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Archive for January, 2011

We All Have to Learn to Flex

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

If we want to thrive personally, corporately, and as a nation, we need to learn to change quickly.

Today’s headlines announced that the national debt will top $1.5 trillion by the end of 2011. That’s $1,500,000,000,000.  There’s a lot of finger pointing about that number, but at it’s core, it’s the same problem that keeps our kids from excelling in school and our businesses from outpacing the competition in the global marketplace.

The problem at the bottom of all of this? We have become very inept at change. The President can talk all day and all night about innovation, but until we–individually, corporately, and nationally–get used to the idea that you can’t make progress without letting go of what we’re already doing, we’re not going to get anywhere.

We need to get used to the idea that what we have going needs to go. GM seems to finally have figured this out with cars. They are poised to take back their spot as the best selling car maker  in America (from Toyota) as a result.

But how about the rest of us? When we insist that we get our same health care the same way, that’s not a personal right. That’s an unwillingness to explore a better way. When we insist that companies provide health care as part of employment, that’s not workers’ right, that’s just plain stupid. We tie our employers to expenses that other countries’ workers cover through different channels and then wonder why we can’t compete with the cost of our products.

Even when you insist that you should be able to go to the same grocery store, use the same bus route, or get the same service from the same public agency the same way, you are guilty of being part of this problem.

And this problem is THE problem. Entitlements come from expecting things to stay a certain way. Outrageous union contracts that are killing the entity in which they are employed expect they should keep getting their share the way it’s always been even if reality has become drastically different. (And some of the worst offending unions of late have been police and fire brotherhoods.)

Critical legislation remains undone because too many vocal sissies were unwilling to accept that things have changed and their pet projects have to go for the sake of the greater good. City and county budgets get shredded because “I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it” out shouts “How can we get through this with a united effort?”

There’s nothing in the Declaration of Independence that guarantees anyone the right to have things stay the same. There’s nothing that says because things were nice for you–or me or anyone–they are going to stay that way for the rest of that lifetime. Life has a lot of curves. Insisting that things be kept the same for your comfort is like pretending the next curve isn’t there.  That’s a sure recipe for a massive wreck.

We need to learn to flex–to let go of what we’ve had for the sake of dealing with what’s happening effectively. Every time we lack the courage to do that, we make this horrendous problem worse.

Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote and Do What You Love. Her website is http://www.mining-silver.com

Patience. Patience. More Patience.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Sometimes, life is just relentless. Nothing goes right–and everything that goes wrong comes with a domino effect.

Those are the days (weeks? months?) where chucking it all and finding a whole different life seems like the only real solution.  And it gets mighty enticing.  Right now, I am dealing with acute bronchitis.  My usually healthy body is starting to wear down from all the coughing.  This morning it’s a strained muscle in my right shoulder.  And, yes, I am right handed.

Every project I am working on has stalled–all for legitimate reasons.  It’s winter in the Pacific Northwest which is a challenge in and of itself.  Oh poor me.

Then I hear from a friend who’s sister has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  This is the same sister who fought breast cancer several years ago and who’s husband is dealing with prostate cancer.  Perspective is a precious thing.

I can’t work  right now–or hike or snowshoe or even show up at a movie theater if I have an ounce of consideration for the rest of the audience.  These are inconveniences.  Perhaps my “work” right now is just to rest and think and listen for what the Divine wants to be sure I hear.  Perhaps it’s just one more chance to learn patience.  That’s a precious thing, too.

And that idea of chucking it all and going in a new direction?  That kind of decision is better made with more information than one small run of bad luck and frustrating experiences.    Life does take dramatic turns.  But it’s not about running away.


For Job Insurance…A Whole New Mind

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Many assume we need to use our analytical brain to get ahead. Others insist moving toward a more creative approach is our only hope. In his book , A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink lays out convincing arguments for using both. To create stay-in-America jobs and sturdy careers, we need to mesh creative thought and analytical reasoning as we move from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

And since we’ve all been indoctrinated about the analytical stuff since kindergarten or before, Pink takes on the creative stuff. He identifies six aptitudes on which “professional success and personal satisfaction will increasingly depend:” Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. And he claims we can all master them.

Just reading the list brought me up short–a good sign when I’m looking for an intellectual jolt. It didn’t hurt that he started by describing getting his brain scanned. That totally got my attention. Then he covers what we know about both hemispheres of our brains. We are not just “right brained” or left brained.” We are both. We need to be both to have good lives. But it’s still also true that our cultural norms are skewed toward left brain thinking.

Okay, so far, from what I’m telling you, this book sounds like good bedtime reading—sure to put you asleep in minutes. But that’s not how he writes and it’s worth your time to see how he creates the case for using our brains differently to thrive personally and in the international economic arena in the years to come.

He cites three significant sources of the change that’s determining who will get ahead: Abundance, Asia, and Automation.

First, abundance…As knowledge workers across the globe acquire the means to buy whatever they want, what they need goes beyond “things.” Beauty, spirituality and emotion become part of buying decisions in times of abundance like the one we’re in. So instead of just buying a wastebasket to hold discarded paper (or using a cardboard box), you seek something more in what you choose—a certain color or shape, specific materials, a socially responsible source. Creating and offering these kinds of products requires both sides of the brain.

The second factor is Asia…the locus of our most intense outsourcing fears. Asia isn’t alone in providing knowledge workers at a fraction of the cost of what an American worker gets paid. But they are the biggest. India alone produces 350,000 engineers a year. Although a great deal of “our” work has gone there already, Pink sees the threat as more perilous in the long term. Knowledge workers in high wage countries will not all lose their jobs instantly. But over time, the left brain work is going to go to the cheapest bidder. That will be the whizzes in developing countries. At the same time, the work that requires an appreciation of context, an ability to be creative to solve the problem, and good customer rapport will stay right here.

The third source of change is automation. Even in the computer industry, the routine functions are being turned over to machines. There’s a British company that’s developed software that writes software, for example. As the humdrum work gets relegated to robots and computers, engineers and programmers will need to recreate themselves as something more to remain of value. Much of what we used to pay lawyers for we can now learn on the Internet. Same deal with medicine. Every knowledge base can be automated. So to thrive, knowledge workers need to become something more than a portal to a database.

Because of these three developments, the creative and relationship skills that reside in the brain’s right hemisphere are becoming more valued. It’s like the transition from physical strength to mental strength when we moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. And like before, those who were “big dogs” in the old realm will need to retool. People who can go beyond the left brain thinking and factual analysis in how they solve problems and design products are becoming the new superheroes.

To all of you who’ve said, “But I see both the big picture and the details,” when someone tried to pigeon-hole you as either right or left brained, Dan Pink provides validation. If you can do both, you’re golden. For the rest of us, A Whole New Mind includes succinct, entertaining chapters on how to develop those new capabilities– Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

So here’s a great New Year’s resolution: work on finding your “whole new brain.” The need to change is real for all of us, but the best part is that what we are moving into is the key to a more fulfilling life as well as a more secure job.


New York Times Drivel

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Just because it’s in the Times doesn’t mean it’s good.

Dan Barry”s article in the Dec. 31 edition is a great example of that.  He used the milestone of first boomers reaching retirement age to lambast  them for being self-absorbed and focused on entitlement.

I’d be willing to live with his assessment if he had support for the claim.  But to reach that conclusion, he relied his own impeccable insight, a book written by an Oklahoma history professor published in 2004, and a Pew Research study from June, 2008.  He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  What the hell happened?  (The best part of the piece was the 305 mostly more informed comments it generated in just a few days.)

As the Pew report he quotes concludes, “Boomers are a big, complicated generation.”  But there is another force at work that Barry totally missed.  Things are changing and relying on information that old was a bad idea.  And a disservice to the generation and to the country.

On Jan 2, an article on the same subject by Ellen Goodman appeared in syndication.  She’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, too.  She may be smarter about this stuff than Barry because she retired earlier this year and is looking at it first hand.  She’s read a lot of the more recent books by leading experts on the subject.

And she came to a much different conclusion.  She gets it.  There are two very different opinions about older age right now.  One sees the huge potential for giving back and solving problems in those stepping out of the fulltime workforce.  The other focuses on the “glum” generation that Pew reported on–a generation focused on how to make it on what they have to work with–slim employment opportunties because of ageism and the shaky state of Social Security and Medicare.

This is a paradign shift of the first order.  It’s long overdue.  The version of retirement we are currently trying to use was already ineffective in 1960. Most likely, the kind of generation boomers are will make the outcome better rather than worse. Since they became old enough to take a stand, Barry’s “self-absorbed” generation challenged the unfairness of racial segregation, the legitimacy of a war we probably should not have been in, and the right of the good ol’ boys to deny women the chance to do challenging work and decide what their bodies will and won’t do.

Ageism is now another unfairness that needs to be addressed.  The way this society marginalizes older people is criminal.  It is also a tragic waste of resources that could be applied to many many problems we face as a nation, in business, and in our communities.  My guess is that boomers will step up to this one, too.

Entitlements are only an issue if empowerment is denied.  The members of the largest generation as well as those who follow will have a better world if we get rid of the idea that once people are old enough to retire, they’re not capable of contributing anymore.  (According to Penn State’s Seattle Longitudinal Study, verbal ability doesn’t even peak until your 60’s!) We’re turning people out to pasture who still want to work, and pretending we’re doing them a favor.

As early as 2005–before the financial meltdown, 83% of the 2400+ boomers in a Merrill Lynch study reported they wanted to work in retirement.  They are glum because finding work when you get to that point is extremely difficult.  They support aging parents and boomerang kids and still have to deal with the prospect of being replaced by someone “younger.”

That this group gets labled as “self absorbed” baffles me.  They make noise about things they don’t think are right, but it wasn’t just black boomers who protested racism.  It wasn’t just the guys who didn’t want to get drafted who protested the Vietnam War.

Anything large creates its own weather, be it Mount Rainier or the rocket hangar at Kennedy Space Center.  The boomer generation does change things, because it is BIG.  Hopefully, it will help move us to a smarter, more meaningful way to live the last third of our lives.  And then all those who come after who are griping about those self-absorbed boomers can reap the benefit of that, too.