In case you're ever looking for something important to read, we decided to offer you a list of our favorites...
(Links Lead to the book on Amazon)
A foundation for our shared belief in philanthropic business (how's that for a marriage of right and left) as the primary path towards breaking out of 'stagnation traps' in countries around the world. American Element was conceived by Tony and I as a call to arms for the millennial generation to leave their mocha latte's behind, and get dirty starting companies that do good things in tough environments. Dead Aid is about Africa by an African, the same way solutions in Africa will be lead and executed by Africans (with an *element* of American thought and action thrown in). it highlights the limitations of Aid, and the importance of healthy private enterprise. It inspired us.
The 51 countries in sub-saharan Africa are expected to add 1.3 Billion people in the next 30 years, the largest population expansion and we consider elevating the bottom billion to be the issue about which we are most passionate. Collier's book is a bit academic, but it's at the top of our list because it frames the massive challenge, and sets the stage for our core belief: brave private industry will provide the path forward.
Whatever you may think of the ex-Navy SEAL who started the company that effectively became the fifth branch of the American military, his book is fascinating. It's part cautionary tale, part study of a for-profit enterprise operating alongside the biggest not-for-profit in the world. Tony and I don't think for-profit industry is perfect, but we want to see you reconsider the automatic dividers we establish in the world: between good and bad, and what constitutes appropriate non-profit/for-profit playing fields.
One of our core shared beliefs at The American Element is that the world is improving, the solutions are out there, act accordingly. 100 years ago philosopher Thomas Malthus believed that the world would exist at the eternal cusp of starvation. He failed to anticipate the advent of phosphorous based fertilizers and mechanized agriculture. Now 1% of America produces four times more food than we need, and a child in Mumbai India can expect to live longer than the richest man in the world could 100 years ago. Watch Michael Specter talk about The Dangers of Science Denial, read Abundance, and ensure your mental framework allows for things to change and be solved.
Bold talks about making bold intelligent moves in the market. Diamandis and Kotler started the X-Prize, and helped open up an entirely new industry: private space exploration. If you ask Tony what's one thing thing people aren't doing that they should be doing he would tell you: "starting companies in Africa that will be lead by tough-minded Africans, that can sustainably make a profit, and a difference." Bold may be a book about high technology, but it talks about harnessing the power of private competition to amplify effects. Our call to action would be a little less sleek. It would be about starting concrete companies and selling agricultural solutions, but the principles apply.
One of our favorite ideas from this mainstay of business thought is that you have to hire great people in order to run great organizations. Without the right people, nothing else matters. It is one of the greatest complaints we had with the military. Whether due to the fight against veteran homelessness, or putting military personnel on a pedestal, the military has only made it more difficult to get the right people, and get rid of the bad ones. The best Battalion Commander I ever had was proud to say he'd sent seventy Soldiers packing to other industries, the equivalent of one whole Company of poor employees who stood in the way of improving the organization. There's a tough topic we want to talk about.
This classic reminded us of the simple value of being nice, reliable, and straightforward. It worked in 1937, and it works today. Even books like The Like Switch remind us of the simple function of time and exposure in gaining someone's trust. Tony and I like these arguments because in today's shortcut society they remind us that success requires consistent effort. We're not shortcut people, we're all about the long-cut, the long smart difficult way forward.