Monday, May 19, 2008

Leading From Strengths

My strengths, according to the Now, Discover Your Strengths Finder are:


I discovered these strengths about six years ago when my friend Susan gave me Marcus O. Buckingham's book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and insisted that I take the Strengths survey. I am so glad that I did.

Funny thing about discovering my strengths was that I previewed the list of strengths that were possible and pegged the five that I thought surely described me. It turns out that I was completely, 5 for 5 wrong. Not one of the things that I believed about myself turned up as a strength. At first, this really peeved me. It negated what I thought of myself. But, the more I thought about it, and certainly now six years later, understanding that I had hidden, untapped, undiscovered strengths was a major turning point for me. It was really the beginning of my building a dream that started from the inside and was well-suited to what was me and part of my nature. Focusing on my strengths, I was able to start to construct my vision instead of conscripting myself to others' dreams and ideas, be they those of my parents, my spouse, or society at large. For me, the experience felt like the confining box of
shoulds exploding, and the possibility of new and unconsidered leaping forth.

One of the busted thoughts I had was about being a leader. I was raised with a pretty traditional top-of-the-heap idea of
The Leader. He, (rarely she), was the one who fought the hardest, the one who survived the most attacks, and eventually attacked proactively to protect his status and his turf. I am from parents who lived that and fostered that sense of dogged competitiveness, even among us siblings. I married a distance swimmer, a competitive spirit a bred of its own.

Now, having embraced the ideas and ideals of empathy, connectedness, learning, and especially, activator, I have an understanding of leadership that is collaborative, connected to root ideals in an organization, and more about fostering discovery and problem-solving than persuasion or demanding do-as-I-say allegiance. I work hard to activate others' awareness so that fuller and more expansive decisions can be reached. I help create better analytical thinkers that consider more data, different types of data, more possibilities, and lead their team to right-for-us solutions. I activate curiosity and a motivation to learn where it has fallen dormant. And, I am adaptable to most people's amazement because I connect bodies of information in ways they never could. And, all of this I didn't see in myself just a few years ago.

Once I accepted I had been projecting and influencing the weaker aspects of myself, I started actively developing my strengths. Equally important, I actively try to match my weaknesses with others' strengths. Thankfully, my husband has strengths in totally different areas than me. Together we cover more strength area, and we have learned to defer to each other's strengths. Also, we think of each other as the embodiment of unique strengths, acknowledging our separateness and our partnership. Your whole relationship with someone -- be they your spouse, your co-worker, your boss, or your child -- changes when you see and value their strengths. And, of course, when you see and value your own.

The amazing paradigm shift that Buckingham's work offers is this: you will be happier and more successful if you work to develop and leverage your strengths instead of the opposite, which we were taught all through school -- to work like heck to better your weaknesses.

Now, I always lead from my strengths. Discovering your strengths, (the newest version is called Strengths 2.0) is an important first step for anyone interested in being your most authentic, capable self.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Just Google It"

I have to underscore what Ian Jukes writes in his blog yesterday about ADHD being so prevalent "in US, Canada, Britain and a little bit in New Zealand and Australia." Jukes writes:

We hear complaints all the time that kids just can’t concentrate – they can’t focus – they can’t even remember the names of the states or their capitals. Meanwhile, as Bob Hughes points out, the kids are thinking, “Why in the world do I have to memorize this when I can Google the answer in 2 seconds?” This is all happening while the teacher is thinking, “What’s a Google?”And that same kid, who can’t remember the names of the states or the capitals, can instantly and enthusiastically tell you the lyrics from a 1000 songs or the characteristics of dozens of game figures.

What Jukes so simply and beautifully illustrates is the importance of relevance. We live in a forever changed, chronically changing, digital world that is becoming increasingly information laded and socially interconnected. We don't have a choice in this reality. It just is.

Why should a child memorize state capitals when they can Google it in seconds? Kids are asking this question, as are their parents.

If the answer is because we have always done it that way, WONK!!!! you lose, and so do your students and their parents. If the answer is because we have not considered doing it differently, or we don't know what good alternatives are, well, that is a honest starting point and you can build a new system from there. What is the new framework of knowledge and skills needed when information is so accessible and available? The answer to this question is not easy, nor obvious, but I know it is the right question.

I think the question about memorizing state capitals is reflective of a school's mindset regarding education in the 21st century. It seems to be a simple question but I think it cuts to the core. A school's answer reflects a head-in-the-sand-make-the-world-go-away sort of denial or a brave determination to be relevant.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Talent Anxiety In Global World

In a recent post at Bnet, Jessica Stillman blogs about a finding from The EquaTerra Globalization Study where more than 500 business leaders in North America, Europe and Asia shared their opinions about globalization. Stillman concludes that U.S. leaders are more worried than their European and Asian counterparts about finding and retaining talent. She poses this question:

"What’s behind the anxiety of U.S. business leaders? Is the issue simply that not enough Americans are getting the training and skills they need to succeed? Or are Europeans bosses finding it easier to lure talent from around the world?"

I like this question about what is behind the anxiety of U.S business leaders because it points to 2 important prongs in the talent issue - creating a skilled workforce and hiring skilled workers. I think getting the best talent available for U.S. companies is inextricably tied to the quality and the effectiveness of the U.S. education system starting at the primary ages in producing skilled, motivated workers who are poised to be lifelong learners. Without a reliable, plentiful pool of homegrown talent to pull from, U.S. CEOs have no option but to seek talent elsewhere. For this reason, business leaders as community stakeholders should take the time to weight in heavily and forcefully on the education conversation with discussion, direction, resources, and shared responsibility toward solutions. Businesses have a lot of problem-solving knowledge to share as well as an important role to play in quantifying and communicating their needs for the future.

My dialogue-furthering question would be how about it? Why not get together and build what serves the education/skill needs of all critically involved? Why not define together what is needed, as David Brooks says, in The Cognitive Age?

Who can we count on to lead this skills revolution?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Importance of Relevance

Time article, The Five Mistakes Clinton Made by Karen Tumulty lists 5 mistakes Clinton has made in Campaign '08. Tumulty never uses this word, but I think it describes the fundamental overarching mistake of the Clinton campaign. The word? Relevance.

The five mistakes Tumulty cites regarding Clinton are:

1. She misjudged the mood.
2. She didn't master the rules.
3. She underestimated the caucus states.
4. She relied on old money.
5. She never counted on a long haul.

Let me point them all to relevance:

1. Washington is perceived as clannish, myopic, and mired in gridlock. Most of America see Washington insiders as turf-protecting instead of vision-making. Running as an experienced incumbate, Clinton was irrelevant to what people want - change. A leader in any industry must survey the mood of the market and lead to its unarticulated needs and desires.

2. Clinton picked her team based on loyalty not talent. In the game today, regardless of the industry, you need the best creative thinkers and doers. And, you need people that don't think like you so that your own thinking grows and expands. You need people around you that change your current understanding. The loyal ones are often the ones that confirm and validate the status quo. The measuring stick of loyalty over talent is an irrelevant standard in today's competitive, dynamic business environment. Change-makers outpace turf-protectors any more.

3. Caucuses are about connection and conversation. Social media is an exploding phenomenon. Couple a conversational forum with young people entering the process in record numbers and caucuses are more relevant and more important than going to the polls and pulling a lever. The Clinton people didn't see or value this. They didn't accurately see the new, relevant landscape.

4. Here Comes Everybody and The Wisdom of Crowds are a relevant, underestimated market shift. Entering the general election, which would you rather have: an enthusiastic nationwide army of volunteers or some wealthy backers.

5. Micro-management, a left-brain skill, is ineffective alone. Micro makes sense in the context of macro, a right-brain skill. Relevance in today's business environment tips to right brain skills. You need the big picture to make meaning of the whole. In fact, it is best to start with the big picture to solidify the non-negotiable goals and ideals of any project.

The process of the Clinton campaign can be said to have been out of sync or irrelevant to the marketplace.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Importance of Empathy

Last year I facilitated a day-long learning discussion about empathy, one of the six senses in Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind. I brought together leaders from a school and a children's hospital to talk about empathy. These groups seemed well suited to talk about empathy because a school and a hospital are both empathic businesses. They both have to operate efficiently and effectively (numbers driven) yet they deal with people (high need for empathy) at every turn. Some of the beginning questions were what is empathy? Why is empathy important in the health care environment and the learning environment? Can you measure and develop empathy as a skill?

You can measure empathy. You can develop empathy. And, there is much to be gained by doing both.

Recently I came across a post by Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child's Strength, that reminded me of A Whole New Mind. The triggering word was meaning, also one of Dan Pink's six senses. Fox's post, Parents Help Children Map Out A Meaningful Future, declares that "our young people deserve to discover a path in life that is full of meaning." Fox states how important it is to ask our kids about what they like, what they believe they are good at, and how important it is to take our children's ideas seriously. Fox notices that "adults have forgotten what it actually feels like to be a child." To me this can be translated as we have lost our empathy for children, childhood, innocence, and dreams. Fox directs us adults to think back and remember our childhood experiences and our childhood ideals.

By asking adults, both parents and teachers, to tap into childhood and school memories, both the good and the painful, what Fox is doing is helping us get in touch with our empathy. I find that we adults can become too task-oriented so much so that we lose sight of the real job at hand for parents and for teachers, which is to support children in experiencing and learning about the world and their place in it. Often we adults become more concerned with getting items off our to-do lists than motivating the curiosity of children. A motivated and curious child is a learner. By doing whatever we can do to foster curiosity, by promoting dreaming and idealistic passions and goals, I believe we can instill in our children a motivation to learn that will last a life long. Today's children, tomorrow's leaders. It begins with empathy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Minutes Start Ticking

I have an 8th grade son. After having lunch with Bob Compton, executive producer of the documentary film, 2 Million Minutes, I attended my son's school athletic banquet that evening. It was a lovely, uplifting event. But, I must confess that, with a sense of a limited time window, I sat there and tallied the collective hours people in the room had devoted to our cultural priority of sports. Was this a productive use of time and talent? The guilt-assuaging thought for me was oh well, this has been a learning and character-building pursuit in middle school, and now, it is time to get serious. With the end of 8th grade, my son's 2 million minutes start ticking.

My husband and I are starting to talk about the idea of our son getting his GED so that we can direct his learning for the next four years instead of following the state mandated guidelines. Some of the reasons that we are beginning to think about this option seriously are grounded in our belief that one's success in life is found in the intersection of talent or strengths and passion. And, that this is true for children as well as adults. Our son's strengths include conceptual math (although he is terrible at arithmetic), problem-solving, and oral and visual communication. Also, we believe that there is extreme value in deep learning as opposed to a survey or surface learning of a lot of subjects. We also know that our son finds school constraining and irrelevant. He has a very hard time understanding why he has to memorize so many things that he could just google and find in seconds. Millions of kids feel as he does, which has led to the new R's of education: rigor, relationship, and relevance. While the Gates Foundation is purporting the new R's, they are based on the big picture thinking of Dennis Littky.

Another contributing factor to our decision is that our son is dyslexic. This makes reading and writing and memorizing very difficult for him. And, it makes him an outlayer in the system. We believe his dyslexia makes him hardwired to be great at other things. In New York Times article, Tracing Business Acumen To Dyslexia, Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she surveyed identified themselves as dyslexic. Logan reports, “We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills... dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems.”

Our decision will take some time and consideration. One thing our son will do in the meantime is to start the deep learning. He will start working on more higher conceptual math via the internet through Tutorvista. And, we will start quantifying the requirements for acceptance to engineering or polytech programs. If we can find an end-around his weaknesses and what he deems as torture, we will walk that path.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Risk of Mediocrity

I had lunch last week with serial entrepreneur Bob Compton who is the executive producer of the movie 2 Million Minutes. The premise of the movie is this: a high school kid has about 2 million minutes to allocate during his/her high school career. The movie follows 6 students from India, China, and the US to see how they spend their time, what they (and their cultures) value.

I asked to meet with Bob Compton because of the grand sense of urgency his film engenders. His message echoes those of Thomas Friedman, Bill Gates, and (in some ways but there are some points of contention) Daniel Pink. (Read transcript of a discussion, Education in a 'Flat World', between Friedman and Pink.) Interestingly, when talking about the mission of his movie, Bob spoke of the difference in mindset of the three cultures. In the movie, you can clearly see the educational mindset of each culture. This portrayal reminded me of what Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in his New York Times editorial, The Educated Giant. Kristof clearly explains the educational mindset of Chinese culture, "A third reason [China is emerging as an education powerhouse] is that Chinese believe that those who get the best grades are the hardest workers. In contrast, Americans say in polls that the best students are the ones who are innately the smartest. The upshot is that Chinese kids never have an excuse for mediocrity."

I don't see mediocrity as an American national value. I think the risk of less than is the most powerful and disturbing issue Bob Compton's movie raises. Can we, as a nation, afford to be less than in our educational standards, output, and values? The implicit context of the movie 2 Million Minutes is that education is only as important as a culture values it to be. We must recognize our academic and educational pursuits visibly, rhetorically, symbolically as a critical priority of our culture. Our brainiacs should hold better social currency than our sports stars, rock stars, and beauty queens.

While this movie offers no neat, easy solutions, it certainly focuses the education conversation in a powerful and critical way. I think it helps create consensus around a critical goal that we must address to remain relevant in the global environment. Our future cannot be built upon mediocrity.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Left Or Right?

A good first step in assessing your own relevance and sustainability is to pay attention to your own dominant brain hemisphere. Are you a left-brain thinker or a right-brain thinker? It is crucial when parsing the skills of each hemisphere to remember what Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, repeats often, left brain skills are essential but not sufficient. We all need well developed left-brain skills; BUT, left brain skills alone are decreasingly relevant in the Concept Age. Being competitively analytical is not a sustainable skill set because the world needs adaptable, flexible, ambidextrious, or, as Pink says, androgynous (equal right and left brain skills) minds.

At the end of A Whole New Mind, Pink ends with this bottom line proposition:

"This new age fairly glitters with opportunity, but it is as unkind to the slow of foot as it is to the rigid of mind."

The slow of foot are those who don't change quick enough. They relish the status quo because it is comfortable. They offer what is comfortable: incremental nods to the broad critical changes in the world. The rigid of mind don't care to see the new realities before them. They see what they have always seen, and see no opportunity, just work, in change. Both will end up irrelevant personally and professionally, as will the organizations they lead.

Which are you, left or right?

1. Quickly clasp your hands together in the most normal and natural way. Look to see which index figure is on top of the heap of interconnected fingers. The brain is contra-lateral which means the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. If your left index finger is on top, you are right-brained. If your right index finger is on top, you are left brained.

2. Which way is the dancer spinning?

3. Notice and ponder how you solve problems and see situations? Are you more concerned with the details of a project or the impact of a project? Are you more parts-to-whole or whole-to-parts? Notice the other people on your team? Is there diversity in the way you think as a team?

Awareness is always the first, surest step.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Draw Right - Brian and His Mom

Call me competitive - I really thought my self portrait might be one of the best in the workshop. I drew it for the first assignment on the first day of a five day workshop given by Brian Bomeisler. Brian is the son of Betty Edwards, who wrote Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. Brian teaches drawing based on the methods outlined in his mother's book.

The book outlines a method for learning to draw based on the research of Nobel laureate Roger Sperry. Sperry's research deals with the dichotomy of the human brain with each side of the brain having a unique role in cognition. The left side is the home of the logical and linear. The right side is the home of spatial perception, the nonverbal, and the nonlinear. Edwards' book teaches the artist's perspective, which is an alternative way of thinking that has been marginalized in our culture during the Information Age.

With computers now able to emulate left side function, it is a good time to pay attention to the right brain function. Computers can perform the left brain functions better than humans, at a greater speed, with more accuracy, and without fatigue. In a flat world , communication around the world is quicker and easier. Many routine analytical functions can be done in Asia and communicated anywhere in world at a lesser cost than when done by Americans.

If you are interested in developing the skills of your right brain, Edwards' book or the seminar is a fun starting point. The workshop is a great way to get in touch with your right brain. The classes are from 9 to 5 for 5 days with an hour for lunch. But, who's keeping track of time. I quickly learned that sense of time is the bailiwick of the left brain. When assigned something to draw, I lost all track of time. I can hear Brian telling us not to listen to our left brain. I can also hear the two hemisphere's of my brain arguing about the task at hand. My left brain has had the upper hand for years and was not happy about this folly called drawing. I suppressed drawing around the 8th grade because it was time to grow up. This message was greatly reinforced by society - crayons are for children. Two and a half years after the workshop, I am still seeing things differently.

Brian uses many tools as he steers the workshop along its course. One assignment is to copy a pencil sketch upside down in order to confuse the left brain, disallowing its critical nature to interfere with the drawing process. He shows the class numerous examples of negative space that helps us learn to see differently. By seeing negative space, one sees shapes for which the left brain doesn't have symbols. Therefore, the viewer learns to see a reality instead of triggering a stored symbol. This skill allows one to see more fully. There is plenty of drawing mixed in with exercises, interesting lecture, and discussion. The impact of the week is a new perspective.

So, back to my self portrait. Brian took a few minutes to critique each drawing while holding it before the class. As he held my self portrait up for all to see, I could hear the guy that had offered up the stick figure of himself gasp in amazement. Then, Brian, in his gentle manor, asked me to confirm that I had last drawn in about the 8th grade. Seems the symbols that I used for eyes, ears, nose, and other features of the face, were a dead giveaway, indicative of the brain development of a middle schooler. Symbols are a product of the left brain. The right brain just draws what it sees.

After 4 days and a few hours of learning to use my right brain, the workshop repeated the first assignment: Draw your self portrait. This time my drawing was squarely middle of the pack. I was amazed, however, at what I had learned to see and to do in five days.

Magazine article in My American Artist about Bomeisler's workshop with pics and drawings from the session I attended.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


The Master of Fine Arts is the new MBA, so argues author Daniel Pink.

I think we know this subconsciously, or why else would we laugh so easily at the PC Man v. Apple Guy commercials. We know deeply that more authentic, creative, and meaningful trumps expertise which is often myopic, arrogant, and limited, (much less limiting). Not that the choice is either/or. The choice is which would I prefer, expertise alone or expertise with authenticity, creativity, and meaning? Duh! It's like do I want ice cream alone or ice cream with mix-ins and toppings?!

Creating art, whether it is writing or visual arts or songwriting, requires vision, strategic planning, patience, disciplined effort, reflective reasoning, and critical thinking. Recent Conversation Starter posted by Katherine Bell, a senior editor at, discusses how her art training was really pretty good management training. In hindsight, she realized that she had spend two years practicing disciplined imagination -- a requirement for innovation. Here is her list of 4 great lessons an MBA might learn from an MFA:

1. How to take criticism. In a writing workshop, each writer must remain silent while others discuss his work. This rule allows him to hear what people say, rather than distracting himself by preparing his defense. Train yourself to listen openly to all criticism. Then wait until you’ve had a chance to reflect before deciding which suggestions to follow and which to ignore.

2. What motivates people. Everyone’s mix of motives is unique and complex. The more you can intuit the secret desires that drive a person (whether a fictional character or a colleague or your boss), the better you can predict what she’s going to do next. If you figure out what motivates the people who report to you, you’ll be able to tailor incentive to each individual.

3. How to engage your audience. Good fiction writers know how to involve readers in acts of collaborative imagination. Readers like to be challenged -- part of the pleasure is guessing the murderer’s identity before being told -- but if they can’t follow the plot, they get frustrated. Companies competing in the experience economy need to get this balance right. Customers, like readers, do not like to be bored or confused. They like to feel smart and creative and listened to. That’s one reason companies that involve their customers in idea generation, like Dell, Staples, and BMW, rate highly in customer loyalty.

Knowing how to keep your team engaged is an important skill for all managers, but it’s critical if you want to succeed at innovation. Again, involving team members in the creative process is the key.

4. When to let go of good ideas. Or, as writers like to say, kill your darlings. An idea may be great on its own, but if it doesn’t serve your larger venture, you have to be ruthless and cut it. Brilliant but misplaced ideas can derail a project or keep you from seeing bigger, better solutions. It can be almost impossible to recognize your own darlings. Writers have editors to point them out. In the business world, look for honest feedback from colleagues you trust.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Develop The Right Brain

Dan Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, offers his vision of how to prepare for competitive success in the Cognitive Age. Explaining that we have indeed evolved from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (his term for the Cognitive Age), Dan Pink builds a grand metaphor for success using the two hemispheres of the brain. Thus, the full title of his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. Pink tell us:

The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest rewards."

These are all skills of the right brain hemisphere while logic and analytical reasoning are left brain skills. Don't let the voice of the last generation's parents cloud your understanding of Pink's statement. He is not saying we should develop right brain skills in lieu of left brain skills. He is not saying that logic and reason and analytical reasoning are not of value. He is saying that our focus should shift and that we should intentionally develop the right brain skills that create better context for the left brain analytical reasoning. Pink offers these six right brain domains to develop in order to be in sync with what is needed in the Conceptual Age: story, design, symphony, empathy, meaning, and play.

Last generation's parents all told us be doctors, lawyers or accountants, all professions traditionally requiring left brain, logical, analytical reasoning. A sure way to scare a parent would be to pursue art. The starving artist was every parent's worst fear. But, what we can appreciate more easily today is that art and design are problem-solving pursuits. Thus, Pink's shorthand for this becomes "the MFA is the new MBA." Employers want people who know how to think, not what to think. Employer want people that see differently because that ensures innovation. Innovation protects relevance.

"Left brain skills are essential, just not sufficient," Pink tells us, for survival in the new economy. Be a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant. But it is no longer about just having expert knowledge in those fields. It is about being creative and innovative and relationship-oriented as well as expert in whatever field you are in, be it doctor, lawyer, accountant, scientist, geologist, management, -- all fields.

This perscriptive advice has major ramifications for education. Pink admonishes parents, educators, and policymakers firmly is his question, "Are we educating children for our past, or for their future?"

We are not educating kids as well as we could, or should, for the Cognitive Age. If we think we are, we are kidding ourselves. If we don't, what happens then?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cognitive Skills Development

Bob Compton, Executive Producer of the documentary film, "2 Million Minutes", which explores how students in China, India, and the United States distribute their time in high school, offers a question in his blog regarding moving forward in the Cognitive Age:

"What academic subjects might be best at developing more thoroughly one's cognitive skills in a technology driven world - might they be math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science?"

Compton goes on to illustrate the different routes that India and the United States prescribe in their educational systems. He asks, "How does our education compare in cognitive skills development, through math and science, to, say India's?"

Compton shows us similar high achieving high school tracks:

United States High Schools (not required for graduation, but typical of high achieving students)

Physics - 1 year
Chemistry - 1 year
Biology - 1 year
Math - 4 years
Computer Science - 1 year

India (ISCE National Standard - starts in 8th grade - required for graduation on technology track = high achievers)

Physics - 5 years
Chemistry - 5 years
Biology - 5 years
Math - 5 years
Computer Science - 5 years

Which students will be more relevant and prepared for the Cognitive Age?

See the film. Take your kids. Take your congressman.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nation building

In his recent New York Times editorial, Who Will Tell The People, Thomas Friedman writes about the state of our nation which is experiencing decay in its infrastructure, erosion in its achievement-oriented values, and displacement as a respected purveyor of greatness. Powerfully, Friedman asserts, like we talk of developing nations, that "people want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America." This is yet another way to express that our irrelevance is costly, and we have yet to focus on treating root causes.

Friedman writes: "We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.” What an irony! The values that we hold so dear, that we speak of as the values woven into the history and fabric of our nation, Friedman now classifies as "Asian values." We know where hard work and sacrifice leads because we lived by that credo, proudly, for decades. Where is the sense of urgency to regain our global respect and standing? What will motivate the revolution that we need to re-capture our national values and national pride?

Friedman gives another shameful and frightening example: "Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in 'downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.' Today, she added, 'China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.'" When we stop funding the high-tech intellectual pursuits and create disincentives for our talented to stay in the United States, what sort of brain drain are we creating? How deep will it permeate? How can we afford to be global thought leaders? What are our national goals instead, if not these?

We need to regain a sense of limitless possibility and dreams fueled by ingenuity, hard work, team spirit, and grand purpose for our nation. We need to move beyond lamenting the demise of the past and seek to design, craft, and celebrate the future for one and all.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Cognitive Age As Pivot Point

Columnist David Brooks' article The Cognitive Age provides much needed explanation of the current economic environment in which we, as a country and as individuals working jobs and raising kids, find ourselves. Brooks explains that the current economic environment is, without a doubt, global, high tech, and both, fast and free.

In this political season we are getting a steady dose of blaming others - foreigners and Republicans - for our economic ills. This is the wrong type of discourse to be having. The issue is about our collective and individual relevance in the current economic environment. Brooks heeds, "The central process driving this [change] is not globalization. It's the skills revolution. We're moving into a more demanding cognitive age." Technology and innovation within industries means employers require fewer and differently skilled workers.

As the Industrial Age displaced human workers in the Agricultural Age, the current economic environment of the Cognitive Age will render the Industrial Age a TKO punch. The winner will be the worker skilled in cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and systems thinking. Even the technology gurus of the Information Age who showed us how to excavate, collect, catalogue, and sell information will be outpaced by those Cognitive Age workers who can use the readily abundant information to solve problems. A worker's skills that have served him well for the last 30 years on a production line are no longer relevant because of the technological innovations within his industry. Employers need differently skilled workers, ones who can better absorb, process, and combine information. Workers who can take all of the information that is now at our fingertips instantaneously and not only make sense of it, but manipulate it to competitive advantage.

Brooks see the first critical step in solving our lack of relevance as understanding the paradigm shift. Technology has created a different kind of fast and furious game. The playing field is global. We cannot be effective in addressing our competitive weaknesses as long as we have a victim mentality. We need to be reflective as a society and as individuals to solve the problem of irrelevant skills.

Once the Cognitive Age paradigm is understand and accepted, I think the direction gets clearer, although not easy, by any means.

What are the skills that are valued in the Cognitive Age?
How does an Industrial Age worker reinvent himself? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Who will pay for it?
Why should I/we bother?
Will all geographical areas be able to re-align themselves socially, emotionally, economically?
Are we preparing (educating) our children to be skilled Cognitive Age workers? Why not?
Are our leaders promoting victimhood or re-alignment?
What opportunities are we uniquely poised to leverage in the Cognitive Age? How? Who?
What happens to those who don't want to play? Who takes care of them? For how long? Who pays for that?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Welcome To The Cognitive Age

Today's New York Times features a valuable read by columnist David Brooks called The Cognitive Age. It reminds me of the American political discourse back around the time of the Ohio presidential primary. In the campaigning leading up to that primary, current and former presidents, both Democratic and Republican, were being blamed for allowing cheap foreign labor to cause manufacturing job losses in Ohio resulting in that state's current economic problems. I know of what they speak. I visited Ohio last summer. I drove from Cincinnati to Toledo. What I saw looked like the graveyard of the Industrial Age. But, I don't consider it the fault of either President Clinton or Presidents Bush. The Industrial Age is just over in Ohio (and elsewhere, so take note.)

Brooks writes that according to William Overholt of the RAND Corporation between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S. during that period. This statistic makes me consider something that I heard Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, state in his presentation in Memphis last year. Pink used this story to make his point: if you tell an average American that you got an Indian accountant to do your taxes, the listener is likely displeased about the consequences for an American accountant. But, if you tell the average American that you did your taxes on TurboTax, the listener will think it great; how high tech! No sign of empathy for any unhired American accountant. American's are all for savings due to technology but we disfavor savings due to cheap foreign labor. According to Pink, TurboTax does many more US tax returns than Indian accountants do. Brooks and Pink both make the point that technology is impacting America more than cheap foreign labor. No one running for President is going to change the new realities of the world economy. American is moving into the Cognitive Age. Maybe, we should give a little more attention to understanding the ways of the New World and prepare accordingly, rather than continuing to lament the loss of the old ways and trying to return there. Move on, Buckeyes! Welcome to the 21st century and the Cognitive Age.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Required Reading

If I were to recommend a text for every business person, parent, educator, and policymaker of any kind to read, it would be Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. As a nation, and as corporations and communities, as families, we all need to accept the existing reality: the 21st century is a wild, new, fast-paced, wired, dynamic world unlike any environment we have ever operated in. We may lament the structures and trends of the new global paradigm, sticking our head in the sand as leaders, or we can investigate the specifics, embrace the challenges, and discover opportunities to mine.

In the first part of A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink concisely and convincingly explains the three forces of change that have radically redefined the new paradigm. These forces are Asia, Automation, and Abundance. If a job or task can be performed cheaper without compromising performance standards in Asia, expect it to be outsourced. If a job or task is routine and can be automated, expect it to be. And, lastly, we have become such mindless, voracious numb consumers that there is an ethos of searching for meaning driven by our abundance that is fueling current socio-economic behavior. Pink provides many convincing examples that we are not looking at a fad or trend but fundamental changes in the socio-economic environment of the 21st century.

So, what? The so what is this: the market fundamentals have dramatically changed so it is imperative that you re-think and re-consider every aspect of what it is that you do in order to ensure that you are running an operation designed for your future, not your comfortable, familiar past. Period. Dan Pink has given us new lenses. If you look, intentionally look with all your deliberative, analytical skills and might, through these Pink-tinted lenses, you will see new terrain that needs a new map. If leaders don't actively and aggressively undertake this re-visioning, your old map will not get you to where you are trying to go. The old map won't get you to Peoria because Peoria has moved.