The week@work: the crisis of civic education, karoshi, unemployment & the future of office attire

This week@work stories examine the role of education in creating civil discourse, the consequences of karoshi, the impact of weather on unemployment and the future of office attire.

While walking through the U.S.Capitol Visitor Center last week I encountered a group of junior high school students who were shrieking at each other as they reported a sighting of House Speaker Paul Ryan as if he were a chart topping rock star. What if the majority of junior high and high school students had the opportunity to walk the halls of Congress and observe the process of governing?

Harvard president emeritus, Derek Bok examines ‘The Crisis of Civic Education’.

“Schools have long been the primary source of civic education in America. As an early champion of public education, Horace Mann, pointed out more than 150 years ago: “One of the highest and most valuable objects to which the influences of a school can be made conducive consists in training our children to self-government. Yet schools cannot accomplish this task by themselves. Many studies have pointed to the difficulties that hamper their efforts, including inadequate funding and pressures on teachers from school boards, parents, politicians, and textbook publishers. In view of those problems, it is not surprising that the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which periodically evaluates the knowledge of America’s schoolchildren, concluded in 2010 that more than two-thirds of high-school seniors scored below “proficient” in their knowledge of civics and government.”

Once the American high school senior transitions to college, there is no imperative to incorporate “essential courses to equip them to perform their civic functions more effectively” into their curriculum.

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“While many colleges claim to be preparing citizens…and although they offer many classes and activities that can contribute to this end, few provide any required courses aimed at achieving that result. Instead, learning to become an active and informed citizen is simply treated as an option — much like preparing to be a doctor or a lawyer or a business executive — even though becoming a citizen is not a choice but a status acquired automatically by the vast majority of undergraduates.”

Bok suggests a number of approaches: linking community involvement experience with academic coursework; connecting the dots between the activity and public policy, engagement with student government and establishing multi-cultural residence halls.

Colleges have a responsibility to lead on this issue. Colleges own this one. If not here, where?

“In today’s diverse and highly partisan society, it is particularly important to teach undergraduates to take account of contrary opinions and arguments and to discuss such differences respectfully. Most campuses are well positioned to encourage these habits…The recent election underscores the importance of extending such efforts to encourage interaction among classmates with different political ideologies and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Walter Sim reported on ‘Death by overwork: Will Japan finally face up to ‘karoshi’?

“With her mobile phone in hand as if waiting for her next assignment, a 31-year-old political reporter with broadcaster NHK died of heart failure in her sleep in July 2013 after clocking nearly 160 hours of overtime the month before.

Two years later, on Christmas Day, a rookie at advertising giant Dentsu leapt to her death after being subjected to a gruelling schedule and harassment at her workplace.

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The statistics nationwide are quite startling. Japan’s second annual karoshi White Paper, released last Friday, said there were 191 work-related deaths and attempted suicides in the fiscal year ending March 2017. This was two more than the previous year. In the same fiscal year, 498 cases of mental illness, such as depression, were deemed work-related.

And from January 2010 to March 2015, 368 suicides – 352 men and 16 women – were deemed as karoshi.”

Patricia Cohen reported ‘U.S. Lost 33,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Rate Dips to 4.2%’.

“Staggering from the impact of hurricanes that walloped Texas, Florida and neighboring states, the economy lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first monthly decline in employment in seven years, the government reported on Friday.

But economists discounted the discouraging report, describing it as a blip in a job market that was fundamentally strong.”

Wondering what to wear this week@work? Jessica Holland asks ‘Are tracksuits and trainers the future of office attire?’

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“They were all wearing trainers and layers of black,” says Evelyn Cotter, a career coach based in London. She’s describing a recent public speaking conference she attended, where the crowd of ambitious young professionals were dressed in a uniform way.

“Everyone had come straight from work, they were wearing black jeans and smart sneakers, but it definitely felt professional,” adds Cotter. “It’s a conscious style choice. It’s not just what you throw on to play with your dog in the garden.”

“The industry of ‘athleisure’ – sporty clothes and shoes that people don’t necessarily wear to play sport – grew by a staggering 42% between 2008 and 2015, according to Morgan Stanley research. More recently, its influence has begun to creep into offices, where workers’ clothing is becoming increasingly relaxed and designed for comfort. The Society for Human Resource Management, an international organisation, tracks how many employers allow workers to dress casually every day, and that figure rose from 32% in 2014 to 44% in 2016.”

Before you head out to your favorite ‘athleisure’ retailer, check the culture and style of your employer. On days when you are meeting with clients, it’s always a good idea to mirror the style of your customer. (or their expectations)

The last story this week@work, was the first story breaking on Monday morning. Folks taking a break from work at a music festival on a Sunday evening in Las Vegas became targets of a mass shooting. In twelve minutes 58 people between the ages of 20 and 67 were murdered; 489 were injured. On Wednesday, the citizens of Manhattan Beach, California gathered on a pier overlooking the Pacific to mourn two of the victims: Sandy Casey, 35, a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School and Rachael Parker, 33, a records technician with the Manhattan Beach Police Department.

1005_nws_tdb-l-mbvigil-carr01-1.jpgThis week@work consider how you might do more than send thoughts and prayers.

 

Photo credit: Manhattan Beach vigil, Steve Carr for the Daily Breeze/ Office Attire, Sykes London for British Vogue

The mysteries of networking #6

Does networking really take place in a galaxy far, far away? I think that’s the way some of us approach it – a great excuse for not engaging in the process. And then, there’s the whole ‘mentoring thing’ – Do I need one? How do I find one? Then what do I do?

It’s pretty simple. It’s hard work. Actually, once you start the work doesn’t end. You just need to recalculate the equation. It’s not a chore, it’s an amazing, fun exploration. And you can start today, with the folks in a college classroom, colleagues at work, members of your book club or athletic training group.

“There’s a Chinese saying: “Explore what’s best in the others and follow.” Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”  Lee Shau Kee

Think about that. “Explore the best in others and follow.” Who are the ‘best’ in your world or the one you want to join? What are the qualities/values that align to win your vote as best@what they do? If you could have a few minutes with them, what would you ask?

The ‘networking’ thing is the exploration. Think about how you might go about planning for a hike, or travel. Why are you going? What do you hope to find? What research have you conducted to prepare? And, you’re planning to have fun, right?

Apply the same process to networking. “Explore the best in others…”

“…and follow.” Once you have started a conversation, it’s time to examine the next layer of career success. What has been the path to success? What were the failures, trade-offs, and recovery? How many detours came along the way? What do they look for in folks they hire?

Ask questions unique to your career aspirations. Your goal is to spark a longer conversation, one that may lead to a continuing professional relationship – a mentor.

“Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”

 

 

 

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 week@work – ‘I’MPossible, steady job gains, robots, the multi-lingual advantage, and digital addiction

This week@work a South African big wave surfer completed his Atlantic crossing via paddleboard, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%, research revealed speaking multiple languages restructures our brain, and the time you are spending reading this on your smartphone just may be a symptom of addiction.

What have you been doing @work since December 6, 2016? Chris Bertish, an accomplished surfer, left Morocco on that Tuesday headed for Florida. John Clarke reported ‘Chris Bertish Becomes First to Cross Atlantic by Paddleboard’.

“Bertish left the Agadir Marina in Morocco on Dec. 6. and planned to make the 4,600-mile, open-ocean passage unsupported and unassisted on a 20-foot stand-up paddleboard to Florida in four months.

He changed course south to Antigua because of low pressure systems and volatile weather, completing the 4,050-mile crossing in 93 days, arriving at 8:32 a.m. local time. Bertish averaged 44 miles a day — mostly at night to avoid exposure to the sun — and alternated between resting and paddling every two or three hours.

He made an estimated two million paddle strokes during the journey.”

In other good news, Ana Swanson examined the detail behind the unemployment figures, ‘U.S. added 235,000 jobs in February; unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent’.

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“The U.S. economy added a healthy 235,000 jobs in February, according to government data released Friday morning, surpassing economists’ expectations and likely clearing the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month.

The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent, compared with 4.8 percent in January, and wages rose by 6 cents to $26.09 in February, after a 5-cent increase the month before.”

In a related story, Claire Cain Miller offered strategies on ‘How to Beat the Robots’.

“The problem, at least for now, is not that there isn’t enough work — there is, but it is very different from the kind of work technology is displacing. Manufacturing and warehousing jobs are shrinking, while jobs that provide services (health care, child care, elder care, education, food) are growing.”

A number of elements in combination could establish viable competition with the robots: education that encourages flexibility and life-long learning, guaranteed basic income, profit sharing, and experimenting with non-traditional approaches to work.

Author Gabrielle Hogan-Brun‘s research has found ‘People who speak multiple languages make the best employees for one big reason’.

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“Speaking a different language—whether it’s your grandparents’ tongue or high-school Spanish—fundamentally changes the structure of your brain. Put a bunch of these malleable minds together in a company, and you create the potential for some truly original thinking.

Observations of multi-language work teams show that mixed-language groups have a propensity to find innovative solutions for practical problems. This is because they use a range of communication strategies in flexible and dynamic ways. When speakers from different language backgrounds work together using a common language, they draw on subconscious concepts that lie below the surface of the language they happen to be conversing in.

These findings show that bilingual people may have highly valued employment attributes: analytical thinking, conceptualizing ability, working memory, and dexterity. Clearly, these skills are assets when it comes to rational planning, managing complexity, and problem solving, which are central for executive function.”

Claudia Dreifus interviewed social psychologist, Adam Alter to discover ‘Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens’.

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“Why do you claim that many of the new electronic gadgets have fueled behavioral addictions?”

“Well, look at what people are doing. In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.

Moreover, these new gadgets turn out to be the perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.”

In closing this week@work, this morning’s tweet from Chris Bertish:

“As you head into the new week, remember the mantra that got me through 93 days on the Atlantic…Nothing is impossible, unless you believe it to be”

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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 – 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.”

 

 

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ by Bob Hicok

The Friday Poem this week captures a moment when a telephone rings and life changes for two American workers. ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ is poet and English professor Bob Hickok’s intimate portrait of the effects of economic downturn.

Written at a time when Detroit was the epicenter of job losses in manufacturing, the words continue to resonate today, as we address income inequality and the impermanence of the ‘gig’ economy.

Calling Him Back from Layoff 

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

Bob Hicok  ‘Insomnia Diary’ University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004

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Listen to Bob Hicok read the poem for ‘Poetry Everywhere’

 

The week@work – end of summer, Wells Fargo issues an apology to artists, start-ups adapt, cycling is the new networking, and the August jobs report

In news this week@work: Wells Fargo placed advertising in advance of ‘Teen Financial Education Day’ implying the worth of career aspirations in the sciences rank above those in the arts, Silicon Valley start-ups are adapting  to anticipate a market downturn, networking has moved from the bar to the bike (that’s a good thing), and the U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9%.

Late Saturday morning I checked my Twitter feed and found this from novelist Caroline Leavitt. Forget post-tropical cyclone Hermine, this was the Labor Day weekend’s perfect storm.

According to Forbes contributing writer, Emily Willingham,“Wells Fargo rolled out an ad campaign this week that it almost immediately withdrew following on Internet outrage from a lot of angry artists and humanities professors. That may not sound that scary, but these folks know how to use words and emote.

The ads, using images depicting teens engaging in sciencey things, urge us to “get them ready for tomorrow” by ensuring that the aspiring ballerinas and actors of today become engineers and botanists of the future…

The message here is, of course, that the future is science. That becoming a ballerina or an actor is a dreamscape fairytale that has no place in a real world of cold hard cash and sciencey-sounding things like botany. Imagine if some parents buy into that ad’s message and try to push their budding ballerina into botany instead. The world loses an artist and gains a mediocre, uninterested botanist who’s given up her life’s dream? Lose–lose.”

This was not just a ‘business section’ story. Olivia Clement reported on Broadway’s reaction on Playbill.com.

“A new advertising campaign from Wells Fargo, an American banking and financial services company, has prompted outrage from the theatre community. The ads imply that it is more valuable for young people to pursue a career in the sciences rather than the arts.

A Wells Fargo brochure depicts a young man in a science lab. “An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow,” reads the accompanying text. Another, depicting a young woman in a lab, reads: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Among those to express their disappointment and frustration at the campaign on September 3 were Alex Brightman, Ann Harada, Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley and Benj Pasek—who took to Twitter to call out the company directly. “Apparently @WellsFargo doesn’t think that an actor or ballerina require any work at all. Shame!” read Erivo’s tweet.”

Wells Fargo apologized via Twitter late Saturday.

Anticipating the end of the boom, Katie Benner delivered a tech industry status report, ‘Warned of a Crash, Start-Ups in Silicon Valley Narrow Their Focus’.

“Last year, many tech executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs were convinced that a multiyear boom that had propelled young companies to great heights could no longer sustain itself.

The worst fallout may yet come, but many of the start-ups have hung on. Across Silicon Valley, engineers are still commanding annual salaries that average $136,000, according to Hired, a recruiting firm. Demand is brisk for $4 buttered toast, and office space rents remain near record highs. The biggest start-ups, like Uber and Airbnb, continue to land billions of dollars in funding. And investors are shoveling money into venture capital funds, which raised so much cash in the first half of this year that it rivaled the amount raised in all of 2015.

For all of the hand-wringing, “there just hasn’t been much of a downturn,” said Paul Buchheit, a managing partner at Y Combinator, a prominent start-up incubator that nurtured companies including Dropbox and Airbnb. “I don’t even see many companies going out of business.”

Wondering where you might meet one of those tech execs or VCs? This past week Sarah Max covered a story that has been growing globally over the past year, ‘Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech’. In other words, cycling is the new networking.

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“Thinking he needed to take up a “California sport,” Greg Gretsch started cycling in 1988, when he moved to the Bay Area to work in marketing at Apple after graduating from the University of Georgia. He bought a 10-speed road bike and joined a group of other Apple employees for a standing noon ride.

Today, Mr. Gretsch, 49, is a founding partner with San Francisco-based Jackson Square Ventures, which makes early-stage investments in fledgling companies, including a social network and performance-tracking app for athletes call Strava. He rides an average of five days a week on paved roads in the Bay Area and on trails near his second home near Lake Tahoe. Cycling is primarily for exercise and escape, he said, but it has also been good for his career.

“Connecting with people is important to what I do, and you can learn a lot about a person, and from a person, on the bike,” said Mr. Gretsch, who founded three companies before going into venture capital in 2000 at a firm called Sigma Partners.”

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department released the August jobs report. Camila Domonoske summarized the data for NPR.

“The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent…”

Finally, this week@work, we celebrated the last weekend of summer.

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Photo credit: Boulder cyclists, Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera