Posted: May 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs and careers.]

The 1% speaks for the 99%.

Nick Hanauer is a rich man, an entrepreneur, part of the 1%.  He gave a speech at TED that lasted a little over five minutes.  However, if you go to the popular website, the speech can’t be accessed.  Hanauer’s talk was deemed too political.

Hanauer argues against the claim that rich people like himself are job creators.  He says, “Sometimes the ideas we are certain are true are dead wrong.” Instead, he points to consumers, especially the middle class, as the true catalysts for economic growth.  Using himself as an example, Hanauer asks how much the rich can stimulate the economy.  They can only buy  a limited number of cars and clothes.

Like all myths, this one comes wrapped in metaphor.  Hanauer looks at the term “job creator” and say it is just a “small jump” to “the creator.”  The wealthy give them selves a special status, even if it’s not justified by any hard evidence.  Hanauer considers the last ten years and says the increase of wealth at upper incomes should mean we have a great  economy.  Instead, we have one of the worst in history.  “We’ve had it backwards for the last 30 years.”  Hanauer concludes that  the “true job creators are middle class consumers.”

TED’s decision to take down this talk is very disappointing.  The site features presentations by liberals and conservatives, including Arianna Huffington and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.  Luckily for us, the wonder of the internet has preserved Hanauer’s talk.  It can be accessed through articles in Huffington Post and the Atlantic.  I remain a big fan of TED, but, in this case, the people who run it were not true to their own principles.

Hanauer has written two books that outline his political beliefs, which can also be explored at True Patriot Network, Hanauer’s project with his writing partner Alan Liu.  This website promotes a progressive version of America based on these values:  “service, stewardship, tolerance, and equality of opportunity.”  It offers ways to engage on the issues that Hanauer and Liu define as true patriotism.

Agree with him or not, Nick Hanauer cares about this country.  His voice deserves to be heard.

Posted: March 3, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Are you happy at your job?  If not, the problem might not be your job, but the way you are approaching it mentally.  In a TED presentation, Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Thinking, Inc., explores how the “lens” we use to look at life affects our attitude and our performance.

Achor is a very funny, engaging presenter.  However, his science is serious, especially for those people who are cheating themselves by focusing on negativity.  Achor’s discipline is called “positive psychology,” which shouldn’t be confused with any kind of simple self-help program.  It is a new and growing specialty in psychology that focuses on how our attitude can be readjusted through exercises that emphasize gratitude and helping others.  Achor’s studies have found that a person with a positive outlook is 31% more productive at work.  More importantly, positive people are focusing on what they have, not what they lack. 

I strongly recommend this 12 minute video.  It’s fun and insightful.

Posted: May 22, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores different perspectives on work in “Sabbath.”]

Listening, Talking, and Exploring

We were a Twitter society long before the first tweet was posted.  Newspaper articles and TV news stories have grown shorter, and they are written in language for a lower and lower grade level.  We read headlines instead of stories.  The spin is much easier to understand than a story with multiple levels of meaning.

Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet.  It is possible to access great interviews and lectures that entertainment TV will not touch.  Some might ask, “What about PBS?”  The focus of PBS is corporate and mainstream.  To replace Bill Moyers with an insider like Jon Meachem is a big bow to conventional wisdom.  Similarly, Charlie Rose is a great interviewer, but his guests are the same crowd saying the same things.  The one exception on PBS is Tavis Smiley.  Anyone who thinks that Tavis only talks about race would be sadly mistaken.  Sometimes he talks too much about Tavis, but that is a small flaw in an otherwise wonderful exchange of ideas.

We in Chicago were lucky for many years to have had Studs Terkel talking with artists and authors on WFMT.  Some of those interviews are available through the Chicago History Museum.  What I always enjoyed about Studs was the enthusiasm he brought to any topic.  Like a great teacher, he drew his listeners into new ways of thinking, something we have too little of today. 

On the political side, Jon Stewart and Thom Hartmann interview guests in very different ways.  Stewart is first and foremost a comedian.  But, like Shakespeare’s fools, he often makes his strongest critical points through a joke, often a non-verbal gesture.  At the same time, even when he disagrees with a guest, Stewart is very respectful and gives all of his guests time to make their point.  The website often includes longer versions of interviews on the Daily Show.  Thom Hartmann is more cerebral and more set in his politics.  His series Conversations with Great Minds would not win praise from conservatives.  However, it is a great resources for those of us who find Barack Obama and most Democratic leaders too conservative for our tastes.

My favorite website for smart talk is TED, a collection of presentations by leading scholars, scientists, business leaders, and politicians.  I know nothing about cricket, but I once watched a 30 minute lecture on cricket and marketing.  It was fascinating.  Unlike the cooler than cool network newsreaders (What do they anchor?), TED presenters are knowledgeable about their subjects, and they speak with a passion and humor that is totally lacking in the mainstream media.  TED invites its viewers to think, not just pick one side of a simplistic argument.

Great speakers and interviewers transfer their ideas and curiosity to an audience.  They bring a commitment that is often personal.  When people say our education system is failing, they should look at Jon Stewart or TED.  Find a teacher that makes people want to learn.  They’re out there – just a mouse click away.

Posted: April 17, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on intersections of work and life.]

Getting Started

When was the last time you tried something new?  That question drives Seth Godin’s great new book Poke the Box.  I frequently cite Godin in this blog.  I have also urged many clients to buy his book The Dip, offering to refund the cost if they are disappointed.  Godin’s new book is equally impressive and valuable. 

The Dip is about knowing when to quit; Poke the Box argues that we need to start starting:  “Leaping. . . Committing. . . Making something happen.”  Godin believes that too many people and companies play it safe, clinging to routine or compliance because innovation always comes with the risk of failure.

From the time we start school, we are taught to give the right answer and avoid failure at all costs.  People who “poke the box” risk failure all the time.  However, when they fail, they learn and try again – or try something new.  They never stop starting. 

We also hold ourselves back by waiting for the expert to tell us what to do.  We wait for some great to power to affirm our work.  In words that sound like Walt Whitman, Godin writes, “Reject the tyranny of being picked.  Pick yourself.”  Find a way to make and distribute your work and ideas.  Godin call this “shipping.”  We never real start anything unless we can bring it to the shipping stage.

Why don’t more people take initiative?  One big reason is that they are told not to:  “Most employees can give you a list of things they’re not allowed to do.  Not-allowed lists exist in schools, in relationships, and in jobs.”  We like such lists because they keep us safe.  You can’t lose if you follow directions.

You also can’t do anything meaningful or new.  Godin uses a very strange word to describe meaningful work:  joy.  When was the last time you felt joy at your job?  Actually that question is a good test.  If you’re not doing work that makes you feel good and excited, it’s time to look for new work.  Godin says that companies should “organize for joy” and give their employees the chance to “create, connect, and surprise.”  He also challenges us as workers to bring joy to our work.  If a manager rejects our efforts to make things better, it’s time to find a new professional home. 

We live in an age when innovation is too often a marketing buzz word.  New is a lure, glitzy, not substantial.  Godin’s model is about something different.  It’s an existential challenge to live and work differently.  The poet William Blake wrote, “Improvement makes strait road, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.” (Proverbs of Hell).  Seth Godin wants us to take the crooked road.  It’s good advice. 

Sunday Extra Helping:  Godin issues this challenge:  “If you had to give a TED talk, what would it be about?”  TED is an online video collection of people who “poke the box,” creators in every field.  Check out the website and try to answer this question:  What topic excites you enough that you want to share your idea with the world?  That’s your starting point.  Poke the box.

Posted: March 20, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Who’s TED?  It’s really a what, a website that offers videos from cutting edge experts in several fields.  How good is this website?  I once watched a twenty minute video about the sport of cricket.  I know nothing about cricket and don’t care about the game, but the speaker was so compelling that I got caught in his enthusiasm and intelligence.  That’s TED in a nutshell.

Rose King from Bschool.com has sent me a link to 10 TED presentations that focus on careers.  They are all very good, especially Daniel Pink’s talk on motivation.  Check out these videos and wander around the TED site.  You won’t be disappointed.

I wanted to thank Rose for sharing this resource with us.