The Saturday Read ‘The Prophet of Dystopia’ by Rebecca Mead

What if you had reached the “Gold Watch and Goodbye” phase of your career only to be catapulted back into the spotlight by current events?

That seems to be what’s happening to Canadian author Margaret Atwood as her ‘new’ literary sensation, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, originally published in 1985, leads the literary fiction category on Amazon and is number ten on The New York Times Paperback Trade Fiction list. A film version of the book will begin streaming on Hulu next week. And earlier this week Ms. Atwood was included in the list of  Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

The Saturday Read is Rebecca Mead‘s multi-dimensional profile ‘The Prophet of Dystopia’.

The ‘Gold Watch and Goodbye’ career reference is evident as Ms. Mead brings us along on a March evening when Ms. Atwood received the National Book Critics Circle lifetime-achievement award. In her closing remarks the author asked, “Why do I only get one lifetime? Where did this lifetime go?”

The profile offers a panoramic view of this one lifetime; from one writers beginnings to mentor and evangelist for new writers.

“Atwood was born in Ottawa, but she spent formative stretches of her early years in the wilderness—first in northern Quebec, and then north of Lake Superior. Her father, Carl Atwood, was an entomologist, and, until Atwood was almost out of elementary school, the family passed all but the coldest months in virtually complete isolation at insect-research stations; at one point, they lived in a log cabin that her father had helped construct.”

In college she switched majors from philosophy to literature. She challenged the traditional canons of British and American literature with an argument for Canadian literature and its dominant theme of survival.

“Our stories are likely to be tales not of those who made it but of those who made it back from the awful experience—the North, the snowstorm, the sinking ship—that killed everyone else.”

She was an established writer before “the sometimes divisive years of second-wave feminism” and wrote an essay giving voice to colleagues.

“It’s not finally all that comforting to have a phalanx of women . . . come breezing up now to tell them they were right all along,” she wrote. “It’s like being judged innocent after you’ve been hanged: the satisfaction, if any, is grim.”

“Her feminism assumes women’s rights to be human rights, and is born of having been raised with a presumption of absolute equality between the sexes…

Atwood’s early years in the forest endowed her with a sense of self-determination, and with a critical distance on codes of femininity—an ability to see those codes as cultural practices worthy of investigation, not as necessary conditions to be accepted unthinkingly. This capacity for quizzical scrutiny underlies much of her fiction: not accepting the world as it is permits Atwood to imagine the world as it might be.”

It’s the fearless questioning that has resonated over time and reintroduced readers to the classic ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ this spring.

Rebecca Mead’s profile of the thoroughly modern, septuagenarian writer is required reading as a companion to the novel.

“In a photograph taken the day after the Inauguration, at the Women’s March on Washington, a protester held a sign bearing a slogan that spoke to the moment: “make margaret atwood fiction again.”

 

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@latimesfob this weekend:

The Handmaid’s Tale from Page to Screen: Margaret Atwood & Bruce Miller in Conversation with Mary McNamara, Conversation 2063 Sunday, April 23 @2:30PM in Bovard Auditorium on the University of Southern California campus

The week@work – women@work, laziness and success, co-working space @Staples, and repeal of online protections

This week@work we learned that the sculptor Kristen Visbal’s ‘Fearless Girl’ will remain on Wall Street though the beginning of 2018. A timely, symbolic decision given the other news of the week for women@work, which could convince one that they had time traveled back to 1957: continuing sexual harassment allegations @Fox, declining numbers of female coaches in women’s college basketball, Mike Pence’s views on lunch meetings, new research indicating a possible retreat from gender equality, and the headline from the Daily Mail which covered Brexit talks between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon as ‘Legs-It’.

In other stories this week@work, office supply company Staples is partnering with Workbar to offer co-working spaces, author Michael Lewis’ described how laziness contributed to his success, and various experts offered suggestions to secure your digital privacy in light of internet protections repeal.

Last night, the University of South Carolina’s womens’ basketball team won the NCAA national championship.

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Dawn Staley finally could raise an NCAA championship trophy…Staley made the Final Four three times as a player at Virginia but never won. She also led the Gamecocks to the national semifinals two years ago before losing to Notre Dame.”

Earlier this month Coach Staley was named the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball coach through 2020.  Jere Longman reported on the state of college coaching as the ‘Number of Women Coaching in College Has Plummeted in Title IX Era’.

“Tara VanDerveer has won two national championships at Stanford and coached the American women to a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Dawn Staley, the recently named 2020 Olympic coach, won three gold medals as a player and has guided South Carolina to the national semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

Yet even as VanDerveer and Staley again appear on their sport’s most visible stage, the opportunity for women to coach female collegiate athletes has stagnated after a decades-long decline.

In 1972, when the gender equity law known as Title IX was enacted, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams across two dozen sports. Now that number has decreased to about 40 percent.”

On Wednesday, The Guardian journalists Anushka Asthana and Rowena Mason reported on the initiation of the formal process to separate Great Britain from the European Union.

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“A letter signed by the prime minister will be hand-delivered to the president of the European council at about 12.30pm – as she rises in Westminster to deliver a statement to MPs signalling the end of the UK’s most significant diplomatic association since the end of the second world war.”

Unfortunately, the momentous occasion was not compelling enough. A photo soon emerged of the prime minister and first minister of Scotland provoking a sexist headline and article from the Daily Mail, prompting “immediate criticism from politicians, commentators and members of the public after it first appeared on Twitter on Monday night. Conservative MP and former Education Minister Nicky Morgan accused the paper of “appalling sexism”.

“Seriously? Our two most senior female politicians are judged for their legs not what they said #appallingsexism,” Ms Morgan said.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper joked that the clocks had “gone forward this weekend, not 50 years back”, while former Labour Leader Ed Miliband wrote the “1950s called and asked for their headline back”.

And then there was this, ‘Do Millennial Men Want Stay-at-Home Wives?’. Stephanie Coontz shared new research on attitudes toward gender equity.

“…a set of reports released Friday by the Council on Contemporary Families reveals, fewer of the youngest millennials, those aged 18 to 25, support egalitarian family arrangements than did the same age group 20 years earlier.

Using a survey that has monitored the attitudes of high school seniors for nearly 40 years, the sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter find that the proportion of young people holding egalitarian views about gender relationships rose steadily from 1977 to the mid-1990s but has fallen since. In 1994, only 42 percent of high school seniors agreed that the best family was one where the man was the main income earner and the woman took care of the home. But in 2014, 58 percent of seniors said they preferred that arrangement. In 1994, fewer than 30 percent of high school seniors thought “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family.” By 2014, nearly 40 percent subscribed to that premise.”

Rose Leadem reported on the new joint co-work space venture between Staples and Workbar.

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“Staples isn’t just for office supplies or printing anymore. Three of the company’s Massachusetts stores now include happy hour, retro music and mod seating — that is, it’s adding coworking spaces.

Since September, more than 200 people have signed up for memberships, which cost $130 a month. The company hasn’t revealed plans for more locations, but according to Bloomberg, Goodman hopes to “dominate the $80 billion-a-year U.S. midmarket, or businesses with fewer than 200 employees.”

Minda Zetlin interviewed writer Michael Lewis and found ‘Being Lazy Is the Key to Success, According to the Best-Selling Author of ‘Moneyball’.

Embracing laziness has helped him be successful because he focuses his efforts only where it really matters, he explained. Here’s how that can create a real advantage:

Being willing to be inactive or less active means you’ll be available when something truly worthy of your best effort comes along. It also means you’ll have the time and space to go looking for those really worthwhile projects. If you’re busy being busy, you’ll miss them…

“People waste years of their lives not being willing to waste hours of their lives. If you mistake busyness for importance–which we do a lot–you’re not able to see what really is important.”

“My laziness serves as a filter,” Lewis said. “Something has to be really good before I’ll decide to work on it.”

While embracing laziness, you may want to think about securing your online privacy. With the roll back of internet privacy regulations last week, Marguerite Reardon offered background and analysis, ‘Congress just killed online privacy rules. Now what?’

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“The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 215-205 to stop FCC regulations from taking effect that would have required broadband and wireless companies to ask your permission before sharing sensitive information about you, such as the websites you visit, the apps you use or even your location. The rules would have also set standards for broadband providers to protect information they collect and store. And they would have set requirements for when and how companies would inform you if your data was stolen.

Since the FCC’s rules never actually went into effect, you won’t notice much difference in how companies are protecting your privacy. But eventually, you’ll see a lot more targeted advertising and creepy ads that follow you all over the internet. Your broadband provider, whether that’s AT&T, Verizon or Comcast, will still be able to sell some information about you to advertisers, just as Google and Facebook can.

Broadband providers are already moving into the content business, and they’re likely to get more aggressive in how the information is used and who gets to use it.”

#3 on the most read, shared and discussed posts from across the New York Times was an updated article that originally appeared in November, ‘Protecting Your Digital Life in 8 Easy Steps’. Don’t forget to cover your webcam with tape…

Photo credits:  Theresa May – Downing Street/Twitter,

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read – ‘The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds

The Saturday Read this week is the latest book from Michael Lewis, ‘The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds’. It’s the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky; two men who baffled colleagues at their pairing from the early days of their academic careers until the point when the public perception “was now a Venn diagram, two circles, with Danny wholly contained by Amos”.

Reading ‘The Undoing Project’ I found myself underling and annotating as I went along, re-reading passages, flipping between chapters; engaged in an academic exercise vs. an enjoyable character-driven narrative.

It’s the first time I’ve read a Michael Lewis book where I heard the voice of a Princeton alum more clearly than those of the two main characters.

Here’s the strange thing, as painful as the first read was; I keep thinking about the practical applications of the pair’s research long after the final page.

“The way the creative process works is that you first say something, and later, sometimes years later, you understand what you said.”

Read something and sometime later you understand how it applies.

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Both of these men had exceptional origin stories. Each was a genius in his own right. Each started out where we all do, with a certain degree of uncertainty about what to do with our lives.

For Danny, “From the moment he thought what he might be when he grew up, he simply assumed he would be an intellectual. That was his image of himself: a brain without a body… He’d always sensed that he would be some sort of professor, and the questions he had about human beings were more interesting to him than any others. “My interest in psychology was a way to do philosophy…to understand the world by understanding why people, especially me see it as they do.”

“Aptitude tests revealed Danny to be equally suited for the humanities and science, but he only wanted to do science. He also wanted to study people. Beyond that, it soon became clear, he didn’t know what he wanted to do.”

In an interview with Stephanie Demming, published in December, he further clarified his path.

“My own love affair with psychology began after I graduated from university in 2009, as soon as I started working in the real world. It took all of two minutes to figure out the working world didn’t function like the school system. If you worked hard, you weren’t always rewarded. The new currency was whether or not people liked you. It was a system governed not by grades, but by people’s minds.”

For Amos, “Entering high school, Amos like all Israeli kids, needed to decide if he would specialize in math and science or in the humanities. The new society exerted great pressure on boys to study math and science. That’s where the status was, and the future careers. Amos had a gift for math and science, perhaps more than any other boy. And yet alone among the bright boys in his class – and to the bemusement of all – he pursued the humanities.”

“Hebrew University in the late 1950s required students to pick two fields of concentration. Amos had chosen philosophy and psychology.  But Amos approached intellectual life strategically, as if it were an oil field to be drilled, and after two years of sitting through philosophy classes he announced that philosophy was a dry well…There are too many smart guys and too few problems left, and the problems have no solutions.”

Later, in his mid-forties he was asked by Harvard professor Miles Shore how he became a psychologist.

“It’s hard to know how people select a course in life…The big choices we make are practically random. The small choices probably tell us more about who we are. Which field we go into may depend on which high school teacher we happen to meet…On the other hand, the small decisions are very systematic. That I became a psychologist is probably not very revealing. What kind of psychologist I am may reflect deep traits.”

The career choices of these two individuals resulted in a collaboration that challenged conventional thinking on human judgement and decision making.

“A part of good science is to see what everyone else can see but think what no one else has ever said.”

“Given the work on human judgment that he and Amos had just finished, he found it further troubling to think that “crucial decisions are made, today as thousands of years ago, in terms of the intuitive guesses and preferences of a few men in positions of authority.” The failure of decision makers to grapple with the inner workings of their own minds, and their desire to indulge their gut feelings, made it “quite likely that the fate of entire societies may be sealed by a series of avoidable mistakes committed by their leaders.””

This was the book that Michael Lewis had to write. It was the origin story of his best seller ‘Moneyball’. A writer is often compelled to follow his curiosity and tell the stories he finds as he explores the tangents. ‘The Undoing Project’ may not be his best narrative, but it’s his best connection to the reality of the decisions ordinary folk face @work every day.

“I’ve always felt  ideas were a dime a dozen…If you had one that didn’t work out, you should not fight too hard to save it, just go find another.”

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The week@work – the war for talent, following vs. leading, exhaustion, and maybe we should ask a sociologist

The last state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was Indiana in 1977 – until Thursday when Nevada ratified the ERA, thirty-five years after the deadline imposed by Congress. It was a welcome antidote to the White House photo of the freedom caucus taken the same day (above). Any odds on an extension to revisit and ratify?

“Nevada has given NOW President Terry O’Neill new cause for hope. “Now it’s a two-state strategy,” she tells the Times. “It’s very exciting. Over the past five years, Illinois and Virginia have come close. I think there is clear interest in this.

In other stories this week@work, journalists and experts provided an update on the ‘war for talent’, offered an argument for balancing followers with leaders in the workplace, and expressed concern with a ‘gig economy’ advertising campaign that seemed to glorify exhaustion@work.  The last story this week@work re-examined an idea from the 60’s to establish a Council of Social Advisers to complement the Council of Economic Advisers in D.C. “It’s not just work; it’s how work offers a sense of purpose and identity.”

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adam Yearsley believe ‘The War for Talent Is Over, And Everyone Lost’. They cite workplace trends indicating more passive job seekers, the appeal of self-employment and the lure of entrepreneurship as competitive factors for employers to attract the best and the brightest, and offer a few best practices to turn things around.

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“In 1998, after a year-long study on the subject, McKinsey researchers declared that a “war for talent” was underway. In the years ahead, they said, organizations’ future success would depend on how well they could attract, develop, and retain talented employees–an ever more valuable asset in ever higher demand.

Instead of winning a war for talent, organizations appear to be waging a war on talent, repelling and alienating employees more successfully than harnessing their skills.

Today, in a world full of many more Chief People and Chief Happiness Officers, that war nevertheless appears to have been lost on all sides. Of course, many workers excel in their jobs and make pivotal contributions to their organizations. But for every one employee who does, there are many more who are underemployed, underperforming, and just plain miserable at work.”

One of the employer prescriptions for success is to “stop developing people’s leadership skills”.

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“…research suggests there’s a strong negative correlation between the amount of money spent on leadership development (which in the U.S. totals over $14 billion a year), and people’s confidence in their leaders. One of the reasons is that leaders are often deprived of negative feedback, even in training programs. We’ve gotten so used to coaching to people’s strengths that weaknesses get left unaddressed. The basics of human psychology magnify that issue; people are already prone to judging their own talents way too favorably, especially after experiencing a measure of success.”

Which links neatly into the next story of the week@work, Susan Cain‘s ‘Not Leadership Material? Good.The World Needs Followers.’

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound. The latter belongs to transformative leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi; the former to — well, we’ve all seen examples of this kind of leadership lately.”

Jia Tolentino used Fiverr’s new ad campaign to illustrate ‘The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death’.

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“It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

A Fiverr press release about “In Doers We Trust” states, “The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic.”

Maybe we need a few less economists and a few more humanists to address our life@work

There was a lot of discussion in the media this weekend in the wake of the health care bill defeat. What are the lessons learned? We might ask the same question about the November election result, only this time maybe we should be consulting with sociologists vs. economists. Neil Irwin asked “What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?”.

“For starters, while economists tend to view a job as a straightforward exchange of labor for money, a wide body of sociological research shows how tied up work is with a sense of purpose and identity.

“Wages are very important because of course they help people live and provide for their families,” said Herbert Gans, an emeritus professor of sociology at Columbia. “But what social values can do is say that unemployment isn’t just losing wages, it’s losing dignity and self-respect and a feeling of usefulness and all the things that make human beings happy and able to function.

…the economic nostalgia that fueled Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign was not so much about the loss of income from vanishing manufacturing jobs. Rather, it may be that the industrial economy offered blue-collar men a sense of identity and purpose that the modern service economy doesn’t.”

At the beginning of this new week@work consider where work fits in your sense of identity and purpose. It’s not just work.

 

What should I do with my life? (in brackets)

The new president has declined to participate in March Madness this year. No filling in blank spaces to arrive at a prediction of the men’s NCAA basketball champion. Maybe he’s just looking at it the wrong way. ‘Bracketology’ is simply a means to eliminate options to arrive at the best decision.

Completing a NCAA bracket is the perfect ‘trial run’ for the other major decision we face – what should I do with my life?

With a little imagination, you can use the bracket concept as a decision matrix to manage career choice, job search or your network.

In 2007, sportswriters Richard Sandomir and Mark Reiter published ‘The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything’, applying the methodology of March Madness to everyday decisions.

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“Bracketology—the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable—works because it is simple. It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?”

How can we apply the scaffolding of March Madness to job search? Let’s say you are totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current work situation. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

The NCAA tournament lasts three weeks. If you start filling in your career brackets now, you will advance through the exploration process at a pace to be ready for interviews by ‘tip-off’ in the championship game.

Its time to add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.

 

The Friday Poem ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’

It’s Oscar weekend and the Friday Poem selection comes from the soundtrack of this year’s Best Picture Nominee, ‘La La Land’. ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ is nominated for Best Original Song.

‘La La Land’ is a career story. ‘Audition’ is it’s anthem; a universal argument to pursue your dream, no matter how foolish it may seem.

In January, Elizabeth Flock interviewed composer Justin Hurwitz about “what it takes to compose an Oscar nominated song.”

“Hurwitz said he began composing “Audition,” back in 2011, after Chazelle had finished the screenplay for “La La Land.” But the musical stalled for years, as it struggled to get studio funding for a genre considered nearly extinct.

As Hurwitz composed what would become the final version of “Audition,” he thought carefully about the shape of the scene, which begins with Mia telling the casting agents about her aunt, and then transitions to a tribute to all dreamers. The second stanza of the song begins: “She smiled / Leapt, without looking / And She tumbled into the Seine!” while the third starts very differently: “Here’s to the ones / who dream / Foolish, as they may seem.”

“It switches from ‘she’ to ‘we,’ and I thought that was a brilliant and beautiful switch in the lyrics,” said Hurwitz, which he wanted reflected in the larger shape of the song.”

Audition (The Fools Who Dream)

My aunt used to live in Paris.
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad and I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot.

She smiled…

Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame

She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker
I’ll always remember the flame

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She told me:
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back to then
Her, and the snow, and the Seine
Smiling through it
She said she’d do it again

Composer Justin Hurwitz, Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

The week@work – The ‘Fallows question’, flexibility@work and the long term impact of student debt

On Saturday Night Live actor Cecily Strong delivered a line that summed up what many of us are feeling this week@work, “I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.” 

It got me thinking about the question Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg posed to the Barnard Class of 2011, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This week@work The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks posed ‘the Fallows question’“If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?”

“James and Deborah Fallows have always moved to where history is being made…James and Deb have an excellent sense of where world-shaping events are taking place at any moment — and a fervent commitment to be there to see it happen.

If you want to “observe” history, the Fallows say, go to Washington. If you want to “participate,” go elsewhere.”

If you weren’t afraid, and could pick up and move to where the action is, where would you go? Brooks offered a few destinations to start, but just maybe, this week@work you might spend some time considering a temporary relocation “in search of history”.

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Folks@work are moving forward, finding ways to succeed independent of national politics. Some voice concern about the potential impact of new policies on their workplace, while others seek ways to express a response in their work. For many, the challenges of the gender gap and student debt remain a constant, often extending into retirement.

Claire Cain Miller examined the tension in employer expectations between flexibility and presence@work in ‘How to Close a Gender Gap: Let Employees Control Their Schedules’.

“The main reason for the gender gaps at work — why women are paid less, why they’re less likely to reach the top levels of companies, and why they’re more likely to stop working after having children — is employers’ expectation that people spend long hours at their desks, research has shown.

Flexibility regarding the time and place that work gets done would go a long way toward closing the gaps, economists say.

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.”

And then there are the financial pressures; spanning generations from twenty-somethings being subsidized by parents, as their grandparents face social security payment garnishment to repay outstanding student loan debt.

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Quoctrung Bui reported on ‘A Secret of Many Urban 20-Somethings: Their Parents Help With the Rent’.

“According to surveys that track young people through their first decade of adulthood, about 40 percent of 22-, 23- and 24-year-olds receive some financial assistance from their parents for living expenses. Among those who get help, the average amount is about $3,000 a year.

It’s a stark reminder that social and economic mobility continues past grade school, high school and even college. Economic advantages continue well into the opening chapters of adulthood, a time when young people are making big personal investments that typically lead to higher incomes but can be hard to pay for.”

On the other side of the generation spectrum, The Editorial Board of The New York Times identified an emerging trend threatening older Americans, ‘Haunted by Student Debt Past Age 50’.

“The experience of being crushed by student debt is no longer limited to the young. New federal data shows millions of Americans who are retired or nearing retirement face this burden, as well as the possibility of having their Social Security benefits garnished to make payments.

Americans age 60 and older are the fastest-growing age group of student loan debtors. Older debtors, many of whom live hand-to-mouth on fixed incomes, are more likely to default. When that occurs with federal loans, as happens with nearly 40 percent of such borrowers who are 65 and over, the government can seize a portion of their Social Security payments — even if it pushes them into poverty. About 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 in 2015 had their Social Security checks cut below the poverty line because of student loans, with poverty-level benefits falling even further for 50,000 others, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.”

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The last story this week@work, highlights the importance of art@work and in our lives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the next step in their digital evolution – open access to over 375,000 archive images. (Monet’s ‘Garden at Sainte-Adresse’, 1867 above)

The week@work – Davos, transition, transferable skills and a ‘profundo’ life

 

The headline of the week@work did not originate in Washington D.C., but in Davos, Switzerland: ‘Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapés’. “…globalization has reduced the bargaining power of workers, and corporations have taken advantage of it.”

In other news – January is often a month of transition, not just in government, but across all fields. Articles this week@work explored the value of being fired and finding the right ‘fit’ next time. Physicists are the new software engineers in Silicon Valley and PhDs just may be the newest entrepreneurs.

Finally, this week@work we remember Kevin Starr, who went to work every day as a historian chronicling the past of his home state, California. “I’ve always tried to write California history as American history.”

4096.jpgPeter S. Goodman covered the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum for The New York Times.

“What is striking is what generally is not discussed: bolstering the power of workers to bargain for better wages and redistributing wealth from the top to the bottom.

“That agenda is anathema to a lot of Davos men and women,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate economist and author of numerous books on globalization and economic inequality. “More rights to bargain for workers, that’s the part where Davos man is going to get stuck. The stark reality is that globalization has reduced the bargaining power of workers, and corporations have taken advantage of it. ”

That perhaps private equity overseers should not be paid 1,000 times as much as teachers while availing themselves of tax breaks is thinking that gets little airing here.”

1e97282770fb153b749b691b25832c03.jpgFor those of us not networking with the super elite in the Swiss Alps, Julie Ma compiled a sampling of quotes from ’25 Famous Women on How Getting Fired Makes You Stronger’.

“If you don’t get fired at least once, you’re not trying hard enough. This isn’t quite true yet, but it is becoming truer. As the pace of change in business increases, the chances of having a placid career are receding. And if in this period of rapid change, you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances.” Sallie Krawcheck, chair Ellevate

“Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I’ve said it about 20 times, and it’s not. I was in fact insistent that that be publicly clear because I was not ashamed of that. And I don’t think young women — it’s hard, I know — they should not feel stigmatized if they are fired. Especially in this economy people are fired right and left for arbitrary reasons, and there are sometimes forces beyond your control.”
Jill Abramson, author and faculty @Harvard

IMG_8148.jpgMost folks leave their life @work because of the ‘human factor’: colleagues, leadership and values. Sharon Daniels offered advice to those starting the job search.

“If you have passion and enthusiasm, you’re on your way. People want to be around people who have passion and enthusiasm, because we all gravitate toward something greater than ourselves. If you do something wholeheartedly versus halfheartedly, it’s going to have a completely different effect.”

Cade Metz reported on how transferable skills are changing the profile of some tech workers, ‘Move Over, Coders—Physicists Will Soon Rule Silicon Valley’.

“If physics and software engineering were subatomic particles, Silicon Valley has turned into the place where the fields collide…It’s not on purpose, exactly. “We didn’t go into the physics kindergarten and steal a basket of children,” says Stripe president and co-founder John Collison. “It just happened.” And it’s happening across Silicon Valley. Because structurally and technologically, the things that just about every internet company needs to do are more and more suited to the skill set of a physicist.”

Ainsley O’Connell described another experiment in skill transference, ‘Can Entrepreneurship Revive The Troubled PhD?’

“PhD students once dreamed of lifelong tenure, generous sabbaticals, and a closet full of jackets with elbow patches. Academic life, with its dusty-booked charm, ruled the day. No longer. Even in STEM fields, roughly 40% of PhDs are graduating without employment commitments. Could the solution be teaching postdocs to create their own jobs, as entrepreneurs?

In the heart of Manhattan, in a set of conference rooms on loan from Google, one radical experiment in postdoc entrepreneurship is now entering its fourth year. Called “Runway” and managed by Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, the program bills itself as “part business school, part research institution, part startup incubator.” Since its founding, Runway postdocs have founded 13 companies, from an intelligent baby monitor to an urban planning analytics platform, and collectively raised $15 million in funding.”

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Finally, this week@work, we remember Kevin Starr, former California State Librarian, professor and author of an eight-volume history of his home state ‘Americans and the California Dream’.

Colleague William Deverell remembered the historian and author as ‘A Golden State Champion’.

“I knew Kevin Starr only as profundo. He was big, his voice was big, his persona was big, his books are big, his ideas are big, his influence is big. Some, and only some, of this has now been silenced by his death Saturday. Kevin’s outsize impact and his sheer significance to both our regional and our national culture, will continue long hence. Death has robbed us of the most important guide we have ever had to our state’s history and culture, our ingenious interpreter of the elusive and many meanings of the California Dream over several centuries.”

 

 

 

 

Pictures from the revolution – 1/21/17

I got as far as Pershing Square in Downtown LA. There were too many people to ‘march’ to City Hall. The real estate in-between was occupied by a sea of veteran and newly-minted activists.

Eventually, we headed in the opposite direction along 6th and up Grand to the Disney Concert Hall. The thousands in the ‘tangent march’ I joined never heard the political speeches of the day, but were overjoyed in the surprise of the turnout.

We were a rainbow representation of the California we call home. We were messengers from divergent origin, chanting with one voice. “This is what democracy looks like”.

IMG_8183.jpgThis is what I want you to understand. The result of the U.S. election may have been the catalyst, but this is about families, values and redefining a new American dream. It’s not about following a 70 year old white man into the past, but creating a solid bridge to a viable global future for our children and grandchildren. It’s about legacy, not name calling.

IMG_8149.jpgIf we can harness the energy and creativity that knitted pink pussy hats, and illustrated catchy posters, we can change the world. The present day reality holds enough shock value without piling on with unproductive language that creates a diversion from authentic action.

 We are the parents who are the everyday role models for our children. It’s our lot in life to “go high, when others go low”. We are the adults in the room.

Many doubt our unity. They minimize our resolve. They write we cannot sustain the momentum initiated on 1/21/17.

img_8191How often, as women@work, have we heard those whispered doubts of our ability to get the job done – to compete? Enough.

I have great respect for those who have blazed trails so others might succeed, but it’s time to hand over the power to the next generation of dreamers – to trust their ability to employ genuine entrepreneurial skill to reimagine the future.

They were there on Saturday; on every street, in every city around the world.

IMG_8180.jpgWhere do we begin? Start local. Be a mentor, donate to organizations that support K-12 leadership initiatives. Invest in people.

Take any opportunity to start a conversation, and listen.

Read the constitution. Fill in the gaps in your knowledge of American history. Learn the words to ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Visit the library or local bookstore and read at least one book by an author from another culture.

Go to your state capitol, find your representative, and ask, what they are doing to encourage a new cohort of leaders? Offer to help.

If you have massive amounts of cash, avoid the temptation to create a private label on a building, and put your money toward those who will cement a more permanent legacy through public service.

If you can’t find an organization with a ‘mission match’ to your values, create one. It was one woman’s Facebook post that grew into the Women’s March.

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And so it begins…

Photo credit- Downtown LA – LA Mayor’s website 

 

 

 

The week@work – the top stories of ’16, a new year, the eternal optimist’s talking points, French workers get the right to disconnect, and leadership lessons from Michelle Obama

Happy New Year! This week@work we take a final look at the top stories of 2016, and the stories from the first week of 2017. On the work-life balance front – French workers now have the legal right to disconnect from the office. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 4.7%, with hourly salary earnings rising 2.9%. And for women@work, an article considered the future of women in this new year, as First Lady Michelle Obama delivered her final formal remarks on Friday, giving us a parting gift – a model for what a leader looks like.

The Economist’s top ten most read stories of 2016 centered on the U.S. election and Brexit. In the U.S., NPR’s top 20 did not include Brexit, but the question of how Donald Trump will govern, led the list. “The top 20 most popular stories from the past year ranged from fact checks to mosquito bites, from Aleppo to taxes, and how to raise kids who will thrive, whatever the future brings.” 

There were many stories about work and the workplace, but most became a subset of the larger stories. Susan Chira reflected on ‘What Women Lost’.

“This was supposed to be the year of triumph for American women.

A year that would cap an arc of progress: Seneca Falls, 1848. The 19th Amendment, 1920. The first female American president, 2017. An inauguration that would usher in a triumvirate of women running major Western democracies. Little girls getting to see a woman in the White House.

Instead, for those at the forefront of the women’s movement, there is despair, division and defiance. Hillary Clinton’s loss was feminism’s, too.”

2017 will be the year we ask, what are the long term implications for women@work? On January 21, in Washington, and cities around the country, women will have an opportunity to reinsert themselves into the national conversation.

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For additional reading @year end:

‘The Echoes of 1914’ by historian Margaret MacMillan for the BBC. She responsed to a query about which year in history most closely resembled 2016.

“I wish I could stop, but I find myself thinking of 1914. The world then had seemed so stable, so manageable. Crises – political, social, economic, military – came and went but “they”, bankers, statesmen, politicians, always managed them in the end.

Yes, there were grumblings – from the working classes or women, or those who were losing their livelihoods because of free trade or mechanisation.

And there were some strong emotions about: fears of rapid change, passionate nationalisms that meant love of one’s own country and hatred of others. Ominous in retrospect because we know what happened. But at the time there was a complacency – it would surely all work out all right.

That confidence was dangerous because it meant that people didn’t take the warning signs seriously enough.

I wish I could stop making the comparisons.

In ‘1999 Was The Last Time Everything Was Fine’ BuzzFeed Culture Writer Doree Shafrir revisited her first year@work.

“I had no job and almost no money. My parents had given me the security deposit on the apartment as a graduation present, but now I was on my own. I was entranced by the classifieds section of the New York Times, with its pages and pages of appeals for secretaries and programmers and architects and retail store managers. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked to be around words, but I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of actually making money. Maybe now was the time to try something new. Maybe I could close my eyes and point to something on the page and that would be my destiny.

That was how 1999 felt, like anything was possible.”

Artist Tucker Nichols created a rainbow rendering of an ‘Eternal Optimist Talking Points for 2017’ as OpArt for The New York Times.  A sample of musings: “Somehow not as freaked out by scary clowns anymore…Midtown traffic has always been pretty jammed up…Smog makes great sunsets…Still a chance it’s a very long dream.”

On January 1, a new law in France went into effect allowing workers to ‘disconnect’ from their workplace.

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The BBC reported on France’s implementation of a law to protect work-life balance.

“Companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. France has a working week of 35 hours, in place since 2000.”

And then there was this from the professionals who go to work every day in U.S. Intelligence Services.IMG_8057.JPG

On Friday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a memorable farewell speech at a White House event honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year. The text set an aspirational vision for all Americans and provides all of us with a lesson in leadership.

“…for all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you — to all of you, from every background and walk of life. If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition — the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth.”

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“If your family doesn’t have much money, I want you to remember that in this country, plenty of folks, including me and my husband — we started out with very little. But with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible — even becoming President. That’s what the American Dream is all about.

But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. And that starts right now, when you’re young.

Right now, you need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation. You need to prepare yourself to be informed and engaged as a citizen, to serve and to lead, to stand up for our proud American values and to honor them in your daily lives. And that means getting the best education possible so you can think critically, so you can express yourself clearly, so you can get a good job and support yourself and your family, so you can be a positive force in your communities.

And when you encounter obstacles — because I guarantee you, you will, and many of you already have — when you are struggling and you start thinking about giving up, I want you to remember something that my husband and I have talked about since we first started this journey nearly a decade ago, something that has carried us through every moment in this White House and every moment of our lives, and that is the power of hope — the belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it.

It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves.

So that’s my final message to young people as First Lady. It is simple. I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid — you hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.”

We work in the context of global events, as responsible citizens. Our role in our workplace is to reflect the best in human and organizational values. In this new year@work, stay focused, be determined and lead by example with hope, never fear.

 

Photo credits: New Year’s Eve London – Ben Cawthra/LNP, Michelle Obama – BBC.com