Saturday, April 12, 2008

Profiles in Courage....

Earlier this week I went to the kick off party for the California Clean Tech Open here in San Jose. The Clean Tech Open is a business competition where companies submit their sustainable business ideas for funding, and entrants are not only chosen but receive comments from the judging rounds. It's an amazing opportunity for those companies that compete. It was a really energizing event, with lots of new ideas. A company called Cool Earth was talking about it's early win in previous years competition about their idea of creating solar collectors out of mylar balloons that increases the energy efficiency of solar collectors. Their goal is to create generation plants using their technology and resell to the utilities. It's a way out idea that talks about the great power of technology.

As I went around the different tables, my first impulse was "yeah, but". Some of the ideas are pretty mundane, others are far fetched or very niche targeted. But as I suspended my disbelief and sat and listened to their explanations and to blunt, their pitches. What really impressed me was that these people had sincere ideas on changing the way we consume energy and resources. There was also a genuine desire to get rich. The two were not incompatible. The other thing that struck me was that these men (and they were predominantly men) and women were huge risk takers to go with their dreams and their ideas.

Contrasting that with myself, who has a job at a major internet company, where my entire job is about risk mitigation. Ideas rarely play into my work decisions. But it goes much beyond business risk, but to personal risk. Most of us think about local risk, to our jobs, to our families, to our reputations. I know that I right now am in that trap, this blog is a small effort to move beyond that trap of complaint and into action. But is sufficient to move change. I don't know, but I do know that I don't have an idea compelling enough to make the next big move. However, the people in the clean tech challenge have the courage, because they have the big idea, and they know that even greater than the risk of failing in business or our jobs, is the risk to this planet. And that they genuinely think they can address that risk and are doing so, truly is a profile in courage.


At 11:08 PM , Anonymous CindyW said...

I love your sincerity in comparing the risks these perhaps far-fetched dreamers take with the corporate job you find yourself in. I think most of us humans are risk-averse - if it's not broken, don't fix it. But it depends on how you define "broken". Would you consider your job broken if you find yourself far more interested in other people's jobs, even when your job is paying the bills?

At 11:30 PM , Blogger Charles said...

It's not so much whether my job is broken or not, but that it's a struggle to find what the next stop is with a fearlessness that you will be able to respond. A coach of mine once defined an approach for one of his athletes where the athlete was to push forward even at opening a risk to himself, and the reason was that this athlete was so fast that he'd be able to defend more times than not.

The same will probably be in assessing one's abilities, the assumption that your bills will be paid as you move forward. But it is an act of faith, faith in yourself. The green movement is a courageous one in that members act at "detriment" to themselves because they know it will make a difference where others play it safe thinking it won't. Is my career broken, no. But as Churchill said, the goal was not will Britain survive but for Britain to prevail.

Will the challenges career be about material loss, perhaps but at this time it's the perceived psychic ones that seem to stymie more. To move beyond that psychic risk, is what impresses me most about the Clean Tech Challenge participants.

At 11:44 AM , Anonymous CindyW said...

Charles, I did not mean to imply that your job was broken :) Every job has its pros and cons. I was more thinking about my own past career/jobs. I was a management consultant for four years, the first three of which were interesting both in terms of new knowledge and experience. In the last year, instead of working towards becoming a partner (seems like the ultimate goal for many management consultants) I started envying other people's jobs that had more "meaning". Still it took me a year to get out. Then rather than sitting back and really thinking about what meaningful career I would like to pursue next, I jumped right into a corporate position, marketing enterprise software. My rationale was that I had to support my family. I lasted all but 8 months there :)

In any case, I have a tremendous desire for financial security, perhaps instilled by my upbringing. Frankly I do have a responsibility to my two children to maintain a stable financial environment. So instead of singularly pursuing an idea while living on rice and beans, I have come to accept my limited options. However that does not preclude me from going into an established company that primarily works toward environmental sanity.

Anyway, I am currently going through some mental exercise to envision what's next. So your post very much resonated with me.

At 11:13 PM , Blogger Charles said...

Oh I didn't mean that you said my job was broken. Right now our jobs are structured as ORs instead of ANDs. My job can be lucrative OR it can be meaningful. Can we change the OR into and AND?

It's difficult to downsize or right size because even not having a lot of stuff, may entail have very nice stuff. I'm particularly guilty about this given my food interests.

Security is an important thing to have, it can free the mind as it often does with tenure. It can be a handcuff that ties us down.

The self-reflection of our mission in our daily jobs is important, and there may not be a set answer but instead a set of answers in progression. If one thinks about it, we are likely to spend more time at work than with our spouses or children. It better have meaning if that's the case.

I applaud those who are creating their lives of ANDs instead of just searching. Someone once said, the best way to predict the future is to make sure you're inventing it.


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