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The Art of Choosing

ImageI recently attended a talk on choice given by Professor Sheena Iyengar, the inaugural S.T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School and the Director of the Global Leadership Matrix initiative. Choice is a very powerful tool in our lives as it helps us get from here to the future, but sometimes it is too much.  In order to get the most from choice, we must be choosy about choosing.  “In reality, many choices are between things that are not that much different.  The value of choice depends on our ability to perceive differences between the options” according to Prof. Iyengar.

The challenge is that we are presented with an explosion of choices. Prof. Iyengar’s Columbia Business School team ran a test at a retail store. Two jams displays were set up next to each other, one with 24 varieties of jams and the other with only six. More people stopped at the table with 24 jams, but only 3% bought something, while despite getting less foot traffic, 30% of the people who stopped at the table with six jams bought something. So while people were more attracted to greater choice, they preferred buying when they were presented fewer options. Are our eyes are too big for our minds? How many choices can we really handle? Prof Iyengar numerous studies has led her to assert that the magical number is in fact seven (+ or – 2).  So beyond seven choices, one gets confused. So choice is essentially about comparing bundles of info– if we are faced with too many, we procrastinate, we make inconsistent choices, and we ultimately become less satisfied.

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Leadership by Example

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra's Leadership by ExampleWe all have the potential to become leaders. Very few of us are leaders all the time, but we all encounter moments in our lives when we can, and should, lead others. In a committee, in business, at a social club, at home, or at a religious institution, we all find a time in our lives when we have an opportunity to lead. Few people set out knowingly to become leaders; rather, they see a need and they find a way to take on the challenge, and often, others choose to follow their example.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, Professor of Medicine and Faculty Dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School, is one of the most impressive and enlightened people who I know. He has recently published, Leadership by Example, a book that is both engaging and thought-provoking. The book is organized by the LEADERSHIP mnemonic which Dr. Chopra explains as:

L – Dr. Sanjiv ChopraListen, E – Empathy and compassion, A – Attitude, D – Dreams and decisiveness, E – Effectiveness, R – Resilience, S – Sense of purpose, H – Humility and humor, I – Integrity and imagination, P – People skills and principles.

Dr. Chopra recognizes that leadership is an important attribute, but it is very difficult to grasp as a concept. So rather than taking a theoretical approach, he has deliberately recounted a number of leadership examples to motivate all of us.

Great leaders move mountains, but they first move people. Even after having read it, I have kept it on a nearby shelf, as I plan to revisit it on a regular basis. I encourage you to do the same.


MIT’s Poverty Action Lab Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

MIT's J-PAL 10th Anniversary Live Event

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is celebrating its 10th anniversary. To celebrate, J-PAL is hosting a one-day event in Cambridge on December 7, 2013. This event will also be webcast live starting at 9:30 AM EST.

J-PAL is marking the occasion with a day-long series of short talks, videos, and panel discussions from researchers, policymakers, staff, and partners. We will hear of surprising results discovered, key lessons learned, some incredible adventures from the field, and the hard road to evidence-based policy in development.


Over the past decade J-PAL has grown from a single office to a global network of researchers whose 400+ projects span 55 countries.

AGRICULTURE > 34 projects in 15 countries
EDUCATION > 106 projects in 29 countries
ENVIRONMENT & ENERGY >17 projects in 12 countries
HEALTH > 103 projects in 31 countries
FINANCE & MICROFINANCE > 154 projects in 35 countries
LABOR MARKETS > 50 projects in 22 countries
POLITICAL ECONOMY & GOVERNANCE > 93 projects in 26 countries

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) was established in 2003 as a research center at the Economics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, it has grown into a global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty.

J-PAL’s mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence, and research is translated into action. They do this through three main activities:

  • Conducting Rigorous Impact Evaluations: J-PAL researchers conduct randomized evaluations to test and improve the effectiveness of programs and policies aimed at reducing poverty.
  • Policy Outreach: J-PAL’s policy group analyzes and disseminates research results and builds partnerships with policymakers to ensure that policy is driven by evidence, and effective programs are scaled up.
  • Capacity Building: J-PAL equips practitioners with the expertise to carry out their own rigorous evaluations through training courses and joint research projects

Tune in on December 7th, and help celebrate the great work of MIT’s efforts to reduce poverty.


Doing Business in Brazil– Practical Experience & Lessons Learned

Brazil Rio De Janeiro Evening

This month, I will be participating on the panel of the upcoming event, “Practical Aspects of Doing Business in Brazil.” The event will be held at Babson College at the Arthur M. Blank Center on Monday, September 23, 2013 from 6:00-8:00pm.

Recognizing the importance and further potential of Brazil, the panelists will review their own experience entering that market. We’ll share our insights on the strategic considerations that guided our entry and the lessons of our actual experience. Read more »


China’s Venture Capitalist Landscape

I have met several VC firms in China throughout my travels, and I have found James Mi of james linkedinLightspeed China, one of the most talented, reliable, and insightful investors. James took the time to sit down with me to answer a few questions on China’s VC landscape.

James is co-founder and Managing Director of Lightspeed China Partners, a leading China-focused early-stage venture capital firm with investments in internet, mobile, services, and information technology. Previously, James was Managing Director with Lightspeed China PartnersLightspeed Venture Partners (LSVP) and started the firm’s Beijing office in 2008. Headquartered in the Silicon Valley, LSVP manages more than $2B in assets and has globally-spread offices. In 2012, James was named by The Founder Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Most Respected VC in China.”

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