Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Making Lemonade

I recently attended the annual conference of an organization I belong to called Association of Career Management Professionals International. This year's meeting was in Chicago (great town). The keynote speaker was comedienne Kathy Buckley. For those who may not be familiar with her background, here's the short version:

Since birth she's been hearing-impaired. As a child, she was misdiagnosed and labeled as retarded. She was sexually abused and seriously contemplated suicide throughout her teens. Then she was run over by a Jeep while sunbathing on a beach, which resulted in broken bones and intermittent paralysis in her legs (not to mention being pronounced dead by the attending paramedics). And after five years of recovery, once she could walk again, she discovered she had ovarian cancer.

She has turned all this adversity and more into becoming a highly sought after stand-up comic and, as I and my colleagues discovered, an incredibly powerful motivational speaker.

I am sure that all of us have marveled and been motivated by individuals who have overcome barriers in life that are so far beyond anything that any of us have ever faced and that once having heard their stories our own "troubles" pale so much by comparison that it's embarrassing.

That being said, Kathy has such a powerful way of putting this sort of thing in the right perspective that unlike most of the motivational speakers I have heard over the years, this is one I won't forget. If you are having an event where those attending need to gain that perspective, I would recommend you check to see if
Kathy is available.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Perspective Not to Be Missed

A colleague here in the office gave me some plane reading last week as I was on my way to a conference in Chicago. It was a copy of a recent the NY Times magazine that comes with the Sunday paper. Tom Friedman had an article in it called The World is Flat. Pretty powerful stuff. Essentially he laid out the challenge facing our country if we are to remain competitive in a world which (thanks to cyber communication) has removed the barriers to the application of intellectual horsepower.

His point is that if we as a county (and that really means we as a business community) don't really get behind a genuine, consolidated effort to push up the educational standards soon, we are in big, big trouble. As he points out, by the time our students get through the 12th grade, they are last in the educational rankings of all the industrialized countries. Not a happy list to be on to say the least.

When you look at the achievement level of students coming out of the educational system in places like China, South Korea, and India, particularly as it relates to math, the sciences, and engineering, and then superimpose the degree to which they outnumber the U.S. in population, the issue seems pretty clear. Just to give you an idea, in China, he says, there are already more people using cell phones than the population of the U.S.

Bottom line, Friedman's point is that in the not too distant future, if we don't get things fixed in this arena, it isn't just going to say Made in China, etc., it will say "Designed in China."

I think he's right.