Last week I had the chance to interview a number of biologists about their work. All of them expressed enthusiasm and passion for their work. And all of them explained that the worst part of their jobs was the funding process. I took some time and looked into this further, and found that this is a pervasive problem. We have many brilliant scientists who have a tough time making a living and remaining joyful about their work because of the tedious, broken, and inefficient funding system in place and the stress it causes.
Platforms like Patreon are great. Merchandise sales are helpful. I use both these outlets to support work that’s important to me, science included. However, the sustainability of these efforts and their ability to support the goal of scientists to be compensated in proportion to the importance of their vital work seems questionable.
So what’s a scientist to do?
That’s the question I’m attempting to answer with the concept for a new product development company that I hope to start when I finish my Masters in biomimicry. I have a BA in Economics and History, an MBA, and a 20-year career in business and product development. Why am I getting this degree in science? Because I believe that all these aspects need to be combined for the sustainability and health of the planet. And as a happy consequence, I want to employ talented scientists in that endeavor so that their research is more widely applied and they are able to generate an income with benefits that helps them live a good quality of life outside of the drudgery of the ever-more-competitive funding cycles.
I understand that this is a very tall order. That it will take a huge amount of work and time to get this right. But I think I can do it, and I’m going to try for all our sakes.
This week is perfect for establishing goals. This week I’ve been writing a business plan that uses science and biomimicry as a basis to develop sustainable products, systems, and processes while helping at-risk youth, reducing recidivism, and providing training and jobs to people with low incomes. I’m working hard to roll everything I love into one endeavor without compromising and helping as many people as possible. You’d think I’d be scared to start my own company again, to try my hand at entrepreneurship knowing how hard it is and having suffered my fair share of hard knocks the last time. But I’m not. I’m not afraid at all. On the contrary, nothing fills me with more hope.
I gave the keynote address today at our company meeting of our clients.
My message: care for your team members, clients, and partners as people first and employees second. Watch how your business transforms from being transaction-based to relationship-based.
Leadership as service and heart-centered is the most potent superpower I know in the world of business. And yes, that is 100% THE hill I will live, work, and die on.
(Hat tip to Bob Giampietro who first said those words to me 11 years ago. They changed my life and career, and I’ve never looked back.)
“It’s business, not personal” is BS. Businesses are made of people; they’re inherently personal. I recently got very emotional over a business issue because I care. Some people took issue with that. I’d do it again. Leaders need to see their team members as people first, employees second.
Being a heart-centered, empathic leader is what helps teams grow healthy and strong. Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers who will take care of your investors and shareholders. It’s that simple—give a damn and show it through your actions and words.
Some news. Shark mucus sounds like an odd inspiration. Stay with me. After the podcast Ologies released its shark episode, I re-examined biomimicry as a way to marry my product development, business, and storytelling experience with my love for science. I owe host Alie Ward and Chris Lowe, who was the shark expert on the episode a million thanks. Here’s why:
I always loved science and actually started college in the engineering school. After a professor told me I didn’t “have a mind of physics”, I believed him and left all my dreams of working in science behind. I changed majors entirely and have always wondered what might have been if I hadn’t let this professor get into my head.
Fast forward a number of years. I’ve continued to learn about science and its applications. Over the years, I’ve thought about different ways that I could have a career that combined science with all my other experience & interests. Enter Ologies and sharks…
Shark mucus acts as a built-in antibiotic bandaid that allows sharks to rapidly heal. This may contribute to their long life spans of – wait for it – up to 470 yrs! We should apply this to our own medical research, right? We do! In the field of biomimicry.
Biomimicry is an applied science field in which the wisdom of the natural world plants and animals is studied and applied to the human-built world of products & environments in a sustainable way that benefits all beings.
After some research, I learned there’s a Masters of Science in Biomimicry through Arizona State University Biomimicry 3.8 that’s a dream program. Multidisciplinary, online, created for working professionals, and with a travel research cohort component. Best of all, it leverages ALL my prior experience.
I’ve been a fan of Janine Benyus‘s work since reading about her 10 yrs ago. She founded this program. It’s exciting how much the field has grown & how vital it will be to use design + business + science to build a better world for all beings as we grapple w/our changing planet.
I’m now in application and scholarship hunting mode, hoping to begin the program in 2019. Finding the work we’re meant to do is a long and winding road. I hope my story inspires you to stay curious and to keep reaching for a life fueled by passion and goodness. The world needs us.
About two years ago, I went to the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit. It was a gathering of about 150 arts professionals, hosted by Yo-Yo Ma, and focused on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. I was one of the only people there who had worked in an industry other than the arts, and one of exactly two people who had an MBA. Several people asked me why I ever thought about pairing my artistic interest with business training. I told them that art and business are equal partners, not adversaries. In an artistic organization, you need business skills just as much as you need artistic talent. And in all organizations, business people have a lot to learn from artists.
This was puzzling to a lot of people, and that’s when a lightbulb went off for me. How could I bring the arts and business, and more specifically people who work in both disciplines, together to learn from one another? At the end of the Summit, everyone had to create a card to describe their career goal for the year. Here I am with my card:
“I commit to helping artists find the business people within them, and to helping business people find the artists within them.”
My life and my career have never been a binary choice between the arts and business. They’ve always been a package deal for me. And I wanted to find a way to work that mission into my career. I started my career twenty years ago in company management of Broadway shows and national theater tours. It has been a long and winding road since then. In all of these experiences, I say without hesitation that my work in theater has been the best business training I’ve ever had.
I so fervently believe this that when people ask me “how can I enhance my business skills?”, I tell them to go produce a live performance.
Here are the business skills we wield to produce a live show:
Are you kidding me? What other industry requires that much of a single person? No other industry. The production of a live show is the epitome of deft business skills in action.
I was beyond fortunate to have this kind of experience in the arts in my early twenties. It has informed and shaped my career and life as an adult, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These skills are transferable to so many other industries, and a variety of roles within organizations and companies. The arts, and our active engagement with them, have many more gifts to give us than we realize.
My great hope and purpose in coming to work at PatronManager is to help arts managers create an environment of financial sustainability that allow your art and artists to shine, and to make your work accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The arts have never been more important than they are today, and our responsibility to produce them has never been greater. If you have ideas for us, please don’t be shy. I want to hear them so that we can help each other bring them to life.
Let me be clear about my philosophy on leadership. I’ve had two kinds of bosses: amazing ones who fight for their people and truly awful ones who fight against their people. Those of you who have worked with me and for me know this: I fight for my people. I block and tackle for them. I listen (rather than just waiting for my turn to talk). I can’t always get them what they want, but I will always get them what they need and won’t rest until that happens. Everyone gets a seat at the table and gets to have their say without sugar-coating. Everyone gets clarity and transparency. The hinges are off the door, or better yet there’s never a door at all. I am there to serve, support, and encourage, not to criticize or dictate. This is what it takes to have a team. Until you do that, you may be someone’s boss but you’ll never be someone’s leader. And there’s a world of difference between those two roles. Let’s always be mindful of that distinction and push ourselves to be the latter. Not surprisingly, if you take care of your team, the team will take care of customers, and customers will take care of investors. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
“You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” ~Jim Carrey
Today I’m beginning a new full-time job. Success is never guaranteed to any of us though I fully believe that our odds of success increase dramatically when we do something we love. In that case, even if we fail, at least we have spent our time on something of value.
That’s how I feel about my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. It’s also how I feel about my work as a journalist, product leader, and theater manager. My new job utilizes all of my experience in the arts and business, and I feel fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity.
I’m sure there will be many learnings in the coming months. Today, I’m enjoying the thrill of the new and the unknown, the excitement that comes from putting my whole heart into something that makes the world a better place.
Yesterday’s event at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island filled me with inspiration and possibility. It was quite a testament to what can be achieved through private – public partnerships with tech CEOs from IBM, Qualcomm, Verizon, and startups, investors, journalists, Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg, and the President of Cornell all in attendance.
The spaces, indoors and out, are incredibly thoughtful and stunning. Best of all, it’s been built as an inviting setting for the public. Bring your laptop, book, or sketch pad, grab a coffee at the cafe, and take it all in with plenty of wi-fi and collaborative space. This is a place of community, and the hope is that companies and projects started by students and incubator sponsors (yes, your company can get space here!) will diversify and grow the NYC economy. Already, Cornell Tech has spun out 38 companies, 94% of which are based in NYC.
Graduate and doctoral studies as well as Executive Education courses comprise the student body here and it will also be a stage for events at the cross-section of tech, business, art, and social impact.
Grab the F train, bus, ferry, or tram, and go check it out!
As a writer and business leader, I have one superpower: I’m a tremendous listener. I take in people’s stories and perspectives like I take in air. I listen for what’s said and what’s not said. I pay attention to body language, posture, tone of voice, emotion, and intonation. It’s a skill we don’t celebrate or value enough, and one we should all hone. I’ve found teachers, mentors, friends, and heroes by being a good listener. It’s an action that’s changed my life for the better, and one I’m proud to be able to do every day.