Show Me The Money

07/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Do you think that being a New Radical is only for the wealthy? Or that helping others ensures a lifetime of penury?

Each time I give a speech or am interviewed, these assumptions come up. And I totally understand why. The media is full of reports of the rich and powerful running around the world doing good -- billionaires and celebrities seem to be the only ones who are free enough to make a difference. At the other end of the spectrum, our culture is steeped in heroes such as Mother Theresa and Gandhi, who gave up everything to help people in need.

I've come to think of this as "the money question." And it actually has two parts. Before we explore what each half entails, let me underline the revolutionary idea that is at the core of the New Radicals movement: that we can do good and make money at the same time. Think of this as a new alternative to philanthropy and volunteering: that how we earn our living can become the way we give back. (For more on the New Radicals, see archived articles.)

The first part of the question is "how do I fund the transition?". How do I continue to pay my bills, my child's tuition, or support my aging parents until my new career (and salary) kicks in? The lucky few have an early pension, an inheritance, or a partner who can hold the fort while they reinvent themselves. But the vast majority of New Radicals don't. So, how do they make it? By juggling two lives.

Mark Brayne is a great example. For thirty years, Mark was a foreign correspondent for the BBC. At midlife, he realized that, while the working atmosphere of journalism was an enormously rich one -- "I knew some of the most interesting people on the planet, was changing posts every three or four years, immersing myself in different cultures, and learning new languages, which I love" -- he was deeply unhappy. He wanted his work to be more meaningful and to help others. And he found a way to combine his new interest -- psychotherapy -- with his first career. Today, Mark works as a psychotherapist with individuals, journalists, and news organizations in London and across Europe. I asked him how he was able to make the transition. "I was putting in a 50-hour work week at the BBC. In at 8:00am for a nine o'clock editorial meeting, helping to run the European language services, 12 of them, working flat out from eight 'til half past six, with my psychotherapy and training on top." []

My own story is similar. For five years, I've continued to run my first business (speechwriting) and worked hard to launch my new practice, all while researching and writing my book.

The second half of the money question -- "As a New Radical, can I make enough to live?" -- is more complicated. And it depends in part on what kind of New Radical you want to become.

If, let's say, you leave your corporate job to become a New Radical Activist -- working in the non-profit sector, for instance -- you can certainly expect to earn less money, as salaries are lower in that sector. Although even this is changing. Ray Horton, director of the Social Enterprise program at Columbia University, told the 'Financial Times' that the average annual salary for Columbia's business school graduates working in the not-for-profit sector is $90,000. It may not be as much as they would make in the business world, but it is certainly enough to live on.

If you decide to become a New Radical Entrepreneur, well, the sky's the limit. You could set up a stall at a local farmer's market, selling locally-grown produce, and make enough to cover your expenses. Or you might start a venture that is hugely successful, and that pays you a good salary. Dennis McGuire's company, Ecosphere Technologies, solves large-scale wastewater challenges in a variety of industries, and has developed mobile water treatment systems (useful anywhere that safe water is in short supply). The market opportunity is enormous -- providing clean water for clean energy alone is pegged at $7 billion. Ecosphere expects to capture a significant percentage of this business, while simultaneously solving a major environmental challenge. You, too, could do well by doing good.

And New Radical Innovators -- people who stay inside their field or organization and drive change from within -- typically continue to earn the same money. Take Ed Sutt. An engineer with Stanley-Bostitch, he was deeply moved by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and set out to reinvent the nail. Ed didn't leave his job, but created the new nail while working on his regular assignments. His brainchild, the HurriQuake nail, helps wooden structures better withstand the forces of hurricanes and earthquakes. It's a major achievement for "Dr. Nail", and an innovation coup for his company.

Knowing that I like to do a lot of research, one of my advisors, Dave Shaw, retired director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Growth at the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, sent me "New Venture Creation: Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century" by Jeffry A. Timmons. Last night, I read the section about the importance of being "creative and parsimonious." Timmons writes that untried entrepreneurs often think that they need to have all the resources in place before they begin, especially money, but that thinking money first is a big mistake. He cites Howard Head, who developed the world's first metal ski, as a case in point. "Head left his job at a large aircraft manufacturer during World War II and worked in his garage on a shoe-string budget to create his metal ski. It took over 40 versions before he succeeded in developing a ski that worked and could be marketed. He insisted that one of the biggest reasons he finally succeeded is that he had so little money...if he had complete financing, he would have blown it all long before he developed a workable ski."

I laughed out loud. Not that this kind of thinking doesn't make this budding entrepreneur want to pull her hair out (believe me, it does!), but because I'd written something similar in my book. "One day, while thinking about all the stories I'd heard of people struggling mightily toward their dreams, I began to wonder if having considerable resources might even work against us. If I hadn't had to struggle, would I have given up long ago? If Ed [Sutt] didn't need a job at the wind facility to finance his degree, would have have gotten the experience that led to the HurriQuake nail? If Mark [Brayne] hadn't continued working while studying to become a psychotherapist, would he have made the connection that gave him his brilliant new career?... New Radical Entrepreneur Ron Dembo had clearly been thinking along the same lines. He started his first company [Algorithmics] with no money and is trying to simulate the same conditions with his new firm, Zerofootprint. "It's nice to have resources, but not having money makes you work much harder and be more innovative."

Jeffry Timmons also writes that, "We are in the midst of a silent revolution..." He's talking about the rise of entrepreneurship, of course, but the same holds true for the New Radicals. A powerful, world-changing movement is springing up all around you. And now that you know that money need not be an impediment, maybe you're ready to join us?