An Interview with Dan Pink and the NEXT Speaker Series

Perhaps I’m just now noticing it but over the last 5 years there’s been what I consider an upswing in speaking series, notably around new ways to think and perceive our world. A local college in Charlotte – University of North Carolina in Charlotte – has a program going called NEXT in the Belk School of Business. Dan Pink is speaking tomorrow night (February 1st, 2011) and I’m excited about attending it.

I’ve featured Dan Pink throughout this blog and figured I’d email him some questions. Below is our exchange plus links to his books and a video with Oprah.


1) You’re currently doing a speaking tour – sharing ideas and promoting your books. Does the repetition of this ever sap your enthusiasm for it?



Airport security lines sap my enthusiasm. Big time. As does bad food and lack of exercise on the road. But the conversations with people never get old. Folks seem extremely engaged in this set of ideas — and they’re always showing me new practices or new ways to look at the topic. That’s what keeps me going.




2) Clay Shirky and others have recently highlighted a change in how people spend their time. He calls it the Cognitive Surplus. It’s the observation of people spending less time watching TV and more time creating something, whether its an update to Wikipedia or a dance video on youtube. These themes tend to run throughout your books as well. What are your thoughts on this situation? Is it good or bad that math and science scores are down, but evil squirrel videos are up?




Cognitive surplus is a fascinating idea. And if even a fraction of it goes for noble, interesting pursuits, that can be a game-changer. Wikipedia is a good case in point.  That said, some people will always squander their time.  Today, though, there are many more options for people to use time in (slightly) more creative and ennobled ways.  As for math and science scores, I give evil squirrels a pass on this one. The real problem is that we’ve got an 19th century education system that’s designed mostly for the convenience of adults rather than the education of children.




3) Since publishing Drive, I bet many people have told you about how they instituted ROWE or 20% time. For instance Michael Lebowitz of Big Spaceship in the NY Times mentioned Intellectual Property Fridays. A few hours where they brainstorm very simple ideas and see which ones to run with. Can you share one or two that stuck out to you?




There are lots of examples – and they’re all pretty cool. For instance, I heard about Intuit doing 10 percent time — with terrific results. The head of innovation there, Roy Rosin, told me: “After our CEO declared ‘mobile’ was key to our strategy, none of our business units were able to change direction on a dime, but our employees using 10 percent time create seven mobile apps before any other mobile projects even got started.” What’s also cool is that several schools have begun holding “FedEx Days” — both for teachers and for students.




4) How are your books received in other countries? I imagine many of the concepts in Drive are scoffed at in China or the ideas of A Whole New Mind are “duhs” in Europe.




Both of those books have done surprisingly well overseas — especially in Japan, South Korea, and Brazil.  In Europe, A WHOLE NEW MIND did pretty well — but DRIVE has done much better.  In general, though, the curious reaction to both baskets of ideas — anywhere in the world — is similar. People say, “I’m a right-brainer. I’m motivated internally. That’s how I want the rest of the workplace to be.”


     

The Train with No Known Destination

Last week news broke of Eric Schmidt leaving the CEO post at Google. He’s replaced by Larry Page. Speculation is that Schmidt no longer felt he was in control of the company. The triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt had become a duopoly of Brin and Page, the founders. The genesis of their relationship is rooted in the need for someone who knew how to run a big company – Schmidt. Around 2000 when Google was  preparing to go public it was growing at an immense rate. The size of the company had surpassed the experience level of 20 somethings. The founders would concentrate on a start up atmosphere of constant disruption. Disruption is where money is made.

At some point, every successful company grows out of it’s novelty state. The disruption becomes the norm. Competitors look for weakness and stagnant ideas. Being a perpetual start up is the dream of people like Brin and Page. But how do you do it?

Intelligent continual employee turnover.

The enterprise must become a train with no known destination, just stops letting people get on and get off. When the enterprise becomes “the destination” then protection ensues. People can be very good at their jobs, but if they are doing the same thing for more than three years then you have to wonder why? Why isn’t the job evolving? Why isn’t it automated? Why is it needed?

Many large companies, including Google, want to be smaller. Being nimble is key. But wanting a start up mentality and structurally building it in to the culture is not the same. There are a lot of tough conversations to be had. For instance, Netflix has a running practice of “adequate performance gets a generous severance package” and they apply a keeper test which is pretty simple: which people would you fight to keep, at any cost, if they told you they were leaving in two months? This is supplemented by honest conversations about the employee’s commitment and ability to deliver. No surprises.

The NY Times in their weekly section called The Corner Office interviewed Jeremy Allaire, chairman and chief executive of Brightcove. He talked about his conversations with his work force. He said he asks them “What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to head?” This survey reinforces the need to be ever improving.

When the culture of the company is to evolve the job, to morph it, to leave it, or to destroy it (automate) then, as an employee, you know when it’s time for a change. Just ask Google.

The IBM Data Governance Unified Process: Driving Business Value with IBM Software and Best Practices – A Book Review

Quick Take: The world of Data Management is becoming exposed and books like this one are a great starter guide for practitioners to understand what goes into initiating a Data Governance program. There’s no secret sauce or magic and that’s mostly the point.

Detail Review: There was once a time when people didn’t have enough information.  Now there is too much of it.  And in a few years we’ll supposedly have smart appliances and talking toasters. Well, maybe not talking, but data is becoming more ubiquitous.

Over the last decade you’ve probably been on vacation and asked “is there a good pizza place around here?” and a friend responded “according to Google, there are 8 pizza places within 5 miles of here.” You picked up the phone and called one but the number was no longer in service. Being persistent, you tried another, ordered a large pepperoni and got it 30 minutes later. Unfortunately, crackers with ketchup would have tasted better.

Companies like Google are working on this, but these were two examples of poor data quality. And data quality is a data management issue. In the case above, the phone number being out of service could be because the pizza place is closed or it could be incorrect phone digits. Not sure. The taste, or lack of, is shows a failure in relevancy – “is there a good pizza place around here?” is a two part question.

The author, Sunil Soares,
is an IBM Director in the Software Group. He has worked with over 100 clients across multiple industries and has years of consultant experience. I don’t know him, but I’ve worked with a coworker of his, Doris Saad. She did a wonderful job with extending a data governance model with an IBM flavor.

Back to the book. The aesthetics are decent. It’s a paperback consisting of 125 pages of content and another 28 of appendix material. The font is average size and the construction of the chapters is typical of a business book – bullets and concise paragraphs. The front cover is a washed out blue with the illustration of the Unified Process on it. 

The introduction is by another IBM lead, Steven Adler. He provides an example of a time he wanted to apply for a refinance. He completed the forms but there was an error with the type of loan. There was no way to deal with the mistake except to start over, which he did. This small classification issue resulted in much more rework – missing forms, open quotes, and back and forth communication. These are the type of inefficiencies a good data management programs help with. I like my pizza example better :)

Being a governance person, I especially like how early in the book he frames up the role of governance. Many people believe it’s about policing decisions i.e. exceptions. But it’s about getting stakeholders to make decisions. Soares states:

“Data Governance is the discipline of treating data as an enterprise asset. It involves the exercise of decision rights to optimize, secure, and leverage data as an enterprise asset. It involves the orchestration of people, process, technology, and policy within an organization, to derive the optimal value from enterprise data. Data Governance plays a pivotal role in aligning the disparate, stovepiped, and often conflicting policies that cause data anomalies in the first place.”

I also liked this line”

“Treating data as a strategic enterprise asset implies that organizations need to build inventories of their existing data, just as they would physical assets.”

The reason is because it’s hard to manage what you can’t count. If you don’t have an inventory then how will know if things have changed. It seems so obvious, but it isn’t. Making a concept like data tangible is vital to getting everyone on board.

He validates this point by offering some great questions during the Govern Analytics chapter.

  • How many users do we have for our data, by business area?
  • How many reports do we create, by business area?
  • Do the users derive value from these reports?
  • How many report executions do we have per month?
  • How long does it take to produce a new report?
  • What is the cost of producing a new report?
  • Can we train the users to produce their own reports?”
    • Would a BI Competency Center help?

Additional questions I add are:

  • Are new data generated by analysts?
  • Is the new data reincorporated back into the operational processes?
  • Are the reports sensitive? How is access to the data handled?

And page 15 offers this realistic picture of why data governance often fails:

“Most organizations with stalled Data Governance programs identify these symptoms:

  • “The business does not see any value in Data Governance.”
  • “The business thinks that IT is responsible for data.”
  • “The business is focused on near-term objectives, and Data Governance is considered a long-term program.”
  • “The CIO cut the funding for our Data Governance department.”
  • “The business reassigned the data stewards to other duties.”

Once you’ve gotten your bosses on board with doing Data Governance, it’s time to identify an approach. Soares has a IBM Maturity Model (below). It’s not a bad one. I’ve designed a few different governance related maturity models and I like this one because it eschews the levels and goes with relationships.

  1. Data Risk Management and Compliance is a methodology by which risks are identified, qualified, quantified, avoided, accepted mitigated, or transferred out.
  2. Value Creation is a process by which data assets are qualified and quantified to enable the business to maximize the value created by data assets.
  3. Organizational Structures and Awareness refers to the level of mutual responsibility between business and IT, and the recognition of fiduciary responsibility to govern data at different levels of management.
  4. Stewardship is a quality-control discipline designed to ensure the custodial care of data for asset enhancement, risk mitigation, and organizational control.
  5. Policy is the written articulation of desired organizational behavior.
  6. Data Quality Management refers to methods to measure, improve, and certify the quality and integrity of production, test, and archival data.
  7. Information Lifecycle Management is a systematic, policy-based approach to information collection, use, retention, and deletion.
  8. Information Security and Privacy refers to the policies, practices, and controls used by an organization to mitigate risk and protect data assets.
  9. Data Architecture is the architectural design of structure and unstructured data systems and applications that enables data availability and distribution to appropriate users.
  10. Classification and Metadata refers to the methods and tools used to create common semantic definitions for business and IT terms, data models, and repositories.
  11. Audit Information Logging and Reporting refers to the organizational processes for monitoring and measuring the data value, risks, and effectiveness of data governance.

From here the book dives into each one of these areas with specific actions that need to happen. I noted a few below.

Ultimately, I view this book as a good asset for getting started with Data Governance work. Howe
ver, it lacks some real best practices beyond suggesting the use of certain IBM tools. Governance is as much about getting people to compromise as it is about whether the metrics are in a red or green status. A playbook outlining the tasks won’t help in the relationships and politics  that this often boils down to. Is the pizza good? It just depends on who  you ask.

Other notes:

Page 38: This paragraph is critical. The nuance of it can go unheeded.

“It is important to recognize that a “1” rating is not inherently bad, and a “5” rating is not necessarily good. The Data Governance organization had to work with IT and business stakeholders and (preferably) develop a business case to determine whether it is feasible to increase the rating for a given category in the desired future state.

Page 42: I consider a charter to be pretty self explanatory, but the reality is it isn’t. This is a good recap.

“The Data Governance charter is similar to the Articles of Incorporation of a corporation. The charter spells out the primary objectives of the program and its key stakeholders, as well as roles and responsibilities, decision rights, and measures of success.”

Page 42: The break down of the Data Governance structure is pretty good too.

“The optimal organization for Data Governance is a three tier structure. The Data Governance council, at the pinnacle of the organization, includes senior stakeholders. At the next level down, the Data Governance working group consists of members who are responsible for governing data on a fairly regular basis. Finally, the data stewardship community had day-to-day, hands-on responsibility for data.

Page 79:

“Here are some of the responsibilities of an executive sponsor:

  • Have ultimate responsibility for the quality of data within the domain
  • Ensure the security and privacy of all sensitive data, such as PII and PHI, within the domain
  • Appoint data stewards with day-to-day responsibility for dealing with the data quality, security, and privacy issues within the domain
  • Establish and monitor metrics regarding the progress of Data Governance within the domain
  • Collaborate with other executive sponsors in situations where business rules collide, to ensure that the enterprise continues to derive maximum value from its data

Page 79-80:

“When a data stewardship program reaches maturity, the data steward should report into the business. At this point, it is important to ensure that there is a some level of oversight across all the data stewards, to ensure a consistency in roles and responsibilities and to develop a sense of community.”

Some commentary, the notion of a community is important. This data culture change is not just a top down manifest. You need to get everyone, especially projects, viewing data differently than they have been.

Page 95: There is a good example of a business rule which establishes which record is authoritative.

“Fortunately, that is where the rules of data survivorship come into play. The Data Governance rules of survivorship state that life insurance is the best source for birth date because that information determines premiums. Similarly, homeowner’s insurance is the best source for address information because that data is directly tied to the entity being insured.”


Scared of Ideas or Open to Change?

He hears the alarm clock, hits snooze, and lays there for ten minutes somewhere between sleep and awake. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg plays:

He does what I think is one of the hardest things in the world to do, he puts the first foot on the floor in the morning. He goes to the bathroom, runs the shower, and peers into the mirror. Everyday its the same. Same time, same song, same struggle. Everyday.

Routines are good for many aspects of our lives. We need to focus on what is different in our environment and routines keep us safe to do so. But the comfort of a routine can be disabling as well. For instance, there’s a field of study called Terror Management Theory and it describes what people do to repress an awareness of mortality. Here’s an excerpt from HarvardBusinessReview.com called Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines which enumerates three means for warding off these thoughts:

Studies show that we create three existential buffers to protect us from this knowledge: Consistency allows us to see the world as orderly, predictable, familiar, and safe. Standards of justice allow us to establish and enforce a code of what’s good and fair. Culture imbues us with the sense that we have contributed to, and are participating in, a larger and enduring system of beliefs.

As a manager it’s important to know which of your employees are lulled into this perceived safe zone and will need some coaxing when change is on the horizon. They’ll want to hold onto the way things are – they’re good at them, they understand what’s expected, and they are familiar – but it’s counterproductive. You’ll need to invest in re-establishing these buffers for them…

Unless they are risk takers. Many entrepreneurs don’t like routines. They want constant change with a little bit of chaos mixed in. Companies like Google seek them out because they tend to be disruptors and a disruption can be a money maker. Just last week the NY Times ran an article about how Google gave 10% raises across the board. Google’s growth has brought with it the bureaucracy of a big company. Some entrepreneurs are fleeing the company. The reason is because they can’t affect change quick enough. Their supply of patience is sapped.

Both types of worker, the comfort in routine and the risk taker, must answer this question posed by Bob Brennan of Iron Mountain to this employees:

What do you recommend we do?

You can get a real sense for who’s invested in moving the company forward, and who’s watching the company go by, with that very simple question.

Q. Why?

A. People lay out problems all the time. If they’ve thought through what should be done from here, then you’ve got somebody who’s in the game, who wants to move, and you can unlock that potential. Bystander apathy or the power of observation, in and of itself, is not very valuable. There are amazingly eloquent diagnosticians throughout the business world. They can break down a problem and say, “Here’s your problem.” But it’s prescriptions that matter. So how do we move from here, and what specifically do you recommend?

Working Thoughts 11/29/07
It’s Not a Recession but it Sure Feels like It

Working Thoughts 11/29/08
There Are Jobs for Low Level Employees?

My Experience, Our Story

Every Sunday millions of Americans sit in a hard wooden pew to attend church. Regardless of the denomination the session culminates in a pastor of some kind delivering his sermon. It’s a learning situation emphasizing morals and what is expected of someone within the church community. The message is delivered usually in one of two ways – by describing negative actors who are sinners and thus need forgiveness or by sharing examples where someone demonstrated moral conviction despite dire circumstances.

There are splats on the white wall with the consistency of a slug on a humid night. They’re maroon with some tan mixed in. A few splats are sliding to the floor. Thirty seconds ago I shot a man through the abdomen and I’m about to kill another. It’s fun. Of course this happened in a popular video game; my brain is able to rationalize the fiction of it while tapping the visceral sense of survival. Viva adrenaline! I’ll play for a couple of hours, which will feel like 10 minutes, and occasionally I’ll be the one slumped on the floor, but I’ll try again and again.

We learn through experience, whether it’s our own or someone else’s. We use immediate feedback to correct behavior in the moment in time – the present – the video game. We also use our memory of what happened as a means to anticipate and learn from others – the pastor’s story.

Last week I sat with some friends and watched football. I ate an order of hot wings as I normally do. However, this time they were a little sweet. They didn’t taste bad, but I know the flavor of hot wings and this wasn’t it. So this Sunday I asked the waitress what the story was? She replied that it might be a slightly different recipe because of the cook that was there. I told her I wanted hot wings and not ones that are sweet. As soon as the order came out a part of my brain – the insula – activated and I knew they were sweet. My experience from last week was recorded and I didn’t need to eat the wings to know the taste. I ate them anyway, but I asked for a side of hot sauce.

In management it’s important to use effective story telling to bypass the time commitment of experience. If one person on the team can spend a day in training and then relay their memory of the event on to another 20 then the productivity of the group will improve tremendously.

The difficult part is that people learn in varied ways. I think that’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Powerpoint is so popular: on one slide is a bullet list of the key points, the next is a graph, the third is a picture of a team at a table planning something, and the last is a summary. But now it’s time to steal ideas from marketing and develop campaigns.

Suppose I’m trying to change the culture of a team of 20. I’ll need to have one-on-one meetings with each person to lay it straight; to be direct with what I want. Next I’ll follow that up with a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) document answering questions that collectively each person needs a response too. I’d also possibly do an interview with someone from outside the team who would benefit from the desired changes and publish the account for the group to read. If video or other media friendly resources are available I’d look into those as well. The point is, I’d tell the story in as many formats as I can and then I’d follow it up with reinforcing ideas as much as possible.

I’m not a preacher or a video game. My goal is to tell positive stories and produce experiences that are lasting… for the whole team.

Working Thoughts 11/15/07
Cloud Computing and IBM

Working Thoughts 11/14/08
My Interview with Norm Bogner of 4Refuel

Generational Delay in Leadership

A few entries ago I wrote about a movie called Waiting For Superman. Today I learned that Jeff Skoll is the man behind it. He funds movies with an angle beyond entertainment; his movies inform, potentially leading to social activism. His films include: Good Night, and Good Luck, North Country, Syriana, An Inconvient Truth, Murderball, Fast Food Nation, The Kite Runner, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

He can fund all these movies because he was the first President of eBay. In 2002, he cashed out for a take of $2 Billion. He was 31 years old when he became the lead of the internet auction house. In his 20s he took some entrepreneurial risks, those successes earned him the eBay opportunity and he is credited with forming the business model the company uses.

Fortune.com is running a theme about leaders under the age of 40. They have a 40 Under 40 piece and a 20 Highest Paid Under 40 section going currently. These people are featured because they are leaders. They are changing the world. And they are young.

As much as the 6.2 million long term unemployed are a long term economic problem for the US, the slowing of the ascension of next generation leaders is as well. There are Pew Research Studies showing a delay in independence  in 20 somethings in the US. Here are some stats:

  • In 2010, 85% of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation.
  • In 2006, 67% of college seniors planned to move back home.
  • In 1970, the age of someone who is not college educated to get married was 22 years old. For the college educated, it was 23 years old.
  • In 2008, the age of someone who is not college educated to get married was 28 years old. Same for college educated.

This is important for a variety of reasons, but the two main ones are: it delays leadership chances and it stunts income potential. A study was performed by Columbia University called Elites Research Network. The point of the work was to understand how, or what, made someone elite financially. The seminal finding was most of the people were put in early career opportunities, the type that makes the person a generalist and not a specialist. This advantage, more than privilege or inheritance, is the key to lasting success.

So what does it mean for the US that 85% of college grads are living at home post graduation? Or that marriage on average is 6 years later than it was in 1970? Is 40 the new 30? And if so, without the compounding interest of 401k or pensions does that mean 75 is the new 65?

Right Place at the Right Time Happens, It Isn’t a Fluke.

There’s a movie out called The Social Network . The story shares a few perspectives on the founding of Facebook. But there are no shortage of opinions for this drama.

One common view is Mark Zuckerberg was in the right place at the right time. He was just lucky. It’s hard to argue he didn’t benefit from several favorable circumstances. Luck isn’t fated though. Good businessmen tend to be luckier than others because they play the favorable odds and work to improve their chances.

Many success stories start with a few individuals meeting at a coffee house and exchanging ideas. Connections are made and enterprises are launched. It isn’t luck these people were in the coffee house. They purposefully went there wanting to meet people who also wanted to people. A $4 coffee every other day results in a pretty wide network. So when right place at the right time happens, it isn’t a fluke.

Anthony Tjan from Harvard Business Review writes up a couple of sections in his blog first describing the type of luck he observes and then the characteristics of people who tend to be lucky. Here’s some excerpts from his blog entry Make Luck Work in Your Favor :

1. Circumstantial Luck. You go to lunch with a friend and bump into another acquaintance who introduces you to a stranger who eventually becomes your biggest client. The unintended but welcomed outcome (a new client) was unrelated to the initial action (lunch with a friend). Being at the right place, at the right time, made the difference. You were circumstantially lucky.

2. Constitutional Luck. Age, heritage, cultural background, or upbringing can predispose you to a certain outcome.

3. Ignorance, or Dumb Luck. As with the other kinds of luck, dumb luck’s role in the outcome is clear only in hindsight.

Here are the three most important things lucky people tend to do:

1. Entrepreneurially lucky people are driven by a deep intellectual curiosity. Constant focus on self improvement affords more opportunities for luck to occur. Business leaders who regularly question the norm and who seek both continuous improvements in their business, and in themselves, end up being luckier because they want to learn.

2. Lucky people feel lucky and are optimistic.  In a conversation with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, he shared with me how people who self-described themselves as “lucky” picked up more hidden clues in a quiz. He described the fascinating test experiment in which two groups of people are given newspapers with hidden messages. While they are told to count certain images, the headlines and text on the pages have hidden messages telling them they are done and to mention a particular message to collect an extra $100. People who answered that they were “lucky” were much more likely to find the clue. Why? We think it is because they approach the world with an open and optimistic mind that enables them to see unexpected opportunity more readily.

3. Lucky people are vulnerable and humble.  These qualities are the antidote to the hubris so common among successful business builders.

Inspiration and Institutions

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of several best sellers including a favorite of mine The Tipping Point, wrote a New Yorker article last week about the bonds of Social Networking tools like Twitter and Facebook. To explain his point he describes the fears and risks of the “sit in” generation of the 1960s. Social change at that time required a particular type of nerve: courage and restraint. It was needed because the threats, occasionally deadly, were often carried out. They knew they had to endure because their weakness would lead to weakness in others. Gladwell calls these strong bonds.

6.2 million people have been unemployed for more than six months. Being without work for that long is troubling to the mind. Being available in case something comes up and the instability of simply not knowing is tough. Plus it’s lonely. But 6.2 million is a big number and it means there’s probably someone within your community who is in the same predicament. That is where a site called Unemployed-Friends.com comes in. It’s a means for those without work to exchange messages, thoughts, and prospects. But besides the fringe benefits of venting, it’s a market for helping each other. That’s the genius of it, these people have time and unused skills available. And this is just the short term benefit. Strong bonds might be the long term benefit.

When I was about eight years old, I remember the pull the professional wrestling. “Who won Wrestlemania?” I’d ask my dad because it was too late for me to stay up. This was the ’80s and wrestling wasn’t obvious about the scripted action yet. People like Hulk Hogan would get the crowd going with their back stage interviews. In the late ’90s a resurgence followed and people could smell what The Rock was cooking. The camera would pan the stands and see signs with clever sayings like “Hogan was a Flintstone” and “This Space for Rent.” Everyone would chant the catch phrases and nothing would be better than Jerry Lawyler’s high pitch announcement of a surprise wrestler “WHAT?! That’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music!” Simply exciting.

But this type of connection is weak. It’d only last while the entertainment was going and then it was time to move on to something else. I think this is what Gladwell was trying to get across with his New Yorker piece. That Twitter and other Social Networks are forms of entertainment and have no lasting kinship. But we are also in a society where the threat of an act is all that is needed. It’s pretty powerful. So getting a few thousand signatures via facebook isn’t the same as a “sit-in” but it sends the message to the offending party that they could be in a costly confrontation. And then they have to decide if it’s worth it.

I mention all this because I think a real test of these tools is underway. The US election cycle for 2012 will begin in about six weeks. About a year later we’ll begin to see a lot of movement around a third party candidate. Thomas Friedman in the NY Times writes about the idea in a Op-Ed piece called Third Party Rising . He should have used a former wrestler as an example – Jesse Ventura ran a grass roots campaign in the mid ’90s, about the time the Rock was cooking, and became governor of Minnesota. Michael Bloomberg might give it a shot, we’ll see, but I don’t think a third party can win, but he can get close, and the mere threat should send shock waves to the Democrat and Republican Parties. From a business perspective, the time is right to capitalize on the on coming need and use of the strong and weak bonds.

Working Thoughts 10/4/08
September 2008 Jobs Report and Wages

How Pleasure Works – A Book Review

Quick Take: This book goes into the depths of the mind and looks for what feeds the source or core of happiness. There are stories of art theft, belching contests, bed pans, and cannibalism and I bet none of these you’d put on par with a birthday cake. And that is the point of the book, pleasure is not a straight forward emotion. A man paid $772,500 for a set of golf clubs. It makes you wonder why?  Hint – they were John F. Kennedy’s (if you’re still thinking “so what” then this book is really for you). Either way, I enjoyed it.

Detail Review: Paul Bloom is a psychologist at Yale University. He’s the author of other books, but those have a slightly different take on the brain: how it develops in regards to language. I think because this isn’t his first take, he writes in a style that is easy to read. His narratives are clear and support his point very well. In a world where books are taken in 15 minutes at a time, this is a good quality to have.

I normally start with the aesthetics. The hard cover has a simple white sleeve with the title, the subtitle, the author’s name and then a picture of an oyster with a pearl. I think that’s a metaphor for cracking open the mind and finding treasure. I like the less is more approach, but I’ve heard white is the worst choice because it shows smudges and dirt easily. That may be true, but I like it. The font is medium to large in size and the book is a solid 227 pages counting the preface.

The book ultimately is a cross between psychology and philosophy and it centers on something called essence. And as a psychologist he has many studies supporting his argument. But essence is as much a philosophic topic as anything. You can refer to it as the life force, the soul, or the mass effect of billions of neurons firing in a self aware brain. Cultivating one’s own essence is the basis of pleasure. Whether it’s through the adoption of other people’s essence or the exercise of your own. As Bloom states in the preface:

     There is an animal aspect o human pleasure. When I come back from a run with my dog, I collapse onto the sofa, she onto her dog bed. I drink a glass of cold water, she laps from her bowl, and we’re both a lot happier.
     This book is about more mysterious pleasures. Some teenage girls enjoy cutting themselves with razors; some men pay good money to be spanked by prostitutes. The average American spends over four hours a day watching television. The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing to many men. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. Young children enjoy playing with imaginary friends and can be comforted by security blankets. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents, and go to movies that make them cry.
     Some of the pleasures that I will discuss are uniquely human, such as art, music, fiction, masochism, and religion. Others, such as food and sex, are not, but I will argue that the pleasure that humans get from these activities is substantially different from that of other creatures.

There’s great analysis of the value of art, particularly how a copy, or forgery, is no where near as valuable as an original. If I know Paul Cezanne painted a piece in my collection, then I know it’s worth more than if someone else painted in a similar style. The reason is because I know Cezanne was an artistic genius. The means in which he assembled color, stroke, and arrangement shows a mind – an essence – that no one else originally came up with. Jackson Pollock is the ultimate test for this. His art is labeled abstract expressionism. I see paint splats, but others see a chaotic reflection of the subconscious and because of that, he is heralded.

And the author doesn’t really get into it, but I think portraits are the ultimate in revealing essence, especially if they are self portraits. For the Seinfeld fans out there, you’ll remember an episode where Jerry dates a painter. The painter does a portrait of Kramer and when George asks Jerry why, he responds “She sees something in him.” Kramer has an essence and the painter captures it. Later in the story an older couple is viewing the portrait, “The Kramer,” and has this exchange:

Although this is comedic, it’s true. Art isn’t only about beauty. There’s a pull of something greater than a cloth with ink on it. Performance art and shock are continually testing society.

There’s a story called Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s about a couple of coon hound dogs befriended by a little boy. It’s an early adolescents tale. My sixth grade English teacher read it to my class of 14. It’s over 20 years later and I can’t remember her name, but I do remember the entire class welling up in tears as the story unfolded. We were saddened by what happened, but this fictional story was enjoyed by each one of us.

This pleasure resonates in the imagination of everyone, be it sappy love stories, video games, horror movies, or some other mental escape. I agree with the author that this is a hold over from the evolution of planning. He doesn’t really discuss it, but the way the brain is structured is by layers, somewhat like it grew from the center out. The center is the emotional core. Emotion is great for survival, so it makes sense. The prefrontal cortex and other cognitive regions evolved on top of the emotional engine. It’s kind of like we take in all this data via our senses, but the brain needs a way to answer the “so what?” Stories are powerful because they tap the emotional center and push for action. Imagination is a means for practicing these situations and the strange pleasure it elicits is motivation.

I devise fantasy lands of unicorns and I dream of taking over the world. Each of these escapes adds to my essence.

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Lulled Into a Sense of Ever Improving Job Prospects

Autumn begins at Wednesday September 22, 2010 at 11:09 PM ET, but I’ve already felt it. I recently sat at a family friend’s bare dining room table. I looked out the window to avoid seeing the pain in his eyes. The setting sun created an epilogue hue – uneasy and fated.

My friend was mentally torn down. He said “I don’t know what to do? I’m 51 years old and without a job.” I slowly nodded my support. “I wish I had known.” His words trailed off and a deep breath was taken.

He’s a divorced father of two: a boy who’s six and a daughter all of nine. He has debts from the divorce, but mostly he has fears for the future. His daughter is a sufferer of a rare childhood disease. It isn’t life threatening, but it’s life altering. And it’s costly.

I don’t know what he wish he had known. I think it’s about his decision making over the last 15 years. But I think it’s less about the decisions made as it is about the opportunities missed. He was lulled into a sense of ever improving job prospects. He was a senior member at a medium sized company. The Vice President was a friend of his. All things seemed good. He did his job day and day out without any hiccups until 2008 came. His company, like many others, had to make some tough choices and he was given a severance package.

In my eyes he became too good at his job. He could do it half asleep. He didn’t challenge himself and take classes or training that would push him out of his comfort zone. He became as memorable as a Tuesday morning commute. That is one moral of this recession – constantly improve your skills, think about how you think, and shake things up.