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

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.

Taking On Tests

I’ve been on an education kick lately since it’s back to school time. I often comment that I believe tests are overused as an evaluation tool. I think they have a time and place, but programs like No Child Left Behind are making the test the apex of the curriculum.

I often argue that most tests are designed to assess memorization and not problem solving. I’d like to see students create something. That is how the world improves, through the value of creation. This effort requires the student to apply the learned material plus it reinforces real world skills like managing time and resources.

Tests have positives though. They are efficient in their use of time and measurement. And as I learned from Benedict Carey’s article Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits tests act as another associative method for learning. Over the last few years I’ve read books like Geoff Colvin ‘s Talent is Overrated and Drive by Dan Pink which have hammered the point that if you are motivated to practice and to practice novel approaches with immediate feedback you will succeed.

The article also talks about the use of association. In other posts , like Using Fables , I talk about the use of stories as a learning tool. Stories provide a narrative for later recall of the material. If you are studying mental fortitude and strength while routinely looking out the window at some oak trees you are going to subconsciously relate the two. During the test, I suggest you gaze out the window, it might trigger the association.

The use of tests are themselves both a narrative and a practice method. They require the test taker to consider the topic in an abstract sense and with different combination of scenarios. They also provide immediate feedback. In this way, tests are great.

If I were a teacher I’d start teaching the material with a story. I’d then require the students to create something related to it. I’d finish the lesson with a series of small tests. Why a series of small tests? I’d make it like a golf handicap – the top 10 of 20 are the ones that count. The others just create the pool of eligible scores. I feel this is most optimal because it allows for each test to be a teaching aid while  reducing the all or nothing effect.

Now, if I can only remember where I put my keys.

Teachers Often Go the Extra Mile for Their Students – There’s a Means to Help Them Get There

It’s back to school time. Parents have spent precious dollars getting their kids backpacks, notebooks, new clothes, and other supplies. But I’ve observed first hand that many teachers also spend getting ready for school. Often times there’s the perfect lesson that needs this or that to be perfect. Or there’s a student or two who are hurting financially, so a few extra supplies are made available to them. All this adds up though. For instance, Kathy Casaday of Gardendale Elementary in Alabama spent $400 for her class room. has 5 other examples of teachers, who aren’t getting big pay increases, contributing to the learning environment. These are passionate people, people who are rewarded by the epiphanies of kids.

It’s a good time to think about helping teachers make those ah-ha moments happen. is a great place to review different teaching lessons that teachers have planned. It’s personalized, so if you like rockets, then Dr. Y of Lakewood High School in Salemburg, North Carolina has a project for you. Not near you? That’s OK, there’s nearly 50 other similar Rocket related projects to choose from. Perhaps theatre is your favorite. Mr. B of Endeavour Middle School in Lancaster, California (South) has a project requiring two speakers so the actors can be heard. It’s $272 away from meeting the goal.

The point is that teachers go the extra mile for the kids, but sometimes they need someone to help them.

Also, there’s a movie coming out called Waiting for Superman . I don’t completely agree with the methods of Mr. Canada, but getting more attention to the matter is important either way. Check it out:


Working Thoughts 9/9/08
What is promised to Wall St and what is promised to the CEO are not the same

August 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for August 2010 (based on the job report):

Net loss
of 54,000 jobs in the month
(revised to a loss of 57,000 workers)

  • Census workers accounted for a loss of 114,000 jobs as they rolled off the federal payrolls (143,000 census workers were released last month)
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 67,000 (71,000 last month)
  • Analysts expected an overall loss of 120,000
  • One year ago the US lost 211,000 jobs
  • June was revised to a loss of 175,000 from a revised 221,000 jobs and an original reading of a loss of 125,000
  • July was revised to a loss of 66,000 from an updated read of a loss of 54,000 jobs and an original reading of 131,000 lost jobs
  • 6.2 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term unemployed) – an improvement by 323,000 jobs

    • 42.0% of the unemployed are long term unemployed, a drop from 44.9%*
  • Businesses (private sector) have now added 763,000 jobs since the start of 2010, after cutting 8.5 million in 2008 and 2009 combined

Unemployment rate rose to 9.6%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.5%. It’s been a year since it’s been over 59% and two years since it’s been above 62%
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count, rose to 16.7% from 16.5% (it had held steady for a few months)
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 56.3 from 55.5% last month and the 16th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
    • A sub-index, which measures the proportion of manufacturers that say they are hiring, rather than reducing jobs, came in at 60.4. This is the highest number since November of 1983 (perhaps signaling the wait and see period is over in manufacturing)

  • The number of job openings has risen by 704,000 (30 percent) since the most recent series low of 2.3 million in July 2009
    • A person without a job is averaging 19.9 weeks to find work. Down from 22.2 weeks
    • There are currently 5 applications for every 1 job opening. In November, 2009 there were 6.2 and in September 2003 there were 2.8

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 27,000 jobs (expected to be a seasonal loss)
  • Construction added 19,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 4,900 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services grew by 13,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 121,000, Federal losses were 111,000
    • State and Local Government losses have moderated their losses

  • Education and Health Services grew by 45,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 40,200

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 20,000

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $639.18 – an increase
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.08 – a three penny increase
  • Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.5 hours – a increase of 0.1 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

July 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for July 2010 (based on the job report):

Net loss
of 131,000 jobs in the month
(revised to a loss of 66,000 jobs)

  • Census workers accounted for a loss of 143,000 jobs as they rolled off the federal payrolls
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 71,000
  • Analysts expected an overall loss of 65,000
  • One year ago the US lost 346,000 jobs
  • June was revised to a loss of 221,000 jobs from an original reading of a loss of 125,000
  • May was revised to gain of 432,000
  • 6.8 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term unemployed) – unchanged from June

    • 44.9% of the unemployed are long term unemployed, a drop from 44.5%
  • Businesses (private sector) have now added 630,000 jobs since the start of 2010, after cutting 8.5 million in 2008 and 2009 combined (90,000 a month)

Unemployment rate held at 9.5%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The unemployment population is 58.4% – virtually unchanged
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count, stayed at 16.5%
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 55.5 from 56.2% last month and 59.7% the month before. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
  • Economic growth will be by sector. The strongest component of economic growth is business investment in office buildings, equipment and software, growing at 17% during the second quarter
    • Job postings on, a technology and engineering job Web site, are up 36 percent in the year through Aug. 1
    • Postings on, which serves as an online clearinghouse for finance positions, are up 31 percent

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing added 36,000 jobs
  • Construction loss 11,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 6,700 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services grew by 6,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 202,000, Federal losses were 154,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 30,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 27,800

  • Professional and Business Services lost 13,000

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $637.84 – an increase
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.04 – two penny increase
  • The average hourly work week is 33.5 hours – a increase of 0.1 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

“The Gap is Between Doing Nothing and Doing Something”

Clay Shirky in the video below hits on themes that run throughout this blog. His 13:08 of audio/video is time well spent. He mentions:

  • Free Time
    • Couch Potatoes
    • Good at Consuming
  • Creativity – People like to create
    • Cats
  • Intrinsic Motivations
    • Kenya
    • Design for Generosity
  • Tacit Information
    • Crisis Map
  • Communal Value
  • Civic Value
  • Humor

The blog Information Is Beautiful did a fun illustration using a stat from the speech – 200 billion hours of Watching TV a year and the time spent working on Wikipedia. Quite the comparison.

What Do You Know about Your Produce?

My last entry talked about how the unemployment numbers were not evenly distributed across education bases. I don’t imagine anyone thought it would be, but my point is that those who lack an education, especially younger workers who lack experience, should be the focus of job programs. I’d like to see education and training programs help this group get meaningful jobs .

But the second part of my last entry was about how many illegal immigrants are doing agricultural work, specifically field work. There’s an idea that illegal immigrants take jobs from American’s. It’s true, but not in every case. The farming example is one where many unemployed American’s haven’t applied.

What I observed about my own thinking on the subject is that I had little idea how produce reaches my grocery store. Some of it could come from local growers and some can come from China or somewhere like that. I’m not trying to sound ridiculous, but for some reason I also think of farming like I do manufacturing – automated. For grains that is probably true, but for fruits it isn’t. Someone has to bend over and pick the strawberries, blueberries, or tomatoes .

I was recently reminded about a NYC law requiring menus at some eateries to display the calories of the dish. The idea being an informed public would make better eating decisions. The notion is correct but the implementation is off. If someone is out to eat, they are purposefully out to enjoy a meal. Calories are down the list of considerations.

What I’d like to see is a narrative on the produce like a label on a cereal box. A short factual story about how the fruit arrived at the grocer. For instance, if it came from 20 miles away I’d like to know. I;d like to know the day it’s picked. If the person who picked it is 34, a female, and works a 35 hour work week, I’d like to know that too. The idea is that if I compared a subsidized bag of apples from China, which is 30 cents cheaper to a locally grown bag, I’d probably go with the locally grown. Even if I’m price sensitive I’d still have to assume the local produce is fresher and therefore higher quality.

Narratives with data in it will help guide decisions. Once the market adjusts to this digestable (pun intended – ha ha) data format, the local demand should increase and jobs too. A win-win for everyone.

Matching a Job Opportunity with the Appropriate Labor

We are in earnings season and so it’s a reasonable time to take the pulse of the economy. Three stalwarts – CSX, Alcoa, and Intel – have already reported strong results and the expectation is for it to continue. If earnings are strong, the next question is when will jobs return?

But is it the right question? I’m not sure it is. The distribution of joblessness is not even and never really is. However, the elevated unemployment numbers are up across the board. There are some stats showing improvement, but it’s slight.

June 2009 Feb 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010
Less than a HS Diploma







HS Grad,  no college







Some college, associate degree







Bachelor degree







And the stats for young workers (under 25 years old) are very high as well.

I often comment that I feel educational resources are not worthwhile for our population of less knowledgeable workers. I generalize the group as the local workers – those that fill roles in the employment ecosystem that have to be performed in a specific location. Construction work is an example. But one angle I haven’t considered in a couple of years is the idea that certain jobs are undesirable and are left to illegal immigrants.

The United Farm Workers labor union is running a campaign called Take Our Jobs which is an effort to highlight the situation of unemployment and illegal workers. It’s easy to think these workers are taking an opportunity from an American, but the reality is the conditions are so tough that very few US Citizens will perform the work. This is literally field work in occasionally 100+ degrees for 40 plus hours a week.

These jobs, as they stand today, keep food prices low, but we can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect to end illegal immigration like what Arizona has proposed, give Americans the jobs, and keep the conditions the same. Improving conditions will entice more American applications for this work, but it will increase the cost of the output – food. Acknowledging these market forces and allowing “guest” laborers is the right path to incrementally improving the conditions and slowly making this job attractive to those that account for the 10%+ unemployed. Or maybe things just aren’t desperate enough?

Here’s a video from The Stephen Colbert Show

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Arturo Rodriguez
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

Working Thoughts 7/13/09
Forest Fire Analogy

Working Thoughts 7/13/08
Potential New Addition to Working Thoughts

Opinions on the Economy for Today and Tomorrow

The jobs report came out last week and it left me utterly befuddled. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as terrible as it appears (relatively speaking of course). There’s a certain segment of employment that has shrunk and is never coming back. A article claims it could be almost 8 million jobs. But conversely there are certain types of jobs that are going unfilled because the number of candidates to fill them are few. For instance, last week the NY Times published a story about manufacturing companies struggling to find candidates who knew how to work a sophisticated computerized machinery. And now I’m reading about something called rural sourcing. It’s mostly the same advantages as outsourcing, but it’s hiring or setting up facilities in small towns in the US. At one point taxes were such a monetary consideration that places like China and India were no brainers. But now states have wised up and they offer tax incentives to encourage these developments. The states recoup the lost business tax by having income tax from the employees and the cursory taxes associated with the business ecosystem that the facility supports. Things like gas stations, restaurants, delivery, markets, and so on.

I can only offer several educated guesses as to why the US is still in this malaise. My basic idea is that education hasn’t adequately prepared the same level of people as it has in the past. I’m not trying to romanticize it, there’s always been only a handful of people with audacious goals and the vision to accomplish it. But I feel like even that small number is currently at it’s lowest levels. Wealth creation needs these people.

My main other opinion is the spread of the rich, middle class, and the poor has widened to the brink . The US brand of capitalism needs a healthy middle class to drive supply and demand. Supply is still there, but the buying power of the middle class has been decreasing over the last 10 years. My overly simple explanation for this is the attention of the quarterly earnings report. Big businesses are not paying their workers like they used to because they are pressured to show positive results every three months. Cash is either distributed through a dividend or stashed into cash on the balance sheet. This helps the investors and the executive leadership, but does little for the average worker who ultimately buys the goods that are produced.

I’m extremely optimistic for the US in the long run though, assuming we get past the next five years. Areas like health care, energy, information and people are primed for value creating totally new opportunities. I don’t see China, India, Europe, or any other country having the resources, skill set, and ideology to accommodate these on the horizon favorable circumstances.

Working Thoughts 7/9/07
When Discipline Gets in the Way