Jun 17 2010

What Barefoot Running Can Teach Us About Leading a Happier Life

As some of you know, I was chosen to speak at Ignite DC #4 about my experiences with barefoot running, and the broader implications of the barefoot running movement.  Well, that event occurred last night, and I’d like to report that it was an amazing experience.

Thank you everyone at @igniteDC for organizing the event, and to everyone in attendance who so warmly welcomed me as the first speaker!  I was honored to have spoken alongside so many other great, inspiring presenters.

Check out the video:

Also, feel free to get a closer look at the barefoot running slides at Slideshare.

Throughout the night, many people asked me for more information about the subject of barefoot, or minimalist, running.  Below are some links for getting started:

  • Harvard University Skeletal Biology Lab – great, well-presented research about running mechanics, as well as videos comparing running in shoes to running barefoot
  • Barefoot Ted’s Google Group – community of barefoot/minimalist runners – a quick search in this group should provide the answer to any question about the subject you may have (and if not, go ahead and ask – they are friendly people that love talking about the subject)
  • Birthday Shoes – Community blog dedicated to the Vibram FiveFingers.  Lots of cool posts about people doing all sorts of fun activities in their VFFs, as well as news/general info about the “shoes” themselves

And to the broader point of the talk last night, that we should take some time to look at the world through more of a minimalist perspective, I’d like to invite any of you reading this post to share your experiences and/or ideas that you have related to the topic.  It’s a primary theme for this blog, and the company behind it, and we’d love to hear what you have to say!

Thanks again for a wonderful night!

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Jun 16 2010

“… as a means to an end”

In some ways, it was inevitable that the mission of Night Train Consulting would be to help others pursue novel business strategies and technology solutions “as a means to an end,” rather than as the end goals themselves; we are both analytical (read: a little geeky), with Jeff’s background deeply rooted in start-up technology and data mining, and Alan’s in sustainability strategy. When you put those two backgrounds together- and sprinkle on top a little Bob Dylan and a healthy dose of reading on topics like economics, psychology, mathematics, environmental science, well being and social capital- it became obvious that while there are many, many things an organization or an individual can choose to maximize, over and over again we find ourselves returning to the basic things we have valued since the beginning of time: genuine, meaningful social relationships with other people. Ergo, “Technology with Social Skills” was born.

This has very obviously been the case while working with certain organizations, such as nonprofits like Machik (whose main objective, in my opinion, is to optimize trust and social capital between key groups in and outside of Tibet), or the many social entrepreneurs we have come across at Ashoka. But we are now understanding that this is true of for-profit businesses as well.

This is the reason that one business professor I deeply respect at the University of Virginia, Brad Brown, recently dusted off an analytical tool he was first taught in business school years ago: linear programming. Professor Brown teaches undergraduate business students at UVA about sustainability, so the reason he is kick’n it old school again with linear programming is to ask the question (paraphrasing); are we leading students and businesses astray with the thinking that any “profit-maximizing business” can maximize economic, social, and environmental goals all at once? If you’re not familiar with linear programming, it boils down to this; to maximize any given system, you can have many constraints, but only one objective. He points to a rockstar of the NGO world- BRAC- which set off maximizing something as simple as calories per dollar, rigorously and scientifically monitoring, testing, and iterating all programs against that goal.  They went on to build the world’s largest and arguably most effective NGO, which earns 80% of its own revenue through for-profit businesses owned and run by the formerly-poor. I know there is plenty of conversation about this in the so-called “Impact Investing” community too, which refers to investing with an explicit social objective in mind. Can you maximize both economic and social objectives at the same time, or must you pick one?

When Jeff takes the stage tonight at Ignite D.C. and makes his D.C. debute in the performing arts, this theme will focus front-and-center in the form of a conversation about barefoot running and minimalism as a philosophy. Minimalism is basically about maximizing something, using your resources as lightly and efficiently as possible. The “something” you maximize can be anything, but when used as a philosophy for living your life, it seems to focus mainly on maximizing well-being relative to resources consumed (conveniently, the same basic formula behind the Happy Planet Index).

Tomorrow we will be recapping the evening and the various conversations we will be having in and around it today, and we will be asking you; what do you or your business maximize? If you think you are maximizing multiple things, how is that working out for you? Or, do you find yourself giving preference to one objective over others when the going gets rough? In a pinch, what is the one objective you will not sacrifice for the sake of any other objective?

We look forward to hearing from you.

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