8 Books You Should Read This Winter

By Jayvon Howard

 Photo: A man in a hat and scarf holding a book in one hand while browsing for other books on a table. 

Photo: A man in a hat and scarf holding a book in one hand while browsing for other books on a table. 

Winter is coming!

As the days grow shorter and temperatures begin to decline we often find that the changing weather can disrupt how we spend our days. In colder temperatures we may find ourselves needing to exchange our outdoor living to more indoor activities. If you’re needing something to do, this is a great time to revisit some of your reading lists!

At Econogy we thrive on literature and knowledge to expand our imagination, deepen our experiences and develop a greater understanding of our collective and individual impacts in society.

Here are some of our favorite reads for a winter day:

Between the World & Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?


Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good
By Chuck Collins

As inequality grabs headlines, steals the show in presidential debates, and drives deep divides between the haves and have nots in America, class war brews. On one side, the wealthy wield power and advantage, wittingly or not, to keep the system operating in their favor—all while retreating into enclaves that separate them further and further from the poor and working class. On the other side, those who find it increasingly difficult to keep up or get ahead lash out—waging a rhetorical war against the rich and letting anger and resentment, however justifiable, keep us from seeing new potential solutions.


The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexander Dumas

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. 


Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach To Peacemaking
By Kay Pranis

Our ancestors gathered around a fire in a circle, families gather around their kitchen tables in circles, and now we are gathering in circles as communities to solve problems. Peacemaking Circles are used in neighborhoods to provide support for those harmed by crime and to decide sentences for those who commit crime, in schools to create positive classroom climates and resolve behavior problems, in the workplace to deal with conflict, and in social services to develop more organic support systems for people struggling to get their lives together.


The Man Who Planted Trees
By Jean Giono

Simply written, but powerful and unforgettable, The Man Who Planted Trees is a parable for modern times. In the foothills of the French Alps the narrator meets a shepherd who has quietly taken on the task of planting one hundred acorns a day in an effort to reforest his desolate region. Not even two world wars can keep the shepherd from continuing his solitary work. Gradually, this gentle, persistent man's work comes to fruition: the region is transformed; life and hope return; the world is renewed.


Giovanni's Room
By James Baldwin

Set in the 1950's Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.


The Sellout
By Paul Beatty

A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.


Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston

When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds.

Our Values: Finding Solutions Together

Conventional consulting firms often operate as outside experts -- they parachute in with a packet of recommendations, deposit them in a neat pile with the client, and then take off to their office without looking back.   

This model works when a client only wants to take advantage of a consultants expert-ness, their expertise. If what you need is guidance on how to apply clearly predictable “best practices,” or to implement the Received Wisdom of an industry, then what you need is a Keeper of the Best Practices. You want that expert consultant to just tell you what to do.

A consultant-as-expert only approach works well in situations that are highly predictable -- where markets, and technology, and needs, and assumptions can be applied from a past situation to a current challenge with high confidence. This practice assumes what has worked well in the past can also apply in the present and will evidently operate the same in the future. It becomes a matter of cutting and pasting, and the consultant is the keeper of the big book where all the answers and solutions to problems lie.

But the world has changed.  We don’t find very many of these situations anymore.

Econogy emphasizes Co-Creation -- with clients, with consumers, with community members. This strategy places significant emphasis on bringing together multiple parties to reach solutions. We find that most issues that we encounter do not have cut-and-paste answers, but are instead defined by disorder and complexity that challenges problem solving beyond what any person can work out alone regardless of expertise. The greatest opportunities for real solutions are discovered when we pull multiple minds, hearts and perspectives into the search for the right way forward. At Econogy we intentionally design our internal processes and design our client projects to maximize co-creation. 

We seek clients who want to create with us, who want to learn and discover what works through a partnership of talented minds and sound practices, not just get handed an age old list of ill-fitting answers.

 An Econogy/Catapult team recently designed a new Graphical User Interface (GUI) for a handheld device.  This client values the fact that our teams work in partnership with them - we build on our shared expertise and co-create the solution.

An Econogy/Catapult team recently designed a new Graphical User Interface (GUI) for a handheld device.  This client values the fact that our teams work in partnership with them - we build on our shared expertise and co-create the solution.

From the corner: Growth is hard.

To grow and to improve, we must do things that are uncomfortable. We must take do things that scare us, that push us into a direction where we would not have gone if we simply let our own inertia determine our direction.

Sometimes we grow because we have no other choice-- because something in our circumstances determined the change of course without asking our permission.

But if we are serious, if we truly intend to grow as much as we can, if we decide that we will capitalize on the full extent of our potential…

Then we cannot coast and we cannot leave growth to chance.

Intentional growth requires seeking out, embracing and grappling with the things that would change us.

It means agreeing to do things that we don't completely know how to do.

It means accepting failure and criticism, even blunt criticism, and intentionally grasping that as tools for building your own growth.

It means trusting others, being honest with others, sharing your limitations with others, so that they can join you in building your growth, as well as theirs.

We all know deeply that not growing means dying. And none of us want that. But are we working on our growth, or are we just hoping vaguely that it will happen?


From the corner: Strengths and Weaknesses

 We spend a lot of time dealing with strengths and weaknesses.  We do StrengthFinders tests on our students, we do SWOT analyses for our Link clients, and we spend hours coaching our students and young professionals on items of professional management that they have not yet learned.

We all know that we have things that we are good at, and things that we are…not so good at.  If we have worked for a large company, chances are we can find a place to slot ourselves, our niche.  We can find a role that makes the most of our strengths and keeps us from getting in too much trouble from our weaknesses.  

But as our businesses get smaller, and as so many of us find ourselves running small businesses or organizations at points in our lives, our weaknesses get more and more in our way.  For a lot of us, the biggest weakness (and threat to the work that we care about) comes in the form of the stuff that we know is necessary, but isn’t what we get to spend our time on. Do you love dogs and excel at training them?  Chances are you don’t want to spend your time on accounting.  Great at designing new projects?  Chances are you might not be so good at marketing.  

When you run a small business, you find yourself having to do everything because you don’t have anyone else to do it. And chances are, you don’t know how to do the things that you have to do, or you don’t know how to do them well or efficiently.  

The difference between the success and failure of your work probably doesn’t depend on how you do the things you love -- the purpose of your business, the things that you knew your could do well enough to offer them to other people.  Most of the time, the failure of a business - and more than four out of five small businesses fail within a few years of their start - happens because one of their weaknesses did them in.  The best dog groomer who does not understand marketing, or the smartest investor who cannot manage employees, end up in the same situation - losing money and looking for a job.

Every small business owner needs to take a clear-eyed look at their weaknesses -- and either build up their skills in that space and get help doing so.

We designed Econogy to help you address those weaknesses.  

Econogy, entrepreneurs and education: an inside perspective

Editor's Note: Andrew Hermann has a unique role in Econogy.  He works on our projects, particularly as our lead for the Advantage Development System curriculum for independent garden centers.  He's also a client, one of the first to go through our Second Stage startup-launching network with his new business, Blue Earth Foods. And on top of that, he runs Better World Beans, which he describes below.  Plus, he's going to graduate school.    

As Andrew describes here, working with Econogy not only gives him access to a broader range of expertise than he would have been able to find otherwise (including outbound sales and user-centered design), but it also builds him into a better entrepreneur.      


Our business schools and economic policy gives a great deal of attention to entrepreneurs and their promising business ideas. But this attention often falls short: the deep challenge many entrepreneurs and small business owners face is in learning how to support their ideas and passion with concrete business management skills and a robust network.

As an entrepreneur myself, I found ways to improve my own businesses as a result of my work with Econogy’s Link Consulting student-driven small business support. Being a member  of a project team allowed me to gain specific business and entrepreneurial skills that were not taught in my coursework, while also building my professional acumen and network. As I apply that experience to my own businesses, I find that I have increased my capacity to work effectively - as an innovator, a partner, and a coach that supports my own suppliers.

 Andrew with Dolores, one of the Dominican coffee farmers who supplies Better World Beans.

Andrew with Dolores, one of the Dominican coffee farmers who supplies Better World Beans.

My own history with Econogy is relatively brief, but my entrepreneurial aspirations started at a young age. I knew that a traditional nine to five job was not going to work for me ever since an internship in high school that placed me in a windowless cubicle all summer. It was then that I understood I needed frequent new challenges and a creative work environment that was constantly changing. I also love nature and especially agriculture, which drew me to start two farming-related enterprises.

Even though I had the desire to start a business, I knew nothing about the world of entrepreneurship when I launched my coffee company in 2015. I was only
19 years old, and I had no idea what I was doing. A couple of people gave me advice, but for the most part I felt quite alone, since my impetus for starting the company was based on personal experience in the Dominican Republic --  something few people I knew had.

Fortunately, meeting Econogy and the group of entrepreneurs that serve as Econogy consultants gave me useful perspective on my business. I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is not about flying solo, but rather it is about working together through partnerships and relationships to create shared value,  and about leveraging business for the betterment of neighborhoods and society.

As an undergraduate at Xavier University, I was heavily involved with the Community Engaged Fellowship, which focuses on asset-based community development and how to build constructive relationships with communities in need. While the Community Engaged Fellowship gave me a plethora of challenging but fulfilling experiences,  and the vocabulary needed to participate in the world of community development, working with Econogy helped me grasp the opportunity to use small business as the conduit for economic renewal and empowerment.

For me, all of the themes and structural problems discussed during my years at Xavier and through my various work experiences are intimately related to one another. The similarity and connections between issues facing a small coffee growing community in the mountains of the Dominican Republic and poverty in the United States continues to surprise me, and I’ve been able to see in both contexts how healthy small businesses are able to foster long-term community change.

My undergraduate thesis discusses the interrelated socio-economic issues facing Cincinnati and the Dominican Republic, and posits an agriculture-based solution. Through discussing agriculture, economics, and social history, I argue for the importance of a diversified small scale, perennial-based agricultural system as the only way to ensure the survival and future growth of small farming communities.

In the Dominican Republic, small scale coffee farming communities are facing unprecedented challenges in an increasingly globalized economy, and I argue that they must be placed at the forefront of the battle to combat climate change and dignity of workers. The crux of my thesis reads,

“Small-scale coffee farmers are left behind by an unfair industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment and rural economies, and only through appropriate technologies, qualified personnel, and patience can deeply rooted injustices begin to be addressed and structural change achieved. Through a holistic regenerative agricultural approach, farmers can receive the tools, resources, and support needed to rejuvenate rural economies and create a productive farming middle class.”

This challenges epitomizes the importance of a new and interdisciplinary approach to solving complex socioeconomic problems. I chose to pursue two degrees because of the importance of understanding a wide range of topics in order to critically analyze and promote solutions in communities such as those that I work with in the Dominican Republic. Econogy understands this concept well and integrates this approach into their consulting work.

Communities and cities need strong neighborhoods to thrive and diversify in the ever-changing economy. Small businesses are the backbone of these local communities.
By supporting these small businesses, Econogy and its affiliates create ripple waves throughout local economies. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses comprise 64 percent of new private-sector employment. If we as a society seek
to invest in job creation and a more robust economy, firms such as Econogy are vital to the health of the new economy.

I particularly appreciate the fact that Econogy’s vision is both global and local. By thinking about global implications but acting locally, businesses can make decisions that align with the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. Building on my experience and professional work in the Dominican Republic, I hope to bring innovative models such as Econogy’s to areas in Latin America where entrepreneurial spirit is alive but often goes wasted due to lack of proper infrastructure and support. Through collaborating and leveraging talent and innovation, our society and its business environment can challenge the status quo, thus igniting sparks of change and creating shared value for citizens

How do you do a GUI? Econogy's Catapult design partner explains

How many companies can design a business financial strategy in one room and a graphical User Interface in the next?  Econogy's user-centered design partner, Catapult, draws from Cincinnati's world-renown design expertise to create new solutions for everything from medical devices to public engagement.  

In this video Catapult's founder, Steve Doehler, walks us through the process of developing something we all use but often don't think about -- the user interface for an electronic product. As part of the redesign of a client's handheld device, the Catapult team is analyzing and redesigning the way that users will interact with the device, making it easier and more intuitive for even occasional users to employ this scientific device correctly.

And they're doing it in partnership with Econogy teams working on everything from product engineering to software.  

We're learning to bake Catapult's insights into user-centered design into everything we do. Stay tuned for more innovations!

 Steve in his element as a professor of Industrial Design at the University of Cincinnati.  Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Business Journal.  Click photo for the link.

Steve in his element as a professor of Industrial Design at the University of Cincinnati.  Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Business Journal.  Click photo for the link.

Econogy Explained in a Bite Sized Podcast

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Improved Project Delivery Through Diverse and Interdisciplinary Teams

Why Embracing Your Differences Leads to Better Project Outcomes

Econogy’s interdisciplinary approach means that project team members usually have widely different backgrounds, both in terms of culture and academic discipline.  A typical team might include analytics, economics, sustainable technologies, industrial design, and more.  The intentional choice to create teams of this type initially results in a chasm between team members, who come to the project with different jargon, assumptions, and approaches to teamwork....