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

The week@work:’post-truth’, Facebook’s ‘news feed’, Gwen Ifill, a new leader @Lincoln Center, & Udacity’s tech job tryouts

This past week@work Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ the 2016 word of the year, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg realized his job description included a responsibility to combat fake news. In contrast, the week marked the death of an authentic journalist, PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill. Lincoln Center chose a new leader from academia and MOOC provider, Udacity announced tech job tryouts.

On Wednesday, the BBC reported “Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a “highly-charged” political 12 months.

It is defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.

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Oxford Dictionaries says post-truth is thought to have been first used in 1992. However, it says the frequency of its usage increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared with last year.”

The Economist explored ‘post-truth’ in ‘The Art of the Lie’.

“The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance…

Post-truth politics has many parents. Some are noble. The questioning of institutions and received wisdom is a democratic virtue. A sceptical lack of deference towards leaders is the first step to reform. The collapse of communism was hastened because brave people were prepared to challenge the official propaganda.

Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media… The fragmentation of news sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip spread with alarming speed. Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any mainstream-media source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth. Presented with evidence that contradicts a belief that is dearly held, people have a tendency to ditch the facts first. Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too. The pursuit of “fairness” in reporting often creates phoney balance at the expense of truth.”

The New Yorker contributor, Nathan Heller examined one example of the phenomena in ‘The Failure of Facebook Democracy’.

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“The unexpected election of Donald Trump is said to owe debts to both niche extremism and rampant misinformation. Facebook, the most pervasive of the social networks, has received much scrutiny and blame. During the final weeks of the campaigns, it grew apparent that the site’s “news” algorithm—a mechanism that trawls posts from one’s online friends and rank-displays those deemed of interest—was not distinguishing between real news and false information: the sort of tall tales, groundless conspiracy theories, and oppositional propaganda that, in the Cenozoic era, circulated mainly via forwarded e-mails.

Facebook is not the only network to have trafficked phony news, but its numbers have been striking. A much-cited Pew survey, released in May, suggested that forty-four per cent of the general population used Facebook as a news source, a figure unrivalled by other social networks. An analysis this week by Craig Silverman, of BuzzFeed, found that the twenty top-performing fake news stories on the network outperformed the twenty top real-news stories during the final three months before the election—and that seventeen of those fakes favored the Trump campaign.

If a majority of Americans are getting their news from Facebook, then Facebook surely has a civic obligation to insure the information it disseminates is sound.”

Which brings us to the initial response from Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.”

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On Friday, he posted details of the projects in place to address the issue.

“A lot of you have asked what we’re doing about misinformation, so I wanted to give an update.

The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”

Buried in paragraph four was this nugget that seemed to transfer ownership from the corporation to the community, ignoring a leader’s civic obligation.

“We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”

Contrast this approach to the definition of the role of a journalist, courtesy of the American Press Institute.

“The journalist places the public good above all else and uses certain methods – the foundation of which is a discipline of verification – to gather and assess what he or she finds.”

So let’s return to the days of ‘truth’ and remember the contribution of journalist Gwen Ifill through the eyes of two colleagues.

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‘What Gwen Ifill Knew About Race in America’  by Jeffrey Goldberg “An insufficient number of people have recognized what is obvious. Gwen’s death is a punishing blow to her family, and to her wide circle of friends, to her colleagues and to her viewers. But it is also a cruel blow to her profession, which hasn’t recently covered itself in glory. And it’s an especially cruel blow to her lovely nation, which is right now in need of her bravery, her farsightedness, and her willingness to tell the truth. Hers is an incalculable loss.”

‘The Life and Example of Gwen Ifill’ by David Brooks “Gwen worked in a tough business, and being an African-American woman in that business brought its own hardships and scars, but Gwen’s smile did not hold back. Her whole personality was the opposite of reticent, and timidity was a stranger to her. When the Ifill incandescence came at you, you were getting human connection full-bore.

I suppose every profession has a few people like this, people who love the whole profession, who pay compliments when its standards are met and who are tough when they are not.

Gwen’s death merits a bit of the reaction that greeted the death of the writer Samuel Johnson centuries ago: She has left a chasm, which nobody else can fill up and which nobody has a tendency to fill.

Now that Gwen is dead, who is the next best thing? There’s nobody. There are many great people who will follow her example. But nobody quite reminds you of Gwen.”

In other news this week@work:

‘Debora L. Spar, Barnard President, to Lead Lincoln Center’Michael Cooper for The New York Times  “In appointing Ms. Spar, who is also an author and a former Harvard Business School professor, Lincoln Center’s board looked beyond arts administration circles and decided to tap someone with experience running a large nonprofit and with a track record of raising money for capital projects — skills that could prove useful as the renovation proceeds.”

Mr. Cooper reported in a related story that you may want to share with the aspiring musicians in your life, ‘It’s Official: Many Orchestras Are Now Charities’.

‘Udacity, an Online Learning Start-Up, Offers Tech Job Trials’Steve Lohr for The New York Times “The program, called Blitz, provides what is essentially a brief contract assignment, much like an internship. Employers tell Udacity the skills they need, and Udacity suggests a single candidate or a few. For the contract assignment, which usually lasts about three months, Udacity takes a fee worth 10 to 20 percent of the worker’s salary. If the person is then hired, Udacity does not collect any other fees, such as a finder’s fee.

The Blitz initiative and Udacity’s evolution point to the role that nontraditional education organizations might play in addressing the needs of workers and employers in the fast-changing labor market for technology skills.”

In closing this week of work, I am still trying to clear the fog in my brain and understand ‘post truth’. I reside in the real word, but apparently it’s changing. What does work look like when words hold no meaning?

I’ll end with classicist Mary Beard‘s reflection on the U.S. election.

“Trump and Trump’s policies are truly ghastly, but you have to face the fact that a very large number of people actually voted for him. What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power.”

 

Photo credits: Facebook Menlo Park HQ courtesy of Facebook Newsroom Media Gallery, Mark Zuckerberg from his Facebook page, Gwen Iffil/Morry Gash AP

 

 

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

 

The week@work – Tonys, LinkedIn, Microsoft, ‘Brexit’, Orlando, and how to make a good teacher

This week@work the amazing Broadway production of Hamilton took home eleven Tony awards, Microsoft absorbed LinkedIn, young workers in Great Britain contemplated life after ‘Brexit’, journalist Anderson Cooper reported from Orlando, and we learned teaching can be taught.

Rolling Stone Magazine reporters Amy Plitt and Phoebe Reilly tallied the ’20 Best, Worst and WTF Moments at 2016 Tony Awards’.

“On a night that was marked by tragedy — and occurring mere hours after news broke of the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida — the Tonys provided a much-needed bit of levity. The performers and honorees didn’t shy away from speaking about the shocking events of the day, but the overall mood was one of celebration. Part of the credit goes to the master of ceremonies James Corden, best known as the goofy host CBS’s Late Late Show, yet still a dorky theater kid at heart; his charming, cheerful persona brought an upbeat mood to the proceedings. And the Hamilton effect — and the fact that it was just a strong year for Broadway in general, with plenty of wonderful productions to celebrate — surely had something to do with it as well.”

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One of the best moments was James Cordon’s resume review of Tony nominated actors and their appearances on Law and Order.

“If you’ve ever thumbed through a Playbill wondering “Where have I seen that actor before?!?,” the answer is usually: Law & Order. Corden made very rewarding use of this New York actor résumé mainstay last night when he called on Claire Danes for her memorable portrayal of … L&O’s Tracy Brandt. The joke only got better as Corden showed footage of Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. (who were in the same episode!) and poor Danny Burstein — the Fiddler on the Roof star played six different roles on the series, and each time Corden flashed the photo of another character, the audience (and Burstein) laughed harder. Apparently, there is absolutely no continuity on Law & Order.”

And now you know.

The breaking business story on Monday was news of the Microsoft/LinkedIn acquisition. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Lemann examined ‘LinkedIn’s Complicated Bet on the Future of Work’.

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“LinkedIn, the business-oriented social-networking company that Microsoft acquired, this week, for $26.2 billion, was founded on two premises. The first was that, even in the winner-take-all world of Internet businesses, there would still be room for a niche company (meaning, in this case, only four hundred million registered users, and a hundred million users per month). The second was that what it means to work in a business is now profoundly different from what it was in the Organization Man era. White-collar employees are highly unlikely to spend a lifetime with a single employer, and more and more are not employees at all in the traditional sense. They self-manage their careers, in part by maintaining online personal networks, rather than have them managed by a corporate human-relations department.”

Now LinkedIn will function as part of a Fortune 50 corporate structure and employees will move from an entrepreneurial culture/ stock option pay structure to an “alternative universe, where, by tech-company standards, employees stay an unusually long time—the average tenure at Microsoft is five years, versus two years at Google, according to data from the consulting firm PayScale—and are unlikely to get rich from their stock options zooming up in value, as was the case for Microsoft employees back in the twentieth century. They are going to be their world’s equivalent of corporate lifers, with generous salaries and benefits and some measure of job security, while working to promote the continued growth of a very different kind of work arrangement elsewhere in the economy.

The technology world seems to be creating a small number of extremely successful people, a larger number of well-treated corporate employees, and an even larger number of people who wish they could be employees.”

And then there are the rest of us who now face the prospect of LinkedIn ads invading our quiet space as we commit great thoughts to Word and fill in Excel spreadsheets.

Randall Stross shared his opinion, ‘Why LinkedIn Will Make You Hate Microsoft Word’.

“My version of Word, a relatively recent one, is not that different from the original, born in software’s Pleistocene epoch. It isn’t networked to my friends, family and professional contacts, and that’s the point. Writing on Word may be the only time I spend on my computer in which I can keep the endless distractions in the networked world out of sight.

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing,” said the move reflected a failure to understand what writers need. “Most of the most innovative writing tools now on the market position themselves precisely as distraction-free platforms,” he said.

What Mr. Nadella fails to see is how extending LinkedIn’s “social fabric” to Word will kill the magic, not speed it up.”

On Thursday, voters in Great Britain will choose to leave or remain in the European Union. Kimiko De Freitas-Tamura reported ‘Brexit’ Vote Worries European Up-and-Comers Lured to Britain’.

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“For years, Britain’s relatively vibrant economy has attracted a steady flow of young people fleeing a lack of opportunity in their home countries on the Continent. London in particular is full of young Europeans, who have helped give the city its dynamic, global feel. From entrepreneurs, bankers and fashion designers to artists, waiters and students, all are free to resettle in Britain and make their futures here without so much as a visa.

No one knows for sure what would happen to them if Britain voted to leave the European Union — their immigration status would have to be worked out in the negotiations that would follow — but the debate itself has left some of the young people feeling fearful, frustrated and even angry.

Journalist Anderson Cooper covered the mass shootings in Orlando this week, demonstrating empathy for the victims and tenacity in interviews with politicians. Michael M. Grynbaum profiled the CNN anchor for The New York Times.

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“Anderson Cooper was reading the names of victims of the Orlando massacre on CNN this week when, uncharacteristically, his voice wavered and he drew up short. For moments, viewers around the country heard only silence, and then the sounds of the anchor struggling to compose himself.

As the news industry descended on Florida this week in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a gay nightclub, Mr. Cooper’s raw, activist-style coverage has stood out. He has held a prime-time vigil of sorts, reciting a list of the dead; refused to name the gunman, saying he wanted to focus on victims; and, in a widely viewed exchange, grilled Florida’s attorney general for defending a state ban on same-sex marriage.”

It was a very tough week@work. Colleagues celebrating their day off late Saturday into Sunday morning were viciously murdered in a gay nightclub in Orlando, and on Thursday, Member of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered as she went to work to meet with her constituents in West Yorkshire.

The last story, from The Economist, ‘How to Make a Good Teacher’.

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“Big changes are needed in schools, too, to ensure that teachers improve throughout their careers. Instructors in the best ones hone their craft through observation and coaching. They accept critical feedback—which their unions should not resist, but welcome as only proper for people doing such an important job. The best head teachers hold novices’ hands by, say, giving them high-quality lesson plans and arranging for more experienced teachers to cover for them when they need time for further study and practice.

Money is less important than you might think. Teachers in top-of-the-class Finland, for example, earn about the OECD average. But ensuring that the best stay in the classroom will probably, in most places, mean paying more. People who thrive in front of pupils should not have to become managers to earn a pay rise. And more flexibility on salaries would make it easier to attract the best teachers to the worst schools.

Improving the quality of the average teacher would raise the profession’s prestige, setting up a virtuous cycle in which more talented graduates clamoured to join it. But the biggest gains will come from preparing new teachers better, and upgrading the ones already in classrooms.”

Here’s what I think. Improving the quality of teachers will improve the quality of content taught. It will ensure a ‘safe space’ to openly discuss the issues facing our neighborhoods, counties, countries and continents. Good teachers remove the blinders of hate and discrimination. A courageous teacher at the front of the classroom cautions the young against the errors of the past, and is the best antidote to history repeating itself.

A good teacher reminds us that we are all teachers.

paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work – leadership lessons from Leicester City, #TonysSoDiverse, exit strategies & the April jobs report

This week@work we visit Leicester, England (think Wichita,KS) to uncover a story of unlikely success, celebrate the diversity of the Tony Award nominees, grasp the value of a positive employee exit process, and review the April jobs report.

At the beginning of the English Premier League season, Ladbrokes, the world leader in gaming and betting set 5000/1 odds that Leicester City would win the title. On Monday, the team beat the odds to hoist the trophy and celebrate their marvelous win.

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There were hundreds of news articles published over the past week, covering the story from every possible angle. Here are a few, examining the business applications and social impact.

‘What do the foxes say?’, The Economist’s take on the champions suggests a future in business school and corporate conference engagements for club manager, Claudio Ranieri.

“In footballing terms, Claudio Ranieri, an affable Italian, has found a way to turn water into wine. Mr Ranieri manages a club in England, Leicester City, which historically has not been very good. On May 2nd his team were crowned champions of the English Premier League, a competition more watched than any other on the planet, and reliably won—including in every one of the preceding 20 years—by one of four much bigger clubs.

…Leicester’s triumph will also spark inordinate interest in the world of business, which has long looked to sport for lessons on management and leadership.

The BBC’s Robert Plummer shared six of ‘Leicester City’s business secrets’. “You don’t need to throw money at the problem. Get the right people around you. Create the right culture. Do the maths. Create the right incentives. Don’t forget your mum’s birthday!”

For a literary, fan perspective, Booker winning author, Julian Barnes wrote ‘My Stupid Leicester City Love’.

“I haven’t always been a Leicester City supporter: there was a time before I could read, or knew how to tune the Bakelite wireless to the voice of Raymond Glendenning on Sports Report. But from the moment I became sportingly sentient – say, the age of five or six – I have been (as they didn’t much say then) a Fox. So, six and a half decades and counting.

To be a lifelong supporter of Leicester is to have spent decades poised between mild hopefulness and draining disappointment. You learn to cultivate a shrugging ruefulness, to become familiar with the patronising nods of London cabbies, and to cling to an assortment of memories, of pluses and minuses, some comic, some less so. Yes, we have won promotion to the top division every so often; but the fact of promotion logically implies an earlier relegation. Yes, we did win the League Cup; but what burns the soul are the four times we reached the FA Cup final and the four times we lost.”

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ESPN’s Wright Thompson introduced readers to the diverse “salad bowl” that is Leicester, England, in ‘We’ve come to win the league’.

“This is the first city in the United Kingdom with less than 50 percent of the population identifying as “white British,” which some people see as the inevitable destiny of an island nation that tried to conquer the world, while others see it as a sign of the apocalypse. People here of different faiths and races seem to get along; Narborough Road, one of the main avenues into the city, was named the most diverse street in Britain by researchers. Shopkeepers and small business owners from 23 nations work there.

John Williams lives on a park near the local university where he teaches…He studies the sociology of football and has written many books on the subject. Whenever someone wants to understand the subtext of life on the pitches and terraces of Leicester, he’s often the first call.

“It was a very white space,” Williams said. “It had a sense of foreboding and exclusion about it. The new stadium has none of those memories. Everyone starts with a clean state at the new stadium because you have to make the history. This is a new history being written.”

Janan Ganesh shared ‘Lessons for everyone from the rise of Leicester City’.  “There is more of the Enlightenment than of romance about this story.

Foreign owners, a foreign coach, a polyglot squad, a laboratory of a training ground: far from mounting a stand against the modern world, Leicester is the modern world. Do not hold out against change, this season teaches us, absorb and master it. The lesson is not just for other clubs but also for modest cities adapting to globalisation and for individuals navigating an insecure world.”

And while we are on the topic of diversity, the Tony Awards were announced last week, recognizing the best of the American theater over the past year. Katherine Brooks sent a message to the left coast, ‘Dear Hollywood, Let Broadway Show You What Diversity Looks Like’.

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“The nominations for “Hamilton,” along with other plays and musicals like “The Color Purple,” “Eclipsed,” “On Your Feet!,” and “Shuffle Along,” reveal a picture of Broadway far more diverse than seasons before it. These shows feature actors of color in lead roles, highlight the experiences of women and minorities in the U.S. and beyond, and empower writers and directors breaking barriers in their categories. They prove, along with a litany of shows that weren’t nominated, that this year was a different kind of year for the Great White Way.

…critics across the Internet are using a different kind of hashtag ahead of the theater world’s version of the Academy Awards: #TonysSoDiverse.”

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Heather Huhman addressed the importance of ‘last impressions’ in an article for Entrepreneur. Building and maintaining a positive reputation is key to recruiting talent. How an employer treats people throughout their ‘on the job life cycle’ is often chronicled in social media. Thinking strategically about the exit process can reap long term benefits.

“…the process for offboarding employees should be just as important as the onboarding one, and that companies neglecting the former, integral process may experience negative impacts. Here are a few things to consider, to ensure your formal offboarding program is successful: make saying goodbye positive, go beyond the exit interview, turn exiting employees into brand ambassadors and use past employees in your referral program.

Go beyond the exit interview to establish and continually improve the offboarding process to include exit surveys, strong communication throughout an organization and a plan to stay connected to departing employees.”

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Eric Morath analyzed the recent jobs report for the Wall Street Journal.

“U.S. companies slowed the pace of hiring in April while paying workers only slightly more, signaling a softening of the labor market…

…an increase in wage growth and a pickup in the number of hours worked across the economy could signal solid underlying income growth for workers that would support stronger consumer spending in coming months.

…the easing of job gains could also suggest the economy reached a level where firms will provide workers better pay increases and more hours, rather than hiring new employees.”

The week@work: Inequality on stage, Apple@40, ‘job crafting’ & odd interview questions

As the economy continues to improve, and include workers who had given up, playwrights are staging works that reflect the continued struggle and inequity in the workplace. This week@work we celebrate Apple@40, take a look at ‘job crafting’ as a way to reimagine work and pose a few interview questions.

Nelson D. Schwartz and Neil Irwin reported ‘Jobs and Wages Notching Gains Long In Coming’ for the New York Times.

“Companies have been hiring in recent months at a pace not seen before in this century. Wages are rising faster than inflation. Joblessness is hovering near the low levels last reached in 2007 before the economy’s downturn.

And perhaps most significantly, the army of unemployed people who gave up and dropped out of the job market is not only looking for work, but actually finding it.

“Wages and participation are where the rubber meets the road,” said Michael Gapen, chief United States economist at Barclays. “We will take our cue about the overall strength of the economy based on that.”

At the same time, the chasm widens between the average worker, still trying to recover with modest wage gains, and the quantum leaps in compensation for the wealthy.

It’s this divergence that is reflected in several theater productions, under the heading ‘Haves and have-nots: Putting America’s financial inequality on the stage’. The Economist article reviews ‘The Humans’, ‘Hungry’, ‘Hold On To Me Darling’, ‘The Way West’, ‘Dry Powder’, and ‘Red Speedo’ to illustrate how the economy and work are inspiring a generation of playwrights.

“There is something familiar about the Blakes, the American family at the centre of “The Humans”, a new play by Stephen Karam that is now on Broadway. Anyone who has navigated the emotional minefield of a family meal will recognise the affectionate way they bicker, their barbs softened with tenderness. But something else about this family will also resonate with a growing group of Americans: each member is struggling financially.

This conversation resembles countless others across the country, as Americans try to make sense of an economy in which working hard is no longer enough to afford a comfortable life. Parents who assumed that their children would surpass their own accomplishments are now startled to find so many of them sweating over rent and saddled with college debt. What does it take to get ahead? Why does the system create so few haves and so many have- nots?”

This past week marked the 40th anniversary of Apple. In his commencement speech to the Stanford class of 2005, co-founder Steve Jobs recalled the journey from start-up to his firing by the Board of Directors.

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“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

We know the rest of the story. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. David Pierce and Michael Calore identify ‘Fifteen Products That Defined Apple’s First 40 Years’.

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#1 the iPhone

“If you want to understand the iPhone’s importance to Apple, just look at its earnings. But it’s not just that: Without it, our phones might still look like BlackBerries. We might never have learned to pinch to zoom. We might all carry point-and-shoots. It’s almost impossible to overstate the revolution the iPhone started in 2007, which has touched and connected billions of people around the world.”

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If you prefer to digest ideas via podcast, add NPR’s Hidden Brain to your subscription list. Last week’s installment featured host Shankar Vedanta in conversation with Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski on finding meaning in our work.

“Why do you work? Are you just in it for the money or do you do it for a greater purpose? Popular wisdom says your answer depends on what your job is. But psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale University finds it may have more to do with how we think about our work. Across groups such as secretaries and custodians and computer programmers, Wrzesniewski finds people about equally split in whether they say they have a “job,” a “career” or a “calling.” 

According to Wrzesniewski’s research “people who see work as a calling are more satisfied, engaged, and better performers”. These are folks who “go beyond notice” to craft the boundaries of their job to make work more meaningful.

The last story from this week@work is about interview questions. File it under the query, ‘What was the oddest question you were asked in an interview?’, from recruiting site, glassdoor.com.

Here’s a sample:

“What would the name of your debut album be?” (Urban Outfitters)

“What would you do if you found a penguin in your freezer?” (Trader Joe’s)

And here’s one that we should all be prepared to answer.

“If you were a brand, what would be your motto?” (BCG)

Think about it, and have a great week@work.

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work: team spirit, setting boundaries@work, getting fired, & the first day of spring

This week@work we review articles on the effectiveness of teams, the risk of not setting boundaries @work, why getting fired isn’t always a bad thing, and a sign of spring.

Organizations are employing cross functional teams to solve a variety of business problems. The Economist explored new research on the effectiveness of teams.

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“Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management in Illinois warns that, “Teams are not always the answer—teams may provide insight, creativity and knowledge in a way that a person working independently cannot; but teamwork may also lead to confusion, delay and poor decision-making.”

Profound changes in the workforce are making teams trickier to manage. Teams work best if their members have a strong common culture.

…the most successful teams have leaders who set an overall direction and clamp down on dithering and waffle. They need to keep teams small and focused: giving in to pressure to be more “inclusive” is a guarantee of dysfunction. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s boss, says that “If I see more than two pizzas for lunch, the team is too big.”

…organisations need to learn something bigger than how to manage teams better: they need to be in the habit of asking themselves whether teams are the best tools for the job…Even in the age of open-plan offices and social networks some work is best left to the individual.”

Travis Bradberry lists ‘6 Things You Don’t Owe Your Boss’. Research at Northern Illinois University found that ‘telepressure’, the stress resulting from constant connection to work, negatively impacts health and cognitive performance.

 

“We need to establish boundaries between our personal and professional lives. When we don’t, our work, our health, and our personal lives suffer.

You need to make the critical distinction between what belongs to your employer and what belongs to you and you only. The items that follow are yours (health, family, sanity, identity, contacts & integrity). If you don’t set boundaries around them and learn to say no to your boss, you’re giving away something with immeasurable value.”

What if we replaced ‘getting fired’ with ‘moving on’ to describe separating from work? That’s just one of the strategies surveyed by Vivian Giang in ‘Why We Need To Stop Thinking Of Getting Fired As A Bad Thing’.

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“…if we want to change the way we think about someone leaving a company, we need to change the way we think about work. In the book, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, along with coauthors Chris Yeh and Ben Casnocha, say relationships between employers and employees should be viewed as an alliance where employers are upfront and honest with new hires about their “tour of duty,” and how long each mission will take. That way, it takes away the unrealistic expectation that either, or both, parties can have about the relationship being lifelong, where nothing ever changes.

…the alliance says there are two independent parties that are coming together around certain mutual goals,” says Yeh. “They are going to be very specific about how they work together, really spelling this out and managing expectations, so they’re able to be more honest with each other and build a greater sense of trust.”

That way, employers and employees have a clear sense of what they’re trying to get out of the other party from the beginning. Employees know their mission, and how it will benefit the company and their own career. Employers are able to admit—and be okay with—the knowledge that their employees won’t be there forever.”

The world of work is changing. We talk about the ‘gig economy’ as something new, when the idea of contract employment has been the norm in many industries. Consider a theater or film project. Each professional brings a specific expertise to create magic. Each individual an entrepreneur, each worker an owner; managing the totality of their career, with a mosaic of assignments.

It’s the first day of spring. If you are traveling to Washington D.C. this week, you will arrive in time for the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Cherry-Blossoms-Washington-DC-March-18-2016-07-678x453.jpg

“Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.”

The week@work: ‘idea debt’, interview questions & women@work: #pledgeforparity & the downside of being a trailblazer

‘Idea debt’, emotional intelligence, International Women’s Day, and lessons from the ‘girl next door who loved sports’, headline our survey of stories this week@work .

Are you a ‘wantrapreneur’? Journalist Oliver Burkeman debunks the belief that thinking about doing something is doing it.

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“I hadn’t seen the problem clearly until the other day, when I encountered the illustrator Kazu Kibuishi’s term for it: “idea debt”. You run up an idea debt, Kibuishi’s fellow artist Jessica Abel explained, when you spend “too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be… and too little time actually making the thing”.

Just as the accruing interest on a credit card makes it harder and harder to get back on your feet financially, idea debt impedes action. The more glorious and detailed the pictures in your mind, the more daunting it feels to start making them real.

As Gregg Krech writes in his book The Art Of Taking Action, external reality remains exactly the same after your decision to ask someone out, to write a book, or leave your job. What matters is “creating ripples”, as he puts it – actions, however tiny, that alter things in the world outside your head.”

What are the questions employers ask to determine if a job candidate possesses a solid set of ‘people skills’?  With her article, ‘7 Interview Questions That Determine Emotional Intelligence’, Carolyn Sun not only provides tips for interviewers, but explains the rationale behind the questions for potential hires.

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Here’s one example:

“Can you teach me something, as if I’ve never heard of it before? (It can be anything: A skill, a lesson or a puzzle.)
A job candidate’s answer to this question can reveal several qualities:

Whether the person is willing to take the time to think before speaking.

If the candidate has the technical ability to explain something to a person who is less knowledgeable in the subject.

Whether the candidate asks empathetic questions to the person being taught, such as, “Is this making sense?”

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the Economist “created a glass-ceiling index”, to show where women have the best chances of equal treatment at work. It combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on nine indicators.

purple-woman.jpgTo no one’s surprise, Nordic countries come out well on educational attainment and labour-force participation. Women are also relatively well represented in their parliaments; Finland and Sweden were among the first countries to allow women to vote and stand for election. Yet even there women are paid less than men for similar work. In Finland and Sweden the gap is close to the OECD average of 15%, though in Norway it has fallen to 8%.

At the bottom of our index are Japan and South Korea. Too few women there have jobs, few senior managers or board members are women and pay gaps are large—in South Korea, at 37%, the largest in the OECD. If, in the UN’s words, “equality for women is progress for all”, both countries have a long way to go.”

If you are interested additional reporting on #pledgeforparity and IWD,  Washington Post journalist Danielle Paquette wrote two stories this week for Wonkblog:

‘It’s 2016, and women still make less for doing the same work as men’

‘Pay doesn’t look the same for men and women at top newspapers’

The next story falls into the category of ‘you should be safe when you pursue your dream job.’

When sports journalist Erin Andrews graduated from the University of Florida in 2000, she began a career that eventually brought her to sidelines of college football at both ESPN and Fox Sports, and the dance floor; first as a finalist and now as the co-host of ‘Dancing With The Stars’.

Sarah Kaplan, reporting for The Washington Post summarized what happened next.

“In 2008, Michael David Barrett, who served 2 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to interstate stalking — said he chose to target her because she was popular and trending on Yahoo.”

“Erin Andrews wanted to be “the girl next door who loved sports,” she said.

“And now I’m the girl with a hotel scandal,” the Fox sportscaster tearfully told a Tennessee courtroom Monday.”

The trial and jury verdict in her favor last week is just one story of ‘The Dangers of Being a Female Sportscaster’ described by Richard Sandomir and John Branch for The New York Times.

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“Female sportscasters have unparalleled reach in an age of round-the-clock sports broadcasting and the widespread dissemination of their work across social media. There are more of them now than ever, across multiple channels and websites.

The stories Sandomir and Branch recount serve as a guide for all women@work, not just those with a high profile in social media.

“I’ll try to avoid ever being in the hall of a hotel by myself,” said Kim Jones, a reporter for NFL Network. “And I’ll allow whoever is behind me to pass me before I put my card or key in the door. You have to be so aware because unfortunately that one time out of 10,000, something can happen.”

Alyssa Roenigk, a reporter for ESPN the Magazine who also appears on the air, primarily covering action sports like the X Games, said she had rarely given her security much thought. For years, she usually walked from venues to her hotel, even late at night. But as she began to do more television and was recognized more often, she was told by her bosses to start taking the courtesy car provided by the network.

“At first I thought I was getting special treatment, and I don’t want special treatment,” Ms. Roenigk said. “It’s not special treatment. It’s being safe.”

Stay safe this week@work, create some ripples and start reducing that ‘idea debt’.

 

The week@work – It’s still 3 minutes to midnight, an engineer’s regret, a world run by millennials and the myth of the ‘best jobs’ lists

This week@work began with the announcement that the ‘Doomsday Clock’ has remained at 3 minutes to midnight, and ended with a remembrance day for NASA astronauts lost. Millennials will soon assume a larger role in global leadership and may move the hands of that clock backward, and ‘astronaut’ does not appear on either list released last week, ranking top jobs for 2016.

“Martyl Langsdorf’s “Doomsday Clock,” which first graced the cover of the Bulletin’s print edition in 1947, has served for 69 years to focus the world’s attention on the most pressing global threats. The time on the Clock reflects whether we are more or less safe than last year, and compares the current situation to years further in the past; the decision on where to set the Clock’s hands is an attempt to reconcile the achievements and breakdowns in security efforts, broadly defined, that occur each and every year.

Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2016

While many hold personal memories of where we were on January 28, 1986, those closest to the program provide a cautionary tale on leadership, communication and the value of trusting the voice of your employees.

As NASA observed a ‘Day of Remembrance’, NPR correspondent, Howard Berkes, returned to Bringham City, Utah to interview Bob Ebling, ’30 Years After Explosion, Challenger Engineer Still Blames Himself’.

“Thirty years ago, as the nation mourned the loss of seven astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger, Bob Ebeling was steeped in his own deep grief.

The night before the launch, Ebeling and four other engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol had tried to stop the launch. Their managers and NASA overruled them.

That night, he told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.”

When Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, Ebeling and his colleagues sat stunned in a conference room at Thiokol’s headquarters outside Brigham City, Utah. They watched the spacecraft explode on a giant television screen and they knew exactly what had happened.”

The Economist contemplated a new global order when the millennials take charge, ‘When the young get older: their time will come’.

“Where some see a generation in crisis, others think the young are adapting quite well to the challenges of a changing world. They flit from job to job not because they are fickle but because job security is a thing of the past. They demand flexible hours and work-life balance because they know they don’t have to be in the office to be productive. They spend six hours a day online because that is how they work, and also how they relax. Their enthusiasm for new ideas (and lack of spare cash) has kickstarted money-saving technologies from Uber to WhatsApp. They take longer to settle down and have children, but so what? They will also be working far later in life than their parents did.

In every generation, the young are the first to take to the streets to demand reform. Sometimes their fury leads nowhere, but autocrats still fear it. That is why China’s government rolled tanks over the Tiananmen Square protesters, and why it censors social media today. Young Africans, for their part, may not put up indefinitely with gerontocrats such as 91-year-old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and 82-year-old Paul Biya of Cameroon.

In democracies, young people will some day realise that signing online petitions is no substitute for voting (just as their elders started voting when they acquired grey hairs and mortgages and sent their children to government schools). When the young show up at polling stations, democratic governments will heed their views. And when the millennials start calling the shots more widely in society, they will do so for a long time. For thanks to steady advances in medical technology, they will remain healthy and able to work for longer than any previous generation. Indeed, if scientists’ efforts to crack the “ageing code” in human genes bear fruit, many of them will live past 120.”

Where are the jobs? That’s the question the experts try to answer each year, identifying the best jobs and best places to work.

U.S. News and World Report announced their 2016 Best Jobs Rankings and glassdoor.com ranked the 25 Best Jobs in America. Orthodontist, dentist, computer systems analyst, nurse anesthetist and physician assistant led the U.S. News Top 100. The glassdooor.com list’s top five included data scientist, tax manager, solutions architect, engagement manager and mobile developer.

It’s always good to have a snapshot of market driven job titles, but it doesn’t help if your ‘dream job’ doesn’t make the list, or even exist. The myth of these lists lie in the impermanence of work. The top jobs this year may vanish from the list next year. It’s about the work you want to do, and the job title you imagine or may create.

Three additional stories this week were reported by journalists at The New York Times: an analysis of the success of Iowa’s economic development, commentary on the career of a veteran NFL quarterback who found joy in his sport but will now have the long off season to consider lessons from a loss, and advice on how to raise a creative child.

‘In Iowa, Jobs Are Plentiful but Workers Are Not’ Patricia Cohen

“At 3.4 percent, Iowa’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. With major metropolitan areas — crowded with hard-hat construction sites — painting an alluring picture of steady economic progress, business leaders here retain a sunny optimism that is rarely heard from the presidential candidates.

But now that Iowa has achieved a tightening labor market that is the envy of most other states, many companies are confronted with a different set of challenges pushing them to rethink everything from recruiting to economic development.”

‘Carson Palmer’s Memorable Season Ends With a Forgettable Night’  William C. Rhoden

“I’ll look back at this season at some point, but not tonight,” Palmer said. “This is the only game that’s on my mind, not the other 16, 17.”

Despite Sunday’s disaster, this was a season in which Palmer reclaimed some of the joy that the business of football and the grind of the sport had taken away.”

‘How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off’  Adam Grant

“Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world…What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”

 

Recapture the global imagination

‘The whole world is going to university’ is the cover story in the March 28 issue of The Economist. In the special report ‘Excellence v Equity’, a series of articles examines the current state of global higher education beginning with a thumbnail summary of its’ history to date:

“The modern research university, a marriage of the Oxbridge college and the German research institute, was invented in America, and has become the gold standard for the world. Mass higher education started in America in the 19th century, spread to Europe and East Asia in the 20th and is now happening pretty much everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa.”

According to the report, we question of the value of university today because of the tension between research and teaching, and between excellence and equity.

Why the tension between research and teaching? Why are these written about as if they were mutually exclusive activities?

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the work and compensation. A tenure track faculty member is rewarded for research and publications. The percentage of compensation dependent on teaching is only a small part of his or her package. So where would you put your effort? You set your priorities on advancement and compensation.

The skill set of a researcher is not always the same as a great teacher. It’s the rare faculty member who can combine the talents  of research, emotional intelligence and public speaking. On a large research university campus you can probably name 10-20 and these are the classes students place at the top of their list.

To address this, universities spend significant effort working with aspiring faculty who serve as teaching assistants to help them develop their  skills in public speaking and curriculum development. In many cases you are forcing a size 12 foot into a glass slipper.

The tension comes from the culture where teaching and research are not equally valued.

Why can’t we have ‘master’ teachers exist next to researchers in a partnership that clearly articulates research results, identifies ‘real world’ applications and motivates students to dig deeper?

There are many articles and opinion pieces that have circulated recently confirming the belief that adjunct faculty are viewed as ‘second-class’. This is not healthy for an institution advertising itself as ‘world class.’ A university benefits from a faculty that is diverse and combines research with practical application.

The second point of tension identified in the article is between excellence and equity.

How do we determine excellence in higher education? How are we to compare institutions?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article in The New Yorker magazine in 2011, ‘The Order of Things: What college rankings really tell us.’ In it he tries to demystify the college ranking system. And he finds “There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution – how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students.” He finds the ‘proxy’ measures used by U.S. News to be lacking. He is particularly critical of comparing universities with missions to serve a wide range of students to those who are more selective. “Rankings are not benign. They enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of these factors.”

The larger consequence of this process results in employer recruiting behavior that targets graduates of the most highly selective universities, ignoring the potential candidates who might be a better ‘fit’, congratulating themselves in annual reports for their ‘elite’ candidate pool.

How we value higher education is about how we value the people in a university community: faculty, students, administrators and alumni. Leaders in higher education should step back an reevaluate what it is that makes their community unique. Have the courage to ignore the ratings and compete with the talent and resources they have to articulate a clear vision of their place in society. Create a place of work, study and research that anticipates global problems and is situated to be the first responder with solutions. Recapture the global imagination.