I attended the Milken Global Summit this week where I was dizzied and dazzled by evidence that “life as we know it” is changing more rapidly than we collectively realize. A panel on precision medicine illuminated that as the ability to screen genomes becomes routine, current medical diagnostics will become obsolete. Elon Musk talked nonchalantly about terraforming Mars, a concept I first encountered in a sci-fi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Drones were discussed as a new delivery system that could replace Big Brown, and satellites with absurd new powers will redefine the quaint communication systems in place today. All around me were casual conversations about the coming disruptions of online education, alternative energy, electric cars, and the seeming insignificance of our actual brains compared to the new wave of smarter, cooler, and ubiquitous computers.
When any system is disrupted, overturned, or revolutionized, there are always winners and losers. Nick Dunne, the husband under suspicion in the runaway best seller Gone Girl described how disruption works in this way:
“We had no clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within a decade. I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All around the country magazines began shuttering, succumbing to the sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don’t work quite quick enough to blog or link or tweet) were through. We were like women’s hat makers or buggy whip manufacturers: Our time was done.”
Anyone 35 and older must intuit this “brave new frontier” we are entering. And no parent attending the Milken Conference could help but leave with a renewed mission to go home and introduce their children to the final frontier (space) or the undiscovered frontier (the ocean). Others were thinking about how to break it to their children, intent on becoming doctors, that studying genomes would be safer than med school as we’ve known it. And parents whose fortunes are invested in funds that will be undermined by the “next new thing” surely left with a new zeal to mentor their kids to be disruptors before they are disrupted.
The world is a wild and unforgiving place when it comes to the speed of change. and I’m aware that in choosing to be a disrupter I am practically a chemical catalyst for life at the speed of light. Though I am part of the “slow food” movement and have built a “slow money” company, I seem unable to stanch the speed of anything.
So to help kids slide into the stream of change at warp speed, we offer Camp Start-Up, a summer program for teenagers growing up in the Age of Disruption.
No matter how privileged, smart, well connected today’s 10 year old, 16 year old or 25 year old is, the world they are inheriting requires a new kind of preparation. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of Independent Means programs I am most proud and fond of. This year we have moved the program to Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, to expose kids directly to the forces—and the opportunities—coming at them.
Teens who attend Camp Start-Up this year will spend time with a Google brainiac who will give them a tour of the campus and challenge them to consider what it would be like to work in a true meritocracy. Kiva Fellows will share stories of making a difference in far flung corners of the world, and all the teens will get a chance to go behind the scenes at Tesla, getting a glimpse of a car company that may be to cars what the Model T was to the horse.
At Camp Start-Up this year we will emphasize how to spot weak signals from the future (so teens can be proactive, not reactive, in their life dreams). They will practice the ability to spot and leverage opportunity and will go home with their first business plan done and presented—a skill much of the planet is still trying to master. And perhaps because I am also a bit wary of the unintended consequences that come with speed of light change, we’ve increased the time we will spend on conversation and case studies that explore ethics, stakeholder management, and social responsibility. All this will be imbedded in 12 days of fun, creativity, and adventure. We know teenagers, and unless we serve a serious program with serious fun, we’ll lose them. But this is our 19th year of operation and in all that time we’ve lost less than 1% to homesickness or lack of interest.
I feel good about our ability to prepare kids for the Age of Disruption—if not their actual arrival.
“and another book you MUST read is…”
I’ve done this so often lately that I decided to list a few here so I could more efficiently share my new discoveries. You will surmise correctly from this list that I am an eclectic reader. This will either make you think of me as a person with a wide range of interests or an eccentric who scans the world like an owl for a diversified meal of small prey after dark. Either way, this is not a boring list!
Among my new reads, must reads, is Resilience by Andrew Zolli. Andrew is the Exec Director of PopTech and a brainiac by any measure. This book is one of those “a ha” reads that illuminates the world while it puts words and pictures on your deepest intuitive knowledge. Resilience is wonderfully upbeat, and hopeful—it explains why in the midst of head-spinning change we are adapting, can adapt, will adapt, and maybe even get better. If you have not yet organized a family book club, this is the book that you might choose to launch one. A great read for anyone 15+, this is a book that will speak to each generation in a relevant and useful way. Download it before you get on that next flight.
Accidentally I read two books that, in the light of the Boston Marathon bombings, put a new light on war, random victims, and the implications for how cultures and communities are affected by the surreal dimensions of man’s inhumanity to man. The first of my accidental reads was a novel called The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau. Jonas got up in the middle of the night to empty his kidneys in a privy well away from his main house, escaping as in a strange dream the horror of bombs obliterating his family, his home, his village. A young boy, he runs instinctively into the mountains and hides in a cave, only to meet up with one of the soldiers responsible for the bombing. Their encounter and their impact on one another and on the lives of people who cared for them is a reminder that war is the great unraveler—its impact trickles and pours from one person and place to another…guns, bombs, and drones, no matter how well “controlled” are indiscriminate in the damage they do. This book pushed my pragmatic self to the edge of a radical pacificism. Like the second accidental book, Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, I want to buy cases of these books and mail them to Congress (do we think those guys actually ever read anything that isn’t delivered as a poll or a review on their own behavior?).
Escape from Camp 14 was apparently first brought to the attention of the American public by 60 Minutes (I missed that episode). But the book surely brought North Korea to my consciousness in a whole new way. The book chronicles the existence of prison camps in North Korea that make Stalin’s Gulag look like summer camp—and it does this by following young Shin Dong-hyuk, as he escapes, impossibly, from Camp 14 and makes his way to China, South Korea, and eventually the US. I am embarrassed I was not more aware of the barbarity of North Korea—and it’s impact on our humanity.
I also finished Gillian Glynn’s Gone Girl. Fair warning: you will stay up all night to finish it. And Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, is the amazingly vivid and moving story of an 11 year old whose name is not really Ellen Foster—and therein lies the tale.
Finally, lately I have gotten a number of requests for my favorite science fiction books (anyone who has heard me speak lately knows I am finally fessing up to the genre as one way I have kept my eye on weak signals from the future). At the head of the list is Kim Stanley Robinson (The Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) whose stories contain remarkable scientific details. (May have something to do with his scientist wife, but in any event, he’s a brilliant writer). And now that the Mars Rover, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are bringing Mars to our doorstep, his scenarios of terreforming Mars seem completely plausible.
I’m also a Neal Stephenson fan because he was the one who, for me, changed science fiction from ‘a distant planet, a thousand years in the future’ to “here” in the not so distant future. Cryptonomicon was the first book of his I read–it is a page turner and enormous fun. I went from there to Diamond Age and then Snow Crash. Both are dark but provocative. He has launched a new project I’m following with interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Hieroglyph
Of course Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury are the old classics—Asimov nailed the idea of singularity, which has entranced Ray Kurzweil all these years, and Bradbury was a much more philosophical thinker than most people understood. Shortly after Bradbury died, I shared a paper he wrote for USC’s management magazine in the late 80s, It’s a doozy and if you can’t find it, let me know. And Philip Dick has been so well discovered by Hollywood you hardly have to read him any longer, but I do like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
Frank Herbert, who wrote the Dune series, got me paying attention to water issues long before I moved to California. And Mary Doria Russell’s book, The Sparrow is a very moving, very unusual take on science fiction. One of my favorite books, period. Wow, I could go on but this is already TMI. But check out our GoodReads website for titles we think are relevant to financial education in the broadest sense!
By Whitney Webb
On January 19th, 2012, I was climbing a mountain in northern Rwanda, after taking a 3-hour bus ride plus spending an hour on the back of a motorcycle. I was covered in dirt, smiling, and on my way to meet Theogene, a borrower of a loan provided by Vision Finance Company and Kiva. My job was to interview him and verify an $800 loan that allowed him to buy and raise goats.
Exactly one year later, in January 2013, I found myself flying first class on Emirates Airline to meet with a group of wealthy families in Dubai. I was sipping champagne, still smiling, but contemplating how I had gotten to this moment. My assignment was to run a session on financial fluency and raising financially responsible families.
What led me from working with the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest people in the world? On a basic level, the common thread was finance. But during the heartbreaking decision to leave Rwanda and Kiva in order to work in Santa Barbara with Independent Means and Camp Start-Up, I have realized the end goals of these organizations are, in fact, the same. Regardless of where we fall on the economic spectrum, we are all trying to utilize our resources, opportunities, and hopes in the best ways possible—to make a better world for ourselves and others.
When it comes to capital, the lesson I learn over and over is that it’s not just about the money. Yes, some form of capital is needed to propel us forward, but that can be in the form of human, social, intellectual, or financial capital. This idea is at the core of the microfinance model. No collateral? Tap into your social capital and band together with your friends and neighbors to qualify for a group loan.
But it is also at the heart of managing abundance. Have a few hundred million dollars at your disposal? Tap your intellectual and human capital to make sure you use it wisely and make real impact. Leverage your education to handle the extreme responsibilities and expectations of wealth; count on family and friends and be deeply conscious of your values as you make choices and decisions that will affect the stewardship of your resources—and your potential to actually change the world.
I can’t reasonably say that the clients I work with in Dubai or Santa Barbara face challenges equal to those in Rwanda. The issue of feeding your family is more imminent and the consequences more dire than the issue of managing your funds well for the next generation. However, the strategies we use to tackle our issues, and the dreams we have for ourselves and our children, are eerily similar across the globe. In the end, I believe we are bound together by the shared qualities of compassion for one another, a willingness to leverage resources for a successful life, and a sustaining hope for the future.
It turned out that the values that got me to Rwanda (a desire to make a difference and impact the world) have helped me link two worlds that are usually held as mutually exclusive: the world of scarcity and the world of abundance. IMI’s culture and commitment to helping young people find purpose and meaning in the process of becoming financially independent make Camp Start-Up/Silicon Valley a great environment for inspiring and educating the next generation. Our mission is to teach teens how to manage, invest, and leverage their money and resources. But, the teens we work with want more than that. This partnership with Kiva brings to light the importance of global citizenship, socially responsible start-ups, and the many faces of an entrepreneur. I believe that this integration of financial intelligence and passionate commitment makes this years camp a place where the teens, staff, and volunteer mentors can be inspired, and excited about the possibilities of the future.
Every day I realize a new overlap between the missions of Independent Means and Kiva, and it gives me hope that the lines between non-profit and for-profit will blur as intention and purpose starts to play a bigger role in the way we run our companies and our lives. I hope this partnership between the two organizations is the beginning of many future collaborations as we do our part in making the world better, no matter how far apart our strategy and approach.
The Buttercup snared me. I know better. The information I pick up each year at our Fashion & Finance weekend has given me an insider’s eye on just how the fashion industry targets our most vulnerable spots. So what was I thinking when I spent $190 on a bright yellow hairdryer called the Buttercup?
The Buttercup is the brilliantly branded tool used in the quickly proliferating ”drybar,” a concept created around the idea of paying $35 for a blowout only—no cuts, no color. Drybar is the fancy equivalent of a McDonald’s for hair. Alli Webb is the founder, and she has been so successful with this concept—and now with her $190 Buttercup hairdryer—she must be well on her way to becoming as ubiquitous as MacDonald’s. This is one of the reasons why she is on my list of people to ensnare in this year’s Fashion & Finance.
If you have ever been or have ever wanted to attend a Fashion & Finance weekend, this may be the right year for you. As always, we combine visits to impossible destinations with case studies that shed a light on business and finance, answering questions in relatable and understandable language, not jargon or “moneyspeak.”
In the fall of 2011, I wrote a blog describing the phenomenon of really smart people who close down in the face of financial reports, news, and conversations. I suggested at that time that people who self-identify as “creative” literally DO shut down when confronted by what seems, on the surface, to be a linear, valueless, and rigid world of finance. Perhaps, I said, it’s time to create a new way of talking about money with creatives.
That blog triggered quite a response from readers and prompted us to create a new program called Learning Labs for Financial Creatives. The program begins April 21-23 and if you’re a financial creative, or know one, click here for more information and give us a call, 805-965-0475.
You won’t sit at a conference table and you will not endure the torture of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. You will connect with a small group of peers, who are intent on developing a voice and a set of skills that will facilitate impact at family meetings, in business discussions, and with the so-called “financial experts” in your life.
The first program is being held at the Ojai Valley Inn and SPA. I hope you, or someone you love, will join us.
This week a former counselor and camper got in touch telling us how much they enjoyed Camp Start-Up and how excited they were to be a part of it again this year. We were so appreciative of their kind words that we thought we would share them with you.
When asked where I work, my answer usually leaves people speechless and eager to hear more. Working at Camp Start-Up has got to be one of the greatest jobs out there. Camp Start-Up blends exciting activities and strong friendship bonds that many sleepaway camps offer, with an entirely unique entrepreneurial twist. When the campers weren’t on field trips visiting fascinating business like Pixar and Six Flags, they were learning essential business and investment skills that would aid them in the creation of their very own business plan and stock portfolio that each camper would present at the end of camp. The ideas the campers have created in the past are nothing short of sheer brilliance. Take the shopping cart GPS, for example, that allows you to upload your grocery list into a shopping cart that leads you around the grocery store as efficiently as possible picking out every opportunity for savings in it’s path. And of course there was the solar panel laptop and phone cover that continuously charges your mobile devices as they are used. Needless to say, the campers really explore their creative capacity.
The satisfaction I get from seeing the campers blossoming into young entrepreneurs and creating lifelong friendships in just two weeks is enough to keep me coming back as a counselor year after year. Camp Start-Up is no longer limited to the east coast because this year we are thrilled to announce that Camp Start Up will be held in California’s Silicon Valley. I don’t want to ruin the surprise but lets just say Silicon Valley has some epic field trips in store for Camp Start Up!
-Elan Kapadia (Counselor from 2006-2012)
Camp-Start-Up was a life changing experience for me. Not only did I gain valuable business guidance, but I also changed as a person. Now I have a confident outlook toward the future—I have a direction and a plan. The inspirational counselors and entrepreneur volunteers made all of these feelings possible. It is amazing how much knowledge I gained in such little time.
- Elly Beyer (2012 CSU Alum)
While these experiences are remarkable, we don’t believe they are unique. Camp Start-Up really is an amazing event for all who attend. If you would like more information, visit the camp section of the website, find us on Facebook, email us, or call us at 805.965.0475.
The flight home took 16 hours, nonstop. Once home, I slept for 14–not a drowsy wake and sleep, wake a sleep, but deep, prolonged slumber, a dream state that gave me access to the sights, sounds, people, and experiences that overwhelm the senses when you travel to a part of the globe where camels ride in pick-ups, buildings compete to touch the stars, and men in white are both national identity and fashion forward. For days my dreams were a tumble of indecipherable symbols and images.
Dubai is life though a kaleidoscope: space age towers and ancient water taxis; girls in revealing dress and women seen through eye slits; boys in Armani and men in elegant robes and headdress; an avant garde art scene and a scene of material consumption so staggering it renders an organic girl speechless. But my sensual, visual memories are not the most important thing I brought home–the treasure was the time spent with families we were privileged to meet. And the best gift came in the form of a simple question.
The CEO of a multi-family office in Bahrain had invited me to speak at a conference for families from UAE countries. Abdulmohsin Al Omran is a visionary. While wealth in Dubai is often measured by the height of buildings and the gold and oil in your portfolio, Abdulmosin brought us to Dubai to discuss human capital. “Families in the UAE,” he told me the day before I was to present…
“…are often living beyond their means–even though their means are generous.
…worry about declining wealth as they watch the next generation consume without thought of creating wealth.
…believe it’s too late to make a difference with their family.”
“Ah, issues we face with families everywhere,” I thought, as he described his hopes for the next day. And the next day confirmed his observations.
The men and women of the audience, parents with children as young as 2 and as old as 42; people from Bahrain, Saudi, and Kuwait seemed open and eager to talk. When I asked if the phrase “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” in three generations resonated in any way, one woman laughed and said, “Yes, here we speak of ‘fire to ashes’: the grandfather starts the fire, the next generation keeps it burning for a while, and the third let’s it cool to ashes.”
Only a small fraction (about 2%) of family businesses worldwide make it beyond the third generation with their assets intact. Abdulmohsin’s vision is to address those issues–to help families develop their human capital with the same fervor they attend to developing their financial capital–and to help a larger percentage of families keep the fire burning–or at least give the next generation tools to kindle a new fire.
As we jumped into a practice version of IMI’s Human Capital Audit, one woman said, “I had no idea this is a way to look at family!” Each of the participants seemed excited by a tool that would help them rethink the nature of wealth in family. It was, I thought, a great session and things were going well. Then one man asked, in as respectful a way as possible, “What do you know about families from this part of the world?”
His question was clean and direct. He caused me to pause, but in the moment, processing stimuli coming at me at warp speed, I gave an only adequate response.
But now, dreams and days later I know what I should have said: “Nothing. I know nothing about your families. Just as I know nothing about any family I first encounter.”
Twenty plus years, hundreds of families and many countries into my work one thing is clear: every family has its own unique makeup. Like a fingerprint, each family comes together in a way that is not replicated again. Entering a family anywhere on the planet, regardless of culture, religion, politics, age or generation requires mindful attention, an open attentiveness that allows us to SEE families as they are–without prejudice or assumption. When we can achieve that clarity of vision, we have the best shot at being genuinely useful. We have to enter each family humbled by the knowledge that we know nothing of their individual values, their experiences, their human capital. We know nothing about what matters in their heart or what their individual and collective worries are. That’s the information each family must teach.
And yet, there are universals that show up in family after family; country after country. Most families, if they are at all functional and have the privilege of basic well-being, financial security, and safety, at some point focus on the future of their children and of their families:
I’ll have good stories from Dubai to share over dinner for a long time. But the man who asked, “what do you know about us?” made the trip really count. As long as I remember that we know NOTHING about any family on first encounter, I have a shot at hearing and seeing the most important aspects of every family, regardless of where they live or who they are. Before the week is out I’m going to write and tell him what his question helped me remember. That’s a gift you can’t put in a shopping bag.