The Seven Stages of Failure

Thomas Edison once said, "I don't fail. I have just figured out 1000 ways it didn't work."

There's so much truth to that statement, but most of us become blindsided by that word we fear most: Failure.

The 'F' word. Really it's just a bunch of 's' words. Scary. Shameful. Sh**ty.

When failure happens, it can get under our skin like an old boyfriend or girlfriend. And we can't seem to shake them off. Too often we let it become a constant reminder that we aren't good enough or perhaps we never were?

Yet if we open up the failure and examine it, there is a profound lesson to learn. And it's often not the one we thought. I've found this comes as a huge gift. We need to look for it.

A couple of professors at the University of California Berkeley (and yes, one of them moonlights at Princeton), John Danner and Mark Coopersmith, interviewed an impressive group of highly successful people about failure and incorporated their insights into a new book, "The Other 'F' Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work." They spoke with executives we have all heard of, entrepreneurs who invented products we covet and other cool folks.

Each person reflected on a time they failed, how they dealt with it and most importantly, what in the world they learned from it. And interestingly enough, a lot of important and soulful stuff emerges. They remind us that failure is a necessary part of discovery and can lead to success, not its opposite. But it is how we understand and respond to failure that dictates whether it becomes a career stopper or a pathway to huge opportunity.

Mostly as parents we focus on improving our kids' self-esteem by asking "what did you excel at today?" But this was not the case for Spanx billionaire, Sara Blakely. She was raised assessing her failure early on because her father made it a point to ask: "What did you fail at today?" Sara's father makes us think about whether we should hone our kids' and employees' grit and determination by focusing on the lessons learned from the small daily failures.

There is much I liked about this book, a big takeaway was how well it deconstructed failure in a systematic way. It reminds us to 'respect the gravity of failure' so we take it seriously. Danner and Coopersmith identify the seven stages of failure and provide excellent advice.

Respect - the gravity of failure in an inevitably fallible organization 
Rehearse - protocols you will use for handling a range of failures
Recognize - signals of failure to buy time to minimize long term impacts
React - effectively to failure
Reflect - thoughtfully, quickly, thoroughly to reasons for the failure
Rebound - to after effects and incorporate the lessons learned
Remember - to embed your experience and make sure it is in the cultural memory of the organization

This book is a great practical guide for personal and professional innovation and growth. It can help us all gain more skills and the confidence to just go for it.

As they say, why waste a good failure.

Dust ourselves off and learn to fail forward. That is what Danner and Coopersmith help us do in their new book.

How Does a Girl Make it Into the Boy's Club?

With recent attention and important conversation going on about the dearth of women in tech and venture capital it reminded me of a story that left myself and a colleague of mine with our jaws on the floor.

"Next time, can you bring the real decision-makers?" This is how a young venture capitalist ended our meeting.

We had agreed to meet at his office to discuss merging two new regional efforts to grow the biotech, life sciences and research industry and discuss a way forward.

With both our faces scrunched in confusion, we simultaneously said, "What?" We thought we had misheard him. After all, I was no slouch, I was a serial entrepreneur, had been elected Businessperson of the Year a few years earlier and was serving as the founding CEO of this new organization. And the Chair was the beloved former Mayor of Seattle, its first African-American one.

Turns out we hadn't. Furious, we politely shook hands and exited.

Later that afternoon, I relayed this story to my friend, Jennifer James, a noted cultural anthropologist and futurist. She explained, "You and Norm didn't realize women and people of color are only given day passes to the club, never full membership. They only renew the day pass when they believe you can be helpful to them." I have never forgotten this insight and it has helped me through the confusion and disappoint in the work life we sadly still find ourselves in.

So, if we can only get a day pass how do we get into the Boy's Club?

Here are my how to's:

1) Don't take it personally. 
This is hard. Not getting that entrance card is probably not about you or your competence. That doesn't mean stop listening, observing, learning the non-verbal ways to be more effective. The most effective leaders never do. Just stop beating yourself up that "if only I were [smarter, worked harder, etc.]" you would get that sought after opportunity.

2) Do something incredible again and again.
Unless you checked your brain, eyes and ears at the house when you left in the morning you are seeing opportunities for extraordinary work all around you. Too often we are waiting to be asked or for the stars to align so risk is small. It ain't going to happen. Have the courage and determination to seize one of those insights and make it happen. Then the management and world will notice and whether you were in the Boy's Club or not will no longer matter.

Scary to imagine this and take the leap? Yes. But you are way more capable than you think. Will you bloody your nose along the way? Yes. You will produce beyond what you thought was possible.

And once you produce something amazing, do it again.

3) Where you work or whom you work with really matters. 
If the top management or the layers above in your company are almost all white or all male- don't waste your time. Your skills and your ability to lead are not likely to be rewarded in that company or organization. Don't waste time wondering whether you could be the exception. Past and present screams, "not likely."

It might have been different in 1970 as the avalanche of women and people entered aiming for the top jobs. In 2015 it's, "What are you pretending not to know?" This makes me really sad. And I know there are some really inspired leaders who are remaking their companies. Work with them.

Find a place where you can hit the ball out of the park and get the brass ring you deserve. It may not have the biggest name on the door and therefore, some things will be harder to do. But, if people like you aren't being recognized for what they are delivering at the big name place, become a disruptor innovative or join one who is.

Yes, it's true. Life is not fair. But that doesn't mean you still can't have the most awesome life anyways. Go out there and get it. I try to remind myself of that this every day.

Smartphones Are Smart Foreign Policy

Today, with more mobile phones than people on Earth, any savvy foreign policy recognizes the power of this small device to do good or evil in the world. Gone are the days when rebels and reformers fought only using guns and physical bombs. Whether it is managing logistics, sending text messages to incite or inspire or using mobiles for recruitment, this portable machine is as important as any as weapon.

We are seeing this innovation in both the government sector and hot technology start-ups. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, with advice fromAlec Ross, she made technology a centerpiece of her 21st-century statecraft. The Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry have also embraced digital technologies. In fact, mobiles are a key method for achieving President's Obama foreign-aid goal of creating conditions where aid is not necessary.

Turning to U.S.-based start-ups, the brilliant and nerdy Josh Stern developed a mission-critical mobile-messaging platform now used in over 150 countries. Telerivetallows data to be collected and is used for security, humanitarian purposes and commerce -- both cheaply and easily. It isn't just another messaging system. Its platform has ways to, when needed, prevent outsiders from finding out who is sending information so as to not put that person at risk. From beauty-parlor owners scheduling their clients to supply chains where source security is not essential to security information garnered deep in Southern Somalia, the versatility of their technology simply takes one's breath away. Already being used by diplomatic and foreign-assistance providers, the range of its foreign affairs capabilities is the best definition of "transformative."

However, most foreign-policy attention has been placed on mobile messaging -- for example, the role Twitter and Facebook played in catalyzing people in Moldova, Egypt and Iran. Security experts understandably worry about how mobile can be used to detonate bombs or cause destruction. Beyond messaging, the ways mobiles are being used for good and evil are intriguing.

A true game changer in the foreign-policy conversation has been the impending explosion of turning phones into wallets. At this week's gathering of the mobile industry in Barcelona (with over 86,000 people from over 200 countries), it is clear that mobile money is changing the landscape in developing countries. It is now available in 89 countries, and over 300 million people have set up mobile money accounts on their phones. Now they can use their phone to store money, buy and sell goods and services and send money to or accept money from relatives.

What exactly is mobile money? Think of using mobile money in your wallet like you use a debit card. You also deposit cash into your wallet at your local bodega or have someone transfer money onto it. It's so convenient and is spurring all sorts of new entrepreneurial opportunities and new financial services for both the rich and poor. With up to 2 billion people who own cellphones but don't have bank accounts, mobile money provides a personal financial safety net for the poor and a point-of-sale machine for, say, a small farmer who wants to buy his supplies from a cheaper vendor miles away.

We also can't be complacent about the risks to our national security or global financial systems. What if malware like the one that snuck into the retail terminals at Target and Home Depot all across the country, grabbing over 100 million of our credit card numbers, were unleashed on our mobiles? Experts are worried Al-Qaeda is working on ways to worm their way into peopl'es mobile phones through a simple game -- spying and hoping to steal money.

Just as we would not throw away our credit cards, we would be foolish to throw 7 billion phones in the trash because of these risks. But let's take a minute to look at how the massive opportunity to use our phones as digital wallets could result in people being safer and more prosperous. Government and foreign-policy experts must rapidly work together to usher in this innovation while also ensuring systems are in place to minimize terrorist financing, money laundering and theft.

Interestingly, U.S. women have been at the forefront of crafting the important global policy initiatives in this area -- to both rapidly roll out and supercharge the benefits while being savvy about ways to protect the global financial economy and reduce the likelihood that terrorists and criminals could effectively use this channel for massive money movements. Here are two examples.

While at the Gates Foundation, Priya Jaisinghani, USAID's Director of Mobile Solutions, provided some of the first grants to study how this powerful technology and service of mobile money could be used by billions of poor people for their finances, agricultural businesses and health services. She went on to lead the first division of any foreign-assistance office to focus on mobiles, and her thought leadership continues to shape the products and services that mobile phone companies think to offer their customers.

Then there's the relentless and compelling Kay McGowan, a U.S. State Department foreign-service officer now at USAID. She has pushed the build-out of mobile money in Afghanistan with private-sector leadership coming from Karim Khoja, CEO of the mobile operator Roshan. Early mobile-money pilots unveiled the fact that 30 percent had been skimmed off their salary payments when "trusted agents" delivered their cash payments. Today she continues to be the fiercest advocate of getting Afghanistan officials to switch salary payments for police, military officers and teachers from cash to their cellphones.

To learn more from smart women on foreign policy, mobile money and more, listen to the coolest new podcast, "Smart Women, Smart Power," hosted by Nina Easton. I sat down with her last week to further discuss the importance of mobile money and foreign policy. Listen here. I highly recommend that you subscribe to this series.

What Amazon Got Right From the Start

3 Mistakes Disruptors Must Avoid

When Jeff Bezos - the founder of Amazon - started offering books to the public over the Internet, he could have decided to partner with Barnes & Noble or Borders and become their online distributor. They were after all, the Pepsi/Coca-Cola leaders of their industry for that time. Amazon would get a recognizable brand name and perhaps in-store promotions that could drive traffic to their site since few people were using the Internet in 1995.

Cagey as a fox however, Mr. Bezos had a better idea. He would get his books from the same wholesale distributor as the book giants themselves. Thus, he connected with Ingram, tied into their software database and put an HTML interface onto the listings.

Boom. He was in business.

Overnight Amazon became 'the largest bookstore on earth.' Amazon, with no prior retail business infrastructure, focused on blowing past its competitors by offering something they couldn't or wouldn't provide - big discounts and access to more books than any store could possibly offer. And a smart search function that made it easy to find new books in the genre or topic people craved.

At the time, Barnes & Noble mostly ignored the new upstart, giving Amazon a two-year head start. Borders lived to regret how long it took them to recognize this under-the-radar threat. In 1998, Barnes and Noble even tried to slow Amazon down by trying to acquire Ingram. But it was too late to stop the online innovator and the FTC opposed the merger.

Jeff Bezos with Amazon avoided making some of the biggest mistakes first-time entrepreneurs make.

1. If your product or service is core to a large incumbent's business, don't use them as a distribution channel. Even if the large company does a deal with you, they will drop you like a hot potato when they have learned what they need to. Too often they will turn into your biggest competitor- just ask Real Networks, an early innovator in the music streaming business after a deal with Microsoft went sour. An ironclad legal agreement may pay you a few dollars after you sue, but rarely does it undo the damage or turn the clock back.

How to Avoid: Create your own distribution channel, use multiple distribution channels or partner with someone that has a complementary product and no history of cannibalizing or knocking off it suppliers.

2. Beware of customers who just want to have more and more exploratory meetings.

I made this mistake as the co-founder of a breakthrough customer information and billing software company in the utility industry. Wooing, or so we thought, ENRON as a customer, they invited us down for multiple meetings, one right after the other. At one point, they even flew a team of their people up to our offices for workshops, under the auspices of due diligence. What I came to realize later is that it was a business intelligence trip (aka spying mission) to get as many people at Enron as smart as they could on our insights and architecture. Fooled once, but hopefully, never again.

Sadly, I see this mistake again and again when I teach and advise entrepreneurs. It doesn't happen all at once. Sometimes it's just a person in a large company who wants to get smart on new technology or new markets by picking a disrupter's brain, nonstop. They have zero plans to purchase the product, they're just hoping to look smart in their next internal meeting without bothering to tip their hat to how they learned it. The entrepreneur is hopeful a deal will be done and simply thinks the buying process is slow - a deal with the innovator almost never results.

How to Avoid: Get the potential customer or partner to have skin in the game. Ask in the first meeting what the buying decision process is. Only take additional meetings that move along actual purchase decisions. In addition, have them make commitments early on, even if it is only to pay for a pilot, a few licenses or products for new stores with a specific pathway to larger purchase.

3. One more improvement is needed before we expose it to customers. 
It used to be called 'inventor's syndrome' - that one last rev before marketplace release.

When my brother was working on getting Costco to sell fresh flowers, he discovered this great display cart that kept flowers fresher longer. Only the inventor was working on version number 70 (no joke) and was reluctant to distribute it. Gone are the days where software or apps or products (unless it is a medical device) need to be perfect before they interact with customers.

Amazon's first site was black and white, very boring to anyone except nerds, but they launched anyways. An early Amazon hire, Maryam Mohit - now the co-founder ofGemshare - focused on creating the compelling customer service experience we know and love today. Amazon jumped way ahead of everyone in retail e-commerce in part because they didn't wait for the perfect product.

How to Avoid: Produce a rough version of your app, software, product or service and start getting customers to use and pay for it but also pay attention. Listen carefully to customer suggestions and change it accordingly, so they'll fall in love with the product.

Disrupters are the ones that have the courage to plow new or adjacent distribution channels rather than settle for a deal with an incumbent. Don't be afraid to ask for commitment sooner rather than later. And once again: launch and listen. Quickly make the changes needed to create a breakaway success.

Good Luck!

What Other Love Are We Missing Out On?

A few weeks ago I was putting away our holiday cards, the majority of which were photo cards. Some were cute or funny, and others depicted the growing families of some of our closest friends. I wanted the kids to jump out of the card so I could hug them or teach them how to be great Scrabble players.

There was one in particular I just held in my hand and couldn't quite put away. It was a picture of a friend -- an accomplished academic and administrator at one of the top universities in the world -- and his husband and their two children. Two siblings -- one boy and one girl -- both of whom had come to live as foster kids with Jay and his husband, David. And before long, all four were gobsmacked with love, leading them to venture through the long and official process of becoming one big, happy adopted family -- for life.

As I looked at the card, I was struck by all the smiles, the fun, the silliness and the deep care seen by all four of them. There was something really special about this card, something way deeper than the rest. On the backside of the card were pictures of the kids with their grandparents and extended family members, as if they had always known each other. It was meant to be. It was one of the most joyful families I had ever seen. But there was something else that made me want to hold onto this card.

When I spoke to Jay, he said, 'Who would have thought after 50 that instead of thinking about retirement or at least wondering when I was going to take the pedal off the career accelerator, I would instead become a dad." We agreed that the kid chapter was simply the best chapter of our lives.

Yet for me, it was much more straightforward -- I mean, I was raised Catholic, for starters, married and pregnant by my mid-twenties. But the U.S. was a different place back then; even if Jay had wanted all those things, society and the law were not as favorable as they are becoming today. Two men getting married, let alone adopting kids, was simply unheard of.

And who were the big losers? I thought, as I kept staring at this card.

The kids, of course!

And the parents who had so much to give and get from hugging and, yes, even enforcing homework assignments.

But in the grand scheme of things, our communities and country in many ways had been the big losers. And how stupid was that. Almost 400,000 kids in the U.S. are without a permanent family. Globally, almost 18 million children live on the streets or in orphanages -- most of us would weep if our kids were confined to that life.

So, as we prepare our valentines and bake our cakes, as I hold the card a little longer, I think we should look around and ask ourselves: Who today are we not allowing into our hearts and our communities because of fear or uncertainty?

Because traditional families are evolving and, hopefully, only getting better.

What Obama Left Behind in India

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Mobile Money Set to Transform Poor in India

The focus of the media attention during the president's visit was the historic invitation to be the honored guest at India's Republic Day -- a first for the U.S. and a signal of the close and evolving relationship between the two countries. However, what got little notice was something the president left behind, something that will likely contribute to the biggest transformation for the poor in India.

India is a study in contrasts -- deeply spiritual yet stubbornly segregated. It rightfully celebrates one of the fastest-growing middle classes in the world. Still home to 200 million people living in unimaginable poverty and 500 million more not that much better off, there is much that can be done.

Roughly half of Indian households have access to a bank account, and 73 percent of the farmers have no formal credit, robbing them of their ability to invest and build a food-secure future for their family and the rest of the country. The new Premier Modi is laser-focused on changing this reality. He made a pledge to get every single one of the 1.2 billion people living in India bank accounts -- an important step toward prosperity.

Mobile phones are the key.

Almost all Indians own or have access to a phone, including 80 percent of those living at the bottom of the pyramid. If they could use their phones like we use our debit and credit cards, millions of poor Indians could have the tools to become less hungry and more prosperous. Obama and Modi announced an innovative partnership with USAID and the private sector to accept mobile money for purchases and to use it to distribute payments for goods or wages throughout India. Getting private companies to accept mobile money for purchases is huge and an essential part of creating a digital financial system.

There are three things that are needed for mobile money to work:

1. Regulators need to allow people to store money, access bank accounts and buy things using their phone.

Fortunately this week the Reserve Bank of India finished accepting applications, which will allow a new kind of banking license to enable just this kind of opportunity with mobiles. Among those applying included the largest mobile operator in India,Bharti Airtel. The Reserve Bank of India will soon start issuing these licenses, also ensuring that adequate consumer protection rules and anti-money-laundering rules are in place.

2. Cash needs to start moving in and out of digital wallets.

Big payment providers, like governments that issue social-welfare and pension-benefit payments, banks, microfinance institutions and business networks like SAP, need to send money directly to digital wallets like they do in the U.S. to direct-deposit bank accounts. That way a network of mobile-money outlets where people can get and send money will spring up and have the cash when and where people want it. Don't think machines but people at village stores or kiosks in the city, creating the most extensive ATM network. These big payers are the essential "anchor tenants" of the mobile-money mall.

3. People need to have places they can use their digital cash.

If people receive money on their phones but then immediately take out the cash, it will cause huge liquidity problems for the local kiosk, the mobile operator and the banking system nationally. People need places that accept mobile money for payment of goods and services. Think stores that accept credit cards, only this time we are talking about stores accepting mobile money from your phone and a PIN.

This is where Obama, USAID and the private companies that are part of this partnership come in. Companies like Procter & Gamble agreed to work with the stores and distributors that carry their products in India to accept mobile money. So when an Indian wants to buy soap or make a loan payment, they can do it with their phone. Snapdeal.com, India's largest online marketplace with over 20 million users, is part of the partnership to make mobile money a reality. Buying something online from your phone? Punch a few buttons and use the money in your bank account. That's how easy it will be.

In the last thirty years India has dropped its rate of poverty in half from 60 percent to 33 percent. Mobile money and digital payments will take it down further alongside collective action and key partnerships. This push for the incorporation of mobile money will be the biggest key factor for the poor to leap forward.

These recent commitments by major companies, banks, mobile-network operators, e-commerce sites and more across six identified categories to building a shared infrastructure could potentially drive India's middle class to exceed the estimated 40 percent by 2027, which could result in the transformation of its current poverty landscape for the better. A rising middle class in India helps alleviate global poverty and create larger opportunities for U.S. companies' products.

What Obama left behind in India will be a giant step toward not only financial inclusion but eradication of poverty.

Raj Shah Unveils Common Values for Dems and Republicans

In October 2009, Raj Shah walked across the reception area into my office and closed the door. He told me that President Obama and Secretary Clinton wanted to nominate him to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The decision wasn't so easy.

Raj had a great job. He had just started four months earlier as Under Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture. Working under the incredibly smart, strategic and effective leader, Secretary Tom Vilsack, Raj was partnering with him to forge new approaches to domestic and international hunger and food security.

He wondered out loud,

"What if the critics were right -- maybe it wasn't possible to succeed at USAID?"

There was plenty of reason to expect that the critics might be right. Many Republicans were not fans of USAID. As far back as 1995, Senator Jesse Helms had introduced legislation to abolish the Agency. And some current members weren't much happier. Senator Leahy, the leading Democratic supporter, sent a shot over the bow in early 2010 opening a budget hearing by saying that unless the Agency significantly changed, they could not count on his support the following year. These rumblings and frustrations were well known even among friends of USAID -- showing up in think tank reports and best selling books.

This shaky political support rested on top of an American public who understood little about foreign assistance and were deeply skeptical. Understandably, people were worried about their own jobs, homes and health as pink slips, foreclosure notices and healthcare insurance cancellations were showing up daily in mailboxes nationwide. Americans when queried, thought foreign assistance made up 25 percent of the federal budget rather than less than 1 percent that it did. Most thought that cutting it in half would solve our budget problems.

Raj had seen first hand the impact of the generosity and skill of the US people abroad. Raj's parents, with their small kids in tow, had periodically made the journey halfway around the world to their birthplace in India. Janardan Shah, Raj's dad -- a Michigan engineer at Ford Motor Company -- and his mom, Rena -- a preschool teacher - wanted their children to see the struggle and poverty in the world. On one of those trips, Raj would never forget the day he saw a busy hospital that had been built by USAID decades earlier -- it became the blueprint for his professional training as a physician, career and life.

Realizing global isolation had never worked and we couldn't solve all the problems threatening us with just a military response. Raj decided that October day in 2009, that USAID's mission was too important not to try. He believed in the Agency and its people. He said yes.

Within weeks of his swearing-in, on January 12th, Raj was in the USAID Top Security room preparing for a meeting at the White House on Afghanistan when a note was passed to him that a 7.2 earthquake had hit Haiti. It was to become the biggest urban disaster in modern history. A third of the country's population was impacted, 13 of the 15 government ministry buildings collapsed and much of the UN Peacekeeping leadership was buried under the rubble.

It would not be until first light that the US military could conduct flyovers and determine whether planes could land or ships could dock. Still Raj along with his team worked all night to mobilize response teams and resources so the right help would be on its way. Within 24 hours, Raj was named the whole of US government coordinator for the response. And President Obama made it clear this was not going to be his Katrina.

This began his orchestration of the federal, state and local public sector capabilities along with the charitable and private sector humanitarian assistance to solve urgent and chronic global problems in new and innovative ways. He saw the awesome expertise, influence and capability the US government and its people could have. He knew that innovation and technology had to be at the cornerstone. This was to form the approach Raj used over the next five years in building an unusual consensus for foreign assistance.

Visiting more members of Congress than any Administrator had ever done, Raj listened hard to their frustrations, sometimes laced with anger as well as their ideas on how USAID could deliver on its promise of being an essential part of US Foreign Policy. He knew he had to find a common set of values that regardless of the political party, people could agree with. And it wasn't easy. Too many elected officials had stopped talking to each other -- preferring stonewalling or communicating through the press.

Raj was relentless along with creative in his quest for success.

He recognized that the political right often sprang from deep religious convictions that saw saving lives and humanitarian assistance as part of who we ought to be as Americans. They just wanted an Agency that performed these responsibilities more cost-effectively and with better leverage. He worked with those Senators and House members to forge an alliance around these values. And was honest about the changes that were needed.

He also shared the belief with national security experts in Congress that our own domestic security was at jeopardy if people overseas were starving or lacking any economic or political opportunity in their countries. USAID had demonstrated that brilliance when the Soviet Union had busted up in the 1990's. Almost overnight it had opened offices in 22 countries to assist the new governments with nearly everything, including banking, setting up courts, licensing and other essential functions. It helped dramatically solidify these fragile democracies. And yet, even these Congressional supporters wanted to know what USAID was doing to help create the conditions where AID was no longer needed. A stop gap -- yes. A transition -- yes. A forever AID plan -- no.

The economic landscape had also changed. The growth opportunity for US companies and domestic jobs is exports. The US economy is 70 percent personal consumption(retail sales, financial and healthcare spending). We aren't going to shop our way into greater wages and prosperity. And we can't afford our medical costs to go up anymore.

Public-private partnerships were the key to successful foreign assistance. Many US companies greatly valued the co-investments needed to source products and develop markets for US goods overseas. Raj, with his team sewed together support from the broad set of Republicans and Democrats. The Members often couldn't agree on big policy issues before it, but understood the unique value USAID needed to play in our economic and job future. It was one of the only Agencies to see a bipartisan increase in its budget.

Raj knew that to have credibility, he needed to have his strategy match the Agency's performance. He launched a major internal reform effort, USAID Forward. Innovation and technology were to be centerpieces of his reform. Despite the objections of some of the traditional AID contractors and the complexity of internal Agency change, he was relentless in the desire to deliver a new USAID.

Today, Raj Shah announced he was stepping down as head of USAID. As we turn the calendar with divided political leadership in Washington DC and coming off a frustrating Congressional term for everyone, let us learn the lesson that Raj demonstrated.

We have way more in common politically than we think. If we unveil these common values among ourselves, friends and foes alike, we can emerge with remarkable successes.

It's a simple truth: in everything we do, when faced with hard, even toxic situations let us be relentless about finding the common things we all care deeply about. And build from there.

Acknowledging Our Shared History

As long as I have been able to vote elected officials at the local, state and federal level have struggled with what to do about immigration. When I used to talk with my Irish grandparents they told of the signs that were posted in the windows of stores or the line in Jobs section of the paper or in the labor union halls. 'No [...] need apply.'

Fill in the blank with the most recent ethnic immigrant group that is arriving with the strength, smarts, determination, and desire to build a better future for themselves and for our country. Or recognize that even without those signs that African-Americans, going on two centuries now, continue to get robbed of opportunities.

This Thanksgiving week I hope all of us have a conversation at our dinner table about the origins of this deeply American tradition. Those signs may no longer be plastered everywhere but the feelings haven't evaporated. Almost all of us were once immigrants. As the pilgrims came ashore no doubt the Native Americans were confused and scared for many of the same reasons that people are today. Both groups fought and killed because of that fear. Sadly it is too often our first reaction.

But on thanksgiving we can remember a different path once taken. The one that resulted in the first Thanksgiving.

Squanto, a member of the Wampanoag tribe having been kidnapped more than once by Europeans, he returned to his Cape Cod village in 1619 to see everyone wiped out by either tuberculosis or small pox. Think about the heartbreak we would feel finally getting home and everyone we loved was just gone. Squanto moved to Plymouth where he saw people all around him sick and dying. Only this time it was the Pilgrims.

Instead of anger, he chose compassion. He taught the Pilgrims to farm the land, extract sap from the trees, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. Choosing to forge a peaceful future with these new immigrants -- our forefathers and mothers -- Squanto helped negotiate a treaty.

When the bounty was harvested, the First Americans and the new immigrants celebrated together. It was our first Thanksgiving.

Our Simple Truth: We were all once immigrants and we can choose to be angry and scared or grateful.

Join me this Thanksgiving in opening up your heart to a generous America that understands we are stronger with the intellect, ambition, and dedication that immigration reform will reap.