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

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.

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?

November 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for November 2010 (based on the job report):


Net gain
of 39,000 jobs in the month

  • Private sector payrolls increased by 50,000
    • Down from 160,000 last month
    • Worst performance in 10 months

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 150,000
  • September was revised to a loss of 24,000 jobs from an original reading of 95,000 lost and a revised loss of 41,000
  • October was revised to a gain of 172,000 from an original reading of 151,000
  • The revisions for August, September, and October added 145,000 jobs to the economy
  • 6.1
    million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term
    unemployed) – virtually unchanged from August, September, and October

    • 41.9% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – inched up from 41.8% last month and 41.7% the month before
  • The main type of hire was for Temporary Help Service (+40,000) and since September of 2009 this employment has improved by 494,000
    • Its normally an indicator of an improving economic cycle, but a year of it indicates uncertain business conditions

  • Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), shows that job openings increased by 351,000 in October
  • The total number of job openings in October was 3.4 million, while the total number of unemployed workers was 14.8 million
  • The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings improved to 4.4-to-1 in October

Unemployment rate went up to 9.8%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The unemployment rate has been over 9% for 19 months – the longest such streak since the early ’80s
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.2% – relatively 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), stayed at 17.0%. This indicates the increase of the unemployment rate to 9.8% is a reflection of more people actively looking for jobs in November (these individuals are only counted if they are actively looking)
  • The unemployment rate for those with a college education is 5.1%
    • Highest in 40 years

  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 56.6% and the 19th consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running
  • Productivity, measured for the quarter, showed tepid growth of 2.3%

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 13,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 5,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 28,100 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 11,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 11,000, Federal gained 2,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 30,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 34,000

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 53,000
    • 39.500 jobs added in Temporary Help

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $642.87 – a decrease of $1.91
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.19
  • Average
    weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on
    private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is
    33.5 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

Scared of Ideas or Open to Change?

He hears the alarm clock, hits snooze, and lays there for ten minutes somewhere between sleep and awake. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg plays:

He does what I think is one of the hardest things in the world to do, he puts the first foot on the floor in the morning. He goes to the bathroom, runs the shower, and peers into the mirror. Everyday its the same. Same time, same song, same struggle. Everyday.

Routines are good for many aspects of our lives. We need to focus on what is different in our environment and routines keep us safe to do so. But the comfort of a routine can be disabling as well. For instance, there’s a field of study called Terror Management Theory and it describes what people do to repress an awareness of mortality. Here’s an excerpt from HarvardBusinessReview.com called Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines which enumerates three means for warding off these thoughts:

Studies show that we create three existential buffers to protect us from this knowledge: Consistency allows us to see the world as orderly, predictable, familiar, and safe. Standards of justice allow us to establish and enforce a code of what’s good and fair. Culture imbues us with the sense that we have contributed to, and are participating in, a larger and enduring system of beliefs.

As a manager it’s important to know which of your employees are lulled into this perceived safe zone and will need some coaxing when change is on the horizon. They’ll want to hold onto the way things are – they’re good at them, they understand what’s expected, and they are familiar – but it’s counterproductive. You’ll need to invest in re-establishing these buffers for them…

Unless they are risk takers. Many entrepreneurs don’t like routines. They want constant change with a little bit of chaos mixed in. Companies like Google seek them out because they tend to be disruptors and a disruption can be a money maker. Just last week the NY Times ran an article about how Google gave 10% raises across the board. Google’s growth has brought with it the bureaucracy of a big company. Some entrepreneurs are fleeing the company. The reason is because they can’t affect change quick enough. Their supply of patience is sapped.

Both types of worker, the comfort in routine and the risk taker, must answer this question posed by Bob Brennan of Iron Mountain to this employees:

What do you recommend we do?

You can get a real sense for who’s invested in moving the company forward, and who’s watching the company go by, with that very simple question.

Q. Why?

A. People lay out problems all the time. If they’ve thought through what should be done from here, then you’ve got somebody who’s in the game, who wants to move, and you can unlock that potential. Bystander apathy or the power of observation, in and of itself, is not very valuable. There are amazingly eloquent diagnosticians throughout the business world. They can break down a problem and say, “Here’s your problem.” But it’s prescriptions that matter. So how do we move from here, and what specifically do you recommend?

Working Thoughts 11/29/07
It’s Not a Recession but it Sure Feels like It

Working Thoughts 11/29/08
There Are Jobs for Low Level Employees?

Inspiration and Institutions

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of several best sellers including a favorite of mine The Tipping Point, wrote a New Yorker article last week about the bonds of Social Networking tools like Twitter and Facebook. To explain his point he describes the fears and risks of the “sit in” generation of the 1960s. Social change at that time required a particular type of nerve: courage and restraint. It was needed because the threats, occasionally deadly, were often carried out. They knew they had to endure because their weakness would lead to weakness in others. Gladwell calls these strong bonds.

6.2 million people have been unemployed for more than six months. Being without work for that long is troubling to the mind. Being available in case something comes up and the instability of simply not knowing is tough. Plus it’s lonely. But 6.2 million is a big number and it means there’s probably someone within your community who is in the same predicament. That is where a site called Unemployed-Friends.com comes in. It’s a means for those without work to exchange messages, thoughts, and prospects. But besides the fringe benefits of venting, it’s a market for helping each other. That’s the genius of it, these people have time and unused skills available. And this is just the short term benefit. Strong bonds might be the long term benefit.

When I was about eight years old, I remember the pull the professional wrestling. “Who won Wrestlemania?” I’d ask my dad because it was too late for me to stay up. This was the ’80s and wrestling wasn’t obvious about the scripted action yet. People like Hulk Hogan would get the crowd going with their back stage interviews. In the late ’90s a resurgence followed and people could smell what The Rock was cooking. The camera would pan the stands and see signs with clever sayings like “Hogan was a Flintstone” and “This Space for Rent.” Everyone would chant the catch phrases and nothing would be better than Jerry Lawyler’s high pitch announcement of a surprise wrestler “WHAT?! That’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music!” Simply exciting.

But this type of connection is weak. It’d only last while the entertainment was going and then it was time to move on to something else. I think this is what Gladwell was trying to get across with his New Yorker piece. That Twitter and other Social Networks are forms of entertainment and have no lasting kinship. But we are also in a society where the threat of an act is all that is needed. It’s pretty powerful. So getting a few thousand signatures via facebook isn’t the same as a “sit-in” but it sends the message to the offending party that they could be in a costly confrontation. And then they have to decide if it’s worth it.

I mention all this because I think a real test of these tools is underway. The US election cycle for 2012 will begin in about six weeks. About a year later we’ll begin to see a lot of movement around a third party candidate. Thomas Friedman in the NY Times writes about the idea in a Op-Ed piece called Third Party Rising . He should have used a former wrestler as an example – Jesse Ventura ran a grass roots campaign in the mid ’90s, about the time the Rock was cooking, and became governor of Minnesota. Michael Bloomberg might give it a shot, we’ll see, but I don’t think a third party can win, but he can get close, and the mere threat should send shock waves to the Democrat and Republican Parties. From a business perspective, the time is right to capitalize on the on coming need and use of the strong and weak bonds.

Working Thoughts 10/4/08
September 2008 Jobs Report and Wages

He Quit His Job and the World Got Richer – The Khan Academy

There are 1440 minutes in a day. That’s 120 opportunities, in one day, to consume a video from Salman Khan. He’s a game changer for education. He started The Khan Academy , a video tutorial service using only Youtube and his knowledge base. There are 1600+ videos and each one usually runs a little more than 11 minutes.

I often rebuke the notion we are failing at math and science. We can improve, that is for sure, but testing memorization isn’t really learning. Videos like Khan’s help students get their feet on the ground. They can rewatch it, ask questions of their teachers, and cross reference it with Google, Wikipedia, and other traditional resources.

Bill Gates has taken notice as well. The reason is because the teaching methods are simplistic. And because of that, the distribution can go wide. The relative cost and investment is so low that it creates a novel not-for-profit business.

I’m curious about the net positive effect of this type of education. The aggregate benefit of short videos for tutorials, video games for problem solving, music for creativity, and blogs and twitter for cleverness is immense. The structure of learning is not only a class room.