REINVENTIONS of 30 Societal Pillars
By Marty Nemko
(page numbers are approximate at this point)
Why you should read this book 6
Reinventions of National Policies
1 Reinventing How We Select Our Leaders 8
2 Taxation Reinvented 9
3 Health Care Reinvented: a system we can live with 11
4 Investing Reinvented 12
5 Our Criminal Justice System Reinvented 13
6 National Defense Reinvented 14
7 Reinventing Our Approach to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict 16
8 Reinventing Our Approach to Climate Change 18
9 Transportation Reinvented 19
10 Housing Reinvented 20
11 The Public Library Reinvented 21
12 Reinvigorating Men 22
13 Simplism: A New Alternative to Capitalism And Socialism 25
Reinventions of Work
14 Creating Good Jobs 26
15 Creating More Successful, Ethical Entrepreneurs 27
16 Do What You Love And Starve? 30
17 The One-Week Job Search 33
18 Gaining Willpower 36
19 Career Counseling Reinvented 39
20 Psychotherapy Reinvented 41
21 The Meter: A Simple Way to Make Us More Productive 43
Reinventions of Education
22 Toward Education Living Up to Its Promise 44
23 Closing the Achievement Gap 48
24 Colleges' General Education Reinvented 54
25 The Media Reinvented 58
Reinventions of Relationships
26 Reinventing How We Choose Students, Employees, Politicians, And Romantic Partners 60
27 Parenting Reinvented 63
28 Family is Overrated 64
Reinventions of Spirituality
29 Religion Reinvented 66
30 Toward a More Ethical Society 68
Conclusion: From Ideas to Implementation to Improvement 69
Why You should read this book
Many people believe the American Empire is in its decline and
fall. Indeed, arecent New
York Times/CBS News pollfinds that 39 percent of
respondents believe “the current economic downturn is part of
a long-term permanent decline.” That is on the top of a
pollthat found that 48 percent of Americans believe
anotherGreat Depression is very or somewhat likely.
And Americans aren't confident that the proposed solutions will
A recent Time poll finds that 62 percent of Americans
think the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction.
Perhaps that's not surprising in light of the failure of the
most recent round of remedies: Despite massive corporate bailouts,
government stimulus spending, and two rounds of quantitative easing
(QE1 and QE2) the un- and underemployment rate is higher than
before. And education, the supposed magic pill, has been more of a
placebo. For decades now, the U.S. has ranked #1 or 2 in per-capita
education spending yet continues to lag in
the most recent international comparison, tied for 23rd with
Poland, while Shanghai, China, which entered the comparison this
year for the first time and spends far less per capita on education
than the U.S. does, ranks #1.
Such solutions are inadequate in part, ironically, because of
our democratic process. Policies are adopted only after they are
embraced by a diverse array of experts, the public, legislators,
and political leaders. While that approach ensures broad buy-in, it
tends to create tepid, relatively impotent policy--that on which
nearly everyone can agree, a lowest common denominator. Policies
that offend no one, that step on no one's toes, are unlikely to
produce major improvements.
It is time for bolder solutions, those not shackled by the need
to obtain consensus. These are disruptive solutions, solutions that
will upset some people but that hold greater promise than do more
This book offers a blueprint for reinventing 30 of society's
pillars. But the book doesn't contain just ideas for improving
society. Along the way, you'll learn much that you can do to
improve your own life.
I believe in crowd-sourcing so at the end of most of the
reinventions, I include a link to its page on my blog, so you can
comment. I'll incorporate your input and discuss the resulting
reinventions with the highest-level policymakers I can
I want to be respectful of your time. So this book will be as
brief as possible, presenting only each reinvention's essential
And in that spirit of brevity, enough introduction. On to the 30
Reinventions of National Policy
1 Reinventing How We Select Our Leaders
More and more money pours into election campaigns, heavily from special interests. That enables ever-more sophisticated Madison-Avenue types to concoct truth-obfuscating messaging to manipulate us. Today, nearly every sentence spoken by major politicians is dial focus-group tested.
As troubling, those special interests wouldn't be pouring billions into campaigns unless they were confident that it would result in politicians doing their bidding rather than what's best for us all. The following would ensure we elect far better and less-corrupted leaders:
- All campaigns would be 100% publicly-funded. This has been proposed and rejected in the past as a denial of free speech. I believe that abridgment is far outweighed by the benefit to society.
- All campaigns would be just two weeks long. That would control cost and only minimally reduce voter knowledge: Most voters have long forgotten what they heard months earlier about the candidates.
- The campaigns would consist only of one or two broadcast debates. Those would be followed by a job simulation: running a meeting.
- A neutral body such as C-Span or Consumers Union would post each major candidate's biographical highlights, voting record, and platform on key issues.
Such a system would reduce candidates' corruptibility while increasing the quality of information voters would have about the candidates. As important, better candidates would run, knowing they needn't run an endless, expensive, press-the-flesh, beholding-to-special-interests campaign.
Here is an even more radical approach to reinventing the way we choose our leaders: Our government officials would be selected, not by voting, but using passive criteria. For example, the Senate might consist of the most newly retired of the 10 largest nonprofits, a randomly selected CEO of the S&P Midcap 400, the Police Officer of America's Cop of the Year, the national Teacher of the Year, the most award-winning scientist under age 30, etc., plus random citizens.
Of course, both of those reinventions of our electoral system are subject to the criticism, "The incumbent politicians would never allow it--the foxes are guarding the hen house." I'd address that by working with the media to urge the electorate to support candidates that would vote for a fairer electoral system.
Another objection is that the U.S. Constitution requires our political leaders to be elected. While amending the Constitution is a huge undertaking, it has been done 27 times.
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2 TAXATION REINVENTED
America spends a fortune and mammoth amounts of time on tax recordkeeping and preparation. And there's abundant cheating and unfairness. Yes, Exxon-Mobil should be paying significant tax.
Here's my shot at reinventing our taxation system. I put aside the question of whether taxes should be increased or decreased. Here, I merely propose what I believe would be a fairer, less time-consuming, and more societally benefiting system for collecting whatever level of taxes is deemed appropriate.
I believe that both the individual and corporate income tax should be abolished. Any form of taxation requiring voluntary reporting of information and a panoply of deductions and credits is too time-consuming and gameable.
I'd eliminate most payroll taxes: especially Workers Compensation and Unemployment Insurance. Those are job killers and yield negative unintended consequences. Workers Compensation is rife with fraud, and Unemployment Insurance encourages sloth. Nearly all of my clients who are receiving unemployment insurance say they won't look for a job until the payments run out. Even then, inertia tends to so grip them that many can't make themselves to do the aggressive job search that's usually necessary these days.
Fines in excess of the asymptotic amount needed for deterrence are forms of taxation. I would reduce fines so they fit the crime. For example, a stop sign violation, currently $300 where I live, might be $40. A San Francisco parking ticket, currently $85, might be $20. A DUI might be reduced from $3,000 to $500.
I'd heavily tax consumption. Government should promote a less materialistic lifestyle, because it promotes people having more important goals and also, because the American empire is in its decline, fewer people will ever afford a consumptive lifestyle, even with zero taxation. Also, less materialism will yield environmental benefits.
To ensure a progressive tax system, I'd exempt from taxation all basic goods, for example, basic food, clothing, shelter, health care, used cars under $2,000, etc. All other items would be subject to taxing at one of three rates: standard, luxury, and alcohol/tobacco. Only clearly luxury items would pay the luxury rate: hotels over $200 a night, cars over $40,000, jewelry over $1,000, etc. I would legalize prostitution and it would be taxed at the luxury rate. The highest rate would be imposed on alcohol and tobacco because I want to deter their use and because those items impose tremendous costs on family members and on the health care system. I estimate that revenue neutrality could be achieved with a sales tax rate of approximately 20%, 30% for luxury items, and 50% for tobacco and alcohol. That consumption tax, like all sales taxes, would be collected at the time of sale so it is minimally gameable.
I would heavily tax estates, Passing wealth to heirs discourages productivity. My intuition tells me that the appropriate rate would be 0% up to $100,000 rising to 90% at $1,000,000 or more.
I'd lightly but progressively tax investment income. I want to encourage investment, because it makes capital available for lending to businesses, which in turn, creates jobs and better or cheaper products and services. But it seems fair that people who earn money without doing anything for it should have that income taxed. I conceive of a rate that would start at zero for a year's investment income of under $5,000 to a maximum of 20% for an annual investment income of $40,000 or more.
Corporations can move headquarters out of the U.S. if too heavily taxed, which would cost the U.S. too many jobs and too much tax revenue. So I'd reduce the corporate income tax rate to nearer the world average, 15%, but with loopholes closed to avoid such injustices as large, successful corporations paying zero tax.
For all taxes, a 25-cents-on-the-dollar tax credit would be awarded for money given to charity. I believe that charities, on average, provide services more cost-effectively than does the government and so I want to give people the option of giving their money to charity rather than to the government.
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a system we can live with
You and I are about to start getting our health care in a very different system, defined in a 2,400-page document that even most legislators who passed it didn't read. Can it be implemented effectively enough that when we desperately need it, we'll get timely health care?
Additionally, our health care providers are already overwhelmed: There are over 100,000 health-care-provider-caused deaths and countless more cases of excess morbidity every year. And now, that same number of doctors, nurses, MRIs, operating rooms, etc., will have to care for 40,000,000 more people, who as a group, have high health care needs and will be paying little into the system.
And the cost? So-called ObamaCare will require employers to provide health care for all its 30+-hour a week employees plus a surcharge to pay for the health care of part-timers, the unemployed. and poor people. Employers claim that that cost on top of all the other employer costs (Social Security, retirement, workers comp, disability, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Marriage Leave Act, plus the legal and human costs of defending wrongful termination and other discrimination lawsuits,) will force businesses to eliminate yet more jobs or even go out of business.
Candidly, I'm scared that when I need it, I won't get good and timely health care. I'd place greater faith in what I believe is a simpler but better plan. I call it FreedomCare:
1. The indigent would receive free basic care with basic defined as: preventive care provided by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Major procedures would be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis; for example, a 60-year-old would get a hip replacement, an 80-year-old wouldn't. A stage-1 cancer patient would receive full treatment (including experimental,) a stage-4 cancer patient would receive only experimental treatments and palliative care. Patients would be allowed to choose their practitioners from among those with room in their schedules but not go on waiting lists.
2. For the non-indigent, except
for catastrophic care, for which insurance could be purchased from
the private sector, health care would be paid directly by the
consumer. If consumers had most of the money at stake, 300 million
Americans would be exerting the power of the invisible hand of the
market to drive down costs and improve quality. The good quality,
cost-effective providers would succeed, the bad ones driven out of
3. To ensure that consumers have the information to choose health care providers and procedures wisely, all doctors, nurses, hospitals, etc., would be required to make key consumer information available, for example, procedures' efficacy rates, cost, patient satisfaction (disaggregated by condition,) the provider's risk-adjusted success rates for common procedures, etc.
3a. Insurers would be required to
post clear information on coverage, limitations, and price on a
well-promoted government website, enabling consumers to easily
compare insurance products.
4. Shorten and make more practical the training of health care providers. That would improve quality while reducing cost and increasing the supply of providers. Currently, our health care providers are trained primarily by professors, who value the theoretical over the practical. Those professors are usually hired and promoted mainly on how much research they produce (almost always in a narrow area, e.g., plantar fasciitis,) not their ability as a clinician, let alone how effective they are in training clinicians.
Having discussed medical education with a number of physicians, I've become convinced that the status quo, which requires pre-med students to complete courses in organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physics, and calculus followed by four years of theory- and arcana-larded medical school (particularly absurd today when so much information is available instantly on the Internet), should be replaced by a two-year practical program taught by master physicians. That would improve patient care while greatly reducing the cost of training a doctor, currently over $200,000 per.
FreedomCare would improve quality while reducing cost. Making the key information available to consumers will enable 300,000,000 people to vote with their feet to the most cost-effective providers, procedures, and insurers. Providing only a basic yet humane level of free care for the poor would save money and not punish people for having earned money. And the briefer, more practical training will simultaneously lower cost, increase access, and improve quality.
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4 INVESTING REINVENTED
Especially in the tight times that will likely be with us
for quite a while, whatever savings we have should be invested
Fortunately, it's far easier than financial advisers--who make their money by making us feel we need them--would have us believe.
Even many sophisticated investment advisers agree that the following no-brains-required strategy is likely to, over the long run, yield better results than most investors obtain using strategies that are far more time-consuming, anxiety-provoking, and requiring great expertise or paying a hefty fee to a financial adviser.
1. Keep most of your money in a low-cost, no-load mutual fund. They offer greater potential rewards than a bank CD but with greater risk. One of the best is a Vanguard All-in-One Fund. Those come in different flavors depending on your risk tolerance and how long you anticipate keeping your money invested. But all invest in a mix of blue-chip stocks and bonds, many of which have international exposure, so your savings are not tied just to the U.S. economy.
1a. If you're in the top federal tax bracket (the 35% rate), you might be better off in a tax-managed fund such as the Vanguard Tax-Managed Capital Appreciation Fund or the less aggressive Vanguard Tax-Managed Balanced Fund.
Do not try to time the market. Every time you have an extra $500-$2,500 to invest, do so that day. That way, your money goes to work for you immediately. Also, that automatically buys you more shares when prices are low, fewer when prices are high.
2. Keep an amount equal to six months living expenses in one of the nation's highest yielding bank CDs or money market funds. How do you find them? Easy: bankrate.com lists them daily. It feels great to see your savings grow. It's like magic--you earn interest on your interest. That's making money without having to do a thing--and with bank CDs and money market funds, there's essentially no risk, especially if you choose a bank with a high safety rating. (Those ratings are listed on bankrate.com.)
2a. If you're in the top federal tax bracket, you might be better off in a Vanguard tax-exempt bond fund than in a bank CD or money market fund.
I believe that all citizens should be taught that model of investing. It would likely result in more net income for the public, more confidence that it's worth saving for a rainy day, and a greater sense of security, something we could all use in these insecure times.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional investment adviser and thus am not giving investment advice here. This merely is a model I've used in my investing. Also, except for the bank CDs, please note that these are uninsured investments and subject to loss. Lastly, I am not affiliated with the companies mentioned in this section and have nothing to gain from your investing in them.
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5 OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM REINVENTED
system is adversarial: two lawyers seeking not the truth, but to
win. As a result, the winning side is often not the more
meritorious but the one with the better lawyer. Our system of
justice, alas, is not blind.
Reforming our system of trials
I believe that justice would more often be served if the attorneys, along with the judge, were neutrals. They'd divide the work of investigating the case into thirds. Then they'd discuss the results and vote on a decision. Or in the case of a jury trial, each of them would present his or her one-third of the investigation's results to the jury for a decision.
Prison costs a fortune yet the recidivism rate is very high: Two-thirds of felons are rearrested within a year of release.
I'd like to see studies assessing which alternative sentencing would work well for what kinds of offenders. For example, the recidivism rate for murder, robbery, sex crimes, drug crimes should be compared among offenders who receive a sentence of GPS and video monitoring versus prison, taxpayer-paid jobs versus prison, each combined with interventions ranging from garden planting and pet adoption to job training to, in the case of repeat sex offenders, reversible chemical castration, and for repeat violent criminals, reversible violence-inhibiting drug.
Reforming the capital crimes appeals process
When someone is convicted of first-degree murder and receives a death sentence, the average lawyer drags out the appeals process for 13 years. And only one in 10 who receive the death penalty ever actually gets executed. In California, it's 1 in 100.
It would seem that two appeals to occur within two years of sentencing would more appropriately balance protecting defendant rights and taxpayer dollars, while sending the public the message that our laws will be enforced in a reasonably timely manner.
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6 National Defense Reinvented
We spend more on defense than anything: The projected budget is over $1 trillion dollars for 2012 alone!
It's time to take a closer look at whether we'd derive more cost-benefit by reallocating most of the defense spending to other initiatives such as medical and education research, reducing our debt, relieving gridlock, giving to the poor, and returning money to the millions of struggling taxpayers to pump back into the economy as each person sees fit.
For me, any purchase is justified mainly by its cost-benefit versus its opportunity cost. For example, the U.S. maintains hundreds of military bases around the world, from Antigua to Turkey, staffed by 360,000 service members, costing many billions of dollars every year. I believe we must more rigorously assess, for each base, how much would our safety be reduced if we eliminated that base or reduced it to just a handful of software-assisted human monitors. Would the benefit of reallocating that money elsewhere be worth that increase in risk? I predict that subjecting each defense spending item to that test would result in dramatically reduced military spending.
My vote for the most cost-effective defense expenditure? Expanded conversation with our enemies, including radical groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of course, not everything is remediable with discussion. I believe that no conversations with Hitler would have deterred him wanting to dominate the world. But the risk/reward and cost/benefit ratios of conversation are good.
Large defense cuts wouldn't have been as defensible in decades past. But today, much of the threat to our security is miniaturized: solo actor terrorists, compact weapons such as suitcase nukes, bioweapons, etc. Those will not be deterred by massive military bases, battleships, and aircraft bombers. Indeed, such megaweapons often cause much collateral damage, not only to people and property, but to our worldwide reputation. When one of our aerial bombs destroys even one innocent person or building (which is very difficult to avoid,) our error, thanks to the Internet, becomes instant worldwide-disseminable propaganda that is used against us.
My proposed cost-benefit analysis would likely result in the military budget being reduced by more than half. That would leave hundreds of billions of dollars every year for the aforementioned more cost-beneficial initiatives, including reducing our debt. The latter, in itself, could improve our national security more than all the B-2 bombers.
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7 REINVENTING OUR APPROACH TO THE PALESTINIAN/ISRAELI CONFLICT
In defending Israel, the U.S. spends a fortune, endangers our supply of Middle East oil, and angers radical Muslim terrorists. There's a better solution.
For thousands of years, Jews and Arabs have been unable to live
peacefully side by side. How naive for the United Nations to have
placed Israel so it is surrounded by the massively larger Arab
world. (Israel is the tiny sliver in the map's center.)
The Israelis, from Day One, aspired to be a modern, largely secular democracy, while much of the surrounding Arab/Muslim world lives much as it did the Dark Ages, for example, with extreme fundamentalism required on penalty of death, with women in burkas, where children are taught they will get to have sex with 41 virgins if they strap dynamite to themselves and blow up a Jewish cafe and all the people in it.
Can we be optimistic that these two peoples will live side-by-side in enduring peace? In a world in which the surrounding countries, far larger, are fully accepted as all-Muslim states but Israel is told that its tiny sliver of land cannot be an all-Jewish state, an island of safety from the millennia of attempts to destroy the Jewish people: from Ancient Rome through the Inquisition, from the pogroms to the Holocaust, and, from the moment the United Nations gave Israel that sliver of desert, continued bombardment from Muslim entities?
And the trend is accelerating. The Palestinian people made their intentions toward Israel clear when it elected Hamas to be its government, a terrorist group whose very charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and since then has steadily increased its bombings of Israel. And the president of nuclear Iran calls for Israel's obliteration.
I believe the best solution to the Palestinian/Israeli crisis is for another country with ample unused land such as the U.S., Canada, or Australia to offer an Israel-sized sliver of low-value land as theNew Israel.
A reasonable choice would be a piece of the low-cost forest land
50 to 100 miles north of New York City, the city with the largest
concentration of Jews, and a country in which anti-Semitism is
relatively low. Countries set aside much larger swaths merely to
protect wildlife so it is reasonable to assume that at least one
country would offer a sliver to protect humans. That is especially
likely because the donor country would become an instant worldwide
hero for solving the age-old Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby
reducing the global threat of Islamic terrorism. Plus, New Israel
would become that country’s deeply indebted ally. That is
significant because Israel is, for example, an acknowledged world
leader in how to defend against terrorism, something, alas, of ever
increasing importance.Also, Israel has the #1 per-capita rate of
medical and biotech patents in the world.
Of course, it’s possible that no country would give that sliver to the Israelis. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused even to accept a ship of Holocaust victims during World War II. But I believe the chances of a country donating that sliver are far greater than the chances of the Palestinians and Israelis peacefully living side-by-side.
All Israeli citizens would be given the option to move to New Israel. Low-income people could get help with moving expenses. The World Bank, G-8, or other consortium would fund that. Of course, some Israelis would elect to remain in Israel, but over time, many would emigrate to New Israel or other countries. That would peaceably transition the current Israel/Palestine into a Palestinian-run state with too few Jews to engender significant conflict.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, I, better than many, understand that many Israelis would find it difficult to trade their historical homeland for a new one, but to save lives and a fortune of money, and ensure ongoing peace, I believe it is a compromise worth making.
During the discussion at the most recent Passover seder I attended, consensus was that further dialogue is the best path to peace. The Israelis and Arabs have had dialogue for 60 years, indeed 3,000 years--and the result has been anincreasein enmity. And time is the Israelis' enemy. The Palestinian birthrate is much greater than the Israelis' and while Israeli schoolchildren are being educated in the importance of peace, Palestinian children are educated in the wisdom of becoming suicide bombers.
I'd much sooner bet on New Israel as a path to peace than trying to resolve a 3,000-year-long enmity.
To comment, click HERE.8 REINVENTING OUR APPROACH TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The science is NOT yet clear enough to justify the massive costs of attempting to cool the planet.
You might ask, "How can you say that. After all, the UN's International Panel on Climate Change says it's true."
Fact is, only a few scientists on the panel have the power to contribute substantially to their documents and it's a politically stacked group--scientists ideologically predisposed to major spending to attempt to cool the planet.
When one looks dispassionately at the data on climate change, it's clear that more and better data are needed. Remember, to justify the huge costs, all of five things must be true:
1. Climate change must be occurring.
2. Any climate change must be significantly manmade, and the most recent study from the highly respected European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN, finds that global warming is primarily the result of solar activity, not human activity.
3. Any climate change must be a net negative. In fact, global warming will make much of the world's cold climates more livable and arable. And it is impossible to solidly assess all the net costs and benefits of global warming versus cooling.
4. The plan to cool the planet must actually work.
5.For the 50 to 100 years until technology advances enough to make such costs unnecessary, there must be substantial worldwide compliance with the greatly increased costs and severe incursions of freedom that the effort to cool the planet would require.
The odds of all five of those things being true are small--and that assumes the computer prediction models are valid. No less than top scientists MIT'sRichard Lindzen,Harvard'sWillie Wei-Hock Soon, Princeton's Freeman Dyson, and many less well-known but credible scientists are convinced that the computer models are based on very dubious assumptions. That too is the upshot of Climate Change Reconsidered, a 430-page, September 2011 report written by 11 scientists and sponsored by three climate-change-related nonprofits. Nobel Prize Winner, Ivar Giaever, in resigning from the American Physical Society on Sep. 13, 2011, wrote this:
Dear Ms. Kirby
Thank you for your letter inquiring about my membership. I did not renew it because I can not live with the statement below:
"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes. The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now."
In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible? The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period.
It should be stressed that their questioning the wisdom of making massive efforts to cool the planet remains only a dissent from the dominant position held by the IPCC, Al Gore, etc.
To attempt to cool the planet, we are spending a fortune and imposing great restrictions on our freedom--for example, forcing us to sit in gridlock (ironically, spewing pollutants) because environmentalists have blocked most freeway construction. For example, most "stimulus" money has been focused on mass transit, which is usually time-consuming and less comfortable than the sanctuary of our car. Most of the spending on roads is not to build new roads or lanes but merely to re-pave roads, a usually non-essential project that not only costs us precious tax dollars, but forces us to sit in more traffic during the seemingly-endless construction process.
The reinvention I ask for is for scientists, the media, and all of us to recognize that there are responsible narratives other than "The world is doomed unless we spend, virtually without limits, to attempt to cool the planet."
We need to replace the censorship of the dissenting view outlined here with a careful consideration of it. It's time for research and for debate, not yet for enviro-religious fervor and massive spending. There are too many surer ways to spend money and effort to improve humankind, for example, immunizing children in developing countries, better funding research on sudden heart attack, and improving education so it lives up to its yet unrealized promise.
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9 TRANSPORTATION REINVENTED
Yes, Americans love their cars, and with good reason: Plunking yourself down into the sanctuary of your car, with a comfy seat and temperature adjusted just where you like it, you get to leave precisely when you want, to go precisely where you want, point-to-point.
Compare that against mass transit. One typically needs to walk or drive to get to the train or bus station, try to find a parking spot, wait for the bus or train, deal with the discomfort of being crowded into a mass conveyance, too often exacerbated by loud or even physically threatening youths. You must wait for each stop, and on arrival at your stop, take another bus or train and/or walk, sometimes in rain, shine, or blizzard, to your destination. Door-to-door time can be two to three times as long as driving. Especially in our ever busier, more stressful lives, enduring mass transit is just not a satisfactory transportation solution for most people.
My favorite alternative to building more roads is the flying car. Because it could fly anywhere, not just on a road, creating a flying car is the equivalent of creating hundreds of times the current number of freeways and other roads for free. The flying car would take off vertically, so no airport is required. Lest you think this is a Jetsons-cartoon-like fantasy, a flying car, the SkyCar, exists in prototype, goes 350 miles per hour and gets 20 miles a gallon using clean-burning ethanol. Another brand of flying car, the Terrafugia, requiring an airport, has already been approved by the Federal Transportation Safety Board and will be available in 2012. Those experimental vehicles provide evidence that within a decade--the time these days it takes to get a freeway approved and built--a mass-affordable, safe, flying car could be available.
In the interim, I believe we must not focus on mass transit and instead, build more roads and add lanes. We simply cannot ask people to sit in ever greater gridlock, while their idling cars spew ever more pollutants.
However, more effort needs to be made to innovate in freeway construction, for example, factory-prebuilt road sections (like sections of model train tracks), constructed of a nanotech-designed (honeycomb?) amalgam of recycled materials. The modules would be shipped by truck from factory to the road site and laid, one next to another. Compared with conventional road building, that would be cheaper and faster, avoiding the years of traffic delays that occur every time even a new lane is added.
Toll plazas, even with transponder toll-paying, greatly increases traffic congestion. An answer: Eliminate toll plazas and in counties containing toll roads, bridges, or tunnels, add a fee added to each driver's annual car registration. Some would argue that would be unfair to drivers who don't use those roads, but all our taxes pay for services we may not use, welfare, for example. The benefit far outweighs the unfairness.
I support sharp increases in CAFE standards: the average gas mileage of a vehicle manufacturer's cars and trucks. Such increases restrict people's freedom minimally while improving our energy independence and reducing pollution. And higher CAFE standards lower our cost not only of fuel but of our vehicles--lighter vehicles cost less.
Every year, 13,000 people die in vehicle accidents caused by drunk drivers. Countless more are injured. I advocate that all steering wheels be required to contain an alcohol sensor that, if the person is intoxicated, locks the car's engine. Those are already available, indeed used in a Nissan concept car.
Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are cost-effective, energy-saving alternatives to the car but their use is limited because of safety. Among the biggest safety problems is that drivers fail to see two-wheel vehicles, especially at night. So I advocate that all two-wheeled vehicles be required to have strips of highly reflective tape affixed to their frames. HERE is an example.
As with most of the reinventions in this book, it seems clear that we can go beyond the narrow, incremental thinking that tends to pervade our thinking.
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10 HOUSING REINVENTED
many predict, the economy continues to struggle, fewer people will
be able to afford to rent let alone buy a decent-sized place to
We should consider expanded use of factory-built homes. For the most part, we still build homes as we did 100 years ago, stick by stick, pipe by pipe, tile by tile. Not only is that cost-ineffective, it too often results in poorly constructed homes. We should make greater use of factory-built homes, often called modular homes. Today, you can pick from hundreds of models, from basic to magnificent (see right,) designed by architects you couldn't afford if the cost weren't amortized across a design's many customers. Because the home is built in a factory, mainly by machine, it's not only less expensive but more flawlessly constructed. And with a factory-built home, it's just weeks before you can move into your new home with all the finishes you've selected.
Peter Christiansen of South San Francisco said, "I lived in a factory-built house for the past 13 years. It's one bedroom, 600 sq. feet, next to BART and Kaiser, and just two miles from the ocean. The house cost me $22,500 13 years ago. I pay $650 a month "space rent," which is on the high end, even for the Bay Area."
One reason many people feel the need to spend the additional money on a free-standing home rather than a condo or apartment is the noise from the neighbors and the street: multi-unit buildings are more likely to be located on a busy street. And of course, the millions of people who can't afford to buy a home even if they wanted to, would appreciate more quiet and being able to be as noisy as they like. A solution is greater use of the new generation of sound-dampening drywall, for example, QuietRock), flooring, for example QuietBarrier, and windows (e.g., Citiquiet).
Another way to reduce living costs, of course, is to live with others. Alas, finding a compatible roommate isn't easy nor is returning home to live with your family. So, why not have affinity housing, as we do with housing developments for people 55+. There could be homes for people interested in, for example, the arts, pacifism, the medical profession, or with a physical condition from triathlete to cancer patient. And why not have welfare recipients live as college students do: two or three to a small room, cafeteria-style food, etc., with social services provided, for example, parenting education, GED classes, computer training, drug/alcohol counseling, etc.? That would save taxpayer money, make services convenient, and provide a privacy incentive to get off welfare. If dorm-style living is good enough for Harvard students it should be good enough for welfare recipients. AirBnB.com, a $1 billion company, is paving the way for this idea's feasibility.
Simple yet potent real estate innovations are also possible with commercial space. For example, most people's apartments and homes sit vacant from morning until night. Why not lease that space, for example, to a school or college in need of classrooms? To a corporation wanting more office space? To a therapist whose residence isn't as impressive? That would create unexpected income for the owner/primary resident and a zero carbon footprint.
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11 THE PUBLIC LIBRARY, REINVENTED
Most library space has long been devoted to books. But, of course, ever more of our reading more conveniently comes from the internet: downloaded books, audios, and videos, Googled articles, online dictionary lookups, etc.. So today, there are better uses of library space than labyrinths of bookshelves. Most of a library's book holdings should be purchased as e-books, freeing up most of a library's space. Ebook readers could be lent or even given to patrons.
How to best use the resulting increase in available library space? Libraries should transition into becoming community centers.Already, of course, libraries have speakers, children's puppeteers, etc., but much more can occur, for example,
- hourly, citizen-run town hall meetings on a topic du jour, perhaps with coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and salads sold.
- a meeting place. Most people feel relaxed and positive in a library. That makes it a good place for negotiations and other meetings, for example, contract negotiations between union and management.
- Starting when libraries normally close, say 9 pm, the library could become a cafe/non-alcoholic nightclub with library-consistent entertainment that has wide appeal: folk guitarist, poetry reading, etc.
Probably most important, librarians should expand their role from just telling patrons where to find information to gathering that information, at least for non-students.
For example, librarians could work from home, with access to the library's expanded resources including proprietary databases too expensive forindividuals to own. The librarian could respond to emailed and phoned requests, for example, from a patron who has just been diagnosed with psoriasis and isn't a good researcher. The librarian could cut and paste best articles, pictures, videos, etc. into an email sent to the patron. Depending on the nature of the question, the librarian's answer can be added to a Quora.com-like database for others to reference and improve upon in the future. It's a wiser use of taxpayer dollars to fund librarians as information retrievers than to fund the acquisition and storage of a library-size book collection.
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12 REINVIGORATING MEN
Imagine a world without men. You wouldn't be able to read this: no computer, no computer screen, no Google. Probably no chair you're sitting on, no air conditioner/heater that's making you comfortable in your room. For that matter, you wouldn't have a room--It and its materials were likely developed and installed by men: from the sub-floor to the roof. So are the penicillin that cured your venereal disease, the birth control pill that kept you from getting pregnant, the refrigerator that kept your baby's formula and your food fresh, the car that gives you freedom of movement or the mass transit that environmentalists prefer. Beyond necessities, men have given us information transmitters from the printing press to the television to the aforementioned Google to the iPhone, wisdom from Plato and Plutarch to Kant and Kafka, Victor Davis Hanson to Christopher Hitchens. And let's not forget our revered Barack Obama. And lest all work and no play make dull boys and girls, men have given us entertainment from Shakespeare to Spielberg, Rembrandt to Rothko, Beethoven to Basie to the Beatles to Bono. You couldn't even defecate without men: What percentage of toilets would you guess were built, installed, and repaired, not to mention sewer lines cleaned out, by women? No less than lesbian feminist,Camille Paglia, wrote,"If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts."
Yet over the past 50 years, as a horrible side effect of the appropriate increase in women's opportunities, there has been an accelerating effort, a successful effort, to diminish men. Indeed, the oppressed have become the oppressor. Just a few manifestations of that acceleration: President Clinton's Press Secretary Dede Myers', "Why Women Should Rule the World." and New York Timescolumnist Maureen Dowd's bestseller, "Are Men Necessary?"
The cover story for the most recent Father's Day edition of The Atlantic was titled, The End of Men.Its core contention: men are better suited for the Neanderthal Era or at least the Industrial Revolution age--when success usually depended on brawn and individual testosterone-"poisoned" competition. The article argues that today's success requires the woman's touch: collaborativeness, emotional intelligence, reflectiveness. And to think, all of the aforementioned modern discoveries were created by butt-scratching, hyperactive, cognitively crippled troglodytes without benefit of women's wonders.
The problem is that the male-bashing dispirits not only the intellectual men who read publications such asThe Atlantic.Average men and boys are force-fed a diet ever-more larded with images of boorish, sleazy, idiotic men shown the way by wise women. We're in our seventh decade of man-as-oaf media: from Ralph Kramden to Homer Simpson. Even in the majority-male Superbowl audience, commercials constantly present man as cretin: hopelessly impotent men who are literally in the doghouse, cowed by their woman master. Or they're mumbling supplicants begging for a woman judge's charity. Lest you think I'm cherry-picking, watch commercials: How often is the man portrayed as superior to the woman?
Twenty-five years ago, when I began helping people choose their career, both sexes were equally optimistic about their future. Today, most of my female clients correctly believe the world is their oyster (except at the C-level, at which few women are willing to work the 70-hour weeks and move their families across the country to get the necessary promotions.) And my male clients are disproportionately despondent and/or angry--and not going to college. In 1960: the male:female ratio of college degree holders was 61:39. Today, in an era in which a college degree has become a virtual necessity, a mere hunting license for most decent employment, the ratio is 41:59 and projected to be 39:61 by 2020. The male unemployment rate is now 20% higher than for women. For the same work (in quantity and quality)women, on average earn the same as men. Indeed, even the article, The End of Men, points out that among Fortune 500 CEOs, women earn 40 percent morethan do their male counterparts. And in the ultimate example of the pendulum having swung too far, despite men living 5.2 years shorter, most gender-specific medical research and outreach, for the last 60 years(!) has been spent on women. Since 1920, the average lifespan advantage of women has grown 400%! While, of course, one can point to examples of unfairness to women, it's simply dishonest to assert that today, men, on balance, have an unfair advantage.
The world is better when both sexes are valued. For every wife-beating, customer-cheating, sexual harassing guy, there's at least one ethical man, working hard to be productive and to support himself and his family. For every manipulative, hormonally crazed, girls-just-want-to-have-fun woman, there's at least one woman diligently striving to have it all: career, family, and a personal life. Good people all. People with real potential to make a better society for all.
The author of The End of Men, Hanna Rosin, wrote that men's rights groups have an "angry, anti-woman edge." She offers no evidence for this whatsoever. As co-president of a men's rights group,The National Organization for Men, I have known such organizations, and can assert that is a very unfair generalization. Indeed the mission statement of the National Organization for Men makes a point of saying that its goal is the fair treatment of menand women.
It's time for a truce, one that's fair to both sexes:
1. We must end the gender-bashing, male or female, in the schools, colleges, and media, for example, statements that Rosin makes in herAtlanticcover story such as that men are "women's new ball and chain." and "Maybe...(male) DNA is shifting. Maybe they’re like those frogs—they’re more vulnerable or something, so they’ve gotten deformed.”
2. It's time to end intentional discrimination against both women and men. To that end, if we are to be honest with ourselves, isn't it time to address these unfairnesses to men that society has ignored or encouraged:
- Only men are allowed to serve in direct combat in the military, and 97% of the deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been men. Perhaps that's surprising in light of the media's unrelenting attempt to hide that fact with such phrases as "the men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."
- giving women preferences in Small Business Administration female-set-aside loans,
- women but not men allowed to have caucuses in corporations and government to facilitate women's advancement.
- having many social-service programs just for women, almost none for men.
- having "targets," virtual quotas, for women hired and promoted to all levels, but not for men.
- having female-set-aside scholarships but not for men, even though there are many more female college students.
- women's networking and other organizations are encouraged while men's organizations are attacked as sexist with media-trumpeted demands they be disbanded.
- If a man impregnates a woman, even if she falsely claimed to be on birth control, he's stuck with 18 years of financial and temporal responsibility.
- Only the woman has the choice to abort a child.
- 93% of workplace deaths occur to men.
- In a most painful example, when women have a deficit, for example, they're "underrepresented" in science, massive nationwide redress is undertaken, even though a recent two-decade studyreported recently in theNew York Timesfound that women in academic science fare as well or better than men. But if men have the deficit, even the ultimate deficit, they die 5.2 years younger, all we see is an evergrowing sea of pink ribbons or other women's health initiatives. There are seven federal agencies on women's health, none for men. 39 states have offices of Women's Health, none for men. Even more unfair, a review of PubMed, which indexes the 3,000 major medical journals, indicates, as mentioned, that over the past 60 years(!), 95+% of gender-specific medical research has focused on women's health. Women claim this is because men don't take care of themselves as well: "If only they'd see the doctor." Well, would those women say that to minorities, who also "don't see the doctor" and smoke and drink at much higher rates than men?
- And perhaps most important to the next generation, a school system that has replaced boy-friendly competition with girl-centric collaboration, boy-friendly adventure stories, with soporific-to-boys tales of girl relationships, and history textbooks disproportionately extolling women from Sacajawea and Pocahontas to Simone DeBouvier and Sally Ride while sparing no pages to pound home the evils of white men from Hannibal to Hitler, Joe McCarthy to Timothy McVeigh, and perhaps worst of all, an insistence on ever more seatwork, which when active boys can't endure, are put on a Ritalin leash at a ratio of eight boys for every one girl.
3. To the extent that men could use better communication skills
and more modern, collaborative leadership styles to accompany the
more goal-oriented individualistic ones, instead of dismissing such
men as unable to communicate, let our schools, colleges, and
workplaces offer such trainings.
4. It's time for serious Men's Studies programs at universities that aren't merely parroting the unfairly male-bashing rhetoric of women's studies programs.
5. Is it not appropriate to pay due homage to men, who do so many of the dangerous jobs women won't do (from roofer to rodent remover,) invent the things that women would likely not have invented? Should we not honor the contributions fathers make to parenting? For example, fathers often balance many mothers' tendency to not enforce limits. Fathers often leaven mothers' protective instinct by encouraging reasonable (okay, occasionally not so reasonable) risk-taking.
6. We appropriately celebrate women having options other than being a stay-at-home mom. Women absolutely deserve the right to, on the merits, compete for jobs from carpenter to clarinetist to CEO. But we must now legitimate the full range of options for men: from stay-at-home father to 80-hour-a-week scientist. The stay-at-home dad who wants to be a part-time artist should be respected as much as a woman who chooses that option. The man who chooses to work long hours should not be pathologized as a "workaholic" but revered as a hard-working contributor to society. Many more men than women don't even allow themselves to consider a "dream" career. Society, often with the encouragement of the woman in his life, makes men feel, even in today's feminist era, that they must generate most of the family income, with a steady reliable paycheck. So he suppresses his dreams until retirement, by which time he may well be too old or sick. This should be the era of the multi-option man as well as of the multi-option woman.
Here's to the fairly treated,
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13 Simplism: A NEW ALTERNATIVE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM
Both the capitalist and socialist systems are deeply flawed:
Capitalism results in too great a gap between a small wealthy class and a large and ever growing poor. Also, capitalism thrives on ever growing materialism, which promotes shallow values and environmental degradation.
Socialism doesn't work because it rewards the lazy and incompetent while punishing the hard-working and capable.
Of course, many countries use a capitalism/socialism hybrid but I believe there's a better approach. I call itSimplism. It requires educating the public about three things:
1. The wisdom of our buying personal services rather than non-essential products. Our lives benefit more from such services as a tutor for our kids, assistant for ourselves, or a companion for our elders than from buying jewelry, new cars every few years, expensive vacations, big houses, etc.
Of course, if the public were to be less materialistic, many jobs creating and distributing those material goods would be lost, disproportionately to low-skill/low motivation workers. So for Simplism to work, I believe the government would need to create taxpayer-funded jobs for those unable to hold a private sector job. These jobs might include, under supervision, building housing, assisting in classrooms, cleaning up blighted neighborhoods, etc.
2. By reducing our spending to the truly important, we'd gain
greater benefits than what our purchases would have generated: we'd
gain the freedom to do the sorts of work we want, the time to
pursue our desired non-remunerative pursuits, and the peace of mind
that comes from the absence of big unpaid bills.
3. The importance of considering learning to be an entrepreneur, to run your own business. That
avoids your needing to be a wage slave, paid as little as the employer can get away with, provides greater job security than if employed by others, and brings to the public better, faster, or less expensive products and services, thereby improving all of our lives. And of course, creating a new business creates new jobs.
The skill of entrepreneurship may be as important as the 3 Rs. Therefore, I believe it should be taught k-16 as well as through entrepreneurship boot camps available to all.
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Reinventions of Work
14 Creating good jobs
Today, creating jobs is Job One, and I worry that current plans will fail. Here are reasons why:
- Both sides of the aisle advocate extending 99-week employment checks to more people, on the belief that redistributing money to people likely to spend rather than save it, will thereby create jobs. Alas, that has a serious side effect. Nearly all of my unemployed clients, in the confidentiality of my office, admit that each time there's an extension in unemployment, they feel less pressure to look for a job. They're just sitting around.
- We've already tried a trillion-dollar stimulus and it created few jobs. It's oft been lamented, "The job stimulus didn't stimulate and those shovel-ready jobs weren't." That doesn't inspire sufficient confidence that it's worth spending hundreds of billions more of our money.
- Funding jobs with taxpayer dollars means taking money from the taxpayers (those most likely to use money to create jobs) and redistributing it to those least likely to.
- Once any government-stimulus-spending-created jobs are completed, more taxpayer-funded money will be required to keep the recipients employed.
- Many of the infrastructure jobs are make-work. For example, when politicians say spending will be on roads, they don't say they'll be building roads, which would relieve congestion. Radical environmentalists are making that nearly impossible. Instead, the road money heavily goes to repaving existing roads. I don't know what's going on nationwide, but where I'm driving, I'm seeing the repaving work being funded by the previous round of taxpayer-funded stimulus, and those roads really don''t need paving, certainly not enough to justify the cost to us the taxpayer. The main result is that I'm forced to sit in more traffic because of the repaving work going on, and which seems to take far longer than it should.
A Better Jobs Plan
I believe that just the following two ideas would create millions of enduring, pro-social, offshore-resistant jobs.
Both sides of the aisle agree that government stimulus spending, at best, is a jump-start, that permanent job creation must come from the private sector. Most people also agree that entrepreneurs, while providing better, faster, cheaper goods and services, also create jobs.
So why not replace just a fraction of our arcana-larded K-16 curriculum with entrepreneurship education? For example, most high school students spend many hours deriving geometric theorems, balancing chemical equations, memorizing historical facts, and untangling the intricacies of Shakespeare. Could it be reasonably be argued that those are more important for all students than learning how to start an ethical yet successful business?
While some entrepreneurs are born not made, much is learnable, especially if taught not by ivory-tower academics but by successful, ethical businesspeople. I imagine that many, especially the retired, would be willing to do that even as a volunteer.
It's widely agreed that buying non-essential "stuff" is unlikely to lead to happiness. Don't we all know people who live in an impressive home, who replace their good used car with a new one, go on costly vacations, and buy lots of la-di-dah clothes and jewelry, yet after a brief "shopper's high," aren't that much happier, let alone more kind? Yet we seem to be addicted to trying to shop our way into bliss.
But what if the government launched a public service campaign like its successful anti-smoking campaign to encourage the public to replace some of its buying of "stuff" with buying of services that hold greater promise of improving their quality of life. For example, hire a part-time:
assistant to be:
- a helper to you in caring for your newborn
- a homework helper for your older child
- a personal assistant to do errands, laundry, wait for the repairperson, etc.
- a personal geek to teach you the technology you're afraid of
- a health care system advocate to help you get the care you need, affordably, in our labyrinthine, scary system
- a companion for your aging relative
Each of those jobs promise to significantly improve the life of
the hirer and family. And the employee, piecing together a few such
part-time jobs can make a reasonable living doing work that's
unquestionably beneficial and ethical. Importantly, most of those
jobs require only a modest skill set. Even many high school
dropouts could likely find one such job they could do well
How would hirers and employees match up? Just as they do for other jobs: hirers would place ads, for example, on Craigslist. If hirers want a professional to do the screening and payroll, they could turn to employment agencies. That would create yet more jobs.
Crowd-funded businesses. Today, it's very difficult for start-ups to obtain funding because banks are reluctant to invest in unproven entrepreneurs and because of massive government regulations. I'd waive those regulations for start-ups seeking up to $50,000, thereby allowing them to solicit financing on what I call crowd-financing websites. Potential investors could visit the site, read thorough various start-ups' prospectuses, and invest as little or as much as they wanted, from $1 to the maximum the start-up wants up to the aforementioned $50,000.
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15 CREATING MORE SUCCESSFUL, ETHICAL ENTREPRENEURS
Many of my clients aspire to self-employment, entrepreneurship. Much of what I teach them is the opposite of what's commonly taught in business school.
That's not surprising. I am most critical of universities'
attempts to prepare people for a career.
For example, knowing that law schools, especially the prestigious ones, focus on theory not practice, good law firms have felt forced to create a practical training program for their new lawyers.
Indeed, most law professors don't know how to practice law. Anthony Kronman, when he was the Dean of Yale Law School, received a frantic call from a friend who had just been jailed: "Please, Tony, get me bailed out of here!" Kronman was forced to admit, "I don't know how."
Same is true of education. I have a Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in the evaluation of education and, along the way, had to take courses from professors who taught in Berkeley's K-12 teacher-education program. They may have been assiduous researchers of arcana but as teachers, most were mediocre or worse. Certainly, none were the master K-12 teachers who should be preparing our future teachers.
My physician says he learned most of how to be a good doctor after he finished medical school.
But it is in the field of business where I most closely observe how badly universities prepare people for their career. I have helped many of my clients to become successfully self-employed, and also have clients, colleagues, and friends with MBAs. I see such a discordance between the principles of starting and running a business taught in business school and what works in the real world:
Biz schools say "Innovate."That is very risky advice. Sure, alarge corporationcan take risks. Its deep pockets allow it to stay in business even if many attempts at innovations fail. Butindividuals or small businessesare likely to run out of money. Indeed, there are so many reasons why an innovation might fail: development costs are high and subject to overruns, the product doesn't work, the public doesn't like it, the public too-quickly stops liking it, and/or a competitor comes up with a better or better-marketed product. That's why they say, "The leading edge often turns out to be the bleeding edge."
Sure it's fun to innovate and, sure, the world benefits from innovation, but if you don't have the deep pockets to afford the multiple failures that precede even most successful entrepreneurs' success, it's wiser to replicate a successful type of business than to innovate.
It's easiest to find a successful business to replicate in small, therefore affordable, retail: If a reasonable percentage of small retailers in a certain category are busy, it's a sign they're successful. So, for example, at lunchtime, there are lines in front of many food trucks. I'd simply watch the busy ones, incorporating their best practices plus recipes that got very high ratings on a major internet recipe site such as allrecipes.com. I'd hire the owner of one of those food trucks as a consultant to help me prepare to open-up shop. (I'd agree to not locate mine near his.) In sum, my mantra:Don't innovate; replicate.
If I did want to innovate, I can reduce my risk by asking deep-pocketed business owners and executives, "What in your business is annoying you?" If my queries yield a simple, doable business idea, I'd ask similar businesses if they have the same problem. If so, I could be confident that this is a business that would have customers.
Biz schools urge you to quickly get big. "Scalable" is one of biz schools' favorite words. Alas, that too is dangerous advice for small businesses and especially for individuals wanting to be self-employed. True, even if the aforementioned food truck were successful, it probably wouldn't yield enough profit to earn me a sufficient living, so I would need to clone it in another good location. But I'd stop after just a few trucks--as soon I netted $200,000 a year. The more locations, the less control you have over quality and cost control, and the difficulty of operating it well tends to mushroom. So I teach my clients,"Don't be greedy. Get just big enough."(And live modestly so you'll always have enough money.)
Biz schools focus on high-status businesses:high tech, biotech, medical devices, environmental technology, multinational corporations, etc. I teach my clients the opposite: start a low-status business, the grungier the better. That way you're competing with less capable business owners. Few Stanford or Harvard graduates aspire to owning diesel repair shops, mobile home park cleaning services, installing and removing home-for-sale signs from lawns, shoeshine stands, cleaning out and installing cabinets in basements and garages, gourmet food trucks, rehabbing tenant-damaged apartment buildings, carts selling soup, scarves, knockoff designer purses, French soap, or coffee, or placing and maintaining laundry machines in apartment buildings. It's far easier to compete successfully in such low-status businesses. I teach my clients, "Status is the enemy of success."
Biz schools focus on intellectually meaty, complex businesseslike the aforementioned high-tech, biotech, etc.. Alas, the more complex the business, the more that can go wrong. I teach my clients to choose a simple business, such as those I list in the previous paragraph. Each business location may yield insufficient profit to support a family but, once you've refined the concept, as I said, just clone your simple business in another location(s.)Yes, keep it simple, stupid.
Biz schools urge, "Choose a business with high barriers to entry;"that way it's tough for competitors to enter the market. That's valid advice if you're a deep-pocketed corporation but it's usually dead wrong if you're the typical cash-strapped entrepreneur. I recommend that most aspiring entrepreneurs start a business that requires little capital and then, as mentioned, use its profits to clone it.
Biz schools proceed on the principle, "It takes money to make money."I teach the opposite: You must constantly look for ways to get what you need for little or no money. For example, I urge that, where possible, you run your business out of your home, car, a Starbucks, a condo development's community room, or friend's apartment that's vacant during the day. When buying something, I urge such cost-effectiveness techniques as to ask yourself, "What must this cost to manufacture?" That enabled, for example, one of my clients to buy silk scarves wholesale for $1 a piece than from another "wholesaler" who wanted $10. Of course, I also encourage my clients to consider buying last year's model, used or cosmetically flawed items, and using the Internet for price shopping. In short, I teach my clients, "Start with 'How can I, without undue hassle, get this for free or very cheaply?'"
Biz schools urge entrepreneurs to delegate:"You can't do everything," they urge. In contrast, I encourage my clients to, when starting their business, to do as much as possible themselves. Of course, that conserves cash--the life blood you must preserve lest you go out of business before you become profitable. Also, spending time immersed in the business's weeds tends to build your psychological ownership in and enthusiasm for the business. Most important, being hands-on allows you to gain deep understanding of how to make the business work.
For example, if my goal were to make $200,000 a year from a chain of shoeshine stands, I'd run the first one myself, taking full shifts doing the shoeshines. That would enable me to truly understand the customers, the art of shoe shining, identify upsell opportunities, how to optimize the experience for the shoe shiner and the customer, theft and vandalism problems, disgruntled customer issues, everything. Only when I really knew the business and it was clearly becoming successful would I clone it andthen delegate by hiring someone to run the two shoeshine stands. I would take all the time needed to find great employees and would treat them well, for ethical reasons and because I want them loyal to me. Even then, I would remain actively involved in the business: visiting, training, inspiring, and, where needed, setting limits. My rule: Don't delegate prematurely or too much.
As a way of summarizing, here's how I'd start the aforementioned shoeshine business to maximize my chance of ethically and relatively quickly, netting $200,000 a year:
1. I'd search Google and Amazon to find the best articles and
books on running a shoeshine business.
2. Using service review sites such as Yelp, I'd identify a half-dozen shoeshine stands that had excellent reviews and many reviews. The latter would indicate that a business has many customers.
3. I'd visit each of those shoeshine stands and note everything: the characteristics of the location, signage, menu and prices, equipment, products used, procedure used, ergonomics, the shiner/customer interactions, how people who needed to wait were dealt with, amenities, everything. I'd buy a shoeshine at each stand and while getting the shine, ask such questions as, "What should I know about running a shoeshine business that might surprise me?"
4. I'd amalgamate into my shoeshine stand the best practices of the articles and books I've read and the half-dozen shoeshine stands I visited.
5. I would take the time to find an excellent location that I could get for free. (Remember, my rule: "Start with free.") For example, I'd ask the owner or manager of a large office building to let me run my stand for free in the lobby. My pitch: "That enables you to provide a useful service for your tenants without it costing you a dime."
6. I'd run the shoeshine stand myself for a week, a month, whatever it took for me to fully understood the business.
7. Then, because I don't want to make a career of shining people's shoes, I'd take all the time needed to find an excellent person to replace me.
8. Next, I'd turn my attention to finding another excellent location and an excellent person to staff it. I'd keep expanding only until I netted $200,000 a year, always staying actively involved to ensure the quality remained high, my shoeshiners happy, and my profit adequate.
9. Finally, I'd sell the business or keep it as a cash cow while I turned to my next project: entrepreneurial, social entrepreneurial, or volunteer.
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16 Do What you Love and Starve?
So many Americans try to follow their passion and end up waiting tables. That's a waste for them and for the country. They could do so much more.
If you are a star—brilliant, talented, motivated, personable, low-maintenance--and you have a passion, even if it’s in a competitive field, sure, go for it.
This article is for everyone else.
Based on the 3,800 clients I’ve worked with over the last 25 years, the hundreds of callers to my career-centric radio show, and my countless other conversations with people about their careers, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been sold a bill of goods when we’re told to “Follow your passion, “ or “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Fact is, if you do what you love, you may well starve.
Yes, some people do what they love and the money follows, but millions have followed their passion and still haven’t earned enough to even pay back their student loans, let alone make even a bare middle-class living doing what they love.
The problem is that too many people crave the same few careers, for example, the arts, environmental, and non-profit work. Employers in such fields get dozens if not hundreds of applications for each middle-income-paying job. So, you have to be a star or extremely well connected to get the job.
In other cases, salaries tend to be minimal or non-existent. Do what you love and volunteer work may well follow.
The irony is that the small percentage of people who do make a living in “do-what-you-love,” “follow-your-passion” careers, are, on average, no happier than people in less sexy jobs. Here’s why. Plenty of “cool careers” sound better than they turn out to be. Actors, for example, spend very little time acting. They spend most of their time auditioning, licking their wounds when they don't get cast, or if they do get cast, sitting around waiting for their turn at rehearsals or on movie or commercial shoots.
More important, not only do salaries in “cool” careers tend to be low, employers in those fields know they can get away with treating employees shabbily because zillions of other capable people are panting for the chance to work 60 hours a week for $27,521 (with no benefits) rarely getting praise in exchange for the good feeling of knowing they’re playing an infinitesimal role in saving the spotted owl or whatever, even though they may never get closer to an owl than to a pile of accounts receivable statements.
Other people’s passion is status. So, for example, they endure years of difficult and/or boring law school and accumulate boatloads of student debt for the privilege of slaving under a 2,000-billable-hour quota for the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, with a futon in their office so they can sneak in a few zzzzs in the middle of the all-nighters they pull to boost the chances of their corporate client getting money from the opposing lawyer's corporate client.
Other status seekers prostitute themselves to climb the corporate ladder. They work 60+-hour workweeks and kiss up to their bosses, smilingly willing to uproot themselves and their families for a few years in whatever God-forsaken place the Company wants to dump them. They endure two years of impractical arcana and take on a houseful of debt in graduate school so they can put those three letters, M,B, and A on their resume. And for what? So they may finally get a title of director or vice president, and after their 12-hour, cover-their-butt workday, be one of the many execs who collapse on their sofa, get blitzed, and stare at their oversized living room in their oversized neighborhood wondering, “Is that all there is?”
In contrast, if your job is mundane, for example, marketing coordinator for the Western Widget Company, the employer knows there aren’t hundreds of competent people champing at the bit for your job. So, to keep you, the employer is more likely to offer decent working conditions, reasonable work hours, kind treatment, opportunities for learning, and pay you well. Those are the things that—much more than being in a “cool” career-- lead to career contentment.
You say you want status? Unless you’re a true star (brilliant, driven, great personality, or have great connections), give it up.As I said earlier, status is the enemy of success.You’re more likely to find career contentment in a not-high-status career. In my mind, someone who’s an honorable assistant at the Western Widget Co. is more worthy of respect than many lawyers, investment bankers, and business development VPs I know. If someone thinks less of you because you’re job isn’t high-status, they don’t deserve to be your friend.
Advice I’d Give My Child
If you’re entrepreneurial, I recommend starting your own business. Yes, I know, only 20 percent of new businesses are still in business after five years, but you can beat the odds. Just remember is this one rule:Don't innovate. Replicate.Copy a successful simple business. Innovations are too risky: Your product might not work, may not be popular with the public, or a competitor could beat you to market. Why be a guinea pig? Unless you have deep pockets or are truly brilliant, the risks are too great. Many people have ended up in poverty because of their innovations. Even Tivo, a wonderful new product lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the first few years. Last I checked, you don’t have oodles of money to lose. Leave the innovations to corporations or the independently wealthy.
Where to find a business to copy? Drive around to find a simple business at which customers are lined up out the door. For example, see a successful burrito shop or espresso cart? Open a similar one in a similar neighborhood. Your chances of success will be a helluva lot higher than 20%. You will find happiness in providing an in-demand product at a fair price. Confine your urge to innovate to your hobbies.
Another approach to finding a good business is to pick a grungy one, for example, automatic transmission repair or mobile home park maintenance. Few top-notch people go into such businesses, so if you do it competently, you’ll have little competition and probably make good maybe great money. And you’ll feel better about your work, having people coming to you and thanking you, and owning your own business rather than slaving away for some boss ever fearing your job will be consolidated, automated, or shipped to India.
You say you don’t have the knowledge to run such a business? No problem. For example, I don’t know a thing about transmissions, but if I wanted to open a transmission shop, I’d find the best transmission mechanic, pay him well and hire a consultant who is the owner of a successful transmission shop located far enough from my store that he wouldn’t fear my competition. The two of them would teach me how to set up my business. Then, I’d spend my time building relationships with car repair shop owners so I’d get their referral business.
If you’re not entrepreneurial and want to be well employed, go far from the madding crowd. Here are some areas where the job market is not hypercompetitive: Court reporting, car finance & insurance, accounting, insurance, sales of little known commercial products, health care administration, fundraising, financial services, anything serving Latinos (entertainment, schools, hospitals, criminal justice system), anti-terrorism, and biotech regulatory affairs.
Remember that, in the end, the key to career contentment is a job that:
--isn't too hard or too easy
-- has a boss who's kind and helpful
-- involves an ethical product or service
--requires a reasonable commute
-- pays reasonable well and offers benefits
-- doesn't require 70-hour work weeks
-- offers opportunities to learn and grow.
You're more likely to find these things and, in turn, career contentment by pursuing an unpopular career than the millions pursuing a "cool" one.
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17 THE ONE-WEEK JOB SEARCH
It takes the average person a half year to land a job, a year if you're 55+. What a mammoth waste of a person's and the nation's resources. The following job-search method would get job seekers matched with the right employer in much less time. That would benefit both the job seeker and the nation's employers.
I'm not saying the one-week job search will be an easy week. Indeed, it will take longer than a week if you're trying to find a job while working full-time. But that short-term effort should be worth it, certainly better so than the drips-and-drabs job search most people undertake and ever more give up on:
- You’ll have completed most of a job search’s yucky tasks in just a week or so.
- Having made all your contacts in a short time, you’ve maximized your chances of getting more than one job offer at around the same time. Having that choice of job offers allows you to pick the one with the best combination of good boss, good work, good learning opportunities, and reasonable compensation. Because of that, my clients find that the one-week job search is more likely to lead to career contentment than pursuing a so-called cool career.
Write your resume. Use Microsoft Word’s resume templates orResumeMaker software to create or revise your resume. Incorporate into your resume, two or three brief PAR stories. aProblem you faced, the intelligent way youApproached it, and its positiveResolution. Also see if you can incorporate praise quotes from bosses, peers, supervisees, or customers.
Get feedback on a draft, ideally from people you know in your target field. Post it on LinkedIn, not naming your current employer if you don't want your employer to know you're looking.
Craft a 5-second, 10-second and 30-second pitch. Each one must explain why you’re looking for a job, what you’re looking for, and proof you’re good. For example, a ten-second pitch might be: “The company downsized so I’m looking for another CPA position. I never thought I’d be looking for a job—I have always gotten great evaluations, but that’s the way it goes.” The 30-second pitch adds information about the kind of job you’re looking for and/or provides credible evidence that you bring a lot to the table. You will often want to modify your pitch so it impresses the particular person you’re talking to.
Have a ready answer for the question(s) you’re most afraid you’ll be asked, for example, “Why have you job-hopped so much?” or "If you're so good, how come you've been unemployed for a year?"
Identify 25 employersyou’d like to work for, without regard to whether they’re currently advertising any openings. Most job seekers should focus on growing organizations in their target field within reasonable commuting distance. How to find them? One approach is to zip-code search the millions of job openings aggregated on indeed.com, simplyhired.com and linkedin.com to find companies with multiple job openings. Government jobs are rarely advertised except on their own websites. To find federal agencies with openings, go towww.usajobs.opm.gov. To find state jobs in all 50 states: http://50statejobs.com/gov.html
Research the 25 employers. Take just a few minutes on each.Simply look at the organization's website and google the employer’s name. Have a file in which you store notes about each employer. Note: In some fields, much hiring is done by agencies, for example, in accounting, the Robert Half Agency. If so, add those agencies to your list of potential employers.
If you are looking for a job for which you are unusually well qualified, also add headhunters to your list of contacts. Find the right ones by calling a human resources department of a large company and ask which headhunter they use to fill the sort of position you’re seeking.
Contact the 25 people in your network most likely to help you get a job,especially a job at one of your 25 target employers. Use email, phone, or set up an in-person meeting, whichever you think would be best with that person. Give your 5-, 10- or 30-second pitch and then ask, “Might you know someone at any of these 25 employers, or elsewhere for that matter, who you think I should talk with?” If not, ask, "Would you keep your ears open for me?" If appropriate, also ask if your contact would review your resume and cover letter or do a mock interview with you.
Email or phone any leads given to you by your network that arenotamong the 25 employers you’ve targeted.
Try to contact the person who would be your boss, but an HR person is okay too. Pleasant persistence can, often enough, get you through. Voice mail is fine.
Start with your 30-second pitch, enthusiastically delivered. (Smile when talking on the phone.) If you're talking to a person, not voice mail, listen more than talk. Ask questions about the employer’s needs so you can better understand how you might be helpful. If you have an idea, propose it, but tactfully, for example, “In listening to you, I'm wondering if I could help you by doing X. What do you think?” If you think it would impress that particular employer, tell one or two of your PAR stories.
Visit each of the 25 employers’ websitesand apply for any on-target jobs. Start your cover letter by mentioning your referrer, if any. Then explain, point-by-point, how you meet the requirements stated in the ad. Include a sentence or two that capitalizes on the knowledge you obtained yesterday about that employer.
Your goal is, by the end of the week, to have applied for ten openly advertised on-target jobs. You probably won’t find ten on those 25 employers’ sites. Find the rest on employment websites. For a good list, see www.rileyguide.com/jobs.html.
THURSDAY AND FRIDAY (and Saturday, if needed)
On those 25 employers’ websites, if there is no listed job to apply for, write a brief email to the CEO or other senior employee.Example: “I’m a good operations manager who’s just been part of a downsizing at the BigWhup Widget Corp. I’m attracted to your company because I have experience in your industry, liked what I saw on your website(insert a specific),and, I must admit, because I live just ten minutes away. I’m attaching my resume. I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you or a designee to see if and how I might be of help to you.
Also, finish and send those ten job applications you identified on Wednesday.
If, within a week, you haven’t heard from people you’ve contacted, call to follow up.Don’t hesitate to leave voice mail. If, for example, you had cold-contacted an employer, say something like, “I’m(insert your name), the manager at the BigWhup Widget Company who was just part of a downsizing and phoned you. I’m assuming that not having heard from you, you’re too busy to respond. I can understand. But I know that sometimes, things can fall between the cracks, so I’m taking the liberty of calling to follow up. If you or one of your managers is interested in talking with me or have any advice as to where I should turn, I’d appreciate a call. My phone number is (repeat the number twice.) And my name, again, is (insert name.) Thank you.”
Of course, you’ll not hear back from most of the people you contact—even from the employers whose ads you’re responding to--but you will likely get at least one bite. Often it’s from an employer who has been thinking about hiring but hasn’t gotten to the laborious process yet. Sometimes, an employer finds it easier to just vet you and be done with it.
If the above method doesn’t bear fruit, repeat the process with a different job or industry target and/or seek assistance from a private career counselor or government-sponsored “One-Stop.” (To find your local One-Stop, go to www.servicelocator.org.)18 GAINING WILLPOWER
So many people can't motivate themselves to do what they know they should. If we could grow in our willpower and reduce our procrastination, not only would we feel better about ourselves and be more productive, the U.S. would be a more viable competitor in the global economy.
Here are my top baker's dozen of ways to gain willpower. Might
one or more help you?
12. Embrace work. Work can feel as or more rewarding than play. Even though I enjoy, for example, watching movies, I actually feel better about, for example, writing this book. Because my work isn't too hard or too easy, it is pleasurable, and I feel I'm making a contribution, unlike when I'm watching a movie.
Work was a wonderful healer for my dad After surviving the Holocaust, he was dumped from a cargo ship into the Bronx. He took the first job he could find--sewing shirts in a Harlem factory. It distracted him from his past and gave him hope for a better future. He finally saved up enough to open a tiny retail store in a bad neighborhood. While he didn't love his work, it avoided his living in the past, made him feel purposeful, providing a decent life for his wife, my sister, and me.
It may be easier to embrace work if you always ask yourself, "What's the fun way to do this?" Even job searching can be reframed to be more fun. View resume writing as a way to figure out all the good stuff about yourself. Think of cold-calling as a treasure hunt, a videogame in which you encounter monsters and fairy godmothers, a backdoor into a crowded employment front door. Instead of an interrogation, think of a job interview as a first date, in which you're both trying to figure out if you should become more involved.
11. If possible: set an exciting goal.Goethe said, "Small dreams motivate no one." Worried about the risk of a trying for a big goal? You canusuallycontrol the risk. For example, use the time-honored approach of having a stable mundane job to fund your ability to pursue your dream. For example, Wallace Stegner waited tables at night and wrote during the day. He ended up winning a Pulitzer for his writing and founded Stanford's creative writing program, where his students included Sandra Day O' Connor, Ken Kesey, and Larry McMurtry. Remember too that even if you don't achieve your goal--for example, you never get published--your life is richer for having tried, and you didn't, in the process, risk destitution.
10. Tell your goal to your loved ones--To avoid the embarrassment of admitting to your loved ones that you procrastinated, you may be more motivated to complete the task.
9. List the reasons you're hesitating to act. Then, write what your wisest self would say to counter or sidestep each. Stuck? Ask a trusted friend.
8. Don't think; act.Psychologist, William James, wrote, "The more we struggle and debate, the more we reconsider and delay, the less likely we are to act." Don't wait until you feel better before you act. It's the opposite: act and you will feel better.
7. The 6-step procrastination cure I teach my clients:
1. Decide if the task is worth doing: Picture the benefit.
Picture the downside. If it is worth doing, do you love yourself
enough to delay the short-term pleasure of avoiding the task for
the long-term rewards that accrue to accomplishing it?
2. Be aware of the moment you decide whether to start the task. Being conscious of that moment makes you more likely to opt for doing the task.
3. Break the task down to baby steps. Don't know how? Get help.
4. Overwhelmed by the task? Try asking yourself, "What's my next one-second task?" Do that a few times and you may have jump-started yourself.
5. Be aware of your crisis points: when you're likely to screw up, e.g., the moment before you start eating.
6. The one-minute struggle: After a minute of struggle, you're unlikely to make more progress. Instead, you are likely to get frustrated and quit the task. So after a minute, get help or see if you can do the task without doing that hard part.
6. Make it a ritual.For example, if you're a job seeker, every
day, be at your desk at say 9, take a 10-minute break at 10, back
for another hour, and so on.
5. Keep your goal top-of-mind--It's easy to forget that you need to work on that project.Use Memotome.com or Google Calendar to send you frequent emails reminding you. I'm trying to lose 20 pounds so twice a day, I get an email that says, "Reasons to lose weight: live longer, fit in clothes better, look better. And remember, 'a moment of the lips; a lifetime on the hips.'" It's critically important that you read aloud that message. Otherwise, it won't penetrate into your brain's neurons.
4. Use Stickk.com. You commit to goals and if you don't achieve them, you automatically make a donation to an anti-charity, for example, if you're pro-choice, the donation goes to a pro-life organization.
3. Go all the way: Instead of tackling your task in drips and
drabs, totally immerse yourself in it. When it was time for me to
start writing one of my books, I moved out of my house for a week.
I rented a cabin in the country, just took my laptop (and my
portable music synthesizer for recreation) and wrote for eight
hours a day for a week. I got so into writing the book that it was
easy for me to continue writing when I got home.
Another example of my going all the way: The only time I lost weight was when I was on a strict diet in which every day, I ate the same foods adding up to 1,200 calories a day. That took the choice out of the matter.
2. Try affirmations.Some experts believe that repeating positive affirmations (for example, "Iamgoing to do this!)-and visualizing your succeeding, changes your brain's neuronal structure, leading to more positive behavior. Sports psychologists use visualization with pro athletes.
Viktor Frankl claims that his positive thinking helped him survive the Holocaust.
1. Have a cheerleader or slavedrivercheering, jeering, and/or guilt-tripping you into action.
Don't let setbacks stop you prematurely. When you screw up, remember that winners screw up often. But winners don't get depressed about it--They try to learn from the setback and move on. Of course, if you fail and fail and fail again at something, perhaps the world is telling you that you need a different goal. As Kenny Rogers says, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.
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Key to a society's thriving is if its citizens find careers, jobs, and self-employment for which they are well-suited and then develop the skills to be successful in their work.
In theory, career counselors should be crucial facilitators of
that., but usually they're not. For example, career counseling
clients too often fail to identify a career goal and/or to land a
good job. Here's why:
To help clients pick a career, career counselors help them identify their skills, interests, and values. Unfortunately, that too often results in:
- too few or too many career possibilities,
- an ostensibly good-fit career that turns out not to be,
- an ostensibly poor-fit career that works out fine, or
- a career with lottery odds: You like performing and look great, so you want to be a movie star. Good luck.
In technical terms, the predictive validity of career assessments, even when combined with counselor subjective judgment, is poor.
Nor do career counselors do much to help clients find good
employment. To help people land a specific job, career counselors
guide (or too often write) resumes, cover letters, and urge
networking and cold contacting employers. Those strategies too
often fail because the pool of people who use career counselors,
disproportionately don't have top-of-the-stack backgrounds, have
weak networks, are lousy networkers and/or are too shy or
not-quick-on-their-feet enough to successfully cold-contact
Even more troubling, career counselors worsen the employer/employee matching process. Just as having a hired gun write a student's college admission essay is unethical, it is unethical for career counselors to write or heavily edit resumes and cover letters and teach clients how to hide their weaknesses, which is precisely what many career counselors do. A resume is supposed to provide employers with evidence of the candidate's thinking, writing, and organizational skills. If the candidate hires a pro to write their resume, it deceives the employer. Indeed, if candidates felt that using a resume writer was ethical, why do none of them add, "This resume was written by Sally Smith, professional resume writer."
Unless a candidate is truly worthy of the position, the employer
will thereby be saddled with an employee inferior to the one s/he'd
otherwise hire. That not only makes life difficult for the employer
and coworkers, it's unfair to the superior candidate who lost out
because s/he didn't use a hired gun to make the candidate look
better than he is in real life. And ultimately, that's unfair to
society because hiring the not-best candidate results in worse
goods and services for all of us.
Thus the field of career counseling is ripe for reinvention. Here are things career counselors could do that would yield a far higher rate of success while being completely ethical and indeed abetting society:
1. Because it's so tough for the typical person who sees a career counselor to change to a more rewarding career, especially in this tough job market, counselors should help clients make the most of their current job: Renegotiate their job description to match their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, learn how to get along better with their boss and/or change their boss, improve their skills (technical, communication, whatever,) manage their supervisees better, and even incorporate their creative side into their work. For example, for some clients, I play an improvisation on the piano with the client as the trigger for my improvisation--It actually helps gets some clients unstuck.
2. Because non-stars are having a hard time landing decent jobs, show clients low-risk/high-payoff self-employment ideas and tactics. The problem is that most career counselors are not great businesspeople so they may not be the best teachers of entrepreneurship.
3. Help clients replace their anger at incompetent bosses, coworkers, and poorly run places of employment with a wiser, more circumspect approach: gratitude that the client has genetic and environment-caused abilities that make her superior, the perspective to assess the importance of each problem, a recognition of one's own limitations, the empowerment to try to improve their workplace or if it's unethical and/or treats that person poorly, to leave.
4. Help people improve: procrastinate less, manage their anger, communicate better, manage their time better. A less obvious example: educate clients on the dangers of being a dabbler, a generalist. It's fun to dabble, but except at low levels of employment, success usually requires depth of expertise, which usually requires years of focus. That's the core contention of Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, and something I've found to be true, except for truly brilliant people, who can quickly become expert.
5. In helping people land jobs, career counselors should teach them how to use the internet to find truly well-suited job openings and then use a two-column cover letter to demonstrate that good fit: On the left side, list the main requirements listed in the job ad and on the right side, convincingly explain how you meet the requirement. Note that this is ethically solid: you're simply helping to match an employee with an appropriate employer. That stands in contrast to the aforementioned career counselors who write people's resumes and cover letters and do interview coaching, which often make a prospect look better than s/he really is.
6. Help the client develop a philosophy for living. For example, mine is that the life well-led is not about balance, nor about happiness, nor about material acquisition beyond a bare middle-class living. The life well-led is about being as productive as possible, being kind where possible, tough where necessary. To avoid long work weeks burning you out, work slow and steady, and where possible, do tasks that are not too difficult for you and in the field in which you've taken the time to become an expert.
7. Career counselors should be paid for performance, for example, if the client lands the six-figure job he's seeking. That would result in career counselors only accepting clients they believe they can succeed with. It would also incent the counselor to work quickly rather than be paid more with ever succeeding session.
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20 PSYCHOTHERAPY REINVENTED
Psychotherapy is expensive, time-consuming, and too often doesn't work well enough. It needs to be reinvented or at least made more time- and cost-effective.
Traditionally, the first therapy session or two is spent on intake, asking lots of questions to gather information about the client. I'd replace that by having the therapist, in advance of the session, email a probing questionnaire, for the client to complete at home and send back to the therapist a day before the session. Not only would that save the client time and money, it would give both client and therapist a chance to reflect on the questions rather than have to try to be maximally insightful on the spot.
I believe it's worth creating a video version of the questionnaire. Of course, each therapist could create his or her own, but I'm wondering if the following is worth a try: An eminent ecletically oriented psychotherapist would create a probing new-client questionnaire, available on YouTube. I believe that many clients would prefer seeing that world-class therapist ask the questions and might give them greater thought.
More therapists should offer sessions by phone or SkypeVideo. I've found that, if the client is open to it, those are (ahem) virtually as effective as in-person sessions. Not only does phone/Skype therapy avoid the client having to trek to and from the therapist's office, it gives clients more therapists from whom to choose. That's especially important for clients in locales with few top therapists, for example, rural areas.
Of course, every situation is different, and in severe cases, longer-term therapy may be needed, but I believe that, in most cases, psychotherapy need consist only of one two-hour solution-generation session followed by one one-hour session to assess how helpful the solution(s) have been and, if needed, to tweak solution(s) and/or generate new ones.
How could it all be done in two sessions? Not only is there the efficiency that comes from a probing new-client questionnaire completed and reviewed by the therapist in advance, the therapist and client knowing there's only one session to develop solutions motivates them to make the most of the session time. (Remember Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the time allotted?) Too often, much time in therapy sessions is wasted on unimportant tangents. Another benefit of developing the solution(s) in one session is that both therapist and client have all the input currently in-mind rather than having to recall it from notes and memory of the previous session(s.)
If possible, therapists should try to elicit solutions from the client--they're more likely to be helpful and to be acted upon. But, unlike in traditional models of therapy, sometimes the client really does need and is open to the therapist's input. So if a therapist would like to suggest a possible solution, s/he should do so. The key, however, is to offer input in a client-empowering way, for example, "Would you mind if I suggest something?" With assent, then say something like, "I'm not sure I'm right but I'm wondering if it might help if you did (insert strategy.) What do you think?"
Other time-effective techniques used in psychotherapy and coaching should be part of the therapist's repertoire. One example: Ask the client, "If I waved a magic wand and your problem were solved, how would your behavior be different?" After they explain, ask, "Could you change any of that now?"
Unlike in many traditional therapy sessions, the first session should end with a specific behavior(s) that the client is enthusiastic about trying. Examples:
- The moment an irrational fear enters consciousness, say "Stop" and ask yourself, "What's the next positive step I can take?"
- Be aware of the moment of truth: the moment you're about to start eating.
- Write a letter of reconciliation to your mother. Set it aside for a day. If it still feels good, send it.
- Every time you start a meal, say aloud, with expression, "I deserve to be good to myself." That will build the brain memory neurons associated with that constructive thought.
In the follow-up session, the client should report the extent to which the solution(s) have been helpful. If changes are needed, the therapist should, as recommended above, usually first try to get solutions to come from the client. If the client didn't do the homework, the therapist should try to ascertain if that was because of a fear, ran into a conundrum, the assignment ended up feeling inappropriate, etc, and try to help ensure that, subsequently, the client be more likely to complete that or a more appropriate assignment.
At the end of the second session, unless it's clear that more sessions are needed, it's often best to end with something like, "I think you now have the tools you need. So do you agree we don't need to see each other for a while?" If the client agrees, the therapist should say something like, "But I care about you and so I'd welcome your emailing me about your progress, and if you do feel you need another session, just let me know." That makes the client feel supported, assures the client that s/he can have more sessions, and increases the chances that therapists get feedback that can improve their effectiveness.
Additional attention need be paid to the new iPhone/Android apps that provide app-based therapy for anxiety, PTSD, etc., for example, T2 Mood Tracker.
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21 The Meter: A simple way to make us more productive
Many people believe that The Goal is happiness. I disagree.
Focusing on happiness trivializes life's meaning. You could fill
your life with activities that make you happy: sex, favorite foods,
movies, a Lexus, a beautiful house, I'll even throw in a front-row
seat at a Lady Gaga concert. Yet you would die leaving the world no
better for your presence. And the extent to which you have left the
world better is, in my view, the only valid criterion for assessing
whether you've lived a worthwhile life.
It helps us to live that life well-led if we useThe Meter:-10(selling crack to kids)to +10 (working to cure cancer) every time we're deciding what to do next. We simply need ask ourselves, "What could I do that would score high onThe Meter?"
On a recent radio show, I discussed that approach to the life well-led with a leading public intellectual,Richard Posner.He raised objections:
- It's too joyless.I stipulated to that but argued, as above, that making the world better is more important than an individual's pleasure.
- Most people aren't willing or able to subordinate happiness to productivity,even if, in the abstract, they believe that's wise. My response: the perfect is the enemy of the good. As with most philosophies and religious principles, they are ideals to which to aspire. Because we are human, we will never achieve perfection but better for even a few additional people to strive toward an admirable benchmark than for them to live the life unexamined or in the service of less worthy goals.
- Most people can't make enough of a differenceto make it worth sacrificing pleasure. I disagreed. Take, for example, an accounts-payable clerk deciding on Saturday whether to watch a football game or to pay the bills he couldn't finish paying on Friday. If he chooses to pay those bills, he ensures the recipients have their money to spend when they're supposed to have it. If instead, the clerk elects to watch the football game, the recipient suffers unfairly. So even in this example of a relatively impotent person, his selecting the activity that would score higher onThe Metermakes a significant difference. Multiply that by the clerk's countless such decisions and by all the people who might choose to useThe Meter,and the total benefit is large.
- The lack of recreation would hurt their healththereby, net, resulting in their doing less good for the world. In fact, working at what one does well is usually less stressful than are many recreational activities. For example, many sports game watchers' and video game players' blood pressure likely rise more than when doing pro-social work.
Even a lauded activity such as caring for one's child is often more stressful and less beneficial than more pro-social work. Spending an hour fighting with your kids to clean their room or do their homework is stressful, and the research is getting ever clearer that parenting has far smaller impact on a child's development than is commonly believed. A more likely to be societally beneficial hour would be such seemingly less important tasks as ensuring even that bills are paid, let alone if it's a cardiologist seeing an extra patient at the end of the day a policymaker taking an extra hour to optimize consumer-protection legislation, or a cancer researcher deciding to try another research avenue rather than to play Monopoly with his kids.
Let's say you accept my definition of the life well-led: spending as much of life as possible making the biggest difference possible. If so, key to accomplishing that is simply to keepTheMetertop-of-mind: Every time you're deciding how to spend the next chunk of time, ask yourself, "What would that score onThe Meter?"
I believe that encouraging the public to use The Meter in guiding their life would do an enormous amount not only to make their lives more meaningful but to improve America.
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REINVENTIONS OF EDUCATION
22 Toward Education Living Up to its Promise
Education is widely viewed as our best hope: for competing in the global economy, for reducing the racial and socio-economic achievement gap, and for all of us to live up to our potential. Alas, the data is clear that education has heretofore been more of an aspirin than a magic pill.
And that doesn't appear to be a matter of spending. Some readers may be surprised to learn that for decades, the U.S. has ranked #1 or #2 in per capita spending on education yet, in international comparisons of education outcomes, America now ranks 23rd, tied with Poland. And despite disproportionate spending on compensatory education for a half century now, the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap remains as wide as ever. Perhaps most dispiriting is the research on Head Start, which had long been seen as the best hope for reducing the achievement gap. In 2010, the definitive evaluation of four decades of research on Head Start was published. It finds the same as have nearly all previous studies: Head Start yields no significant, enduring positive effects.
What is typically proposed for improving education has yielded poor results in trials, for example, reduced class size and increased expectations. The following bolder ideas would seem to have a better chance of making education the magic pill we wish it were.
Dream-Team-Taught Courses Taught on Video
Imagine that every student--rich and poor, urban and rural--would be taught by a dream team of the world's most effective, inspirational teachers. If anything could be expected to increase education's potency, it would seem to be that. Each class session, presented on video and viewable on the Internet, would consist of the teachers' presentations abetted by world-class visuals, immersive demonstrations, etc. A live paraprofessional or teacher would be on-site to provide the human touch: answer questions, be encouraging, keep kids focused, etc.
A First-Things-First Curriculum
In the abstract, most people would agree that it's better that students graduate high school able to analyze a newspaper's editorial even if they don't understand Shakespeare's intricacies. Similarly, most people would agree that kids should graduate high school able to think probabilistically even if they can't solve quadratic equations. Most would agree that students should graduate fully understanding the scientific method even if they can't manipulate chemical reactions. Even more would agree that it would be wrong that interpersonal communication, parenting, and financial literacy be nearly absent from the curriculum.
Yet in the real world, our curriculum demands the opposite. Indeed, do we all not know people with those even advanced degrees who lack the ability to handle life's basics? Defenders of our arcana-first curriculum argue that practical matters should be taught at home. That's a nice ideal but far from realistic. Schools should first teach what's most important so that, by graduation, students have learned what's most important for living.
Reinvigorate Programs for High-Potential Students
After Sputnik, America, fearful of Soviet domination, wisely invested more resources in educating our "best and brightest." But over the last half-century, the U.S. has moved to prioritizing education for low achievers. Egalitarianism and redistributive "justice" are trumping investing in kids with the greatest potential. Especially below the high school level, classes and schools for high-ability kids have largely been dismantled.
But for America to thrive in our ever more competitive global economy, as well as to ensure the flow of great discoveries, great leaders, etc., it's time for renewed attention to the now much-ignored, high-ability child. Just as there are special education classes for low-achievers, there should be special classes and schools and summer programs for brilliant kids, even those who are not high achievers in school. Some of our smartest kids eschew (wisely?) much of the required school curriculum but, when motivated, can do amazing things. And if given a chance, they can learn the curriculum in a fraction of the regular time. For example, at the Center for Talented Youth, cohort after cohort of high-ability kids complete year-long high school courses in just three weeks.
Most transformational change occurs not in a classroom, but one-on-one. Educators should take a lesson from online dating services such as match.com and provide a mentor/protégé matching service online. This could be peer-mentoring or adult-to-child mentoring and could be done locally or, like match.com, nationally, in which case mentoring would occur by phone, email, and Skype. Such remote mentoring offers the advantage of minimizing the potential for mentors abusing their protégés.
High-Quality College-Prep and Direct-to-Career Paths
One of education's ironies is that diversity is a core principles, and yet ever more of its leaders insist on one-size-fits-all education. Today's mantra is "College for all!"
But let's step back and look at that dispassionately. Imagine that after nine years of school (K-8,) like millions of students, you were still struggling with fifth-grade-level reading and math. Now you're starting the 9th grade and required to do four more years of yet more difficult academic work: While you're still trying to figure out long division, you're asked to solve simultaneous equations. While you're still struggling with that fifth-grade level reading book, you're asked to write essays explaining the themes and symbolism in Wuthering Heights. Unless you are an unusually "good" (compliant) kid, mightn't you become dispirited, feel hopeless, and view your ever worsening grades as a sign that society deems you a failure, a loser, and so you give up, drop out and feel you have little to lose by abusing drugs, joining a gang, and/or getting pregnant?
People are often called elitist or even racist if they dare assert that some students would be wiser to select a direct-to-career curriculum instead of a college-preparatory one. In such a curriculum, students would improve their reading, math, etc., not with classic literature, history, algebra, and foreign-language textbooks, but while preparing for a career right after high school, for example, a robotics technician, chef, or entrepreneur.
The irony is that those calling for a one-size-fits-all education are the ones who are being elitist. They believe that, for all people, white-collar jobs are simply better than blue-collar jobs and so, even if a student's abilities and limitations suggest that a blue-collar direction is a better fit, that student should be forced onto a white-collar path to--in another irony--"to keep their options open."
But fact is, such students usually find the path to and through college less beneficial than a direct-to-career path would have been. Even if a student who was reading on a fifth-grade level in the eighth grade manages to graduate from high school having taken a college preparatory curriculum (often the result of grade inflation) and even if that student went on to college, and even if that student defied the 3:1 odds against such students earning their bachelor's degree even if given 8 1/2 years, they're likely to be less employable than if they had pursued a direct-to-career path to become, for example, the aforementioned robotics technician, chef, or entrepreneur. Today, even strong college graduates are struggling to land white-collar jobs while skilled blue-collar jobs go wanting.
Others object that a direct-to-career program can become a dumping ground: poorly staffed and funded. They needn't be. Such programs can and should be of as high quality as a college-preparatory program, as they are in , for example, Japan, Germany, and Scandinavia.
It seems obvious that students should have a choice and not be forced into a one-size-fits-all education. Many teachers agree. But educrats and politicians get more votes with such slogans as, "High standards for all students! "No soft bigotry of low expectations!" Such slogans have apple-pie appeal but in practice, ruin millions of lives. A wiser slogan would be "I'm pro-choice in education."
Finding Truly Transformational College Instructors
I've been listening to courses on CD from theTeaching Company.Those courses are taught by renowned teaching-award winners. I've been so disappointed.
The Teaching Company, indeed most students and university administrators, have far too low standards for what a great course should be. A truly great course should immerse the students in fascinating and/or thorny situations in which they fully experience key elements of the subject matter, guiding students to actively use their mind and spirit to triumph over those situations, often inspiring them to exclaim, "Aha!"
I am aware that it is not easy to create nor teach such a course but that and nothing less should be the goal.
Key to that is to look for instructors outside academe. People who opt to get a Ph.D. are unlikely to be transformational instructors: Ph.D. students are people who have deliberately opted out of the real world for "a life of the mind." And if those Ph.D. students don't start graduate school focused on trivia, graduate school and the professoriate's reward structure makes most of them that way.
The best undergraduate instructors are likely to have these characteristics:
- Caring more about elevating than informing their students.
- Are not natural geniuses in the subject matter. The brilliant mathematician rarely can help typical students learn to reason well quantitatively in their daily life, to use cost-benefit, risk-reward analysis in decisionmaking. More likely to do so is a an instructor who struggled to get an A in quantitative reasoning but now really "gets it" and reasons well quantitatively in her daily life.
- A bright but not brilliant student who has just a bachelor's degree. Too great a disparity between students' and instructor's ability and knowledge base reduces the likelihood of that instructor transforming the student.
- Is theatrical. It is difficult for many students to remain focused even on a five-minute mini-lecture. The ability to be a compelling storyteller is a real plus but lectures are very rarely transformative. So the instructor must have the restraint to use even the most fascinating lecturettes only as a spice, not as the main course.
- Must make immersive simulation the main course--for example, putting students in the role of the general in a Civil War battle, a surgeon deciding where and how to cut, an investor deciding where to invest his life's savings, a disaster relief manager deciding how to allocate resources.
Of course, such instructors are difficult to find. That's why I so believetheway to improve the quality of education worldwide is to find such people, have them develop those highly immersive courses, and distribute them online, what above, I called dream-team-taught courses.
Require each college to post a report card on itself
Despite college being among our largest and most important purchases, the government provides us with less consumer information than we get before buying tires, which have a "report card" molded into each sidewall, or packaged food, which must list its contents from Vitamin A to zinc.
Especially with the spate of reports demonstrating the frighteningly small-value added and employability that today's college graduates derive, each college should be required, on its website, to post a Report Card on itself. It need include just six items:
- The projected four- and five-year full cost of attendance, including cash financial aid, broken down by family income and assets.
- Freshman-to-senior average growth in critical thinking, writing, and quantitative reasoning, broken down by high school record.
- The results of the college's most recent student satisfaction survey.
- Four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates, broken down by high school record.
- The accreditation team's most recent report on the college.
- The percentage of graduates professionally employed, including average salary, disaggregated by high school record and by major.
To reduce cheating, the report cards would be externally audited.
Mandating that colleges post such a report card would, of course, help students select a college wisely or even decide that, given their academic record, motivation, and finances, a non-college option, for example, an apprenticeship program, would be wiser. As important, making transparent the poor value-added most colleges provide would embarrass them into improving their quality of education. For example, they'd likely replace some of their many insignificant-research-focused professors with outstanding teachers. They'd reallocate some of their athletic and shrub budget to providing peer and adult mentors for students as well as to a career center that actually got students jobs.
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23 Closing the Achievement Gap
domestic issue has drawn more attention or money than attempting to
close the socioeconomic and racial achievement gap.
Now, despite a half century and countless innovations from Head Start to Stop Drop, from integration to self-segregated Afrocentric schools, from affirmative action college admission to disparate impact lawsuits on CEO selection, the achievement gap remains as wide as ever.
Even Head Start, which politicians for decades, trumpeted as our best hope, has recently been determined,inthe definitive evaluation of 40 years of Head Start conducted by the U.S. Office of Education,to have no enduring positive effects.
So it would be hubristic of me to assert that I know how to close the achievement gap but, of course, we should keep trying. So if I were to bet my money, these are the interventions I'd bet on:
1. Reduce teen pregnancy.It's well established that children of teenage parents are at greater risk of school and life failure. So junior and senior high schools, especially those with high teen pregnancy rates, should implement data-driven teen-pregnancy prevention programs.The research does not support abstinence-only programs and so political pressures to restrict such programs to abstinence-only should be resisted.
Sex education should include what I call aChoose Your Parent Wellcomponent. You can't choose your parents but you certainly can be wise or less wise in choosing the parent of your children. The decision of whom to be the father/mother of your children may be your life's most important. Especially among at-risk teens, there's a tendency to fall in love with a person more on how "cool" s/he is than how intelligent and motivated s/he is. But is that the person whose genes you'd like your child to have? Is that the person you want to parent your child?
To ensure that girls have the child with the father they want, when they're ready, birth control, including long-term reversible implantable Jadelle, should be made available free, on demand, at all high schools.
Creators of programming aimed at teens (sitcoms, news, movies, video games, music videos, record labels) should be encouraged to create more content that would compellingly display theChoose Your Parent Well message as well as the non-romantic outcomes of teen pregnancy.
2. Provide parenting educationearly.To increase the chances that from Day One, parents have the tools to be good parents, full effort should be expended to ensure that high-quality parenting education is highly accessible, especially to pregnant teens in low-income locales. The best parenting education involves interactive video of critical incidents in parenting--for example, what to do if your baby won't stop crying? What to do to ensure your child develops good language skills? Ethics? What if your child won't do homework? What if you think your child is taking drugs? Is sexually active?
True innovation in delivery systems is required. For example, high school websites and others heavily visited by at-risk teens, for example,mtv.com, should be encouraged to post the aforementioned parenting training course.
To ensure its availability to people without computers, the
community center in low-income housing projects should have a
computer installed that includes the parenting education program as
well as other interactive-video programs, for example, on teen
pregnancy prevention and on preventing and curing substance abuse.
In hospitals, especially those serving at-risk communities, the TV
in each new-mom's patient's room should have a TV offering the
aforementioned parenting training.
To receive welfare benefits such as TANF funds, teen or perhaps all parents should be required to successfully complete the online or an in-person parenting education course, much as we require aspiring drivers to complete a driver's education course.
3. Improve teacher training.Absurdly, pre-K to grade 12 teachers are trained primarily by theory-oriented academics who have never taught in a pre-K to grade-12 classroom, let alone been master teachers there. That must change. The primary instructors of teachers in-training should be master K-12 teachers, including those who have produced excellent results in teaching low-achieving students.
Teachers of classes in low-achieving schools may well need to be masters at motivation, using a skill set beyond that which is taught in most teacher education programs. So, for example, the increasingly required multicultural education course should include master-teacher-taught lessons on the art of classroom management, including strategies particularly likely to be effective in working with low-achieving, minimally motivated kids.
Training should not end upon the teacher's obtaining a license to teach. Teachers experiencing the frustrations common in working in low-achieving schools should be able to phone or email a hotline staffed by teachers who have successfully taught in those schools.
4. Flexibly group classes.If I were slow at learning and was choosing between a class filled with other slow learners and a class with many hotshots, I'd certainly choose the former. Yet largely because minorities were overrepresented in the slow-learner classes, students, below high school, are usually assigned to classes at random. That causes all students to suffer: It's nearly impossible for a teacher to meet the needs of a class with so wide-ranging needs. We must stop all policies that are created merely to look good racially. Pedagogy must trump politics.
Classes shouldn't be rigidly tracked but we do need what I callflex classes. In them, at least for academic subjects, students are grouped by ability and achievement but in which students, especially those of color, are monitored closely to ensure they're not in a too low- (or too high-) level class.
5. Dispel the belief that working hard is "acting white."Berkeleyresearcher John Ogbu is one of many to report that many black students believe that being studious is "acting white," and therefore is unacceptable. "Cool" blacks, both peers and adults, who are studious, must convince students and their parents that studying hard is equally important for students of all races.
6. Encourage an internal locus of control.Of course, what happens to us is not totally under our control. We are greatly affected by the family and community into which we are born. We are affected by the nature of the political and economic system under which we live. There is racism.There is reverse racism. There is luck.
Yet successful people believe they can control enough of their
life to greatly increase their chances of success. Academics call
that,internal locus of control.Alas, students from
low-income families aremore likely to believe that external factors
such as luck, God, and their race are key to determining their
Moving poor people's locus of control inward is no easy task. Many political leaders, educators, and TV pundits gain popularity by telling their audiences that their failings are largely beyond their control: the capitalist system, the legacy of slavery, institutional racism, etc.
While those may be partially responsible, our mind molders--parents, schools, colleges, church, and media--would be wise to encourage all of us to base our self-esteem, our sense of self-efficacy, on what we ourselves do. The accomplishments of famous people shouldnotbe a particular source of pride. Our own efforts, accomplishments, ethics, and kindness should be the primary bases for assessing our self-worth.
7. Chronically disruptive students must be placed in special classes.If a student, despite the teacher's best efforts with help from the principal, continues to disrupt classmates' opportunity to learn, that child must be moved to a special class taught by someone with special skills in working with such kids. Even if that child does no better in that special class, s/he won't be depriving the other 29 students of their right to an education.
8. Begin career exploration in grade 6.Finding an exciting yet realistic career can be motivating to many students. And it reduces the problem of many high school and college graduates having no idea what career they want to pursue.
9. Give students a choice: college-prep or career-prep curriculum. This was recommended in an earlier section of this book but it likely is of particular value in closing the achievement gap, so I revisit that recommendation here.
Increasingly, in the name of high standards, high schoolers, even those who read on a sixth-grade level and who have far more ability in working with their hands, are being forced to take a college-prep curriculum.
Imagine that you, like millions of parents, have a child who is entering high school but is reading on just a sixth-grade level.Would you want him forced to take a curriculum that required him to derive geometric theorems, balance chemical equations, and write essays on the intricacies of Shakespeare? He'll almost certainly do terribly.Not surprisingly,mandating a one-size-fits-all curriculum causes many to drop out of high school.
Worse, the child won't have had an opportunity to build the basic survival skills reading, writing, critical thinking and math he'll desperate need and doesn't yet have. He could better learn those in a direct-to-career path, for example a health-care or entrepreneurship academy within the high school. But as with ability-grouped classes, for fear of appearing racist, direct-to-career high school paths have largely been eliminated. Indeed one of President Obama's top domestic priorities is "Some college for all."
Today, many colleges are open-admission even to the grossly underprepared. Alas, ifa student is one of the 200,000 per year entering so-called 4-year colleges from the bottom 40% of their high school class, their chances of graduating are only 24%, even if given 8 1/2 years! And if they do defy the odds and graduate,it will likely be with a low grade-point average in an easy major such as sociology from a minimally selective college. That will impress few employers at a time when the U.S. has the highest percentage of college graduates in its history at the same time as employers are eliminating as many professional-level positions as possible, through automation, offshoring, or converting jobs to part-time and temp positions.Such graduates are likely to join the ranks of the countless people with a bachelor's degree unable to find better employment than they could have found with just a high school diploma. Meanwhile they have incurred large student debt, boredom, and ongoing assault to self-esteem from being forced to study academic material for which they were unprepared.
I'd much rather see the aforementioned child improve his reading, writing, thinking, and mathematical reasoning in high school courses that would prepare him to be an entrepreneur, robotics tech, helicopter pilot, or chef.
A high-quality, not dumping-ground, direct-to-career option should be instituted in high schools, especially those schools serving many students whose academic achievement is below grade-level.
It's ironic that the leaders who most claim to celebrate diversity are the most likely to insist on no diversity in the high school curriculum: they wanteveryoneto take a college-preparatory curriculum to "keep students' options open." Ironically, one-size-fits-all education eliminates excellent options.
10. Require a course in life skills.Before
requiring at-risk kids, indeed all kids, to learn quadratic
equations, the halide series of chemical elements, and the use of
the doppelganger, students should be required to pass a course in
life skills: for example, budgeting, interpersonal communication,
and the aforementioned sex education and parenting education. To
not do so is to be guilty of the very elitism that many educators
and politicians decry.
11. Institute a debate programin all high
schools, including those with low achievement scores. Some
evidenceand a lot of common sense suggests that a debate
program could yield significant benefit.
12. Require colleges to provide full disclosure to prospective students.In their attempt to woo students, especially students of color, colleges and high school counselors, as in the Tuskegee Experiments, often hide the information students need to use to decide whether to enroll:
- The projected four- and five-year full cost of attendance, including cash financial aid, broken down by family income and assets.
- Freshman-to-senior average growth in critical thinking, writing, and quantitative reasoning, broken down by high school record.
- The results of the college's most recent student satisfaction survey
- Four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates, broken down by high school record.
- The accreditation team's most recent report on the college.
- The percentage of graduates professionally employed, including average salary, disaggregated by high school record and by major.
13.Head Start Genes.Ourintelligence and impulse control are, like most characteristics, likely affected by both our genes and our environment. Yet the government and biotech companies have--for fear of political repercussions--been reluctant to fund research that would identify which gene clusters are responsible for those characteristics. Government should encourage such research so prospective parents could havethe optionof having their eggs and sperm tested to ensure their baby will be born with genes for good intelligence and impulse control so s/he doesn't start out life with a strike or two against them.We already do this on a crude basis: In in-vitro fertilization, the physician chooses only eggs and sperm that appear normal and robust. Ifallof a prospective mother's and father's genes are for low intelligence or impulse control, the parents should have the optionof having the defective genes in their egg and sperm replaced with normal ones, what I callHead Start genes.
To ensure that the poor has access to this procedure, it would, like other medical procedures, be covered under MediCal and other health programs for the poor. In addition, as with, for example, AIDS education, special outreach would be made in low-income communities to ensure that its residents are aware of theHead Start genesoption.
Becauselow-income people are at the low end of the achievement gap, they would likely benefit far more from Head Start genesthan would high achievers.
14. Try bold pilot studies.In addition to implementing the previous ideas, there's need topilot test new ideas. Examples:
- For those unable to hold a private-sector job, government should create jobs. A job may be, in addition to a source of income, the most potent teacher, healer, and crime and drug abuse preventer.
- Pair high school kids with retired small business owners. Have them start a simple business
- Pair at-risk kids with nursing home residents or hard-to-adopt animal-shelter dogs and cats that otherwise would be euthanized. I've seen hard-bitten teens grow loving when involved with a non-threatening person or animal.
- Have kids plant vegetable and fruit gardens, cook and eat what they've grown and sell the rest. They'd learn science, cooking, nutrition, and how to run a business. In addition, they might join me in awe of the miracle of growth.
- Create peer-mentor pairs: for example, at-risk sixth graders with at-risk first graders. There's no better way to learn than to teach.
- Provide free genetic counseling to at-risk prospective parents. That may help them make more fully informed and thus wiser choices.
My hope is that this more thorough (may I say brave) exploration of how to address the achievement gap might encourage a more full-dimensioned discussion than the nation has heretofore had. I believe that without such a discussion, we'll still be wringing our hands about the achievement gap a century from now.
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24 COLLEGES' GENERAL EDUCATION, REINVENTED
In theory, general education courses should be key to creating outstanding citizens and professionals, imbuing students with better critical thinking, leadership, and connoisseurship skills, a valuing of high ideals and the skills to bring them about.
Alas, most students think of general education as the irrelevant courses they have to "get out of the way" so they can get on with their major and electives, and get their diploma.
Here a propose a reinvention of general education, not just in subject matter but in delivery.
GeneralEd.org would be a highly interactive general education program filled with content that the typical undergraduate would be eager to learn, taught on video by world-class instructors and available to colleges across the world to use with its students.
The courses' exams would tap crucial understandings and skills such as critical thinking yet would be multiple-choice so the entire program can be completed without the college or university providing any faculty. GeneralEd.org would be self-contained, turnkey.
Central to each GeneralEd.org course would be these features:
- The core screening criterion for course content: Is that content central to the life well-led and unlikely to be adequately acquired outside of college?Each course's primary focus would be to maximize the probability that the students will incorporate each course's core skills and knowledge into the way they function day-in- and day out, professionally and personally.
- Each course's instructor(s) would be on video, enabling every student, even if millions, from all across the globe, to receive a world-class instructor.
- The instructors,drawn from within and outside academia,would be selected on demonstrated ability to enable students to fully understand and use complicated but important concepts, motivate students to love learning, and, most important, be transformational: help students grow in important ways beyond learning the course material. I would reach out to selected state and national teachers and professors of the year but not be restricted to them.
- Courses would make heavy use of true interactivity (role play, debate, simulation, reflecting on rhetorical questions) plus microlectures with options to click on links to explanatory text, video, etc.Each instructor would develop the course in collaboration with an expert in creating courses on Moodle or other top online course platform.
- There would bestudent-to-student online interaction: discussions about microlectures, group immersive projects, forums to address problems,etc.
- Iris or fingerprint recognition technology, questions embedded in course to verify participation, and open-book exams would reduce cheating to levels below that in traditional instruction.
GeneralEd.org, would not only be a boon to students but would solve critical problems faced by many institutions of higher education.
§ Many institutions wish they could admit more freshmen but there's no room. GeneralEd.org would allow colleges to admit as many students as it wished and provide a high-quality program. That will help address the additional enrollment pressures that will accrue, for example, because President Obama is calling for nearly everyone to have some college education. The cost to a college of GeneralEd.org would be low enough that at most institutions, regular student tuition would cover its cost.
§ Many faculty don't enjoy teaching general education courses because the content is basic and/or because many students are insufficiently prepared or motivated to succeed in those courses. GeneralEd.org would free faculty to teach the more advanced courses they prefer and/or to devote more time to their research and service.
More than 70 semester credits worth of courses are listed below. Each institution could decide how much choice to allow students in selecting the courses that would meet that institution's general education requirement.
THE LIFE WELL LED (3 semester credits): Philosophies of living.
CHOOSING A CAREER (3 credits)
PRODUCTIVITY (3 credits) Study/learning skills, time management, stress management gaining motivation.
CRITICAL THINKING (3 credits)
Note: I provide more detail for this course for illustrative purposes.)
Structure: Students watch 50 ever more complicated arguments in text, speeches and debates (drawn heavily from You Tube) and make moment-to-moment judgments of the quality of argumentation and then compare them against the instructor's moment-by-moment judgments. 30-second to five-minute microlectures will be inserted between video clips to highlight a critical thinking principle embedded in one of the videos. Example: how to avoid getting seduced by the presenter's style rather than the substance.
Categories from which clips will be drawn:
Workplace: e.g., sexism, whether to market a new product, an approach to fundraising, salary negotiation.
Debates on core societal problems: world poverty, global terrorism, improving the U.S. educational system, the federal deficit, our election system, improving the U.S. economy in an era of China's and India's ascendance, societal lack of ethics, diversity issues.
Analyzing policy arguments: e.g., climate change, the racial achievement/income gap
Analyzing political arguments: e.g., liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist.
Examinations:Students will take exams assessing their critical thinking skills. Sample item: Here are four one-paragraph arguments. Put them in order of strength of argument.
PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION (3 credits)(For Module I, I provide a sample of what a lesson might look like)
Module I: Keys to effective professional communication (This is
the section on general communication skills. The
conflict-prevention and conflict resolution sections are
A. Show video of an effective communication between an employee and boss. Instead, you may wish to role-play both sides of the communication.
B. Explain that a key to those people's effectiveness were the strength and clarity of the reasoning. Then teach students a technique that would quickly help them present more clearly and concisely: for example, you might have them pretend they have 60 seconds to explain something of life-or-death importance to a sixth grader. Have them practice the technique with their webcam. Have each student rate himself and video themselves again as much as s/he wants to--at least twice in order to get credit for completing that submodule.
C. Explain that the other key to communication effectiveness is
style. Then teach them a technique or two that would quickly
improve their style. For example, "Pretend you're not yourself but
an actor you've seen on TV or in a movie who has just the right
dynamism, tone quality, presence, etc. Imitate that person."
Use the same model (steps A, B, and C), but this time starting with a video of (or you role playing both sides of) an effective communication between two peers. At your discretion, you might want to repeat this process with other examples: perhaps employee and customer, or employee and vendor.
Students then must pass a five-to-ten-item exam you'd create before going on to the next module. While, for logistical reasons, it must be multiple-choice, it is critical that those items go well beyond testing facts. For example, a test item on this module's exam might consist of four five-second videos of you making a point. The student must rank-order them in order of effectiveness.
Module II: Conflict prevention
Module III: Conflict resolution
Module IV: Managing and leading people
Module V: Running a meeting
Module VI: Negotiation
Module VII: Writing a report
Module VIII: Writing an email
Module IX: Public speaking.
READING COMPREHENSION (bachelor's level) (3 credits)
Narrative non-fiction (e.g., biographies, current events)
Technical material (including owner's manuals and help screens)
WRITING (Bachelor's level) (3 credits)
The persuasive essay
Writing for new media: blogs, Twitter, Facebook
The art of letter writing
QUANTITATIVE REASONING (3 credits)
(Incorporating risk-reward/probabilistic thinking in daily life.)
INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION (3 credits)
Communicating with friends.
Communicating with a romantic partner
Communicating with your family
ENTREPRENEURSHIP (3 credits)
The art and science of identifying unmet needs that could become successful businesses
How to start a lemonade stand
How to turn a lemonade stand into Joy Juice, Inc. (NASDAQ: joyj)
ETHICS (3 credits:)
Selfish and altruistic reasons why ethical behavior is core.
10 common, tempting ethical decisions
10 common, difficult ethical dilemmas
DIGITAL LITERACY (3 credits)
Using Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Droid operating systems
Digital audio (e.g., mp3)
Digital video (still cameras, camcorders)
FINANCIAL LITERACY (3 credits)
Practical micro and macro economics
Developing a philosophy of spending versus saving
Savings: banks, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, etfs, real estate, tangible assets.
Deciding when you should borrow and how.
Your housing: Rent? Buy? How?
Your transportation: Car? Truck? Bicycle? Mass Transit? How to buy?
Your education: Another degree? How to choose?
Your food: Shopping wisely
Your clothing: Shopping wisely.
Time-effectively obtaining a good deal on smaller purchases
Wise charitable giving
Protecting yourself against scams
CRITICAL DECISIONS IN HISTORY (3 credits)
Students are the decisionmaker in simulations of, for example, whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, entered World War II, responded to the Cuban missile crisis, etc. Students debate other students.
LITERATURE APPRECIATION (3 credits)
ART APPRECIATION (3 credits)
MUSIC APPRECIATION (3 credits)
THEATRE APPRECIATION (2 credits)
FILM APPRECIATION (3 credits)
(including YouTube video)
VIDEOGAME APPRECIATION (2 credits)
SCIENCE FOR NON SCIENTISTS (3 credits)
Thinking scientifically in daily life. (College-level application of the scientific method, risk-reward analysis, etc.)
Students are the decisionmaker in simulations of key situations: what role if any should nuclear energy play
What should the U.S. do about climate change?
Is it worth funding proposal X for searching for a cure for sudden heart attack?
Should research that would use gene therapy to increase intelligence be illegal? Government funded?
CITIZENSHIP (3 credits)
What is the good citizen?
Comparing the major political philosophies: liberal, conservative, socialist, libertarian.
Economics for citizens: microeconomics, macroeconomics.
How government works.
Finding a compatible service opportunity
HEALTH (2 credits)
Diet, and finding the lifetime discipline
Exercise, and finding the lifetime discipline
Addictive drugs: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes
Minimizing and addressing anxiety, depression.
Visiting your physician: preparing, making the most of the appointment.
DOMESTIC ISSUES (2 credits)
Wise consumer purchasing
PUBLIC SPEAKING (3 credits)
LANDING A JOB (2 credits)
RECREATING WISELY (1 credit)
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25 THE MEDIA REINVENTED
The media may be our most
powerful societal entity: It affects who we elect, the laws that
get passed, what we buy.
And today's media has tools to do an ever better job. For example, a journalist can crowd-source interviews with just a Twitter question. With their cell phones, citizens can instantly transmit video of news events to media outlets worldwide.
But today's media has become less helpful to the public because it has largely abandoned its near-sacred responsibility to provide the full-range of benevolently derived perspectives on the issues of the day. Instead, their reporting tends to reflect their apriori biases.
The core cause: journalism schools' change in philosophy. In previous generations, J schools taught aspiring journalists to make all efforts to be fair and balanced. Now, the message is more often, "You have the opportunity to change the world."
Alas, most journalists and their editors have spent little time in the real world. Their world view too heavily reflects what they learned in college, from their fellow journalists, and from their friends. Those influences tend to be overwhelmingly liberal: Academia is left-leaning, the people who enter journalism do so in part to change their world in that leftward direction, and they choose friends with similar views. Indeed surveys invariably find that most journalists are Democrats, Socialists, or Greens.
Combine journalists' leftist bias with the aforementioned okay from journalism schools to let your values rip, and the media we're exposed to has a decidedly left-of-center bias. Fox News, the only major conservative outlet, is so ridiculed by the other media that it now gets only a small mindshare of the public, especially among the intelligentsia, those most likely to vote and to influence policy.
Yes, much wisdom comes from left of center, but not all. But you wouldn't know that from the media. Not only do article topics and approaches to those topics tend to be left-biased, freelance articles and op-eds with right-of-center perspectives are generally rejected, censored, as are right-of-center books and movies submitted for review. When such items get reviewed, they generally get judged based more on their ideology than the work's quality.
It's time for a new core principle of journalism: That journalists indeed have a near-sacred responsibility to present the full range of benevolently derived ideas, to be the grist for full-dimensioned citizen conversations about the issues of our time.
For example, there are solid arguments for and against wealth redistribution, for and against Keynesianism, for and against undertaking massive efforts to cool the planet, for and against America's continuing as the world's policeman. Consumers of the media should not have to make far greater effort to find right-of-center thought than to find left-of-center thought.
In my view, few things could improve America more than a media that opens rather than closes minds.
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REINVENTIONS OF RELATIONSHIPS
26 Reinventing HOW we choose students, employees, politicians, and romantic partners
We're always selecting people, for example:
- whom to admit to a selective school or college
- whom to hire or promote
- whom to vote for
- whom to date
Wise selection matters more than one might think. For example, consider the importance of whom we choose to admit to prestigious education institutions, from top preschools to top post-doc programs. Those are superior training grounds and door-openers to leadership and to top professional positions. Choose someone who is lazy, unethical, high-maintenance, or simply unintelligent, and society suffers.
It's important to choose people wisely even in seemingly mundane situations. For example, hiring the right middle manager at a widget company improves his/her supervisees' quality of life and helps ensure that a quality widget is produced and can be sold affordably. That benefits all the customers. Multiply that across a nation and you can see how important it is that we select people wisely.
Alas, we too often select poorly. We rely heavily on invalid criteria:
- Resumes often are inflated and/or represent the thinking and writing ability of a hired-gun resume writer rather than the candidate's. And even if accurate, what a resume highlights-- academic qualifications and length of job experience--are poor predictors of workplace success.
- References are often puffery: Candidates only offer references who will say positive things, even if they have to ask their sweetie to pretend s/he was his boss.
- Often, selection is based most heavily on an interview and its analogue, the politician speech. Why? Because we tend to trust what we personally experience more than, for example, a test score. Unfortunately, the research is clear that interviews so often lead to bad decisions.
What are better approaches to selection?
Of course, tests have their limitations. We all know people who scored high on the SAT, GRE, intelligence tests, etc., whom you wouldn't hire as a dog catcher. But predictive validity studies unambiguously indicate that those tests (which correlate highly with each other) should be a criterion in selecting students or professional-level employees. Those tests are proxies for the ability to learn quickly, solve problems, and think abstractly, all of which are critical in all but low-level work. And racism and sexism are far less likely on a test than in subjective judgment. Criticisms of current tests as "culturally biased" have been dismissed by nearly all fair-minded experts.
Those tests of cognitive ability must be distinguished from tests of personality, which are notoriously invalid, for example, the Myers Briggs, the Enneagram, etc.
Beyond cognitive ability, how does one wisely assess other critical attributes of candidates: skill at the tasks s/he'll be doing, drive, emotional intelligence, flexibility, reliability, being emotionally low-maintenance?
Professional licensure exams cry out for reinvention. Those tests are the gatekeeper for our professionals from our haircutters and Realtors to our psychologists, lawyers and doctors. Alas, those exams, developed heavily by out-of-touch ivory-tower professors, too often test arcana that have little to do with competence on the job. Licensure exams should consist largely of simulations of common situations the professional would face on the job. That would not only yield better-selected professionals, it would pressure the training institutions to replace their often professor-developed, trivia-centric curriculum with material more likely to develop good practitioners.
Better selection criteria:
- simulation. The interview process should minimize coachable questions such as, "Tell me about yourself?" "What are your greatest weaknesses," and "Tell me about a problem you faced?" Instead, the bulk of interviews should focus on putting the candidate in simulations of situations s/he'll commonly face. For example, graduate school applicants might be asked to participate in a classroom discussion, manager applicants to run a brief simulated meeting with their supervisees, scientists to design an experiment. Political candidates, in addition to the standard televised debate, should be asked to run a meeting with mock legislators.
- engender honest responses from people who have worked with the candidate. For example, before hiring, leave voice mail for ten past bosses and coworkers including those not listed as a reference, saying, "I'm hiring for a very important position. Jane Jones has applied. If you think she's wonderful, call me. If not, no need to." Unless you get at least six callbacks, you probably shouldn't hire Jane.
- hire for a trial period. Select the person for a trial day or week so you can both assess if you're right for each other.
- A word about using race or gender as a selection criterion. It's widely believed that it's important to have a student body and workforce at all levels that "looks like America." That's an indisputable good and in the case of two truly equal candidates, it can make sense to let diversity be the tie breaker. But too often, the price paid for a "diversity pick" is in excess of the benefit derived--the selected candidate is known, upfront to be less likely than another candidate to make the most valuable contribution. Putting merit in the back seat is, of course, unfair to and engenders resentment from other candidates and from the public, but perhaps more important, additionally devastates society because it brings about worse goods and services for all of us: worse doctors, more poorly constructed bridges, inferior financial advisors, less safe airline pilots, less reliable products, worse customer service, etc.
Picking a romantic partner
Of course, more of the ineffable is involved in choosing a romantic partner, but couples would be happier if they at least considered how a potential long-term partner scores on this Partner Report Card:
- Compatibility in bed. Mismatched sex drive is among the most difficult-to-fix relationship problems.
- Compatibility out of bed. How much do you enjoy spending time with this person in non-sexual situations.
- Mutual respect. Do you view your partner as ethical, kind, intelligent enough, etc?
- Absence of a fatal flaw: alcoholism/drug addiction, violent temper, etc.
- Feeling: Even after the initial glow of infatuation has faded, you simply feel good being around this person.
Not only would using the Partner Report Card help create happier couples, I'd predict that it would create a better nation. I'd imagine that people who are content in their romantic relationship tend to be better on their jobs, with their friends, and as citizens.
27 PARENTING REINVENTED
Recent research suggests that parenting may have less influence on a child than genetics and peers. Nevertheless, parenting, of course, still is important.
And it's not easy. Even most well-educated parents find it difficult to parent their kids. Indeed, many children of educated parents drive their parents crazy and/or grow up to be disappointments to their parents. That is even more prevalent among the poor.
If we require teens to take a course before they can drive, shouldn't we require a course before people become parents? For example, why not have a parenting education course replace one semester of PE in high school?
But even if that is not required, if all pre-parents, during their prenatal visits to the doctor were given just a few rules of good parenting, it would dramatically improve the quality of parenting and reduce parental stress.
Of course, there are the obvious things like the importance of talking to and reading to your young child, and being a careful diagnostician of why your baby is crying and responding appropriately. But there's one principle that is less obvious yet crucial to good parenting: the use of guilt
Lest that sound cruel or the narrow thinking of the stereotypical Jewish parent or Catholic cleric, let me explain. A core goal of parenting is to get the child to do the "right thing," not for of fear of reprisal but because, intrinsically, the child wants to do it. When a child misbehaves, yelling at or punishing the child does nothing to make the child want to do the task. On the contrary, while the punishment may temporarily quell the bad behavior, it engenders resentment, so the child is, in the future, more likely to do something else bad to show who has the power. If, instead, when, for example, a child refuses to do his homework, the parent says, "Of course, that's up to you. You have to decide whether you want to be a responsible person, doing his job, which is homework, or you want to be a lazy person. Whether you want to be the person who learns things and gets smarter from doing homework, or who doesn't." Then, if the child doesn't slink off to do the homework, the parent simply sighs and walks away. No confrontation, no escalating power plays, less stress, and a child more likely to internalize positive values.
Yes, for some children, that is insufficient. Some kids do need tangible rewards and withdrawal of privileges. After all, how many of us would go to work if we didn't get a paycheck?
A word about corporal punishment. It is never acceptable. Not only is it the most potent way to trigger the aforementioned escalating power struggle, it powerfully conveys that violence is an appropriate response. So when a classmate, or later, a romantic partner, does something your child doesn't like, s/he'll consider violence appropriate.
28 FAMILY IS OVERRATED
Politicians, clerics, and just plain folks extol family as our most important institution. Yet I believe that as individuals, and as a nation, we'd be wise to ask ourselves if, in our particular family, it would be wise to reallocate our human and fiscal resources elsewhere.
So many people suffer inordinately from family. Of course, there are the obvious examples:
- Child abuse
- Spousal abuse
- Psychological abuse
But much more often, there’s less dramatic but still painful family-induced misery:
- Other than pleasantries, your adult child refuses to speak with you.
- Your spouse has fallen out of love with you, yet fear, inertia, and shared history preclude a dissolution. So you trudge along in your lackluster life.
- Your parent is still trying to control or demean you even though you’re already an adult.
- Your nine-year-old regularly screams, “I hate you, mommy!”
- Your adult child is back on your sofa still trying to “find himself” (with the assistance of drugs or alcohol.)
- You're not capable enough to compete with a sibling or parent, which dispirits you.
- You make major efforts to care for your aging parent, motivated mainly by guilt. Privately, you resent how much time, energy, and money it takes.
- Your spouse doesn’t earn enough income or do enough around the house.
- You suffer the effects of an impaired, alcoholic, drug-abusing, gambling, or just plain lazy, parasitic family member.
Millions of people don't even speak with a family member. Millions more spend years and fortunes on therapists, trying to undo the ills that family perpetrated on them.
All this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, unlike with friends, we are placed in our family of origin at random, with no say in the matter. We do choose our spouse but hormones seem to preclude our doing a very good job of it--witness the 50% divorce rate.
While it’s unseemly to discuss, money is part of the equation as we evaluate whether family is overrated. It costs a fortune to support kids, let alone a stay-at-home spouse. To pay for it, many people choose lucrative careers that are far less enjoyable than those they’d otherwise choose. Do you think that, if it weren’t for the need to support a family, as many people would choose to sell insurance, be pest control workers, sewer repairers, or bond traders? Wouldn’t many of them choose a career, for example, in the creative arts, in a nonprofit, or as a computer game maker?
Of course, I can envision some readers thinking:
What? Are you advocating a society without children? Encouraging my readers to think more carefully before having children is hardly going to lead to a world without children. I am merely asking people to be more circumspect, not reflexively fulfilling society's expectation. Besides, environmentalists argue that overpopulation is the greatest threat to the environment. A few less children wouldn’t hurt the world and its seven billion people.
Life is even more difficult to live without the support of family.I’m not saying that people don’t need support. I’m arguing against the automatic assumption that you have greater obligation to support family members than others. For example, when your ne’er-do-well sibling asks you for money because he or she is unemployed, rather than succumb to the reflexive guilt that society imposes because “he’s family,” you'd be wise to view the issue in fuller dimension: in terms of the net effects on you, him, your family, and, yes, society. For example, does giving Sally the Slug the money yield a greater net good than, for example, investing in a startup developing a drug to prevent sudden heart attack, the leading killer?
My main message is to resist automatically succumbing to convention, and instead, to make your choices consciously, based on what will ultimately yield the greatest gooden toto:for you, your family, and society.
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REINVENTIONS OF SPIRITUALITY
29 RELIGION REINVENTED
Religion can offer much that's good: a sense of community, a
chance to do good for others, opportunities for socialization, a
sense of morality, and hope for a better life, on earth or in
Alas, religion has a dark side: Priests sexually abuse children and bishops cover it up. Televangelists and deathbed-visiting clerics bilk elders out of their life savings with false promises of salvation. Terrorists blow up buildings and airplanes for Allah to give them virgins in heaven. And then there are religion's less-obvious liabilities:
Churches teach that "God will provide" and so people fail to take action to improve their lives.
People give money to churches that is often misspent and that would do more good elsewhere.
People look at others who don't practice their religion as lesser human beings, when religiosity, let alone church attendance is a poor indicator of one's character.
People are discouraged from thinking scientifically and logically...perhaps America's high religiosity is one reason we form so many beliefs irrationally.
My personal belief is that there is no God worth praying to. After all, would a loving God allow billions of people to die in natural disasters and of terrible diseases? Why would God make some people born homosexual if homosexuality is a sin? Why would God say "Thou shall not kill" and then say "Kill all infidels?"
Yet asecularspirituality informs nearly everything I
-- As I supervise my assistant, I feel an almost sacred responsibility to make her worklife as rewarding as possible--After all, she's giving me some of the best hours of her life.
-- As I decide what projects and clients to take on and what to write about, I feel a secular spiritual obligation to choose the things that would make the biggest difference to the world.
-- As I decide what to buy, I remember that, even though my individual contribution is trivial, it's cosmically right to live lightly on the earth, to leave it better than when I entered it.
-- That I have a secular spiritual obligation to enrich the lives of everyone I meet, from the Comcast repairman to the Trader Joe's cashier, to my wife. With her, that often includes staying out of her way so she can fully flower and enjoy, although it also includes giving unwanted advice when I feel the benefits of doing so outweigh the liabilities.
Someone asked me, "How isspiritual atheismdifferent from people whose motivation is to make the world better?" The reason I do the things I do go a step beyond "trying to make the world better." My core motivation is more universal--cosmic, if you will--a responsibility to make the biggest possible impact during the time I am alive. Simply because that's just in the cosmic scheme of things.
One liability ofspiritual atheism: I rarely have what I call "Christian glow"--those Christians who walk around wearing a beatific look. Spiritual atheism usually doesn't make me feel good. It just feels like the right way to live, an obligation.
Because I've grown up in the Jewish tradition, I have special thoughts about reinventing Judaism:
The Jewish religion is dying:
- More than half of Jews intermarry.
- 2/3 of those intermarried couples raise their children not-Jewish.
- Anti-Israel sentiment and fear of anti-Semitism are deterring ever more Jews from self-identifying as Jewish.
- Jewish religious services are incompatible with most modern Jews' desires. Typically, services are two to three hours long, much in Hebrew. Not surprisingly most Jews today, in both the U.S. and Israel, are non-observant, except perhaps attending Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur services and/or attending a Passover seder.
- Most Jews are agnostic or, like me, atheist: not interested in praying to an "almighty God" who would allow earthquakes that kill thousands, Holocausts that kill millions, and horrifically painful cancers that kill billions, including infants.
The (ahem) savior for Jews: convert Judaism from a religion to a
cultural affinity group, what I callSecular Judaism.Most
Jews, if they're honest, prefer the company of other Jews, just as
other cultural, racial, and ethnic groups prefer people from
similar backgrounds. People may publicly claim to celebrate
diversity but look at their choices of friends and it's clear that,
more often than not, birds of a feather flock together.
Most Jews, for example, like that Jews, on average, are intelligent, expressive, and committed to making a difference, whether in science, non-profits, business, or the arts. Most Jews' spiritual needs get largely or completely met through secular humanism.
So I believe the traditional hub of Jewish life, the synagogue, needs to be replaced with secular alternatives, for example, Jewish community centers such asthe one in San Franciscoand informal meeting places such as those that can be created and managed online atMeetUps.
Tools like Facebook and Twitter can create live and virtual
secular Jewish events and conversations. I also think that entities
such as JDate could broaden their mission from dating to friends to
chavera (a sort of substitute family) to
Most groups need leaders but I believe the traditional Jewish leader, the rabbi, need be replaced by secular leaders, for example, the de facto leaders that would emerge from a regularly meeting group, or someone who took the initiative to start a group on meetup.com.
Another concept I believe is worth exploring is a hybrid religious/secular Sabbath service. Even most secular Jews don't mind listening to and maybe may even enjoy a few familiar prayers. The problem is that a service is two hours of prayers many in Hebrew and repetitions of praise to "Almighty God." It may be worth trying a service with a few of the most familiar, nostalgia-inducing prayers punctuating a Town Hall meeting-like weekly event around some topic of particular interest to Jews such as Israel/Palestine, intermarriage, or even a secular Tikkun Olam (heal the earth) topic such as capitalism versus socialism?
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30 TOWARD A MORE ETHICAL SOCIETY
people know the right thing to do. The challenge is getting them to
In just one week in my private practice, clients, in the confidentiality of my office, said the following:
- "I'm going to stay on unemployment until the extensions run out. Then I'll look for a job. Meanwhile, I'm working under-the-table."
- "Lawyers often double-bill."
- "I want to milk the education thing as long as I can so I don't have to grow up." (Professional students waste class slots that could have gone to people who would use that slot to be productive, to better society.)
- "I flirt to get what I want and then claim I feel violated when they flirt back." (Beware.)
- A physician admitted to me that some doctors do procedures, including surgeries, that could have more wisely been treated medically. Why? Simply to make more money.
All that on top of the corporate excesses, priests screwing
parishioners (including children,) people lying on the resumes and
income taxes, using synthetic urine to pass drug tests, hiring
people to write their theses, etc., etc., etc.
Of course, getting people to more often do the right thing would bring enormous benefits to society: from more honestly on tax returns to more circumspect decision making to more honorable relationships, business and personal. If we were all more ethical, we'd have to spend less time, money, and resources policing: for example, the mountain of regulations that business must comply with, which nonetheless often don't foil those who wish to be unethical.
The question is, "How do we get more people to choose integrity over expediency?" Nearly every school, including business schools, teach ethics yet too often when it's expedient, people cut corners, sometimes big corners--Enron comes to mind. But lack of integrity is pervasive: from test cheating to resume cheating, from tax cheating to customer cheating--so often do salespeople withhold negative information about a product. And of course, the financial crisis started with people who couldn't afford to buy a home being told they could get a "stated-income" mortgage. So they signed up figuring that if their home declined in value they could simply walk away, leaving the bank to pay for their loss. Then sleazy bankers and insurance companies packaged the mortgages in a way that would hide the bad loans and otherwise unfairly reduce their risk. And the lack of integrity spiraled from there.
There will never be a perfectly integrity-first society but I believe the following will take us closer: We must all come to believe that integrity must trump expediency. Not for fear of punishment because there are too many times that lack of integrity won't get punished. We must believe that integrity trumps expediencybecause it is cosmically right:that our worth as a human being is centrally dependent on being a person of integrity.
How do we get people to believe that, indeed believe it so strongly that they'll much more often choose integrity over expediency?
To effect such a fundamental change in people's values, I believe requires efforts than begin pre-school and continue well into adulthood:
Parenting education (as part of Lamaze and other pre-birth parenting education--e.g.,. in the post-birth hospital room), should stress the primacy of teaching your child that ethics must trump expediency. Parents need, through their actions more than their words, to make clear the primacy of integrity. For example, every time a parent takes their 12-year-old to a restaurant where kidsunder 12 eat free and the parent says, "My child is 12" and pays, the child gets the message that integrity indeed does trump expediency.
Pre-K-through-graduate school, every year or two, students should create (for example, as a term paper) a model ethics training program for slightly younger students. Such an approach immerses the students in the process, unlike in a lecture should generate minimum defensiveness, and provides an ongoing source of improved ethics courses. There need be only three rules for that course development:
· Its goal must be to change the fabric of a student's thinking process so s/he will almost reflexively choose ethics over expediency.
· It must be critical-incident based, e.g., for elementary school students: bullying, for high school students: cheating, for business-school students: withholding negative information to sell a product.
· It must put students in the shoes of the victim of
ethical malfeasance. For example, when, to make more money, a
surgeon recommends surgery when drug treatment would do, imagine
how the patient feels on hearing he "needs" surgery, how his family
feels, how he feels when he's checking into the hospital, wheeled
into surgery, and when he suffers post-operatively.
To extend the ethics curriculum beyond the school years, producers of public-service announcements, TV dramas and sitcoms, movies and video games should be encouraged to create story lines that present thorny ethical dilemmas: for example, where expediency would yield great benefit and the ethical violation to derive that benefit is not great.
I would be dishonest to say that I have always chosen integrity over expediency but my batting average is pretty good. And if, from childhood, that concept had been drummed into me as powerfully as the message that that working hard is important, perhaps I would even more often make the cosmically ethical choice.
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Conclusion: From Ideas to Implementation to Improvement
My guess is that if you've read this far, your reaction is: "Lots of good ideas but can they be implemented?"
You can implement some of the ideas yourself: on choosing a career, becoming successfully self-employed, getting more education, getting motivated, investing, parenting, finding a romantic partner, etc.
But with regard to this book's macro ideas, I share your concern about implementability. I'm far from the first person to propose bold ideas for creating a better society. And indeed most of them died without their ideas being substantially implemented. As I said in the introduction, that's a price of democracy: requiring broad buy-in leads to very slow, incremental changes.
I do find some hope in that the Internet's wide availability enables good ideas to spread worldwide very quickly, to use the current argot: to go viral.
My hope, of course, is that some of these ideas do go viral. If you find yourself excited about one or more of this book's ideas, you might spread the word: Copy and paste it onto your website or blog. Tweet a link to it. Post a little YouTube video. Start a thread on an online discussion group. Or go low-tech and chat with a friend about it or convene a salon/Town Hall meeting at your home. At the risk of cliché, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. I hope you take one.
In any event, I hope that your reading this book was stimulating, perhaps of your own ideas for improving our world or your small sphere of influence within it. At minimum, I hope it was an enjoyable hour.
Thank you for reading and for thinking.
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© Marty Nemko 2004-2017. Usage Rights