The Times They Are A-Changin’

On Thursday morning Professor Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, announced the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

“The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 is awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

In the hours that followed, the surprise decision was debated by the literati. A frequently mentioned candidate for the prize in literature, author Salman Rushdie, placed the choice in context via Twitter.

“From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”

In honor of that choice, the Friday Poem this week is Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.


The Times They Are A-Changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, 1963


Photo credit: Rolling Stone Magazine

The week@work – good lives without good jobs?, good vs. great leaders, Yahoo hacked, and are university rankings hurting higher ed?

The workplace is changing, and politicians are beginning to recognize the impact of the shift on long term policy planning. This week@work a ‘think tank’ fellow considered the possibility of good lives without good jobs, a professor found leadership is not a continuum, Yahoo announced 500 million users accounts were hacked, and Irish universities missed the top tier of international schools for the first time, generating a debate on the value of global rankings.

New America Fellow, Michael Lind suggested “Politicians should tell working Americans what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And what they need to hear is that it is possible for all Americans to have good lives, even if they can’t all have good jobs.”

Writing in The New York Times Sunday Review he asked, ‘Can You Have a Good Life if You Don’t Have a Good Job?’

“…the political problem remains. Even if center-left and center-right policy wonks agree that the goal should be good lives for all workers, even those with bad jobs, many Americans do not agree, to judge from the rhetoric of politicians, who know their audiences well. The replacement of a world in which one or a few lifetime jobs in a paternalistic company that provided benefits during your working life and a pension after your retirement by a future in which individuals struggle to survive by piecing together “gigs” and “tasks” with a bewildering variety of federal, state and local social programs may strike many workers as a dystopian nightmare. The price of increased flexibility may be increased stress.

The unelected policy experts who envision a future of multiple job types and a greater, if hidden, role for government in maintaining minimum incomes and providing health and retirement benefits are essentially right. The elements of a “good job” — adequate income, health insurance and retirement benefits — that were once combined in the package that a Detroit automobile manufacturer provided to a unionized male steelworker in 1950 are likely to be provided, for most American workers now, by some combination of employer and government.

Until most American workers are persuaded that they will not be worse off in a system characterized by flexible work arrangements and partly socialized benefits, they may continue to make unrealistic demands that 21st century politicians restore something like the occupational structure of the 20th century.”

Which of the folks vying for U.S. President will have the courage to deliver this message? It may depend on their leadership style. Professor James R. Bailey of George Washington University’s School of Business examined ‘The Difference Between Good Leaders and Great Ones’ for HBR digital.


“That anyone can develop as a leader is not in question. What I dispute is the stubborn resolve that great and good are points along the same stream. That just isn’t so. Great leadership and good leadership have distinctly different characteristics and paths. Leadership is not one-dimensional. It can be great and good, or one but not the other, or neither.

The tug between great and good leadership is one of perpetual and dynamic coexistence. There is great — a force that is often inexplicable, occasionally irrational, and, importantly, intermittently ungovernable. Then there is good — a direction that is north-star true, providing the point of values of mutual benefit.

It’s natural to think of leadership as running from one end to the other. To do so, though, is to mistake what great and good leadership are. They’re fundamentally different. Separating them, thus upending the ever-convenient continuum, seems counterintuitive. But it’s absolutely necessary for understanding the very elements that explain leadership’s operation and impact. Great can be vital but destructive; good can be compassionate but impotent. The coexistence of the two is the best hope for leadership — without good we should fear.”

Switching gears, to privacy – it came as no surprise when Yahoo announced a massive data breach. Kara Swisher reported for recode in advance of the public disclosure.


“Earlier this summer, Yahoo said it was investigating a data breach in which hackers claimed to have access to 200 million user accounts and one was selling them online. “It’s as bad as that,” said one source. “Worse, really.” 

…this hack, said sources, which became known in August when an infamous cybercriminal named “Peace” claimed on a website that he was selling credentials of 200 million Yahoo users from 2012 on the dark web for just over $1,800. The data allegedly included user names, easily decrypted passwords and personal information like birth dates and other email addresses.

At the time, Yahoo said it was “aware of the claim,” but the company declined to say if it was legitimate and said that it was investigating the information. But it did not issue a call for a password reset to users. Now, said sources, Yahoo might have to, although it will be a case of too little, too late.”

Over 500 million accounts have been reported hacked…about that earlier article on good/great leadership and “another blemish on the record of CEO Marissa Mayer”.

On campus, this week@work, university presidents and deans awaited the verdict of the annual ‘World University Rankings’.


Grainne Loughran reported on the implications of the new rankings for The Irish Times.

“Another week, another set of university rankings as the Times Higher Education releases it league table. It follows others recently published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai).

The organisations may differ, but the pattern is broadly the same: Ireland’s best higher education institutions are in free-fall.

The decline in rankings has been alarming university presidents for the past six years. But while rankings are of significant reputational importance worldwide, they only take into account a tiny proportion of the picture of how universities stand.

Lack of understanding of what they actually measure has resulted in the rankings gaining an unwarranted notoriety and position to influence policy, with the potential to harm higher education institutions in Ireland and worldwide.

There are about 20 global rankings of higher education. All have varying methodologies and in some cases give vastly different weightings to the factors they have in common.”

This week@work also marked the anniversary of ‘The Death of the Phone Call’. Timothy Noah looked back on a moment in history.

“The phone call died, according to Nielsen, in the autumn of 2007. During the final three months of that year the average monthly number of texts sent on mobile phones (218) exceeded, for the first time in recorded history, the average monthly number of phone calls (213). A frontier had been crossed. The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech.”

Also this week@work – two stories from Silicon Valley:

‘Zuckerberg, Chan Start $3 Billion Initiative to Cure Disease’ Sarah Frier for “Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are pledging to spend more than $3 billion over the next decade to work on curing diseases.

“Can we work together to cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime?” Chan said Wednesday onstage at an event in San Francisco for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “Mark and I believe that this is possible.”

‘How Tech Companies Disrupted Silicon Valley’s Restaurant Scene’ Nicole Perlroth for The New York Times “All told, more than 70,000 square feet of Palo Alto retail and restaurant space were lost to office space from 2008 to 2015, as the tech bubble drove demand for commercial space downtown.

It is a story playing out across Silicon Valley, where restaurateurs say that staying afloat is a daily battle with rising rents, high local fees and acute labor shortages. And tech behemoths like Apple, Facebook and Google are hiring away their best line cooks, dishwashers and servers with wages, benefits and perks that restaurant owners simply cannot match.

Silicon Valley technologists love to explain how they have disrupted the minutiae of daily life, from our commutes to the ways we share family photos. But along the way, they have also managed to disrupt their local restaurant industry.”

Finally, from The New York Times Magazine survey (September 18): “In an eight-hour workday, how much time do you spend actually working? 44% 4-6 hours, 43% 7-8 hours, 7% 1-3 hours, and 6% less than an hour.”


Photo credits: Yahoo, Lisa Werner/Getty for Wired

The Saturday Read – The National Book Award ‘Long List’

This past week The National Book Foundation announced the ‘long list’ of nominees for The National Book Award to be announced on November 16. The books nominated fall into four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

A quick review of the titles provides a cultural snapshot of the issues we face as individuals and society as a whole. ‘The Saturday Read’ this week offers a list those nominated in the  fiction and non-fiction categories.

The fiction nominees includes an Oprah Book Club pick, my favorite of the past year, and an anticipated new novel to be released in October.

In non-fiction, racism is a common topic; echoing the theme of last year’s ‘required reading’, 2016 award winner, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’. The nominees in this category remind us why we read non-fiction: to listen, to understand the world in all its complexity, and to make thoughtful decisions about our future.


Chris Bachelder, The Throwback Special (W. W. Norton & Company)

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Adam Haslett, Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group)

Paulette Jiles, News of the World (William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers)

Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs (Viking Books/Penguin Random House)

Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House)

Lydia Millet, Sweet Lamb of Heaven (W. W. Norton & Company)

Brad Watson, Miss Jane (W. W. Norton & Company)

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (Doubleday/Penguin Random House)

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (Amistad/HarperCollinsPublishers)


Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
(Random House/Penguin Random House)

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (Alfred A. Knopf /Penguin Random House)

Adam Cohen, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House)

Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press)

Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books)

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War
(Harvard University Press)

Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Crown Publishing Group/Penguin Random House)

Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press)

Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon Books/Penguin Random House)


The Friday Poem ‘Fall Song’ by Mary Oliver

On Thursday those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere transitioned into fall. At the moment the sun was directly over the equator, the seasons changed. In celebration of change, the Friday Poem this week is Mary Oliver’s ‘Fall Song’.

Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently of ‘Felicity’, a collection of poems

The mysteries of networking #5: Try it in reverse

Folks entering the job market for the first time are often hesitant to reach out to potential networking contacts. What do I have to give in return? is a common question. The answer may be to ‘network in reverse’.

Traditional networking is a commitment of mutual support over time. The majority of established professionals hold no expectation of immediate reciprocity when advising newbies to the job market.

Turns out, their expectations need revision; there’s quite a bit of knowledge to be shared by the most recent additions to the workplace. Just don’t be surprised when you get the call from someone twice your age asking, Will you mentor me?

That’s exactly what happened when The New York Times assignment editor, Phyllis Korkki approached social editor, Talya Minsberg.

Let’s start with a quick inventory of your skill set. What is the skill that has been burning a hole on your ‘to do’ list for the last six months? You know, that one thing you are a bit afraid of, but would catapult your career if you just spent some time learning?

Who do you know who can serve as a bridge to knowledge or provide a bit of training and support?

That’s basically the story of Phyllis and Talya, a ‘reverse mentorship’ initiated around the joys of technology, specifically Snapchat.

Phyllis shared her story, ‘Schooled by a Mentor Half My Age’.

“How on earth did I become an “older worker?”

It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I set out to climb the ladder in my chosen field. That field happens to be journalism, but it shares many attributes with countless other workplaces. For instance, back when I was one of the youngest people in the room, I was helped by experienced elders who taught me the ropes.

Now, shockingly, I’m one of the elders. And I’ve watched my industry undergo significant change. That’s why I recently went searching for a young mentor — yes, a younger colleague to mentor me.”

She found that ‘reverse mentor’ in Talya who was ‘Seeing Age With a New Lens’.

 “A few months ago, Phyllis Korkki, an assignment editor at The New York Times who sits a few cubicles away, approached me with a question that gave me pause. “Will you mentor me?” she asked.

I gave her what I imagine was a blank stare, and responded, “Wait, what?”

Phyllis is a longtime Times employee, an accomplished journalist and an author. So the fact that she was approaching me for mentorship was unexpected.

She wanted to do what she was calling a reverse mentorship. She wanted to challenge herself and learn something new, something outside her comfort zone, she said. She wanted to learn how to use Snapchat.

Snapchat is a popular social mobile app that features, among other things, stories that live for just a day. And she came to me because a large part of my role has been guiding editorial strategy in the brave new world of stories that disappear in 24 hours.

So of course I was happy to meet with Phyllis one on one.

But a mentorship? I was honored, albeit a bit perplexed.”

It was at this nexus of generational knowledge transfer, that the two connected in an informal ‘reverse networking’ relationship that has benefited both, and serves as a model for an ‘older brain’/ ‘younger brain’ mind meld.

Phyllis realized the benefit of utilizing a new application @work, as well as the learning experience itself.

“It was exhilarating to see my progress — and embarrassing to witness my missteps, like putting my finger over the camera at the close of the cat cafe video. (But have you ever tried to record yourself while trying to keep a cat on your shoulder?)”

Talya, the mentor, observed Phyllis’ first venture into Snapchat’s geofilters and emoji.

“Eventually, Phyllis took to the official New York Times Snapchat account to broadcast three stories. And three times I waited with bated breath to watch those stories, feeling like a teacher in the back of a classroom waiting for a student to give a big presentation. Each time, she got better — and I was eager to tell her about it in person.

When I gave Phyllis a glowing review, she kept saying, “Really? You like it?” I think we both recognized the moment as a milestone in the reverse mentorship. We both felt success.”

And  that’s the ultimate benefit of a mentoring relationship: both participants experience success.

Your assignment, this week@work, should you choose to accept it: go find your Phyllis or Talya and engage in the career energizing process of a ‘reverse mentorship.”

The week@work – the value of cross-functional experience, empowering introverts, economic recovery, and a new leader @librarycongress

It turns out that the path to leadership is paved not just by elite MBA degrees, but also with experience across a range of business functions. Once you arrive in the ‘C Suite’ it’s to your advantage to pay attention to the introverts in the room.

In other stories this week@work, evidence shows an increase in middle class incomes, there’s a new Librarian of Congress, and can you remember Oprah’s first book club pick 20 years ago?

Generalize or specialize? That is the question Neil Irwin answers in ‘A Winding Path to the Top’ for The New York Times.

“How does a person get to be the boss? What does it take for an ambitious young person starting a career to reach upper rungs of the corporate world — the C.E.O.’s office, or other jobs that come with words like “chief” or “vice president” on the office door?

The answer has always included hard work, brains, leadership ability and luck. But in the 21st century, another, less understood attribute seems to be particularly important.

To get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible. A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others.”

Many corporations, in the past, had institutionalized ‘rotational assignments’ in a variety of business functions under the aegis of ‘leadership development programs’. When ‘shareowner’ value became the primary measure for CEOs, these internal employee development initiatives were shut down. But the need for cross-functional expertise never went away.

“To be a C.E.O. or other top executive, said Guy Berger, an economist at LinkedIn, “you need to understand how the different parts of a company work and how they interact with each other and understand how other people do their job, even if it’s something you don’t know well enough to do yourself.”

Developing multiple areas of expertise provide a pragmatic workplace foundation for the aspiring entrepreneur, the Fortune 500 CEO, and the variety of public and private leadership opportunities in between.

You learn the language, make life-long career connections, and maintain contact with your customer.

grand central ny.jpg

Location seems to influence opportunities as well. Take note, all you folks who hesitate to relocate.

“Beyond the results on job functions, the data from LinkedIn shows some trends for which the explanations aren’t completely obvious. For example, former consultants who lived in New York or Los Angeles had higher odds of ending up with a top job than people in other large cities like Washington or Houston. A former management consultant with 15 years of work experience in six different functions and an M.B.A. from a top school had a 66 percent chance of becoming a top executive if he lived in New York compared with a 38 percent chance in Washington.”

Bottom line, moving out of you career comfort zone, whether that means function or city, holds long-term implications for career success.

The second story this week@work comes from the print edition of The Economist, ‘Shhhh! Companies would benefit from helping introverts to thrive’.

Most companies worry about discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, gender or sexual preference. But they give little thought to their shabby treatment of introverts.

The recent fashion for hyper-connectedness also reinforces an ancient prejudice against introverts when it comes to promotion. Many companies unconsciously identify leadership skills with extroversion—that is, a willingness to project the ego, press the flesh and prattle on in public.

What can companies do to make life better for introverts? At the very least, managers should provide private office space and quiet areas where they can recharge. Firms need to recognise that introverts bring distinctive skills to their jobs. They may talk less in meetings, but they tend to put more thought into what they say. Leaders should look at their organisations through the introverts’ eyes. Does the company hold large meetings where the loudest voices prevail? That means that it is marginalising introverts. Does it select recruits mainly on the basis of how they acquit themselves in interviews? That could be blinding it to people who dislike performing in public.”

Jim Tankersley reported for The Washington Post Wonkblog, ‘Middle class incomes had their fastest growth on record last year’.


“Middle-class Americans and the poor enjoyed their best year of economic improvement in decades in 2015, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, a spike that broke a years-long streak of disappointment for American workers but did not fully repair the damage inflicted by the Great Recession.

Real median household income was $56,500 in 2015, the bureau reported, up from $53,700 in 2014. That 5.2 percent increase was the largest, in percentage terms, recorded by the bureau since it began tracking median income statistics in the 1960s.

In addition, the poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968. There were 43.1 million Americans in poverty on the year, 3.5 million fewer than in 2014. The share of Americans who lack health insurance continued a years-long decline, falling 1.3 percentage points, to 9.1 percent.

“The highest income growth was in the bottom fifth” of workers, “which is very welcome news,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute think tank. Furman, of the White House, credited wage-boosting policy initiatives for some of that increase: “The fact that millions of workers have gotten a raise, as states have raised minimum wages, has definitely had an effect there,” he said.

All told, the gains brought median incomes nearly back to their levels before the recession, after adjusting for inflation, though they remain below 1999 levels. Bureau officials said the 5.2 percent growth rate was not statistically distinguishable from five other previous increases in the data, most recently the 3.7 percent jump from 1997 to 1998.”

On Wednesday, Carla Hayden was sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress“Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead the national library, was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama on February 24, 2016, and her nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 13.”4532.jpg

Baynard Woods covered the appointment for The Guardian, ‘Carla Hayden: new librarian of Congress makes history, with an eye on the future’.“Even though librarianship is one of the four what they call feminized professions – social work, education nursing, and librarianship – where 85% of the workforce is female, there haven’t been an equal amount of women in the leadership positions,” Hayden said in an interview.

Hayden is also only the third Librarian of Congress to actually have training as a librarian.

“There have been lawyers and politicians, historians, scholars, librarians, and I think at this time it’s not a detriment to have a librarian be librarian of Congress,” she said.

The librarian of Congress oversees the world’s largest library system. As the name indicates, one of the main roles of the library is to assist Congress in the research it needs in order to pass bills. It also oversees the US copyright system, names the poet laureate, and preserves historical documents and books.

Hayden first came to national prominence in 2003 when she spoke out against certain elements of the Patriot Act as the head of the American Library Association. Attorney general John Ashcroft attacked Hayden for sowing “hysteria” about the provision of the act that would allow the government to search library and bookstore records.

Hayden shot back.

“We are deeply concerned that the attorney general should be so openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution,” she said. “Rather than ask the nation’s librarians and Americans nationwide to ‘just trust him,’ Ashcroft could allay concerns by releasing aggregate information about the number of libraries visited using the expanded powers created by the USA Patriot Act.”

At the time, there was political risk in such statements, but Hayden said she never considered that.”

In history@work this week, September 17 marked the 20th anniversary of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Do you remember the first pick? Jacquelyn Mitchard‘s ‘Deep End of the Ocean’.201603-ep521-own-watn-9-949x534.jpgOprah’s Book Club quickly became a hugely influential force in the publishing world, with the popular TV host’s endorsement capable of catapulting a previously little-known book onto best-seller lists.

When Oprah’s Book Club first launched, some in the publishing world were skeptical about its chances for success. As The New York Times noted: “Winfrey’s project—recommending books, even challenging literary novels, for viewers to read in advance of discussions on her talk show—initially provoked considerable skepticism in the literary world, where many associated daytime television with lowbrow entertainments like soap operas and game shows.” However, the club proved to be a hit with Winfrey’s legions of fans, and many of her picks sold over 1 million copies. (She earned no money from book sales.) Winfrey’s ability to turn not just books but almost any product or person she recommended into a phenomenon came to be known as the “Oprah Effect.”

Celebrate this week@work with a selection from Oprah’s long list of book recommendations.


Photo credit: Carla Hayden by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Saturday Read ‘Wild Man: Patagonia’s conflicted philosopher-king’ by Nick Paumgarten

The Saturday Read this week is journalist Nick Paumgarten‘s profile of the “tiny terror”, Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia.

If you are not familiar with Patagonia, “Our Reason for Being” provides a concise tutorial.

“Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None require a motor; none deliver the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature.

Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.

For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least 1% of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.”

“Wild Man” is the story of how Chouinard’s career evolved over time, rooted in love and respect for nature. It’s an entrepreneur’s journey, with cameo appearances by familiar names: journalist Tom Brokaw, The North Face founder, Doug Tompkins, Royal Robbins and Tom Frost.

Nick Paumgarten’s first connection to Patagonia came in 1992 when he “had a job answering phones at Patagonia’s mail-order office, in Bozeman, Montana…As far as qualifications, I was another city kid, but I’d been out in nature a bit and was, in descending order of aptitude, a skier, whitewater kayaker, backpacker, mountain biker, and fly-rod flailer. I had come of age poring over the Patagonia catalogue, with its action shots and exotic locales, and I already had Yvon Chouinard right up there with Jack Kerouac and Jimi Hendrix on my list of great Americans. Plus, I liked the idea of getting good gear at a discount.”

When Paumgarten decides to leave the job early, he gets his first inkling of Patagonia’s corporate culture.

“I quit the job before I was supposed to, in order to go on a ski trip. Of the two women who’d hired me, one was angry and the other understanding. Their reaction embodied an intrinsic schizophrenia at Patagonia. Chouinard had always encouraged his employees to cut work and go surfing when the swell came in. But it was also a company trying to claw its way out of a hole.”

Patagonia survived the economic challenges of the early nineties with layoffs and loans “from a friend and from some Argentines who wanted to get their money out of the country.”

“It was hard,” Chouinard said. “I realized we were just growing for the sake of growing, which is bullshit.”

“The company, he worried, was straying from its hard-core origins. “I was faced with the prospect of owning a billion-dollar company, with thousands of employees making ‘outdoorlike’ clothing for posers,” he said early in 1991, in a speech to the employees, in which he outlined his misgivings and his new resolutions. These subsequently appeared in the Patagonia catalogue, as a manifesto, under the heading “The Next Hundred Years.”

This ‘long read’ is a primer for the aspiring entrepreneur. It’s a vivid narrative of the progression of one man’s career from childhood dreams of being a fur trapper, to climber, private detective, surfer and blacksmith; proving there are no straight career paths. Its also a lesson in failure, resilience and a realization over time that success can be a double- edged sword.

“Eco-conscious fun-hoggery, as an ethos, a culture, a life style, and an industry, spans the world, and even rules some corners of it. Chouinard is its best-known avatar and entrepreneur, its principal originator and philosopher-king, and is as responsible as anyone for guiding it from the primitive tin-can and hobnail aesthetic of the mid-twentieth century to the slackline and dome-tent attitude of today. He has made it more comfortable, and more glamorous, to be outside, in harsh conditions. His influence is way out of proportion to his revenue footprint. He has mixed feelings about all this—some apprehension about the world he has made. He celebrates the spread of an ecological consciousness but laments the disappearance of danger and novelty, and the way that the wilderness has become a hobby, or even a vocation. He disdains ski areas (“They’re golf courses”), the idea of professional climbing (“I just don’t like the whole paid-climber thing”), and the proliferation of extreme sports as programming and marketing (“Red Bull’s in the snuff-film business”).”

Malinda Chouinard, Yvon’s wife and business partner, was a pioneer in ‘on-site daycare’ and in 2012 her efforts resulted in Patagonia becoming “the first California business to become a B Corp.”

“Malinda is principally responsible for making the company a notably humane place to work. Many there cite the advantage of having day care on site. In 1985, Malinda created (and has since put aside a vast patchwork of space for) what became known as the Great Pacific Child Development Center, to which I didn’t give much consideration, until I got a tour. A staff of twenty-eight oversees some eighty kids, on sprawling grounds of more than twelve thousand square feet, roughly half of it outdoors, among the fruit trees. A recent baby boom had led to another expansion, which displaced the H.R. department to a trailer. “We’ve raised fifteen hundred kids so far,” Chouinard told me. “None of them have been in prison—that I know of, anyway.”

Chouinard’s management style?

“I’m just the owner.” He called his executive style “management by absence.” He used to read business books and study various executive styles and corporate structures, here and abroad, but he prefers to take his lessons from nature—from ant colonies, for example. “There’s no management,” he said. “Every ant just does his job. They communicate and figure it out. It’s like a Navy seal team. The whole team has to agree on what the mission is.” It’s also true, however, that Chouinard’s occasionally whimsical notions send the ants scurrying. Absent or not, he’s still the big ant.”

There are multiple gems of wisdom interspersed throughout the profile. When asked “if the prospect of death bothered him”, he shared his secret to a good life.

“Nah, I’ve always considered death to be a part of life,” he said. “Tell you the secret to a good life: always be the oldest one in the room.”



Photo credit: Patagonia annual report

The Friday Poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

There has been quite a bit of ‘health@work’ news this week as one of the major candidates for U.S. President took a couple of sick days away from her campaign.

In the spirit of taking a respite to heal, enter the imagination of writer and poet Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Robert Louis Stevenson  from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ 1913


A college degree in sports? No.

An essay published in The New York Times print edition yesterday argued for the establishment of a college degree in sports as a means to bring athletics closer to the academic mission of a university. I disagree.

The way to integrate athletics into the academic mission of the university is to ensure student-athletes have every opportunity to earn the college degree of their choice, engaging in all aspects of the academic enterprise: academic advising, interaction with faculty, collaboration with fellow students, and internships.

University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke Jr. asked “Why Not a College Degree in Sports?” Drawing on previous arguments, Professor Pielke suggested an inherent bias on campus against athletics.

“Widespread prejudice and legitimate resentment against athletics remains in academia, and no wonder. The $6.9 million annual salary of Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama, is equal to the combined average salary for nearly 100 assistant professors at the school, according to the most recent data available. And beyond such economic disparities, class distinctions of 19th-century England still shape thinking about sport: Classical music is valued by high society, while sport is for the masses.”

Many have voiced concerns about the consequences of the money being thrown at ‘big time’ athletic programs and it’s appropriate to question a football coach’s salary that far exceeds a university president’s compensation.

But what is missed, always, is the student-athlete. And this is where I disagree with Professor Pielke’s proposal.

Students choose a college or university based on a number of factors: ‘fit’, financial assistance, choice of major, access to faculty, availability of internships, and career aspirations. The student-athlete’s choice includes all of the above, plus the chance to compete in their sport at the highest level.

Suggesting student-athletes enroll in a sports degree program, administered by an athletic department, fortifies an existing boundary; discouraging student athletes from developing key relationships with university academic advisors, faculty, administrators, and non-athlete students.

The college experience serves as a bridge to workplace reality. Isolating student-athletes eliminates access to ‘real world’ campus connections critical for career success.

If a student wants to pursue a career in sport, there are a variety of options in the liberal arts, journalism, business and law.

Rather than reinforce the existing ‘athletic department silo’ with a new curriculum, we can initiate these changes today:

A student-athlete should be able to select a major and complete their degree without influence or interference from their coach.

Practices should not conflict with class schedules.

A student-athlete should have access to all career planning activities including internships, networking events, and on-campus recruiting interviews.

A student-athlete should never have to choose between an academic commitment and their sport.

Coaches should venture beyond the venues of comfort and take opportunities to network with faculty.

We don’t need an ‘academic athletic department’. We need the adults on campus to refocus the debate without prejudice to the students.