Monday, October 31, 2011

I'll Be on the Ronn Owens Program TODAY

Today, Tuesday, Nov 1 from 10:00 am to 11:00 am, I will be the guest on KGO AM-810's Ronn Owens Program, among California's most listened-to shows.

I've been his regularly appearing career expert for 25 years now, so unless he changes things, he'll ask me a few questions about work issues and mostly, I'll answer callers' questions about work.

You can hear it live on KGO-AM 810 in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere at The show will be archived on that site for a week afterwards.

I invite you to call: 80-80-810 from anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or 415-80-80-810 from anywhere.

Don't Elect. Select: a better way to pick our legislators

In the latest installment of my "What's the Big Idea?" series in the Washington Post, I make the radical proposal that we'd have better legislators if they were not elected but selected using passive criteria, like the way stocks are included in an index fund.

That may seem crazy. After all, electing our leaders is a hallowed tradition, foundational to the democracy created by our Constitution. But I invite you to read the column and then decide. HERE is the link.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Do Life: what they didn't teach you in school

I've just written THIS article for Mensa's national magazine, the Mensa Bulletin. It contains some of the best ideas from my recently completed book manuscript, How to Do Life: what they didn't teach you in school.

It offers not-obvious but helpful ideas on career, recreation, money, education, coupling, parenting, spirituality, plus a few all-purpose tips for living the life well-led.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Create Jobs: Replace Geometry with Entrepreneurship

I'm writing a series called "What's the Big Idea?" for the Washington Post.

It will offer fresh solutions for big problems. The first is a way to create jobs: Replace Geometry with Entrepreneurship.

If you'd like to comment on it, you'll get more readers if you write your comment on that Washington Post page and then copy and paste it onto this blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to Land a Good Job in a Bad Market

Here's my next column for the Mensa periodical, The Intelligencer. I thought you might like a look:

Landing a Good Job in a Bad Market

Of course, most want ads get hordes of applicants but most of those don't stand a chance: They're jargon-filled, generic, utterly undistinguished. I'm certainly not advocating silly ploys like including a jar of jalapeno preserves saying, "I can get you out of the hottest jam."

I'm asking you to create an above-average application. Start by playing detective on the employer's site: That's a way to learn its priorities and how it likes to portray itself. Dirt on the employer is more likely found by Googling it--Don't forget Google's blog and news searches. Use LinkedIn, your alumni directory, etc., to find people at the organization with whom you're connected. Try to set up an in-person or phone chat on what the employer is like and what to emphasize in an application.

In applying, if your resume is unlikely to be top-of-the-heap, for example, you're a career changer or have a gap in employment, consider substituting a bio. That allows you to highlight only what you want. A resume is a tool to help employers--it lays all of you bare. As with clothing, most of us look better with some parts hidden.

Your cover letter and resume should be devoid of clich├ęd job-seeker language such as "I'm a self-starter seeking an opportunity with a dynamic company." That leaches all chemistry and credibility from your application: The employer will feel s/he's reading from a job-hunting book not from the candidate. Do tell PAR stories: a problem you faced, how you approached it, and its positive resolution. Choose stories that would impress your target employer. That's a key rule: Everything you do in the job search should be subjected to this test: "Would this make this employer more likely to hire me?"

Do put your Mensa membership on your resume. The right employers will like it; the wrong ones won't.

If possible, with your application, include one or more pieces of collateral material . One of my clients applied for a sales job with a government contractor. He included a list of 50 federal decisionmakers he'd call if he got the job. Another client, a career changer, to show the employer that he knew a lot about hospital management, wrote a three-page White Paper called, Keys to Effective Hospital Management in 2012 and Beyond. He did the research for that paper just as he might have a term paper in school: by synthesizing articles he found on Google.

Of course, at least half of jobs are obtained through a connection. List the people in your network. Twenty-five is good, 50 is better. Next to each name, decide if it's best to just email them, invite them for coffee, dinner, to a party, visit them at their office, etc. When you contact them, ask if your resume makes them want to hire you. Then ask if they know of anyone you should talk with. If not, ask if they'd keep their ears open and if you're still looking in a month, would they mind if you followed up. That recruits them as a scout--they're more likely to hear of something during the month than just when you contacted them.

If your network is paltry or used up, you'll need to expand it. Could you volunteer somewhere you'd have face-time with potential employers, for example, on a non-profit board? Get active in a church? Join a service club such as Rotary? A hobby group such as an investment club or dog-owner's meetup? A political organization? Of course, go to more Mensa events--Hey, even the Intelligencer Peel-and-Stick party might help!

Importantly, even in a lousy job market, it's important to vet potential employers. During the interview, ask questions such as, "Why is this position vacant?," "What kind of problems would you most hope I'd solve?," "What would you hope I'd accomplish in the first 90 days that would help my boss get a gold star?" After being offered the job, ask to visit the workplace. There, assess the vibe: Do most employees seem content? Hang out in the break room. Ask questions like, "What should I know about working here that might not appear in the employee handbook?

Especially in this job market, there sure are no guarantees, but those are my best bets for landing a good job in a bad market.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Performance Reviews: Advice for the Supervisor and Supervisee

In theory, the formal performance review is valuable: It provides useful feedback and a rational basis for determining pay and promotions.

Alas, in practice, performance evaluations too often result in the employee feeling unfairly judged and, in turn, demotivated. Bosses don't like doing formal reviews because they require much preparation and paperwork. Another disadvantage: bosses may feel an annual review can largely replace ongoing, just-in-time, informal feedback.

It is the latter, evaluating by walking around, that is usually most useful. Unless dealing with a remote workforce, the good boss spends a lot of time walking around among the supervisees, stopping to give attaboys/girls, and asking "How are things going?"

The boss might accept the typical "fine," or follow up with, for example, "Any way I can be of help to you?" Sometimes, the employee will ask for additional resources, which you may or may not want to give, but sometimes will elicit a request for your evaluation or guidance.

Whether or not you're evaluating by walking around, if you think there's a problem with an employee, unless s/he suffers from clearly too-high self-confidence and thus needs a wake-up call, start with tact and good listening. For example,
John, I've noticed that your reports (or whatever) haven't been great. Anything I can do to help, or is there something I need to understand that explains it?
Then listen carefully. Indeed, there may be a reasonable explanation. Then, if possible, instead of imposing a solution, let alone a punishment, it's wise to ask, "So what if anything do you propose we do?" Even if you don't fully agree or you doubt that will solve the problem, it's usually wise to say, "Fair enough. Let's try it." Your simply having raised the issue while being face-saving, not punitive, may be enough to sufficiently improve the employee's performance.

If that light hand turns out insufficient, you can always later offer suggestions, a structure for accountability, or if necessary, termination. It's usually wise to be punitive only if the aforementioned good-cop approach is unsuccessful--a confrontation often yields worse problems than it alleviates.

That said, many employers make the mistake of not cutting their losses early enough. In general, employers quickly know if it's wiser to replace an employee or to keep trying to get the employee to improve.

Unfortunately, today, dismissing an employee usually demands much stressful effort: months of written documentation of poor performance, and often contentious meetings to discuss an improvement plan with the employee. The whole process usually engenders defensiveness, may well hurt performance, and even cause the employee to sabotage your business and/or start legal action.

It's often wiser to try to counsel-out the employee, for example, "As you know it's been a bit of a struggle. You have real strengths (insert), which aren't made best use of on this job. How'd you like me to try to help you find a better-suited position in or perhaps outside the company?" Indeed, many people who perform poorly in one job could do better with different responsibilities or with a different boss or coworkers.

If You're Getting a Performance Review

Collect a goodie file: kudos, list of accomplishments, especially those that would build the bottom line. Send it to your boss in advance of your review, saying you hope these will be considered in the review.

Many employees exacerbate the effect of a negative evaluation by their response. Even if you're furious, don't respond right away. If you can muster up the restraint, say something like, "I appreciate the candid feedback. Of course, it's difficult to swallow so I'd like to take a few days to let it sink in." Then, with your reflexive anger likely reduced, you're more likely to respond wisely.

If you ethically can, say, "I'll work on it." If you can't, it's usually wise to respond gently, for example, "I thought my work has been better than that. Could you give me examples to help me better understand?" If you sense there is legitimacy to your boss's concern, you might ask the boss for a bit of help in improving. That would increase your boss's investment in you. I know it's not easy to stay on your A game when attacked, but it's usually worth trying to exercise restraint.

Employee evaluations are often dreaded by both employees and employers, but handled with delicacy and emphasizing just-in-time, informal, situation-specific feedback, dispensed in a positive face-saving way, performance review can be among the most beneficial components of a manager's job and of real benefit to employees.

Time's attack on capitalism and my response

On, Toure' wrote, "America has institutional inequities built into its structures that guarantee that millions of Blacks have no chance at success."

Here's my response:

That is true for tens of millions of people of all races. And hundreds of millions of people of all races have a greater chance of success than under any other system. Of course, people of any race who are unintelligent, lazy, unethical, emotionally unstable, and/or or not resilient will have a low probability of success, especially in today's tough job market that is toughened by global competition, and because of a wealth of policies that redistribute dollars and human resources away from the job creators.

And yes, in a socialist system, such people would no doubt benefit, because they'd get an equal share of resources, no matter their productivity, their merit, but that brings with it huge liabilities to the overall society because of that very redistribution: the aforementioned reallocation of resources from those most likely to abet society through innovation, leadership, and job creation, to those with the least. And of course there's the demotivating effect of paying people the same whether they're productive or not. The liabilities of that became clear, for example, in the endless Soviet bread lines. But we have a short memory.

So I have only have a minor disagreement with the author's statement, "America has institutional inequities built into its structures that guarantee that millions of Blacks have no chance at success." I would replace "no chance" with "little chance."

But far more important, for the statement to be placed in the necessary context, I would add, "But other institutional structures, such as the more socialist one the author advocates, are likely to cause far greater net harm to the nation's people.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blacks' Self-Sabotaging Beliefs

One of my clients is seeking feedback on an article he wrote on self-destructive African-American beliefs. The article is titled, Group Psychosis in the Black Community.

I found the article of potentially significant societal benefit, for example, as the basis for a workshop for African-Americans.

I don't normally like to mention the race of someone I'm writing about, but in this case, it seems appropriate. The author of the article is Black.

The site on which he posted the article gets little traffic so he asked me to post it on this blog. Feel free to post your comments below.

HERE again is the link to the article.

Job Hunting Advice for a Midlifer

One of my clients is a midlife guy whose resume makes him look unqualified for the position he aspires to: operations manager at a 10-50-employee high-tech company.

Here are a few of the strategies I offered him:
  • With your networking contacts, use a one-page bio rather than your resume. The bio allows you to highlight your strengths. Your resume lays too much bare for everyone to see.
  • Like most geek types, indeed most men, you've put all your work effort into working and into getting more skilled, and no time building what alas seems more required than ability: a network. So rather than continue only to tap your existing network, which you describe as having already been queried enough, you must take the time to build a new network, which includes, not just formal networking events, joining clubs, taking positions on small boards, etc, but making conversation with people you meet everywhere, from the supermarket line to the people waiting at the barber shop.
  • Having limited experience in your aspired-to job, you must do some reading and informational interviews with respected people in those positions. That way, you'll be able to discuss how the job is well-conducted. For example, as an operations manager, you should be able to richly discuss the ways in which you'd manage upward and downward, your approaches to getting buy-in on technical implementations from the not-very-technical people who will be using it, etc.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Job Hunting Advice for New Graduates

A friend of mine asked for my advice for his son. The situation is prototypical, so I thought I'd share his situation and my suggestion.

The son is a new college graduate with a BA in psychology from a reasonably regarded but not prestigious state university. He's tried to land a job for a year but can only land something he could have gotten with a high school diploma. He asked if I had any advice. I suggested he try one or more of these strategies:
  • Identify one company, govt office, or non-profit at which you''d most like to work. Read up on it and then talk to one, or better, two or three people there, explaining why you'd love to work there, and what are some of his better skills and abilities. If necessary, it could be an internship or low-pay job as a launchpad.
  • Ask relatives, friends, parents of friends, etc. Usually only people who love you will--especially in this job market--give you even a strong lead on a good job. Be sure to tout your transferable skills--for example, the leadership and organizational skills you acquired as your fraternity's activities chair.
  • If you've tapped out your network, you must build a new one. Volunteer at places likely to give you face time with people who could employ you. Create deep connection: listen to them, offer to help them, tactfully teach them something, be pleasant.
  • Start a low-cost, simple, non-trendy business, replicating a successful formula, for example, a coffee/dessert cart in the lobby of a large hospital or office building. Status is the enemy of contentment. After the first cart is successful, establish a second one and hire trusted people to staff both. Keep expanding until you've netted $200,000 a year. More than that and the quality control often goes down or the workload expands too much. $200,000 is more than enough to live well on.
If that advice is inadequate, your son might read one or more of these:
Only if all that is unsuccessful, would I recommend his seeing a career counselor. If he needs to do that, he might ask who the best career counselor is in the career office at his alma mater.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Developing Drive: Replacing procrastination with motivation

I've just finished writing what I believe is my best article on replacing procrastination with motivation, willpower, and drive. HERE is the link.

I've devoted particular effort to developing this article because I'll be using it for three purposes:
While I always value your feedback, I'd particularly value it on this article. (HERE is another link to it.) Which of the article's 11 strategies do you believe would and wouldn't actually help you? Care to suggest any others? Does the article's tone work for you?

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Bucket List: Does it make you want to create yours?

Here's my bucket list, from most to least likely to occur.

I present it here to increase my likelihood of making these things happen, and to encourage you to create your own list.
  • Dinner at Fleur de Lys restaurant in San Francisco. (when I've lost the 20 pounds I want to lose.)
  • A world-class, nurturing (but not sexual) massage
  • Attend a concert by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.
  • Get my book manuscript, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in college, published by a respected publisher.
  • Extend my forthcoming five-part Washington Post series, "What's the Big Idea?" into a continuing column.
  • Teach courses for The Great Courses. They've asked me to do a demo class. Hold a good thought for me.
  • Present my blueprint for reinventing education to Tom Torlakson, the California State Superintendent of Schools and his cabinet (which includes my wife, Barbara Nemko.)
  • Fund an annual prize for the most promising research toward ethically enhancing human intelligence.
  • Write a column in the New York Times
  • Host a show called Honest Conversations about Race.
  • Write a screenplay that gets made into a movie about a wise person whose views and way of being are out-of-step with the times.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Revolution May Indeed be Coming: Why the student protests and "Occupy Wall Street" must be taken seriously

The anti-establishment protests, for example, "Occupy Wall Street" has pushed me over the edge into believing it's more likely than not that, within the decade, "The Revolution" will indeed come. There just are too many forces moving America in that direction:
  • Demographics. Because of differential birth rates and immigration, an ever higher proportion of the population will be left-leaning.
  • The U.S. economy is in deep trouble, with many more people underemployed than the government's statistics indicate.
  • The gap between rich and poor is increasing. The middle class is shrinking.
  • Society's main mind molders--the schools, colleges, and media--are ever bolder in making their messages leftist rather than truly "fair and balanced."
  • The recent precedent set by the overseas protests--the "Arab Spring," riots in France and England, etc.
  • Our short memory. Memories of the liabilities of living in, for example, Communist Russia and Eastern Europe, are fading.
And as time passes, each of those forces is likely to gain in strength.

Of course, there are countervailing forces:
  • Except among hard leftists, ardor for The Revolution is tempered by the collapse of the Greek economy, the tottering of other socialist countries, and Scandinavia's, Germany's, and France's now questioning the wisdom of a generous cradle-to-grave welfare policy.
  • The American citzenry's long-standing valuing of capitalism.
  • The already leftward movement of our government,. Of course, the 2010 election was a pivot rightward but I believe that a fair-minded look at U.S. policy over the last 100 years demonstrates a clear leftward trend. What the media and politicians call "conservative" today is more leftist than would have been considered "conservative" just a half-century ago. For example, no conservative politician today would dare argue even against such redistributive "justice" programs as No Child Left Behind, in which the vast majority of educational effort is redistributed from those with the greatest potential for excellence to the lowest achieving students. The government's move leftward reduces the need for revolution to what may well be soon done without the pain of revolution.
I believe the forces moving us toward The Revolution are far stronger and getting ever stronger while the Rightward ones are weaker and getting more so.

Going yet further out on the limb, I predict that within a decade of The Revolution, a move back rightward will begin. Logically, to me at least, the core principle of The Revolution dooms America in the medium to long-term, to, net, more misery. The Revolution's core principle is Marx's exhortation to redistribute from those with the most to those with the least, without regard to the people's merit, their previous or likely contribution to society. Viscerally that's appealing, especially because the media has conditioned us to picture that redistribution as mansion/yacht owners giving up much of their ill-begotten wealth to honest, oppressed people living in squalor.

The problem with socialism and its even more radical cousin Communism is that the pool of wealthy individuals and corporations is simply smarter, yes smarter, than the pool of the poor. Society's "Haves," may have some ill-begotten wealth but compared with the poor, they, on average, I stress, on average, are more likely to have created jobs, cured diseases, not to mention invented, manufactured and distributed critical products at a price that even low-income people can afford, everything from an aspirin to a refrigerator, a telephone to Google.

Another terrible liability of redistributing wealth is that it reduces people's incentive to, and in turn, desire to work, or at least to work beyond a minimum. As was learned not only in the former Soviet Union but in many cradle-to-grave countries, many people in socialist or Communist countries, with the need to accomplish diminished by the social welfare system, many people work as little as possible or not at all.

Finally, as Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with socialism is the ultimately you run out of other people's money."

Of course, I cannot be certain of my predictions; too many forces can affect America. For example, just one vial of mutated biovirus released in a U.S. international airport lobby could change everything, in unpredictable ways. But I believe that as we do our strategic planning, as individuals, companies, and government, we'd be wise to at least consider the possibility that The Revolution indeed may be nigh.

Helping Special Needs People Find a Job

I'll be keynoting a conference for people whose job is to find jobs for people with special needs. I thought you might like to see the essence of what I'm going to say.

If I had a teen or adult child with special needs--for example, mild cognitive impairment and wheelchair-bound--I'd certainly want them to work. And here's what I'd to do to help them become employed:

I'd convey to him (or her, of course) that work is a must, not an option, and that work is wonderful: It keeps you stimulated, makes you money, and importantly, makes you a productive, contributing member of society. I'd also often tell my child how proud I'll be when he gets a job and especially when he does a good job at it.

I would try to identify community resources that help special needs people find employment, for example, Stepping Stones, but if I felt those wouldn't do a great job for my child, I'd take matters into my own hands:

I'd help my child identify jobs he might do well and reasonably enjoy. Examples of jobs that some special needs people can do: clerk, custodian, basic repair, load trucks, or other manual labor, supermarket stockperson or carry-out assistant. People with normal intelligence but with a learning disability, even with an accompanying physical disability, depending on their abilities and limitations, may succeed as, for example, a receptionist, graphic artist, or bookkeeper.

I'd demonstrate to my child how to interview: how to walk in, say hello, describe who you are and what you can and can't do, answer typical questions, and ask for a job. After each demo, I'd have my child try it. I'd give feedback as encouragingly as possible. After he was doing pretty well, I'd video it and use that to provide additional feedback.

I'd buy my child a new interview outfit: the clothes he'll feel most confident wearing that also would be appropriate for an interview.

I'd have him write a resume with my help. I'd be sure that both his abilities and limitations are fairly described.

I'd call everyone I knew telling them I'm trying to help my special-needs child find a decent job, one with a kind boss. I'd fully describe my child's abilities and limitations. I disagree with the conventional wisdom, which is to hide from employers the disability as long as possible. Rather, I agree with the axiom on damage control: Get the bad news out up-front. Yes, many potential employers will be turned off but the right employers, the ones likely to hire my child and be kind to him when the inevitable mess-ups occur, will not be unduly deterred. Apart from the poor ethics of deferring revealing the disabilities, when they're finally revealed in the interview, the employer will feel deceived that they weren't disclosed up-front.

If my network didn't generate a good job with a kind employer, I'd make a list of target places of employment. Schools, colleges, nonprofits, libraries, businesses serving the disabled, senior centers, animal shelters, and bookstores may, on average, be kinder to a special-needs job applicant than would private-sector employers. Once I assembled my list, on a map, I'd put an X on the location of each employer and would drive my child around to them.

I'd walk my child into each of those places of employment and to any other good prospects I noticed along the way. I know that conventional wisdom is that the job applicant should go in alone but I believe that whatever negative effect would accrue from my walking in would be outweighed by my enthusiasm and by my answering questions on behalf of my child. Also, it would be harder for an employer to turn down an impassioned parent than a special needs job applicant.

If appropriate, I'd tell the employer I'd be willing to be my child's job coach: help train him for the job, before or after he was hired, at home, or even on the job to ensure he was doing a good job.

After the inevitable rejections that all job seekers suffer, I'd explain to my child that job seeking is a game where you only need succeed once--you can get rejected lots and lots of times and still win. Where possible, I would be a cheerleader for my child but, where necessary, a loving taskmaster.

When he gets hired, I'd call the employer after the first few hours to ask how things are going and if there's anything I could do to help ensure my child's success.

All things equal, I'd prefer my special-needs child to be employed by someone else rather than to be self-employed. I want him out in the world, experiencing other people, other things. Too many people with special needs have too-small worlds. They often don't realize how much richer a life in the world can be, even if they find it challenging.

That said, if my child could not find a job, even in a sheltered workshop (Today, often obfuscatingly called "work center,") where he could succeed, that was reasonably pleasant, and with boss and coworkers that treated him with reasonable respect, I would work with my child to create a home-based business. Depending on his abilities, limitations, and preferences, my child might make homemade crafts, jewelry, or soap (sold to the disabled community?), package and ship items for eBay sellers, or even tutor children with disabilities.

No matter what, I would often tell my child how much I love him and how proud I am of his efforts to land and succeed in a job. Even if his job was just to sweep the floor, wash dishes, clean toilets, or dig ditches, I would indeed be proud. All ethical work is of real value. A side benefit to society: It can be inspiring for coworkers to see a disabled person doing a good job--"If they can, then certainly I should."

Indeed, I find someone who does a lowly job reliably to be among the most worthy of respect: Despite the lack of pay and prestige, the person's sense of responsibility motivates him to do a good job. I can't think of an action more worthy of respect, indeed of love.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I'll Be Speaking Again at Grace Cathedral: Replacing Procrastination with Motivation and Willpower

I'll be speaking again at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Oct 17 from 9:00 am to 10:15.

The topic: Potent Ways to Replace Procrastination with Motivation and Willpower.

Plus I'll take questions. Bring your most challenging ones.

It is a free event.

It will be at the Wilsey Conference Center at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St. San Francisco. HERE are directions by car and mass transit.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who Should Influence Our Public Policy?

In theory, we'd all agree that our views on policy should reflect the input of wise, circumspect people, those wise men and women able to weigh the conventional wisdom du jour against enduring principles and reasoning.

Alas, in fact, public opinion and the resulting policies and whom we elect are heavily determined by less wise folks:
  • teachers and professors, people who have opted out of the real world. Compared with the pool of successful people in the real world, teachers and professors are more out-of-touch and less efficacious. Despite protestations to the contrary, there is some validity to the overgeneralization that those who can, do; those who can't, teach.
  • members of the media. This is another group with minimal real-world experience, whose opinions have been too heavily influenced by their theory- and ideology-rich but practicality-impoverished professors. Most journalists today, egged on by their new-style, ideology-driven journalism professors, believe they know how the world should be changed and thus have the right to forgo their near-sacred responsibility to present intelligent perspectives from across the full range of the ideological spectrum and, instead, manipulate the public into believing their own solutions are the correct ones. From Rachel Maddow to Rush Limbaugh, the New York Times' Bob Herbert to Fox News' Sean Hannity, these are people driven far more by ideology than by wise circumspection.
  • politicians. They are too driven by saying what will get them elected rather than by what's best. For example, for decades, the research has been unequivocal that Head Start yields no enduring benefit, but politicians continue to tout it because the public likes the concept, even though it ends up costing the taxpayers billions of dollars and wastes enormous toddler and parent time.
  • public intellectuals. I am less concerned about this category of influencers. After all, these primarily are thinkers. But the (liberal) media, by definition, creates public intellectuals. And it disproportionately anoints leftists--think Robert Reich, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Malcolm Gladwell. And to stay on the air, those public intellectuals must keep their messages liberal so as to please the media's gatekeepers. Another weakness: public intellectuals, by definition, spend a larger percentage of their work hours on promotion rather than creation than do private intellectuals.
Most troubling, public opinion on policy matters and political candidates may be most affected by:
  • people in the creative arts: filmmakers, actors, rock stars, etc. Of course, there are many exceptions, but people in the arts are likely to be longer on offbeat creativity than on intellectual rigor and discipline. They are less likely to be emotionally well-balanced and more likely to be in and out of rehab, literally or figuratively. Do you doubt that the parents of those in the creative arts are more likely than average to deem their kids "misfits", "poorly adjusted," or downright "weird?" Isn't it absurd that our public policy views are less likely to be affected by circumspect thinkers than by drug abusing, convicted of assault Sean Penn, punk rocker Bono (both pictured above,) Michael Moore whose career is spent criticizing capitalism while holding onto an eight-figure net worth he created via capitalism, five-times-married, violent-tempered James Cameron (Avatar, Rambo, The Terminator) comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, crooner Barbara Streisand, even the hosts of The View for God's sake?!
Who are these circumspect thinkers who, in relative anonymity, write and speak about what would be good for the world, not unduly swayed by fads, whether the environmentalist religion from the Left or Constitutional fundamentalism from the Right?

These Wise Men and Women are most likely to be found as key influencers but not as top dogs in corporations, nonprofits, think tanks, as consultants, and occasionally, academia. They are people who realize that to be The Leader is too likely to require ethical compromise, backstabbing, and other non-productive effort. These sages seek not power and acclaim but societal influence. They are the respected geniuses in or as consultants to organizations that generate brilliant ideas that incorporate a wide range of thoughtful input from across disciplines and ideologies.

Arguably the most important thing we could do to improve society is to develop our policy and political views heavily on the input of such Wise Men and Women instead of from escaped-from-the-real-world professors, media news readers, power-hungry politicians, air-time-addicted, ideology-driven pundits, and stoned-out rock stars.

Update: A commenter asked me how should we select our leaders? I have previously proposed two approaches that I believe are dramatically better than that status quo. I reproduce that here:

Reinventing How We Select Our Leaders

More and more money pours into election campaigns, heavily from special interests. That enables ever-more sophisticated Madison-Avenue types to concoct truth-obfuscating messaging to manipulate us. Today, nearly every sentence spoken by major politicians is dial focus-group tested.

As troubling, those special interests wouldn't be pouring billions into campaigns unless they were confident that it would result in politicians doing their bidding rather than what's best for us all. The following would ensure we elect far better and less-corrupted leaders:

  • All campaigns would be 100% publicly-funded. This has been proposed and rejected in the past as a denial of free speech. I believe that abridgment is far outweighed by the benefit to society.
  • All campaigns would be just two weeks long. That would control cost and only minimally reduce voter knowledge: Most voters have long forgotten what they heard months earlier about the candidates.
  • The campaigns would consist only of one or two broadcast debates. Those would be followed by a job simulation: running a meeting.
  • A neutral body such as C-Span or Consumers Union would post each major candidate's biographical highlights, voting record, and platform on key issues.

Such a system would reduce candidates' corruptibility while increasing the quality of information voters would have about the candidates. As important, better candidates would run, knowing they needn't run an endless, expensive, press-the-flesh, beholding-to-special-interests campaign.

Here is an even more radical approach to reinventing the way we choose our leaders: Our government officials would be selected, not by voting, but using passive criteria. For example, the Senate might consist of the most newly retired of the 10 largest nonprofits, a randomly selected CEO of the S&P Midcap 400, the Police Officer of America's Cop of the Year, the national Teacher of the Year, the most award-winning scientist under age 30, etc., plus random citizens.

Of course, both of those reinventions of our electoral system are subject to the criticism, "The incumbent politicians would never allow it--the foxes are guarding the hen house." I'd address that by working with the media to urge the electorate to support candidates that would vote for a fairer electoral system.

Another objection is that the U.S. Constitution requires our political leaders to be elected. While amending the Constitution is a huge undertaking, it has been done 27 times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Case Against Networking: The Give-So-You-Can-Get-More ploy hurts target, networker, and society

In decades past, networking was merely a few-minute conversation at some gathering that ended with an exchange of business cards.
But that was correctly viewed as ineffective, so today, the advice is: Develop long-term relationships with a dozen targets with power to help you. That approach, which I call, The Give-So-You-Can-Get-More Ploy, was touted in this exhortation to the Thiel Fellows.  Yes, some people do give for generosity's sake but too often that's not what's operative.

Ever more in recent years, I have been a frequent target of the Give-So-You-Can-Get-More Ploy. Typically, the networker emails me articles and at some point starts asking me for help, help that would benefit them much more than their effort cost them.

Like many targets of this ploy, I dislike it. The help the networker gives me is usually trivial, indeed often a net negative: I end up feeling obligated to read the articles they send me, stuff I'm usually not that interested in--I have better uses of my time. If I want to learn something, thanks to Google, on-target articles are just clicks away. Alas, despite my not appreciating users of The Ploy, as a human being, I haven't been able to restrain myself from feeling obligated to them because it is possible they were just trying to be nice. So I end up doing them favors, in one case, losing money: After a career counselor said she needed money to put food on the table, I referred some prospective career counseling clients to her that I'd otherwise see myself or refer to another colleague.

Worse, when I, for example, help Ploy users get a job, I feel I'm helping a person who likely isn't as competent as those I'd otherwise advocate for. On average, the people who take all that time to do that modern-day networking are less competent than others. If they were that competent, emotionally together, etc., they're less likely to have needed to spend all that effort selling themselves. It's the same way I feel when a job seeker shows me a glossy presentation packet instead of a resume. If they were that good, would they have need to spend the time and money on that gift wrapping? I wonder, "Are they gift-wrapping a bad product?"

One person bombarded me with articles for months, literally daily, interspersing ever more requests for free advice. Finally I asked him to stop. He responded by emailing me this cartoon mooning me. I guess he was frustrated that the Give-So-You-Can-Get-More ploy didn't work.

There are many ways to implement the Give-So-You-Can-Get-More ploy. A current version is to get active in or start a LinkedIn or Facebook group, and/or Google+ circle, and help solve group members' problems. Then there are traditional approaches: business networking groups such as Business Networking International, joining the Chamber of Commerce or a service club (e.g.,Kiwanis, Rotary), where you invest your time until you feel you can cash in.

Despite what networking's proponents claim, much networking is manipulative--you're not being kind to be kind, you're being kind as a way of getting people to do things for you they wouldn't otherwise do. For example, instead of hiring the best person for the job, the target hires the networker because the networker did nice things for the target, even if it's just listening to the target complain. Ultimately that hurts the target: They would have been better off having searched for the best employee.

Even the networker ultimately suffers from spending all that time cultivating their networking targets. That's time the networker could better spend improving skills, creating something, or yes, the old-fashioned applying for advertised jobs. That's the ethical way to land a job: An employer needs to hire someone, you make your case that you're worthy of being hired, and the employer selects the person most appropriate, not the person who most savvily networked him.

Of course, if networking is bad for the networker and for the target, it thus is bad for society. Society is worse to the extent it reallocates time from productivity to schmoozing. And alas, its impact is ever more negative today as people reallocate productivity time to networking time. Especially in these tough times, America needs to spend more time on steak, not sizzle.

It's heretical to assert, but I believe that muchnetworking is unethical and ultimately deleterious to all.
I must admit that, as a career counselor, I do teach people how to network effectively. It is often effective. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder how ethical it is of me to continue to do so.