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Opinion Editorials

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

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!

Opinion Editorials

How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Many intelligent people find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis (procrastination) and missing their window of opportunity. Others make decisions without enough information. How do you find the sweet spot between the two?

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I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed, and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?,” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?,” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had, and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to auto play upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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