We had a terrific session this morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, and I decided to make some upgrades to the way I blog and tweet. It looks like I’ve got some research, and some work, to do.
I presented my synopsis of the business classic The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. It lived up to its reputation as a valuable, useful book. It is terrific.
Both of our synopses, with our comprehensive handouts plus the audio recordings of our presentations, will be available for purchase soon on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
For our September 7 First Friday Book Synopsis, we have chosen two more useful and valuable books. Karl will present the synopsis of The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey , Jim Huling. And I will present the synopsis of the highly recommended Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer. You can read an interview with the author, conducted by Fareed Zakaria, who praises the book, on the Amazon web site here.
In addition, Karl Krayer will present a bonus program on the biography of Walter Cronkite: Cronkite, by Douglas Brinkley. This will immediately follow our regular event.
Here is a flier – click on it for a full view, take a good look, and mark your calendar. (You will be able to register for this event thorough the home page of this web site soon).
And, invite a friend or two…
Iceland; Ireland; Greece; California. They are all in trouble – deep, serious trouble. The debts are massive. The way out looks… well, there doesn’t seem to be a very workable way out.
And the financial situation in other corners of the globe have ripple effects in every corner of the globe like never before. What happens here does not stay here, not in the financial arena.
This is the disturbing message of the new Michael Lewis book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. I’m reading this book, and preparing a synopsis for a client group. It is Michael Lewis at his best – great storytelling, with plenty of “this is really important, and genuinely enlightening” insights. I have read, and presented three other books by Lewis: The New, New Thing; Moneyball; The Big Short. They are all still worth reading. This new one, Boomerang, just adds to my appreciation of Lewis as a writer and thinker, even as it adds to my understanding of the current fiscal crisis.
But it is more than a financial crisis alone. It is a moral crisis. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Lewis conducted by Fareed Zakaria.
“I think we get the democracy we deserve, and in California it’s very hard to argue otherwise. We have essentially direct democracy – all big fiscal decisions are made by the people by plebiscite. And the idea that somehow in essence the people are not getting what they want – they are getting what they want. That’s the problem.
They (the people in California) are getting what they want. They want public services, and they don’t want to pay for them. They want to cheat the future for the present. And that’s not just a financial problem. That’s a cultural/moral problem.” (emphasis added).
A moral crisis. And a moral crisis requires a moral solution. And, so far, I’m not reading much in the solution department.
We live in a troubling time.
Here’s the interview with Lewis. The excert above is just after 3:30 in the video.
I keep thinking about innovation. We all have to.
“The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times. And on this issue, at least, Republicans seem in sync with Obama. Listen to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Mitch Daniels and the word innovation pops up again and again. Everyone wants innovation and agrees that it is the key to America’s future.
Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.
Even more troubling, there are growing signs that the U.S. no longer has the commanding lead it once did in this area.
On his special about innovation on CNN, he interviews some genuine innovation heavy hitters, including Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From (I presented my synopsis of this terrific book a few months ago at the First Friday Book Synopsis. You can purchase my synopsis, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15mintuebusinessbooks.com).
He repeats what many others are saying — what, seemingly, everyone is saying. For example, here is one recent article: U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Business of ‘Green’. From this article:
A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the clean technology sector was booming in Europe, Asia and Latin America, its competitive position was “at risk” in the United States because of “uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives.”
And, as I think about all this innovation, I realize something else. A lot of innovation is putting a lot of people out of work. It goes back to the problem of “Automation” that Robert Reich wrote about. In Aftershock, he wrote:
The problem was not simply the loss of good jobs to workers in foreign nations but also automation… Remember bank tellers? Telephone operators? The fleets of airline workers behind counters who issued tickets? Service station attendants? These and millions of other jobs weren’t lost to globalization; they were lost to automation. American has lost at least as many jobs to automated technology as it has to trade.
Here is a summary of this aspect of the problem, quoted in Points this morning in the Dallas Morning News:
“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re gong to be substituted for quickly.” (Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, offering a dire job-market forecast for U.S. manufacturing workers).
So… we need innovation. We need to do new things. We need to do old things better, faster, more effectively. We need innovation in products, innovation in systems, innovation in every arena.
But, we also need some really innovative thinking in this area: “where will the new jobs come from?”
Anyway, I keep thinking about innovation.
I caught the Fareed Zakaria interview with David Books this past Sunday. Zakaria is a terrific writer, and an equally effective interviewer. David Books is… well, he’s David Brooks. The “conservative/right of center” columnist for the New York Times, author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (which I presented way back at the July, 2000 First Friday Book Synopsis), his new book is The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. It is in my “to read” list, and I have read through the free sample portion from iBooks on my iPad. There were some real gems in the interview. (You can read the transcript here). Here are some excerpts:
• On creativity and innovation – Brooks:
…that’s actually what creativity and innovation is, merging two things to create a third thing.
• On traits of the most financially successful people – Brooks:
The average self — the self-made millionaire in this country had an average collegiate GPA of 2.7, a C plus. The A students can get into law school or something and they have secure roots to decent affluence, but the ones who really take risks are the ones who are sort of down below and they’re more risk takers and they don’t fit into the cookie cutter model of education. But they have commonly several traits. And there’s no one formula for success. But they tend not to be too charismatic often, but they tend to be — and they have done studies on this. The charismatic types, you get occasion, Jack Welch, somebody like that. But — but most tend to be ordered, disciplined execution. They tend to do the same thing over and over again in a very reliable, predictable way. And so they’re really into detail, execution and order.
Those are the sorts of personality that more often than not lead to business success. Not flashiness, but just doing the thing and having a compulsive need to get it right. And then an awareness of how to work in groups, groups are smarter than individuals. Groups that meet face to face are a lot smarter than groups that communicate electronically. And so some people have a compulsive need to soak up information from people around them.
• On individualism and optimism – Brooks:
But I would say it’s first individualism does encourage the sense I can rise ferocious — a sense — if you tell people these two things, the future can be better than the present and I have control over my future, those are two powerful ideas that not all cultures are born with and those are powerful ideas that motivate people to change.
• On President Obama:
ZAKARIA: — politically. Is he (President Obama) a social animal?
BROOKS: Yes. He’s multiple animals. You know, I would say we’re all — we all have multiple personalities. My psychobabble description of him is he’s a very complicated person who has many different selves, all of them authentic, but they come out in different contexts. And he is — has always has the ability to look at other parts of himself from a distance, and so it means he has great power to self correct and I think it gives him power to see himself. It means that he rarely is all in. You know, President Bush didn’t have as much — many multiple selves, so when he made a decision he was all in, he was just going to be there. But as I think President Obama is much more cautious, because he’s a man of many pieces and many parts and not all of which I understand or I think anybody understands. But it may — it leads to that caution that we see time and time again and almost a self distancing I see.
• on the “soft” (think “soft skills”) – Brooks:
My argument is the soft leads to the hard. So if you want to really do well in business, say, make a lot of money, you really have to understand people and it’s through the emotions you do that.
• On morality and fairness – Brooks:
…we have a folk wisdom that we think through principles and come up with right or wrong, but that’s not actually how morality works. Morality is more like taste. You instantaneously know whether something is fair. Nobody needs to tell a 2-year-old what’s fair or not.
• On honest self-evaluation – Brooks:
So 96 percent of college professors think they’re above average teachers. And 94 percent of college students think they have above average leadership skills. We tend to overvalue ourselves, so — and this is particularly a male trait. Men drown at twice the rate of women because men think they can swim across that lake and women know they can’t. And so — but building boot straps for yourself to prevent yourself from acting on that overconfidence is tremendously important.
The lessons (my list — from the interview):
• To be creative and innovative, we have to learn to merge two things to make a third thing.
• Groups that meet face to face are the most effective.
• Disciplined execution is all about doing the same thing over and over again in a reliable, predictable way. People who are good at this are “really into detail, execution, order.”
• Morality is about simple fairness – and you know if you are being fair, or not. (at least, you certainly should know!)
• The soft (think soft skills) matters greatly!
• Be authentic – and master the discipline of self-correction.
• Cultivate individualism – and, be genuinely optimistic (The future can be better!), while taking control of your own future.
• But, be honest and realistic in your self-evaluation.
• And, keep learning! (“soak up information” from those around you).
There’s a lot more in Brooks’ best-selling book, but this interview offered much!
This slump is worse than most; so is the mood. Once demand returns, they say, jobs will come back and, with them, optimism. But Americans are far more apprehensive than usual, and their worries seem to go beyond the short-term debate over stimulus vs. deficit reduction. They fear that we are in the midst of not a cyclical downturn but a structural shift, one that poses huge new challenges to the average American job, pressures the average American wage and endangers the average American Dream. The middle class, many Americans have come to believe, is being hollowed out. I think they are right.
People who get paid a decent wage for skilled but routine work in manufacturing or services are getting squeezed by a pincer movement of technology and globalization.
(Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010, Time, Fareed Zakaria, How to Restore the American Dream)
The news this morning in Dallas is not good. Home sales are down 30% (though prices are slightly up). And though our area is relatively healthy, there is a great sense of unrest in our city. Leaders of nonprofits see requests for basic human needs increasing significantly, and they are finding it harder and harder to raise needed funds. I run into people all the time who are “in transition.” They are looking for a job – increasingly, jobs that are very hard to find. Especially for the “middle-aged” among us. But, also, for the recent college graduates. And older folks, who thought they were about to retire – and can’t.
No group seems immune from the sense of unrest.
I recently spoke to a very sharp group of current MBA students. More than one has a “job lined up” – a company that he/she is starting upon graduation. They might succeed. Or, they might not…
Recently, Brian Whetten posted The Death of Dilbert: Why Your Children Will Need to Love Their Jobs on The Huffington Post. He quotes from both Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, and he pulls it all together in a simple, clear way. Here’s a lengthy excerpt:
In Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria pointed out that there are basically three types of jobs in America.
• Unskilled service jobs (such as waiter or security guard)
• Skilled, routine jobs (such as sales, office management and factory workers)
• Managerial, technical and professional jobs (such as executives, entrepreneurs and doctors)
In other words, you can flip burgers, shuffle papers or innovate. And over the last 100 years, our country has been built on the backs of “middle America”; the hard working men and women who worked 9-5 jobs, and did the work they were told to, so they could bring their paychecks home to their families.
The majority of today’s middle class jobs involve skilled but routine work; it can be boring and unfulfilling, but at least is safe and predictable.
Perhaps this is why Dilbert is one of our funniest, most popular cartoons. I mean, who can’t relate to the idiocies and inefficiencies in his world?
But here’s the thing. Dilbert is dying.
While the number of unskilled jobs and professional jobs have both been increasing, even in the face of this recession, the number of skilled, routine jobs — the bread and butter work of the middle class — is falling through the floor.
As Thomas Friedman points out,
Just doing your job in an average way — in this integrated and automated global economy — will lead to below-average wages. Sadly, average is over. We’re in the age of “extra,” and everyone has to figure out what extra they can add to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer. “People will always need haircuts and health care,” says Katz, “and you can do that with low-wage labor or with people who acquire a lot of skills and pride and bring their imagination to do creative and customized things.” Their work will be more meaningful and their customers more satisfied.
I think we are in the midst of, what the experts call, a structural shift in our economy. And we haven’t figured out just what to do about this.
As I have written quite a few times on this blog, this is the problem that keeps me awake at night: Where will people work? For all of us, we have to keep learning, to keep innovating, to keep being valuable to someone who will hire us, for a job that lasts a while, or assignments that come and go so quickly we barely have time to catch our breath. And for many, simply finding a job is becoming the survival challenge of the era.
This is interesting. We have all read about Newsweek’s money woes. They have a new owner, their future seems uncertain, and Fareed Zakaria, a long-time Newsweek contributor/international editor, is now with Time.
But Howard Fineman, who has written for Newsweek for thirty years, is now a new Senior Editor at Huffington Post. I write about this here for one purpose only – you can’t buy Huffington Post at any magazine counter, in any book store or any grocery store. In fact, you can’t buy Huffington Post at all (once you have internet access). It is free.
So, yes, the world keeps changing. When an accomplished writer leaves a “physical” magazine for an on-line magazine; when the on-line magazine is now no longer dependent on writers who are “young bloggers” – the world is different.
Mr. Fineman’s move from a print medium to online news is a sign that The Huffington Post, which has until now heavily relied on young bloggers, is maturing. And it signals that the site, which has become one of the largest news destinations on the Web since it started in 2005, is investing significantly in its growth.
“From the day we launched, it was our belief that the mission of The Huffington Post should be to bring together the best of the old and the best of the new,” said Arianna Huffington, the site’s co-founder. “Bringing in the best of the old involved more money than we had when we launched. But now that our Web site is growing, we’re able to bring in the best of the old.”
Mr. Fineman said that an online platform afforded him new opportunities. “It really wasn’t a difficult decision at all once I really began to think about it because this is where the action is,” he said. “The chance to dive headlong into the future is one that I don’t think anyone could pass up.”