Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tom Torlakson for California State Superintendent of Schools

I've never endorsed any candidate on this blog but I'd like to encourage you to vote for Tom Torlakson. His opponent is a good man, a reasonable man, but there are a couple of significant differentiators:
  • Torlakson believes that one-size education does not fit all--Not every student should be forced into a college-preparatory curriculum. He opposes the "everyone to college" fad.
Tom recognizes that some students, for example, those still reading on a fifth grade level when entering high school, are far more likely to find school, employment and life success in a career-technical curriculum: Instead of learning abstractions about the Peloponnesian Wars and geometric theorems, students in career-technical courses learn in a concrete context, which, for example, would prepare them for in-demand occupations such as robotics technician, chef, or medical equipment repairer.
Not surprisingly, when students who were weak academically K-8 are forced into a college-preparatory set of courses, they're more likely to drop out of high school and certainly from college. And even if they defy the odds and graduate, it will likely be with a low GPA from a third-tier college in a not-marketable major. With today's oversupply of college graduates and shortage of job openings, few employers will be excited to see an applicant with sociology degree and 2.5 GPA rom Cal State, Dominguez Hills. Tom Torlakson recognizes, indeed prioritizes the importance of high quality, well-suited options for all students.
  • Unlike his opponent, Tom has had experience both as a teacher and as a respected and well-liked California state legislator. That combination is key to getting things done legislatively.
So I encourage you to vote for Tom Torlakson.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How Political Campaigns Should Be Run

In that I generally lean libertarian, this may surprise you but, observing the obscenely expensive, obfuscatory political campaigns reminds me how much we need 100% publicly funded campaigns. My model:
  • Length: two weeks.
  • One or two debates, broadcast on TV, archived on YouTube. Debates would be designed to push the candidates off their prepared message and to truly engage. If a debater isn't directly answering the question or otherwise being obfuscatory, the moderator would interrupt, calling the debater on that, and insisting on a direct answer.
  • At the end of the debate, still on camera, each candidate would participate in a simulation: running a brief meeting with mock legislators on an issue of the day. Perhaps retired legislators could be used for the simulation.
  • A neutral body (for example, C-Span) would create a candidate summary consisting of his/her voting record and platform on key issues. That would be mailed to all registered voters and posted on a website such as CSpan.org.
I believe that model would yield better candidates because they wouldn't have to run a four-year, press-the-flesh, be-beholden-to special interests campaign. Also, the public would get a far better sense of what the candidates would be like as our leaders than with our current commercial-, special-interest-, and speechifying-driven process.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My latest Twitter Tweets

I've started tweeting and am surprised that I'm doing it a fair amount--an average of one a day. Indeed it's reducing my blogging. If you'd like to see samples of my tweets before deciding to click on that "Follow me" blue button on the side of this blog, here are my most recent ones:

Classes have bad ROI. Screaming need for online ed filled w must-have content, immersively, interactively guided by transformational tchs.

New use of offshoring: Even many large accounting firms outsource U.S. tax return preparation to India--at 80% savings.

My goal when writing how-to: Maximum fresh, valuable ideas per minute of the reader's time.

Mortgage paperwork "scandal?" No/minimal wrong foreclosures yet Obama + 49 AGs investigating--poor use of taxpayer $. It's all politics.

Teach for America tch: "I'm tired of dealing w soiled pants, burning garbage cans, and yard fights. Their problems are too big for me."

Interesting how the term "hoodlum" changed to "disadvantaged" and now "underresourced." It mirrors our externalizing responsibility.

Think twice before saying no. Is there any way you could twist it around so you could say yes?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Identifying Your Ideal Job

This is from my colleague Steve Piazzale:

My ideal job description? It's hard enough finding any job let alone an ideal one!

Yes, yes that's true but since you're looking for a change anyway, isn't it better to start from a position of knowing what you do best?

It's vital to know what work brings out the best in you--that is jobs where you both enjoy the work and are productive for your employer. Once you understand this, you'll know what you're looking for and will be more likely to recognize it when you see it.

So how do we go about doing this?

1. List the characteristics of your ideal work.

Without necessarily listing a job title, start writing work qualifications, duties, and environment that resonate with you. Maybe you'd start with:
  • I spend 25% of my time traveling.
  • I get to use my financial and analytical skills on a regular basis.
  • I have a manager who provides direction, but doesn't micromanage me.
  • I work with a small collaborative team.
Maybe by looking at various job descriptions on job boards, you can find other entries:
  • I interface with end users (or the general public) 10% of each day.
  • My commute is under 30 minutes and I work from home once a week
  • I'm in a minimal number of meetings.
  • I believe in the mission of the company.
Thinking about past work you've had, try to recall the situations where you were the most productive and time flew by:

  • I own my own project but contribute on others.
  • Promotion is a possibility.
  • Management encourages career growth
  • I can earn $100K within 3 years.
2) Rank order the ideal job characteristics.

Ok, so now you have a dozen or so aspects of work that would be ideal in that you'd be both interested in the work and productive. Now put them in order of importance. And after finishing that, draw a line between the entries that MUST be in your future work and those that would be nice to have.

Now, let's take a moment to explain these "must" haves. If you don't know where your next meal is coming from then you take whatever job you can. But if one of the must haves is missing, you know that from the get-go, you're going to keep looking for a better job. A must have is just that--an aspect of work without which you wont be happy and/or will not be maximally productive.

3) How to use the ideal job description

By identifying your ideal work environment, you can compare any job you're applying for or networking about to this ideal. You know what questions you need answered for the job to be a "go" for you. You can even tailor your personal brand (elevator pitch, resume profile, success stories) to match this ideal vision.

Potential employers whose vision of your role doesn't match yours can back away from you without losing face. Instead of having to say "we micromanage here and don't allow our managers much freedom," they only have to say "I don't think we have a good match here" and they back away from you, but if that freedom is a non-negotiable for you, you want them to back away.

On the other hand, if they like the role and vision you describe, they will be attracted to you. Then there is a win-win scenario—you’re happy and they get the best effort and value you can produce.

Now we all know that there's no perfect job any more than there's a perfect person. But the question to ask yourself is "how far off my ideal is the potential position I’m considering and can I live with the aspects that aren't ideal; are there any show stoppers?"

As I mentioned before, do not use this strategy if you're desperate for work and want the job at all costs. But in situations in which you have some latitude, this strategy maximizes the likelihood that you'll find work that makes you come alive and you deserve that!

Only Build Your Network When Employed

Yes, it's worth spending the time to build your network when you're employed.

But when unemployed, trying to build a network, including on L
inkedIn, usually takes too long to turn nascent connections into even one that gets you an on-target job.

And that assumes the job seeker has the far-from-trivial ability to convert even one percent of such people into a such a powerful and motivated advocate.

Job seekers start out with a full tank of gas, a certain amount of energy they'll put into a job search before they give up. In attempting to convert strangers into even one powerful, motivated advocate, most job seekers will, before landing a good job, run out of gas.

The way for unemployed job seekers to not run out of gas is to do a great job of pitching their existing network and to write top-of-the-heap applications for on-target advertised jobs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unsolicited Pitches May Not Be Worth the Time

Conventional wisdom is that a good way to get hired is to pitch the person with the power to hire you at a couple dozen target employers, whether or not an employer is listing a job opening. You simply call or email to say you'd like to meet with them or offer a proposal for what you could do for them, and then follow up diligently.

That has worked better for my clients in the past than it is working today. These days, I've had clients send compelling pitches to dozens of employers and get very few responses and the few that respond say no or give a meeting but it doesn't lead to a job.

Why is cold contact working less well today? I believe these factors are at play:
  • Bosses are busier than ever.
  • Hiring is slow overall in our jobless non-recovery. If an employer is going to hire, s/he'd rather hire a friend, someone referred by a friend or colleague, or cast a wide net and choose the best person among hundreds of applicants. It's cheap and easy to do so.
  • Affirmative action hiring procedures are being followed more strictly: employers are ever more often precluded from hiring the person s/he wants without going through a closely monitored hiring process involving many interviewers.
Those reasons are on top of the usual reasons that cold contact isn't a magic pill:
  • The employer believes that if a person is pitching himself, s/he can't be that good.
  • The employer believes s/he wouldn't be getting the best candidate because s/he's not picking from a broad range of people, as s/he would if s/he placed an online ad and/or emailed current employees to ask for recommended candidates.
These days, what's working best for my clients is getting a job through their existing personal network, not including LinkedIn--those connections are too tenuous. Usually, it takes too long to turn such connections into those that actually result in your getting an on-target job. And that assumes you're great at converting even 1 of 50 such people into such a powerful advocate--no mean task. Most job seekers would end up burning up too much of their job search energy on that and, before it paid off, would have become a bag lady.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Failed Attempt at an Honest Conversation About Race

I read that the U.S. Small Business Administration provides minorities with specially favorable loans, mentors, and sole-sourcing(!) in obtaining government contracts. Case studies were provided. Here's an example.

On my radio show, while I acknowledged that vestiges of racism may remain even 150 years after slavery, I wondered about the fairness of set-asides to the already strapped taxpayers who are forced to pay for it is well as to non-minority businesses who have to compete at such a disadvantage.

I received furious calls from minorities, mainly citing anecdotal evidence that racism is still alive and well in America. For example, one man said, "I was in sales and I had fine rapport with this customer on the phone and then he met me and he wouldn't make the deal." Could that not be because the customer, on seeing the product, didn't like it? Or because he, in the interim, found a better product? Or decided he really didn't need it or found a better use for the money? But the caller could only view it as evidence of America's being racist.

Another caller cited as evidence of racism that his boss told him, "I really like you so I'll be straight with you. A Black man can't get anywhere in advertising." Perhaps that boss was a racist. Or perhaps that boss tried to appear candid to prove he wasn't racist. But in fact: 6% of all managers and professionals in the advertising industry, many thousands of people, are Black. Yes that's an "underrepresentation" but does anyone decry as reverse-racist Blacks' overrepresentation," for example, in professional sports or in government jobs, which today are among the most attractive and employ far more people than does the advertising industry? But the caller insisted this was evidence that America is racist.

A caller cited as an example of racism that Blacks earn less per capita than all other groups. How much of that really is caused by racism? Could a more valid explanation be that fewer Blacks graduate from college? And very few complete majors in high-pay fields such as physics, engineering, and computer science? And might the racial income disparity have less to do with racism than the belief prevalent among many Black teens that studying hard is "acting white?" How about the gangsta rap culture? How about the high black high school dropout rate and crime rate?

A caller pointed out that Blacks are more often denied or charged a higher rate on bank loans. He angrily insisted that was a clear sign of racism. But as Paul Sperry, Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and author of the new book, The Great American Bank Robbery, wrote in a New York Post op-ed,

The evidence for discrimination boils down to the fact that black-owned firms are twice as likely to have a loan application rejected as white-owned firms.

But that overlooks the fact that black owners are more likely to have bad credit and default on loans than white owners, as Federal Reserve data show. In fact, black owners are three times as likely to have bankruptcies and judgments against them as white owners.

In other words, black owners are less likely to repay loans, and therefore pose a greater risk to commercial lenders. The "credit gap" is a function of rational business decisions, not racism.

Yet all the minority callers to my show insisted that set-aside giveaway programs for minorities are necessary because of we're still a racist society. It didn't end there. I returned home to find emails, all from African-Americans, all calling me "ignorant" and "racist." Their reasoning (not to mention their writing) was worse than the callers' and their threats more dispiriting than frightening. For example, Zaid wrote, "It’s safe for you start crying now, for in 50 years or less you will lose the reigns of White Male Over POWERING in this WORLD because of education and multiplication of People of Color. Then you’ll be treated like the today’s minorities- goes around, comes around."

America desperately needs an honest national conversation about race but the way our frightened-to-be-honest schools, colleges, and media portray the issues, I, at least, despite a number of serious attempts (here's one example), have been unable to do my part to start one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hire Teachers and Product Designers Who Are NOT Naturals

We tend to hire naturals. Examples:
  • Schools and colleges tend to hire math teachers who "get" math instinctively. Most people don't learn math that way. So, many such instructors don't know how to explain math to regular folk.
  • Electronics companies hire enginerd types to design gadgets from computers to smart phones. Most consumers are overwhelmed by all the "cool" features those geeks build in. So such consumers end up paying for features they'll never use or the complicated interface means they'll never use the gadget at all. A friend of mine tried to install and use her DV-R to no avail. She returned it.
  • We're impressed by a golf instructor who was a former pro. Yet, like most pros, he has a naturally great swing and that preternaturally calm golf demeanor. I tried to learn golf from such people--They couldn't effectively deal with my energetic metabolism and baseball-player swing. Despite lots of lessons and the natural athletic ability of someone who played four years of college varsity baseball (Occasionally, I could drive 280 yards,) I've never broken 100.
In contrast, certainly no one would have hired Mark Zuckerberg, who was described in Time this week as having "famously limited social skills" to design a social networking site. Yet his very weakness at socializing made him the perfect guy to design Facebook--He knew what would work even for someone like him.

So in selecting the instructors for NewGeneralEd.Org, I plan to particularly seek out people who, while smart, clear communicators, and motivational to students, struggled (successfully) to learn the material they'd be teaching. For example, for the quantitative reasoning course, I'd rather hire someone who struggled to learn to think in terms of risk-reward than someone for whom that came intuitively.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

GeneralEd.Org: General Ed Reinvented

Think of all the minutes you spent in undergraduate classes. Add the homework and study time. Add the travel time. Now be honest with yourself: Do you believe you derived sufficient useful learning to justify all that time and money? Might that time and money have been better spent?

Perhaps these statistics will startle you into realizing how little most people gain from their undergraduate classes:
  • A study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below "proficient" levels on a test that required them to understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
  • The Spellings Report, released by a federal commission on higher education, found that: "Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined...Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today's workplaces."

Perhaps Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci was only half joking when he proposed a five-minute bachelor's degree: It would teach only what students remembered a year after they graduated.

If you're like many people, you say, "Perhaps I didn't learn enough of enduring value from my $100K and 4-6 years of classes but I needed the bachelor's degree to get a job or get into graduate school." True, today, more than ever, employers are demanding a degree.

But there has to be a better bachelors degree, a way you can learn more of greater value at less less cost. That shouldn't be too difficult. After all, colleges continue to teach virtually as they did 2,000 years ago minus the toga and plus Powerpoint: a sage on the stage plus discussion.

Here, I propose a better way--a much superior kind of online bachelor degree. I call it Utopia U. Of course, online degree programs are already available but as you will see below, Utopia U promises to indeed be clearly superior.

I would gladly give away the concept to entities willing to run with it but if I'm forced to proceed myself, I will try to get it funded by tuition fees and housing it on Google.com, and/or with grants from the U.S. Office of Education (where it might be called U.S. U) one or more universities or foundations (e.g., Gates or Kauffman,) and/or investments from corporations, for example, Apple or Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Central to each course are these features:
  • The core screening criterion for course content: Is that content central to the life well-led? The primary focus of each course will be to maximize the probability that the students will incorporate each course's core skills and knowledge into the way they function professionally and personally.
  • Most courses should make heavy use of of immersive simulations plus lecturettes with options to click on links to explanatory text, video, etc.Each instructor would develop the course in collaboration with a top instructional designer and a specially selected computer programmer.
  • The instructors, selected from within and outside academia, will be selected on: demonstrated ability to explain complicated concepts so average students understand them fully, motivate students to love learning, and be transformational: help students grow in important ways beyond learning the course material. I will likely reach out to winners of state and national professor of the year awards.
  • There will be student-to-student online interaction: discussions about lecturettes, group immersive projects, forums to address problems (as on most website help sections), etc.
  • Iris or fingerprint recognition technology and open-book exams will reduce cheating to levels below that at traditional universities.
All of the following courses are required and there are no electives.

All students will graduate with a Bachelor of Professional Studies. For a version of this document that includs the courses and modules, click HERE.

As I mentioned, my preference is to give the idea of Utopia U away to a person or entity motivated to run with it. I'd be pleased to serve as a consultant. Anyone interested? Contact me at mnemko@comcast.net or 510-655-2777.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Libertarian-Leaning Person Shares His Doubts

I was walking my dog, Einstein, and passed a few houses that had Meg Whitman for Governor signs on their lawns. All were very fancy houses. In itself, that means nothing but it triggered these thoughts:

A core libertarian principle is that more good accrues from leaving money in rich and upper-middle-income people's pockets than the government heavily taxing them and redistributing the money to the working class and poor with massive "social programs" as well as cash "benefits." The libertarian thinking is that the rich are more capable of creating new businesses that will, in turn, create products and services that will improve all our lives as well as create jobs.

This may seem obvious but I wondered, "What percentage of those rich people's money really went to such activities and how much went to building and decorating lavish homes, buying fancy cars, clothes, and vacations, paying for elite college educations at colleges their kids mightn't have gotten into if they weren't "legacies," and least useful of all, how much do those fat cats leave to their children, which increases the chances of their being made lazy from all that wealth being handed to them--the rich person's version of the welfare mentality?

I then turned to the reality that ever more millions of Americans simply do not have the wherewithal to survive in our ever more demanding world economy. Without the government redistributing wealth from the rich and upper-middle-class to the lower middle-class, working class and poor, we'll see ever more misery, homelessness, and crime. And then there's the intrinsic injustice of anyone going without health care, shelter, and food in a country in which millions of Americans do live the aforementioned minimansion lifestyle.

So while I am most aware that government wastes an inconceivably large percentage of our tax dollars in their usually Rube-Goldberg-like, labyrinthine, incompetently administered schemes for redistributing our wealth, not to mention "regulate" the unpoliceable, and fight wars we likely shouldn't fight, my little doggie walk took a bit of the ardor from my libertarian zeal.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Receive a Business Card

When handed a business card, most people mutter an obligatory "thank you," don't look at it, and shove it in their wallet or toss it into that black hole called a purse or pocketbook. A missed opportunity.

If it's a person you don't care about and don't want to send positive signals to, fine, give the card that quick shove. But if you want to convey positive regard, we should take a lesson from the Japanese:

1. Say a sincere thank you.
2. Look carefully at the card.
3. Say the person's name aloud. That helps you remember the name and makes the person feel important. It's been said that our name is our favorite word.
4. Take another moment to look at the card: the design, the employer's name, etc. Make a connection between the name and something else on the card. Taking that extra moment will additionally help you remember the person's name as well as make the person feel cared about.
5. With obvious care, place the business card in a prominent spot in your wallet.