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Kids won’t out earn their parents and history has been saying that for years

(EDITORIAL) The sky isn’t falling but recent history has showed this trend happening over the last several years.

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The art and science of history

History is an art as much as it is a science, a mixture of myth and legend and the truth, and then distilling them together to produce the mostly accurate version of what really happened—depending on who’s telling the story. Take, for example, the concept of Manifest Destiny in the United States. Based on the notion that an Almighty God desired that the new nation extend from its moorings near the Atlantic Ocean to fill the remainder of the North American continent, the need for expansion wasn’t driven so much for the need for more elbow room per se, but the idea that the riches and bounty of the American continent truly—and exclusively– belonged to the United States, and that the richness of those national resources would always be in abundant supply.

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The thought that they might not be, that they could be depleted by overuse, or a willful or ignorant lack of conservation efforts, simply never occurred to those early westward explorers.

Mysticism misconceptions

The term for this type of myopia is the “myth of superabundance.” First coined by United States Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall in his 1964 book, The Quiet Crisis, the theory describes a state of disbelief that the planet would not have enough resources for those consuming them. The expectation was that the world’s resources, both plant and animal, did not have to be husbanded and preserved; that we, as humans, were simply able to do as we chose and that nature would always be available and able to meet any need or desire we had.

Belief in myths such as these can be dangerous, whether that belief is intentional or just a lack of understanding the realities of the world around them. They give us a false sense of security in a world that never really existed, and, when that nonexistent world collapses, we may not be adequately be prepared for the first day of the rest of our lives.

That belief in the myth of superabundance has echoes in the fiscal, as well as the natural, world.

For many, it was an accepted fact that the pathway to success was rote and proven: go to school, get good grades; get good grades, go to a good college; go to a good college, get a successful career; get a successful career, earn more than your parents did, even adjusting for inflation between your earning peak and theirs. And for many, no harm befell them by believing in that myth—that formula worked for them.

They followed those exact steps, and success was theirs for the taking.

According to an NPR report, that formula for success have been more outlier than indicator, however. Reporting on the Equality of Opportunity Project’s latest findings, it appears the chance of children out earning their parents—especially those in middle class families– is now no better than a 50/50 coin flip. While this stands in stark contrast to what the economic forecast looked like for children born in the post-World War II, when the chance of doing so was over 90 percent, the researchers found that it was especially problematic for children, born in recent years, living in the Rust-Belt states of the United States Midwest.

Their research indicated two general points of hope

Moving from a harsher economic climate to a more promising one proved to allow for a possibility of an increase in earning power, with moving earlier in childhood being more effective than moving later in life. The researchers identified common characteristics of effective climates for economic recovery in their news release, identifying cities with “lower levels of residential segregation, a larger middle class, stronger families, greater social capital, and higher quality public schools,” as key indicators for success.

Raj Chetty, a Stanford economist who served as the spokesman for the group, noted that “[t]he finding of this study implies that if we want to revive the American dream of increasing living standards across generations, then we’ll need policies that foster more broadly shared growth.”

There are implications, and then there are implications.

Just as correlation doesn’t lead to automatic causation, it’s not wise to accept Chetty’s position on the first step in the revival of the American Dream without a need for a broader discussion. While a discussion on how to create more pathways for additional Americans to join and stay in a middle class earnings bracket– with stability– is vital to our nation’s future, there are some assumptions that must first be challenged as a part of that conversation.

As we look back to the myth of superabundance, one thing is clear; nothing lasts forever.

Whether it be the natural resources around us, or the fiscal climate of the nation, things change, and we must be prepared to change with them, realizing that there are periods of boom and bust, of drought and plenty that enhance or encumber even our best efforts. Plainly said, we shouldn’t expect things to continue on an upward trend just because we wish it, and certainly not because we’re special.

As the world changes, we must be prepared to adapt to the new normal, or suffer the consequences.The boom period of percentage of children earning more than their parents would have been in the early 1960’s, cresting the second wave of post-World War II consumer purchasing power. Jobs, especially those in the manufacturing sectors for both large and small consumer goods, were local, accessible with a high school diploma or good technical training, and paid comparatively well to norms allowing for access to the middle class.

That’s just not how it is anymore, and we know it.

The nature of America’s workforce has shifted, and the old patterns of attainment are no longer a guarantee of success. We must not immediately look to a recreation of policies, but to ourselves. We have to identify new skill sets that the market finds to be remunerative as well as we find to be personally rewarding. As the world moves towards globalization and automation, no career field is inured from innovation. Such innovation is often disruptive, and messy, and dealing with its aftermath isn’t always pleasant.

But it still remains to be dealt with.So we have to understand that we’re a work in progress as professionals. The world around us moves, and we have to join it, finding the niche that appeals to us and that is compensated at a price point that we can live with. If we stop the work of re-calibration or reinvention, we can’t be surprised nor upset when the world doesn’t agree with our professional place in it. We can’t afford to stay stagnant, nor for those who are looking for talent, can we afford to stay silent.

Your local schools, public, charter, and private, are likely doing a fantastic job of their work in the face of conditions that make that harder than it ought to be.

However, for many, the only voices that they hear from are the parents of the children who attend the schools.

A vital audience to be sure, a necessary one, but by no means the only one that is crucial. Feel free to reach out to your local district’s superintendent of schools and board of trustees, and let them know the skill sets that would help students who are applicants to your business stand out from the competition, and thrive once they get there. They’ll care, but then also be open to actively supporting them as they work collaboratively with you in the business community to provide students with pathways to the skills that they need.

It’s daunting.

Things are never secure, and we’re now in an environment that seems rife with uncertainty more than ever before. We now live in a world in which we’ve gone from a large employer such as IBM offering their employees a job for a lifetime to them offering lifetime employability. The change in mindset is subtle, but it’s there: they can no longer afford to say that you will have a job with them, but they can say that they will give you the skill set to always be able to find a job, somewhere, doing something.
And that’s the most realistic promise that they can make.

#StudyHistory

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Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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Opinion Editorials

What Swedish Death Cleaning your office looks like

(PRODUCTIVITY) If you need any motivation to clear the clutter check out dostadning, aka Swedish Death Cleaning. It won’t kill you but it’ll make you feel super metal while you clean.

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You’ve probably heard of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” as one of many titles focused on keeping your life organized and stress free. However, I bet you’ve never heard of dostadning, or, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

Alarmed yet? Don’t be; while it’s exactly as morbid as it sounds, it’s not as morose as you would think.

Dostadning, sometimes called “death cleaning” is a Swedish term referring to a process of permanent cleaning conducted throughout your Golden Girl years, usually starting around age 50. The goal of the process is to alleviate the burden of tidying up from your surviving family once you pass away.

It is currently having a day in the sun thanks to Margareta Magnusson, who is publishing a book on this topic.

The process is rooted in common de-cluttering mantras; only hold onto things that you actually use and actually bring you joy. Nothing you can’t find in your other “simplify your life” bestsellers. However, the spectre of the end of life does hang over the process, and that results in a few unique elements.

First of all, talk of death cleaning is highly encouraged amongst family and friends. Not only does this create accountability, but it also reduces the stigma around the process of passing on.

There’s also the idea of giving things you don’t want away as gifts to friends. It’s a way of creating happy memories for others, little pieces of yourself that can stick around.

In addition to creating these new memories, dostadning encourages personal reflections on your old memories. Clearing out clutter means making more space in your life for things that truly matter; anything negative or neutral gets the metaphorical boot.

That simplicity and self-reflection is a form of self-care, bolstered by the fact that, post-cleaning, you are supposed to treat yourself to something you like.

Because of the focus on long-term organization, dostadning stands out as a more long-term solution, as opposed to the temporary fix of “tidying up.” No matter where you are in life, it’s important to remember to make time to address the cause of clutter, rather than addressing clutter as a symptom that needs a band-aid.

Perhaps you could dostadn your desk? You’ve probably got a few receipts from lunch last month you don’t need anymore or maybe you’re a water bottle collector — you know the ones that get a water bottle and don’t finish it but then get a new one anyways and then somehow wind up with a collection of bottles on and around your desk? Maybe you’ve kept every single stapler you’ve ever been given but let’s be real, do you need 5 staplers?

Maybe your clutter isn’t on your desk, but it’s in your drawers. Or maybe, just maybe it’s in the break room. Wherever your clutter lie beginning to simplify and purge things will make you (and your co-workers) happy.

By focusing on changing the way you organize things as a whole, you may find your efforts to reap longer-lasting returns.

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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