The week@work – guaranteed basic income, college grad stats, internet trends and the world’s longest tunnel opens

This week@work the Swiss electorate rejected a ballot measure to provide a guaranteed basic income for citizens, the college graduate unemployment rate is 2.4%, with history majors matching mid-career salaries of business school grads, Mary Meeker projected her 2016 internet trends and 2,600 workers completed 17 years of work to open the world’s longest tunnel under the Alps.

On Saturday Swiss voters rejected a proposed plan to provide an unconditional monthly income of 2,500 francs by a margin of 77% to 23%.


Philip Oltermann surveyed the growing economic trends toward guaranteed basic income, ‘State handout for all? Europe set to pilot universal basic incomes’.

“Universal basic income has a rare appeal across the political spectrum. For those on the left, it promises to eliminate poverty and liberate people stuck in dead-end workfare jobs. Small-state libertarians believe it could slash bureaucracy and create a leaner, more self-sufficient welfare system.

In an increasingly digital economy, it would also provide a necessary injection of cash so people can afford to buy the apps and gadgets produced by the new robot workforce.

Crucially, it is also an idea that seems to resonate across the wider public. A recent poll by Dalia Research found that 68% of people across all 28 EU member states said they would definitely or probably vote for a universal basic income initiative. Finland and the Netherlands have pilot projects in the pipeline.”

The New Yorker contributor, Mark Gimein summarized recent discussions on the topic, comparing U.S. views to European counterparts.

“…when they look further into the future, Americans talk about a national minimum income in the context of a jobless future, an employment apocalypse in which workers compete for fewer and fewer good jobs. Robert Reich, the former labor secretary, sees a national guaranteed income as the most likely endgame in an economy with “more and more people getting pushed out of the middle class into the personal service sector of the economy getting lower and lower wages.” When the Swiss talk about basic income, they’re talking about a utopian vision. When Americans like Reich talk about it, it’s a last bulwark against national impoverishment.”

‘The Upshot’ analyzed the May unemployment numbers and drew a positive spin on disappointing results. “A better gauge of the underlying rate of jobs growth is to take an average over the past three months. By that measure, the labor market is creating around 116,000 jobs per month. This is a notable slowdown from jobs growth in the 150,000-250,000 range over most of the past five years. But it’s a slowdown and not a sudden stop.”

Here’s the good news for college grads. In a separate post, the folks @UpshotNYT posed this question: “What do you think the unemployment rate is for 25-to-30-year-olds who graduated from a four-year college?”  Most folks guessed high. The actual rate is 2.4%, without a four-year college degree it’s 7%.


While we’re on the topic of debunking ‘value of college myths’, let’s turn to a story about the much maligned history majors. (Full disclosure, I was one)

Writing in the LA Times, James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association lamented the decline enrollment in undergraduate history programs and countered with new research that suggests undergrads might want to reconsider their choice of major.

“Over the long run, …graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially…after 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor’s degrees. Notably these salary findings exclude those who went on to attain a law or other graduate degree.

The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment — especially given the expectation of career changes — the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.”

On Wednesday The New York Times announced ‘the Internet is over’. They are changing their style rule to join the rest of the world to lowercase the word ‘internet’.

The same day, venture capitalist Mary Meeker presented her 2016 internet trends report. Inc. contributor, Jessica Stillman cited five ‘take-aways’ from the deck of 200 slides.

“Internet growth is slowing dramatically. Advertisers aren’t spending enough on mobile. Privacy concerns are “a ticking time bomb.”Search is about to be revolutionized…and so are messaging apps.”

Moving from technology trends to engineering marvels, BBC News reported on the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, culminating 17 years of work by 26,000 workers.


“Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner first imagined it in 1947: a massive tunnel, unprecedented in length, buried a mile and a half under Switzerland’s symbolic Gotthard mountain range.

Nearly seven decades later, after redesigns, political disagreements and the long, slow work of drilling beneath the Gotthard massif, as it’s called, Gruner’s dream is complete.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel — a record-setting 35.4 miles long, and farther below ground than any other tunnel — was inaugurated Wednesday. The occasion was marked with a celebration that promoted “Swiss values such as innovation, precision and reliability…”

Now the completed tunnel, delivered on time and within budget, will create a mainline rail connection between Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Genoa in Italy.

When full services begin in December, the journey time for travellers between Zurich and Milan will be reduced by an hour to two hours and 40 minutes.

About 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through the tunnel each day in a journey taking as little as 17 minutes.”

The Saturday Read ‘A Whole Life’ by Robert Seethaler

Too often we seek advice and counsel from the plethora of self-help books that line the shelves of bookstores. What we miss are the life lessons divulged under the guise of fiction.

The Saturday Read this week takes us to the Austrian Alps in 1933 to observe ‘A Whole Life’, the best selling German novel by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins.

The story is Andreas Egger’s, an everyman’s narrative of life, work, tragedy and values. It’s short, the perfect read for a plane trip or a couple of days commute. In this case brevity doesn’t diminish the tale. The simple, beautiful language reveals a literary character that will stay with you long after the story ends.

Throughout the book, the author stores small gems of wisdom, life lessons. In one scene, Andreas approaches the general manager of a construction site to negotiate a raise. Upon reaching agreement on a salary increase, Andreas promises to work even harder. The manager replies:

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment.”

After years in construction, and more years as a prisoner of war, Andreas returns to his village and eventually finds work as a hiking guide.

“Egger didn’t usually speak on his walks. ‘When someone opens their mouth they close their ears,’ Thomas Mattl had always said, and Egger was of the same opinion. Instead of talking, he preferred to listen to these people, whose breathless chatter revealed to him the secrets of other fates and opinions. People were evidently looking for something in the mountains that they believed they lost a long time ago. He never worked out what exactly this was, but over the years he became more and more certain that the tourists were stumbling not so much after him, but after some obscure, insatiable longing. 

In the closing pages, we observe Andreas in retirement, at the end of his ‘whole life’.

“Once a week he went down to the village to get matches and paint, or bread, onions, butter. He had realized long ago that people there speculated about him. When he set off for home…he would see them out of the corner of his eye, putting their heads together and starting to whisper behind his back. Then he would turn around and give them the blackest look of which he was capable. Yet in truth he didn’t much care about the villager’s opinions or their outrage. To them he was just an old man who lived in a dugout, talked to himself, and crouched in a mountain stream to wash every morning. As far as he was concerned, though, he had done all right, and thus had every reason to be content… In his life he too, like all people had harboured ideas and dreams. Some he had fulfilled for himself; some had been granted to him. Many things had remained out of reach, or barely had he reached them than they were torn from his hands again. But he was still here. And in the mornings after the first snowmelt, when he walked across the dew-soaked meadow outside his hut and lay down on one of the flat rocks scattered there, the cool stone on his back and the first warm rays of sun on his face, he felt that many things had not gone so badly after all.”

Reviewers have noted the book’s unique appeal as an understated novel in a publishing world sustained by hype and celebrity. Eileen Battersby concluded her analysis for the Irish Times with “No praise is too high for A Whole Life. Its daunting beauty lingers. This is a profound, wise and humane novel that no reader will forget.”

I agree.

The book, published in 2015 and shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize will be published in the U.S. in September.


‘The Work of Happiness’ a poem by May Sarton

The Friday Poem this week is ‘The Work of Happiness’ by May Sarton a writer whose talent was expressed in fiction, autobiography and poetry.

“My first book was a book of poems, Encounter in April, followed by my first novel, The Single Hound. There was quite an interval before the second novel, The Bridge of Years. And then Shadow of a Man. Then it goes on and on for a long time with a book of poems between every novel. That was my wish, that the poems should be equal in number, that the novels should not be more important than the poems because the poems were what I cared about most. Much later, when I was forty-five or so, I began to do nonfiction—first the memoirs and finally the journals, which came as the last of the forms which I have been using. Altogether now I think it amounts to seventeen novels, I don’t know, five or six memoirs and journals, and then twelve books of poems, which are mostly in the collected poems now.”  The Paris Review interview, Fall 1983

Her poetry emerges from reflection and solitude, a choice she explored in a 1974 essay, ‘The Rewards of Living a Solitary Life’.

“The other day an acquaintance of mine, a gregarious and charming man, told me he had found himself unexpectedly alone in New York for an hour or two between appointments. He went to the Whitney and spent the “empty” time looking at things in solitary bliss. For him it proved to be a shock nearly as great as falling in love to discover that he could enjoy himself so much alone…Solitude is the salt of personhood. It brings out the authentic flavor of every experience.”

In the poem, Ms. Sarton provides an alternate view of happiness – “for what is happiness but growth in peace”.

The Work of Happiness

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

May Sarton   ‘Collected Poems 1930 – 1993’




The mysteries of networking #4 ‘missed opportunities’

Many of us consider networking a ‘dark art’ that requires a magical ‘insiders’ key to gain access to the influential. What we miss is the daily opportunity to connect, as we ride the bus, the train or stand in a long TSA line at the airport. Wisdom can present itself in all shapes and sizes if you open yourself to conversation.

This past week, consultant, Whitney Johnson shared a recent experience via a post on LinkedIn,  ‘An airline cancelled my flight and put me in a van. Along the way, I got lots of lessons on how *not* to network.’

After offering a fellow traveller, a member of the Class of 2016, a ride home after a diverted flight, she realized her passenger had no clue how to network.

“As I was giving him a lift home, I learned a lot about him: his name, where he grew up, where he goes to school, his major, what his parents do for a living, his own career aspirations when he graduates in a few months. We even discovered that we have an acquaintance in common. Meanwhile, I made a few mentions of my children, such as my 19 year-old son is living in Brazil, my husband teaches at a local university. Conversation starters.

I’ll confess I felt a little invisible—and exasperated. I find it easy to ask people about themselves. I genuinely enjoy doing it. It’s one of my strengths, and we’re often exasperated with people who aren’t likewise adept at the things that we do well.

But here’s the real take-away from this chance encounter: this young man is looking for a job when he graduates in a month… I could have potentially helped him, if he’d just shown a little of the moxie that would have motivated me to recommend him.”

This is not just about a ‘newbie’ to the job search process, it’s a story that recurs daily. Just walk through an airport departure area and observe the diversity of folks and contrast that with the homogeneity of technical disconnection. Each individual, existing in the ‘comfort cocoon’ of their temporary piece of real estate, happily texting colleagues and friends, totally ignorant of the ‘chance’ professional encounter in the adjoining seat.

There’s no magic in networking. The magic is in the conversation, perhaps leading to a relationship. All of us harbor ideas and dreams. What are they, if not shared?

This afternoon, seize the moment, and start a conversation with a stranger, or maybe the acquaintance you pass in the hall every day. Listen, share, and you may be on your way to mastering the ‘not so mysterious’ art of networking.