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Sunday Morning Coffee: Stop Following the Rules

November 11, 2012

One thing that continues to baffle me is how well Americans follow the rules (in public).

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Certainly, order does trump chaos, so rules are important, but the extent to which rules are followed varies throughout the world.  In developing countries, rules often tend to be treated as more like guidelines, and if corruption is going on, the rules are just completely ignored.

So, why do we follow rules in the first place? Rules do a few things: first, they help to establish accepted norms of interaction.   Secondly, rules ensure the communal good (safety, fairness, and so on).  For instance, when two cars pull up at a stop sign intersection, the rules of right-of-way make it easy to decide who should go first.  It also gives both drivers the peace of mind that if they follow the right-of-way rule, then they can proceed through the intersection safely.

So far, rules seem great –they help us communicate and they create a net benefit.  So why are so many rules ignored?

The trouble with rules stems from an economic concept called the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.  Essentially, if everyone follows the rules, then the person that breaks them stands to benefit (e.g. the person who cheats on a test), whereas if everyone breaks the rule, then everyone ends up worse off (e.g. the teacher realizes everyone cheated and punishes everyone).

In America, we have done an excellent job at creating a rule-fearing society.  For the most part, people just follow the rules without question.  In fact, often rules are self-enforcing because Americans call eachother out when they break the rules.  This is part of our culture, but it is also part of being a developed country (people are more likely to trust the rule-enforcers).

Why you should break the rules

Rules are excellent when it comes to driving, sports and the law.  The problem is that too often, we keep following the rules in areas we shouldn’t.

Rules are meant to be broken:

-          When you are designing something that has never been designed before

-          When you are creating a business strategy that isn’t the same old norm

-          When you are building the next big thing.

Rules should not define your creativity.  When it comes to free thinking and new solutions…break the rules!

~ Bryan

A Path Away From Pride & Prejudice

September 13, 2012

When Dreams Alight
2009 was a seminal year in my life.  That was the year that I took my first step.

Looking back on the path of my life, I can see clearly that I grew up dreaming of making a difference in a world that didn’t feel quite equitable—even if I didn’t understand why.

My dreams shaped my choices and my choices shaped my experiences, but until 2009, I had yet to diverge.

Chris and I started Rising Pyramid three years ago because we were dissatisfied with the level of difference we could make at our day jobs.

Back then, we were high-fiving when we got over 10 viewers in a day.  Reflecting back, at first, Rising Pyramid was more about us than about the outside world; we were learning and inspiring ourselves as we wrote.

Three years ago when we published our first post, we pivoted away from the normal path.  That action was significant, not because it mattered to the rest of the world, but because it was a choice that mattered within. Read more »

Sunday Morning Coffee: The ‘American’ Dream

September 9, 2012

With the American presidential election coming up, each party has spent a tremendous effort convincing the public that their candidate for president will do a better job at helping the ordinary citizen reach the ‘American’ dream.

I put ‘American’ in quotes because the dream is one that is shared by people across the world; we each have a vision of life success that we aspire to.

Yet, so often we let society and our peers determine the terms of that dream, and the path to it.  As a kid, the path to the dream is laid before you quite clearly: get good grades, go to a good college, and get a good job: boom, add in a mortgage and kids and you’ve got the dream. Read more »

Sunday Morning Coffee: If You Want the Moon…

August 26, 2012

When my father was a kid, he used to believe that if he wanted something, it was already his.  Candy at the grocery store, toys at the mall, his brother’s dessert…you get the idea.

Eventually this led to the establishment of an allowance system in the Farris household & the beginning of my Dad’s natural thriftiness.  Yet, what was a 7-year old’s ‘I want it…therefore it is mine’ attitude resurfaced in a mature way later in life as drive and ambition.

Sure, you can’t go around taking things (okay, we’ll give you some credit if you’re under the age of 10) but you should see the world as a set of opportunities ready for you to seize.   If you want to achieve something, then pursue it…do it!

The difference between a 7-year old’s attitude and adult life is that you will never reach a goal by definition of wanting to reach the goal.  Everything takes work, and effort and diligence, but at the same time, everything is possible.

If you want the moon, make it happen.

~ Bryan


The Pipeline to WIBB

August 23, 2012

As the name implies, social entrepreneurship is about starting socially focused businesses.  Generally, in the long-run social businesses will be bought or traded, so what happens to the social mission at that point in time?

There has been a lot of debate about this; in an ideal world, social entrepreneurs create business models that rely on the social mission in order to complete the profit formula.  Personally, I’m always on the look-out for ways to better ensure that my company’s social mission will be further fulfilled with each new dollar of revenue.

In their Fall 2012 publication, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a fascinating article about the truth behind Ben & Jerry’s sale to Unilever, and how it affects social entrepreneurs.  The premise of the article is that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t want to sell out of fear that their social mission/culture would be lost, but eventually they were obligated to sell to a large buyer.  There are some good lessons for social entrepreneurs at the end.

Naturally a few questions come to mind:
Can social entrepreneurs actually succeed in ensuring that their social mission doesn’t go away when they leave?  Yes—it is certainly possible, but this is a key challenge.

Do social entrepreneurs have exit opportunities/buyers that would prioritize the social mission & maintain it?  At present, the space is limited but socially minded investing firms (like Abacus) are on the rise and eventually there will be enough demand from investors to maintain socially minded funds. Read more »

Sunday Morning Coffee: Chocolate Covered Wasabi Beans

August 12, 2012

There aren’t many edible items that sound more gross to me than chocolate covered wasabi beans.  Yet, they are exactly the kind of treat that can attract a crowd.  What can you learn from this?

First – being different is important.  Wasabi goes with sushi, and Id never put chocolate on my tempura roll, but somehow the combination is unique enough to grab your attention.

Different is memorable and exciting–mundane is drab and uninspiring. Read more »

Industry Clusters

August 9, 2012

Did you ever notice that industries & similar jobs tend to cluster in particular areas?  Tech in Silicon Valley, Film in Hollywood, Finance in New York, Oil and Gas in Saudi Arabia, Construction in Dubai, and so on.

Similarly, culturally uniform groups tend to pursue similar jobs or industries, particularly among immigrants.  These acts of clustering can be explained in part through the concepts of influence spreading through social networks, as described by Fowler and Christakis in the book Connected.

For instance, the Economist just ran an article on Thai’s travelling to Sweden for the annual berry-picking seasonal jobs.  If that isn’t a microcosm example of policy influence/clustering, etc. I’m not sure what is. Read more »

Black-out: SocEnt-in, Please!

August 2, 2012

India’s massive power outage this week underscores the need for social enterprises in the energy sector.

Like most developing countries, India is well accustomed to rolling power outages and brown-outs, but even this week’s power crash was a shock to the system.

While the power outage technically affected most of the country, the primary victims were those in poorer areas and rural villages.  However, as I said, the victims were no stranger to power outages.  Many solutions to this issue have been devised.

The most effective solution is to run a diesel fuel generator in order to power your home or business.  With fuel prices as high as they are, this is an expensive (and environmentally damaging) proposition only available to the wealthiest.

Those without fuel for generators must turn to alternate solutions or do without.  For shop-owners, doing without electricity is often not just a mere inconvenience—it means days of no income.  When you are living hand-to-mouth anyways, a few days income lost can be devastating. Read more »

Microinsurance potential increases in Asia

July 30, 2012

Droughts in the Indian Sub-Continent.  Flooding in East Asia.  These disastrous occurrences are trending towards becoming more of a frequent reality as our global climate shifts.

Shifts in weather patterns have a global ripple effect, but present the largest danger for farmers at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  Their livelihood depends on consistent (or at least somewhat predictable) weather patterns.

The increased unpredictability of rainfall is opening the door for something the micro finance industry desperately needs: a fresh promising face.


Yes, it has been around for a little while now, but the penetration rate for micro insurance (in India, for example) are pitifully low.  There exists a large opportunity for MFIs to expand their offerings, not to mention show off the customer service skills they’ve since learned from the rocky micro-loan early days.

The Financial Times  has sung the praises of micro insurance as the next big product in micro finance; where will MFIs fit into this expanding area of opportunity?


- Chris

Sunday Morning Coffee: Jazz Bands in Berkeley

July 29, 2012

A friend of mine pointed out that Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley had recently been over run with blue grass/jazz style bands on the street corners.  I was skeptical when he said it: I walk/drive/run down Shattuck avenue on a very regular basis and I had yet to see a spontaneous blue grass phenomenon.

But then it happened–I saw a band playing right by the BART station.   Read more »

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