First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Where are the jobs, really?

Where are the jobs, really?

Answers vary. Some responses suggest specific vocations, others specify geographic areas, and still others predict there will be fewer full-time jobs except those requiring endurance rather than talent or skill.

What does Thomas Friedman think?

From The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century: “Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait.

“Those who have the ability to imagine new services and new opportunities and new ways to recruit work…are the new Untouchables. Those with the imagination to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine technologies will thrive…Our schools have a doubly hard task, not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity. We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.”

I agree with Friedman except that I don’t think we can ever go back to the “good old days.” As for those adults who are now unemployed or under-employed, their schools and colleges prepared many (most?) of them for jobs that no longer exist rather than for the opportunities to which Friedman refers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Rebecca Costa: An interview by Bob Morris

Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, Costa examines “the big picture”– tracing everything from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East to evolutionary forces.  Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. In her book, she explains how the principles governing evolution cause and provide a solution for global gridlock. The success of Costa’s first book led to a weekly radio program in 2010 called Rattler Radio. In 2011 the program was renamed and syndicated as The Costa Report, currently one of the fastest growing radio programs on the Central Coast of California.

A former CEO and founder of one of the largest marketing firms in Silicon Valley (sold in 1997 to J. Walter Thompson), Costa developed an extensive track record of introducing new technologies. Her clients included industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle Corporation, Seibel Systems, 3M, Amdahl, and General Electric Corporation. Raised in Tokyo, Japan, Costa lived during the Vietnam conflict in Vientiane, Laos, where her father worked in covert CIA operations. She attributes her ability to see the “big picture” to her cross-cultural education and upbringing. She graduated from The University of California at Santa Barbara with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, The Watchman’s Rattle, a few general questions. First, who has had the great influence on your personal growth? How so?

Costa: I spent my formative years in Japan.  My Japanese grandmother was a Zen Buddhist.  Her reverence for nature had a huge impact on how I now view my place in the natural world.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Costa: In 1975, I picked up a copy of Edward Wilson’s watershed book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, and it changed my life.  With enormous clarity and compassion, Wilson forged the connection between evolution and the behaviors or modern man.

Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Costa: Like many college students, once I graduated from the University of California I returned home.  At the time my parents were living in a suburb next to what would later become Silicon Valley.  I found a job at a technology company and worked in Silicon Valley through the eighties and nineties when there was explosive growth.  It was during this time that I began keeping notebooks.  According to the founder of Intel, Robert Noyce, data densities would double every 18 months.  But any evolutionary biologist knows that adaptation is very slow – sometimes occurring over millions of years.  At some point, human progress would exceed the capabilities that humans had evolved to that point in time – and what then?

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?

Costa: It was the combination of my education as an evolutionary biologist and my experience with accelerating technology, while working in the heart of Silicon Valley, that caused me to become concerned about the future of humankind.   I knew that the day would soon come where life would become too complex, too over-featured, too specialized for the man on the street to navigate competently, let alone the leaders of entire countries.

Morris: Let’s say that you are hosting a private dinner party and can invite any six people throughout human history as your guests. Who would they be and what would you be most interested to learn from each? Why?

Costa:  That’s an easy one.  Charles Darwin would be seated at the head of the table.  153 years ago he discovered the most important principles which govern all life on earth.  And that includes us, whether we like it or not.  Next to Darwin I would like to seat Ghandi, Richard Feynman, Hemmingway, Kant, and Edward Wilson.  What?  Only six?  May I have that table extension please?

Morris: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first entered the business world full-time?

Costa: That I am driven by fear.  Fear of failing, fearing of being judged, fear of embarrassment, fear of being poor, fear of giving the wrong answer, fear of being unprepared or ignorant.  I was successful in business, but it never did a thing to make me feel safe.

Morris: Opinions are divided (sometimes sharply divided) on the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?

Costa: The problem with charisma is that it’s just like trying to be funny.  The worst thing a person can do is try to be funny.  The same goes for charisma.  Authenticity is the only charisma that works.

Morris: In recent years, there has been severe criticism of MBA programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, which area is in greatest need of immediate improvement? What specifically do you suggest?

Costa: The MBA has come and gone and is no longer relevant.  Teaching people how to solve problems – how to think their way out of a jam with speed and agility is the new talent executives need.  That and computing skills.

*     *     *

Rebecca cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thomas Friedman on “Teaching for America”

Thomas Friedman

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Thomas Friedman that appeared in the November 21, 2010, edition of the The New York Times. To read the complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

When I came to Washington in 1988, the cold war was ending and the hot beat was national security and the State Department. If I were a cub reporter today, I’d still want to be covering the epicenter of national security — but that would be the Education Department. President Obama got this one exactly right when he said that whoever “out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” The bad news is that for years now we’ve been getting out-educated. The good news is that cities, states and the federal government are all fighting back. But have no illusions. We’re in a hole.

Here are few data points that the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, offered in a Nov. 4 speech: “One-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year. … One of the more unusual and sobering press conferences I participated in last year was the release of a report by a group of top retired generals and admirals. Here was the stunning conclusion of their report: 75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” America’s youth are now tied for ninth in the world in college attainment.

“Other folks have passed us by, and we’re paying a huge price for that economically,” added Duncan in an interview. “Incremental change isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We’ve got to be much more ambitious. We’ve got to be disruptive. You can’t keep doing the same stuff and expect different results.”

Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession. Why?

Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”

Duncan disputes the notion that teachers’ unions will always resist such changes. He points to the new “breakthrough” contracts in Washington, D.C., New Haven and Hillsborough County, Fla., where teachers have embraced higher performance standards in return for higher pay for the best performers.

“We have to reward excellence,” he said. “We’ve been scared in education to talk about excellence. We treated everyone like interchangeable widgets. Just throw a kid in a class and throw a teacher in a class.” This ignored the variation between teachers who were changing students’ lives, and those who were not. “If you’re doing a great job with students,” he said, “we can’t pay you enough.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Structural Shift vs. Cyclical Downturn (w/insight from Zakaria & Friedman) – Where will the Jobs Be? (ongoing series)

This slump is worse than most; so is the mood. Once demand returns, they say, jobs will come back and, with them, optimism. But Americans are far more apprehensive than usual, and their worries seem to go beyond the short-term debate over stimulus vs. deficit reduction. They fear that we are in the midst of not a cyclical downturn but a structural shift, one that poses huge new challenges to the average American job, pressures the average American wage and endangers the average American Dream. The middle class, many Americans have come to believe, is being hollowed out. I think they are right.
People who get paid a decent wage for skilled but routine work in manufacturing or services are getting squeezed by a pincer movement of technology and globalization.
(Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010, Time, Fareed Zakaria, How to Restore the American Dream)


The news this morning in Dallas is not good.  Home sales are down 30% (though prices are slightly up).  And though our area is relatively healthy, there is a great sense of unrest in our city.  Leaders of nonprofits see requests for basic human needs increasing significantly, and they are finding it harder and harder to raise needed funds.  I run into people all the time who are “in transition.”  They are looking for a job – increasingly, jobs that are very hard to find.  Especially for the “middle-aged” among us.  But, also, for the recent college graduates.  And older folks, who thought they were about to retire – and can’t.

No group seems immune from the sense of unrest.

I recently spoke to a very sharp group of current MBA students.  More than one has a “job lined up” – a company that he/she is starting upon graduation.  They might succeed.  Or, they might not…

Recently, Brian Whetten posted The Death of Dilbert: Why Your Children Will Need to Love Their Jobs on The Huffington Post.  He quotes from both Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, and he pulls it all together in a simple, clear way.  Here’s a lengthy excerpt:

In Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria pointed out that there are basically three types of jobs in America.

• Unskilled service jobs (such as waiter or security guard)
• Skilled, routine jobs (such as sales, office management and factory workers)
• Managerial, technical and professional jobs (such as executives, entrepreneurs and doctors)

In other words, you can flip burgers, shuffle papers or innovate. And over the last 100 years, our country has been built on the backs of “middle America”; the hard working men and women who worked 9-5 jobs, and did the work they were told to, so they could bring their paychecks home to their families.

The majority of today’s middle class jobs involve skilled but routine work; it can be boring and unfulfilling, but at least is safe and predictable.

Perhaps this is why Dilbert is one of our funniest, most popular cartoons. I mean, who can’t relate to the idiocies and inefficiencies in his world?

But here’s the thing. Dilbert is dying.

While the number of unskilled jobs and professional jobs have both been increasing, even in the face of this recession, the number of skilled, routine jobs — the bread and butter work of the middle class — is falling through the floor.

As Thomas Friedman points out,
Just doing your job in an average way — in this integrated and automated global economy — will lead to below-average wages. Sadly, average is over. We’re in the age of “extra,” and everyone has to figure out what extra they can add to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer. “People will always need haircuts and health care,” says Katz, “and you can do that with low-wage labor or with people who acquire a lot of skills and pride and bring their imagination to do creative and customized things.” Their work will be more meaningful and their customers more satisfied.

I think we are in the midst of, what the experts call, a structural shift in our economy.  And we haven’t figured out just what to do about this.

As I have written quite a few times on this blog, this is the problem that keeps me awake at night:  Where will people work? For all of us, we have to keep learning, to keep innovating, to keep being valuable to someone who will hire us, for a job that lasts a while, or assignments that come and go so quickly we barely have time to catch our breath.  And for many, simply finding a job is becoming the survival challenge of the era.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Business Book of the Year

Here is one list of top books:  the finalists for the “Business Book of the Year.” The Financial Times and Goldman Sachs oversee this particular award.  Read about it here.  This is from the Financial Times article:

Books that investigate and explain the financial crisis dominate the shortlist for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

The finalists are:

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
More Money than God by Sebastian Mallaby
Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

All but the first two tackle, directly or indirectly, some aspect of the crisis that hit the financial world in 2007-08 and whose impact is still being absorbed by global businesses and economies.

The Business Book of the Year will be announced on October 27 in New York.

Here are prior winners:

2009 –  Liaquat Ahamed for The Lords of Finance
2008 Mohamed El-Erian for When Markets Collide
2007 –  William D. Cohan for The Last Tycoons
2006 –  James Kynge for China Shakes the World
2005 –  Thomas Friedman for The World is Flat

Read more about each of this year’s finalists here.


Note:  I have presented synopsis of two of the book listed:  The World is Flat and The Big Short.  It looks like I have more reading to do!

Thanks to First Friday Book Synopsis participant Leslie Garner for alerting me to this.

Friday, October 8, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chief Learning Officer: A book review by Bob Morris

The Chief Learning Officer: Driving Value Within a Changing Organization Through Learning and Development
Tamar Elkeles and Jack Phillips
Butterworth-Heinemann (2006)

Borrowing a phrase from Charles Dickens, for those involved in enterprise learning initiatives, these are “the best of times, the worst if times.” Never before throughout human history has there been more and better information available than there is now, nor has it been easier to obtain or disseminate it. However, information needs are constantly and rapidly changing, especially in what has become (in Thomas Friedman’s apt phrase) a “flat world,” one without borders. Moreover, many executives have developed what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton so aptly characterize as a “knowing-doing gap.” As a result, chief learning officers (CLOs) or their equivalent have an abundance of opportunities but they also face a number of significant challenges. In this volume, Tamar Elkeles and Jack Phillips provide information and counsel that suggest how to drive value within a changing organization through learning and development. They take various challenges into full account while responding to key questions such as these, devoting a separate chapter to each:

Insofar as the CLO is concerned, what are the most significant trends and issues?
How to devise a program that links strategy to learning?
How to set an appropriate investment level?
How to align the learning enterprise with business needs?
How to complete a transition to performance improvement?
How to create value-based delivery?
How to manage for value?
How to demonstrate and quantify the ROI of learning?
How to manage talent for value?
How to establish and then sustain productive management relationships?

Then in the final chapter, “The Voices of CLOs,” Elkeles and Phillips include brief but insightful commentaries by 17 prominent chief learning officers, excerpted from interviews of them by Elkeles. (I wish it were possible to read each interview in its entirety.) “They are exceptional at what they do, well-known, and highly respected for their views. More importantly, they offer realistic perspectives about how the CLO function in the organization is managed. To varying degrees, the interviewees comment on some aspect of nine issues (listed on Page 287) that represent the focus of this book.

Readers will especially appreciate Elkeles and Phillips’ skillful use of various reader-friendly devices, notably the provision of Figures (e.g. Figure 1-1, “CLO Roles to meet business challenges,” Page 3), Tables (e.g. Table 3-2, “Turnover Cost Categories,” on Page 62 and Table 5-4, “Core Competencies Associated with Performance Improvement Work,” on Page 120), dozens of boxed quotations inserted throughout the narrative that are relevant to the given context, a “Final Thoughts” section at the conclusion of most chapters, and dozens of Checklists (e.g. “Steps for Needs Assessment and Analysis” on Page 98 and “Benefits of Management Involvement” on Page 276). These and other devices will facilitate, indeed accelerate a review of key points long after the book has been read.

Although this book was primarily written for chief learning officers (with or without a formal title), I think it is also a “must read” for other C-level executives and especially for board members and CEOs. I agree with Peter Drucker that everyone involved in an organization (whatever its size or nature may be) must be a knowledge worker. Only then can effective leadership be developed at all levels and in all areas, thereby ensuring that the organization can achieve and then sustain a competitive advantage. The combined costs of failing to do that are incalculable.

Those who complain about the resources to achieve these and other worthy objectives would be well-advised to consider a response by then president of Harvard, Derek Bok, when reviled by parents who complained about a recent tuition increase: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Congratulations to Tamar Elkeles and Jack Phillips on a brilliant achievement.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Andrew Winston’s “new tool for understanding sustainability drivers”

Andrew Winston

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Andrew Winston 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.

*     *     *

I normally write about companies navigating their way toward sustainability, covering topics such as how to save money or drive green innovation. But I like to step back periodically and look at why companies need to go green. Besides the inherent business logic of creating value by getting leaner or innovating to solve customer problems, what are the forces propelling this movement? Understanding this explicitly can help companies think about solutions systematically.

I’ve developed a new tool to help myself, and I hope others, think about these forces in a way that helps drive strategy — and I’d like to get your feedback. The Sustainability Forces Wheel (see chart below) is an attempt to capture what I see as three big buckets of interrelated forces.

Along the outside run the big sustainability challenges we face as a species — these are the issues that society increasingly expects business to deal with and help find solutions for. They include climate, water, biodiversity, waste, and chemicals on the environmental side. On the social side, which could include a limitless list, I’ve boiled it down to the challenges of social equity, labor (both developing skills around the world and avoiding forced or child labor), and freedom (to associate, for example).

These issues affect companies directly of course, but importantly they also pass through a prism of magnifiers. These are the tectonic shifts in how the world works (think Thomas Friedman’s ideas in The World is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded.) I’m including here three biggies:

•    Technology and the transparency it enables

•    Resource constraints, driven in large part by the rise of the consumer around the world

•    Globalization, which creates new forms of competition and forces companies to incorporate different cultures and mores into operations and strategy.

In the third wheel I’ve placed key stakeholders that pose questions about a company’s social and environmental performance. These people put a face on the larger forces and concerns. Of the long list of possible stakeholders, I highlight four here:

1. Governments at all levels and the regulations and pressure they apply

2. Business customers that are greening their supply chains

3. Employees who want more than a paycheck and expect to match their values to their employer’s

4. Consumers who want it all — sustainable products at the same price and quality

The way I picture using this framework is to “spin” the wheels and match up the forces. In this way, executives can think through what the combinations mean for an industry or company.

Follow Andrew on Twitter at @GreenAdvantage.

*     *     *

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.

Andrew Winston is the co-author of the best-seller Green to Gold and the author of Green Recovery. He advises some of the world’s biggest companies on environmental strategy.

Friday, July 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Competing in a Flat World: A book review by Bob Morris

Competing in a Flat World: Building Enterprises for a Borderless World
Victor K. Fung, William K. Fung, and Yoram (Jerry) Wind
Wharton School Publishing (2007)

Those who have read Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat no doubt recall an assertion he makes in his introduction to the second expanded version: “My use of the word `flat’ does not mean equal (as in `equal incomes’) and never did. It means equalizing, because flattening forces are empowering more and more individuals today to reach farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and that is equalizing power – and equalizing opportunity, by giving so many more people the tools and ability to connect, compete, and collaborate. In my view, this flattening of the playing field is the most important thing happening in the world today, and those that get caught up in measuring globalization purely by trade statistics – or as a purely economic phenomenon instead of one that effects everything from individual empowerment to culture to how hierarchical institutions operate – are missing the impact of this change.”

In this book, Victor Fung, William Fung, and Yoram (Jerry) Wind explain how to build an enterprise for a borderless world, one that can “embrace the flat world” and understand how it works so as to take full advantage of the many new opportunities it offers. “Those that cannot adapt quickly enough to these new realities will fall behind or be bought out by those who have learned how to compete in a flat world. The opportunities are as broad as the world.” They then pose the question to which their book is a rigorous and eloquent response: “How do you need to remake your organization, management, and mindset to seize these opportunities?”

The material is carefully organized and then presented within twelve chapters, followed by a Conclusion in which they ask their reader, “Are you ready to compete flat out?” Those who read, absorb, and then apply Fung, Fung, and Wind’s advice will be well-prepared to answer that question in the affirmative.

Of special interest to me is what they have to say in Part III as they focus on value creation. Specifically, in Chapter 9, how to capture the “soft 3$” by looking beyond the factory:

“Markdowns are a flaw in the manufacturing process. They mean that a product has lost value because it was not the right product at the right time at the right place.”

“In a flat world of unpredictable demand, avoiding markdowns, stockouts, and expensive whipsaws in the supply chain is harder and more important.”

And then in Chapter 10, how to sell to the source by bridging marketing and operations:

“For companies that are sourcing from China, India, and other emerging markets, sometimes insights from emerging consumer markets come from the floors of their own factories or call centers.”

“The challenge is to ride the wave of consumer market growth without getting too far ahead or behind.”

“Sourcing can [also] offer insight into many different areas, including regulations and policies, risks, competition, detailed market information, and market shifts.”

As I hope these brief excepts indicate, Fung, Fung, and Wind are relentless empiricists and hardcore pragmatists who identify the “what” of “flat-out competition” but devote most of their attention to explaining the “how” of achieving and then sustaining success.

Thursday, July 15, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Thoughts About Our Need For Oil

A Few Thoughts About Our Need For Oil – Prompted By The Big Rich By Bryan Burrough, And the Oil Rig Disaster in the Gulf

A few comments about oil…  First, my leanings.  I think we ought to get off of oil – as soon as we can.  I prefer some kind of clean, renewable replacement.  No, I do not know what it will be.

But, I was re-visiting The Big Rich:  The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes this past week, and was reminded of the role of Texas oil in World War II.  The Axis Powers (the other guys) used a total of 276 million gallons of oil in all of World War II.  Texas alone provided more than 500 million barrels to the Allies – more than 100 million barrels from H. L. Hunt alone.

Here are some lines from the book:

When the war was finally won, American oil was among the heroes.  The Allies, it was said, “floated to victory on a sea of oil.”
As Axis leaders acknowledged, they couldn’t compete with the Allies’ supply of aviation fuel and gasoline.  “This is a war of engines and octanes,” Joseph Stalin said in a toast to Winston Churchill in Moscow.  “I drink to the American auto indusrtry and the American oil industry.”

Now, here’s my big observation.  For all of World War II, the entire amount of oil used was less than 1 billion barrels of oil.  For all of World War II!  On both sides!  Today, the entire planet uses 85 million barrels of oil every day.  Every 11 days or so, we use as much oil as was used in the entire Second World War.  That is why we look for oil everywhere we can find it – under ground, under oceans – we need it all.  And we will need it all until we find an alternative.  Which we need to find – fast!

When the Exxon Valdez went down, the planet earth used 66 millions barrels of oil a day.  21 years later – today – we are using 85 millions barrels a day – every day.  And every teenager in America, and now every teenager in China, and India, and… dreams of having his or her own car.  And those cars will need fuel.  As Tom Friedman put it in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, the problem is not how much oil America uses.  The problem is that there are now “too many Americans.”

So many people are becoming “Americans”  (“Economic growth has become the prerogative of most people on the planet”)

As the rest of the world catches up to us, there will be more big cities needing more electricity and more cars and more oil and more…more.

It really is breathtaking to realize that we use as much oil every 11 days as was used in the entire Second World War.  And our 85 million barrels a day today will grow to 110 million barrels of oil in the blink of an eye.  I was 39 years old when the Exxon Valdez went down.  We’ve increased oil usage by 19 million barrels a day since that happened.  By the time my son is my age, we will have far surpassed the 110 million barrels a day figure.  And why is that figure important?  There are plenty of experts who say that 110 million barrels a day is it – the top – the most we can get out of the ground and ocean and use.  In other words, when we hit 111 million barrels a day, need exceeds capacity.  (And let’s say that the capacity can increase some more.  This much we know – the day will come when need does exceed capacity).

And if you know any history at all, when that happens – when need exceeds capacity —  with any needed resource, you’ve got real trouble.

Saturday, May 22, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a Good Time to Take a Deeper Look at Jared Diamond’s Collapse

Last night, I presented my synopsis of Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman.  It was a large, opinionated, animated group.  The conversations were passionate, and the whole evening really was quite a learning experience.

One participant walked up afterward, and asked “have you read Collapse?”  (I love it when I can answer yes to the question “have you read____?”)

He observed that Collapse is a book with real implications for the whole oil usage/crisis question.  I think he is right.

The message of Collapse:  How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed, written by Pulitzer winner Jared Diamond, is that culture after culture throughout history has “collapsed,” many because they lived only for the day and did not make the right choices for tomorrow.  They “used up” what they had, foolishly – tragically.  But, because it was then and not now, their collapse was an isolated collapse.

We now are too connected to “collapse” all by ourselves.  Diamond wrote:

“Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation…  Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote, can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents, and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing).  For the first time in history, we face the risk of global decline.  But we are also the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past.   That’s why I wrote this book.”

He tells the stories of a number of “collapses,” including modern day Montana, and Easter Island, and the Norse in Greenland, and others.

Diamond presents a five point framework for collapse:

1)  Environmental damage.
2)  Climate change
3)  Hostile neighbors
4)  Friendly trade partners
5)  The society’s response to its environmental problems

And he asks this perplexing question:

“ How could a society fail to have seen the dangers that seem so clear to us in retrospect?”
(or – “what were Easter Islanders saying as they cut down the last tree on their island?”)

I think the participant was correct.  It’s a good time to take another, very close look at Collapse.


For a quick read of just one of the stories in Collapse, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s The Vanishing for The New Yorker, his retelling, from the book, of the collapse of the Norse in Greenland.  Cultural snobbery was one of the reasons they collapsed.  Here’s Gladwell’s concluding paragraph:

When archeologists looked through the ruins of the Western Settlement, they found plenty of the big wooden objects that were so valuable in Greenland—crucifixes, bowls, furniture, doors, roof timbers—which meant that the end came too quickly for anyone to do any scavenging. And, when the archeologists looked at the animal bones left in the debris, they found the bones of newborn calves, meaning that the Norse, in that final winter, had given up on the future. They found toe bones from cows, equal to the number of cow spaces in the barn, meaning that the Norse ate their cattle down to the hoofs, and they found the bones of dogs covered with knife marks, meaning that, in the end, they had to eat their pets. But not fish bones, of course. Right up until they starved to death, the Norse never lost sight of what they stood for.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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