Demolishing the Ivory Tower: Linking Learning to Markets with Brian Demers of Brown University


Most of us are not used to hearing the words business development and university in the same sentence.  And for most of us, when we think of development within a university, we think of student enrollment and/or raising money from charitable donors. Some of us might think research grants.

But wait. What is the end-goal of all of that research? Academic journal articles are great as a record of scientific achievement, but if those articles are the last stop, what is the point? How can research move from the ivory tower into the real world?  

Brian Demers works at the sweet spot between scientific invention and commercial viability. Brian is Director of Business Development in the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing at Brown Univerisity.  In other words, he builds the bridge between university research and commercial markets. Brian assists faculty in identifying and developing inventions that can become viable products and services. He establishes partnerships between the university and commercial entities, and he helps get start-ups off the ground. 

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Website:  Brown Univeristy - Industry Engagement


Planning Amnesia: Don’t forsake your core competencies as a planner in the face of legal contracts | Long Term Planning| Risk Assessment | Adaptive Management


Today’s  Private Side Challenge is keeping your wits about you when confronted with a Public Private Partnership deal.

Last week we discussed issues that arises with private financing of public infrastructure.

One of the things that struck me was that in the worst of these deals, governments are throwing away their best capabilities – the ability to do strategic and long term planning in favor of a pseudo wall-street hack….


Private Financing of Public Infrastructure: Beyond Ambivalence with Aaron Renn of Urbanophile


Show Links

Podcast:  Aaron Renn Podcast


Aaron Renn discusses ways that public commons are constrained through private investment.  Private infusions of capital can completely derail innovation within city planning. If this sounds counterintuitive or antithetical to popular rhetoric, it is because Aaron Renn pays attention to the nuance behind these public-private partnerships.  Aaron gives incredible advice on what to pay attention to when it comes to financing public infrastructure.  


Closet Entrepreneurialism + Planning Career = Blood Sweat and Delicious Tea: Tamika Gauvin of Looen Teas


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Instagram: LooenTeas


What does a bitter refreshing drink from Barbados have in common with the field of urban planning? The answer is Tamika Gauvin.  She is part planner and part founder of Looen Teas. But trust me when I say that those parts add up to more than the whole.

After working as a planner in the private sector for several years, Tamika recently joined the Baltimore mayor's office of innovation. In her spare time she brews delicious concoctions and devises strategies to introduce these drinks to the mainstream US.  She is also focused on how to ultimately leverage her success in this venture to build on her legacy of social good.

Tamika Gauvin is part planner, dedicated to tackling tough problems in cities, and part visionary for Looen Teas.  And, trust me when I say that those parts add up to more than the whole.


What Does The Private Side of Public Work Mean to Tamika Gauvin?

“Everyone has a story. I try to remember that the people I work with in communities have histories and that these histories influence the very work that I do within the city. Everyone brings their own experiences from the neighborhoods they live in and just their life-walk. ”

Where Does Mauby Come From?

Mauby...Tamika’s version of inseparable from her own story.  Tamika’s family is from Barbados, where Mauby is popular. Mauby is an acquired taste and Tamika didn’t particularly like it’s bitter bite as a child, but she remembers its persistent presence in the refrigerator. Her mother used to add cinnamon sticks to soften the drinks hard edges. Mauby was a staple of her childhood.

Mauby Woman photo courtesy of National Archives Image Library, United Kingdom

Mauby Woman photo courtesy of National Archives Image Library, United Kingdom

As an adult Tamika has revisited the drink, toying with recipes and searching for the formula that will build the sensory bridge between her contemporary American world and her cultural heritage.

“I remember tasting Mauby and knowing it’s something I didn’t quite get. It is an acquired taste. I’m making it my own - putting my own twist on it. How would I drink this? I’m making it in a different way because of my own personal interest in it and connection to it.”

Where Does Tamika Come From?

Tamika’s family history is not only an ingredient in her Looen brews. Her heritage is also potent ingredient in her planning career. Tamika grew up in public housing in New York in an impoverished neighborhood, where people not had a voice. When she comes across people, in the course of her planning work, from neighborhood similar to that of her childhood, she can relate.  Each individual person has their own story.  Tamika works to include these stories and perspectives.  To her, that means embracing people within the planning process that are not usually included.


How to Abandon Neither Your Business Nor Your 1000 Easy Steps

Anybody that has started a company knows that it's hard work. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a little like having a baby.  You think that you know what you're getting into until you're there at home and the baby screaming at you in the middle of the night and you think to yourself, “What have I done?”

The difference between birthing a business and a baby is that most people don't abandon babies. But, statistically speaking, most people do abandon new businesses.  So it takes a special kind of person to stick with a new business.

Tamika has managed to juggle an entrepreneurial venture with a career and motherhood and has still maintained her optimism and excitement. Yes, she is superwoman.

I asked her how she does it. 

“I don’t sleep”

With so many demands on for her attention, Tamika carves out time, where she can find it, for what needs to be done. Sometimes work takes over. Children need attention. That leaves staying up late and waking up early. It means working weekends and making that call on lunch break that will move the business forward. Squeezing in her passions amidst her joys and obligations equates to slow and steady progress forward.

“It’s a slow process and I will be at this for years. Sometimes it’s frustrating because I know I could go so much faster if I was in a bigger organization where I could go to someone for marketing, or someone who is managing the budget or who has expertise in whatever else I need. But on a tight start-up budget, that expertise costs, so sometimes you have to wing it.”

There is a lot of glamour and hype around entrepreneurialism and start-ups. It is easy to think that the moment an idea springs from your head, you will have a team of geniuses working at your side, scale the concept within 12 months, and cash in for a gazillion dollars.

An age old-brew made new in mason jars. A true picture of start-up reality.

An age old-brew made new in mason jars. A true picture of start-up reality.


What we don’t hear is that start-ups require resources of some kind...even if they are the scrappiest of the scrappy. Despite the media bias, those resources are usually not venture capital.  In the real world, sometimes that resource is savings, inheritance or family investment. Sometimes that resources is a business loan or credit cards...but good luck getting a business loan if you don’t have savings, inheritance or family investment (a.k.a. “skin in the game”).   

Sometimes that resource is a full time job. Pursuing a career and pursuing an entrepreneurial venture is time-consuming, painstaking, and slow. But there is a benefit. In the end you own 100% of your business and you have zero to little debt to pay off. Many entrepreneurs choose this path.

The picture that Tamika paints does not match what we typically read about in glossy magazines and blogs and books, but it represents a far more common entrepreneurial experience.  (Ever notice how you hear about the rise of the same ten superstars of innovation over and over again? Ever wonder why you don’t hear about the thousands of other examples?).


A City Planner and An Entrepreneur Walk into a Bar...

The bartender cries, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

The entrepreneur is fascinated. She calls an old colleague who did a skyfall project a few years back and picks her brain for thirty minutes. She downloads When the Sky Falls in Your City: What I Learned From Forty Years in the Clouds to her IPad. She spends all night writing a proposal and devising a business model...a.k.a. figuring out how to do interesting work that will help people out  and get paid for it.  The entrepreneur's proposal is rejected and she is criticized for trying to make a profit off of people’s misfortune. But she is persistent. After three years of self-study, sleepless nights, and financial sacrifice, the entrepreneur emerges as a go-to consultant in the field of falling skies.

The planner calls DPW to get some cones in place to contain the situation and pulls together an engineer, aviation specialist, GIS analyst, The Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and the DIrector of Long Term Planning. They draft a plan titled, “A Comprehensive Approach to Sky Support: Today, Tomorrow, Forever.”  The plan has impressive technical detail and insightful projections.  A bond is issued to fund the project. Citizens are relocated to the next town during the three year implementation process.

All kidding aside, despite the inherent similarities across planning and entrepreneurialism - problem solving, bringing relevant people to the table, project management, Tamika underscores an important difference - support. In a planning department, you have a team. As an entrepreneur, you are essentially on your own most of the time.

"For me it has been kind of like just starting like a baby all over again. Everything is new. 
"For a year or I was stumbling through the dark until I made some connections with organizations that really helped to shed light on a lot of things. The one main thing that I brought to the table from planning was inquisitiveness. And right about now I really think it's just sheer drive that’s pushing me forward."
Be Unapologetic - A Lesson in Confidence

Comparing ourselves to other people is a stubborn and ubiquitous human trait. If you don’t do it now, chances are you have exerted significant effort to break the habit. There are so many reasons why comparing ourselves to others is a distraction at best and completely self-destructive at worst.

Tamika was brave enough to share a story demonstrating how this lesson played out in her own life.

I was in a pitch contest. I was one of five vendors giving a three minute pitch for the opportunity to be in an accelerator project. I had practiced my three minute pitch.
The two people gave a pitch in a minute or less.  I decided at last moment to shorten my pitch. Instead of telling my story, I rushed through it. I was flustered.
After that I kicked myself because the person after me took her time. She told her story. And she won the competition.

Tamika is the only person in the world who has worked as a city planner and community liaison and starting a company to bring her childhood drink, Mauby, to the US. That is not something to lose in a hasteful moment of self-comparison.  It is rich, and deep, and multi-layered.

As uncomfortable as the aging process may be, it does bring some marvelous benefits. For me, maturity has given me the opportunity to realize that I am the only person that has lived my life and has my combination of experiences. The older I get, the truer it is.

Be unapologetic for whatever it is you do. You know you have what you have to offer the world. If there is one person, or even ten people that aren’t into it, that’s ok. There are plenty others who will get you - the real you.


The Vision For Mauby

Tamika’s fantasy future for Looen Teas and for Mauby Gauvin imagines the drink with a social mission as well. includes a social mission.

“How can I tie this to farmers? What are their lives like? Who manufactures it? How can I make this beverage into something that can help people in Baltimore through a life changing opportunity?”

The social impact that Tamika wants to make requires wide market penetration. She envisions Looen Teas beyond the Caribbean stores where Mauby is found today.  Tamika wants to get Looen Teas into Whole Foods, Moms Organics, and other health food stores. Tamika wants her products to be synonymous with a healthy lifestyle.

And this is where it is impossible for the planner in Tamika - the civil servant dedicated to social change - to rest at merely bringing a product to market. Planners are built to serve the public good. Entrepreneurs can’t self-sustain without a market and a revenue stream. A hybrid entrepreneur-social-change-maker will never rest until they find the formula to integrate the two.


Why You Must Make a Profit to Make and Impact and Why Profit is Not a Dirty Word: Part 1 Money Myths

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The forces of good and profit

I was raised on the idea that the world is divided into two camps: those who do good, and those who make money.  This idea causes great harm.

Why do we, as a society, ask people that dedicate their lives to doing some of the most noble work, to do it at a severe discount? How can you be expected to make an impact in the world when you are struggling to support yourself and your family?

To make a positive impact your own financial house must be in order. You can’t save the world if you’re broke. Take the sage advice of flight attendants everywhere and put on your oxygen mask before helping starving children in Africa…or fixing a city…or building a cathedral…or saving the environment…or building a business. Fix your finances first. Take your profit first. And don’t feel guilty about it. This approach isn’t selfish. This approach will ensure that you can apply your energy and talents to the cause that you care about in perpetuity.

The famous idiom coined by Benjamin Franklin implores the profiteer to “do well by doing good.”  Indeed, those whose mission is first and foremost to make money would be wise to consider their impact.  But what about those of us who start with impact? I want to flip the idiom and implore idealists to do good by doing well. And I want to be clear about what this means. Doing well is not just about making more money; it is about fiscal health, financial health, and organizational health. It’s about efficiency and effectiveness. It’s about getting paid what you are worth, but also minimizing organizational dysfunction and taking pride and providing deep value in the work that you do.


Does the word “profit” make you uncomfortable?

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“I’m not in it for the money,” said everyone with a liberal arts education, every democrat, and everyone that actually gives a sh!t…at some point in their life. I said this to myself over and over again, and it was true. The problem was that I had made the mistake of perpetually discounting my financial well-being for my “Purpose.” In my twenties this was easy enough. Now that I am the breadwinner of my family, discounting my financial responsibilities only seems irresponsible rather than altruistic. I had always trusted that if I just threw myself into my purpose, the money would sort itself out. But life doesn’t work like that.

I want to share some of my backstory with you so that I can explain how I arrived at connecting the dots between profit and impact, and decided that it was a message worth voicing.

Before the 2016 election I was a scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Needless to say, the new president did not share my beliefs on the value of science and good environmental decision making.  I was not going to hold my breath for a new federal contract. 

After the election, I had to step back and take stock.  In the 2000’s I had worked in finance in San Francisco. I developed accounting systems that improved the operations and financial decision making of small businesses.  I also strengthened research-based hedge fund investment strategies through modeling and forecasting.  At the time, I didn’t think my work in finance applied to my purpose.  I didn’t connect the dots between money and impact. So, I went to MIT to get a master’s degree in city planning…to make an impact. 

Fast forward a decade. The professional shake-up of the election forced me to not only re-evaluate my career trajectory, but also the stories that I had been telling myself about money and impact.  I decided to blend my superpowers in finance, decision science, and purpose driven work.

In the process, I thought about why finance and money matters. At this juncture I had gained a better perspective. I had experience in private business and entrepreneurship as well as in government. I had experience as a scientist investigating organizations and governments and why they make the decisions that they do.  The hard truth of it all: money trumps purpose.

On a personal level: I thought about why and how I had avoided paths that might have been more profitable. I thought about how choosing purpose over financial health hindered, rather than helped, my ability to make a positive impact over the long term.  I reflected on why I chose these paths – the stories that I told myself and where these stories came from. I realized that many of these stories came from outside of myself. I realized that they are stories that get mangled and misused over time, like a game of telephone. And, I realized that it wasn’t just me that was negatively impacted by these stories. The problem is endemic to purpose-driven work. These are ideas and axioms that are told repeatedly until they are assumed to be true.

We let these damaging stories hinder our personal and professional growth because we are terrified of contesting the publicly sanctioned Truth. We are afraid of appearing like jerks.  There is a name for stories and axioms that are told repeatedly, and are further and further removed from the truth: myths. I have identified 6 money myths that will derail your true impact. There are more, but you can consider this your starter kit. Tweet me if you think of more: @hiddenviridian #privatesidepub #myth.

6 money myths that will derail your profitability & impact

Money myth 1: Profit is evil

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I went to college in the early nineties. There were campus protests against companies like Nike for their use of child labor and Bic for their participation in the apartheid in South Africa.  Now people protest Trump and Pepsi ads. Profit was evil. And profit is evil when a few people are profiting from the misfortune of others.

The profit is evil concept is alive and well because large headless corporations continue to benefit at the expense of the downtrodden.  Unfortunately, there is a tendency to forget context and to categorically reject the idea of profit altogether. What this categorical concept neglects to consider is that it is impossible to function in an economic world without profit. When we exchange our labor for money we profit. We use that profit for our benefit – food, shelter, clothes. Without profit, we are destitute.

I’m going to make a broad generalization and say that categorical generalizations, in general, are not very helpful. I like to make a habit of scrutinizing them whenever I get the chance. The profit is evil concept becomes dangerous when it makes us dysfunctional within our own careers, organizations, and economy.  If you take the concept at face value, it says that making money for your labor is wrong. Have you ever felt guilty about asking for more money for what you do? Have you ever felt that you should be providing your services or doing your job for free? Where does that feeling come from?

I want to get at the root of the profit is evil concept. Profit is evil when a company or an individual is hurting other people, or the environment, for their own gain. Profit, in and of itself is not, inherently evil. Hurting other people is evil. Dumping toxins into a river is evil. Making small children work in a sweatshop is evil. When a billionaire does all of this, it makes it especially evil. You making a profit so that you can pay your bills and have a successful business that makes a positive impact on the world is not evil.


Money myth 2:
Rejecting capitalism will change the world

I hyperlinked this image so as not to violate copyright protection. I love the irony that this is for sale on the internet so that People’s Cube can (I presume) make a profit to support their anti-profit messaging.

I hyperlinked this image so as not to violate copyright protection. I love the irony that this is for sale on the internet so that People’s Cube can (I presume) make a profit to support their anti-profit messaging.

You may love capitalism or you may hate it. Whatever you think of capitalism, it’s what we have to work with.  You can dream all you want about living in the Bahamas, but if your home and your family is in North Dakota, invest in the new winter coat, not the scuba gear.  The US (and most other countries) has a capitalist economy. If you whittle your days away dreaming about Marxism you may be able to write an awesome college essay, but you will not make an impact.

Rejecting the capitalist system is like throwing away your oars when you are stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific.  The allure of the handful of leaders that dared to forge a new path is strong. But you have to ask yourself -  are you a Karl Marx? Henry Ford? Adam Smith? Vladamir Lenin? Those are big shoes to fill. Step back and figure out what you are really trying to accomplish. Are you trying to convince the world to accept a new economic order? If so, go for it. If not, then fighting capitalism is a red herring, a distraction.

More likely, your goals have nothing to do with altering the economic order. What is the impact that you want to make in the world? Do you have a vision for urban mobility, sustainability, or equity? Do you transform people’s perception or behavior through design? Do you help people make sense of the world through communicating complex ideas? You don’t need to reject or reform capitalism to make these types of impact. In fact, rejecting capitalism (unless it is core to your message) will more likely slow you down than speed you up.  Stop worrying about the ideology echo chamber and start focusing on your own values and goals. Worry about your impact. Be specific. What are you going to do to make an impact and how?

Money myth 3:
Altruism never requires compensation

Most people that dedicate their lives to improving the world would do it for free if they could. Unfortunately, when you treat your life’s work as a charity, it tends to backfire eventually. You need to be compensated for the contributions that you make to society. Even if – especially if—those contributions make the world a better place!

Most people that pursue purpose drive work will be compensated less than people who work solely for a big paycheck. That’s ok. Payback comes in the form of conscience and fulfillment. You just need to be careful not to convince yourself that your work is so important that you should be sacrificing everything to do it. Otherwise, you will burn yourself out before you even get started.

I urge you to get out of the ideological tar pits so that you can figure out what your own personal impact is and pursue it with a vengeance.  The only way to do that is to make sure you are taking care of yourself in the process.

I promise I’m not going to go on another rant about world economic order, but humor me for just one minute more while I talk about the big C’s – capitalism, communism, contribution, and compensation.  I need them for my metaphor.

Here’s the thing about living in a capitalist system. You get paid for your work. I visited Cuba in 2005 and again in 2006 and I saw what happens when people aren’t compensated for their work. They get depressed. They fantasize about moving to a country where someone will pay them what they are worth; where someone will value their contribution. Almost everyone that I spoke to had a plan for how to get off the island! This is as much about recognition for one’s contribution as it is about money.

I had a computer programmer friend who dedicated his life, his education, his days, to an occupation that was underappreciated. He was miserable, not because he had to work, but because he was highly competent and highly underpaid. He put in long hours and still had to ration food and stand in line to buy black market butter, all the while convinced that he could be making six figures in the U.S.

I’m not trying to trash talk communism. I swear. (My Russian stepmother is way better at that than I am.) What I am trying to do is convince you that you should be getting paid what you are worth, as an individual, or as a business. That worth will change over the course of your career, or as your business matures. Nevertheless, just because you are working for the public good in some way, does not mean you need to run your life or your business as a charity.

If you continually underprice your contribution because it benefits the public, you will begin to resent your work.  You will feel as if you are living on a communist island. You will turn on the fuzzy banned tv stations from the “evil” country to the North and you will see all the happy people in their pretty houses making money and eating bran flakes and steak. You will begin to fantasize that if you could just get to that glittering shore, you too could make money and buy steak and use real toilet paper. You will devise a plan. You will build your raft. You will abandon your service to the public, your art, your science, your thought leadership, your passion, your impact. You will take a “corporate” job that has nothing to do with your personal impact. You will earn the paycheck that will support your life. And one day you will look back, perhaps nostalgically, perhaps bitterly, at the life you didn’t lead, or couldn’t lead.

Get off your communist island now, before it is too late. Work that makes an impact deserves to get paid, and there are two ways. The first is through the market. This is when people are willing to pay you for your services directly. Yay. The second is when there is no direct market for your services, but when your services address a market externality. Externalities are typically funded through the government and philanthropic organizations. Hence, the importance of government and philanthropy. If your service addresses an externality, you need to be well versed in contracting to the government and/or applying for and receiving government and charitable funding. In either case, if your for-profit business is currently being run as a charity, now is the time for some serious revisions.

To be continued
Check out next week's show for money myths 3-6...


Why You Must Make a Profit to Make an Impact and Why Profit is Not a Dirty Word: Part 2 More Money Myths


Money Myth 4:
You’re not good at math…
Money Myth 5:
… therefore/or you’re not good at business

Have you ever uttered the words “I’m not good at math?”  Maybe you are maybe you aren’t. All I know is that this statement is far more common than “I’m not good at reading.” Personally, I think we should just stop telling ourselves we aren’t good at math and maybe it will be a bit less scary. But ok, maybe you had an algebra teacher that gave you the evil eye. Maybe you were told that you excelled at art or humanities and that those subjects were somehow incompatible with quantitative disciplines. Maybe numbers just put you to sleep.  Besides, if you are going to change the world, money shouldn’t matter, right?

However you want to phrase it, a fear of numbers is too often an excuse to just opt-out of truly understanding and taking responsibility for the financial management of your business, or even your personal finances. 

And that’s not the only excuse. Here are a few more accounting-related excuses, for good measure:

  • I will do it later, I just don’t have time for it right now.
  • I’m worried about keeping the business afloat or paying the bills. I need more revenue and I can’t think about the details right now.
  • The finances are too complicated. I don’t have time to understand all the ins and outs.
  • I tried to use QuickBooks (or insert confusing accounting software here) and now everything is a mess.
  • I can’t afford it.
  • I just send everything to my accountant at the end of the year and they tell me how much I owe. (Meanwhile, any number of other financial frustrations are keeping you up at night).

Rather than dismantle each of these, one-by-one, I’m going to topple them all in one fell swoop by reiterating what they all have in common – they are excuses for not dealing with crap that you don’t want to deal with. Here is why you need to stop making these excuses and start dealing with the numbers and the money running through your business (or your personal bank account).

Money is the lifeblood of your business (thanks to Mike Michalowicz for the metaphor).   On a personal level, money fuels your ability to act in the world. Without it, you stand on the side of the highway with a cardboard sign. (Mine would read “MIT Graduate. Will Build Fancy Financial Models for Food.”)  Money comes in in the form of sales or income, it pumps through your operations and exits as expenses. The health of your business depends on money. Your capacity to work towards lofty goals depends on money.

To maintain the health of your business, you need to perform check-ups and run diagnostics. Does this sound intimidating? I have good news for you. You don’t have to do it. You don’t perform your own medical checkups and you don’t need to perform your own financial checkups. If you feel overwhelmed, you can stop making excuses and hire someone to do the heavy lifting on the financial analysis and then work with you to make the CFO-level decisions to maximize the impact of your business.  What you can’t do, if you want a healthy business, is let the accounting pile up and ignore the numbers altogether.

Excuses hinder impact. To make an impact you need to make a profit. To make a profit, your business needs a clean bill of health. To be healthy, you need a stellar accounting system and a solid financial policy in place. If you can’t be the CFO of your own business, bring one in. She will pay for herself in no time!

Money Myth 6
“Money can’t buy happiness,”
and other lies from Mommy, Daddy,
and our favorite preschool teacher

We are all familiar with the expression “money can’t buy happiness.” There is plenty of research showing that this just isn’t true...or at least that it's more complicated than that. See, for example, Kahneman and Deaton (2010)Clingingsmith (2015). Popular articles that summarize this topic include Yes, Money Does Buy Happiness: 6 Lessons from the Newest Research on Income and Well-Being by Derek Tompson and Money can buy happiness, but only to a point by Mark Fahey, and  Can Money Buy You Happiness? by Andrew Blackman.

I can address the research at a later date. For now, I want to reflect on my personal experience of the relationship between money and happiness. I grew up with the idea that money can’t buy happiness, but it is a concept that always caused me a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.  I tried to live by the pretty little idiom, but I think it ultimately ended up doing me more harm than good because it is simply misleading.

When I was eight, I was obsessed with the idea of making money because I saw that money was how people got what they wanted. And, lack of money f’ed everything up.  When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I was going to be rich. In retrospect, this was not the answer people were looking for. It just sounds base. The enlightened 8-year-old should be dreaming about her career in science or engineering, right?

Children are taught that happiness is more important than money…or are they?  Mom and Dad and our favorite preschool teacher can say that money is irrelevant, but when our beloved grown-ups behave as though life will come to a screeching halt without it, it confuses the point.

My obsession with being rich was merely an absorption of the money-related anxiety that surrounded me. I was in the crossfire of a contentious divorce. Money (or lack thereof) was the root of all unhappiness.

My parents despised each other because of money scarcity. I saw my mother struggle immensely to raise three children while earning a part-time college education and tutoring for eight dollars and hour. I saw my father, a computer programmer and independent contractor, supporting two households while feeling taken for granted for his efforts.

It really took me decades to appreciate the depth and breadth of my parents’ efforts and sacrifices and the immense role that money played in our family. With a family of my own now, I am still learning.

If I were rich, I could avoid all the hassle and pain. I could be like my friends who seemed to have perfect families living in perfect homes with cute dogs and amazing toys. Sound familiar? Don’t we still do this as adults? There is a cliché for this, too – “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Yet, it is more than a cliché. This escapism is a destructive state of mind, clouded with perpetual yearning. The mind of Buddhism’s hungry ghost. It is an idea of perfection that doesn’t exist, and it takes us out of our own very real existence. By yearning for a reality that doesn’t truly exist, we fail to live in the present of our own lives, and to make an impact in our own lives. By chasing money because we think it is the key to happiness or the cure for unhappiness, we evade our own emotions and our own purpose.  This is why we are admonished as children to ignore money and seek our bliss instead, as if it is that easy.

At some point, I realized that what people really meant when they were asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. They wanted the name of an occupation. Teacher. Firefighter. President. Simple. They wanted to know how I was going to contribute to the world. They weren’t concerned about my anxiety about money. Nobody wants to talk about money, though everyone obsesses over it. For a while, I started telling people that I would be a lawyer…because they make a lot of money…and because my grandmother said I was good at arguing my case.

About a year later, I was gifted a subscription to an environmental magazine for kids. I then began to understand the concept of impact. I began to understand what humans were doing to the planet and that there were things that I could do to mitigate that destruction. 

I went to a liberal university and majored in environmental studies and anthropology. I did a one-eighty. I committed myself to making a difference in the world and money was a mere afterthought. I was not going to run in the rat race. I was going to play by my own rules.  The problem was that nobody else was playing by my rules.  This is exhilarating and liberating on an intellectual and spiritual level, but it can be crippling on a financial level.

Now, I can safely say that I have spent most of my life steeped in anxiety about money, though I wouldn’t have admitted it.   This anxiety began as soon as I realized that it was something that people could argue over and go to court about. It continued as I tried in my various ways to make an impact, always swimming counter-current, and never concerning myself with becoming “wealthy” in the process.

I never wanted anyone to feel that I was using them for money, as my father felt. I never wanted to “sell out.” Instead, I lived my life wedged between a feeling of scarcity and guilty privilege, because I always had just enough to get by, which was more than most of the world.  This is the curse of people that open their eyes to the world’s problems and try to fix them. We constantly compare ourselves to the people less fortunate than we are.  It is impossible not to. The resulting guilt can sometimes cripple us to the point of hindering our own ability to continue doing the important work that we do.

I have only recently begun to truly realize that the emotions that we have about money are emotions that begin early. They are emotions that are shaped by our most profound experiences in life. Our past experiences with money – our experiences with scarcity or plenty – shape our attitudes toward risk, security, insecurity, belonging, fear, trust, responsibility, capability, allegiance, and so much more.

Like sex and death, money affects us profoundly.  And like sex and death it is scarcely talked about openly and truthfully. Try as we might, there is no escaping money.

What is True Impact?

Impact is not idealism. It’s not a vision in your head that never gets realized. It’s not a pot of money that funds your work. It is results in the real world.

Let’s explore the difference between daydreaming and doing. Daydreaming is images flashing on the inside of your brain. Daydreaming is synapses firing. Daydreaming is healthy debate in a college course. Daydreaming is your vision for how you will change the world. It is theory uncluttered by day-to-day reality.  Daydreaming is blissful in its innocence. Daydreaming propels us to take action because it promises simple resolution.

Doing, on the other hand, is messy and muddy. It is sometimes wretched but sometimes glorious. We do because we were lured in by the dream. We continue because we started. We finish because we don’t want to give up.  That is how we make an impact.

Making true impact is hard. It is grunt work. And it looks nothing like the college daydreams that lured you in in the first place. Daydreams are the crush – the fantasies about the girl in your chemistry class. Doing is marriage. It is staring at your husband on the ten-thousandth day while he still chews with his mouth open and loving him anyways, coming home to him and raising your children or whatever it is that you have vowed to do together. 

Making an impact is personal, physical, and emotional. It transcends job, career, academic degree. Your personal impact is the compromise that you find between the daydream and the doing. It is the pact that you make with yourself for how you will change the world before you leave it. It can be big or small. But it does have to be actionable.

What is your true impact? How do you move from daydream to doing?

Commit to Your Personal Impact

Decide on the impact that you want to make and commit to it. Tweet at me  @privatesidepub #dogood.

Start with one idea. One action. One result. Don’t worry if it seems small. Over time, the cumulative impact of multiple small actions can be immense. If we are too focused on becoming the next Martin Luther King Jr., we can become dissuaded or dis-empowered. We look at the grandeur of King’s impact on history and feel that nothing we can do would matter. But even King started small, taking over a struggling Baptist church in 1893 with only thirteen members. King worked with countless other civil rights activists who made small, cumulative, individual impacts of their own. You, like King, are a small part of a massive movement.

Once you have your one idea, your one action, and your one result that you want to achieve, stick with it. It’s so easy to be pulled in too many directions, to want to do too many things at once. But this dilutes the impact that you can make and increases that chance that you will never finish what we start. It means that you decide you are going to take a specific action and you follow it through until you achieve results without getting distracted by other shiny objects.

As I said previously, Doing is a marriage, not a crush. It’s a climbing Mount Everest, not the stairs to your house. It requires endurance and tenacity. If you want results, if you want to make an impact, you need stick to it until you achieve the outcomes that you committed to in the first place. This means no excuses and no whining. If you get lost in the woods, just find a different path to the top. Excuses are only a way to alleviate boredom or the discomfort that we feel during the doing phase. I know you want to skip from daydreaming to impact, but there are no shortcuts. Excuses may move you on to another project, but they will not yield an impactful life.

I don’t want to be a total Grim Reaper.  There is one get out of jail free card.  Committing does not mean that you can never change course. It is important to realize when a project is truly a dead-end and reroute when necessary.  Similarly, I wouldn’t advise you to stay with a spouse that beats you.  But as a general practice, try to prioritize commitment over abandonment.

What is True Profit?

Profit is not revenue. Profit is not a line on your P&L statement. Profit is the cash that you have left after you pay the cost of doing business.

In other words, profit is money in the bank*. (Yes, I know this is an oversimplification, but hear me out). If there is no money in the bank, and you don’t remember spending it on something awesome, profit never happened. You spent the money somewhere or did some creative or sloppy accounting.

Profit has two main purposes: 1) It sustains and grows your opportunities as a person. 2) It sustains and grows your business opportunities.

First, let’s look at number 1 - your personal life. What does your personal life look like without and with profitability?

Without personal profitability, you feel you are treading water, or worse, underwater. The money you are earning for your labor does not accommodate the lifestyle you are living or wish to live. You may feel your life is all work and no play. Or, you may be chasing your bills with credit cards or loans. In any case, you are not experiencing a profit, or benefit, from the labor that you exert.

When your life is profitable, on the other hand, your bills are paid and you can afford a few luxuries – vacations, bungee jumping, your kid’s college education, your beer brewing hobby, whatever.

Now let’s look at number 2 – your business, if you have one. An unprofitable business sucks time, resources, and joy from its owners. Symptoms of an unprofitable (or inefficient) business include:

  • Inability to pay taxes on time
  • Monthly juggling and struggling to pay bills
  • Inability to make payroll
  • Paying employees more than owners
  • Working way more than you want to
  • Any number of other cash flow problems

If people are willing to pay you for your products or services, why is it so hard to be profitable? Where does all the profit go?

A common formula for understanding the business bottom line is Revenue – Expenses = Profit. This is the way that most businesses approach profit. If there is no money after payroll, taxes, and operating expenses, there is no profit to be had.  Profit is an afterthought.

Yet, if profit is central to sustaining and growing your business, it must take a more prominent position. The Profit Firstmethod flips the equation to read Revenue – Profit = Expenses.

The Profit First equation and methodology forces you to be profitable. It forces money into the profit category. When you pay your expenses after you make a profit, you are forced to be more resourceful and efficient in the way you run your business.  That means that you have the breathing room to grow a sustainable business that can seek new and exciting opportunities.

The same goes for your personal life. The system forces you to have a profitable personal life. It forces you to set aside the resources to live a good life. And that, my friends, is the point of this rant. Running an efficient and productive business, and living a good life are the essence of profitability.

* Jonathan Levy’s “Accounting for Profit and the History of Capital,” details the history of profit and the various ways it has been articulated over time. Levy investigates the complex and changing relationship between profit and capital. I will address the historical progression of the concept of profit at a later date.  For this article, I am presenting a relatively simple definition of profit. This definition purposely excludes reinvestment in capital and instead focuses on cash distributions. In other words, profit equals the benefits accrued from doing business.


Why You Must Make a Profit to Make and Impact and Why Profit is Not a Dirty Word: Part 3 7 Ways to Jumpstart your Profitability and Impact


Most small to mid-size businesses are barely profitable. Crazy but true. If that’s you, read 1-5. If you are totally rocking it, skip to #6

#1 Grasp the relationship between profit and impact

To understand the relationship between profit and impact it is important to understand the difference between profit and impact. Impact is the end goal. Profit – and financial health in general – are a means to an end.

Impact is the way you change the world around you. Impact is why you get up in the morning. Impact is purpose. Yet, it is very difficult to make a positive impact without resources. How can you be expected to make an impact in the world when you are struggling financially?
A business or career that is financially healthy and profitable has the resources to make positive impact. At the risk of being cliché I’m going to refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with physiological and safety concerns needing to be met before self-actualization can occur. Motivation to make an impact is a form of self-actualization. It is very difficult to make true impact if you are distracted by making your mortgage payment. I know. I have been there.

So, profit enables impact. But profit also enables a good life. Aside from impact, profit is the reason that you went into business or that you go to work every day. It’s ok to admit that you work for the money, or that you live for more than just work. Most people don’t live just to pay their bills. They want to have a little fun along the way. So, in non-monetary terms, profit is what benefits you. You do work that impacts the world in a positive way. You get compensated for that work, and that benefits your life. That is a fair trade.

It is important that your business, your career, your job, your life, benefit you. If the work that you do, day in and day out don’t benefit you, how will you find the motivation to make an impact?

Mike Michalowicz unabashedly lays it out the importance of profit, a.k.a. money, when he says,
Money is the foundation. Without enough money, we cannot take our message, our products, or our services to the world. Without enough money, we are slaves to the business we launched. I find this hilarious because, in a large part, we started our businesses because we wanted to be free.

Without enough money, we cannot fully realize our authentic selves. Money amplifies who we are. There isn’t a single ounce of doubt in my mind that there is something big you are intended to do on this planet. You wear the cape of what I believe is the greatest of all superheroes: The Entrepreneur. But your superhero powers can only yield as much power as your energy source provides. Money. You need money, superhero.

Read the book and dedicate yourself to making a profit. Here, I will give you the most important parts for free, just because I think it will help that much! Leverage your profit to maximize your impact. Taking care of yourself is the only way you can take care of others.

#2 Identify your money demons and get rid of your head junk

What are the stories that you have been told about money? In your family? Within your circles of friends? During the course of your education? All of these stories, phrases, and attitudes unconsciously frame your own money mindset – making it, faking it, losing it, not making enough, making too much, making more than your husband, making less than your wife, the list goes on.

Conjure up these phrases, attitudes, and fears about money and scrutinize them.
How do you think your friends would feel if you made significantly more money than them? Would they be supportive? Jealous? Envious? Resentful? What if you made significantly less than them?

What about your family? How do you feel when you tell your parents about your business or career? Do they judge your choices based on money-making potential? What emotions does it bring up for you? Does it affect your decision making?

What kind of conversations did your family have about money growing up? Could your parents “afford” what you needed or wanted? Did they fight about money? Was/is money a source of competition between you and your siblings? What are the idioms that floated around your house relating to money? “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “You have to spend money to make money.” “Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.” What do these mean for you and how you manage your business and your life?

Take a hard look at the assumptions and attitudes that you have around money and where they are coming from. What are your money demons? Does this all sound a scarily Freudian? Like maybe our heads got all messed up by our parents…and maybe the education system…and we need years of therapy to fix it? Well, it should. Money is a powerful force and we can develop some serious head junk around it. Fixing that stuff is no joke. If you thought trying to commit to a long-term relationship was hard, try committing to a financial management system!

Get rid of your head junk. Make money. Make an impact.

#3 Don’t mix business and pleasure

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This is accounting 101. I’m not saying don’t have an occasional drink with your colleagues. But if it’s a business date, pay for it out of your business account. If it’s Tinder date, pay for it out of your personal account. Oh wait, you don’t have separate accounts? Let’s back up. You are going to need separate bank accounts. If you already have separate accounts, skip to #3.

Ok, now it’s just us. No shame here if you have been paying for everything out of your personal bank account or credit card. Pretty much everyone does this until someone comes along and tells them to stop. It usually takes some nagging, because opening a new bank account is up there with rotating your tires. It’s just not the most exciting part of a new business. It is, however, extremely important.

There is no way to gain financial clarity if your personal and business finances are mingled. Intertwined accounts will also make any future advice that I try to give you very difficult to implement. So, if you are serious about running a business, open your account today. It will take no more than 30 minutes and will save you so much time and heartache.

Fair warning: there is one stumbling block when you open your account – you will need an EIN number. That is your tax ID number. If you have incorporated your business, you should have this number from the IRS. If you are a sole proprietor, this is your social security number. If this is all news to you, you will need to decide what type of legal entity to become (LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, B-Corp…). You will need to file the right paperwork. The Small Business Administration is a great resource for figuring this out on a small budget (as most are at this stage). Or, if you want more certainty, you can seek out a business attorney in your state.

#4 Set up a solid accounting system and don’t let the pretty reporting software fool you

An accounting system is the foundation for your financial policy. The two work in concert to drive important decisions within your business. If you don’t already use accounting software like QuickBooks or Xero, get one, and for heaven’s sake, do it in the cloud…if possible.

Accounting technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Cloud accounting software is now able to automate many of the data-entry tasks that were once done manually. This is good news. It means that you no longer need to pay someone to enter data from your credit card statements into your general ledger. And, because this data is in the cloud, it’s possible to avoid the cost of hiring someone on-location and in-house.

A word of caution – all this newfangled accounting software makes it easy to think that it’s magically effortless. You set up your bank feeds, and voila, reports appear telling you how your business is doing. It is shamefully easy to mess this stuff up! Don’t let the pretty software fool you. Just because a plane is equipped with auto-pilot does not mean that you know how to fly it. Hire a professional or at the very minimum get the right training or support that you need.

There is a middle ground. Accounting can now be done virtually. Moreover, the time and resources that small businesses once had to spend on data entry can now be spent on higher level financial decision making. You can now have a virtual CFO, along with real-time data, for a fraction of what it used to cost to hire an in-house bookkeeper.

(This is, by the way, what we do at Viridian Analytics). This brings me to…

#5 Get help when you need It

If you are a scrappy start-up AND you know what the heck you are doing, you may be able to do your own accounting…for a while. This means you know how to reconcile all your accounts…correctly! This means you know what a P&L and a balance sheet are and how to use them to make sense of your business. This means you understand cash flow and can make projections in order to make operational decisions. This means you pay your bills, your taxes, and your employees (if you have them) on time. All of the time. This does not mean that all your decisions are based on your ability to use a credit card.

There are good reasons to do the finances yourself when you are starting out. Doing your own finances can be the best way to understand exactly what is happening with your cash. Training yourself in accounting principles will help you make better business decisions. The problem is that many business owners become quickly overwhelmed by either the workload or the complexity involved in the financial management of their business. I usually hear from start-ups 1-3 years into their business when they realize they are in over their heads.

You don’t need to do it alone. There is a whole profession of people out there who can help you. There is a reason that companies have both a CEO (chief executive officer) and a CFO (chief financial officer). These roles accommodate a division of labor in top-level decision making within a company. The CEO communicates the vision of the company, articulates goals, and decides on courses of action to move the company forward. The CFO manages financial planning and strategy. In a perfect world, the CEO and CFO work in concert to align organizational goals with financial policy. This is a cyclical process. Vision determines goals, which affect financial decision making. Conversely, finances enable or restrict potential courses of action toward goals.

If you are the founder and operator of your business, you are probably the CEO. You can undoubtedly benefit from a CFO. That doesn’t mean that you need to run out and find a business partner. Some firms (such as Viridian) have virtual CFO services on top of their accounting services. These firms are well equipped to work with you at a strategic level because they are intimately familiar with your business. It is also possible to add virtual CFO services to complement your own accounting team. These options are a cost-effective solution for small to mid-sized firms as they offer benefits of someone highly interested and involved in your business without having a C-suite level employee on payroll. Furthermore, if you work with a Virtual CFO that specializes in your industry, you will benefit from the knowledge they have gained across the sector.

#6 Read and implement Profit First

If you have been paying attention so far, you may have noticed I’m a fan of the Profit First method. I’m a fan because, in my experience, compelling financial analyses aren’t enough to change human behavior when it comes to money. Don’t get me wrong. I love using bad-ass analyses to back decision making. That’s what I do. But the truth is that most people make day-to-day decisions around money based on what is in their bank accounts. There is a good reason for this – it’s just not time effective to run a budget or a cash flow analysis every time you want to make a purchase.

Profit First is grandma’s envelope method. You allocate your income, twice a month, from an income account to four bank accounts: profit, operating expenses, owners pay, and taxes. You run your business based on the money you have in the bank, not the money you hope to have or wish you had or the money that the credit card companies have magically granted you. This is how you get out of debt. This is how you pay your bills on time, every time. This is how you pay your taxes on time, every time. And most importantly, this is how you pay yourself!

The system works. Use it. Start today. Set up your five accounts. Here is some stuff to get you going because I know this will work for you: Here is a quick video. Here are the five core chapters of the book.

I set up my five accounts in less than an hour. Just do it. If you aren’t ready to jump in the deep end of the pool, here is a simple start option. Set up one extra account – your Profit account. Allocate 1% of your revenue on the 10th and 25th of the month. It will get you in a rhythm as you read the book and get excited about full-fledged implementation.

Once you have fully implemented the Profit First method, and the system has matured, you will be taking home not only a regular salary, but you will be paying yourself quarterly profit distributions to be used for your benefit and enjoyment. Your expenses will be covered and your taxes will be up-to-date. You will have a rainy-day fund in case anything goes awry. Congratulations, you have learned how to take care of yourself and run a mature business.

If you implement Profit First yourself, awesome! I would love to hear your story! If you need professional help, book a free session with me and we can figure out how I can help you move forward.

#7 Set up an Impact Account

Now that you have a grown-up business with grown-up profit, you can put more thought and resources into increasing your impact. There are, of course, many ways to make an impact. But having financial resources makes any path easier. Need more time? Money can help by paying you or your employees to do good work. Need technical support? Money can help you hire the support or training that you need. Need materials? Money can help with that, too. You get my point.

Funding an impact account will allow you to systematically leverage your profitability to boost your impact. This is an advanced technique. Previously, I talked about why and how you must make a profit to make an impact. Don’t set up an impact fund until you have a healthy profit account. That’s like trying to add the roof before you build the walls. Oh, and don’t forget, your expenses and taxes should be paid, and you are paying yourself a fair income.

Having an account with a lofty name isn’t enough to make an impact. You need to have a plan for the money in that fund. The distinction between the concepts of “impact” and “purpose” is helpful at this stage. If we just pool money in a fund and decide that we can throw it at anything that is loosely associated with a given purpose, we are not necessarily making an impact.

So how do you transform purpose into impact? How do you channel the precious resources that you have pooled within your business towards tangible outcomes?

Remember when we talked about having a plan for your expenses so that you aren’t just paying them as they appear, with no attention to how necessary they are or how they serve your business? Having an intentional plan for your impact fund will channel the money in a deliberate and productive way rather than just letting it leak away.

Let’s walk through a simplified example for an urban design firm.

Impact Account Step 1: Understand context

Start with understanding the context in which you are trying to make an impact. What are the needs of the people (or environment) that you are trying to serve? This is the equivalent to knowing your audience when you give a speech. Just as you wouldn’t speak about high end handbags at a homeless shelter, you might not want to try out that two-million-dollar net zero home prototype next to a low-income housing project.
What are the interests of the people within your organization? There is no use in pursuing a goal that nobody wants or that the people in your organization have no interest in implementing.

Example context
  • State program launched that provides matching grants for implementation of innovative technology for high-performing buildings.
  • A large aging housing project near your firm is due for updates. City has applied for federal funding and plans to put out an RFP soon.
  • The new city comprehensive plan identifies neighborhood districts and commits to approaching planning projects at the neighborhood scale.

Impact Account Step 2: Identify goals and objectives

A goal is what you ultimately want to accomplish - the impact that you ultimately want to make. Means objectives what you strive for to reach your fundamental goal. By clearly defining your goals, and articulating pathways to reach your goals, you are far more likely to make an impact.

Example goals
  • Minimize impact on environment
  • Minimize cost of living in low socio-economic areas
  • Increase organizational learning around net zero technology

Impact Account Step 3: Identify Actions and Make Them Happen

Actions move you from deliberating to doing.

Example actions
  • Pilot one net zero building every 3 years
  • Partnership program with the city to develop a net zero neighborhood
  • Multi-family housing renovation that incorporates innovative energy updates

Impact Account Step 4: Measure Outcomes

It is important to track progress and know whether your investments of time, money, and spirit are making the impact that you desire. Indicators should be tied to your goals.

Example indicators
  • Net amount of energy used (or generated) in net zero neighborhood before and after program implementation
  • Per capital energy expenditures in dollar amount before and after energy efficiency updates
  • Number of new technologies implemented or designed (measure of knowledge gained)

The process that I have outlined above is a simplified version of the Structured Decision Making approach used in decision science (see for example Gregory et al). It is an iterative (circular) process that you can use repeatedly to align your actions to your purpose. The process also ensures that your actions matter – that they make an impact.

The Takeaway

I hope I have convinced you that those who do good and those who make money should be one and the same. Money isn’t evil, it’s just something that we use to keep track of how much we work and how much we consume. We all need it because we all need food and security.

Not making money is not an option for most people.

How we make money, however, can be a choice. Do you just bring home a paycheck, or do you labor to make a positive difference in the world?

Whether we make enough money to sustain our impact can also be a choice. This one is trickier. This one can involve some self-imposed voodoo mind control and rewriting the myths that hold you back.
In case you forgot, here is a quick reminder of some money myths, and mind demons that can turn you into a righteous martyr instead of a live-action superhero:

1. Profit is evil
2. Rejecting capitalism will change the world
3. Altruism never requires compensation
4. You’re not good at math…
5. …therefore/or you’re not good at business
6. Money can’t buy happiness…
Tweet me more! @hiddenviridian @privatesidepub #myth

I gave you 7 steps to jumpstart your profitability and impact.

1. Grasp the relationship between profit and impact
2. Identify your money demons and get rid of your head junk
3. Don’t mix business and pleasure
4. Set up a solid accounting system and don’t let the pretty software fool you
5. Get help when you need it
6. Read and implement Profit First
7. Set up an impact account


Bang The Table to Motivate Citizen Engagement – Matt Crozier

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Show Links

Twitter:  @MattCrozier


What does citizen engagement look like in your city or town? Is it people yelling at each other in a 6 pm meeting when most of the sane people are at home having dinner? Why does it seem like only the angriest people show up? Matt Crozier has a solution that makes public participation more palatable, more accessible, and more enjoyable for the average person. That means valuable information from a wider swath of the population. And for those of you thinking that means more angry responses, you may be surprised to hear what happens when you take engagement online.

Matt Crozier and  founded Bang the Table with Crispin Butteriss in Australia in 2007.  Through Bang The Table, Matt has connected with millions of people on behalf of hundreds of clients in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and the USA. Matt brought Bang the Table to the US last year.

Matt Crozier, Founder and CEO of Bang The Table

Matt Crozier, Founder and CEO of Bang The Table

What does the phrase “Private Side of Public Work” mean to Matt Crozier?
"It speaks to motivation. It's about what motivates us to do what we do and our public work."

Motivation for the Many

Matt’s own motivation is fueled by putting people in touch with the issues that are important to them and giving them a say. Before founding Bang The Table, Matt worked in government positions where he witnessed the small but vocal groups of people defining policy for the majority, even when the interests expressed did not represent the majority position.

Over the years Matt became passionate about giving the broader community a real voice in the public participation process. He is dedicated to the idea that we get better decisions and policies when more people are able to participate in real ways.

 What is Motivation Outside of the Nine to Five?

Matt talks about the tendency for "special interests" to dominate traditional public engagement dialogs. The drivers behind the motivations for environmentalists or developers are clear and strong.  They can be value driven, but they are most often also professionally driven – people are paid to be motivated.

Motivating people who aren’t being paid to care requires making engagement easy and making it understandable. Matt contends that government has a habit of making their issues inaccessible. He argues that they tend to talk to the community by publishing papers and documents, whereas the public would rather consume information in simple sound bites.

Government, Matt says, tends to put very high bars in front of participation. If you want to participate in local government discussion you have to meet until 11 o'clock at night, at times. Then, if you want your say you have the option of two minutes on an open mic in an intimidating environment or you can make a formal written submission. For some people, writing an essay about an issue is not the easiest thing to do. So, we tend to exclude large groups from participating by making it an daunting, academic, and difficult process to go through.

What Does Citizen Engagement Look Like When it Isn’t Boring and Intimidating?

Online engagement means anybody with a smartphone or a computer can participate. People can easily join the process, learn about what's going on, and have their say in a meaningful and sometimes fun way.  You might be putting a pin on the map or sharing a photo that expresses what you feel. You could be sharing an idea, voting on other people's ideas or even joining a debate or a discussion.

Bang the Table sees segments of the community that are not typically seen in the traditional public meetings: younger people, busier people, people with young families. In white collar communities, they see spikes in engagement activity at about 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon because people choose to participate while they're at work. Online engagement platforms make it easy to for busy people to access government processes.

Case in point: The citizens of Ville de Gatineau added over 1300 pins and comments to a map to improve cycling facilities!

Storytelling to Reach Beyond Opinion

By telling stories, people can begin to understand what is behind the opinion – what formed the opinion in the first place. In current day America, in communities that are starkly divided, storytelling is a way to bring people together to understand personal history and motivations.

Bang The Table got the idea to integrate storytelling into it’s platform during the course of a project for the National Disability Insurance Scheme for the federal government. In the discussion forum, people were arguing from hard-held positions about policy and there wasn’t much give.

Then Bang the Table asked the community for their stories. They got 297 stories from disabled people and their lives and careers. The first one that came in was titled “I wish my son had cancer.” It was a powerful story about a family coping with a rare disease that had no network or support mechanisms.

After that, the stories just flowed in. They were deeply moving and quite disturbing stories from people who were living difficult lives.

Check out the blogpost and original letter: I Wish My Son Had Cancer

Why Emotion Matters

The traditional public engagement formula: Put out a draft plan. The people who respond are those with heightened negative emotions.  There is no ability to contextualize that – to understand how that compares to broader community sentiment.

Online engagement opens the door for engaging positive emotions, as well as gauging and demonstrating people’s awareness of an issue. On the one hand, you can receive input from a wider swath of the population – the population of people whose emotions aren’t so fervent. They have the opportunity to input but they don't feel that passion. On the other hand, you can engage particularly passionate people in a more constructive way.  People feel more listened to. And, there is evidence that when people feel listened to and involved in their community, they feel much more satisfied with the planning and governance organizations.

Captivating Imagination Through Virtual Reality

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Online engagement extends beyond mere comments in a forum. Virtual reality allows citizens to literally visualize a proposed development project. Morton Bay in southeast Queensland in Australia has embedded a virtual reality walk into its Bang The Table site. In addition, people can look through a pair of cardboard virtual reality goggles to enter a visually immersive experience, 3D experience, and explore the proposed development project.

Here is the blog post on the Morton Bay project

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Bang The Table has invested ten years in developing a robust online engagement tool. When cities take it upon themselves to do  develop their own tools, it can be expensive, time consuming, and can quickly become obsolete. Bang The Table has been gaining expertise by working across the sector with hundreds of cities and towns.  They have pooled that knowledge into a single application. So before you develop your own city-specific app,  reap the benefits of their hard work and reduce the cost in the process. They are providing a valuable resource.


Designing Radical Hospitality: Changing the Experience of Homelessness with Pop-Up Care Villages - Guneet Anand and Eri Suzuki of Urban SiteLab Studio

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Homelessness is one of those problems that can feel hopelessly intractable at times.  Those of us that live in cities see it on a daily basis, but feel at a loss for what to do beyond spare change.

Site Lab Urban Studio Guneet Anand and Eri Suzuki of Site Lab Studio were inspired to offer good design, rather than just spare change, when they crossed paths with Lavae Mae.

Lavae Mae is a nonprofit organization promoting dignity and opportunity among the homeless community. SITELAB collaborated with Lava Mae to design spaces that contain what they call "radical hospitality." They call these spaces Pop Up Care Villages.

You can check out Site Lab Studio at

On this show, we will dig into the personal connections and new perspectives that Guneet and Eri developed over the course of the project, and how these have shifted their approach to design across other Site Lab projects.