Monday, January 11, 2010

Challenge Conventional Wisdom

“The conventional wisdom is often wrong…conventional
wisdom is often shoddily formed and devilishly difficult to see through, but it can be done.” (from the book

Conventional wisdom is a commonly-accepted set of beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations of data to which a majority of people subscribe, usually without thinking, and often unquestioned. It plays a large part in how we see and interpret our world.

Much of it is created by fleeting observations, which we accept at face value, seeing only external manifestations or symptoms, rather than diving down to find fundamental causes. This is followed by applying superficial assumptions, based on simplistic reasoning, which, we blindly accept. Whether it’s because of our caffeine-enhanced, hurried lifestyle, our steady diet of prefabricated news bites, or our general lack of intellectual curiosity, we fail to question, try and probe.

These flimsy assumptions form the basis of conventional wisdom, which becomes insulated by interpretations that are repeated over and over and over until they are accepted by most as fact. And, there we have it – the birth of conventional wisdom!

On this blog, I am going to create "Conventional Wisdom Challenges" or CWCs.

Here's how it will work: On the days of a "Conventional Wisdom Challenge", I will put in the Blog Title CWC: and the name of the post. That way, you'll know when it's a "Conventional Wisdom Challenge."

On those days, I will submit pieces of data, along with the commonly-accepted interpretations, based in conventional wisdom. The, I will post a question designed to help you think for yourself. Challenge assumptions. Intuit. Create your own interpretions. Think of it as a game. It will be fun!

My job is to provide the data, the conventional wisdom surrounding the data, and to pose the question which inspires you to see outside-the-conventional-wisdom-box. Your job is to come up with your own interpretation based on what you see and how you think, independent of others. Any questions? Let's get going!

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Friday -- Unemployment Numbers

Hot off the press...

According to MSNBC: Economy Sheds More Jobs Than Expected
Nation lost 85,000 jobs in December; unemployment rate flat at 10 percent

Let's talk about what this means, find our own interpretation, and challenge the explanations of the "experts." Certainly, it doesn't look good when we "lost" 85,000 jobs in December. Traditionally, the holiday season has been a great time for seasonal hiring in retail, which usually creates a kind of spike in "job creation." But, we lost jobs. So, what does it all mean?

"The economy lost more jobs than expected in December while the unemployment rate held steady at 10 percent, as a sluggish economic recovery has yet to revive hiring among the nation's employers. "

The question is: why did the economy "lose" more jobs than expected in December when the economic indicators point to improving conditions? No one seems to know. That's why experts have coined the term "jobless recovery." As you know from what I've written before, I believe that we "lost" more jobs because not only are jobs disappearing, but because the whole concept of a job, as a way to package up work, a form of work, is disappearing. Jobs are devolving, unraveling, into project-based work.

Next, we read that "the unemployment rate held steady at 10 percent...followed by the explanation that "a sluggish economic recovery has yet to revive hiring among nation's employers." The assumption is that along with an economic recovery comes an increase in job creation. That makes sense. Economic conditions improve, businesses get more orders, need to hire more people to fulfill the orders to make the products, and so begin to start hiring again.

Except that we don’t really make a lot of things any more. We have moved away from predominantly a manufacturing-based economy to service-oriented economy. We continue to offshore our manufacturing jobs, and, in fact, have lost one-third of this country’s manufacturing jobs since the year 2000. That’s incredible. These jobs are not coming back, no matter how great the economy gets.

We need to watch the tendency to interpret data through a traditional lens, trying to make sense of data points as though they were static, without taking into account the shifting social and economic landscape swirling around us. We need to look at economic indicators within the context of change. Statisticians have a propensity and preference for benchmarking data points against markers from the past, called past predictors, but this method doesn’t work in a dynamic marketplace where the past is no predictor of the future.

Why aren't jobs being created? Let’s suppose that even within a service economy, there is plenty of work that needs to be done...but it's not getting packaged up in terms of jobs. There are large disincentives for employers to create new jobs, the largest of which is cost. It's expensive to create jobs. Typically, it costs an employer 38% above a new hire’s salary just to provide benefits, most of which is health care cost. And, that number doesn’t take into account the rising costs of unemployment and other types of insurance.

Bottom-line: employers are not in the position to create jobs. It's too dang expensive. It’s easier to hire temp workers. And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers cut 85,000 jobs last month, worse than the 8,000 drop analysts expected."

Why are employers continuing to cut jobs? One reason is that business credit continues to be tight, despite what you hear from Washington.

Banks aren't lending, and even if they want to lend, they are being prevented from doing so by overzealous regulators who have been given orders rigidly to enforce existing rules and procedures, a kind of over-reaction to lax regulation of the past, and without taking into consideration the exigencies of the present. While this may sound good because we need strong enforcement of existing regulation, it's not. What this means is that banks cannot be flexible with their customers and are foreclosing on customers who have just hit a "tight corner" on liquidity and need some flexibility. More on this tomorrow...

Against this credit backdrop, to prevent bankruptcy and cash flow problems, companies are being forced to cut expenses, drastically, just to stay alive. One strategy is to cut back on employees' hours. The average American work week has been reduced to something like 33 hours. If more severe measures are needed, employers are being forced to cut jobs, which usually include benefit packages costing 38% over salary costs. Wouldn't you eliminate a job and hire a part-time person, at a lower cost and with no benefits, in order to keep your company afloat?

"A sharp drop in the labor force, a sign more of the jobless are giving up on their search for work, kept the unemployment rate at the same rate as in November. Once people stop looking for jobs, they are no longer counted among the unemployed. "

Gee, this is interesting. Most people I know don't just "give up" in their search for work. They are unable to find work, usually because they can't find jobs that were similar to the ones they left. This is true for two categories of workers: 1) skilled manufacturing jobs, people who worked on a manufacturing line that moved offshore. These jobs aren't coming back and until we start getting the "green" jobs funded -- solar energy, natural gas exploration and "green" construction, there won't be much employment, and even then, these jobs will be limited. 2) Middle level management, white collar workers whose jobs either have been eliminated permanently as companies go leaner in their management structure, or whose jobs have been replaced by skilled workers overseas in Dublin, Mumbai and Singapore. These people are in a bind as they are overqualified for the jobs that are being created -- at Taco Bell, Wal-mart and Chucky Cheese. It's no wonder that they appear to "drop out" of the job market.

Despite the dire picture…it’s not all bad news. It’s just gonna look a whole lot different from before. Keep reading to find out how to uncover opportunities today...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More than One Career?

Question: Can you pursue more than one career path at one time?

Last night, I had supper with a friend, who wanted me to meet her daughter.
It seems that her daughter has several career paths from which to choose -- fashion designer, singer and actress. She asked me which one I thought she ought to pursue. I told her to focus on the one for which she had the greatest passion. She said she liked that answer.

But, the truth is, she can try to pursue all of them simultaneously. Today I received an email from a friend who has invited me to her art opening. She paints and she makes jewelry, but she is also a business coach.

Since when do you need to have one, all-encompassing career? You don't.

As a career coach, I have often heard my clients say that they wish they knew what they wanted to do from a young age, that they envied people who knew from the time they were 5 that they wanted to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or whatever. It would be easier, they said. These clients told me that they had multiple interests, and were often told by others that they were "all over the place."

So, where did we get the idea that we had to pick just one? That's what conventional wisdom says. But, it's not true any more. Here are some examples:

Oprah - she is a talk show host, an actress, a TV show producer, magazine founder and owner

Rachel Ray - television personality, author, chef

Serena Williams - tennis player & fashion designer

Of course, these are just 3 examples of highly-publicized celebrities. What they share is their ability to leverage a brand -- their own brand.

So, my question is: why can't the rest of us have a brand in the world and work on activities that reflect and support our own brand? We can.

I have helped hundreds of clients find ways to pursue more than one interest -- and to make money from each. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bono's Top Ten List

Did you see Bono's Top Ten List?

The Sunday New York Times asked Bono to write a top ten list for 2010. It's called Ten for the Next Ten. (1/3/10)

Take a look at #2:  Intellectual Property Developers

Perhaps movie moguls will succeed where musicians and their moguls have failed so far, and rally America to defend the most creative economy in the world, where music, film, TV and video games help to account for nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product.

People who generate intellectual property will help to drive America's economy.  We may not manufacture things any more, but we lead the world in innovation and creativity. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Andre Agassi and You...

Happy New Year!

Today I want to talk about Andre Agassi. He's just written a new book, his autobiography, entitled -- OPEN.: An Autobiography. My sister gave it to me for Christmas.

You've probably heard about the book. The media focused on two parts: 1) he wore a wig during the French Open and 2) he did crystal meth. While both of those things are true, according to what's written, this sensational reporting misses the point. The book is about so much more...It's about Andre's struggle with himself, on and off the court, through his relationship with his father and his brother, his first wife Brooke Shields and his current wife Steffi Graf, his coach Nick Bollettieri and forever trainer and friend, Gil Reyes, all in an attempt to become who he is, to be true to himself.

I've always loved Andre Agassi. Not for his flamboyant style, not for his individual brand of tennis, nor for his unique, pigeon-toed walk, but because...

Andre Agassi aspires to be true to himself. And, that inspires me to be who I am. Stripped down and no pretense. Just me.

That's what I wish for you this 2010. To be true to yourself. To just be you. To exercise who you are in the world, not in relation to others, but in relation to yourself, to that inner voice that you hear when everything and everyone else is silent. To walk to the beat of your own drummer. To live from the soul. To

Some people may say to be self-actualized is a selfish pursuit, but I say no. Because when you have gotten yourself right, you have more to give to others. Think of what Andre Agassi has given to the world of tennis, how he shaped the tennis world, through his unique brand of playing, his clothes, his look, not through any specific intention to do so, but simply as a result of being authentically himself. Think of how much he has contributed to the world of education with his charter school and through other charitable contributions.

How much can you shape the world just by