Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Palestinian/Israel Situation, Simplified

I believe the media's coverage of the Israel/Palestinian conflict has been unfairly biased against Israel.

In a small effort to provide balance, I'm planning to produce a three-minute video that will enable viewers to feel what it's like to be an Israeli. I'll then ask, "Now, if you were the president of the United Nations, would you pass a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian initiative?"

Here's a draft outline the video and would welcome your feedback:

What Would You Do?

Imagine that scary people broke into your apartment and systemically, horrifically murdered everyone in your family because of your ethnicity except you, destroying your home in the process.

You had called 911 for help but they ignored you--they didn't believe such a thing could happen. So, afterwards, partly out of guilt, the government gives you and others who were similarly persecuted, a new home, free of charge.

The problem is that the homes are in the desert and many of the people in all the surrounding communities, for thousands of years, have hated the people of your ethnicity. But with the scars of your family's murder vivid in your mind, a thirst for a safe haven of your own set aside for your people, and with reassurances from the government that it will protect you, you accept.

Residents of the surrounding communities relentlessly threaten to kill you and the people of your ethnic group, and one day, when many of them, carrying guns, line up near your back door, you surprise them with your own machine gun and kill a number of them whereupon they retreat. In the process, you and your ethnic brethren take over a small part of one of the surrounding communities to use as a security buffer. When you receive the surrounding communities' governments' assurances of your safety, you leave that area.

Alas, soon after, members of the surrounding communities start shooting bullets through your windows again. They send terrorists to blow up your cafes, your religious ceremonies, your buses. You suffer few casualties but you live in terror. The attacks get more accurate and stronger.

Then a neighboring community elects a government sworn to destroy you.

Then members of the all the neighboring communities attend to a prestigious meeting calling your people the worst in the world.

Now, one of those communities has acquired a weapon that could blow up your house, those of your ethnic brethen, and kill you all instantly.

What would you do?

That is the situation the Israelis are facing:

After the Holocaust, the United Nations encouraged the Jews to create a safe-haven homeland in Israel, an area containing mostly Jews and some low-income Palestinian farmers. The latter could stay under Israeli rule or try to resettle in any of the surrounding Muslim nations but none of those nations would accept the Palestinians.

Israel was threatened again and again by the Muslim nations and by the Muslims within Israel. The Muslims are a very religious people and their bible, the Koran, in 20 places, demands that Muslims kill the Jews (and Christians.). Muslim leaders and schools today routinely call for the killing of Jews

In 1967, when Egyptian and Syrian armies mounted their armies on the Israeli border, the Israeli army preempted them and took over the Gaza Strip, a security buffer between Egypt and Israel.

When international assurances of Israel's security were given, Israel withdrew its troops.

Through the years and accelerating, terrorist organizations supported by Iran--Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad--sent ever stronger bombs into Israel.

In 2006, the Palestinians elected the terrorist group Hamas as its official government. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Jews.

Iran is putting finishing touches on a nuclear bomb and its president, a Holocaust denier, has said he wants "Israel wiped off the face of the earth."

If you were an Israeli citizen, how would you feel? What would you want your leaders to do? If you were the head of the United Nations, what would you do?

Viewers could then comment on YouTube and/or The Israel Project website.

So dear readers of this blog, do you think such a video would be effective in helping people appreciate Israel's situation? Care to offer a suggestion for improvement or even an entirely different approach?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Will Campuses Become Irrelevant?

A BYU professsor thinks that in a world of YouTube and iPhones, paying $100,000+ for a campus-based education will be seen as absurdly not worth the money. Also see the nearly 100 comments that follow the article.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Communication Lessons from President Obama and His Messaging Team

There's no doubt who today's Great Communicator is: Barack Obama.

We can learn much that can improve our worklife and personal life from him and his unprecedentedly sophisticated messaging dream team of experts, both those in-house and his under-the-radar consulting groups such as the George Soros-funded Rockridge Institute and now the
Behavioral Economics Roundtable, which Time magazine incorrectly called the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists but accurately described as Obama's "secret advisory group of 29 of the nation's leading behaviorists." Obama's messaging experts have been crucial to his getting pretty much everything he's wanted from the media, Congress, and the public.

Here are some of Obama's key tactics. I'll start with the easy stuff:

1. Posture is key. Stand erect but relaxed. Tilt your head upward--it portrays confidence.

2. Smile a lot. It may seem like a transparent tactic but it works. Practice various smiles in a mirror until you find your most winsome one.

3. Your delivery style must be in moderate: relaxed in tone, pace, and enthusiasm. Yes, move your hands but no wild gestures. Yes, I understand that it's much easier for Obama to do that because he usually is reading from a teleprompter but do the best you can. Even if imitiating Obama's delivery improves yours only slightly, it will be worth it.

4. Wordsmithing is crucial. You probably can't afford to, as Obama does, focus-group-test nearly every word you utter, but you can take great care in your word choice, for example, as much as possible, use the words
Obama most often uses: believe, better, change, children, community, dreams, generation, hope, future, jobs, people, promise, responsibility, work, and most important, you.

5. Structuring is as crucial. This is best presented with an example. Here's an excerpt from President Obama's speech this week on the economy. Afterwards, I'll explain the structural tactics that he and his communications machine used in crafting the speech.

"Most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America's future, a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, reckless speculation, and fleeing profit, but is instead built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century. That is the America I see. That is the future I know we can have...

"I know there is a criticism out there that my administration has somehow been spending with reckless abandon, pushing a liberal social agenda while mortgaging our children's future. the worst thing that we could do in a recession this severe is to try to cut government spending at the same time as families and businesses around the world are cutting back on their spending.

"For too long, too many in Washington put off hard decisions for some other time on some other day. There's been a tendency to score political points instead of rolling up sleeves to solve real problems. This can't be one of those times. The challenges are too great. The stakes are too high."

The first paragraph is a series of unarguable apple-pie statements, the puerility of which is disguised with wordsmithing. The audience will necessarily think "I agree" in response to each statement. Each "I agree" lowers the audience member's intellectual vigilance, almost inoculating them against dissent. So when Obama then makes a highly controversial recommendation (that he be allowed the make the largest increase in government spending in history) the audience tends to go along without much questioning.

To further anesthetize his audience, Obama starts making that argument by, in one sentence, preempting the most likely objection and then, using wordsmithing, anecdote, and statistic, taking much more than a sentence to lay out the controversial position. And finally, to avoid the audience thinking critically about and to make them forget about that controversial proposal, he immediately moves on to an extended presentation of another apple-pie assertion: "For too long, too many in Washington put off hard decisions for some other time on some other day. There's been a tendency to score political points instead of rolling up sleeves to solve real problems. This can't be one of those times. The challenges are too great. The stakes are too high."

Other Obama Tactics

Rhythmic series--This anesthetizing, hypnotizing (choose your metaphor) tactic comes straight out of the revival preacher's playbook. Usually, they're series of three or more, but a series can even be just two statements, for example, "The challenges are too great. The stakes are too high."

Invoke unimpeachable sources. In that speech, Obama said, ""Economists from both the left and the right agree that the last thing a government sold do in the middle of a recession is to cut back on spending." (Of course, he didn't say what percentage of economists from the left agree on that--and in fact, most right-of-center economists and many moderates strongly disapprove). But who could argue with an economic proposal backed by "economists from both the left and the right?"

Obama also invoked the source considered most unimpeachable by the average American: the Bible: "The end of the Sermon on the Mount tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit. The second is known as the wise man, for when, 'The rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.' We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build or house upon a rock." Of course, his opponent's (who he cleverly never mentions by name) approaches are sand; his are rock without providing dispositive evidence that's true.

Offer certitude, never doubt. Here's a link to Obama's entire speech. Is there one example where he expresses doubt about even one of his proposals despite the fact that rebuilding America's economy is one of the most complex, risky enterprises ever tackled by anyone?

The aforementioned feature in Time magazine outlines yet more of the hypersophisticated tactics that Obama and his administration are using to get what he wants.

I'll leave to you to decide whether Obama's tactics are to be lauded as the genius of a great leader and his communication experts or derided as Obamanipulation, deceiving the American people into accepting radical policies. But whatever your position on that, it's unarguable that President Obama offers us many lessons that can help us get what we want in the workplace and in our personal lives.

I ask only that before deciding to use any of these tactics, you fully consider the ethical implications of doing so. Sometimes, indeed, the end justifies the means but usually it doesn't.

Friday, April 17, 2009

At Berkeley, Need White Males Apply?

This appears on the home page of the career center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Apparently males, let alone white males, need not apply.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The latest painful letter from a man

Good evening. My name is XXXX and I'm going through the hardest fight of my life!! I'll try too make this short.

My wife and I split up in April of 08 and she and I agreed that my son would live with me. One day six months later, she simply took him away. I didn't know what to do so I did what they said the law told me to do. I filed a petition for paternity but she said in court that I beat her up a few times. That never happened!!!!!!!

She filed with the state attorney's and they picked up the case in Jan.09. So I have had to hire two attorneys--one for my child and the other for my criminal defense!!!!

My heart is clean and clear but I still worry because if I lose, my chances to be with my son dwindle away. I love my son!! Any tips you can provide would be so appreciated.


Older Job Seekers: The Reality

There's no money in being discouraging to older job seekers. What career counselor would get older clients if his articles said job prospects are poor for people over 50? What how-to book author could sell books aimed at the 50+ set?

But ultimately I believe that a greater net good accrues from telling people the truth: It could help them realize they have to work harder than they thought to get a job. It could help them realize they need to focus on senior-friendly fields. It could help them better craft pitches to employers.

So, having worked with hundreds of job-seekers 50+, here's what I believe the truth is for them:

Yes there are a few fields in which people 50+ routinely get hired--for example, those that serve an older client base such as long-term health insurance, assisted-living facilities, even architecture firms, but in general, the job outlook for older workers is poor. Most employers avoid hiring older people. People 50+ are often perceived as:
  • expensive
  • Often not current on technology or new best practices
  • Having long-acquired habits making them more likely to be set in their ways
  • Not learning as quickly
  • Having a sense of entitlement: expecting additional respect and influence merely because of their age.
  • Imposing high health-care insurance costs
  • Working more slowly because of declining physical or mental health or reduced motivation.
  • Less willing to put in long hours because they fatigue more easily or are less open to bosses demanding that they work evenings or weekends.
  • Crankier and harder to deal with.
  • Having a worse memory than younger people
  • Tending to be long-winded
  • Having difficulty multitasking
  • Focused more on retirement than getting the job done
  • Being too timid in proposing bold ideas for fear of being replaced
  • Giving the workplace a tired image
Employers are additionally disincented to hire older candidates because workers over 40 are a Protected Class in civil rights legislation. So, there's increased risk of the employee suing for age discrimination if terminated or even denied a promotion.

Most successful job seekers 50+ get hired through their network, which often is more extensive because an older person has been around longer. If they don't get hired that way, they may go back to school but too often find that their degree doesn't make them much more employable. Or they answer many want ads but rarely end up with a decent job offer. Or they try self-employment, which for someone who by age 50+ hasn't heretofore been entrepreneurial, usually ends up failing.

Based on my experience with older clients, that's the unvarnished truth.

More Evidence That Going Green is Very Risky

My friend, Jeffrie Givens, sent me this new study on "green jobs" in Spain. It finds that for every green job created by the government, 2.2 jobs were lost by the private sector. The study goes on to report that the financial costs and the loss in jobs are not unique to Spain and that only one in ten jobs created were permanent jobs.

Will America's green job mandate do this to America too? A 2009 report by the Institute for Energy Research predicts that indeed it will. Here's an excerpt:

"It is highly questionable whether a government campaign to spur “green jobs” would have net economic benefits. Indeed, the distortionary impacts of government intrusion into energy markets could prematurely force business to abandon current production technologies for more expensive ones. Furthermore, there would likely be negative economic consequences from forcing higher-cost alternative energy sources upon the economy. These factors would likely increase consumer energy costs and the costs of a wide array of energy-intensive goods, slow GDP growth and ironically may yield no net job gains. More likely, they would result in net job losses."

Indeed, I am finding, in my career coaching practice, that most of the new green jobs are short-term, temp project work. When the government stimulus runs out, the sense is that these jobs will evaporate. And most of them are not good jobs, even if they did last. For example, the stimulus package includes $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes. Well, those jobs usually include such unpleasant activities as crawling into tight attic spaces to blow (and breathe) treated-cellulose insulation.

And now let's turn to whether trying to stop climate change is worth it. Ever more scientists are saying no. For example, to have even a trivial impact on global warming would require the world to reduce its carbon footprint by a politically unrealistic 70(!) percent. Those scientists argue that it's far wiser to spend the far more moderate amount of money needed to adapt to global warming than to attempt to cool the planet.

We must stop treating environmentalism like a religion but rather as one of many possible areas for expenditure that society must, in a clear-eyed way, decide whether to fund and to what extent. To spend massive sums on a boondoggle means that many, many other initiatives go unfunded, and in turn, unimaginable and avoidable human suffering will occur.

For example, while the massive green spending and incursions into freedom being contemplated are of truly uncertain benefit, it is a certainty that giving that sum of money directly to the African people could save millions of lives and dramatically improve the standard of living of millions more. Yet we're making the largest bet in world history that "going green" will be worth the costs and opportunity costs. I truly do not understand.

I must be wrong. Indeed, most nations, led by the extraordinarily respected Barack Obama are betting so many chips on Green. But what, in fact, am I not understanding?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If You Think You're Too Old or Too Ugly

Never has a greater blow against lookism and ageism been struck than in this six-minute YouTube video. After the first minute's set-up, I cried the entire time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Success in a Box

Here's an entrepreneurial idea that my client, Miles Smith, and I cooked up. He asked me to post it here to get feedback from you.

It's called Success in a Box. The "box" is a wind-up-powered laptop computer (see photo) that has been developed to sell for $199 to poor people in developing nations. When the user presses the start button, a menu of courses like this will appear:
  • How to start a successful business
  • How to become a better reader
  • how to become a better thinker and writer
  • Learn English (perhaps the Rosetta Stone software.)

Success in a Box could be sold for profit to the consumer or as a non-profit item to governments, foundations, and other nonprofits. For example, Grameen Bank, a microlending nonprofit, could give one to grantees. Prisons could give one to inmates about to be released.

What do you think: Good idea? Bad idea? Suggestions for improving it?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Violence in the Workplace

It seems incredible but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that two million Americans are victims of violence in the workplace each year.  And for the first time in ten years, the rate is increasing, perhaps because of the weak economy.

Some of that workplace violence is what we'd expect: a worker going postal or a 7-11 clerk getting shot in a stick-up. But lots of workplace violence is verbal: bullying, spreading lies about a person, theft, even pranks--for example, toilet-papering an employee's workspace.  

The rage in France and, I predict, coming to a country near you, is bossnapping. In the last month alone, at four companies in France, workers, frustrated at salary, benefits, or job security issues, held top executives against their will until they got their grievances addressed.

Possible signs that someone is likely to become violent at work:
  • escalating anger: yelling, swearing, destruction of property.
  • change in affect: for example, someone who's normally laconic suddenly has become cheery, or someone who is excessively generous with gifts suddenly has stopped and now is often short-tempered.  
  • someone who's under a lot of stress: a serious diagnosis, spouse left, too-big or difficult workload, a demotion or turn-down for an expected promotion.

Ways to prevent violence in the workplace:
  • By far the best prevention is for management to create a human-friendly workplace culture: in which people are treated with respect, earned attaboys/girls are frequent, and where it would be unheard of for a worker to scream at a colleague. Employees who frequently detract from such a culture should probably be terminated or at least placed in roles with minimal interaction with the rest of the staff.
  • Violence prevention/response training and clear rules in the employee handbook while acknowledging that, in an individual situation, human judgment rather than rigid rules should prevail.

If you have potential to be violent in your workplace:
  • Recognizing you are at-risk of becoming violent is a crucial first step. Congratulations if you are brave enough to acknowledge it.
  • As soon as you feel the first sign of getting angry, without question, leave the room. For example, go to the bathroom and take 10 deep breaths.  That gives you time to reflect on whether it is wise to explode. Nearly always, you'll decide it isn't.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Plan for Reinventing Health Care

I'm scared. Yes I believe health care is a right but fear that extending that right to all U.S. residents could kill me.

Already, errors by doctors, nurses, etc., kill over 100,000 people a year who shouldn't have died. Countless more get sick or stay sicker longer because of medical errors. Some of that is caused by shortages of health care providers, especially highly qualified ones.

If President Obama keeps his promise to extend health care coverage to the 48,000,000 U.S. residents who don't have health coverage, many more people will become victims of medical errors and all of us will have to wait longer for care, perhaps for inferior care.

My liberal side says all people have the right to health care but my libertarian side says I worked hard so I could afford to pay the many thousands of dollars in health care premiums in hopes of living longer and healthier. So why should I be forced to pay even more tax dollars to subsidize 48,000,000 people getting health insurance, including 13,000,000 illegal immigrants, and millions of others who took welfare instead of a job or refused to delay gratification and took a part-time and/or low-paying job rather than getting a degree and then a full-time professional job so they could afford health insurance? Worse, my paying for them to get coverage will mean that I am at greater risk of morbidity and mortality because of medical errors and long waits, for example, for an MRI exam or to see a specialist.

There's no perfect answer but if President Obama asked me (fat chance) to propose the ideal approach to reinventing health care in the U.S., here's what I'd propose:

1. Here's how I'd address the shortage of health care providers that would result from providing health care to all. Currently, training programs are unnecessarily long and expensive, largely because they're provided by university faculty, who want to teach their academic specialties (chemistry, calculus, etc.) Many a potentially good health care provider has been lost to the profession because of the training's unnecessary length and difficulty. Training should be shorter and based in hospitals, doctors' offices, homes, and other medical facilities, supplemented by a few courses taught at community colleges.

2. Everyone would, as a right of being human, get a basic-level single-payer health care--no paperwork required, no questions asked. "Basic-level" means, for example, that everyone would get exams and routine care not by a physician but by a physician assistant not of their choice,. They'd be entitled to receive cost-effective treatments administered by health care providers not of their choice. Wait times for non-emergency care would be moderate to long. That safety net of basic national health care would be funded as a surcharge on income tax--That would ensure progressivity.

2a. Individuals could purchase a higher level of health care on a fee-for-service basis or with private insurance. Those people could choose their doctor and other health care provider, have shorter wait times, and obtain less cost-effective treatments for example, an 80-year old who'd prefer bypass surgery over treatment with drugs.

3a. People with preexisting conditions would pay the same insurance premium as those without--It is wrong that a person already suffering with a condition should have to suffer additionally by having to pay more. However, insurance companies could add a surcharge for smokers and for people who abuse drugs or alcohol.

4. Health care providers would be incented to focus on primary prevention: weight, smoking/alcohol/drug prevention and cessation, teen pregnancy prevention. They would also be incented to focus on secondary prevention, for example, having medical assistants call patients to ensure they're taking their medication.

5. Health care providers would be paid a salary rather than piecework so there's no incentive to overtreat.

5a. Tort reform would limit physician liability, which would also reduce the expensive overtreatment and defensive medicine that is widespread.

6. Electronic medical records should yield improved medical care at lower cost. A patient's information, diagnoses, treatment, and outcomes are entered into a computer, using nationally adopted software. The results are aggregated anonymously, which provides health care providers with evidence-based data on the meaning of symptom clusters and on what treatments work best and most cost-effectively for what diagnoses. Of course, electronic medical records also benefit individual patients: records are readable (no physician scrawl) and instantly transferable to other health care providers. Patients would have access to efficacy data on individual health care providers, hospitals, and treatments--crucial to making informed choices.

Do you like my plan? Have a suggestion for improving it? Care to propose a totally different approach?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of Storytelling

Whether in a job interview, cover letter, on the job, when networking, or in your personal life, the ability to tell a story well can be very helpful.

Actually, I decry storytelling's power because anecdote is the weakest form of argument, playing on emotion and a sample-size of  one rather than on solid data or reasoning.  But our shallow populus is more likely to be swayed by emotion than by fact or data, so storytellers we must be.  Principles of  compelling storytelling:

1. It's no more than two minutes long. 

2. In that short time, your story must include, as in a screenplay, a character you care about and a vivid retelling of how that character deals with a difficult situation.  

3. Include sufficient detail (interesting detail if at all possible) to make it clear that this is a true story--specificity is the antidote to listeners' skepticism.

4. A capstone sentence that ties it all together.

Here's an example that I believe would build rapport with coworkers, networking contacts, or friends:

My parents wouldn't let me play Little League or high school baseball because they were afraid I'd hurt my fingers. (I used to play piano at weddings and bar mitzvahs.)

What was the first thing I did when I went to college? Try out for the baseball team. 

I am not a laid-back person by nature and when I was trying out--with no organized baseball experience--my heart was leaping from my chest. But the manager let me on the team mainly because--so the manager told me-- I ran full tilt every time he called us over and because I cheered-on the other players who were trying out. Except for a strong (but wild) arm, I was talent-free. Indeed I was a near-permanent benchwarmer but I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. Somehow, putting on that uniform--including the sanitary socks--you know, those white socks that go underneath the stirrup baseball socks--was always exciting.  

And I had one success: We were playing Army and we were ahead by one run in the 9th inning. The manager brought me in to play left field as a defensive replacement. Army had a runner on second with two outs. The next batter hit a shot deep down the left field line.  I speared it and threw a strike, on the fly, to home plate to get the runner out, and we beat Army.  No matter what else I've accomplished in my life, that will always have a special place in my heart. 

Moral of the story: I invite you to always leave room in your life for that thing that--beyond the rational--you just love the heck out of.