Differentiating Using Strategy and Technology

The Academy Awards were a few weeks back and the popular movie The Social Network was nominated for Best Picture. It didn’t win the award, but it did elevate Facebook into a cultural phenomenon. It’s no longer another website – it’s Facebook. People care about it like their Nike running shoes, Apple iPod, and Starbucks coffee.

Each of these brands has used slight advantages in their products to become the dominate company in the space. How or why does this happen? Well, first I’ll mention luck. It always plays a role. In addition to luck, it’s the people.

Individuals and teams within these companies differentiate their offerings. They do so within a cost structure that maintains competitiveness and they do so with an eye toward value. Most people think of value as what Wal-Mart offers. One product 10 cents cheaper than a competitor and that is true in a commodities evaluation. Paper towels are paper towels. Value becomes much more abstract when the offering – product or service – has an association related to it. Starbucks originally pulled people in because the coffee was stronger. The association was that it woke up better than other options. And Apple combats technophobia because they create electronic devices that are easy to use.

This value is marginal at first, but then it snow balls. Getting it to snow ball is the key and then building on that is paramount. Facebook used exclusivity as the differentiator and then opened up the site to ride the network effect. Now it can exploit it’s pure numbers for monetary gain.

Earlier this year Goldman Sachs in a backroom deal valued Facebook at $50 billion dollars. Valuations like this have some to speculate that there is another tech bubble. Groupon, Google, Facebook, and others are the poster children.

In the world of the internet, small differences in your products can be the difference in sinking or swimming. Because of that Silicon Valley is leading the way in an escalating war for tech talent. Google is offering $20,000 more than average to the people they’ve targeted. Some firms are teaching their employees how to be entrepreneurs. In Silicon Valley it’s an inevitability, might as well make it a perk.

Do I think its a new tech bubble? I don’t. How engineers are using the internet now is very different than 15 years ago. Now it’s used to implement strategies that were inconceivable just three years ago. New approaches can separate and new technology can accelerate. What goes into the making of a Best Picture? It’s more than just film, it’s artistry.

Teacher Pay and Motivation: What is Fair?

There are a lot of people hurting as this recession drags on. At least six million people have been without a job for more than six months. There’s anger.

And there’s resentment. Currently teachers are the target and it means a review of their total compensation. Pay, health benefits, pension, time off, and tenure are all seen as unfair in the face of the constant rhetoric of how US students are falling behind on international test scores. Logic says: poor test scores = poor performance = a loss of jobs. If you’re one of the six million people without a job that’s the bitter pill you’ve swallowed.

Although the focus is often on teacher pay, I don’t think that’s the case. The real angst is for tenure. And teaching is one profession that I don’t feel like pay is as important as it is in other industries. The sparkle in a kid’s eye as they figure out multiplication is the seminal motivator of most good teacher.

I’ve stated in other posts that I feel tests are over utilized as a measurement for teachers. Tests should be used to reinforce weak areas for kids development, but it should be coupled with something that kids produce. Creating something involves many more levels of learning, whether it’s creativity and problem solving or math and engineering, and that should be used to judge teachers.

Below is an interesting 60 Minutes report that highlights pay as a performance element for teachers:

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

February 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for February 2011 (based on the job report):


Net gain
of 192,000 jobs in the month
(Revised in March to a gain of 194,000)

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 190,000
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 220,000
    • Private service producing industries added 152,000
    • Goods producing industries gained 70,000


  • December was revised to a gain of 152,000 from a revision of 121,000 and an original reading of 103,000
  • January was revised to a gain of 68,000 from a revision of 63,000 and an original reading of 36,000 gain
  • Payroll processor ADP reported an employment gain of 217,000 jobs
    • 46% of the 217,000 came from small business (firms with less than 50 employees)


  • 6.0 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term
    unemployed) – down from 6.2 million last month
    and 6.4 two months ago

    • 43.9% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – up from 43.8% last month (the overall population count has changed resulting in one number improving positively, but another appearing to be negative compared to last month)
  • Employers
    announced plans to cut 50,702 jobs in February, a subdued number but a year over year increase (42,090 in Feb 2010)

Unemployment rate dropped to 8.9%

  • Analysts predicted it would rise to 9.1%
  • The unemployment rate dipped below 9.0% for the first time 21 months
  • Last month there was an oddity of a low increase in jobs but a large drop in unemployment rate. After further inspection this is the result of an unusual squeeze of the components to this equation Number of people in the workforce (civilian labor force) – number of people with jobs (employed) = number of unemployed people.
    • The civilian labor force shrunk a little more than a normal drop with people dropping out of the labor force and the number of people with jobs increased a touch resulting in a significant drop in the unemployment rate
    • The “Not in Labor Force” number rose by 2.4 million people from February 2010 to February 2011

  • The labor force
    participation rate is 64.2% (66.5% is average to good) – unchanged
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.4% – unchanged
  • The
    U-6
    report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part
    time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped to 15.9% from 16.1%.
  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 61.4% and the 21th consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running
  • Service
    sector activity rose to 59.7%, up from 59.4% last month. It was the
    15th straight month of growth

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 33,000 jobs
  • Construction gained 33,000 jobs (lost 32,000 so an even start to the year)
  • Retailers lost 8,100 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 21,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 30,000, all state or local
  • Education and Health Services grew by 40,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 36,200

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 47,000
    • 15,500 jobs gained in Temporary Help (lost jobs last month after several months of gains)

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $647.56 – an increase of $1.94 and a $3.35 positive change from December, 2010. $19.08 gain in the last year (there’s been low inflation so this is good)
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.33 – flat from last month
  • Average
    weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on
    private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is
    33.5 hours, up slightly from 33.4

Bureau of Labor Statistics

An Economic Transition – Negotiate It

    Jurgis talked lightly about work, because he was young. They told him stories about the breaking down of men, there in the stockyards of Chicago, and of what had happened to them afterwwards – stories to make your flesh creep, but Jurgis would only laugh. He had only been there four months, and he was young, and a giant besides. There was too much health in him. He could not even imagine how it would feel to be beaten. “That is well enough for men like you,” he would say, “silpnas, puny fellows – but my back is broad.”
    Jurgis was like a boy, a boy from the country. He was the sort of man the bosses like to get hold of, the sort they make it a grievance they cannot get hold of. When he was told to go to a certain place, he would go there on the run. When he had nothing to do for the moment, he would stand round fidgeting, dancing, with the overflow of energy that was in him. If he were working in a line of men, the line always moved too slowly for him, and you could pick him out by his impatience and restlessness. That was why he had been picked out on one important occasion; for Jurgis had stood outside of Brown and Company’s “Central Time Station” not more than half an hour, the second day of his arrival in Chicago, before he had been beckoned by on of the bosses. Of this he was very proud, and it made him more disposed than ever to laugh at the pessimists. In vain would they all tell him that there were men in that crowd from which he had been chosen who had stood there a month – yes, many months – and not been chosen yet. “Yes,” he would say, “but what sort of men? Broken-down tramps and good-for-nothings, fellows who have spent all their money drinking, and want to get more for it. Do you want me to believe that with these arms” – and he would clench his fists and hold them up in the air, so that you might see the rolling muscles – “that with these arms people will ever let me starve?”

This is the beginning of Chapter 2 of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Jurgis Rudkus, an immigrant looking for the American Dream – opportunity, is confident in his physical strength. He has an ability for stockyard work.

The Jungle is often cited as the catalyst for work reform in the US. It was published in 1905 and the industrial revolution was picking up steam; the transition from an agricultural capitalism into a manufacturing one was well underway.

Here we are a little over a 100 years later and another transition is under way. The economy is moving from being goods producing to services and intellectual based. And we are experiencing a fundamental change in the relationship between employer and employee. For instance unions were an off shoot of what Sinclair set in motion. Unions, or collective bargaining, raised the standards for total compensation for all workers. Health care, vacation, and pay levels all improved.

But in today’s age, unions have a dramatically smaller participation rate and there seems to be a general animosity towards them. I can reason for the low participation rate: they’ve served their purpose and are not seen as needed. But the animosity is sort of bewildering to me. I suppose it’s because of the handling of terminations. There’s a notion that someone in a union can’t be fired. For the most part that isn’t true. But I understand it portrays an unfair situation. We, as Americans, believe the best should be rewarded. And the opposite is true too: those that don’t perform are let go.

As I mentioned before, we are transitioning to a different nature of our economy. In a goods producing economy, unions play an important role because the difference in work performed is small. But in a intellectual economy the difference between someone who designs a new microprocessor chip and someone who monitors the ripeness of apples at the grocery store is vast. Should the two jobs only be differentiated by pay grades? Are health care, vacation, and other benefits a given? At one point they were, but with competition being so tough, they are all up for review.

In the long run, it’s tough to review cuts to benefits without the inclusion of the employee. The job structure of the economy assumes certain consistencies. Skills are acquired based on those consistencies – Wall Street pays well, so Harvard graduates go to work there and teaching doesn’t pay well, but it affords flexibility and continued learning opportunities.

From a business perspective, it’s always better to negotiate. Whether it’s with your suppliers or your  workforce. It’s the American Dream.

Your Greatest Weakness

I’m the type of person who relies on metaphors and analogies. It’s just the way I absorb information. So as the sun shone on my face this past weekend, I couldn’t resist comparing the first warm up of the season to the optimism of a reborn employment market. Just like Chance the gardener said in Being ThereIn the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

With hiring thawing out, the inevitable uptick in interviews will commence and we’ll see more media stories about the topic. For instance, over to HBR.org Priscilla Claman has a great blog entry called The Worst Interview Question (and How to Answer It). The focus of the writing is on the question:

 “What is your greatest weakness?”

The question from an interviewer standpoint is intended to show how the interviewee handles uncomfortable interactions. If an interviewee has prepared well, then it’s hard to gauge whether the interviewee can perform when unknown circumstances come up, which is bound to happen in the workplace. This type of awkwardness can paint the picture of how this person would react.

But as noted in the blog article, there’s downsides to the question. The first is that it can be embarrassing. And starting off a relationship with embarrassment is not usually a good idea. There’s lots of movies like this. The second is that strengths and weaknesses change depending on the culture and function the person is involved with. For instance, I love analogies is that a weakness? It depends. Because of this grey area interviewees create work around answers like “I’m a workaholic” so they don’t paint themselves into a corner.

However, as the blog states, there are a few good ways to reply. Check
out the cheesy xtranormal video I created this weekend while messing
around for an example.

 

 

http://www.xtranormal.com/site_media/players/jw_player_v54/player.swf

Working Thoughts 2/15/09
NatGeo Has Me Hooked Lately

Working Thoughts 2/15/08
Teachers Who Have the Creative Freedom to Teach

A Dan Pink Speaking Experience

A couple of weeks ago I was staring at my computer screen and in comes an Instant Message asking if I knew Dan Pink was speaking in Charlotte? The IM was from Jill, a work friend for over 10 years. I had no idea about the event, but I was excited. She sent me the link to the UNCC NEXT Speaker Series and I promptly bought a $40 ticket.

The day of the event arrived, but I wasn’t sure where to go. The Blumenthal has several stages and the one I was looking for was the Booth Playhouse. Luckily, there was an event before hand for networking, so I figured I could follow the crowd. It was easy. There were several people standing in the hall welcoming Dan Pink fans and pointing to will call for picking up tickets. I was in extrovert mode and introduced myself to several other attendees, but the response I got was uncomfortable friendliness, forced smiles and all. After a few of these interactions, I realized the people I was trying to chat up were college professors. Maybe they aren’t used to networking in a real business world? Undaunted, I bought a beer and spotted someone who wasn’t part of the school clique. I introduced myself to Darren and we discussed Pink’s books.

Although we are standing in the lobby of a small theatre, it sort of feels like a post modern fashion store. There are doors at the ends, but the entire area is visible through clear windows. I wasn’t at the mall, but I could have sworn I saw some t-shirts on sale for $250. Thankfully, Jill arrived and we discussed our day of work.

We decided to head in early to get a good seat. I heard it was interactive so I wanted to be near the front. However, when we walked in I was very stunned to see the first eight rows or so were reserved for VIPs. It isn’t a big venue so this preferential seating situation was a bit much. For $40 I should be able to sit close.

I met another friend as we were deciding where to sit. My inner voice was screaming “yea!” that this friend showed up. There’s always a rewarding feeling when someone else tries out music, a book, or a restaurant you suggested and this was the same appreciation.

The lights dimmed and the last few seats were taken. I noticed Peter Gorman, the Superintendent of the Charlotte-Mechklenberg schools, sitting across from us – not a VIP either. I’m not sure who kicked it off. It was either the Chanceller or the President of UNCC. He was kind of funny. The Dean of the Business School then introduced Dan to the audience.

I’ve viewed most of the videos for Drive and was nervous that Dan would stick to the script. He mostly followed the themes but he certainly was able to ad lib. He did his homework and talked about the local area some. He quizzed the audience about motivation and interacted with a few different guests. Throughout the session some slides were used to highlight the research that reinforced his points. Time flew by and it felt like it was short, but he spoke for about 70 min.

Overall, I enjoyed my first Dan Pink speaker series. I went with friends and made some connections. Next time I’m going to penetrate the inner circle though 🙂

Working Thoughts 2/10/09
Sustaining Large Economic Growth is Key for the US

January 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for January 2011 (based on the job report):


Net gain
of 36,000 jobs in the month
(revised in March to a gain of 68,000)

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 149,000
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 50,000
    • Private service producing industries added 32,000
    • Goods producing industries gained 18,000


  • December was revised to a gain of 152,000 from a revision of 121,000 and from an original reading of 103,000
  • November was revised to a gain of 93,000 from a revised reading of 71,000 and an original reading of 39,000 gain
  • October was revised to a gain of 171,000 from a second revision of 210,000 a revised reading of 172,000 and an original reading of 151,000
  • Payroll processor ADP reported an employment gain of 187,000 jobs (a revised 247,000 jobs in December, 2010)
    • The ADP survey and the Jobs Report survey aren’t usually this varying in their results, which, coupled with other data, makes people think the economy is shifting and the models used in the Government report are not currently effective

  • The Labor Department estimates there were 886,000 workers who had a job but couldn’t get to work due to weather (5th largest account of this situation) – if true, this means the real gain in jobs is estimated to be 200,000
  • 6.2 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term
    unemployed) – down from 6.4 million last month

    • 43.8% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – down from 44.3% last month and up from 41.9% in November, 2010
  • Employers announced plans to cut 38,519 jobs in January, a 20% increase over December, according to outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. This is a really low number because it usually averages just over 100,000 for the month of January every year
  • Benchmark revisions were made for April 2009 to March of 2010 and show combined additional loss of 215,000 jobs during that period
  • Overall, it was a  confusing report – the numbers seem to contradict each other

Unemployment rate dropped to 9.0%

  • Analysts predicted it would rise to 9.5%
  • The 0.8% drop in a span of two months is rare: only 4 larger two month declines on record and those were in the 1940s and 1950s
  • The unemployment rate has been at 9% or higher for 21 months
  • Normally, when a decrease in the unemployment number happens without a very large number of new jobs it means people have dropped out of the count, but that isn’t the case this month – this is odd (504,000 people did drop out though)
  • The labor force
    participation rate is 64.2% (66.5% is average to good) – relatively unchanged
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.4% – relatively unchanged from 58.3% last month
  • The
    U-6
    report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part
    time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped to 16.1% from 16.7%.
    This reflects an even greater decrease seen in the overall unemployment rate (9.0% from 9.4%)
  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 57% and the 20th consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running
  • Service sector activity rose to 59.4%, up from 57.1% last month. It was the 14th straight month of growth and the highest reading since August 2005
  • 2010 fourth quarter productivity is reported at 2.6% and annualized at 3.6%

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 49,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 32,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 27,500 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 3,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 14,000, Federal lost 2,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 13,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 12,900

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 31,000
    • 11,400 jobs lost in Temporary Help (had been gaining for several months)

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $645.96 – an increase of $1.42
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.34
  • Average
    weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on
    private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is
    33.4 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

The Train with No Known Destination

Last week news broke of Eric Schmidt leaving the CEO post at Google. He’s replaced by Larry Page. Speculation is that Schmidt no longer felt he was in control of the company. The triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt had become a duopoly of Brin and Page, the founders. The genesis of their relationship is rooted in the need for someone who knew how to run a big company – Schmidt. Around 2000 when Google was  preparing to go public it was growing at an immense rate. The size of the company had surpassed the experience level of 20 somethings. The founders would concentrate on a start up atmosphere of constant disruption. Disruption is where money is made.

At some point, every successful company grows out of it’s novelty state. The disruption becomes the norm. Competitors look for weakness and stagnant ideas. Being a perpetual start up is the dream of people like Brin and Page. But how do you do it?

Intelligent continual employee turnover.

The enterprise must become a train with no known destination, just stops letting people get on and get off. When the enterprise becomes “the destination” then protection ensues. People can be very good at their jobs, but if they are doing the same thing for more than three years then you have to wonder why? Why isn’t the job evolving? Why isn’t it automated? Why is it needed?

Many large companies, including Google, want to be smaller. Being nimble is key. But wanting a start up mentality and structurally building it in to the culture is not the same. There are a lot of tough conversations to be had. For instance, Netflix has a running practice of “adequate performance gets a generous severance package” and they apply a keeper test which is pretty simple: which people would you fight to keep, at any cost, if they told you they were leaving in two months? This is supplemented by honest conversations about the employee’s commitment and ability to deliver. No surprises.

The NY Times in their weekly section called The Corner Office interviewed Jeremy Allaire, chairman and chief executive of Brightcove. He talked about his conversations with his work force. He said he asks them “What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to head?” This survey reinforces the need to be ever improving.

When the culture of the company is to evolve the job, to morph it, to leave it, or to destroy it (automate) then, as an employee, you know when it’s time for a change. Just ask Google.

Picking the Best Team

“You wouldn’t believe it.” he says, although I’m sure I not only would believe it, but I can top it. “I was in first place in my league until Aaron Rodgers has a concussion and has to sit out. My back up was whoever the guy is from the Lions.” I pretended to listen, but I’m really thinking about my own team. These fantasy football stories aren’t for the person hearing the story, they’re for the person telling it. Occasionally it’s about how they won the league, but much more often, the tale is about a loss. “If Rodgers didn’t get hurt…” There’s always an “if.” He’ll be back next year.

The beauty of fantasy football is every year you get to pick your team. Most of the elite players – the A players – are taken in a draft or auction. The handful you select become your guys, your team. You then get a chance to pick up free agents during the season to supplement the team. It’s fun to look over the team and watch on Sundays.

Robots

Something similar is happening in the business world. We’ve hit a sweet spot with demand and productivity and it’s creating a Fantasy Football type of workforce.

Suppose for simplicity sake there are five types of employees – A, B, C, D, and F.

F
- Isn't skilled for the job
- Doesn't show up on time
- Doesn't care
D
- Isn't skilled for the job
- Shows up on time
- Training doesn't work
- Tries hard
C
- Skilled for the job
- Doesn't do anything beyond what is asked
- Performance is adequate
- Must be trained for every part of the job
B
- Skilled for the job
- Performance is good
- Quickly learns new aspects of the job
A
- Skilled for the job
- Performance is excellent
- Quickly learns new aspects of the job
- Can proactively expand the scope of the role
- Able to streamline or automate aspects of the job

 

Normally a big company, and for shorter durations, a smaller one too, will tolerate D employees in the hopes that they can become at least a C employee. But when the economy is tough F, D, and many C employees are let go. The business just can’t support them. This is your basic business cycle economy or put another way, aggregate demand for goods and services is down. When people stop buying, revenue suffers and revenue pays the bills like payroll and health care.

But what’s weird is corporate profits hit an all time high in the third quarter of 2010. A staggering $1.66 trillion. Up from $1.61 trillion in the second quarter and $1.30 trillion in the third quarter of 2009. A tremendous growth rate. Well, when you look closer at it, much of the third quarter growth was from the financial industry and the value of those gains tend to be theoretical or only materialize over long horizons.  But either way, profits are out there and cash is sitting on the books of many large companies. So why aren’t they hiring?

The reason is because of demand and the A employees. Demand is just enough to keep the machines running and creating economies of scale opportunities. But demand isn’t too high to hire extra workers (temporary hires are filling the gaps when needed) to pick up the slack. Meanwhile A employees are reviewing how the processes work and identifying inefficiencies. They are re-engineering their companies without causing disruption. Productivity goes up and meets a slowly improving demand level. The cycle continues.

A employees are talented and are getting raises. And just like in Fantasy Football, they are carrying their teams. If the raise isn’t there, they are being cherry picked by other companies.

This somewhat sounds like a structural economy issue as well. The demand is there, but the skills for the D, C, and B employees aren’t. This is an effect of globalization. The demand is there, but it’s being met not in the US, but in countries like India and China – manufacturing jobs particularly.  This doesn’t spell doom for D, C, and B employees because the scales tend to even out. The rising tide (cheap labor isn’t so cheap) in countries like China will make companies look again at the US, but while that is happening, education – learning how to problem solve – needs to take priority. Otherwise, their skills won’t be differentiated from other workers and other countries. We need more A employees.

This isn’t about labor anymore. It’s about talent. Elite performers get picked and others just fill out the roster or so the story goes.

Working Thoughts 1/11/2008
Examine Each Job as One of Many Crime Scenes

Working Thoughts 1/11/2009
Different Paths to Owning a Professional Sports Team

Working Thoughts 1/11/2010
Job Creation in the 2000s?

As Time Goes By, Is the Economy Getting Better or Worse?

It’s time to look back two years ago and see what happened. The trough of the unemployment situation started October 2008 and abated some by April 2009. The losses in those months were historic: -554,000, -728,000, -673,000, -779,000, -726,000, -753,000, and -528,000. A normal really bad month is -250,000. These numbers were 3 times that. All told some 4,741,000 jobs were lost during this time period and remember, this is just the bottom of the trough.

As time passes employment seems to be improving. Just today a key benchmark was surpassed: the weekly jobless claims fell below 400,000 for the first time in two years. These are people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time.

Two years is 104 weeks and unemployment benefits last, at their longest, 99 weeks. It’s estimated that 3,500,000 people are no longer eligible. This social safety net, weak as it is, is gone for an additional 1.13% of the US population. There are two questions now. First, have, or will, these individuals acquire skills that are needed in the marketplace? Second, are they geographically trapped (can they move to a location that does need their skills)? Perhaps it’s a new era of the migrant worker. “Make no mistake, moving is living.”

The answers to these questions will have potentially costly effects on the US economy as conditions slowly improve.

Which reminds me of a year ago. I saw and enjoyed a George Clooney movie called Up in the Air. Clooney plays an employee of a company that conducts lay offs for other companies. Although, the movie coincided with a year into the recession (end of 2009) the theme was about layoffs. There were several scenes featuring people who are shocked, heart broken, and terrified about what is next for them. It’s a stomach punch.

A year or so later comes another similar movie called The Company Men. It stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones as three men let go from their jobs. The movie is about their emotional fight of being someone who no longer has a work identity. But as Up in the Air was about ending the employment relationship, The Company Men is about redefining it.