Archive for November 2016

Giving back on Giving Tuesday

November 29, 2016


Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving. It’s a reprieve and balance to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, which focus on shopping. Last year, over 700,000 people raised $116 million online in over 70 countries.

There are so many charities that are doing good works and so many worthwhile causes to support. It can be overwhelming. So I’d like to share 5 causes and nonprofits that I support and what makes them so meaningful to me.

* Reading. “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them,” said author Neil Gaiman. I support my local library with gently-used books, so they can continue to add books to the library and sponsor community programs. Reading is important – to teach, to inspire, to share different points of view. I love to read, and I want to share my love of reading with others.

* Education. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” declared revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela. I support our public schools with money, goods, or my time. My son attends a public elementary school in Honolulu, and I want to show him that education is important. I also give back to my college every year, because college is important to career-readiness and lifelong learning.

* Human services. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” proclaimed diarist Anne Frank. I support my local American Red Cross because they help keep our communities resilient, offering disaster preparedness and assistance. I have taken a disaster readiness class and my son has participated in their free summer swimming lessons, and I appreciate what they do here in Hawaii and around the world.

* International aid. “As you get older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others,” said actress Audrey Hepburn. I strongly believe that we should help people help themselves, and micro-finance lets small donors make a big difference. I support because they help people borrow money to start or expand a business, go to school, or improve their lives (donors can lend as little as $25). I support Heifer International because they help farmers feed their families and communities, with gifts of basic needs, crop seeds, farm animals, community projects, and support for small businesses.

* Animal welfare. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” stated activist and political leader Mahatma Gandhi. I support the Hawaiian Humane Society because animals need care. I give a little each year in memory of my cat Oscar, who taught me about responsibility (thinking about someone else first) and confidence (though I could never win our staring contests).

Which charities and nonprofits are you passionate about? Will you choose to give on Giving Tuesday?

A “road diet” plan for Hawaii

November 22, 2016

Complete Streets 2016The City and County of Honolulu released the “Complete Streets Design Manual” (September 2016), a guide book that will ensure that our streets and public spaces can meet everyone’s transportation needs. It is well-designed, with photos of real streets and diagrams of different design ideas.

Skimming through the Design Manual, one of the easiest and most economical ideas to improve pedestrian safety and reduce the risks of an accident is the Advance Stop Line, a solid white line that are up to 20 feet from the crosswalk, instead of the typical 4-6 feet (section 5.3.6). It lets drivers see pedestrians more easily and gives them more time to slow down.

Speaking from personal experience. one of the worst “traffic calming” ideas to slow traffic speed and eliminate the need for traffic lights is a Roundabout, a circular intersection where traffic flows counterclockwise around a central island (section 4.10.4). In my opinion, roundabouts are confusing and stressful because there is no clear right-of-way. It only benefits those bold drivers and pedestrians who enter the roundabout without hesitation, while less aggressive drivers and pedestrians wait anxiously to enter the roundabout safely.

What caught my attention is the idea of a “road diet” – the narrowing or removal of traffic lanes to encourage vehicles to slow down. The “reclaimed” lane can be used for wider sidewalks, landscaped spaces, bicycle lanes, parklets, or on-street parking (section 3.10).

At a time when Hawaii has more people, more cars, and more traffic than ever, Honolulu plans to deliberately reduce roadways where appropriate. But to further increase safety, reduce accidents, and encourage alternate means of transportation (walking, bicycling, or rail transit) we may all need to go on a more drastic “Road Diet.”

Hawaii’s “Road Diet” Plan will involve more than just cutting down on the number of lanes or width of lanes on the roads. It will probably be painful and divisive. Here are some “Road Diet” options:

* Revising the Driver Education program. We already updated driver education programs to show the dangers of texting while driving. The next step is promoting pedestrian awareness with a driver’s education course that rigs a mannequin to dart in front of the driver or suddenly move into the driver’s lane from the other side of a parked car.

* Creating trade-in programs. To encourage people to walk, bike, ride-share, or take the bus, we could create a trade-in program so that bicycle users could trade in their old bike for a new bike or motorized scooter. In addition, we could create a trade-in program so that car owners could get a free bike or scooter if they sell or donate their car and agree not to buy a replacement car for at least one year.

* Limiting the number of cars per household. We may need to limit the number of motor vehicles allowed per household, or perhaps drastically increase the vehicle registration fees for additional vehicles in a household. Personally, I don’t like having my transportation choices limited, but diets are not supposed to be easy.

* Capping the number of cars in Hawaii. We could put a cap on the number of personal motor vehicles imported into Hawaii.

I realize these issues are outside of the scope of the Complete Streets Design Manual, but they are logical steps to dealing with traffic, limited land, and a growing population.

Which traffic safety improvements to you think are effective – and which are problematic? Do you think that Hawaii needs to go on a more drastic “Road Diet”?

Celebrating National Philanthropy Day

November 15, 2016

National Philanthropy Day

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Theodore Roosevelt

November 15 is National Philanthropy Day, a day to honor and appreciate the charitable work that everyone does to make a difference in our communities.

Hawaii’s people are incredibly generous, with 93.3% of Hawaii’s households making some type of charitable donation in 2014, according to “A Report on Charitable Giving in Hawaii” (2015). This includes donations of cash, goods, and volunteered time. The average donation made by Hawaii households was $2,024 for 2014.

If you are looking for a way to maximize your giving, today is also the start of the annual Aloha for Hawaii Charities campaign. When you donate to a participating Hawaii charity, your donation gets a bonus boost with funds from the Friends of Hawaii Charities and the Sony Open. Donations up to $3,000 will receive a boost! The campaign runs from November 15, 2016 through January 15, 2017.

With so many worthwhile causes, philanthropy can be overwhelming. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) offers five “Ps” for wise giving:

  1. Passionate. Support the charities and causes that you are important to you. The more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you are to get involved beyond just giving money.
  2. Proactive. Reach out to charities and organizations, instead of waiting for them to ask you for help.
  3. Prepare. Learn about the charities and nonprofits that you support. Look for consistent management; pay attention to fundraising and program costs.
  4. Plan. Budget how, how much, and how often you want to give. Consider spreading your giving or your time throughout the year, instead of during the winter holidays.
  5. Powerful. Make the most of your gift-giving by looking for matching gifts, using an affinity credit card, or just saying “no” to donor thank-you gifts.

Which issues and causes are you passionate about? What makes you decide to support a charity or nonprofit?

If children were in charge

November 8, 2016

Kids Vote

2016 has been an extraordinarily stressful election season. Usually, I vote on Election Day at my local polling place, where registration is quick and the room feels relaxed. This year, I voted early at Honolulu Hale: where there was a long, snaking line and serious people willing to spend over 30 minutes to vote.

In honor of Election Day, I’m sharing some thoughts and suggestions from my son over the years. This is just a glimpse of what our world could be like if children were in charge:

What would school be like if you were principal for a week?
Age 8: “If I was principal for [a] week I [would] get smart teachers and give students a little more work and harder work. I would also start school at 8:30 am and end at 3:30 pm because students don’t get enough time to work. Have 4 giant recycling bins so kids would recycle more because I see a lot of bottles around campus. We would also have to wear uniforms everyday except Wed. and Fri. I would also get back 6th grade, and have a class where the kids who don’t have friends get to know more about themselves. Also we would have to do book reports on the books we read, we would have to watch a 30 minute video and write 10 sentences about it, and we would have to jump ropes. These are all suggestions for [the principal].”

Are you too young to vote?
Age 9: “I’m too young to vote but… I’m not too young to know politics and make my own decisions. We have a right to vote. The government is trapping us in a cell, not letting us vote and learn life. I have a dream down in America kids are allowed to vote, right now the government is stopping kids, not letting us know about what America is, and it’s true meaning of freedom of peace.”

What would you do if you were President?
Age 9: “If I was President, I would honor all the educational creature shows, I would recognize them all, and put a recommendation on their channel! After that I [would] ask every scientific organization to see if they can make the teleporting and hyperspace theory! To my genius plan, I would create the “IMF,” cool right? The Impossible Mission Foundation will be an undercover spy organization, conquering national terrorist groups.”

What would you do if you were mayor of Honolulu?
Age 10: “Finish rail. Cut taxes by 10%. Fund programs for a better community.” What kind of programs would you create, I asked. “I would hold fundraisers to raise money for the community.”

Did you vote in the general election? Are you happy with your choices? Do you discuss politics and elections with your children?


Clipart from

“Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock

November 5, 2016


Have you ever wondered about the company culture that keeps Google on the forefront of innovation?

“Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead” (2015) by Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google since 2006, discusses Google’s company culture and why and how Google works. It is a handbook for hiring people, managing people, and creating a workplace where people thrive. It is based on the conviction that “All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good – and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines.”

The book is divided into 14 chapters that cover hiring, retaining, managing, and appreciating employees. Each chapter ends with “Work Rules” which summarize the chapter, and the book ends with a list of all the Work Rules.

Everything starts with founders who value people over profits. According to Bock, the three defining aspects of a great culture are 1) mission (a vision that is simple, meaningful, and open-ended/aspiring); 2) transparency (a willingness to share information); and 3) voice (giving employees a real say in how the company is run). When hiring, managing, and retaining employees at Google, this translates into 1) treating employees like owners and trusting them to do the right thing; 2) using data to evaluate products and employee programs; and 3) being transparent about decisions.

Hiring top performers: Google invests a lot of time and effort in recruiting, spending money to hire top performers instead of training average performers. They built a recruiting machine that turns employees into recruiters by soliciting referrals. Hiring decisions are made by committee, based on multiple interviews and a combination of work sample tests, general cognitive ability tests, and structured interviews.

Retaining employee-owners: To retain employees, Google helps employees be owners by taking power away from managers. The company eliminates status symbols, offers the same benefits to everyone, and announces promotions openly. They encourage creativity and innovation by offering employees time for side-projects called “twenty percent time.” Performance reviews are done by teams, not by managers, who measure performance with specific, measurable, and verifiable results, subject to “calibration” (group review). There are separate meetings for performance reviews and pay discussions.

Managing employees: Great managers make a big difference. Google helps the small number of people who struggle the most (people either improve dramatically or leave and succeed elsewhere), turning to experts and top performers within the company. Training focuses on deliberate learning (repetition and feedback). Because a small group of top performers account for a big part of productivity, innovation, and sales, Google pays them more (an instance where paying unfairly is actually fair).

Appreciating each other: Google offers ways to let peers reward each other (gThanks) and also rewards thoughtful failure to encourage innovation and risk-taking. People programs, whether it’s microkitchens, dry-cleaning, guest speakers, daycare, or shuttles, must help employees be more efficient, build community, or encourage innovation. The People Operations team uses nudes (gentle reminders) to make people happier, make people more effective, and encourage people to change – such as putting healthy foods at eye-level and unhealthy snacks in opaque containers, sending emails with checklists to help new hires settle in more quickly, or writing surveys that ask whether employees have done what you hope they will do differently. Google also admits its mistakes – Bock shares a story about how he was honest about a mistake and dropped everything to fix it.

“Work Rules!” is honest, insightful, and backed by data and experience. For a small business, the sheer amount of work and group effort that goes into hiring and managing employees seems overwhelming and a little exhausting. I am in awe about how much Google invests in its people, and the sheer amount of data they collect to back up their decisions. It actually makes me feel more comfortable about the reliability of their products, thought slightly more uncomfortable about the data they collect about people. Bock offers glimpses of his personality and personal life, from a recipe for pancakes to self-depreciating humor, a generous use of footnotes and wry acknowledgement that a 400-page book is not a nudge. He is even honest about his early, less than stellar performance reviews.

Here are the top 5 things I learned from Google:

1) Company missions and employee goals should be simple, meaningful, and just out of reach.

2) Make decisions about employees based on data (not gut feelings) in teams (not individual managers), and keep performance reviews separate from pay discussions.

3) Feedback surveys can nudge people into making improvements just by asking whether they have done what you hope they do differently.

4) At performance review, ask what they hope you would do differently.

5) Create employee programs that increase efficiently, community, or innovation – or are just the right things to do.

Laszlo Bock is a Pomona College graduate, class of 1993 and one of my classmates. I read about his book in a “Pomona College Magazine” Spring 2016 Book Talk, “The Freedom to Work.”