Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tacit Knowledge-The Map is not the Territory

When I first learned how to drive in Cincinnati, there were no gadget gizmos like Google Map or OnStar. This was back in the mid-1990s’ and if you wanted to get somewhere unknown, you had to plot it on a map—which I found on the back of a phone book—and figure out the major streets and a sense of direction. From there, you just have to get on the road, and test it out. Cincinnati is also a bit strange. Streets will cut off in one part of the city and pick up in another. Most often, streets will change names as you proceed through from one part of the city to another. This made driving fun and difficult, but it forced me to learn landmarks and develop a topographic understanding of the city’s throughways.

More than ten years later, my wife and I moved back to Cincinnati and now it’s her turn to figure out the streets. She, of course, has the handy-dandy smart phone with the not so helpful Siri. She also has OnStar and those people will bend over backwards to do your bidding. My wife heavily relies on the technology and plotted routes. I get very frustrated when I try to tell her not to go a certain way because instinctively I knew that would be a bad way to go. She often refuses to listen and trusts the formal institutional knowledge Google and OnStar have put together on their servers. Sure, my brain may have less memory and horse-power; but I am much better at predicting the traffic flow and knowing just how long it will take the car to get from point A to point B. My wife, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge my intimate familiarity with this city’s landscape.

What I have in my brain about the city’s driving ecosystem is a sort of “tacit knowledge” It’s earned through driving countless times and being lost in the city’s maze . . . again, and again, and again. It’s tacit in the sense that I don’t know the street names or which street connects to which. Instead, I know the feel of the neighborhoods, the old buildings that have been there for decades, the empty parking lot that once was a dwindling shopping center. This is not really knowledge in a formal sense since I don’t categorize it by north vs. south, left-turns vs. right turns. Instead, I rely on a judgment on how far I’ve gone in which direction and what’s around that seems right and what seems wrong. The details are voluminous and often mundane; I taken them for granted.

This phenomenon also occurs in organizations and companies. Often referred to as “organizational knowledge,” most people think it can be categorized and transferred. But in part I believe it should not if the objective is organizational growth. Instead of transferring it, your organization or company should really think about permeating it into your organizational culture and to innovate with it.

Think about it, "tacit knowledge" resides with the people who live and breathe your organization or company. They are information or practices that would make a difference in an stakeholder collaborative innovation process because they give you a sense or feel of what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s why when companies innovate, they should rarely rely on outsiders to do the job. Leaving it to strangers to create means leaving them with a map and letting them find the formal path that you would’ve found anyway if you weren’t so lazy. Internal innovation means stakeholder involvement and getting comfortable with the way things will come together in a group setting. When tacit knowledge of a group of internal stakeholders is put together, you will find they inherently find a pattern and a path forward.

This is an intuitive way of moving forward. It's much better than the institutionalized methods of paying for a boxed thinking. Out of the box I say.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Think Well of Us and Judge Us Not Too Harshly

“Tomorrow, without doubt, you will be leaving us. When you arrive at your destination, think well of us and judge us not too harshly.” - The doum tree of Wad Hamid.

My wife recently said that she would cry if and when the Dali Lama passes from this world. She, and I, find solace in his words and his laughter; we could not bear the thought that he would eventually leave this corporeal place.

“Would there be another Dali Lama?” My wife asks. “What would happen to the Tibetan people?”

The Tibetan people would live just as they did before and after; the spiritual presence of the Dali Lama would persist. No government could dictate the presence of a religion before religions; Buddhism would be as it always has: detached from this worldly madness.

Its songs would be righteous. Your mind tricks would not take its place. History would kindly remind us that you have run afoul with your words; enemies of mankind would be in their proper place.

I’m a man, I listen, I am not afraid to die; or else I’d be hiding in my place, listening to your lies, quietly carving my soul away to your duplicities.

Through the round of many births I roamed

without reward,
without rest,
seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth
again & again.

House-builder, you're seen!
You will not build a house again.
All your rafters broken,
the ridge pole destroyed,
gone to the Unformed, the mind
has come to the end of craving.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Commentary to the Dhammapada, Verses 153-154

But the young would be reborn in your image. They would go away to schools, learn the modern Jedi mind tricks. They would return to Tibet as many young have returned to their roots in Africa and the Middle-east; they would cut down the doum tree, drill the precious riches, sully the saints, spit on the graves of the once sacred journeys. You would buckle them down to your riches; let them do your dirty work. You would teach them the deconstructive ways.

"Why are you trying to build something spiritual when you can build something material?"

The young would fall to your guiles.

“What all these people have overlooked is that there’s plenty of room for all these things: the doum tree, the tomb, the water-pump, and the steamer’s stopping-place.”
- The doum tree of Wad Hamid.
辋川集 | 宫槐陌 



This narrow path beneath the great trees
is edged darkly with thick greening moss.

We keep it swept clean before the gate, in
expectation of wandering mountain monks.

          Wang Wei, (701 - 761 AD)                                               

"With a selfish attitude, oneself is important, and others are not so important. According to Shantideva's advice, a technique to help in turning this attitude around is to imagine- in front of yourself as an unbiased observer- your own selfish self on one side and a limited number of other beings on the other side- ten, fifty, or a hundred. On one side is your proud, selfish self, and on the other side is a group of poor, needy people. You are, in effect, in the middle- as an unbiased, third person. Now, judge. Is this one, single, selfish person more important? Or is the group of people more important? Think. Will you join this side or that side? Naturally, if you are a real human being, your heart will go with the group because the number is greater and they are more needy. The other one is just a single person, proud and stupid. Your feeling naturally goes with the group. By thinking in this way, selfishness gradually decreases, and respect of others grows. This is is the way to practice."

"If there is love, there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue.

"Human beings will continue to deceive and overpower one another. Basically, everyone exists in the very nature of suffering, so to abuse or mistreat each other is futile. The foundation of all spiritual practice is love. That you practice this well is my only request."

-- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from "The Path to Tranquility: Daily Wisdom."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Efficient Governance or Good Governance

I recently found my way to Matthew Andrews’ blog – The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development. I must say, the guy is pretty intense. I put his blog's link on my site here so you can check it out. If you don't know who Matt Andrews is, well, get to know him. He happens to be one of the brains behind the Doing Development Differently and the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), to which we recently signed on to the cooperation.

PDIA is a research working paper series co-authored by Matthew Andrews of Harvard Kennedy School, Lant Pritchett of Center for Global Development and Harvard Kennedy School, and Michael Woolcock of the World Bank. The paper series is aimed to develop a process of sustained global development efforts focused on real sustainable progress, not just lip-service. As any process-based approach, it involves defining the ecosystem of a problem and arrives at a sharpened scope of the process to be controlled. It then creates an environment where development can get the buy-ins of stakeholders (an “authorizing environment” as the Harvard guys called it). Following a process control loop-back system, the process concludes with re-emphasis on stakeholder engagement. This slight deviation and final emphasis on stakeholder engagement differs from a traditional process improvement approach of define, measure, analyze, design and control. It must be noted since it is there to anticipate the problems of multi-variables that exist in a human environment (as opposed to a machine instruction context in industrial 6 Sigma). Simply put, if you are dealing with humans, you must double your effort to get buy-ins so all parts must work together.

I enjoy reading his blog. Matt Andrews’ voice fills a void in the sustainability conversation. Where most people find human rights the default topic to discuss and some even attempts at attaching environmental issues to the conversation of the poor, Matt Andrews focuses on good governance and development in the world without the cliché of throwing money at the problem. He is much more involved from a governance point of view and seems to focus on indicators of good governance to distil the best practices that he warns us to instinctively repulse.

Yet I think he sometimes gets the message distilled too much. For example, his most recent blog post on energy consumption as a good indicator on good governance misses an important point about development in sustainable ways. He made the point that more light is an effective measure of good governance because: governments are the ones authorized and required to make electricity accessible; a healthy regulatory framework and public interest of production and distribution of electricity means the government is doing a good job.

Well, partly yes. I agree more access to electricity means more efficient governance, but efficient governance doesn’t necessarily mean good governance. For example, US and Europe are the two most electricity accessible regions and look at how much energy demand we put on the world as an ecosystem? Look at China and see how bright it is in where pollution is at its worst? Put it simply, to you Harvard guys, let’s distinguish between efficient and capable governance with actually good sense governance in terms of sustainability.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The 3D Manifesto

I followed a cookie trail today to PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation). At its core, it’s a process based governance development theory that’s also focused on engagement and influence. Intrinsically it recognizes the bifurcation between people and society, the fact that complexity demands systematically factored and analyzed steps or iterations, and encourages learning from positive deviance or good disruptive thinking in an attempt to get people to think and “do development differently.”

It is the exact same thing my wife and I have been doing for a while now. We just don’t have the fancy acronyms and the prestige of “Harvard” to stand behind. We call our little project “BrainBox.”Although our work is slow to gain traction, but at this exciting discovery of the 3D Manifesto we are validated. Yup, that makes a pretty good day

The DDD Manifesto – the BrainBox abridged version.

“Ask, think, create and do; with your ecosystem of empowered stakeholders.” 

 Developments with real results usually involve many players – governments, civil society, international agencies and the private sector – working together to deliver real progress in complex situations and despite strong resistance. In practice, successful initiatives reflect common principles. 
 • They focus on solving local problems that are debated, defined and refined by local people in an ongoing process. 
• They are legitimised at all levels (political, managerial and social), building ownership and momentum throughout the process to be ‘locally owned’ in reality (not just on paper).

• They work through local conveners who mobilise all those with a stake in progress (in both formal and informal coalitions and teams) to tackle common problems and introduce relevant change.

• They blend design and implementation through rapid cycles of planning, action, reflection and revision (drawing on local knowledge, feedback and energy) to foster learning from both success and failure.

• They manage risks by making ‘small bets’: pursuing activities with promise and dropping others.

• They foster real results – real solutions to real problems that have real impact: they build trust, empower people and promote sustainability. 

You can look at the 3D Manifesto here.There’s a pretty impressive list of people who have signed on to the Manifesto and as of today, we have also signed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sustainability Index for Non-profits

A little company in town called P&G recently updated its Sustainability Guidelines. It sent a reminder to its external business partners and their suppliers to comply with its Sustainability Guideline. Non-compliance means audits and possible discontinuation of future businesses for failure of compliance. P&G’s Sustainability Guidelines is an impressive list of actionable items including strict legal compliance, respecting human rights, respecting child labor and anti-force labor standards, health and safety, wage and hours standards, anti-discrimination practices, environmental standards, collective bargaining standards, anti-corruption standards, privacy standards, and personnel security standards.

 P&G’s Sustainability Guidelines seem to be directed at for-profit entities primarily doing business in other countries but for a non-profit local to P&G’s footprint and receiving annual grants from P&G’s philanthropy efforts, it is worthwhile to think how this will impact the value proposition during the annual grant writing process. Intrinsically, the question of whether the non-profit can measure its own sustainability index and performance intrigued me. Naturally, when the question was presented to me by a non-profit’s board member I jumped at the chance to think this one through.

First, you have to define the measuring criteria in each of the three (3) sustainability categories – social, environmental and economical performance. P&G has done this with its own operations and ecosystem of stakeholders in mind. Their Guidelines are unique to P&G, but the premise is replicable. You just have to follow a process of define, measure, analyze and improve for the relevant factors identified in each of the three categories. It's a bit of work, but it's nothing too complicated.

I.     Social Performance.

The social performance of non-profits is often neglected because most non-profits are mission driven. They are already socially orientated so its leadership and those evaluating these non-profits aren’t looking outside the mission box. But sustainability is more than that, and stopping at the non-profit’s social mission neglects the wider ecosystem in which the non-profit exist. Can the non-profit do more? Can it easily cooperate with another and find synergy? These are often questions not asked. Interestingly, this mentality sets in at later stages of a non-profit’s operation when it has paid staff who are very silo-ed and have accustomed to the “it’s not my job” mentality. For the younger and budding non-profits, this isn’t so much of a problem and I find some of the less established non-profits are more flexible in their ability to collaborate and there are less barriers since they are not so much economically incentivized.

This adaptability often yields interesting results in new venture formations.

So how do you measure a non-profit’s mission in the context of sustainability? Well, you have to look at what that mission is and if it is a durable or an end-goal mission. For example, a charity for curing cancer will cease to exist (likely) when cancer is cured; but a charity that is focused on leadership development will never have an expiration date on its operations. So long as there are people, leaders are to be developed.

You also have to look at its flexibility, in terms of adaptability not only in budgeting but also with respect to innovation—does the non-profit have a process for creating value out of its original ideas and not just fundraising efforts? I find a non-profit with older constituents and larger operation size are less flexible and a non-profit with younger constituents and small operation size are more flexible and tends to be more creative. They can capture new value and can grow very quickly. However, the x-factor in this analysis is whether the non-profit has heart. How passionate is its stakeholders? I find that a lot of passion will transform perceived demographic barriers and make older people creative and adaptable.

Another way to look at a non-profit is through its focus on diversity and inclusion. There are many ways to define diversity and inclusion, but I believe it’s more about diversity of experiences and thoughts, and giving that diversity a voice that really creates value for any organization. Of course skin color or cultural differences naturally manifest into diversity of thoughts and experience, but the really good organizations look beyond skin and try to do something about empowering its minority and often neglected constituents.

It is also a good idea to look out for the lack of diversity and inclusiveness that manifest in unexpected ways. Take organizational structure for example. Most organizations love org-charts and love to tell staff where they fit-in in the grand scheme of things. This leads to exclusion of thoughts in the same way discrimination works against skin color or gender or cultural background. Think about it, your idea is not valued simply because you are working as an administrative assistance and everyone assumes you have nothing to contribute to the new fund raising campaign initiative even though they are targeting exactly your demographic. How does that make you feel?

So there are a number of questions a non-profit, or any organization, can ask: is it diverse and inclusive not just for the sake of appearances, but because the organization really values what everyone has to contribute? Is it putting this to practice and really allow opportunities for the diverse and often minority voice? And finally is it implicitly exclusive (for example, is its mission to serve a particular political party)?

Finally, you can also measure the social performance of a non-profit by the educational impact it has on its stakeholders. Here, you want to examine whether the organization is systematically following a script (donate to disabled veterans) and not really inspiring its stakeholders to be creative and really think of solutions to the social problems it is trying to address; or is it finding a new way of looking at the root problems and finding holistic sensible solutions to really alleviate the problem? Here, you have to think a bit counterintuitively. If you are really just raising funds, then you want the problem to exist so you can sustain your fundraising campaigns. On the other hand, if you are really looking at how to solve a problem then you should be working yourself out of a job. Because by the end of the day, you have solved the problem and your charitable work is no longer needed. But this is only applicable to those non-profits without a durable pro-active mission. A non-durable passive mission is one that aims to solve a problem. Once the problem goes away, then the mission is no longer applicable. It is reactionary. It’s good that we are solving problems, but sustainability is more about anticipating what’s ahead. A durable active mission is one that aims to empower a particular good thing in society. The arts for example; or developing today’s leaders and tomorrow’s communities as one non-profits has it. After all, you will probably never run out of good leaders to develop and good communities to build; I hope we never run out of good art to promote. 

To recap, the social performance of a non-profit can be evaluated by its mission and purpose, by its adaptability and innovative capacity, by its diversity and inclusion, and by its educational and inspirational impact. Under each of the four factors, benefits and barriers can be assigned scores based on subjectivity and although not an entirely accurate science, it does provide a good gauge of how well the non-profit is performing beyond just a mere assessment of its ability to perform its mission.

II.     Environmental Performance.

Following a lazy-man’s assessment, our non-profit isn’t about the environment so this is not applicable to us. Right? Or, we aren’t subject to any environmental laws, so we don’t have to be assessed in this category. Okay? No. Everyone has an environmental impact and any organization can do something about it.

To start, there are three categories under environmental performance we can use to assess a non-profit’s environmental performance standard: conservation, protection, and impact. First, conservation is about reduce, reuse, and recycle. All organizations can be mindful of how they are reusing their material, how they are reducing their carbon footprint, and how they are creatively recycling things they were throwing away. How well does your non-profit manage its resources? How well does your organization communicate needs and surplus?

Protection is about being mindful of making the right choices. If you can order 100 t-shirts from a company overseas (high transportation cost and carbon footprint) and that company uses environmentally unfriendly processes (using harsh chemicals to dye), then do you really need to save that five dollars per t-shirt? An even better question, why are you buying the t-shirt in the first place? Is it because your constituents really need it or is it because that’s just what everyone else is doing?

Finally, let’s talk about impact. Your non-profit has a lot of brand power for your own advocacy work. But are you leveraging that brand power to co-brand environmental initiatives? Are you making the connection of your brand recognition with any environmental problems that you’ve turned a blind eye? For example, if your mission is to alleviate poverty are you also looking at how the poorest are often living next to the most polluted places and have higher health care costs because of this? After you have connected the dots and recognized how closely connected you are to the environmental impact you can make, are you leveraging your organization’s social diffusion power to really make a stink about your new found knowledge?

III.     Economic Performance.

This is a small category because non-profits by definition are not focused on just making the single profitable bottom line. Non-profits are mission driven to begin with and is at a lower risk level for lack of good governance and corporate social responsibility.

What does need to be addressed with non-profits are often their cost of inefficiencies both in terms of its operations and its administrations. It’s also important to look at its budgeting (how good is the organization at predicting fluctuations in its revenue cycles and how good is it at reducing ineffective cost items and protocols). Additionally, it’s important to examine whether the non-profit is looking at opportunities and stakeholder involvement. Is it getting its constituents involved in the innovation process to capture new value that has otherwise been neglected?

These are just the starting points. I can go on for days. . .

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thinking Health and Happiness - a collaborative conversation

(This was one we worked on together with Robin Cook of the Finally Good News. It's been shared recently, so we figured it's a good time to bring it back for a read. This was written as part of a series of collaborating topics. Our first topic was on "Sustainability and Education" and you can read the articles here. Our second topic was on Green Building and Zoning. This round we engaged on the topic of Health and Happiness and the invariable philosophical point we touched upon is the transformative nature of being and becoming--that what we do are not absolute nor are we capable of doing no wrong; the point is to identify our faults, take things in consideration and moderation, and try to live and enjoy each day. For this collaborative work, we asked Robin Cook of the Finally Good News to contribute. We hope you enjoy and think deeply about what we have to say. As always, if you wish to contribute to our work or want to suggest a topic, please contact Lauren at

1.     Big Thinkers - by Robin Cook

2.     Path of Happiness and the Synthetic Chemical Street - by Lauren Campbell Kong

3.     Humming Along - by Jin  Kong

4.     可口可乐 - by Jin Kong

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Throw-Away Culture

One of the first thing I noticed about the holidays season in the United States was the aftermath of bags of trash to the curbside. The idea of packaging and wrapping something in beautiful and expensive paper and padded custom gift boxes away escapes me, but after 20+ years of living in the United States, I have given in to the practice. Still, it bothers me. My father’s once told me how he collected empty cigarette boxes and used the blank insides as writing paper for school. He meant to tell me about the poverty back then to make me more thankful for what I have today, but that image of him standing on a pile of trash, hunched and looking for empty cigarette packs, hunts me in some strange way. What I throw away each year in wrapping paper would’ve supplied him for a whole year’s worth of note taking. I don't know just how I feel about that.

For more than 30 years, the US EPA has been collecting data on waste generation and disposal to measure the success of waste reduction and recycling programs around the country. Each year, the EPA generates a report on their findings. The most recent report is for 2012.

According to this 2012 report, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash that year. Approximately 65 million tons were recycled and 21 million tons were composed.The 34.5% recycling rate doesn't seem so impressive, but it is much better than the 10% back in the 1980s. The EPA report also pointed to some good indicators of progress. For example, we are starting to recognize the impact of throwing away batteries. In 2012, about 96% of lead-acid battery was recovered and prevented from ending up in landfills. Paper recycling rate reached 70%.

“Over the last few decades, the generation, recycling, composting, and disposal of MSW [Municipal Solid Waste] have changed substantially. Solid waste generation per person per day peaked in 2000 while the 4.38 pounds per person per day is the lowest since the 1980’s.”

It’s not all rose and cheeky. We still managed to throw away 164 million tons of municipal solid waste and 21% of that throw-away was food. Plastic amounted to another 18% coming in as the second most popular throw-away material. Of this 164 million tons of throw-away cost, containers and packaging made up of 30% and durable goods accounted for 20%.

Recycling has many benefits. It reduces our demand on existing “green” resources (resources that has never left its organic life cycle). The process of recycling also creates opportunities for capital creation that is otherwise captured by the throw-away mentality. Smart people are making money creating technology and selling what is otherwise trash to willing buyers who uses the material to cut back cost of harvesting green resources. And along a more popular topic, recycling in 2012 accounted for more than 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emission.

Happy Holidays:

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Today, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama made a historic announcement of their respective targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

President Obama pledged in 2009 to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. To accomplish this, he initiated a number of aggressive plans including promoting better vehicle fuel efficiency standards. Today, he pledged that the United States would cut emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025. This is on par with the pace with his current plans. Let’s hope the new Congress and Senate won’t break this very important promise to the world.

The Chinese President pledged to peak Chinese CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make every effort to cut back early. This seems not so significant, but it is a very good pledge given that China still has a significantly vested interest in continuing modernization and lifting its people out of poverty. China also pledged to expand zero-emission sources in renewable and nuclear energy to match its current dependency on coal-fired capacity. While dependency on nuclear power is questionable and mere promise to “peak” emission is only as good as the promise, it is commendable that China is at least trying. With one-fifth of the world’s population and a very good model to alleviate poverty but at the high cost of corruption, it is just very difficult to do the right thing when it is very much influenced by the western consumption culture.

China’s goals seem achievable. A 2011 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that China is on course to meet this goal and a MIT study with more conservative estimates suggest China has to be aggressive in its policies to meet this goal.

It is unprecedented for the two largest economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters in the world to come together and pledge to work cooperatively. This signaled to the other world leaders to follow in anticipation of the next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference negotiations in Paris. This is a good sign. We are finally seeing some global vision in moving beyond the climate change denial and doing something about it. For the U.S., it may be our coming to terms with good science and bad politics; for China, this is about necessity. The mounting social pressure and visible air pollutions just is too much for its people to burden.

Mind you, the two nations have also been discussing other economic cooperation and more progressive immigration policies to allow a better exchange for human capital and their expertise. This would encourage a more open exchange of social responsibility and good corporate governance for China and better access to the growing economy for the United States. With these things (environmental incentives, economic opportunities, and corporate governance) reaching for progress and balance between the two nations, the sustainability movement has a chance.

Full speed ahead I say.

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