With Her Dying Breath, She Whispered These Four Powerful Words to Her Daughter


Lucy Stone (August 13, 1818 – October 19, 1893) was a prominent American orator, abolitionist, and suffragist, and a vocal advocate and organizer promoting rights for women. In 1847, Stone became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree. She spoke out for women’s rights and against slavery at a time when women were discouraged and prevented from public speaking. Stone was known for being the first American woman to use her maiden name after marriage, as the custom was for women to take their husband’s surname.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Lucy Stone until I read Originals by Adam Grant. Stone is prominently featured in a chapter that looks at how originals form alliances to advance their goals, and how they overcome the barriers that prevent coalitions from succeeding.. The chapter argues that building effective coalitions involves striking a delicate balance between venerable virtues and pragmatic policies, that common tactics can be more influential than common values, and why it’s often easier to partner with enemies than frenemies.

Lucy Stone sounds like an amazing woman, but what resonated with me the most as I read about her was that in her dying breath in 1893, Stone whispered four words to her daughter:

“Make the world better.”

Such simple, but powerful words.

Is there any higher calling than making the world better?

And I thought of all the places and times such a phrase could be used.

It’s the perfect graduation speech; there would be no need to say anything else.

When you hold your newborn child for the first time, you can whisper those words in her ear.

It seems like the phrase would be the perfect way to start off every meeting, as a way to remind people of the big picture, and to have them united in that common mission.

It seems like the perfect way for a newscaster to sign off a broadcast, and in my case, the perfect way to end a blog.

Make the world better.

It’s What You Do in the Dark That Puts You In the Light

Michael Phelps became the first male swimmer to qualify for five Olympics with a victory in the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. swimming trials Wednesday night.

“With everything that’s happened and being able to come back, that was probably harder than any swim I’ve had in my life,” Phelps said, referring to a second drunken-driving arrest, an impending marriage, and the birth of his first child seven weeks ago.

Under Armour must be happy with Phelps performance, since Phelps is one of the featured athletes in its “Rule Yourself” campaign. Here is the ad, which first aired back n March:

And in another win for Under Armour/Michael Phelps/Droga5, the commercial was a Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Lion festival in the Film Craft category.

It’s great to see the success Phelps is having both in and out of the pool. It can’t be easy being in the public eye, but he seems to have dealt with many of the personal issues he had in the past, and has emerged stronger for it.

I wish him, and the rest of the U.S. Olympians, the best.

And the Company Most Millennials Want to Work for Is…

If I gave you the list of the following 25 companies (in alphabetical order) which ones would you list among your top five dream companies to work for?

Abercrombie & Fitch
Blue Cross and Blue Shield
Central Intelligence Agency
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Dreamworks Animation SKG
Health Care Service Corp.
Local Hospital (EMT, Etc.)
Mayo Clinic
National Security Agency (NSA)
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
The New York Times
U.S. State Department
Universal Studios
Walt Disney Company

My top five would be Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Walt Disney (in no particular order).

When I compare my list to the results of a survey conducted by National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), I was surprised by the company that was ranked number one, as well with some of the other results.

The NSHSS used data from a 49-question survey of 13,000 of its student members – ages 15 through 32, 76% female. Respondents were asked to choose which companies they would most like to work for, from a list of 200. That list was compiled by adding the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work for, DiversityInc’s top 50 from diversity, and some companies from the Fortune 500; as well as popular write-in choices from previous surveys.

Here are the results:

  1. 3M
  2. Google
  3. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  4. Walt Disney Company
  5. Local Hospital (EMT, Etc.)
  6. FBI
  7. Buzzfeed
  8. Apple
  9. Central Intelligence Agency
  10. Amazon
  11. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
  12. Health Care Service Corp.
  13. Mayo Clinic
  14. Microsoft
  15. Nike
  16. U.S. State Department
  17. Universal Studios
  18. Netflix
  19. Dreamworks Animation SKG
  20. The New York Times
  21. Boeing
  22. National Security Agency (NSA)
  23. Abercrombie & Fitch
  24. Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  25. Samsung

My list and the survey results had two of the same companies in the top five, Google and Disney. I must admit I was surprised that Apple was not higher on the survey results.

But the biggest surprise was the number one company, 3M. This is nothing against 3M, it’s a great firm, I’m just amazed that millennials have heard about it, or at least such a high number of millenials.

3M produces more than 55,000 products, but is best known for its scotch tape and post-it notes products. Products that certainly aren’t as exciting as iPhones, Disney World, xBox, or Google Maps. Yet, it ranked number one.

And it didn’t just happen by luck.

“They’ve made a strategic goal within their company to build their brand among these top millennials,” says NSHSS president James W. Lewis. “This is evidence that the efforts that they’re engaged in are paying off.”

“The 3M Science Applied To Life campaign has gotten a lot of attention,” said NSHSS vice president Beth Pann. “If you look at our members, in terms of their interest in the STEM fields – 30% are interested in pursuing science, 21% with technology and engineering – it’s a really strong fit with 3M and the innovative ideas and solutions that company is coming out with.”

3M has also made a point of attending tech conferences like SXSW to expand its brands and show its face to consumers and the general public.

As noted above, these efforts appear to have worked quite well.

Another surprise was Facebook coming in at number 39. I would have guessed that such a company would have been a favorite of this age group.

It was also refreshing to read the answers that respondents gave about the basis upon which they’d choose an employer. Results suggested millennials’ ideal firm treats workers fairly, and offers flexible hours and a good work/life balance. Overwhelmingly, young high-achievers were looking beyond their entry-level jobs, and wanted an initial position that provided skills for career advancement.

So it seems like the millenials, at least this sample of millenials, is looking for a company that offers more than just a job and a paycheck, but a company that challenges and cares about its employees, and is socially responsible.

Sounds like the kind of firm I would want to work at.

And I have heard that the people in Minnesota are quite nice…


Anything You Can Do, They Can Do, Too

This is the 66th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

While you flex your muscles in front of your morning mirror and congratulate yourself on your nimble brain, consider this:
The light over your mirror was perfected by a deaf man.
While your morning radio plays, remember the hunchback who helped invent it.
If you listen to contemporary music, you may hear an artist who is blind.
If you prefer classical, you may enjoy a symphony written by a composer who couldn’t hear.
The President who set an unbeatable American political record could hardly walk.
A woman born unable to see, speak, or hear stands as a great achiever in American history.
The handicapped can enrich our lives.
Let’s enrich theirs.

There’s a lot of facts in this ad I was not aware of, so I decided to do some digging.

  • Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, had an early bout with scarlet fever as well as ear infections which left him with hearing difficulties in both ears, a malady that would eventually leave him nearly deaf as an adult.
  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz arrived in the US in 1889 as a political refugee from Germany. Physically deformed (a diminutive hunchback), he was nearly denied admission to this country. His work at GE on hysteresis loss, ac circuit theory, and high power discharges provided the basis for the progress in ac circuits at the turn of the century.
  • Stevie Wonder, blind since shortly after birth, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is one of the most critically and commercially successful musical performers of the late 20th century.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven was a deaf German composer and the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the age of 39, Roosevelt fell ill and was diagnosed with polio, leaving him with permanent paralysis from the waist down. He went on to serve as President from 1933-1945, our only three-term President, and was considered by many to be one of the best ever.
  • At 19 months old, Helen Keller contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and that left her both deaf and blind. She went on to become a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer. She was also the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.

An impressive group of individuals to be sure. None of them let their disability determine their fate, and perhaps even used it as motivation to achieve their goals.

I think we’ve come a long way in our understanding of what people with a disability are capable of, but there’s still a long way to go, particularly in regards to people with cognitive disabilities.

But I am optimistic that progress will continue to be made, and I am grateful for all the parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, researchers, and medical personnel who are committed to helping everyone achieve their potential.

It truly takes a village.

This Is Who I Found When I Answered the Knock at My Front Door


Bill Lyon, a legendary sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who retired in 2005 after 33 years with the paper, returned to writing for the Inquirer again this month, but this time chronicling his experiences dealing with Alzheimers, which he was diagnosed with in February, 2013.

So far he has written four articles in the series:

I’ve read all of them so far, and found them humorous, thought-provoking, honest, and hopeful. And of course, well-written.

It is today’s column that sparked the idea for my blog today.

Bill talks about how he has taught a class in creative writing for the past five years at a local community college. He notes that while there is tremendous diversity in the background of the students, they all share the same yearning: Somewhere along the way they wondered if they could write.

Here is an excerpt from his column:

They have come to the right place, because my intent is to nurture and encourage, to foster an abiding respect for the English language (which is under relentless siege from those little handheld computers that limit social intercourse to 144 characters, leaving us with a bastardized vocabulary and the slow erosion of literacy – please forgive an old man his rant).

The course lasts 16 hours total, over eight weeks. It is limited to nine students, thus ensuring that each student has a turn every week. The first class is orientation, a couple of my readings, introductions, and this assignment:

There’s a knock on the door, and it is opened to reveal a fabled creature, the Man from Mars.

I bolded the last line, because right after I read that, I thought I want to try that exercise, and so that is what I am going to do in this blog. So hold on for a second; I am going to get out my stopwatch and time myself for 20 minutes to see what I can do.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

I try not to stare at who, or what, is at my front door.

If I’m lucky, he is just here trying to collect signatures and money for some environmental cause, and decided to dress in costume to highlight the dangers of not heeding the warning signs that are all around us.

But the outfit, if that’s what it is, is so lifelike. His oversized head and green, extra long pointy fingers are frightening to look at. I try to think what kind of environmental disaster could cause damage like that, but I’m drawing blanks.

If my worst fears are realized, this is someone from another planet, here to destroy everything and everyone he meets.

All these thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of two seconds, and then I noticed he had extended his hand out to shake mine.

I returned the gesture, and I noticed not only the strength in his grip, but the smile that seemed to come to his face.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jim,” he said.

I’m not sure how he knew my name, but that was the least of my concerns.

“My name is Marty, and I come from the planet Mars. Our planet has been following your planet’s Presidential election, and at first we were amused, but now we have become quite concerned. We have picked up a great deal of chatter from your country, with many people wondering if this is the best the United States can do.”

“So my planet has sent me on a mission to become your next President. We know it is late in the game, but we have ways of catching up very quickly and getting my name out in the public. And that is why I am at your door today, asking for your support. I need 1,000,000 signatures by the end of the week to get on the ballot at the convention.”

It took me a few minutes to compose myself, and all I could ask him was how many he had already. 

“800,000”, he replied, “and that has only taken me about an hour”.

I had so many questions, but when he told me that the basis for his platform was kindness, I was all in.

Ok, so my 20 minutes ended about 10 seconds after I finished that last sentence.

I found the exercise fun and challenging, and I had no idea where it was headed when I started. The idea of bringing in the Presidential election came to me about five minutes into the writing.

I was hoping to use some humor, but I realized how hard that is to do in such a short time period and with such a topic. (I guess that’s what improv is all about.)

It would be nice if Bill somehow had a chance to look at my story and offer some feedback, but I know that’s a long shot. Based on his writing alone, I have the sense that Bill is a wonderful teacher, passionate about sharing his gift with the world.

And he is doing this not only for his students at Delaware County Community College, but for all his readers as well.

Bill has referred to Alzheimers as “death by inches”, and has given his disease the name “Al”.

Despite knowing that Al is undefeated and has no known cure, he states in the first article in the series that he would “very much like to kick Al’s ass.”

That seems to be the right attitude, and I wish him the best in his fight.

The Perfect 30-Day Challenge

Peanut Butter and Jelly. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Pride and Prejudice.

Some things just naturally go together, and today I found out that two of my favorite things – TED videos and 30-day challenges – are being combined together.

Here’s how it works, from the TED site:

Beginning on July 1, once a day for 31 days, you’ll receive a TED-Ed Lesson in your inbox — chosen just for this challenge. Then, watch the video and answer the questions. That’s it! You can do the lesson on the same day you get it, or you can wait and do a few at the same time — just so long as all 31 lessons are done in July. However you choose to do it, we’re cheering you on!

Ready to learn something new every day for 31 days? Sign up here and you’ll get an email starting up the challenge on July 1.

I’ve written before about 30-day challenges, and I’ve shared a few TED videos over the past year-and-a-half in my posts. So this challenge seems like the perfect combo and my wife and I are looking forward to participating.

While the beach and boardwalk maybe the ultimate July combo, I don’t have the time, or money,  to spend the entire month of July at the beach. So watching a different TED video for 31 days straight, with the added bonus of learning something new each day, doesn’t seem like a bad alternative.

I wonder if there will be any vuja de moments?

Vuja De

I’m in the midst of reading a fascinating book, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant.

The following excerpt really caught my attention:

“The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists… The starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place. We’re driven to question defaults when we experience vuja de, the opposite of deja vu. Deja vu occurs when we encounter something new, but if feels as if we’ve seen it all before. Vuja de is the reverse – we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain insights into old problems.”

Grant uses the example of Warby Parker, and how its founders changed the belief that the only way to buy eyeglasses was to go to a store and try them on, since that is the way it had always been done. They questioned such an assumption, and eventually came up with their idea of offering potential customers the opportunity to try on empty eyeglass frames by ordering them online for free and then returning the frames after they tried them on. This turned into a billion dollar insight.

I’ve experienced vuja de many times, particularly when I’ve had the chance to watch another teacher.

Just this morning I was mentioning to another teacher that I’ve struggled with trying to come up with a good explanation as to (yawn alert) what exactly is meant by bond premium and bond discount. He then went on to show me how he explains it, in a way I had never seen before, that offered a different insight into bonds that I had never thought of. And I’ve taught the topic for over 30 years!

Another example happened a couple of days ago in a class that I team teach with another faculty member from Finance. She was explaining the basics of (yawn alert) the dividend growth model for stock valuation. The approach she used for explaining why the future price of the stock is irrelevant when trying to find the intrinsic value of a stock today was not the way I have taught that topic in the past, but her method was much easier for the students (and me) to understand, and so I made sure to keep notes for when I may have to teach the topic in the future.

One other example, a non-teaching one, involved our home freezer. When we first bought a freezer, we put it in our basement. We thought that we would not be using it that often and thus it would be best to keep it out of the way. And there it stayed for several years, until one day my wife and I were talking about how much of a pain it was to go into the basement when we wanted something out of the freezer. We thought about it for a while and then realized that the garage, which we can access right from our kitchen, might be a better place to have the freezer. Now it’s been in our garage for a few years, and we can’t believe it was ever anywhere else.

In a great article about vuja de, Warren Berger credits the comedian George Carlin as having come up with the phrase, using it to describe “the strange feeling that, somehow, none of this has ever happened before.” Here’s a clip:

Carlin’s daughter feels the vuja de way of looking at the world — of observing familiar, everyday things as if one were seeing it for the first time — is the way Carlin went through his life and it’s how he got much of his material.

Jerry Seinfeld, an heir to Carlin who developed a similar observational approach in his comedy, shared that same fascination with mundane behaviors and quotidian details. “I do a lot of material about the chair,” he told an interviewer recently. “I find the chair very funny. That excites me. No one’s really interested in that – but I’m going to get you interested! It’s the entire basis of my career.” But before he can make us care about a chair, Seinfeld must make it interesting to himself — he must look at it fresh, from a vuja de perspective.

Berger then goes on to point out that Stanford University professor Bob Sutton was among the first to make a connection, more than a decade ago, between the Carlin vuja de perspective and innovation. Sutton, and later Tom Kelley of IDEO, pointed out that innovators could potentially spark new ideas and insights if they could somehow manage to look at the familiar—their own products, their customers, their work processes—as if seeing it for the first time.

To achieve this change in perspective, it can be helpful to step back from everyday routines and habitual behaviors. This might involve injecting some element of newness into overly-familiar work routines — such as shaking up teams, changing schedules, or even just holding your meetings in a different and unusual place.

Berger does make a key distinction between Carlin and innovators. Carlin, in the end, was a commentator; he brought inconsistencies and irrational behaviors to light, but wasn’t in a position to change them. Innovators, on the other hand, can actually address some of those failings and shortcomings they notice.

And as Grant points out in his book, the power to be an innovator, to be an original, is in all of us. It just requires us to look at the familiar in a different way, to experience vuja de, and to then act on that insight.

Reliving My College Days, Musically

I wrote a post a couple of months ago about Record Store day (April 16) and how I had planned to buy a few albums, and I did (special shout-out to the Rock Shop at Plymouth Meeting Mall). Here’s the list:

  • Cat Stevens: Greatest Hits
  • Harry Chapin: Greatest Stories Live
  • Jim Croce: Photographs and Memories, His Greatest Hits
  • Boz Scaggs: Hits
  • Al Stewart: Modern Times
  • Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive!
  • Carole King: Tapestry
  • Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees

(The reason for the two Boz Scaggs albums is that we had just seen him in concert a couple of days before I went to the record store, so his songs were on my mind.)

When I got home I couldn’t really do anything with the albums, since as I had noted in that post, I didn’t have a record player, but I planned to buy one.

Well before I knew it, a week had turned into a month, and then two months, and still no record player. But then Father’s Day arrived, and lo and behold, my three sons bought me a record player! The one they bought looked like a pretty good one so I was excited to try it out.

Audio Technica AT-LP60

I tried hooking up the turntable to some old computer speakers that I had, but to no avail.

But I was getting closer to reliving my younger days. First the albums, then the turntable, and now it was some for some speakers.

So I did a bit of research, and found some speakers that seemed like they would do the trick, and the speakers arrived today, courtesy of Amazon.

Logictech Z323

It only took a few minutes to connect the speakers to the turntable.

I then carefully removed Cat Stevens Greatest Hits album from its jacket, placed it on the turntable, and hit play.

I soon heard that familiar old sound of hissing and scratching come from the speakers, and before I knew it I was singing along to “Oh Very Young” and “Peace Train”.

So it took a bit longer than I thought, but I’ve been temporarily transported back to my college dorm room, laying on my bed staring at an album cover, reading the liner notes, and listening to the music.

I’m looking forward to playing my other albums over the next few days, but so far, the ones I’ve played have sounded great, despite buying all of them used.

So I guess it’s true that good things come to those who wait.

You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

To Patronize or To Protest

Chick-fil-A just received the highest customer satisfaction score of any fast-food chain that American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has measured over its 21-year history.

The fast-food chain scored an 87 out of 100 in terms of customer satisfaction, making it not only the highest-scoring fast-food chain this year, but also the highest scoring company out of the more than 300 large companies that ACSI measures.

David VanAmburg, managing director of the ACSI, notes, “They do one thing and they do it well — chicken.”

Wall Street Journal food writer Charles Passy puts it, “The Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich — grilled or fried — is one of those Great American Things.”

So the chain certainly has its supporters and a well-earned reputation.

However, it also has its detractors.

One point of concern for some individuals is the President of Chick-fil-A has come out publicly against gay marriage.

Another point of concern is the questionable nutritional value of some of its menu items.

I think having such detractors comes with being a successful company; it is in the public eye and anything it does is scrutinized by people looking to find fault.

The question at hand though is what do you do if you like Chick-fil-A’s food, but don’t agree with its stance on a social issue or the fact that some of its food may be quite unhealthy?

Do you stop going to stores where you may disagree with one of the products the company sells or with the personal views of the owner of a business, do you stand outside and protest such businesses, or do you continue to patronize such companies?

It’s a tough question to answer, at least in my mind.

Here’s a couple of personal examples.

Whole Foods is one of my go-to places for food shopping, along with Mom’s Organic. As a vegan, I find that Whole Foods offers me lots of healthy choices that support my diet. On the other hand, Whole Foods also sells many products, such as meat, fish, and dairy that I do not believe belong in our diet.

In addition, John Mackey, the founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, while also a fellow vegan, also has some personal views that I disagree with, such as his beliefs about climate change and the role of unions in the workplace.

So given all this, does this mean I should stop shopping at Whole Foods because it sells products I don’t eat and its CEO has some opinions that I disagree with?

Well, since actions speak louder than words, I can tell you that I continue to shop at Whole Foods. I think supporting a store that caters to my needs is a key way to make sure that store continues to do so.

Another example, this time hypothetical, but easy to imagine, would be what I would do if I found out Bruce Springsteen was in favor of the death penalty (which he is not, by the way).

Since I am strongly against the death penalty, does that mean I should stop listening to Bruce’s music and going to his concerts? Should I stand outside Citizen’s Bank Park with a protest sign when he is performing there? Or can I continue listening to his music and going to his concerts while still disagreeing with him. Or is doing so implicitly endorsing his views.

As I said, it’s a hypothetical situation, but my guess is that I would continue to listen to his music and go to his concerts, while stil letting my anti-death penalty views be known.

Maybe the reasons for my choices are because Whole Foods and Bruce are two of my favorite things, and so perhaps I might be more lenient in overlooking some of the issues noted above. But what if there was a small convenience store where the owner is a known racist. In that type of situation, it would probably be much easier for me to not shop at such a store.

Do my actions regarding Whole Foods and Bruce mean that I don’t stand up for my principles? Or does it mean that I’ve decided to pick and choose my battles, and these aren’t ones I’ve decided to fight?

I obviously think it is the second reason, but either way, making such choices involves some level of cognitive dissonance, which is never easy to cope with.

So I’ll continue to occasionally struggle with such decisions, but in the meantime, thank you Bruce for not supporting the death penalty.


Saudi Arabian Women Love Bumper Cars

The headline comes from a story in today’s Wall Street Journal about how popular the bumper car ride is at the weekly ladies-only night at the Al Shallal Theme Park in the coastal city of Jeddah.

A big reason for the popularity of the ride is that it offers Saudi women the chance to drive a car, in a country that bans female drivers.

But the vast majority of the women prefer not to use the cars for their intended use – ramming into each other – but simply to enjoy the experience of driving a car.

The night out also gives women the chance to relax their dress code a bit, discarding head scarves and head-to-toe black gowns to reveal the latest trends—ripped jeans and tank tops.

The weekly ladies only night also means that not only are all the customers female, but so are all the employees.

The night out also gives women the opportunity to attend the movies. Cinemas are normally banned, but there are two of them in Al Shallal alone. While the movies last under five minutes, the experience is really just about the special effects: 3-D screens, seats that jolt, and sprays of water.

It’s hard for me to comprehend what it must be like to live in a place where the laws and customs are so different from ours.

But my sense is that allowing little things like a women’s night only at the amusement park is the first step towards more significant changes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a steady progression towards more rights for women in Saudi Arabia.

I have no idea how long it will take for such changes to take place or how far the changes will go, but I think the writing is on the wall.

Before you know it, these women will be slamming into each other not only in bumper cars, but on the highways and in parking lots, just like men.