Book Review: The Blue Sweater

In September 2008, I was invited by Gay Gaddis of T3 to speak at the C200 Conference in Dallas.  At the conference, Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund was presented with an award for philanthropic efforts in emerging economies.  She discussed a couple of powerful personal stories of her experience with water in India and mosquito nets in Africa.  Her stories are collected and published in her book, The Blue Sweater.  

In February 2009, Seth Godin offered a copy of Novogratz’s book to citizen reviewers and I took him up on the offer.  I received a copy in March from Sasha Dichter, who works at the Acumen Fund.

If you have ever been interested in driving change in the world, you should read this book.  It offers clear perspective on the realities of making a difference.

I thought a long time about what I’d say in a review of the book.  But most of the lessons I took away were reflections on how Novogratz’s life made me recall my own upbringing, career choices, and future outlook. Some of my high-level takeaways:
  • We all have choices. It’s tough to know which ones are “correct” in advance, but the key is how you respond to the emergent outcomes you encounter along the way.
  • Meaningful results take time.  Achieving success at scale takes a lot of hard work over years of foundational work.  This lesson is absent from today’s instant gratification society.
  • Things change.  The world is a different place today and to get value from history, you need to study strategy and adapt tactics.  Simply copying behaviors won’t do much for you.
For a more traditional style review, I’ll point you to an excellent video by Robert Jacobs (length 12:34):

I’m ready to share my copy of the book with someone else who can learn from the story and help share the lessons therein with others.  If you’re interested, send me your name and address via email.  I’ll pass it along with the same expectation that you read it, blog about it, and pass it along as well.  UPDATE: I’m sending my copy along to Chris Hall at Humana, who blogs at  Chris is part of Humana’s Innovation Center and in a great position to drive change similar to that which Novogratz has written about.


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  1. Peter, first-time visitor and I hope this is not too far afield:

    Speaking for my generation (the one that unhinged the box marked Proper Comportment in the first instance — the damnable 60’s): this video, the book, your site, and many other similarly oriented sites, ventures, collaborations, et al, create an interesting comparison with my long-maligned boomers. Most of them now grudgingly enter LinkedIn, Plaxo or Facebook and Twitter (the kids are there), and consider excessive email flows akin to “sand-flies” as a friend of mine put it.

    But I wonder: my generation had for a time a pulsing compulsion to change the world. A tremendous amount was accomplished, much of it while surging through canyons of disillusion, accompanied by inebriation, hallucination, and walls of Marshall amps aimed in our general direction. Not by everyone, to be sure, but I think we all share a hard-coded remnant of our possible futures from those days. Many still live with its ethos.

    You guys are refabricating every day a profoundly different tool set that is reshaping the only things that matter in terms of sustainable change: relationships and the assumptions that define them. It is humbling to observe this process of “compound creativity,” which appears to be increasingly infused into common daily life and work practices for many millions of people.

    I wonder if a commonly experienced purpose, separated by 40 years, can be shared usefully in this era of simple, powerful tools of social connectivity. Have to puzzle through that some more.

    Glad to have found your site.

  2. Hello Taylor – thanks for the thoughts. I need to reflect some more on this too.

    Professionally, I think the ethos can be applied to business and change the way we work. My company calls the concept “social business design.” It’s early and there’s a lot of hard work and skepticism ahead, but I think we’ll be able to affect material change.

    I’m inclined to believe that your experience not only has something to lend to today’s approaches, it’s critical to making things work. Otherwise, inefficient institutions can dismiss all of this new communication and say “let them eat cake” if nothing substantive happens.

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