Impact Key to Parterships

January 3rd, 2010 by Admin

Originally posted in The Washington Times on December 30, 2009.

By Christopher Gergen and Aaaron K. Chatterji

The recent political wranglings in Washington over health care, financial regulation and the stimulus package often have devolved into simplified arguments over whether bigger government can improve health, economic and social outcomes. The more practical debate might be how to make government smarter and more effective in its cooperation with corporations, nonprofits and foundations to deliver social impact.

The public-private partnership model has taken hold across several areas of the government, including the U.S. Department of Education, creating tremendous potential for progress but also presenting new management challenges.

Take President Obama’s new initiatives to spur innovation in education, beginning with a $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund. The fund will distribute grants to start or expand research-based innovative programs to help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students. Individual schools or school districts can apply, but it’s expected that a chunk of the investment will go to entrepreneurial organizations that are partnering with school systems to provide high-quality intervention. There also is the condition that 20 percent of the amount is matched by a private-sector partner – increasing their commitment to education reform…(read more)

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Finding the Proper Scale

October 21st, 2009 by Admin


The U.S. Department of Education recently unveiled a $650 million fund to support innovation in America’s schools by supporting local programs with a track record of raising student achievement — as well as investing in programs that show promise.

The logic is simple…(read more)

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Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy

July 14th, 2009 by Admin

Some people consider Paul Graham‘s essays to be the “Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letters” of startups — a must read for all serious about doing well in the field. Having read some of those essays now, it would be hard to disagree. Graham speaks truth to the power of conventional wisdom and tells it like it is, from his personal success as a startup founder and from advising over 200 other founders through Y Combinator.

One particular essay that may convince you to take the leap is this one: Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy.

Granted, Paul Graham’s work is focused exclusively on the technology sector, but there are invaluable lessons for startups of all kinds in this essay library. Check it out for some great reading!

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Seek meaning, service in life

June 10th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, Wed., May 20, 2009

As millions of American students graduate from high schools and colleges in cap-and-gown ceremonies both solemn and festive this spring, perhaps now is a good time to reflect on their prospects for successful living and working. Of course, those entering the working world are doing so at a time of great uncertainty and financial distress, with tight employment and credit markets.

It’s possible, though, that the recession could be a fleeting concern compared to a more personal and lasting challenge they face: finding their moorings amid a sea of choices in a culture that sends them profoundly mixed messages. Decades ago, the life and career paths of the young largely were spelled out in advance, but today’s youth must forge their own path. That can be liberating and unnerving for young people without much basis for making such vital decisions.

Graduation speakers across the land already are dispensing lessons learned and wisdom earned. What have we learned in recent decades about how to live – about how to lead productive, successful, rewarding and fulfilling lives?

Fortunately, a lot.

Not long ago, a sea change swept through the field of psychology, flipping the focus from debilitating conditions and diseases (i.e., what makes people suffer) to happiness and success (i.e., what makes people thrive). The emergent “positive psychology,” led by such luminaries as Martin Seligman (author of “Authentic Happiness”) and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (author of “Flow”), resonates not only with new research on youth and adult development, but also with surveys of key factors leading to success in life (from books such as “Success Built to Last”) and studies of people in their twilight years reflecting on how they lived. It also gibes with ancient ideas of happiness dating back to Aristotle and his concept of “eudaimonia,” or a full flourishing of self through excellence and virtue.

One could synthesize this convergence of research and thinking with two key words: meaning and service. That is, find ways to have meaningful connections with and make significant contributions to others. Meaning and service.

Fortunately, there is evidence that the rising generations get this. Countless surveys have indicated they are civic- and service-minded, and that many are not only “life shoppers” – searching for a lifestyle that suits them – but seekers of meaning and connection as well as success and wealth.

Take, for example, two high school seniors who recently received AXA Achievement scholarships: Joshua Wortzel and Brittany Bergquist. Mr. Wortzel started the Garden of Giving, which grows and donates organic produce to local homeless shelters via a solar-powered greenhouse located at a Pennsylvania retirement home, with 20 students and 10 senior citizens running it. The project fosters intergenerational connections while serving homeless people and cultivating environmental stewardship in the community.

Ms. Bergquist started Cell Phones for Soldiers with her brother, Robbie, when they were 13 and 12, respectively. To date, they have raised almost $2 million and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers overseas. The project started when they were getting ready for school one morning and saw a TV report about an Army Reservist in Iraq who unknowingly racked up a cell phone bill of more than $7,600. Outraged, they ran upstairs, drained their piggy banks, hit up their friends at school for donations, and got to work. (continued…)

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Childhood dreams come true & transforming from CEO to educator

December 10th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Below are two columns we wrote for the Washington Times, one on how a social entrepreneur we interviewed for our book turned his childhood dreams into an enterprising anti-hunger initiative in our nation’s capital, and the other on how the CEO of H&R Block turned in his corner office for a chance to teach middle schoolers in the inner city—and found fulfillment in the process.

“Making the Impossible Possible,” Washington Times, July 30, 2008.

After watching Casablanca when he was 12, Robert Egger dreamed of owning “the greatest nightclub in the world.” He explains: “I wanted to be an agent of change for something profoundly huge and big and good, and I was going to use showbiz to get it.”

After high school, he pursued the dream by working in D.C.-area nightclubs and music venues, but life had other plans. While Mr. Egger was volunteering with a Georgetown church that was delivering food bought from Safeway to the homeless, he saw an opportunity: feeding the homeless with excess food from restaurants while also training the recipients for restaurant and catering jobs. For him, it was a “beautiful circle.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

“From Corner Office to Classroom,” Washington Times, October 22, 2008.

Former H&R Block Chief Executive Officer Thomas Bloch details his journey from the corner office to a Kansas City classroom in his new book, “Stand for the Best: What I Learned After Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner-City Charter School.”

The contrast is striking. H&R Block generates $4.4 billion in revenue annually through its nationwide network of about 13,000 company-owned and franchised offices. The company has served more than 400 million clients since 1955.
Mr. Bloch’s current organization, University Academy, a college preparatory public charter school, enrolls about 1,000 students – about 93 percent of whom qualify for the federal school lunch program, a common proxy for poverty – in kindergarten through grade 12 and has a budget of less than $10 million.

To view the entire blog, click here.

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New Developments to Watch

September 10th, 2008 by Admin

After a brief blogging respite and a busy summer, our work has reached a new stage of development that we wanted to share before going back to our regularly scheduled blog.  Among the highlights to note:


The Life Entrepreneurs Exercises  are now live on our web site.  These exercises, which track the flow of the book, are designed as a free personal and leadership development activity to help you lead an extraordinary life and maximize your impact at work or in your community activities.  When done comprehensively, this set of exercises leads to what we call an Entrepreneurial Life Plan (ELP).  [These exercises accompany the Life Entrepreneurs Personal Assessment, which is designed to provide you with an indication of how well your life currently matches with the framework outlined in the book. Taking this assessment is meant to be a reflective exercise that can help inform your current life path.]


We are now offering a number of exciting and dynamic workshops and webinars  for individuals and organizations interested in life entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial leadership at work.

We are also talking with networks of life and leadership coaches about embedding our frameworks into their coaching practices.  We are thrilled with this development since it will allow us to reach more people.  If you are an interested coach or interested in coaching, please contact us.

We are building out a national leadership development practice  for organizations interested in creating high-performance cultures by harnessing the power of entrepreneurial leadership. 


Finally, we continue to speak to student and professional groups across the country, and have recently established writing partnerships with Harvard Business Online , and the Washington Times.  We will be posting summaries of these columns and blogs on this blog, with links to the full articles on the respective sites.


As always, we look forward to hearing from you and continuing the conversation.


[Note that you must register on the site to access the Assessment and Exercises.  If you have previously registered, you will be prompted to log in.]

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18 Minutes

June 18th, 2008 by cgergen

18 minutes to give the talk of your life.  Go.  This is the challenge that speakers at the annual TED conference take on.  But these aren’t just your average speakers.  These are some of the most creative, path-breaking, life entrepreneurs on the planet ranging from Jane Goodall  to Bono to Stephen Hawking .  Started in 1984, the TED conference aspired to bring together leading thinkers from the three worlds of technology, entertainment, and design.  Today, the annual gathering attracts over 1,000 attendees to Long Beach, California who sign up well over a year in advance.  The format is relatively simple: over four days 50 people are invited to give their 18 minute talk.  


At TED’s main website one can check out over 200 of these talks under the theme of “ideas worth spreading.”  There are dozens worth watching but among my favorites are Amy Tan’s reflection on creativity and the powerful personal journey of Bill Strickland  rising up from inner-city Pittsburgh to create the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, one of the most successful and innovativejob placement programs in the country.  A reader of our blog also alerted us to Jill Taylor’s fascinating story.  A brain scientist who had a front row audience to her own stroke, Taylor lived to tell about it and is now driving her work in highly creative directions due to the enhanced activity of her right brain.


Let us know which ones are your favorites.  The only caution is that this is an addictive resource.  Though it may just be the inspiration to craft your own 18 minute story…

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Creating an Extraordinary Career Path

April 21st, 2008 by gvanourek

Lately we’ve been giving talks to students on college campuses.  The question arises: what does life entrepreneurship offer students as they plot their career paths?

Let’s start with the common traps that students fall into as they set out on their first jobs.  First, they walk a path that others have chosen.  Whether it’s to obtain their parents’ approval, gain the acceptance or admiration of their peers, or please a mentor, they set valiantly off on someone else’s career path and only later come to realize that it may not be right for them.  Sometimes years or decades down the road, they stop and wonder: How did I get here?  Why did I choose this path? 

Second, they stick with the first path they came upon.  They commit too soon.  They start telling all their family and friends about their respectable decision for a career path and then all of a sudden, they’re locked.  According to the late Peter Drucker, “The probability that the first choice you make is right for you is roughly one in a million.  If you decide that your first choice was the right one, chances are you are just plain lazy.”  Yet, some people dutifully continue marching down that path. 

Why is that?  To begin with, the switching costs are high.  We earn salary increases and promotions.  We develop expertise and a network.  We are needed in our roles and appreciated for our contributions.  Most importantly, we adopt the persona of our work, with our whole identity sometimes subsumed by what we happen to be doing (even if it’s the wrong thing).  

Third, we postpone happiness.  The common view one generation back was that work was something you did until around age 65, or earlier if you’re lucky, and then you retire and enjoy life.  So we sacrifice today to obtain happiness tomorrow.  Or we just take this brutal job today with these brutal hours “for our family” with the comforting notion that it’s only temporary and that we’ll pay our dues now and start doing what we want in five years, or ten, or…. The problem is that we get into the habit of postponing happiness and those glory days never appear.

These are common traps, but what to do about them?  What is needed is a psychological holding environment for career experimentation and change, recognizing that our path is likely to be winding and cutting ourselves a break for not having all the answers out of the gates. 

Sure we must choose wisely—and for the right reasons.  But when you’re twenty and in college and lacking much professional experience (if you have any at all), that’s hard to do.  So let’s posit that most of us won’t hit the jackpot and figure it all out right up front.  And that our career path—and life path—will be winding.  One of the themes we heard from the people we interviewed—all successful business and social entrepreneurs or leaders—was that their path made more sense looking back than it did looking forward.  Many were surprised by where their path took them.  None ended up in the exact position he or she envisioned way back when. 

That argues for building flexibility into our planning and thinking.  That’s what I mean by the right psychological holding environment.  We need to make decisions based on an elegant combination of what our head dictates makes sense and what our heart reveals to feel right.  Most important, I think, is the latter.  We need to evaluate with brutal honesty how things are working out—after giving it a fair shake—and listen to our gut without having overcommitted by adopting that work persona and subsuming our identity to the current job or our current role.  Does this feel right?  Am I leveraging my strengths and deploying my passions? Am I making meaningful contributions?  Through an iterative process of action and reflection—with a heavy dose of searching conversations with loved ones, friends, and mentors—we can begin to find our direction in life, the wide swath on the horizon that we can steer toward and feel like we are on a true path. 

Second, we must “own” our career path.  That begins with planning with our whole lives in mind, as Aristotle urged us to do, and discovering our core identity: What are our values?  What do we want in our relationships?  What will our legacy be?  News flash: career planning = life planning = career planning = life planning.  Our work and life must be integrated pursuits, grounded in a solid core identity that fits with who we really are and what direction we want to head with our lives—a choice that is ours to make (or delegate or duck). 

Owning it also means “managing up,” if we happen to have a boss, and specifying clearly what we’re hoping to do and learn, as well as remaining “switched on” to opportunities for advancement and growth.  That also means evaluating and tweaking our career path in an ongoing process.

If we are contemplating a career change, sometimes we fall victim to the assumption that we can think it through perfectly.  New research is indicating that we should instead “craft experiments,” taking action in small ways to gain valuable exposure to fields of interest before jumping in head-first.  When we’re ready, though, we must be willing to jump off the train we’re on in order to find a truer path.

Sometimes plotting an extraordinary career path means allowing ourselves to try things and see what happens.  Allowing ourselves to not have all the answers.  To go down a path and discover that it was a road to nowhere.  To take risks and be unconventional.  To listen to our inner muse.  It’s more art than science.  It’s a messy process.  But the price of not getting our hands dirty this way is too often a life of regret, a career path that’s respectable but not remarkable, productive but not true.  Which will you choose?

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Making the Jump

April 3rd, 2008 by cgergen

Figuring out when to make a jump out of a job (or career) is tough, but Ford Motor Company just sweetened the pot.

In an effort to entice workers to leave a company that was once a bastion of stable middle-class wages, Ford Motor Company is trying to lure thousands of workers to take a buy-out.   This includes college tuition plans for entire families or a cash payment of up to $140,000 (one of the most generous offers in the history of the auto industry).

As part of the effort, Ford distributed a feature-length DVD to each of its 54,000 hourly workers titled “Connecting with Your Future.”  In it, they encourage workers to take “the opportunity to try something new.”  According to a recent New York Times article, the DVD features multiple clips of former Ford workers who have started their own businesses or set out on their own after taking buyouts. 

One worker, Dale Beck, took a $100,000 buyout in 2006 and opened his own Little Caesars outlet in St. Louis, explaining: “I went from making cars to making pizzas, and it’s turned out pretty well for me.”

As workers like Dale contemplate their futures after Ford, they might be well served to ask a few important questions:

  • What’s important to me? (What are my values and passions?)
  • What are my needs (financial, emotional, social, etc.)?
  • What are my strengths? (What value can I add?)
  • Where are there opportunities that align with my values, fulfill my needs, and leverage my strengths?
  • How can I seize those opportunities?  (Who do I know, who do I need to know, how can I get in the door?)
  • What’s my game plan to make it happen?

In other words, what is my entrepreneurial life plan?

Stories like Dale’s are only likely to increase as we navigate today’s world of uncertainty, take bold leaps, and try to land on our feet.  That jump can be terrifying.  But, ultimately, if the appropriate tools and training resources are available, and the right questions are asked and answered in a supportive context, a brighter future can await for people willing to make the leap of faith.

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