Tag Archives: Robert Putnam

Putnam’s Newest is a Certain Presentation For Us at the First Friday Book Synopsis

I will never forget Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001).  It remains the most depressing book we have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

It contained chart after chart, page after page, of the demise of civic, social, religious, and fraternal groups in America.  All of it was true.  If you were a fan of those groups, you hated seeing reality in your face.

That book was written by Robert Putnam.   He receives high praise from his employer, the Department of Government at Harvard University:  “Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel MalkinRobertPutnamphoto Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and is the 2013-14 Distinguished Visiting Professor at Aarhus University (Denmark). Professor Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006, Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world’s highest accolade for a political scientist, and in 2012, he received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities.  Raised in a small town in the Midwest and educated at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale, he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. The London Sunday Times has called him “the most influential academic in the world today.” 

Since that one, he has authored two other books that did not enjoy the same imprint:

Better Together:  Restoring the American Community – co-authored with Lewis Feldstein (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

American Grace:  How Religion Unites and Divides Us – co-authored with David Campbell (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Our Kids BookCoverOn March 10, he released his newest, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015).  As of this writing, it has flown to the top of the best seller lists.  On Amazon.com, it ranks:

What is this one about?  Classes in America do exist.  And, they have an impact in many areas of our lives.  Members of lower classes have great difficulty competing with members of classes above them.  This book does not simply give that idea – it develops and documents it.

You can read a full review of the book by Jason DeParle published in the New York Times on March 4, 2015 by clicking here.  A key phrase from that review gives a clue:  “…the state of upward mobility. Widening income gaps, he argues, have brought profound but underappreciated changes to family life, neighborhoods and schools in ways that give big advantages to children at the top and make it ever harder for those below to work their way up.

As with his previous best-seller, reality may not be pretty.  It is not fun to recognize what is actually true.

I don’t know what month we will present this one, or who will deliver it.  But, we have waited for a blockbuster by Putnam for quite some time.

Here it is.  Look for an announcement about it in our advertising in the months to come.




A Nation, A World, Of Disconnected Voices – We Are Not Just Bowling Alone, We Are Living Alone

Once a lender sold a mortgage, it no longer had a stake in whether the borrower could make his or her payments.
McLean and Nocera, All The Devils are Here, on one unintended consequence of modern mortgage practices.


“No one is left from the Glenn Valley, Pennsylvania Bridge Club who can tell us precisely when or why the group broke up…” These are the opening words of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone.  I think it may be time to re-read this modern day lament, this tragic story of loss.

Here is a simple premise – if I know you, I want to please you.  The better I know you, the more I want to please you.  Or, at least, the more it matters to me that I don’t disappoint you.

Why?  Because I know you.  And why else?  Because we run in the same circles, and if I disappoint you or let you down or give you bad customer service, you will tell your friends – and they all know me.  And that will be very embarrassing…

Well, that was the good old days.  When we lived in neighborhoods, and knew each other by name, and our banker was someone we saw at church or in the restaurant or at the Rotary Club.  After all, our kids played baseball together.

Not so much anymore.

Today, nearly all of our business dealings are with strangers.  The voice we hear on the other end of the phone is in fact just that – a voice, not a person.  They don’t know us.  We don’t know them.  Oh, some companies do a really good job making that voice friendly and helpful (more companies need to work on this).  But in the end, that voice is still a stranger’s voice.

Our bank – well, our bank is a corner drive through, or a grocery store walk-up — some satellite location of some massive mega-chain of a “too big to fail” bank.  We don’t know a banker.  Heck, we don’t even walk into our bank anymore.  The deposit is automatic (electronic).  They “pay us extra” for that, in fewer charges.



Good, because it is quick, easy, automatic.  We don’t have to “do” anything.

Bad – because nobody knows us, and we don’t know anybody.

Ok, I am presenting the worst case in this scenario, but I’m not far off, am I?

I knew a man who was wildly successful as an insurance man in Long Beach, California.  A nice man – a good man.  One of the things he did was to pay every bill in person.  Every bill.  He would walk in with a check in hand, so that he could meet, and talk to, the person he would hand the check to.  Every month.  In every bank, every utility company, he had friends.  And customers.  He was a master networker, before anyone came up with the word.

And if you needed something, from his company, or from someone else, he could help you.  He wanted to help you.  He did help you!

But, the further we move away from these little moments of human contact, the less we serve customers that we know, and the less that we are served by people that know us.

No, I don’t know how to fix this.  But, I think, as I read All the Devils Are Here, one unintended consequence jumped out at me.  It really would be good to know the people we make our mortgage payments to.  And it would be really good if they knew us.

Don’t you think?

An Epidemic Of Belittling And Ridicule – Time To Stop!

Let’s begin with the obvious.  It is possible to treat someone in a belittling manner.  Let’s acknowledge that we can speak with a tone, and words, of ridicule.

And let’s acknowledge this:  there is nothing positive about these practices.  Nothing.  It does not build anyone up, it does not bring out the best in people, it does not enhance productivity, it does not nurture community.

And since it is possible to belittle, to ridicule, then we all know someone who is an expert at such practices.  In fact, you – yes, you, the one reading this blog post – might be practicing the slimy art of belittling and ridicule yourself.

Stop it!

Those are my thoughts prompted by a short, simple, to the point tweet from Tom Peters.  Here is his tweet:

Consultant called in for exec retreat. Enters, goes to white board, writes “DON’T BELITTLE;” turns and walks out. (YES!!!)

Now, I do not know why this slimy art seems to be on the rise (but I think it is).  I might point to our toxic attack environment seen especially in talk radio, and overall lack of civility.  I do know that some people who are very good at belittling and ridicule are making a lot of money practicing their craft.

In a Slate.com article It’s Not the Job Market: The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before by Taylor Clark, we find a reminder that we are increasingly more isolated than ever before:

America’s increasing loss of community, what we might call the “Bowling Alone” effect. Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection.

Maybe this isolation makes us more willing to just treat people badly.

But, I think this really does need to be addressed, attacked, stopped.  Or, as the management consultant quoted by Peters put it, “DON’T’ BELITTLE!,” maybe we all need to just start walking out of the room, start walking away from the people who do it, until they stop.

Remember this simple and powerful reminder from Kouzes and Pozner:

Honored and not diminished.  That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner:  Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever (from CoolTools)

For book lovers, here is a list of a different kind:  The Best Magazine Articles Ever.  Andrew Sullivan linked to it on his blog.

Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven.  The article lists many others, by decade.  Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective.  Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog.  I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever.  Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.

This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)

This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: . Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.

— KK

The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended

****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.

**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.

**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.

Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.

And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.



You Can’t Go To Networking Events In Your Pajamas –Thoughts on the Problem of Disengagement

Now, here is something strange.

When people need to find work, which a whole lot of people need to find right now, they need to absolutely become world-class net-workers.  They need to be the networking energizer bunny.  They need to “Never Eat Alone” (Keith Ferrazzi’s book), they need to meet new people every week, and go to as many events as possible.

And they do – for a while.  But there comes this moment, this horrible moment, when they simply can no longer face having to utter the words:  “no progress yet.”

Thus, they withdraw – just when they need to keep engaging.

I’ve seen this.  I think of someone who is so very gifted, talented, skilled.  Well educated, with so much to offer.  His department was shut down.  His company cut workers, including him.  And after a long while, he said (I’m paraphrasing): “I just don’t want to be around those people who are successful, having to admit, or really even to face the fact, that I have not gotten back to the top.”

This story (and I suspect many of us know others with similar stories) is now being written about.  Here are paragraphs from a recent column by Doyle McManus, Great Recession’s Psychological Fallout — From lower birthrates to decreased civic participation and volunteerism, economic downturns have many non-economic effects:

But here’s something more surprising: As the recession deepens, participation in civic activities — community organizations, volunteer groups, even church attendance and social clubs — is likely to drop. Sociologists once assumed that during hard times people would naturally band together, if only to protest their plight or to give each other solace. It turns out that the opposite is true: Economic distress causes people to withdraw.

“Rather than get together and hold community meetings or march in protest, the effect of unemployment in the Great Depression was to cause people to hunker down,” said Robert D. Putnam, the Harvard sociologist whose book, “Bowling Alone,” examines Americans’ civic engagement in the 20th century. “We found exactly the same thing in the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s … and I’m pretty confident we’ll see the same pattern in this recession too.”

And according to the experts cited in this column, the really disturbing part of this may be that many of the people who withdraw never fully re-engage.  The disengagement may be permanent – it may last a lifetime.    Maybe they have “learned,” or simply think that, “what’s the use, it’s going to collapse again soon anyway.”

By the way, this is a problem for middle-aged folks “in transition,” and for current graduates from top universities and graduate schools.  For example, one nationally regarded Law School has implemented a new “long career launch” program, in which they provide recent graduates “salaries” (small salaries) to work in jobs for a few months.  In other words, they have jobs, but the law school is providing the salaries through the company/agency that “hires” the law school graduates.    This is a help to the graduates; this gives them something to do.  But it also keeps the law school from dropping in the rankings (the rankings are based, partly, on percentage of graduates who do find work).  And here is a note about the “mood:”  on that campus, the most feared question is this:  “Do you know what you will be doing?”

I have no simple solution to this problem.  But if you are struggling during this downturn, and you find yourself disengaging, try your best to fight it.  It really is ok to say, “nope, no progress yet.  But I’ll keep trying.” Because, I assure you, you really are not alone.   There are a whole lot of people in the same boat that you are in.

And we realize, ever more clearly, that a long bout of trying to get back on your feet can lead to real self-esteem issues.  (Duh!).   I have written about a related part of this struggle in my post A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I do not presume to give advice to anyone.  But I have read and heard that one key is to be sure to “go to work everyday,” even if going to work is just sending our more resumes for the umpteenth time, and going to that next gathering for networking purposes.

When Paul Harvey went back to work after one of his bouts of serious illness, he remarked to his engineer in his studio, which was at his home, that things just did not feel right yet.  His engineer said something like this:  “Mr. Harvey, you’re not dressing for work.  You’re recording your programs in your pajamas and robe.  I think if you dressed for work, you’d feel better about things.”  So he did – and he did.

Maybe working in your pajamas on a regular basis is not such a smart idea after all.  Just a thought…  And, if your need is to keep your name out there, and network like the energizer bunny, then you may have to dress and show up for work, even if you don’t want to.  Remember the brilliant advice from Dr. J:

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).

Change it a little:  “being a professional is doing the things you need to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”

“I Make Money by Making Friends” — why people network

Call it what you will.  Networking; schmoozing; conversation; customer cultivation.  Whatever you call it, it’s still the same basic truth — you make money, you build success, one relationship at a time.

This truth came through loud and clear in a conversation with an innovative CEO from a premier Austin recruitment firm.  The conversation took place on family reunion weekend in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  (If you’re ever looking for a great Bed and Breakfast just four hours from Dallas, check out Jefferson House — owned and operated by older brother Herman Mayeux and his wife Arleen).  The CEO is my brother Mike Mayeux, CEO of Novotus.  The money quote:  “I make money by making friends all day long.” And you should see him at work.  I’ve been with him while he is on the phone, I’ve been with him in a room full of people.  Mike is really, really good at making friends!

This truth has to be embodied in the right kind of person.  Mike is that kind of person.  He likes people.  He really, genuinely likes people.  So when he says that he is making friends, he really is making friends, building relationships in which he will do what he can to help others.  And one of the things he can do is help people find the right talented person to hire for a whole lot of different kinds of jobs. He is not making friends in order to get what he can out of the other person.  He is making friends for the purpose of making friendships, and all such genuine friendship is, by definition, reciprocal.  (Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, describes a working society as one which shares much generalized reciprocity).

Business books confirm this.  In The Power of Nice, (a book my colleague Karl Krayer presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis), the authors put it this way:  You make positive impressions on others, and then, “these positive impressions are like seeds.  You plant them and forget about them, but underneath the surface, they’re growing and expanding, often exponentially.”  This book also reminds us of what happens if we do not treat people in a friendly way:  “Just as positive actions are like seeds, rude gestures and remarks are like germs – you may not see the impact they have on you for a while, but they are there, silently infecting you and everyone around you.”  A little more:  “The good news is that positive emotions are more contagious than negative ones.  A Yale University School of Management study found that cheerfulness and warmth spread far more quickly than irritability and depression.”  And this reminder (with a subtle warning for those who are not genuine):  “If you’re concerned that a compliment will come off as phony or patronizing, then almost certainly it won’t.  The very fact that you’re worried about it means you aren’t a slick glad-hander, and you won’t come off that way.”

And, as always, Never Eat Alone states it clearly and simply:  “I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.”

So, here is a set of business questions for us all:

1.  Are you meeting new people?

2.  Are you making new friends?

3.  Do your friends (your new friends/your long-time friends) believe that you have their best interests at heart?

4.  Do you have their best interests at heart?

5.  Are you making money by making friends?

It took my little (ok — “younger” — not so little) brother to sum up what I have spent years reading about and trying to learn:  “I make money by making friends all day.”

{To purchase our synopses of The Power of Nice and Never Eat Alone, and many other business books, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.