Neighborhood of Reused American Dreams

This was the immigration center near North Station. Now peddling a different “American Dream.” Same neighborhood as Public-Private Sweat Houses


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Post-Labor Days … and More from the NEJHE Beat

Post-Labor Days. For many, that means time to put away the white pants and relish that last summer getaway. Few will reflect on the true meaning of Labor Day (and May Day) or the too-often-denigrated labor movement in general. Fewer will think of the 19th century mill girls in Lowell, Mass., and their successors who risked their jobs—and sometimes their lives—to create the day of recognition for workers. Many of today’s employers keep their shifts going even during Labor Day. Many professionals dabble with work even during the paid time off the labor movement won for them (though even today the U.S. is the only “first world economy” that doesn’t require employers to offer any paid time off). As historian Charles Scontras of the University of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Education recently noted, “Workers whose knowledge and skills are increasing[ly] linked to increased productivity and the creation of wealth, and who may have viewed with indifference the movement of manufacturing abroad for the past few decades are, themselves, increasingly experiencing living on the edge of economic insecurity.” Many students, meanwhile, got back to class in late August; speed counts. Labor Day is not what it used to be.

But labor is more crucial than ever.

Indeed, NEBHE’s Commission on Higher Education & Employability is heating up. The Commission will host a panel discussion at NEBHE’s board meeting on Sept. 14 in Maine, a full Commission meeting on Sept. 27 at Carbonite in Boston, and a summit Dec. 4 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The Commission is not some set of crass commercial tasks, but rather a deliberate initiative to help all New Englanders find fulfilling jobs and, in so doing, enrich the region’s economy. One concern for the Commission is bringing adult workers into the workplace to capitalize on the aging of the region’s population; Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have the oldest median ages  in America. Why not go a step further and redouble efforts to make New England a world leader in all things geriatric, including deploying the region’s fabled health research expertise in a well-funded, concentrated fight against the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease?

The other side of New England’s demographic challenge is the need to engage groups who have not always been well-served by education. Obviously, Donald Trump’s suggestion to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will not help.

A different brain drain. On the subject of age, New England is losing its claim to an 88-year-old genius. Famed left-wing social critic Noam Chomsky announced last month that he is leaving MIT, where he has been a linguistics professor since 1955, to join the linguistics department at the University of Arizona. Brain drain is a common worry. And the drain is often the Sun Belt (at least before climate change was understood). But the brain drain is more commonly seen through the lens of New England losing workers than losing intellectual capital, especially academics like Chomsky who have lost favor among corporate-minded higher ed thinkers.

You work too much. Most students (59%) work during college. But like countless moms advised, the key is moderation. Working while in college can be a good strategy for students from low-income families to get through and get ahead in college, especially if their enlightened employers offer flexibility. But an ACT Center for Equity for Learning report suggests that working more than 15 hours a week while in college may do more harm than good—especially for students from underserved backgrounds.

The findings come just as the Trump administration proposes cutting $500 million from the federal work-study program; some estimate that would lead to only 333,000 students awarded work-study aid in 2018, compared with 634,000 in 2017.

College readiness is inherently involved in the employability effort. Even in the age of alternative credentials, higher education of some sort is critical to the region’s employability future. Much talked-about 21st century skills generally include: collaboration (“teamwork”); communication; critical thinking (though more about solving problems than being critical of authority or mass media) and creativity (as long as it can be monetized?). Having been in Boston’s Kenmore Square around the Hub’s famed Sept. 1 move-in days, I would add one more: the ability to walk down a street without knocking anyone over.

Relevant for future enrollment? The Maine House considered a proposal to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms on public colleges (except in facilities that post signs barring them). The idea was rejected. The bill would have changed existing law that lets the trustees of the University of Maine, the Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy decide the rules for the campuses they oversee. In a line straight out of Miss Sloane, bill sponsor Rep. Richard Cebra (R-Naples) said the proposal is “a women’s issue” because “a small, concealed handgun creates an equality between a 100-pound woman and a 225-pound attacker.” Cebra and two colleagues also requested allowing members of the Legislature to carry concealed handguns in the statehouse, following a gun attack in Virginia on a congressional baseball practice. Across the region, Massachusetts bans guns on campus; the other five states leave it up to individual campuses, according to the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus.

Regional thinking. When we staged our mock election campaign for “Governor of New England” nearly a decade ago, one of the “candidates,” Vermont’s then treasurer, and later real governor, Jim Douglas argued: “We have 250 towns (Maine has 435) and the Legislature offered an incentive a couple of years ago to provide more school construction aid for towns that would consolidate their schools and build a joint school. They pulled back because nobody wanted to do it. So before we talk about expansion and collaboration in the federation beyond the borders, we should realize it is pretty tough to cooperate even internally sometimes.” Hard as it is to join schools within states, Vermont and New Hampshire towns are among those considering a new interstate district. Previously, Vermont was part of the first joint compact district in the nation, when Norwich, Vt.  joined with Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1964 to form the Dresden School District.

Going coed. College readiness and employability both hinge on the economic sustainability of higher ed institutions. One strategy to bolster institutional finances has been to appeal to more groups of students. The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) announced last month that it will open undergraduate admissions to male students for fall 2018. Historically, USJ admitted only women to its main undergrad programs, but began introducing coeds to various graduate programs starting in 1959. President Rhona Free cited studies showing that less than 1% of full-time female college students attend a women’s college and only 2% of female high school seniors say they’d consider attending one.

Play ball! Major League Baseball (MLB) and Northeastern University entered a partnership to provide pro ballplayers with access to higher education programs. The agreement follows the inclusion of a new Continuing Education Program in MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement, which provides players with additional funds devoted to their educational development. Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, who is slated to speak at the NEBHE Dec. 4 summit, said of the baseball agreement: “We must be boundless, and meet learners where they are. That is why this partnership with Major League Baseball—to prepare players at all levels for the next step in their lives and careers—is so important.” The agreement provides a range of opportunities to interested players—both during and following their baseball careers—through in-person and online instruction. Players will have access to degree programs in fields such as finance, health sciences, information technology, human services, communications and psychology, data analytics, sports leadership, digital media and project management.

Peace in Maine. The Lewiston, Maine police have been holding neighborhood meetings to address complaints about Bates College off-campus housing. Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald was quoted in the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal as saying: “These are people who have lived there for years, and their quality of life won’t be ruined by out-of-state yahoos.” NEJHE has covered such delicate town-gown relations, including a full edition on Colleges In Their Places.

Being your Guide. Putting together our annual Guide to New England Colleges and Universities always offers an opportune time to inspect the region’s higher ed landscape for institutional comings and goings. What’s new this year? Facing declining enrollment, Andover Newton Theological School of Massachusetts signed an agreement to move into Yale Divinity School, in New Haven, Conn., and become Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School. The former Rockport College connected with the University of Maine Augusta is now Maine Media College. The entire board of the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) stepped down after turmoil between the trustees, the founders and the staff. It sent us scurrying to make sure we hadn’t missed out on the circus, but alas, NECCA doesn’t fit the criteria for the Guide, notably that they be authorized to grant undergraduate or graduate degrees.

A little civility. Former NEBHE chair and frequent NEJHE editorial contributor Lou D’Allesandro reflected on the enactment of a Senate Bill he sponsored to develop a uniform framework for civics courses. “By outlining an instructional framework, this bill ensures that our teachers are teaching the fundamentals of democracy, the responsibilities of every citizen, and the tools to engage. At no additional cost to the state, this is a common sense measure for our students and our democracy.”

Collaborating. I was honored to join the July 2017 ACL Northeast Community Gathering at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It’s a group of collaborators who could save higher education money by sharing rather than cutting. But the consortia themselves face challenges. Neal Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges Inc., notes that they are often seen as “cost centers” and collaboration is hardly mentioned to new officials stepping into higher ed leadership positions. At Five Colleges, which has 37 employees and is often seen as a leader among consortia, the directors of virtually every function area have turned over in the past eight years. Abraham, himself, is stepping down.

The featured speakers at the ACL Northeast Community meeting were Harvard Project Zero’s Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman. They offered “impressions” from their work on “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century.” The study investigates how students, parents of students, faculty, administrators, trustees, young alumni and job recruiters conceive of the purposes, best practices and most challenging features of undergraduate education in the U.S., especially liberal arts and sciences. It’ll take time to see final results. But in the meantime, Fisher asks: Wouldn’t we all want a population that reads the newspaper and understands it?

Missing BIF. For the first time in several years, I’ll be missing this month’s Business Innovation Factory summit due to a conflict. It’s always a profound inspiration. I urge you to watch the videos, which generally are released within a month or so of the event.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.

This piece was cross-posted at

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Estranged Editor

Why is that not in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles?

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Employability … Ever since my organization latched onto that term, I’ve careened between the ideal of meaningful work for everyone (a sort of benevolent twist on the Soviet five-year plan), the grim sense that education is merely job training, and the Jam’s lament: Work and work and work and work till you die/There’s plenty more fish in the sea to fry.

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Legend in My Living Room

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Sanctuary … and Other Notes from the NEJHE Beat …


Sanctuary? How will higher education fare under a President Donald Trump? The campaign’s misogyny shouldn’t sit well with a student body that is now majority-female. Its disavowal of climate changes won’t impress research universities. And the xenophobia won’t help economies and cultures bolstered by foreign enrollment. The number of foreign students in the U.S topped 1 million in 2015-16. But experts worry that Trump’s election could dampen foreign enrollment as 9/11 had done 15 years ago. Here at home, “college Canada” and “university Canada” were searched more than twice as much in the U.S. on the day after the election than on any other day in the past five years, according to Google.

Many college student greeted Trump’s election with walkouts. California State University, America’s largest public university, reaffirmed Nov. 16 that it would not help with deportations. Several in New England have explored seeking “sanctuary” status for immigrants, a designation the Trump campaign pledged to end.

To note a few specific reactions, the University of Maine System assured students that acts of hate based on political, ethnic or religious differences would not be tolerated. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark E. Ojakian wrote to the community “to personally reaffirm our commitment to social justice, diversity, inclusion and respect for one another.” Manchester Community College President Gena Glickman posted a letter reminding students that the college “is committed to maintaining a social and physical environment conducive to carrying out its educational mission.” The president of Montserrat College of Art called on his college community to “together recommit ourselves to those things that have made this the special place that it is. Among them is how we treat one another with support, inclusion, and respect, how we value ideas, hard work, creativity, and individual expression, and most importantly our commitment to education and human empowerment.”

Whiteboard Advisors issued this special edition of its Education Insider focused on post-election analysis.

Boston Globe innovation columnist Scott Kirsner suggested Trump’s victory revealed how many voters felt left behind by the “Knowledge Economy” that is so tightly identified with higher education.

TechCon. Speaking of innovation, the day after Trump won the presidency, I attended TechCon, the flagship event of the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), part of USAID’s Global Development Lab. At TechCon, students showcased some of the innovations they’ve created to combat issues like poverty and disease. It reminded me a bit of the Business Innovation Factory summits. An Olin College professor welcomed the six teams who had received the most development dollars at an earlier “marketplace.” The young innovators were a very diverse crowd. I wondered what would Trump think.

In the “Research” category, Aili Espigh and Caleb Ebert of the College of William and Mary pitched their system for “open-source” tracking of aid programs, in their case, using publicly available newspaper stories. Chaitanya Karamchedu, a high school student from Portland, Ore., gave his pitch on a hydrogel desalination technique to separate freshwater and seawater while creating fertilizer as a byproduct. A woman PhD student from the University of California Berkeley, Katya Cherukumilli focused on removing fluoride from groundwater, which is stunting children’s growth in some places in India and the Rift Valley.

In the “Products and Services” category, Grace Nakibaala pitched her PedalTap as an inexpensive replacement for hand-taps in Uganda. The foot-controlled taps curtail the spread of infection and the wasting of water. (I had just become used to pedal taps during a trip to Italy. But Europe and Uganda can seem like different worlds.) Team Sensen’s chief technology officer explained his team’s use of sensors to provide data analytics on aid work, citing a recent collaboration with a United Cerebral Palsy initiative in Indonesia to provide fitted wheelchairs and advocacy for disabled people. Elijah Djan, the inventor of Nubrix, described his time as a student in South Africa, making bricks out of recycled paper—and in the process, attacking the problem of tons of wastepaper in South Africa while addressing major shortages of housing in Nigeria and Kenya.

Talent. In October, NEBHE held Talent 4.0 How Employable Are New England’s College Graduates and What Can Higher Education Do About It? at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Our full video coverage will be available soon at And NEBHE will have much more to say about the theme of higher education and work.

In an panel on “The Future of Experiential and Work-Integrated Learning,” Peter Stokes, managing director of the Huron Group and author of Higher Education and Employability, noted that while higher ed should not be reduced to job prep, new discussion about credentials is not only about traditional college degrees. He reminded the audience that Bunker Hill Community College is working with MITx on a MOOC; Northeastern University is partnering with Burning Glass; and Bentley University’s highly ranked career office is intermingling liberal arts with business education.  Stokes noted that there are best practices on campuses; the trouble is identifying them.

Paul J. Stonely, CEO of WACE, agreed that he liked to think of the student holistically, not only as a future employee. He particularly likes the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) definition of career readiness to: broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.

From the audience, Bridgewater State University Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Paula Krebs worried that many faculty members have no sense of working with employers, especially humanities faculty.

Keynote speaker Jeff Selingo, Chronicle of Higher Education editor and author of There Is Life After College, observed significant learning occurs during a student’s first job, but today only 20% work while in college, compared with 40% a few decades ago. Selingo also lamented that many students he interviewed never went to see a professor. He added that offering students a co-op experience is not good enough if students have trouble transferring what they learned in a co-op or internship, beyond reciting straight resume language.

Playing off the title of Selingo’s bestselling book, interviewer Howard Horton spoke of adult students returning to his New England College of Business, noting there is college after life, not just life after college.

The No. 1 reason people go to college is to get a good job, said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Education and Workforce Development at the Gallup Education. But, he added, it doesn’t feel like unemployment is only 5%, because unemployment statistics don’t count people who have stopped looking for work. And many people who once had relatively high-skilled, high-paying jobs, found that after the recession, they had to take anything they could get. Busteed said we need to move away from simple work and look at meaningful work. And we have to stop using the term “soft” for soft skills—they are crucial skills in the workplace.

In a session on Career Services 4.0, Christine Yip Cruzvergara told of working to make her title at Wellesley College executive director and associate provost for career education at Wellesley, so she’d be a voting member on the academic council … after all, she reasoned, we’re the other bookend to the better-resourced role of admissions.

Andrea Dine, executive director of the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University, said her goal is to create an ecosystem with employers doing skill sessions with Bentley and becoming primary sources of info about careers for students. Students earlier relied on their parents or the latest hot careers depicted on TV for ideas about employment.

In a session on Employability Through Experiential and Work Integrated Learning, Richard Porter, professor and former vice president of cooperative education at Northeastern University, said experiential education will have to include liberal arts, not only business and engineering. We have to deliver for English majors too, he said. We have to offer quality. And we need to spotlight students and employers who are having outstanding experiences.

Maureen Dumas, vice president for experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University, called for more focus on making sure students are meeting their goals in an internship, using terms that employers recognize such as public speaking. Some students also were not doing internships because they couldn’t afford to work for free, so Johnson & Wales began to offer a stipend.

Lower education? Higher education is not the only level consumed by the recent U.S. election. Groups such as the nonprofit news site covering education for people under age 18 called The 74 quickly cited increased election-inspired bullying at schools across the country. Trump said little during the campaign about P-12 education strategies, but school choice and improving U.S. places in international rankings came up frequently. Which brings me to Guru Ramanathan.

A Winchester, Mass. high school senior, Ramanathan produced, filmed and directed a feature-length documentary called “Hyper-” about the stress and mental health issues that students experience as they deal with the pressures of the college application process in his affluent Boston suburb. See the trailer here. His theme reminded me of “Race to Nowhere,” the heart-wrenching look at how an achievement-obsessed culture can damage schoolkids, produced by Californian Vicki Abeles. Now, a similar story comes from closer to home. Ramanathan started the project as an independent study in the second semester of his junior year at Winchester High School, where he interviewed a wide range of students, teachers and parents. Although the film is almost entirely centered on Winchester, issues such as losing sleep over Advanced Placement are more universal. Ramanathan reports “Hyper-” has been positively received at public and private screenings near Winchester.

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

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From Starter to Closer, BIF 2016 Storytellers Show Good Stuff


Every September, I get a new fix of inspiration at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit of innovators. Last week, I was at BIF’s 12th summit, my sixth. My main inspiration this year came from Dave Gray. The founder of the strategic design consultancy XPLANE, co-founder of Boardthing and author of Liminal Thinking gave a simple message: Shut off autopilot. As he said, the only place we can make change is in the now. Problem is we don’t often think about now because we’re on autopilot. First piece of advice then: Shut off autopilot and do something different. In an organization, he added, one cog shutting off the dance can change everything. We all talk about disruption a lot, he said, but we don’t disrupt ourselves.

Well, it’s hardly a disruption (a word you hear a bit too much in innovation circles), but I vowed to do one thing different from the past, and not write exhaustively about every speaker I heard. For the ones I left out, it’s not them, it’s me. Happens that the stories that really hit me included the starter and the closer.

The starter was Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company. He researched his new book by seeking out extraordinary stories in ordinary places—not Silicon Valley or Kendall Square, but retail banks, insurance companies, even parking garages. He told, for example, of the “Megabus effect” that had replaced up-to-then drab bus experiences with modernized double-decker busses complete with big windows, GPS so it would be easy to avoid traffic backups, wifi for device-beholden passengers, seatbelts so riders felt safe and smooth ticketing via the internet.

Taylor also spoke of Lincoln Electric, an Ohio company founded in 1895 that makes welding systems and thinks progressively. In 1948, company leaders said Lincoln will never lay off an employee and it never has, not even during the Great Recession. A sign over the factory gate says, “The actual is limited; the possible is immense.” A sort of BIFy take on the proud, “Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world” motto at Bath Iron Works (which by the way, can’t claim Lincoln’s no-layoff promise).

The closer was Ross Szabo. On the outside, everything looked fine for the class president, varsity basketball player with a 3.8 GPA. But he was hardwired for mental health problems. At age 11, he visited his older brother in the hospital after the sibling had a manic episode. Ross himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16. Over the jokes of classmates, he started to talk about his disorder … and classmates started listening. But in his 20s, he attempted suicide, began heavy drinking and experienced psychotic episodes. He dropped out of American College, then returned four years later and earned a degree in psychology. He recently developed a mental health curriculum for college that is now used in campus Greek life, orientation and athletics programs. We need to normalize mental health, he said. “Mental health isn’t for when things go wrong. It’s something you build, like physical health.”

Videos of the storytellers will begin to be released starting in mid-October at Jessica Esch did telling sketches of the BIF proceedings.

Among tidbits between Taylor and Szabo, Matt Cottam, co-founder and chief design officer at the Providence-based design firm Tellart, spoke of Tellart’s exhibit at the “Museum of the Future: Machinic Life” in Dubai showing how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will augment human experience. One example: replacing the uncomfortable aspects of airport security with soothing warm towels that can immediately be scanned for pathogens and other threats. Or automatically adding vitamin C to drinks when a certain number of office workers come down with a cold. Or building a game in the Dubai arcade that requires people to be active and delivers biometric information. Or building an algorithm that takes a 1,000-year view on environment risks, rather then the current shortsighted focus on just a few generations. As machines become better at reading our emotions, Cottam asked, will we naturally employ them to take better care of us? Will we trust AI enough to have avatars be our nannies?

New demographics

Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, noted that around the year 1900, life expectancy was 47. But half of American babies born in 2007 will live to 104. Coughlin credits the gains not only to doctors, but also to civil engineers, noting that clean water has done more than anything else to add to life expectancy. In Japan, more people are buying adult diapers than kids’ diapers. Coughlin pointed out that the fastest-growing part of the population is the 85 and over group. Gen Z people should prepare not just for five to eight jobs, but for five to eight careers. Your kitchen will be able to monitor what food you’re running low on. Smart toilets will tell you whether you took your medicine. Smaller grocery stores with lower shelves and more compact parking lots will cater to the aging, childless shoppers.

Longevity could mean a lot of time for retirement. And perhaps for loneliness? Kavita Patel, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital Community Physicians and healthcare policy adviser, said loneliness is the single most preventable public health epidemic today. People often feel alone, she said, but loneliness is a feeling that no one cares about you. And loneliness worsens other diseases, she said. She told of a study in Australia finding that 37% of early teenagers and young children say they only feel more alone when they get on social media. She cited the longitudinal Framingham health research, famous for its heart study, which also studied loneliness and found lonely people tend to affiliate with other lonely people. And people who are not lonely would actually become lonely if their networks were made up of lonely people. What can we do? Screen for the condition, for starters, she said. And change views. Hospital chiefs brag about private rooms, but such rooms are very isolating and presumably make people lonelier, according to Patel. Also reach out and touch people! (To be sure, that’s a tall order in a society poisoned by political correctness, fear of lawsuits, fear of infection and fear of condescension.)

Out of this world

Kava Newman, deputy administrator at NASA, said she expects to see humans within the orbit of Mars in the 2030s. She believes that if Mars had life 3.5 billion years ago, then something went terribly wrong, that could teach lessons about life on Earth. (I had seen her a few years earlier at BIF when she was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, talking about the pressurized, skin-tight Bio-Suit she developed that gives astronauts unprecedented flexibility in space.)

Irwin Kula, a rabbi who talks about disruptive innovation, is president of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership described as a “do-tank” committed to making Judaism a public good. Kula noted that “nones” are the fastest-growing religion. As disruption guru Clayton Christensen would put it, the “incumbents” are in trouble. True, 40% of Americans say they go to church, but observers found it’s more like 23%. A lot of people think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, Kula said. We need an innovation ecosystem in area of religion, suggested the rabbi. (I had also seen Kula a few years earlier at BIF with his moving Jewish chants set to voice messages from people about to die in the 9/11 attacks.)

Stowe Boyd is a “work futurist” who coined the term hashtag. He said ism’s are holding us back. Anywhereism is about mandating work anywhere, Boyd said. But most companies are actually decreasing square footage of offices to save money, even if many people are less happy and less productive in open spaces. Airspace, he noted, bring similar open plans, glass walls, communal table-desks, high ceilings and artisan touches not only to offices, but also to cafes, hotels and home. Workism and the cult of leadership go back to the fact that organizations are not democratic. Horizontalism suggests that a bossless organizational model would seem to liberate us, but, Boyd suggested, moving away from hierarchy without making other changes is like a mob tearing down a dictator’s statue, but not ousting dictator himself. It’s just a new business model where we become managers and the managed. Techism tells us that using more tools, we’ll be more productive, but we’re actually less productive.

Darden Smith, an Austin, Texas-based singer, is the founder and creative director of SongwritingWith:Soldiers. He sang and played guitar at the BIF summit. Folky, he made references to hearing Bruce Springsteen as a kid, being influenced by Dylan and Elvis Costello. But he said (repeatedly) that he doesn’t believe in cynicism anymore; he believes in love. (Never mind that smart cynicism empowered those musical heroes!)

New starts

Coss Marte started selling pot at 13, then other drugs. He said he came up with a different way to sell drugs. He and his 20 or so assistants all started wearing suits, and the operation grew to be a multimillion-dollar business. Then he got busted and ended up jailed in a 9’x6’ cell. Told by doctors that he was dangerously overweight, he started working out and lost 70 pounds in six months. After his release, he developed a unique fitness program based on the one that had worked for him in prison. With that program, he launched a prison-style fitness bootcamp on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called ConBody. He built his own gym to look like a prison cell and staffed the operation with other formerly incarcerated people. To scale up, he then began offering online videos, where he said, exercisers can feel safe learning from a convict who’s not physically there.

Roberto Rivera, president and “lead change agent” of The Good Life Alliance, spoke of how he went from being a dope dealer to being a hope dealer. He found out he was learning disabled, which he came to see as learning differently. Rivera started his own clothing line. Did a rap: I know you love it/freestyle here at the storyteller summit. He created his own major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called “Social Change, Youth Culture, and the Arts.” “And this person who was told he was LD is now getting his Ph.D in education.” As he noted, “Standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else. … We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

Kare Anderson was diagnosed as “phobically shy” as a child. Classmates prevailed on her to run for student body president in fourth grade. She said she won because students had less positive views about the two other contenders (a cautionary tale?). She is a “synesthete”—a person who sees colors when she hears sounds and that she has no sense of direction. She felt out of sync in many situations and was overly sensitive to stimuli. The upside is that the way her brain works has allowed her to help others go “lower and slower” as they become accessible to those around them and ask lot of questions. That questioning habit led her to a successful job as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

BIF chief catalyst Saul Kaplan reminded attendees that storytelling is a superpower you must have for innovation. After two days (and six years) of great stories, I suffered from what Kaplan termed BIF-induced insomnia. Here are some of my pieces on past BIF conferences …

BIF and the Brains

No. 9 … No. 9 … No. 9 (Rebels, Rabbis and Stories on Innovation from BIF-9)

Tales from the BIF

Tell Me Another One: More Stories from the Business Innovation Factory

Tell Me a Story: Reporting from the BIF-6 Conference in Providence 

(Cross-published on by John O. Harney.)

Painting of “Tuning the Fisherman’s Toy Piano” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney

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