Boredom, Consumerism, and Taking Direction or Leaders, Adventurers, and Story Tellers

In the theme of Fearless Fish, I decided to write about a teacher that is taking a very reflective, if not extreme, look at schooling. His name is John Taylor Gatto and he has written a book called Weapons of Mass Instruction. I haven’t read the book itself, but I did read a preview in Ode Magazine called Childhood’s End.

Mr. Gatto presents some interesting observations in the article. His main premise is that the school system manipulates behavior toward weak minds. Boredom, consumerism, and taking direction are three outputs of a working system. I can’t really argue with that and I do echo the need for someone to teach how to think rather than memorization. That is why a few weeks ago I highlighted my disagreement with proposals for a longer school year. Rote memorization is not the answer. We need leaders, adventurers, and story tellers.

I’m not as cyncical about schooling as Mr. Gatto is. We got here from complacency and a real lack of vision. There isn’t a conspiracy theory. It is just hard.

A Review of The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You

In an earlier post I introduced the author of a book I’ve recently read called The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You. I have several observations and opinions regarding this work by Robin Fisher Roffer.

So what is this book? The hardcover is 213 pages divided into eight chapters. The front of the book is a fluid blue with an illusion of a fish bowl. Maybe I’m strange, but I like how a book looks on a book shelf, when it is among its peers. The Fearless Fish passes this frivolous test. The words chosen for the title and subtitle pull in its audience: “succeed” “only one like you” and “Fearless.” They make me think, yeah, that’s me.

I have two versions of my opinions on this book. The first is from the notes I took as I read the book. Its important to do this because after you finish a book you can’t unknow the book as a whole. The second set is the holistic impression I accumulated. So I will begin with my specific comments and finish with my overall stance.

The introduction of the book is something I always look forward to. Its like starting a road trip – you have so far to go but optimism abounds. I was immediately drawn in with this line from page ix “… Be more of who you are. When you give the world an authentic representation of the real you, you’ll find acceptance and even admiration.”

Unfortunately, my attitude changed early in the first chapter. It comes across as Ra Ra Cheerleader and I’m not that type of person. I could see this as being helpful for some people, so maybe I’m just being impatient. And that ends up being the case; by the middle of the chapter I settle in and the book begins to play to my tastes. A few observations of the writing format: there are tidbit recaps every page or so. They come too often and I start to gloss over them as I read. There are also segments that are testimonials. These are used to emphasize the writing and they work fairly well. It is always good to have an anecdote to put the reader in someone else’s shoes. One of my favorites is about a woman who cried in the office. It is a good story about emotional manipulation in the workplace, “The bottom line is, tears have no place in the office.”

The first chapter, along with the rest, ends with a segment where you can answer questions about yourself and do a little self reflection. I don’t care for these type of things, they just remind me of a text book. Maybe others interact with them better than I do.

Similarly to the story about the office crier, the book really starts to provide many great examples of how to succeed as a Fearless Fish. For instance, I love the idea on page 103 about taking a company historian out to lunch. There is so much value in meeting with someone who knows the culture and the dos and don’ts of the company. And then to adjust your approach based on those findings. For the next 50 pages or so there are narratives and accounts of value. From the prospective employee who leveraged their unique skills to impress the company president to Susan O’Meara who went to work one day and quit on the spot with no back up plan because she was starting to lose herself.

The conclusion is slightly flat. And I say that mainly as a complement to the strengths of the middle portion of the book. The material toward the end is formulaic in comparison i.e. always be prepared and you have to always look forward and not dwell on the past.
The finale is some insight from the different contributors. It is good to see them have the platform, even if some of their lines are clever for the sake of being clever.

Enough with the critique.

My overall feel for the book is very positive. I learned several tactics I can take to succeed. But what really got me about this book was the underlining theme – identity. We live in a world where very few people have the courage and confidence to maintain one authentic self across their different relationships. These people tend to draw people in. Charles Barkley is a great example. And the book is saying if these Fearless Fish draw others in then lets make more of them. Here is how to do it.

But you can decide for yourself. Here are some lines I pulled from the book that made me either smile to myself or nod in agreement as I was reading:

  • … Be more of who you are. When you give the world an authentic representation of the real you, you’ll find acceptance and even admiration.
  • The bottom line is, tears have no place in the office.
  • Gratitude is important. It directs your actions when you are on the journey.
  • It helps to have someone around who gets you.
  • Take a company historian to lunch.
  • We recognize that change is our friend, not our enemy. Even though we may understand that conceptually, we may need a little nudge to prompt us to take action. But when we do – look out.
  • Sometimes the most effective change comes from changing our point of view.
  • You’ve got to stand up for yourself, or you won’t stand a chance. The only person who’s going to appreciate your being a martyr is you.
  • “Many people try to compartmentalize their lives. This is part o the reason people are struggling. They haven’t learned to move fluidly between both worlds taking the best in each and finding an appropriate way to bring them together to create greater synergy.”
  • Taking action has so much to do with being open to the unknown, readying yourself for what will be and realizing that if it doesn’t work out, you just learned what not to do. Letting go of expectations for a particular outcome helps. You can visualize a positive conclusion and then tell yourself that no matter what happens, you are grateful for the opportunity.
  • You can be satisfied knowing that you gave it your best shot. When things don’t go their way, Fearless Fish figure out what went wrong, regroup, and take action again.
  • Embrace mistakes as the learning tools that they truly are. Martha Beck recently said that the most successful people are those who have failed the most. There’s no good, bad, or ugly – there’s just what happens and what doesn’t.

A Preview of The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You

I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I like to create something that didn’t exist before and develop a marketplace for it. This is called a Blue Ocean Strategy. Well, about a month ago my eyes were opened to an extension of that idea in a book called The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You by Robin Fisher Roffer. But before I get to the contents of the book lets take a look at the author.

Robin Fisher Roffer is a leading Brand Strategist, especially in the television media domain. But as a brand expert she understands the importance of having a personal brand. She has written a pair of books on the subject, the aforementioned Fearless Fish and Make a Name for Yourself: Eight Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success.

She also:

As I read The Fearless Fish Out of Water, I realized what I like about the author, she takes the road less traveled.

A book review tomorrow

Is the Middle Class Gone?

I can remember just a few years ago there were stories articulating how people in the top 1% income bracket were feeling insecure about their wealth. The reason was because those in the top 0.1% income bracket were getting so much richer than they were. Well, those stories are gone, but I won’t forget what they implied: the different income classes had shifted up, or down depending on your point of view. The upper class now had a segment that felt middle class, the middle class was now impoverished, and those that were poor were ignored to the point of nonexistence. Here is a chart I used from a post of mine titled Really Rich and Really Really Rich from June 23, 2008:

It just seems so ridiculous to talk about this now. Almost like a bad dream. But the inequality factor is very real. Productivity was very good over the last two decades and yet most of the wealth went to the top of the pyramid. This happened for a myriad of reasons including the threat of off shoring. Well today in the NY Times Bob Herbert wrote an Op-Ed piece describing this situation. It is called Reviving the Dream. Mr. Herbert hits on most of the vital stats and even grazes my 30 year President idea. I agree with what he says but he doesn’t offer a reason beyond failed theories – trickle down economics.

The reason for income inequality is mainly one of leverage. The US Worker is still just about better than anyone in the world, but that gap is very narrow compared to some time ago. A lot of that has to do with education and values. I’ve spoke to education frequently, but I haven’t really touched on values.

Values are changing in the US. Wealth is still very important but the field of play has become inaccessible to so many people that they decided to play a different game. I purposely don’t say “new game” because there has always been a subset doing things their way.

I wish I could easily coin a term for what these values are, but they are still evolving.

Here is what we know. These changing values are close to sustainability, but aren’t exactly just being “green” since that has become a marketing gimmick. They are about relationships but with some implicit understanding of deep relationships and superficial ones. Uniqueness is tied in some how, but not in a weird to be weird sort of way. And Science Fiction writers carry no cache because they can’t possibly come up with anything anyone would reasonably think is how things would turn out. It is so wide open.

But I will go out on a limb and predict one thing – the middle class doen’t exist anymore. And no one cares.

February 2009 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for February 2009 (based on the job report):

loss of 651,000 jobs in the month
(revised to a loss of 655,000, revised to a final loss of 726,000)

  • Analysts expected a loss of 650,000
  • Fourteen straight months of job losses
    • 4.4 million jobs lost in 2008
      • That is approximately the size of the workforce in NC, MI, and GA
    • Almost 2 million jobs lost in the last three months
  • December was revised to loss of 681,000 jobs (revised to a loss of 673,000)
  • January was revised to a loss of 655,000 jobs (revised again to a loss of 741,000, revised to a final loss of 779,000)
  • With revisions counted the economy has averaged a monthly loss of 646,000 jobs
  • Long term unemployed increased by 270,000 to 2.9 million persons
  • For every job opening, there are four times as many people unemployed

Unemployment rate rose to 8.1%

  • Analysts predicted a rise to 7.9%
  • A 3.2% drop since the increase started
  • Underemployment is now at 14.8%
  • From 13.9% last month (an increase of 0.9% in one month!)
    • 23.1 million people are estimated to be out of a job or working a part time job involuntarily
  • Long term unemployed, the percentage of those who don’t have jobs, is at 23.1%

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 168,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 104,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 40,000
  • Temporary Work lost 78,000 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 33,000 jobs
  • Government sector added 9,000
  • Health care grew by 27,000 jobs


  • The average weekly paycheck is $617.72 (seasonally adjusted to $615.05
    • An increase of almost $10
    • Productivity was way down 0.4% as well (productivity often improves during increased unemployment)
  • The average hourly work week stayed at 33.3 for the third straight month

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

The Halfway Designed Process

There are times when we get wrapped up in our own brilliance. It is the “I figured it out” sensation. It feels good to see a problem and solve it, especially when the answer wasn’t immediately obvious. But unless the problem is completely isolated in its form, say a math problem, then it is dependent on the individual.

Every person is unique. Some people try to downplay that truth while others make it a defining characteristic. Neither is right or wrong and being somewhere in between is perfectly fine as well. Knowing this fact helps with managing people. You have to take a step back at times and think about the angle others can see the problem.

I ran across a good advice piece in the Harvard Business Publishing site under the blogs called  Why Doing Things Half Right Gives You the Best Results by Peter Bregman. The idea being shared is how the design of a process or change in behavior must have the people who are expected to implement it be a part of the solution at some point. This is due to the different viewpoints. Here is an excerpt I think is representable:

Hiring someone new? Get the job description half right and then ask her: Why won’t this work for you?That’s a good point. So how can you change it to make it work? Then, when she answers, you respond:
She’ll look at you a little funny because, after all, you’re the boss
and you should be telling her what to do. Then you’ll just smile and
wait for her to answer and the two of you will redesign the job right
there right then. No better time or place to send the message that she
is accountable for her own success.

Delegating work to someone? Give him the task and then ask: Why won’t this work for you? Then, when he answers, you respond: That’s a good point. So how can you change it to make it work?

Here’s the hard part: When someone changes your plan, you might
think the new approach will be less effective. Resist the temptation to
explain why your way is better. Just smile and say Great. The drive, motivation, and accountability that person will gain from running with her own idea will be well worth it.

Working Thoughts 03/04/08

Money in the Bank

Elizabeth Gilbert Talks about Success, Inspiration, and Genius

“… its exceedingly likely that anything I write from this point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after the freakish success of my last book, right. I should just put it bluntly, cuz we are all sorta friends here now. Its exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me. Jesus, what a thought…”

“I’m a mule… even I in my muleishness, even I have brushed up against that thing. And I imagine a lot of you have too. Even I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I can’t honestly identify. And what is that thing? And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but in fact, might actually keep us sane.”