Tag Archive: education

Emily is incredibly fortunate to occasionally contribute her stories and thoughts to the Lift Blog maintained by some management and leadership experts she deeply admires, Bob and Ryan Quinn from the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, respectively. This father/son pair wrote a book entitled “Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation” that inspires the blog. This week, Ryan posted a blog that started to analyze an experience Emily had while trying to progress efforts for large scale environmental education and engagement. Ryan takes a first pass at understanding whether or not it matters if people believe in climate change… in this conversation and analysis- maybe it doesn’t.

Click here for the story/ analysis

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Hats off to the administration of this school that was open to the idea that students could add value to facilities management. This kind of respect and openness at the top-level of an organization is a key ingredient to change. (In general, it might also be just a good idea to keep doors open to good idea as they can come from anyone.) In the Green Construction class taught by professor Hoffman during winter 2010 we learned that the commitment U of M has made to LEED certification for the Ross building, the in construction law building was also the outcome of student led initiatives. I wonder where else this has happened?

Note: the MSNBC Nightly News series called “Making a Difference” is FILLED with small infinity stories. More will surely come.

Here is a story from our friend Theo, who now lives in Palo Alto, CA.  He’s now an official Small Infinity contributor, and you can be too.  Small Infinity stories are everywhere- help us collect them!


I want to pass along two stories I heard about a local nursery school.

The nursery school decided to go green, including recycling, composting, getting rid of paper cups and engaging the children to be good stewards of the Earth. Which is neat in and of itself, but the second order effects have also been pretty cool.

Two anecdotes:

Anecdote one begins with one of the schools three-year-old students visiting his grandma. While playing a game the three-year-old kept getting up and looking out the window. After about 20 minutes, he finally walked outside, pulled several cardboard boxes out of the trash where his grandmother had placed them, and solemnly told her that she should recycle. His grandmother told the teachers at the nursery school, “If my grandson can do this, I think I should too.”

Anecdote two begins with a real estate developer with children at the nursery school. Because of the stewardship learned at school, the children now have their family composting too. While I don’t know if the developer has moved into green development just yet, I’m guessing that they are thinking about it much more now.

I don’t know if these two stories will change the world in and of themselves, but they remind me that the work we do can have impacts outside of the ones we often see.

Here is a story from our friend Brian C, who now lives in Denver, Colorado. He’s now an official “Small Infinity”, and you can be too. Small Infinity stories are everywhere- help us collect them!

Every spring for the last 3 years, I’ve been lucky enough to find time during my job as a finance professional to skip out and teach economics to 4th graders at my old elementary school. The teaching is facilitated through a national not for profit organization, called Junior Achievement. This year’s class was easily the hardest to connect with over the 3 years.

At the end of a recent lesson, I had the kids break up into groups and tasked them to come to a group decision regarding a hypothetical business problem. As time was winding down, I asked each group to elect a speaker to read their problem, share their decision, and talk a bit about their decision making process. I was delighted when the last group actually chose one of the quieter girls in class to be their speaker. Their problem had two choices and one choice was that they could do something illegal with a very low probability of getting caught, but the illegal activity would net them a substantially higher profit. Apparently, this group unanimously chose the less profitable yet completely legal approach. Perfect! This group of four 4th graders with different education levels and different cultural backgrounds were unified in their desire to behave honestly.

I then asked for a show of hands how many of the kids would knowingly break the law, with a low chance of being caught, but would be ensured a large monetary gain . . . I thought I was going to cry when not one hand was raised. In this one small microcosm of low-income, public school system educated, 11-12 year olds; they all shared a common desire to perform honestly over dishonesty and profit.

The psychological, political, educational, etc. implications of this one little exercise may not be profound, but it is moments like this that recharge hope. As I think about how to title this for the Small Infinity blog, my designation of A, B, C is admittedly a guess. “A” could be the quiet girl, “B” her team (or vice versa), and then, through social norms, “C” the class. The only thing I know for sure is that “D” was me.

Emily has this funny habit of writing herself notes on her mirrors with whiteboard markers.  If you go to her apartment, you’ll see it- in her bedroom, her bathroom, anywhere else there is a mirror, there is usually a note.  Sometimes it’s small and silly, like “I like your shirt”.  Sometimes it’s her grocery list, or her to-do list, or something she thought of in the shower that she wants to remember later.  I think it’s a great idea (it wipes right off, and it looks much tidier than post-its), and several months ago I started keeping track of my half-marathon training runs on my bedroom mirror, too.

Then, in my first day of a Public Health class called “Aging in Health Behavior” in January, we were having a discussion of how difficult it is to start and maintain healthy behaviors, like flossing and stretching.  I told the class about Emily’s notes-on-the-mirror trick, as a prompting technique, and everyone thought it was kind of a strange idea.

But over the next few months, I learned that my classmates had tried it, and it was working.  Teja was finally taking her vitamins, because she wrote herself a note on the mirror.  Christee had finally made it a habit to floss.  And the professor had given her daughter a pack of whiteboard markers and permission to color the mirror, and the 8-year-old had apparently unleashed some hidden creativity and turned her bathroom into a work of art.  Small changes, but hey- flossing is important.

During the first class of a core strategy course the professor briefly mentioned that the first step to a great strategy is providing value to society.  This framing of business purpose as providing value to society was not one often heard throughout the core coursework of my MBA program, but one that is found in nearly every book about sustainable enterprise.  So I wrote him an email asking if we would talk more about that idea throughout the rest of the course.  He kindly wrote back to say not specifically.

6 weeks later, right before the course was over- I wrote this email:
I have tried to honor the email that you sent me at the beginning of the term about how we will not be discussing societal connections and consequences of ideas covered in the core class, but it has not been easy.  I know that time is the limiting resource in our class and that discussion must be focused and diverse but I can’t help but ask that we revisit the topic once more.  Below is the background on why I think this is important and a suggestion for a possible solution.

The Dean of our B-School  just said this in a message to the student body today:
“The idea that business does not exist in a vacuum is central to what we do here. We embrace the fact that business unfolds in the wider world of human concerns and institutions. Our School’s commitment to the social dimensions of business is visible in both our curriculum and our culture as evident by the enduring strength of our Net Impact chapter, by the School’s approach to leadership development, and by our MBA program’s consistently high showing in rankings such as the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes (in which we are currently ranked #2 in the world and #1 in the U.S.)

It seems that the Dean of our school joins many in the argument against Grant’s thinking of the corporation as simply shareholder property and not a social entity as found on Pg 34 of the textbook for class.  I understand the purpose of the core course is to introduce simple strategy concepts covered in our competitor schools, but I worry that without a bridge to acknowledge the real world complexity added from social and environmental impacts many of the students in this class may not know to take the electives that would prepare them for decision making with these factors in mind.  I also worry that we are teaching to a definition of the corporation that may have been salient in the past but less accepted now, especially as transparency of management increases and social and environmental problems worsen. (I was clearly feeling bold on that last bit.)

I would like to write something to expand on the conversation of a couple of the cases we’ve discussed in class and post it in the online discussion section for our class.  The objective of anything that I write would be to highlight added dimensions of complexity that real world business leaders are facing and offer an introduction to additional classes offered at Ross that would unpack that complexity more.”

Not only did he let me prepare something to post in the online discussion: he let me present it to the class of 50+ part-time MBAs for 15 minutes as a lead in to lunch.  I scraped something together in a flash and did a presentation, from which I learned a great deal.  It was far from perfect (embarrassed by the emphasis I put on what business “ought to do” vs. what business “gets to do”) but I think I was able to get people thinking differently, if only for a bit.  During the break after my “presentation,” Many of my classmates expressed gratitude for the introduction and said they would not have otherwise known about the concepts and other classes.  I expressed gratitude to my professor for the opportunity to present.

Who knows what happened after that, but If there is one thing I’ve learned for certain:  saying something increases the odds of change exponentially if the other choice is remaining silent.
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