What I've Been Watching and Reading

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a handful of the articles, books, shows, conversations and documentaries that informed, inspired and entertained me throughout the year. I hope that a few are also informative, inspiring and entertaining for you.

Elon Musk in Coversation

2012 was a standout year for entrepreneur Elon Musk. After rocky, touch-and-go starts, his three California-based companies--Space X, Tesla, and Solar City--all hit major milestones. If, like I, you are fascinated by him, then this July conversation with Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy is worthwhile viewing. He's shockingly accomplished--and incredibly understated. A nice combination.

Read More

The Art of the IPO

Summer was not kind to Facebook. It was harsher still to Groupon and Zynga. All three companies are new to the public markets. If you were to look to their debuts only, you'd be forgiven for concluding that going public is a raw deal. Each of their stocks, to put it nicely, got hammered between Memorial Day and Labor Day--the US holidays that bookend summer. The Dow, during the same period? It rose 5%.

Going public is as much art as science. And as with any art, discipline and finesse make all the difference between masterpiece and flop. So for every Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, there is a LinkedIn, Zillow or Michael Kors Each entered the market last year. Today, all three have stocks that are up more than 100% from their offerings, more than 90% this year--levels of outperformance that every founder, CEO, management team, Board, underwriting group and investor hopes for from an IPO--keeping the romance of the stock market alive.

Read More

New York Fashion Week Grows Up

There has been a whole lot of sexy going on in New York this past week. That's normal, for this time of year. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which began last Thursday, wraps up today. And while the après Labor Day fashion buzz is nothing unusual, what has struck me this go round is that the transition people have anticipated for ages has finally happened: New York Fashion Week has grown up.

Maybe it was the move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center two years ago. Maybe it was the seasoning of a crop of talented younger designers--ProenzaAlexanderJasonZac--filling in behind the old guard--RalphDonnaCarolinaOscar--creating a solid platform for a new guard--WesReedthe OlsensSophie. Maybe it is the culmination of six years of tending and nurturing of the CFDA by wise, multi-term President, Diane von Furstenberg. Whatever the reason, this was not a hit-or-miss New York Fashion Week. One collection after another was fabulous. Sexy was dialed-up to 10. 

Read More

Groupon: The Price of Hubris

When three-year-old Groupon filed to go public in June, market commentators dialed the outrage meter up to 10.

Flashpoints: an aggressive business model, creative accounting, and a track record of cashing-out early investors--to the tune of $1 billion. Further irritants: public puffery from the Chairman and the CEO during the so-called quiet period and August and September resignations of two senior team members--PR Chief Brad Williams and COO Margo Georgiadis--only months after they joined the Company.

Read More

Christo in Colorado

For five decades artist Christo has been inspiring and infuriating, uniting and dividing communities large and small, urban and rural, around the globe.

Last Friday, nineteen years after he and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in late 2009), conceived of their proposed Colorado project Over the River, it came one step closer to fruition. The Colorado State Land Board approved two land leases necessary to allow the project to move forward. As with his other works over the years, Over the River will be a temporary installation--5.9 miles of shimmering fabric panels suspended above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado for a two week stretch--if all goes as planned, in August 2014.

Read More

Taking Responsible Investing Seriously

Responsible investing continues to grow up, go mainstream. In September, three events--the publication of two reports and the launch of a new investment product--highlighted the diverse ways in which it's doing so.

Early in the month the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) published its Annual Report on Progress. As this is the fifth year that the six principles have been in place, UNPRI took the opportunity to look back, to review the evolution of responsible investing since the principles were launched in 2006 at the New York Stock Exchange by then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan.

Read More

Five Go-To Reads on the Creative Process

Elizabeth Streb is an extreme choreographer, MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the visionary behind the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. Behance's 99% recently published a brief, but terrific, interview with her entitled On Taking Big Risks and the Power of ActionHer thinking brought to mind the article that I am republishing here, one of the very first that I wrote, on the lessons that artists' creative processes hold for business innovators.

Innovation--the creation of a product or process that is radically new, unique and different--is the holy grail in today's business world. What many of those who beat its drum rarely mention is that the path to true innovation is rooted in pure creativity. To innovate brilliantly requires facing down the deepest challenges of the creative process: high anxiety, ambiguity, seemingly impassable roadblocks, even failure.

Read More

A Neophyte's Guide to the Singularity

I have capitulated. I have stopped avoiding the Singularity.

For the past couple of years--at least--I have been catching threads of chatter about the concept of the Singularity--loosely, the point in time when, through Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering or other technological manipulation, a superhuman intellect is born. I have heard just enough to be weirded out. So I've avoided the topic all together.

Of course, I have also been curious. So this past weekend I decided to commit a few hours, dig in, learn more. And I proved Lev Grossman right. In Time he wrote, “People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there's more to it than they expected.”

Read More

Truth, Reconciliation and Financial Markets

In April Bradley Fried, former CEO of the UK arm of South African Investment Bank Investec, wrote an OpEd for the Financial Times entitled Mandela's Lessons in Truth for City High Fliers.

The article came to mind this past Sunday morning, when I received an event invitation via email, tagged by the subject line Will the Finance Industry Destroy America and the Human Soul? A day earlier a small group of feisty protesters had begun to gather at the southern tip of Manhattan. Their goal? To occupy Wall Street. Their demands? Ambiguous, but images of Tahrir Square and general frustration with government, the banking industry and the state of the US economy propelled assembly.

Read More

Transparency Trustfund

Back in June I enthused about just-launched flash sale site Fab.com. My ardor was fueled not only by the site's great product and design, but also by founder-CEO Jason Goldberg's commitment to a level of transparency surprising in any company, especially an early stage, venture-funded one.

From Day One Jason has shared liberally, publishing graphs, charts and notes on his personal blog revealing Fab's strategy, traffic levels, conversion rates, sales volumes, even sales breakdown by product category--information extremely valuable to anyone else selling design- and lifestyle-related products online.

Read More