I know a young woman who graduated 16 months ago from the University of Oklahoma. She had good grades, she was a diligent student, received glowing recommendations from her professors. She was a model student and would be a great hire.. She has just been hired in her field. It took 16 months, and I know she worked hard at finding a job. She was on the verge of abandoning any attempt to find a job within her field.
She is one of the lucky ones. It only took her 16 months.
That is the stark message of a new article in Business Week. It is being referenced all of over the internet – I’ve seen it in at least three places. The title of the article is alarming — The Lost Generation: The continuing job crisis is hitting young people especially hard—damaging both their future and the economy. (read it here). Here’s just one paragraph:
Only 46% of people aged 16-24 had jobs in September, the lowest since the government began counting in 1948. The crisis is even hitting recent college graduates. “I’ve applied for a whole lot of restaurant jobs, but even those, nobody calls me back,” says Dan Schmitz, 25, a University of Wisconsin graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Every morning I wake up thinking today’s going to be the day I get a job. I’ve not had a job for months, and it’s getting really frustrating.”
A lot of business books speak of the need to hire the right person for the right job. We wish we could live in ideal times. But the number of people looking for each available job is higher than ever, and this current group of college graduates is in an especially precarious condition. Read the article. It is sobering – troubling – challenging.
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.
Helmut Thielecke once stated “Sell all you have… and buy Spurgeon!” Charles Spurgeon was a gruff, brilliant English preacher. Helmut Thielecke was a serious, profound, German theologian/preacher. Yet he understood that one man’s writings were truly above the rest, and worthy of great attention.
Metaphorically, I would like to make my own such pronouncement: “sell all that you have, and read Ebert.” Like so many, I read a lot – books, magazines, blogs. I have a lot of favorites, but if you made me choose only one that I could keep in my to-read stack, it would be Roger Ebert. If you have not yet looked at his site, the format is simple: the main column includes his movie reviews. On the right, you can find his blog posts. If you have more time, read the comments following his posts. They are the best out there.
I always read him first, before and then again after I see a movie that he has reviewed. By the way, on the IMDB site, whenever he has reviewed a movie, his review is always listed first — as it should be.
But it is his blog that is so very rich. The more I read from his keyboard, the more I understand why he won a Pulitzer and is considered America’s best pundit. When our oldest son got married, I gave him and his bride three books at their rehearsal dinner. One of the three was Ebert’s The Great Movies.
Now for those of us who are true book lovers, I want to point you to his recent post. Books do furnish a life. It should simply be mandatory reading for all of us. Here are some excerpts:
Chaz and I have lived for 20 years in a commodious Chicago house with three floors, a furnished basement apartment and an exercise room we built on the roof-top deck. This house is not empty. To my 1965 edition of Shaw, which cost me about two quid and now sells for $119, Chaz and I have added, I dunno, maybe 3,000 or 4,000 books, countless videos and CDs, lots of art, rows of photographs, rooms full of comfortable furniture, a Buddha from Thailand, two elephants from India, African chairs and statues, and who knows what else.
Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions, including more or less every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn.
Other books I can’t throw away because–well, they’re books, and you can’t throw away a book, can you?
My possessions are getting away from me. We have an agreement. My office is my office. Chaz has her own book-filled office, and takes care that the rest of the house is clean and orderly. My office has a glass door with this gilt lettering:
The Ebert Company, Ltd. Fine Film Criticism since 1967.
I have not been able to even get into the storage closet of my office for four years. The room is lined floor to ceiling with film books, and the shelves of directors and actors with names beginning H, I, J, K and L are blocked by piles of stuff on the floor. What? You expect me to throw out my first Tandy 100? And there’s a 40-year run of Sight and Sound there somewhere.
I hope you will read the post. The array of books he mentions is breathtaking. His love for books is obvious. And, of course, his love for books helps explain the depth of his thinking and his writing.
This is a blog primarily about business books. But underlying it is a simple love of books. Roger Ebert has given us a great read to remind us about our own love for books.
I have written before (Work Ethic is Always at the Center of Every Success Story — Just Ask Joan Rivers) that work ethic seems to be one of the nonnegotiables for success. Both Malcolm Gladwell and Geoff Colvin trumpet this, with emphasis on the 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything. People who work hard, really hard, and then practice what Geoff Colvin calls deliberate practice, have a much better chance at success.
Now comes word that the folks who founded Flickr are saying that work ethic is overrated, and not all that necessary. Here’s an excerpt from an article titled Hard Work’s Overrated, Maybe Detrimental (read the article here):
Caterina Fake, who, with her husband Stewart Butterfield, founded Flickr, knows a thing or two about bliztkreig work schedules. But she points out that late nights are seldom very useful in the grand scheme of things. Hard work? Overrated:
When we were building Flickr, we worked very hard. We worked all waking hours, we didn’t stop. My Hunch cofounder Chris Dixon and I were talking about how hard we worked on our first startups, his being Site Advisor, acquired by McAfee–14-18 hours a day. We agreed that a lot of what we then considered “working hard” was actually “freaking out”. Freaking out included panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, fearing failure, worrying about things we needn’t have worried about, thinking about fund raising rather than product building, building too many features, getting distracted by competitors, being at the office since just being there seemed productive even if it wasn’t–and other time-consuming activities. This time around we have eliminated a lot of freaking out time. We seem to be working less hard this time, even making it home in time for dinner.
Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that’s what you like to do.
I don’t disagree with this. (And, to state the obvious, I haven’t founded anything as successful as Flickr). But I do think that it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you can “know the right thing to work on.” It might even take quite a bit of “freaking out,” in order to learn just what does and does not work, what does and does not matter…
The article is actually a call to have “dream space and time,” a concept that I wholeheartedly endorse. Here’s the last paragraph of the article:
Modern office design is actually converging upon this idea, without any prodding from neuroscience–for example, Facebook’s new offices seem to be organized more around living rooms and DJ booths than cubicles. Elsewhere in office design, conference rooms are quickly being crowded out by lounge spaces. In other words, the very types of places that Watson and Crick found so useful.
And maybe the article hints that when you have learned a few things, you can then work a lot smarter as well as harder. And I certainly endorse the idea that someone whould be able to be home in time for dinner.
But I’m not really sure this makes the case that success does not come from hard work. I think it takes hard work to learn how to work smarter. There is still no substitute for work ethic.
Follett (1868-1933) was an American social worker, business consultant, and author of numerous books on democracy, creative experience, and management. She wrote about the power of the collective that arises from shared power – power with as distinct from power over. Follett grasped that a major impediment to thinking collectively about power is “the fear of subordination to others.”
Peter Drucker correctly named her the “prophet of management.” Warren Bennis called her a “swashbuckling advance scout of management thinking.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter noted that reading Follett was “like entering a real of calm in a sea of chaos. Her work reminds us…there are truths about human behavior that stand the test of time. They persist despite superficial changes, like the deep and still ocean beneath the waves of management fad and fashion.”
In The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly, the co-authors (Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan) discuss three of her associated insights.
“First was seeing the possibility of integration, a way in which key elements from both sides of a polarity could be discerned and addressed. For this to happen, power had to be shifted and structures of one-sided influence had to give way to circular ones based on relationship.” The objective is to locate shared ground and learn together from the transparency of data about the system.
“This led to her second insight, which involved what she called the ‘law of the situation.” Instead of marshaling outside experts and facts to bolster one side over the other, Follett proposed using information to advance transparency of operations. She saw the power of the scientific method, still nascent in her day, as useful in creating a shared pool of data that everyone could access.”
“Finally was her insight about leadership itself. She understood that true leaders do not command obedience through force or manipulation but rather by giving expression to external realities and the interior aspirations of others.”
Here is a link to the Mary Parker Follett Foundation’s Web site: http://www.follettfoundation.org
You may also wish to check out Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Management edited by Pauline Graham as well as the aforementioned The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly.