Young Professionals have Creativity, They Need a Vision to Apply it to

I like to orient this blog around four themes I see as the future of the US. Two of the themes are specific and two are general. They are:

  • Energy
  • Health Care
  • Information
  • People

The President has taken up the first two and I’m very pleased. I started writing about them 18 months ago, so I like to think he reads my blog :D. About a year ago I added Information and People to my docket. Information is both technical and conceptual in its premise. The People theme involves subjects like education, intelligence, culture, and relationships. The massiveness of the unemployment situation is definitely changing our view of each of these.

Bob Herbert published an Op-Ed piece today called Even Worse for Young Worker. The focus is how the eventual losers in this economic situation are the young professionals. The piece highlights how many people are taking jobs that they are probably overqualified for and how that then pushes someone else who would ordinarily fill that role to do the same or simply join the ranks of unemployed. To make matters worse for young professionals is their debt level relative to income. Having college loans, car loans, and housing payments (rent or a mortgage) completely eats into any income they make. The Economix blog on has an entry called Young and in Debt that illustrates the situation. It seems like a good strategy for this group is to live with their parents and save some money.

I often mention how I’m an optimist about the chances the US gets out of this calamity just fine. I say that because young people aren’t slowing down and shaking in their boots. Since they haven’t translated any of their ideas and work into money yet they don’t have anything to lose. And something I’ve noticed is the pace of news has accelerated so much making reaction times hyperfast. Our youth can keep up, actually, I imagine it more like the Matrix where they don’t have to go at that speed, they can start and stop it as needed. So I’m an optimist about their abilities. But there is a problem. The educational system doesn’t mesh well with this culture. It hasn’t for 20 years. Now that young professionals are entering the workforce, their skillset is neither a match nor a complete divergence either. They’ve been trained for jobs that now go to India. And yet a young professional won’t complain because those jobs are the routine type anyway. Young professionals still have creativity in their back pocket. It is just waiting for a vision to apply it to.

         Energy                                   Health Care                                   Information                                   People

Sizing Up the New Guy

Not many people like to admit it, but just about everyone sizes up “the new guy.” When a new hire comes into the office and meets the rest of the team there is a sort of feeling out period. Much of what happened in the past for both parties is exactly that – in the past. And yet there are people who hold onto it. Perhaps the hiring associates want to protect how they do things or maybe the new hire is insecure about their talents so he or she continually mentions their successes at other companies.

What got me thinking about this is an article from a few days ago in the NY Times called Can an Employer’s Past Follow Its Workers? by Hillary Chura. When a new hire comes into a company, especially in a prominent position, a bio usually circulates. It can be by email or a regular piece of paper. The bio accentuates all the companies that have cache, so if the person worked for the FBI then that would be front and center. Those reading the information react positively simply because of the organization brand. And to a lesser extent, the opposite happens for companies that hit hard times. Someone with Enron working experience isn’t going to get the same reaction as someone who worked for NASA.

I don’t want to paint a complete negative picture because at the end of the day it comes down to plain old execution. Some people talk a big game while others deliver one. I just think it is a fact of life right now: people that worked for companies that went under, particularly in banking (Bear Sterns, Lehman and Washington Mutual for example) aren’t bringing much collateral of the unknown with them to the new job. 

The Economy is on the Mend

I’m ready to place my bet. The economy is on the mend. How do I know? Well, there are no eye witnesses, but there is so much evidence. I can point to observable messages being distributed in the market.

Message 1 – Ben Bernanke spoke to Congress and advised them that a recovery is likely to start sometime in 2009. This is slightly more optimistic than a month ago

Message 2 – President Obama addressed the nation in a very positive manner last night. The tone was positive and purposeful. The doom and gloom that he frequently mentioned prior to the stimulus bill becoming law is gone.

Message 3 – Sun Trust bank is airing commercials that reflect the mood of the average US citizen – living in excess is over. Saving and living with less is quite alright. Simple nights with family and reading a book are worth a lot.

Message 4 – James Surowiecki in the New Yorker is running an article and a couple of blog entries. The article is about how cutting pay is very rare and even though there are many layoffs happening, salaries are increasing. So if you can keep your job through your company’s layoffs then there is a good chance of reward. Your productivity will certainly warrant it. The blog entries discuss how authority figures (the President) simply talking about the Depression worsens the economy. It makes people hunker down. The focus going forward will be on the different successes and a more positive tone will come from people like the President.

Message 5 – There is a coming demand surge. Consumers can go without new shirts and pants, an updated refridgerator, and fancy restaurants. But at some point all those items, including the restaurant, will be needed again. In the mean time many companies will go out of business and there are deals to be had. The market will clean up the inefficiencies and several new power house companies will emerge.

Message 6 – Envy is taking a backseat to sensibility. Keeping up with the Joneses?

Message 7 – Northern Trust had a big party that is associated with golf, musical groups, and high end hotels and eateries. This is a company that was infused with Government money through TARP. And yet the reaction from the public isn’t all negative. People are let down by Northern Trust for being so lavish, but many understand why the party was held and that this isn’t the same as Citi bank. This is a profitable company conducting business, perhaps it is unwise in the current environment, but this management seems to be doing a lot right.

There are many more instances I’ve noticed but the point is made. The negative news still circulates, but the amount of positive news is growing and is diverse in its focus.

Working Thoughts 02/25/08
Ken Chenault 2007 vs 2006 Compensation

Trade Up to the Future

A couple of Sundays ago Thomas Friedman wrote his Op-Ed Sunday piece for the NY Times. It was about how he was in India and a couple of people approached him about riding in their car. He was reluctant but won over by how the car is different. It is an electric car – an engineering marvel. But these two Indians have upfitted it with even greater innovations for the batteries and solar roof. They are driving around India to show off their work and see who else is working in the same green field. They’ve tapped a green network.

A couple of years ago I read a book called One Red Paperclip by Kyle MacDonald. The story is about how this guy, who had no real job or future, decided to try and trade from one red paperclip up to a house. It was a whim. It was fun for him. He chronicled the experience on his blog. Blogging at the time was still quaint so his audience was captivated by his real time story. His trades took him across Canada and the US. He traded items like a novelty door knob and a cube van on his way to a house. His extraordinary year is filled with oddball situations and negotiations.

Why doesn’t someone combine the two with the goal of trading from a simple solar device all the way to a self powering home. Maybe call it one solar calculator. The person running the blog can post the item with the rule that the trading item must be some form of green powering device as well. The author can write about how efficient it is, the type of energy conversion it is (solar, wind, and so on), and other details. Documenting  the learning experience would turn a novice into an expert. And it would be on the internet, so potential employers would see a self motivated individual. I can see it now – “I will trade you one hand crank radio for three home built mini windmills.” And that is an added benefit of this; garage style engineers would come to light and several, perhaps many, new ideas would be shared through this story.

I bet there is a sub culture working on these solutions. Friedman tapped into it in India, but the US has them too. The mainstream media hasn’t identified a character or storyline to latch onto yet and that is too bad. I feel like just one positive portrayal will take it to the next level.

It is Time for Re-Employment Insurance

In reviewing many articles and blog posts over the last couple of months I realized a theme had emerged. Maybe I’m just dense because the theme is fairly obvious. The last two recessions had jobless recoveries. This much we know. But the reaction to this situation was as if it were still 1968 and the manufacturing plant was going call the workers back once demand picked back up. That is why unemployment insurance at the state level is now less effective.

Two recent articles helped me understand this better. They are City Will Help Retrain Laid-Off Wall Streeters by Patrick McGeehan in the NY Times and Stimulus: Now for the hard part by Jeanne Sahadi on People who lose their jobs are often disoriented by the experience. They aren’t sure what they can do to make their work desirable and the routine ins and outs of caring for a family hampers their job search efforts. The result is many people post for jobs that simply don’t exist anymore.

Job re-employment insurance is a great alternative to unemployment insurance as it is constituted today. A hybrid program that analyzes the skill set of the applicant against available learning resources would alleviate a stagnant employment environment. The requirement for qualifying for re-employment insurance is to be recently enrolled in a preapproved curriculum. This is in addition to actively seeking a job (this is a condition today). It might be hard for some people to get on board with it, but hey, its a new reality.

Working Thoughts 02/21/08
When Salaries are Exposed

Fuel Cost Savings: Technology and Process Improvements

I ran across an article that peaked my interest yesterday. It is called Heavy Duty Computing and it is by Jon Fortt. I was pulled in thinking it was a something about a new architecture for supercomputing. But the headline is really a pun. The article is about trucks.

Kenworth is a truck maker and they are constantly looking for ways to make their trucks more viable to buyers, especially those with fleets. They realized modifications to mudflaps can save around $400 on gas in a year and that is for just one truck. Maybe it goes without say, but that type of savings is a big draw to their customers. Kenworth has been trying to find these efficiencies for years but the testing of them has been difficult. That is until cloud computing came along. Putting their simulations in rented supercomputing environments allows them to get to their answers quickly and affordably. In the past every tweak to the shape of the truck had to be carved in clay and put in a scaled down wind tunnel, with appromiximate results. Now, Kenworth can make change after change and test them virtually with pretty exact output. Here are a couple of good excerpts:

Customers have noticed. Larry Anderson, president of food-delivery
company A&A Express, recently ordered several of the trucks. “Every
new truck we get is more efficient than the last,” says Anderson, who
estimates that the new rigs and careful driving could save him a
half-million dollars a year on gas. “That’s the only way we’ve stayed
in business.”

The resulting design changes aren’t visually drastic, but they make a
real difference. The slightest shift in the curve of the headlights,
the shape of the fender, or the angle of the mirrors can dramatically
alter a truck’s business value. Take that mudflap, for example: A
little haircut added an extra half-percent of fuel efficiency to the
T660. Preston Feight, Kenworth’s chief engineer, says it is one of
several tweaks that could save a 1,000-truck fleet $1 million a year.

When you talk about $1 million a year in savings just on the type of truck you operate you start to realize there are other avenues that produce an additive benefit as well. Late last year I ran an interview with 4Refuel that emphasizes much of the same theme:

How would you summarize 4Refuel’s

4Refuel is a fuel management company that synergizes logistics and information
to focus on the productivity, efficiency, and control aspects of our client’s
fuel. By controlling fuel costs, we help them be more productive and more
efficient. We leverage industry-leading and proprietary technologies combined
with a dedicated client focus service element that helps our clients manage
their fuel and treat it as an investment rather than a cost. For our clients,
Fuel Management is about “maximizing the cost of refueling and maximizing fuel
and time efficiency”.

Our core focus is on on-site delivery from our tanker truck to clients’
equipment during idle hours, primarily with standard low sulfur diesel fuel.

We have 6,000 clients across Canada and the U.S. that we’ve been servicing for
over 13 years. Those range from major Fortune 100 companies such as Coca Cola,
Federal Express, large rail and marine companies, and major airport ground
services to smaller construction and fleet organizations with three or four
pieces of equipment. If it is a standard or bio-diesel consuming asset, we
service it.

There’s another important aspect to our service. While we help our clients
control fuel costs, they are greener just by using our services. We have
metrics in place so clients can track their greenhouse gas emissions’ savings
because we are bringing one to many instead of many to one. You are burning
that much less fuel even to get fuel.

Working Thoughts 02/20/08
What Really Makes The Best Company to Work For

Barry Schwartz: Rules and the War on Moral Skill

Feb 2009 – Long Beach, California, USA
“Virtue is an old fashion word.”
“A Wise Person Knows: When and how to make an exception to every rule.”
“A Wise Person Knows: How and when to improvise.”
“A Wise Person Knows: How to use these moral skills in pursuit of the right aims.”
“A Wise Person: Is made, not born”

An Intro to Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) – Ideas Worth Spreading

Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) is an annual conference that brings in many leading thinkers of today. It puts them on stage for a speech of about 18 minutes. It is an “I have arrived” moment for many of these thought leaders. Here is what it says on the TED homepage:

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.
It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from
those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating
thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives
(in 18 minutes).

This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. More than 200 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.

Our mission: Spreading ideas.

believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives
and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that
offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired
thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas
and each other. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving
work in progress, and you’re an important part of it. Have an idea? We
want to hear from you.

The TED Conference,
held annually in Long Beach, is still the heart of TED. More than a
thousand people now attend — indeed, the event sells out a year in
advance — and the content has expanded to include science, business,
the arts and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50
speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces
of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no
breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn’t
work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected.
Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a
living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our
astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

In recent years, TED has spawned some important extensions.

is a sister conference held every other year, and in a different
country on each occasion. The first conference was held in Oxford,
England, in 2005; the second, in June 2007, was held in Arusha,
Tanzania. The themes of the global conference are slightly more focused
on development issues, but the basic TED format is maintained.

The TED Prize
is designed to leverage the TED Community’s exceptional array of talent
and resources. It is awarded annually to three exceptional individuals
who each receive $100,000 and, much more important, the granting of
“One Wish to Change the World.” After several months of preparation, they unveil their wish
at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference. These wishes have
led to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.

began as a simple attempt to share what happens at TED with the world.
Under the moniker “ideas worth spreading,” talks were released online.
They rapidly attracted a global audience in the millions. Indeed, the
reaction was so enthusiastic that the entire TED website has been
reengineered around TEDTalks, with the goal of giving everyone
on-demand access to the world’s most inspiring voices.

TED is therefore best thought of as a global community. It’s a
community welcoming people from every discipline and culture who have
just two things in common: they seek a deeper understanding of the
world, and they hope to turn that understanding into a better future
for us all.

Education is Getting an Overdue National Review

Over the past three months I’ve really noticed an increase in print media directed towards the needs of the US education system. The decline in prominence of the US over the last 18 months coupled with the financial crises has motivated people to look at root causes. And the root cause many are concluding is a lack in education prioritization.

Much of the wealth created over the last 100 years in the US has been attributed to the across the board schooling that took place between 1900 and 1960. This created better skilled workers, which improved productivity, which raised the buying power of the middle class. Over the last 50 years the advantage the US has had in terms of mass education has dwindled and is often surpassed. For instance, India gained independence in 1947 from England. One of their first prominent decisions was to make education a tenant of their new country. To do so they centralized the Sciences and Technologies in higher education curriculum and maintain the ability to extend mandates as needed. There are several occurrences throughout the last 60 years.

What is strange to me is how an educational program assembled in the late 1800s is still the one used today. This lack of adjustmemt assumes there is no cultural change, no technology change, and no competitors for attention. Each of these has eroded the effectiveness of a K-12 schooling. A good example of the cultural change is described in The Big Fix by David Leohardt. He wrote that a scholarship program in West Virginia called Promise has observed other state scholarship system’s and found a weakness – there isn’t an urgency to graduate in four years. Allowing students to take five years or longer doesn’t produce results for the cost. Many students just aren’t pushed to graduate. At one point in time this would be embarrassing, but now it is culturally accepted.

The economic stimulus is addressing many of the current shortfalls in education funding, but it isn’t launching new models. But I’m hopeful, primarily because it really all comes down to the teachers. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a couple of months ago about how a good teacher in a poor school will teach more to their students than a bad teacher in a good school will. His narrative depicts several examples. But one area he mentions as a possibility for teachers is also a possibility for all jobs – apprenticeships. It makes perfect sense because it is a flexibe learning program. It changes with culture, technology, and motivations.

I’m hoping for some new ideas, especially in the private sector, to come to the fore but in the meantime, here are a few more writings I enjoyed on the topic:

Our Greatest National Shame by Nicholas Kristof

The Race between Education and Technology by Claudia Goldin (Author), Lawrence F. Katz (Author)

Education PostsWorking Thoughts by Ben Leeson

Working Thoughts – 02/15/08 – Teachers Who Have Creative Freedom to Teach

NatGeo has me Hooked Lately

I’m really liking The National Geographic Channel lately. Their programing has really roped me in lately. I don’t know if it is the HD component of it or that narrative, but I’m watching it more often. Anyway, there is a program running now called Known Universe and here is a line from it (paraphrased) and a video I pulled from their website:

“Oxygen and Hydrogen are two of the most flammable elements on the planet, but when you combine them they create something that is used as a flame inhibitor – water.”

I’ll be back tomorrow talking about Education and Energy…