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”