Leading for 30 Years

I’m not a knowledgeable person regarding Gary Hart. I guess in the ’80s he ran for President and lost. There was a scandal too. But this past week he wrote a terrific Op-Ed piece for the NY Times called America’s Next Chapter. The theme of the writing is how the next President, especially Barack Obama, can shape America for the next 30 years or so. I believe he is right. Certain Presidents create an era. President Ronald Reagan did that almost 30 years ago. And before him it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

My favorite line from Hart: Ralph Waldo Emerson noted the political oscillations between the party
of memory and the party of hope, the party of conservatism and the
party of innovation.

So is it the leader who is doing the shaping or is America changing and a capable leader accentuates it?

First Year Anniversary for Working Thoughts

Hooray for me! This is the one year anniversary of Working Thoughts. I’ve learned a lot over the past year. I plan on learning much more as well. I can’t believe this is entry number 180. Where did the time go? I remember struggling to encapsulate my 1st blog entry and finally just saying to myself “Just do it.” Strangely, that is the main hurdle to overcome – it is harder than the actual writing. But there are several entries that I’m very proud of and put great deal of effort into. There are some that readers like (Risk Aversion and Bubbles are Bursting are the top two) and some that receive no attention. According to my blog provider, this blog has had over 10,000 views. Google analytics disputes that – which is funny. Unfortunately, I’ve had only one real comment. I get many of the other kinds. I plan to continue to post and hopefully more and more people get something out of it.

Thank You for a great first year – Ben Leeson

The Unlocking of New Education


Really Rich and Really Really Rich

I have to thank the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) again for a great graphic. Below is the difference between the top 0.1% and the top 1%. Yes, these are the richest people in the world. Each are experiencing tremendous advantages just by being wealthy to begin with, but as illustrated, there are rich people (getting 20 times richer) and super duper rich people (getting 70 times richer). The baseline is the rest of us.

Worst Company in America Competition

I’ve never heard of The Consumerist until I read an article about a competition they are running in my local paper. The competition is Worst Company in America 2008. The past two winners are RIAA and Halliburton. Currently they stand at the “Elite 8” portion of the contest. The companies that remain are: Comcast, Exxon, Diebold, CapitalOne, American Airlines, Bank of America, and Countrywide.

I took a look at how they came up with the original list and it was by popular vote on the website. Personnally, I would like to see some sort of criteria for the selection, but I guess that is the point the website – populist consumer feedback. But since the method for qualification isn’t stated then there appears to be a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. I guess the main component is the reach. All these companies span the entire US.

Before College and After Retirement

The other day I ran across two separate articles in the NY Times that are at total opposite ends of the career spectrum – college entry and retirement.

I’ve written before that I’m not a big fan of how college fits into the career world of today. It is working on a model that is outdated. Well, Lauren Clark’s story is one I advocate. She took a year in between high school and college to develop herself. She used a group called The Center for Interim Programs to organize her experiences. They set up two different choices: live in Ghana and help a community build a library and study art in Italy. These two experiences, especially the Ghana project, really helped her to focus what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She delivered on something truly rewarding. Many freshman in college discover alcohol, not their future career path.
Of course this has way of doing things has risks as well. The first is that once someone gets out of the routine of education it is hard to get back into it. Perhaps never going to college at all. The second is that programs like what Ms. Clark did have a monetary cost. Not everyone has the ability financially to take advantage of this opportunity.

In the Shifting Careers section of the NY Times Marci Alboher presents an interesting illustration of what people who are retiring would do as an encore. It isn’t a surprise, but look how heavy it is toward helping others in some form or fashion.

Electronic Medical Records Domino

There are a few themes that I continually come back to as I post. One of which is Health Care and particularly innovation in Health Care. I feel that is the second wave of real economic growth for the US over the next 5 to 15 years. It will follow an energy revolution (not sure if the US will lead this one though). So that brings me to the topic of this post – EMRs or Electronic Medical Records.

The NY Times is running an article by Steve Lohr called Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records. It highlights the fact that the adoption of this record keeping method is slow. Most doctor offices still use paper records and file cabinets with patient folders in them. This is over 10 years after the internet went mainstream. Until this switch happens Health Care won’t take the next leap. It is a major domino. Once this domino falls the cost associations will decrease and efficiencies will increase and the snowball effect will occur.

There are three immediate obstacles. First is the cost of the equipment, support, and training. The article mentioned above goes into this. The second is HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which was enacted in 1996 (the same time as the internet getting launched). HIPAA was intended to speed up the digital transformation in the Health Care industry and in a way it has for the insurance side of it. That is important. But the confusion of the privacy component of the act has shaped behavior towards erring on the side of extreme data protection. Thirdly is the lack of standards. Standards need defining for the technology, the data, and the processes. This is where either State or the Federal government can contribute to speeding this up.

Companies like Microsoft and Google are hoping to become the standard. What is interesting to me is the business models. When I first became aware of EMRs I instantly knew that a large company would need to get involved to overcome the economies of scale and support. But that hasn’t happened yet. But what might happen is instead of the paradigm changing from a centralized recording at the doctor office to decentralized and the patient recording the information and taking it to the different doctors. It could be a hybrid of the two as well.

Either way, once this is overcome the Health Care industry will rapidly innovate. This efficiency will bleed over into other areas of Health Care, such as new imaging technology or preventative care processes and Dr/Patient communication.

Energy Legislation Delay

I’ve mentioned in other posts my opinion regarding the energy situation. I believe there is no silver bullet and many culminating arrangements will need to transpire to make real change occur.

One of the main cogs in the process is small business. The United States Congress should enact some sort of tax incentive that will motivate the capital risk associated with bringing favorable solutions to market.

One parallel to this is the legislation that resulted in the 401k. The United States Congress recognized a need to improve retirement accounts for the coming baby boom generation. So Congress addressed the Internal Revenue Code and made a section called 401k.  It was 1978. Two years later it went into effect and three years after that it was widely offered in many corporations. So it was five years before it went mainstream. Five years is probably the long end of similar legislation if it were offered today, but regarding energy.

But lets assume that it would take a small business at least three years to get something of significance out to the market. That makes me alarmed. I’m alarmed because I know of no new legislation. If it were to happen, then it is another three years after that. What this means is that places not in the United States are potentially the next leaders in energy innovation. Missing out on that leadership will further hurt the US as a super power.

Entering the Workforce Things to Know

I’m a fan of simple overviews. Who isn’t? Well, I have to thank Ron Lieber of the NY Times for writing a great piece for those who are new to the workforce (but just about everyone else can benefit from it as well). The piece is called A Primer for Young People Starting Their First Job.

The article uses brevity to explain the initial confusing aspects of entering the workforce. Those topics are:

  • Health Insurance
  • Taxes
  • Retirement

Several other resources are mentioned for more help. Here are a few of those:

Paycheck Calculator
allaboutthebenefits.com
paycheckcity.com

A Few Brain Stories

Those that follow the blog know that I like to comment on brain studies. There are three recent ones I found fascinating:

Anticipating the Future to ‘See’ the Present by Benedict Carey
Summary – The brain estimates items in motion. It does this because it takes a fraction of a second to interpret the image information, so for survival reasons the brain estimates where the object will be.

Brainpower May Lie in Complexity of Synapses by Nicholas Wade
Summary – It is logical that the size of the brain translates into higher cognition ability. But that isn’t the only determining factor. The connections, synapses, are also players in that role. What was originally thought as simple currents has revealed something more. Different protein exchanges for different connections exist in organisms thought to be more evolved, at least using the criteria of learning.

Take a new tack to sharpen your brain by Melinda Beck
Summary – Excerising your brain is a good method to stave off brain degeneration diseases like Alzheimer’s. The brain never loses the ability to create new brain cells and new connections (synapses). The larger the mental reserves the better.