Juan Enriquez has Some BIG Ideas

Juan Enriquez talks about many of the reasons why I started this blog, especially around the 7:00 mark. I’m not as into the biology side of things, but it makes sense…

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Financial Discipline is Good. Your Dreams will Thank You

Tomorrow is always a day away. That was a popular theme over the last 15 years or so as many individuals adopted a mindset of living for the moment. As everyone knows, the bill came due. But the means to pay for it never materialized, whether it was the big promotion or the job change or the side business never started up.

Now behavior is changing. Saving and financial responsibility is the thing to do. Planning for a year from now isn’t good enough, you have to go ten years out. The last time people have thought like this as a mass group it was the Great Depression generation. But I’m not completely sold that this is a financial scar or simply a bad bruise.

There is a love/hate relationship with discipline. You feel good for pushing yourself to accomplish something that is difficult. But some relief is needed as a kind of reward for the dedication to begin with. John Tierney in the NY Times wrote a piece called Oversaving, A Burden for Our Times. The theme of the writing is how there is guilt associated with deviating from the discipline but that guilt fades if the activity, event, or purchase was worth it and memorable. But withholding some deserved reward creates an anxiety.

We are such a goal oriented society that sometimes the goal takes on weight in our lives that is disproportionate. This is the death bed realization type of stuff. I feel this is the seminal value change that is occurring. Just like how the Great Depression inspired saving and discipline, this crises will generate not goals, but dreams.

A Viable Electric Car Business Model?

I like new business models, but sometimes it isn’t a new business model at all, just a new industry to apply it to. That is what Shai Agassi is trying to do. He has a project called Better Place, which is trying to create a viable electric car platform.

The business model Mr. Agassi is using is the same one as cell phone carriers. Instead of buying minutes of use on the network, you buy miles. And just like you need a cell phone to access the network, you need a battery to drive the electric car. That is what I really like about the model, it assumes that battery technology will improve and probably at a fast pace, so why saddle the consumer with that churn? It disincents them to buy an electric car and you never get the scale you need.

David Pogue of the NY Times highlighted Mr. Agassi in a couple of pieces recently. One was in the paper and it’s called Electric Cars for All! (No, Really This Time) and the other was on CBS Sunday News and it is called Making The World A ‘Better Place’

There are still many hurdles to overcome, but two major obstacles have crumbled recently.
    The first is cost. The cost of the electric car was too high for any serious adoption to happen. The cost has to be slightly under the cost of a gasoline car because of the initial hassles and learning curve. This model equates a driving mile to $0.06 to $0.08 whereas a gasoline based mile is $0.10 to $0.12. This cost savings adds up. For instance, if you take the $0.08 for electric and $0.10 for gasoline and drive a typical 12,000 miles over a year then your numbers look like $960 for electric and $1200 for gasoline. A $240 yearly savings.
    The second is the US Auto Industry and their pull in Washington. But it wasn’t just because they are hurting financially. It also is because the variability of the price of oil creates constant management of the decision making process. How do you plan when in June of 2008 the price of a barrel of oil was $143 and by December it was $40. There are significant costs in just managing the what ifs.

I still see two major hurdles in the way though. Infrastructure and Culture. Mr. Agassi is addressing the infrastructure element by working with state governments like Hawaii and California in the US, Israel, and European nations and partnering to cover the cost of installing devices that are similar to a parking meter, but act as a recharger. Many people are habitual with what they buy and a product or service has to be a real differentiator to get people to change. I think this idea is that significant. But good ideas have to leave no doubt and if I’m a 68 year old man in Texas I’m probably not interested.

I recommend looking at Shai Agassi’s resume. He’s the type of person who shapes the future. By 30 years old he was financially set after selling his first start up and before he was 40 he was shaping one of the worlds largest software companies – SAP. Although things didn’t work out for him to become the CEO, he did expand his knowledge of integrating different components for success. In software it could be the business rules, the programming code, the database, and the tech infrastructure. With electric cars it is the battery technology, the fill up behavior, the cost model, and the government. Integrating each of these with scale and timing is a tough task, but it looks like he knows it.

I believe there is an earnest desire in the US to move to an electric car platform. Just make it easy on consumers.

Working Thoughts 03-20-08

Interview Question: How much sleep a night do you get? Part 1

    

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.

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.

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

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 NYTimes.com 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

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

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.

The
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.

We
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.

TEDGlobal
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.

TEDTalks
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.

Today,
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