Friday, July 23, 2010

What We Don't Learn in Kindergarten

Want a sure bet? Here you go: What is the probability of yours truly actually making an effort to read an article on the website for the EE Times?

Actuarially impossible, right?

I mean we are talking here about someone whose aptitude for things mechanical, much less electronic, is something slightly to the left of absolute zero. Indeed, I have been known to be found at the desk of our company’s LAN administrator on the verge of tears because I can’t find the ON/OFF switch on my PC.

So how is it that I found myself on the EE Times site engrossed in an interview they did with James D. Plummer, Dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering?

The blame falls to Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter fame and a Twitter post he sent this week that caught my attention.
"Stanford's top engineer says our K-12 problem is serious."
So, what made be follow the link? First of all, I follow Nick because I know that he is worth listening to, and second, anyone who follows this blog with any consistency will know that things educational catch my attention big time.

I know we all have things we worry about, in fact we had a really interesting discussion going on this week in our General Management Roundtable about “what keeps you up at night” and as you might guess there was a long list of the usual suspects like cash flow management, sustained profitability, long term growth potential, people issues, etc.

Interestingly enough, at least from the posts I’ve read thus far, an educated workforce wasn’t showing up. Maybe because respondents weren’t really thinking about the K-12 space, but to my mind, that’s really the focal point and represents vulnerability we can ill afford.

(Okay, I know that's a bit much given that short term survival is the first order of the day for most of us, but I was just trying to make a point.)

Be that as it may, here is just a taste of what Plummer had to say about the K-12 situation:
"...So we need to help K-12 understand the opportunities in science and engineering, and then change the way we admit students to universities. Some engineering schools think that’s impossible. They say students have to take calculus and physics as freshman or they are history. I say we can rethink the curriculum. If we don’t do that, we have shot ourselves in the foot."

"…You can debate if it's five or 50 years away--my view is it's probably 25 years out--but they will get there. As they get closer, the numbers of students who want to come to the U.S. will decline—especially as students see world-class economic opportunities at home. So in the long term, we have to have a different strategy."
While Dean Plummer’s focus was on the science and engineering space because that's his gig, for myself, I think the issue goes well beyond just science and engineering.

While the politics of education continue to seemingly paralyze our ability to make progress, there is ample data to demonstrate that there are many other developed countries who have decided that the quality of education of their citizens is paramount to their ability to continue to compete in the global economic game.

If sustained profitability and paths to long term growth are on the list of what our business leaders are worried about then we better start leading. The engine that will drive to the answers of some of those sleepless nights is education, and I mean K-12 education in particular.

In the U.S. we keep hearing that our ability to lead the world in innovation is what will sustain us. But if Plummer is right, and I believe he is, we not only will be unable to compete in numbers but the numbers we have will not be motivated enough to take on the challenge.

Worse, even if they had the motivation and/or innate intelligence, the educational foundation needed for them to succeed will not be there.

Talk about the need to fix our infrastructure!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Enhance Assets or Reduce Liabilities?

We once asked a banker and CEO about his decision to lend to a start-up technology company that later became a big success. The banker took out a sheet of paper and wrote two words: assets and liabilities.

This is the opening paragraph in a post contributed by Larry Stybel and Maryanne Peabody to the MITSloan Management Review.

Larry and Maryanne are cofounders of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire and I have known Larry for many years and so when I come across a chance to either hear him speak or read something he has been a part of, I try not to miss it.

I have never been disappointed.

On the other hand, when I was made aware of this post which was called Enhance Assets or Reduce Liabilities? I almost didn't click the link. Not because I didn't think it would have plenty to say (as indeed it does) but because anyone who knows me will tell you that any term that even feels financial makes me break out in hives.

I mean I get the notion that the idea is to take in more than goes out, but when they start talking EBITDA, etc. let's just say it's not my idea of fun.

Needless to say, I'm glad I went and read beyond the opening paragraph, and if you are interested in gaining some real insight into the keys to managing an enterprise as well as those who manage the enterprise you will want to make the investment of the few minutes it takes to read what Larry and Maryanne have to say.

One of the things I most admire in people who write is the ability some have of being able to convey insights on topics of great complexity in terms that are simple yet very powerful.

It was one of the gifts that someone like Drucker had.

People have written about leadership forever and people have written about the characteristics of outstanding leaders forever too.

For those of us who play or have played roles in the interviewing process as we have searched for leaders for our companies and were looking for "something" but not quite sure how to express it, I think you will find in this piece a really great way to keep what what's important in mind as well as in perspective.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Nobody Asked You To Move Yet

I have no idea how many blogs there are, and if you google it, you get a pretty big range of answers and no agreement.

Let's just say that it is well into the 70 million plus range and there are those who say the number doubles every six months.

Maybe they ought to put up another clock in Times Square to count how many are created every minute? There's probably room right under the one that calculates the national debt.

Anyway, as one of the scores of millions, I am always looking for advice and ideas on how to make the blog more interesting and dare I say it, fun. Needing all the help I can get, a colleague recently turned me on to a site called It hasn't helped with my spelling maladies much, but it has made for some interesting reading.

In a recent edition I came across a blog called IttyBiz written by a gal named Naomi Dunford. She has a wonderful writing style that gives the reader a real feel for her personality and makes you say to yourself "she is one sharp cookie and probably lots of fun to be with" and I have no doubt that both are true.

Naomi's blog is focused on "Marketing for Businesses without Marketing Departments." Nice tag line, yes?

In any case, she recently had a guest post which she introduced by saying "This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on getting what you want." Who can't relate to that, so immediately I wanted to read it.

The post was authored by a fellow named Chris Anthony who describes himself as a "delight specialist" who helps small businesses to "turn their audiences into insane, raving fans" and bore the headline: Crossing the Red Line.

Whether you agree or not you can judge for yourself. For me, I'm with Naomi.

One of the thoughts that came to mind after reading the post, after I got past the fact that so much of what Chris had to say applied to me, was how it reminded me of an issue that I have heard come up many times when I talk with ExecuNet members.

It comes up not so much because people are reluctant to ask for what they want, but because they are so focused on what they want that they don't realize that the constraint they have imposed on themselves could well result in missed opportunities.

Most often this comes up when someone wants to make a career change but is strongly rooted to a given geography and as a result simply ignore opportunities for which would be a good fit but walk away when they discover the location is somewhere they don't want to be.

Indeed, the phrase often goes something like "There is no way I'd move to East Gabrew."

An understandable feeling for sure, but I also try to diplomatically point out that no one has asked you to move anywhere yet.

What they have missed is to not realize that whoever it is that has the opening in East Gabrew may well have a similar need in the location they do want and by their failure to reach out, they will never know what they might have missed.

Point being, and what I try to convey is that once you have the chance to start a dialogue lots of things can and do change, and that includes things like titles, responsibilities, compensation and yes, LOCATION. This is especially true in today's environment where cost is critical and communication so much easier.

Bottom line: Most of us don't make the effort because we're afraid to cross the "red line" for fear of people being offended because we have wasted their time or they will think we are just jerking them around or whatever.

There is never any harm in listening, it's a free country, you can always say no.

And a fellow named Dave Harmon may have helped to sum it up best when he posted his comment on the original post and shared this wonderful line from his father-in-law:
"What are they gonna do, take away your birthday?"