Sunday, January 03, 2010

John Wood Leaving Microsoft Quotes

My post on Mountains Beyond Mountains Quotes (a biography about Dr. Paul Farmer) is by far my most popular post to-date. In an attempt to increase exposure to John Wood, his excellent book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and his amazingly efficient and effective non-profit Room to Read, I’m following a similar format for this post.

All quotes in this post come from the autobiography Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and unless otherwise specified, they are quotes from its author, John Wood.

“In this village, we have a primary school, but no secondary school. So after grade five, no more schooling takes place unless the children can walk two hours to the nearest school that teaches grades six and above. But because the people are poor, and they need their children to help with farming, so many of the students stop education too early.” (Pasupathi, responsible for finding resources for 17 schools in Nepal, page 5)

“I found it hard to imagine a world in which something as random as where you were born could result in lifelong illiteracy.” (5)

“Is this all there is—longer hours and bigger payoffs?” (6)

“The company could rely on me, but friends and family could not.” (6)

“Books were considered precious. The school had so few that the teachers did not want to risk the children damaging them. I wondered how a book could impart knowledge if it was locked up, but kept that thought to myself.” (9)

“Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books.” (The headmaster of a school in Nepal to John Wood, forever changing his life, page 10)

“Many trekkers come through this area, and many have said that they will help us. But they do not come back and we do not hear from them again.” (A teacher in Nepal, page 10)

“I never enjoy listening to people talk about why things cannot happen, so I changed the subject.” (13)

“Of the 850 million lacking basic literacy, the UN estimated that two-thirds were women…The next section revealed that over 100 million children of primary-school age were not enrolled in school.” (23)

“[Andrew Carnegie] had used his wealth to set up over 2,000 public libraries across North America. Three generations after his death, they were continuing to pay dividends…I did not possess Carnegie’s wealth. But I had a thirty-year head start on him.” (24-25)

“My inner voice nagged…Are there thousands lining up to help poor villages build schools and libraries? That job is not being done. You should rise to this challenge.” (37)

“Despite my fears, this felt like the right thing to do. I knew my life would be happier, even if I did not yet know how to survive financially as a global do-gooder.” (37)

“The world is full of risk-averse people. I knew that a lot of them would not be shy about offering their opinion that I should stick with the known, safe path.” (37)

“For most of our lives, we are taught to act in accordance with society’s expectations. I would soon defy them. My entire life had been on a predictable trajectory dominated by a couple of university degrees and thirteen years of white-collar employment. My identity was defined by my career. I now planned a radical shift, a big leap into the unknown: from corporate executive to unemployed guy setting up libraries in the Himalayas. I prayed that I would be decisive and follow through on my gut instinct.” (37-38)

“…my title and my career no longer seemed important to me…” (44)

“I loved that [Jimmy] Carter thought big. He also got results: the world’s poor benefited from a 97 percent decline in the reported cases of guinea worm disease, from 900,000 in 1989 to fewer than 30,000 by 1995.” (50)

“Plan B: Take consulting gigs…As an ex-Microsoft exec, I could probably command a high hourly rate. Cut living expenses. Spend one-third of time consulting and two-thirds of time on my education projects in Nepal…This way, clients who paid me for consulting would end up subsidizing my charity work.” (65)

“What do you think it means that I am more excited by e-mail about a donation of a few hundred used Dr. Seuss books than I am about a million-dollar deal to license Windows to a major Chinese telecommunications company?” (67)

“I invest in people. Tell me first about your people, because if you have not gotten that right, then there is no hope for your organization.” (Bill Draper, page 83)

“Too much of the nonprofit sector has a nine-to-five mentality.” (Bill Draper, page 85)

“One of the often overlooked but most important skills that any young charity must have is the ability to sell its vision, its business model, and its programs to potential donors.” (87)

“My reaction to rejection was ‘No?’ Can I ask you to instead say ‘Not yet?’ ” (89)

“I wrote out five core principles that I would review before key meetings with prospective donors:
1) If the donors have money, then chances are good they have been helped in their own life with education. Play up the fact that they now have the opportunity to give that same gift back to hundreds of children in the developing world.
2) I can show donors a direct connection between what they give and what gets done as a result. There is a causal link between an $8,000 donation and a new school in Nepal. Some people don’t like to give money to charity because they don’t know where their money will go. In our case, we can show them exactly where their money went. It’s so tangible that we can send them photos, or they can visit the school or library in person.
3) We keep our overhead low, so donors will know that 90 cents on the dollar goes to the projects, not to administrative and fund-raising expenses.
4) Passion sells. There is not enough of it in the world, so when people meet a passionate individual, that person really stands out. When I tell donors that I quit a lucrative career in the technology world to devote myself to this cause full-time, and for zero pay, that will resonate.
5) People are looking for more meaning in their lives. Funding education provides a great feeling that you have helped to change the world for the better.” (94-95)

“We have big dreams, and I need to ask for your support to help us reach them.” (96)

“I might be wrong, but I think that guilt should not be used as a marketing tool.” (96)

“The problems facing the world today are immense. This is not a time for incremental thinking. If a cause is worth devoting your time to, then you owe it to yourself—and those you will serve—to think in a big way.” (116)

“His bias was toward action, not talk.” (John Wood speaking of Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, page 139)

“I think that every organization, be it for-profit or not-for-profit, should decide what to measure and put those results at the bottom of their e-mails. Be it the number of meals served to the homeless, the number of students they’ve helped to get into college, or the number of people who’ve had cholesterol screenings, nothing focuses the mind quite like having to broadcast your results hundreds of times per day.” (140-141)

“There is a saying within Microsoft that ‘you cannot attack a person, but you can attack an idea.’ ” (141)

“I had, unrealistically, thought that we could run the organization on 5 percent overhead and continue to add countries to the mix at an insane pace.” (141)

“I plan to continue this tradition of encouraging employees to challenge my thinking.” (142)

“Any new organization will die unless every person it hires has passion for the mission.” (145)

“In Nepal…adult male illiteracy is a staggering 39 percent. But for Nepali women, the situation is even worse, with 75 percent of adult women unable to read or write a simple sentence.” (182)

“Educating girls is also a smart investment…Room to Read’s program, as an example, supports a girl by paying her school fees, buying her two school uniforms, two pairs of shoes, a book bag, and school supplies. She is also given health insurance, a bicycle (schools tend to be sparse in the developing world, so travel times are long), and a strong female mentor to look after the group of young scholars. The all-in cost of this wide-ranging package: only $250 per year.” (186)

“It dawned on me how lucky I am, to be working in a role that provides so many examples of basic human kindness.” (211)

“Children can be natural fund-raisers, and very entrepreneurial, if given the freedom to think creatively.” (224)

“True entrepreneurs are not afraid to declare to the world that they are going to fill a market gap or offer a new product or service, even if they are not yet entirely sure how they are going to do so.” (229)

“Once we declared a bold goal, thousands of people rallied around it.” (230)

5 comments:

Barbara said...

Hi Ryan - Enjoyed your blog post and welcome to the Room to Read community. I, too, read John Wood's book (in '06) and became involved with the Boston chapter in '08. I'm delighted to report that I'm now a chapter leader here. Send us any pals you have in the Boston area and good luck in your very worthwhile journey.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Mohammed Ali

Ryan Gunderson said...

Thanks, Barbara. I first read the book in 2006 and volunteered with Room to Read for a couple years as well, with the Denver/Boulder chapter. The experience gave me nothing but increased respect for the organization. With changes in work and family responsibility, I was not involved in the chapter in 2009 but would definitely recommend it to others.

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