and the Reward the same change the Routine (go for a walk).   To create a new habit you identify a new cue (you put your shoes on, the alarm goes off, you open the door, the clock strikes noon…) which will trigger the new routine (run, go to the gym, write) and supply a reward if the routine doesn’t provide it intrinsically.  Rinse and repeat.  Repetition creates habit and the more you repeat them the more likely you are to continue repeating them.  Simple and powerful.

Before reading this book I thought of habits mostly as something to kick through planning and willpower.  Every New Year’s I would choose one bad habit to kick for the year.  I’ve given up diet soda, sugar, caffeine, and meat for a year and felt pretty righteous for the exercise.  I tried a few times to add a new habit, like running, but that never worked.  The minute I failed once I let it go with a rush of  guilt and relief.  After reading The Power of Habit I was ready to try again but wasn’t sure where to begin.   I understood the theory but felt I needed some more practical help.

Then I read  Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.  His advice is to start small - so small it’s impossible not to succeed.  And one mini habit leads to another and before you know it you have a cascade of positive effects.

Here’s an example.  I get tremendous value from even a short meditation in the morning.  The reward is intrinsic.  The only trick for me is getting to the mat which is upstairs in a corner of the guest room.  When I’m downstairs in the morning sipping my cappuccino, writing in my journal, and reading the NY Times it just feels like too much effort.

Now I understand why.  According to Guise it’s simple resistance.  It’s  related to  Newton’s theory regarding objects at rest on the couch.  The trick is to make the first action as easy as possible so you become an object in motion.   So rather than thinking about heading upstairs to meditate I think about doing the laundry.  For some reason this does not create resistance for me - I like doing the laundry (I used to hate it but that’s another story).  But really the laundry is a ruse - it puts my body in motion.  And the laundry room is only a few steps from my mediation pillow.  It sounds stupid… but it works.

The other trick I learned from Guise is to make the new habit so simple as to be ridiculous not to do it.   I don’t require myself to sit for an hour, or even 10 minutes.  I simply commit to sit and welcome in the day with a moment of silence and a statement of gratitude.  If that’s all I do that’s great.  I feel good about fulfilling my commitment and that good feeling reinforces the habit loop.  But more times than not, once I sit I find myself drawn to the silence and a longer meditation ensues.

Guise explains that habit cues can be time based (I will run every day at 6am) or activity based (after I do laundry I meditate) which I prefer because it feels more organic, and makes it easier to link habits (laundry cues meditation cues  setting my clothes out for the day, cues getting dressed for a run, cues a run, cues hot shower…). 

In a recent conversation with friends we talked about the idea of New Years Resolutions.  We discovered that some of us make them, some of us don’t, some of us are planners, some of us aren’t, but all of us, regardless, have habits, routines that drive our days.  Some make us happy, some not, some are healthy, some not, some are conscious, some not.  These two books helped me understand the habits I already have and most importantly they gave me the tools to be the architect of my habits which, as it turns out is an incredibly powerful tool.

I have been cultivating the habit of gratitude for awhile but now I can make it more intentional, identifying the cues I want to use (when I sit, when I greet a friend, when I open a door), and defining the routine (simply acknowledging my gratitude in the moment).  The reward is intrinsic so that part is easy.   

Right now I’m feeling grateful to Guise and Duhigg for sharing their ideas with us.  

Happy New Year & Happy New Habits!