First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Different Starting Points – Different Outcomes (insight and challenge from The New Jim Crow)

This has been a week of intellectual and emotional whiplash.  Two nights ago, I presented my synopsis of the book The Next Decade by George Friedman.  Tomorrow at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I am presenting All the Devils are Here:  The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. And today, I presented The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  This is a diverse set of titles – and each one raises great and serious questions.  But the one for today for the Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare), The New Jim Crow, will remind you that, for some, digging out and moving forward is a very, very difficult task.  Here are some excerpts:

Jarvious Cotton cannot vote.  Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy.  Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises – the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life.  Cotton’s great-great grandfather could not vote as a slave.  His great-great grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote.  His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation.  His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests.  Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.
Cotton’s story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”  In each generation, new tactics have been used for achieving the same goals – goals shared by the Founding Fathers…  Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian society…  An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history.  They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-great grandparents were.

What is completely missed in the rare public debates today about the plight of African Americans is that a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all.

“You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being.  You were not expected to aspire to excellence:  you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.” (quoted from James Baldwin, to his nephew, The Fire Next Time).

I teach community college students, and guest lecture at a major, private four-year university.  The starting point for each of these two groups of students is so very different.  And the path ahead?  Well, for one group, it looks promising, filled with hope; for the other, the future looks like an almost impossible challenge.

As the author says about the prison and ex-prison population, “a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all.” Starting place really matters!

I’m glad I read books this diverse.  They remind me that the struggles are real out there, every day, for so many.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

Michael Korda’s Grant: A book review by Bob Morris

Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero
Michael Korda
Atlas Books/HarperCollins Eminent Lives Series (2004)

Every year about this time, probably because of Presidents Day, I re-read brief biographies. This year, I selected Ulysses S, Grant (1822-1885), 18th President of the United States. This is one of two, the other written by Josiah Bunting III that is part of Times Books’ “The American Presidents” series, with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. serving as general editor. Although both Korda and Bunting cover much of the same material, there are significant differences between their respective approaches to the18th president of the United States.

For example, Bunting clearly disagrees with, indeed resents the fact that Grant is generally remembered “as a general, not a president, [which] explains in part the condescension – there is no better word for it — from which pundits and historians have tended to write of him.” Bunting asserts that if judged by the consequences of Grant’s common sense, judgment, and intuition, his presidency, “so far from being one of the nation’s worst, may yet be seen as one of the best.”

Korda indicates no inclination to view Grant’s presidency as “one of the best.” He duly acknowledges the problems which awaited Grant after he was elected to his first term in 1869. “What did Grant’s reputation as a president in, however, (and continues to do so today whenever journalists and historians are drawing up lists of the best presidents vs. the worst ones), was the depression of 1873, which ushered in a long period of unemployment and distress, made politically more damaging by accusations that the president’s wealthy friends were making money out of it.” Given that the United States was growing too fast, in too many different directions at once, and the inevitable consequence was corruption and an unstable economy, “it would have taken a more astute man than Grant to slow things down or clean them up.”

This last observation by Korda is consistent with a contemporary assessment of Grant by the Edinburgh Review, one which Brooks Simpson quotes in his own study (Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction 1861-1868), and which Bunting also cites: “To bind up the wounds left by the war, to restore concord to the still distracted Union, to ensure real freedom to the Southern Negro, and full justice to the southern white; these are indeed tasks which might tax the powers of Washington himself or a greater than Washington, if such a man is to be found.”

In his Epilogue, Korda explains that he wrote this book because, from time to time, “it is necessary to remind Americans about Grant, first of all because his is a kind of real-life Horatio Alger story, exactly the one that foreigners have always wanted to believe about American life…and that Americans want to believe about themselves.” Yes, his presidency was severely flawed but as a general, Grant “defined for all time the American way of winning a war”: It must have an essentially moral base to earn and sustain the full support of the American people, it must take full advantage of its great industrial strength and depth of manpower, and it must apply aggressively – without hesitation — all of its resources to achieve the ultimate military objective, total victory.

However, Korda suggests that any politician contemplating the use of military force should first consider lessons which Grant learned from failed Reconstruction initiatives in the South: “armies of occupation are no substitute for political thought, and that generals are not be necessarily the right people to institute basic political reforms or to reconstruct society.”

It remains for others much better qualified than I am to comment on the relevance of that statement to America’s current military involvement in various parts of the world. However, I greatly appreciate Korda’s attempt to provide a balanced view of Grant in terms of his character, talents, and values…all of which served him so well on the battlefield but which proved insufficient to the political challenges that he encountered later as the 18th president of the United States.

Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Bunting’s biography as well as Grant’s Memoirs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Ancient Markets to Global Networks

The prophet Ecclesiastes and the ancient philosopher Heraclitus are both credited with observing, in effect,  “Everything changes…Nothing changes.”

The same can be said of markets. Initially, a “market” was a specific location; later, it was viewed as a specific segment of sellers/buyers (e.g. housing) and then as a cluster of demographics (e.g. males ages 29-45); later, marketing was defined as a brand, then a promise, and now a customer-focused experience that creates “evangelists.”

Here is a an especially interesting excerpt from The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition co-authored by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, published by Basic Books (April 5, 2011).

*     *     *

This may seem rabidly antibusiness. It’s not. Business is just a word for buying and selling things. In one way or another, we all rely on this commerce, both to get the things we want or need, and to afford them. We are alternately the workers who create products and services, and the customers who purchase them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this setup. Except when it becomes all of life. Except when life becomes secondary and subordinate. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, business so dominates all other aspects of our existence that it’s hard to imagine it was ever otherwise. But it was. Imagine it.

A few thousand years ago there was a marketplace. Never mind where. Traders returned from far seas with spices, silks, and precious, magical stones.

Caravans arrived across burning deserts bringing dates and figs, snakes, parrots, monkeys, strange music, stranger tales. The marketplace was the heart of the city, the kernel, the hub, the omphalos. Like past and future, it stood at the crossroads. People woke early and went there for coffee and vegetables, eggs and wine, for pots and carpets, rings and necklaces, for toys and sweets, for love, for rope, for soap, for wagons and carts, for bleating goats and evil-tempered camels. They went there to look and listen and to marvel, to buy and be amused. But mostly they went to meet each other. And to talk.

In the market, language grew. Became bolder, more sophisticated. Leaped and sparked from mind to mind. Incited by curiosity and rapt attention, it took astounding risks that none had ever dared to contemplate, built whole civilizations from the ground up.

Markets are conversations. Trade routes pave the storylines. Across the millennia in between, the human voice is the music we have always listened for, and still best understand.

So what went wrong? From the perspective of corporations, many of which by the twentieth century had become bigger and far more powerful than ancient city-states, nothing went wrong. But things did change.

Commerce is a natural part of human life, but it has become increasingly unnatural over the intervening centuries, incrementally divorcing itself from the people on whom it most depends, whether workers or customers. While this change is in many ways understandable — huge factories took the place of village shops; the marketplace moved from the center of the town and came to depend on far-flung mercantile trade — the result has been to interpose a vast chasm between buyers and sellers.

By our own lifetimes, mass production and mass media had totally transformed this relationship, which came to be characterized by alienation and mystery.

Exactly what relationship did producers and markets have to each other anymore? In attempting to answer this blind-man’s-bluff question, market research became a billion-dollar industry.

Once an intrinsic part of the local community, commerce has evolved to become the primary force shaping the community of nations on a global scale. But because of its increasing divorce from the day-to-day concerns of real people, commerce has come to ignore the natural conversation that defines communities as human.

The slow pace of this historic change has made it seem unsurprising to many that people are now valued primarily for their capacity to consume, as targets for product pitches, as demographic abstractions. Few living in the so-called civilized world today can envision commerce as ever having been anything different. But much of the change happened in the century just passed.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Secrets of Job Hunting in a Post-Job Board World

Jessica Stillman

Here is an article written by Jessica Stillman for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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As BNET’s sister site MoneyWatch pointed out recently, in a climate where it takes the average job hunter more than seven months to find their next position, big job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder are of only limited use.

The post’s author Eilene Zimmerman writes: Forget CareerBuilder, HotJobs, and all the other mass job sites. While these boards seem like a good place to start, how many people do you know who actually found a job that way? Even hiring managers don’t want to sort through the hundreds and hundreds of resumes they get for each position they list on these sites, so they’re increasingly turning to industry-specific job portals, says Debra Yergen, author of Creating Job Security.

And Zimmerman isn’t the only person, pointing out that job boards are often a waste of time. Everyone from the WSJ to Ask the Headhunter’s Nick Corcodolis
has written posts advising that there are probably more productive ways to spend most of your job search hours. But if job boards are on the wane, how are companies and recruiters finding people to hire? And how can you best position yourself to be found?

Writing on recruiting blog Fistful of Talent recently, Kelly Dingee, a “professional stalker” with Staffing Advisors, lets the cat out of the bag and offers up seven things employers should tell job seekers about how to get considered.

Dingee isn’t convinced job boards are totally over saying, “there will be people looking for you on there. At least for a little while longer.” But overall Dingee agrees with consensus opinion that too much time on job boards isn’t productive and offers tips to help you get hired in a post-job board world, including old standbys like networking — “Find someone who works at your targeted company who can pass your resume along” — as well as less well known advice:

Make yourself findable first. Google yourself right now. Did your LinkedIn profile come up? No? Build one, make it public. If you have a preferred method of contact, note it. Use inmails. Use a separate email.

Make yourself even more findable. Post your resume, or your bio, or whatever you want to call it.  Use Posterous, use WordPress, use a .me site, use doctoc or slideshare… use something.

Make sure when you build those profiles you use every keyword that applies to you. I like to say I’m a researcher but my title is Strategic Recruiting Manager… and if I was anticipating a job hunt and tweaking my profile I’d make sure every word related to recruiting and research both are enmeshed in my online profile.

Respond to recruiters. Third party or corporate I don’t care. If you don’t deal with contingency staffing firms, fine, send ‘em a quick note of thank you/no thank you, get removed from their mailing list. But do your due diligence, because you want to work with a retained search firm…. There’s a significant difference between retained and contingency search firms. You can go around me and apply directly through our client, but they are still going to route you my way because our firm has been hired — and already paid — to alleviate their staffing burden.

What’s been your experience — how much time are mass job boards worth?

*     *     *

Jessica Stillman is an alumna of the BNET editorial intern program, which taught her everything she knows about blogging. She now lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Traits of Advanced Leaders

 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

Editor’s note: This post is part of a three-week series examining  innovation in health care, published in partnership with the Advanced Leadership Initiative
at Harvard University.

*     *     *

Welcome to the dawning era of social innovation, in which more people aspire to tackle old problems in new ways with new tools. Lacking confidence in established organizations and governments to do the trick, innovators think that it’s time to reinvent institutions to make progress on social issues such as health, education, jobs, human rights, and the environment — and do it fast.

Increasingly, leaders want not just to run an organization effectively, but to change the surrounding system as well. Not just improve hospital performance, but improve overall health. Not just fix troubled schools, but change patterns in communities that lead children to under-perform. Not just fix a problem, like a broken financial system, but change the culture.

Such challenging goals require leaders to operate in areas where the pathways aren’t paved, and the moves aren’t already choreographed. This calls for not just great leadership, but advanced leadership.

The difference is illustrated by a classic joke about old-time movie dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Fred Astaire was certainly a great leader. He had a goal. He could see where he was going. He was clearly in charge. He set direction. He led Ginger Rogers around the dance floor flawlessly. But Ginger Rogers was an advanced leader. She had to do everything Fred did, while backwards and in high heels.

That’s a useful image for the challenges of societal change. If we could ask U.S. President Barack Obama or U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron whether they identify more with Fred or Ginger, I’ll bet that Ginger would win.

Advanced leaders work in complex systems where authority is diffuse or divided. Many people are in charge of parts, but no one is responsible for the whole. Goals are unclear or conflicting. There are multiple stakeholders with divergent interests.

Outcomes are notoriously hard to measure. Barriers to change appear everywhere. In short, it’s like dancing when you can’t see forward and your shoes are uncomfortable.

Still, advanced leaders dance to their own tune. They find opportunities for change in the cracks in the system, in the white space where nothing is written. Rather than try to change the establishment all at once, they fill gaps, create new alliances, and forge new pathways. For example:

The nation needs more teachers? Rather than wait for teachers’ colleges to change, find a new source of teachers. Wendy Kopp founded Teach for America to entice elite college graduates to commit two years to teaching in disadvantaged schools.

Former Hollywood studio head Sherry Lansing helped then-Governor Schwarzenegger of California start the EnCorps Teachers Program, building on IBM’s Transition to Teaching, to help engineers and scientists become math teachers later in their careers.

Too many people are suffering or dying from preventable medical errors? Donald Berwick dedicated the 200-person institute he founded for healthcare improvement to a national “100,000 lives campaign,” later a “5 million lives campaign,” to enlist over 4000 hospitals in commitments to changes that would improve patient safety and save lives.

Streets are unsafe, the neighborhood has deteriorated, and children don’t stay in school? Geoffrey Canada rebranded a section of New York City as the Harlem Children’s Zone, and created a set of cradle-to-college organizations to transform potential dropouts into high achieving graduates, improving street life at the same time. Gilberto Dimenstein conceived of the whole neighborhood as a school in urban Sao Paulo, Brazil, creating art and other enrichment programs that revitalized that area and transformed the school as well; the Brazilian government wants to build on this model everywhere.

Advanced leaders break mental boundaries and challenge established patterns. They think not just outside the box but outside the building. They know that cities are not City Hall, health takes more than hospitals, and education is more than schools.

Advanced leaders use the tools of the future. They don’t want society’s leftovers, or what I call spare change; they want the best and latest ideas and technology to make real change. The surface has barely been scratched for the use of technology to improve society. Consider the potential for data analytics to spot disease outbreaks, mobile phones to monitor health, or interactive websites to bring personalized learning to disadvantaged areas.

The Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard is dedicated to finding, educating, and supporting advanced leaders in every generation, but particularly in a new source of social innovators: accomplished leaders in transition from their income-earning years to their next years of service.

A good place to start is by convening a conversation. If a few creative people can find breakthroughs by thinking about Innovations in Health Care, Education & Technology, or Revitalizing Cities, then imagine the possibilities when large numbers of people put on their virtual high heels and start dancing.

*     *     *

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership.

Click here to learn more about the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A selection of my personal favorites from among Hugh MacLeod’s works of art

I have read and reviewed Hugh MacLeod’s two books, Ignore Everybody and Evil Plans, and now eagerly await his completion of a lengthy interview. He is a counter-intuitive thinker and a gifted writer but let’s not ignore or neglect his drawings now on sale (for uncommonly reasonable prices) at his website.

“Without further ado….”

*     *     *

In Hugh MacLeod’s own words:

“I’m a cartoonist.
I sell limited-edition prints.
I wrote a two books.
I’m CEO of Stormhoek USA, which markets South African wine in the States.
I also draw private commissions.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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