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.
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.
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.
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.
The actual reasons people choose to work at startups
(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?
Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?
Well, yes and no.
The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.
When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.
Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”
Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”
It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.
However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.
Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.
Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?
How Peloton has developed a cult-following
(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.
Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.
I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.
If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.
Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.
Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?
But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.
Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!
The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.
Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?
Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.
These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.
Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?
At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!
How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication
(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.
Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.
It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.
NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.
“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”
While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:
- There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
- There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
- We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues
Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.
They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.
Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.
So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:
1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.
“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.
DiSC profiles help you and your team:
- Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
- Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
- Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
- Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
- Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members
This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.
2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).
Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.
3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.
You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.
And finally, be curious.
Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.
You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.
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