Escaping the Horrors of our current Economic Situation with Thomas Piketty

So I was watching a horror movie last night. It is called ‘The Apartment’ with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurry and many others, written directed and produced by Billy Wilder. It came out in 1960, at the end of the black-and-white era.

At the time, it was produced as a light comedy. Since then however, much has changed.

For example, Bud, Jack Lemmon’s character (whose apartment the film is about) is one of approximately 10,000 employees at an insurance company, making about $95 per week. His precious apartment (due to its location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, close to Central Park) rents for about $110/month.

I didn’t watch it through, skipped around. But basically the higher-ups in his company take advantage of him, calling him names similar to drudge, and treat him poorly. He sits at a desk among a huge sea of desks on the 18th floor. They time when each floor can leave, so as to not overwhelm the elevators. The elevators are run by uniformed employees (including Shirley MacLaine’s character), the switchboard is still manually operated, etc..

So, let’s review.

This middle-aged man has a job of medium skill/intelligence, at a similar level as thousands of other employees, which is not yet much automated or supported via technology. He rents a wonderful apartment in a prime location, for just over 25% of his salary.

He is comfortable financially, isn’t conscious of that, and concerns himself with moving ahead. Presumably the other thousands of people he works with are also comfortable.

We know this – the 60’s were a time of widespread prosperity. It just hurts to see the characters so unaware of it. Kind of like in ‘Our Town’ how the people in the graveyard are aware of the people alive taking everything for granted.

My primary concern though is how we’re going to appear to people in 50 years. Will it seem to them that we have it amazingly well?  That is what would be horrifying.

And that scenario is not very far-fetched, according to the book everyone is reading that I finally picked up: ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Piketty (called by some “an Alexis de Tocqueville for the 21st century”.)

This article in the New Yorker describes Pinketty’s beliefs that the consequences of staying on our current course are ‘potentially terrifying.’  Piketty’s main point – growth of capital (in the hands of the rich) is higher than growth of the economy, resulting in permanent, ever-larger income disparities unless something is done.

So now I have my own copy of Piketty’s ‘Capital’, and I look forward to writing about it further in coming weeks and months. My initial reactions to the actual book itself: it’s big! Hardback of course only right now, and officially has 685 pages. Of course, the index starts at 671, the ‘contents in detail’ (?) list on page 657 (list of text headings), and general ‘Notes’ and references etc.. on page 579. So the actual ‘conclusion’ of the main text is on page 577.

I typed in a small section of text to one of those readability sites, it assigned a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 49 (scale of 0 to 100, higher score indicating more readable).  I notice just skimming that he does often state what he is going say or what he has said, provides lots of navigational clues as he’s going, there are lots of visual data items as well.

I’m excited to finally have it in my hands – kept hearing Piketty this and Piketty that the last several weeks. Finally looked him up, and came to understand that this book has broken all sales records for a book on economics! It is actually number one on multiple bestseller lists. There are suggestions that this book could actually play a significant role in changing the course we’re on. I sincerely hope so!

 

 

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Keeping our Footing

Regarding that article in the NYTimes about Minneapolis nightlife – yes, there is truth, but it is universal truth about young people finding love. Those true aspects are the same everywhere.

The placement of it in Minneapolis, with the suggestion that an accurate flavor is being presented, is the false part.

The frequent lists – with the Twin Cities faring well in a variety  of metrics – provide some context for this piece.

I’ve compiled a few of my favorite things about the Twin Cities as well. We all could do favorite lists with their own, unique aspects (and probably several shared attributes).

The fact is, there is a superiority-tone to the piece that is regrettable and unnecessary. If we’re all skating around a lovely outdoor pond in winter, it’s like someone coming through doing the whip, skates flying.

The article describes a set of people, and uses their words to look down on the particular neighborhood of Uptown, as well as ‘the sticks’, the suburbs, and downtown. That about covers everything, job well done! Just kidding.

As I mentioned, much complexity and nuance was left out. And it’s true – the piece wasn’t about all those other subjects. But the tone contained a certain dismissiveness.

And sure, if it is necessary to compare us (sometimes called ‘the Little Apple’, due to our extensive theater scene and other attributes) to New York, we are less. Absolutely agreed. There are reasons for that, and it’s just a basic structural fact.  The same is true of most other cities and towns around the world,  compared to New York.

I have been to the town in Germany that some of my ancestors lived in for centuries. People there lived their everyday, common lives within their own perspectives and were better/worse/ the same as everyone else.

I’ve been to Ireland – all of which I claim as home, since we don’t have as much family history about details there. I’ve stood at the Cliffs of Moher looking east – next stop New York! I’ve imagined my way into all those who left those places and elsewhere to come to New York for a better life. I revere New York for many reasons, there is no other place like it in the world.

But all of our other places, they’re all pretty ok. We read articles like this one, stop what we’re doing, review and consider. Learning involves adding new information to what is already known. We question – is this new information? Is there something important here, that needs to be incorporated? We converse, muse it over, share some thoughts.

Then we’ll go back to what we were doing, each our own fascinations and involvements. We regain our footing, skating stronger and faster than before. New York is still sacred and precious, and we’re all still our own simply complicated unique selves.

One of my favorite phrases – which is really corny, and I don’t care – is one that Casey Kasem used to always say during his Top 40 countdowns: Keep Your Feet on the Ground, and Keep Reaching for the Stars!

We do well at both of those struggles here, and I call us good.

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Strength & Vibrancy of Twin Cities

There was a display at the Cargill room in the Downtown Minneapolis Library a few years ago, celebrating the sesquicentennial (150 years) of Minnesota. It contained displays showcasing Minnesota’s inventions over the years. They included an extensive array: Medical (pacemakers, etc.. work by Bakken and many others), Computer, Food (wheat varieties created by Borlaug, credited with saving  the lives of millions; zillions of apples and much more at the University of Minnesota). Also random things like the Tilt-a-Whirl, Roller Blades, and Spam (which has, again, saved the lives of millions probably).

The University of Minnesota, one of the original Land-Grant institutions, has been doing everything possible to improve life for Minnesotans – and Everyone – since the 1850’s. I graduated with a degree in Accounting from there. I don’t know if you can tell. Anyway, even with the University’s various campuses and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system,  we have a wealth of smaller Universities and Colleges as well. Truly something for every interest and life path.

We have much more diversity here than others imagine. Minnesota schools  are helping kids learn English in addition to their own languages – 200 different languages are spoken in their homes. Our four main languages in Minneapolis are English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong. We are a vibrant community of cultures, ethnicities, neighborhoods  and communities.

We have a thriving arts community, more theater per person than almost anywhere else, storytelling, dance, live music and much more.

Politically, there’s just no end. But let me just stress our high voter turnout, and leave it at that. Except to also mention politics at its best – the Center for Victims of Torture, based in Minneapolis, doing everything possible to heal the human spirit.

That is one nonprofit of hundreds in Minnesota – part of a thriving nonprofit community that seeks to ensure the vitality and well-being of its citizens and address today’s challenges in coordination with government entities, foundations, benefactors and volunteers; in a way that is transparent and accountable.

We have a thriving technology arena with innovation and real-world application, new breakthroughs and efforts to bring technology’s benefits to as many as possible.

Our Minnesota State Fair is perhaps a good place to stop. For many on the coasts (the reason this post exists, see here and here), the State Fair justifies your belief systems about Minnesota. And, as I’ve said before, there’s a certain level of inevitability about all this which I accept.

Despite that, I’ll just say this: the State Fair is like life.

You have huge numbers of people, all of whom are doing what they want to do for their own reasons. Some have brought to the Fair the best of their years’ efforts – animals, artworks, recipes, large vegetables, seed art. Some have brought information and arguing points to try and change others minds and spark action. Some have brought items to sell, and/or money to buy. Many are artists and performers, there to incite joy, laughter and dancing. Many-many are present to take it all in and have a wonderful time.

There is a little bit of almost everything, and a zillion choices at every turn. You can – as in life – decide what experience you want to have, and then set about to have that experience. Things may go a different way, and you can adapt. There may be streets filled to the brim with unwashed masses – and alternate routes. Long lines at these times, shorter lines earlier/later. Coupons and deals to utilize. Extensive work and volunteer opportunites. Too much heat, rain, cold and blah days, disappointment, social goings-on with drama and heart break, families (in matching t-shirts sometimes) with best intentions, crying babies and their huge baby carriages always in the way, people moving about with assistive technology, people physically adjusting themselves to all those around them constantly, people who’ve been coming to the fair for decades, people who only recently landed in Minnesota and are still just their bearings, breaking technology and the newest in kitchen convenience. It’s all there, it’s all in the Twin Cities, it’s all the same in slightly different ways everywhere.

We are completely engaged in what we’re doing here. You are welcome to join us. It’s ok if you want to keep doing what you’re doing where you are. But we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing our own selves, in any case. Namaste.

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Rankings – Twin Cities

List of high rankings recently for Twin Cities

(Note, given our inherent modesty, it’s excruciating to pull this all together, but in moments like these the struggle is part of the reward).

Two of America’s Top 12 Cities – BusinessWeek

Bike City – # 1 (Bicycling Magazine)

Bike-Friendly City – #2 - CNN

Best City Park System  – Trust for Public Land

Top Best Cities for Young Adults: # 10 (Forbes Real Estate)

#1 City our size for National Night Out participation

Travel & Leisure: High rankings for multiple aspects including intelligence and summer

Dog Friendly Cities # 10 – Estately

Forbes #23 best place for business and career

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Reality

My Paradigm

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. People on the US Coasts tend to not know where that is, and to not know much about it. I’m fine with that, in general. A current article in the NY Times about the Minneapolis bars/singles scene generated some commentary, and that sparked my thinking about perception vs. reality, in life and in work.

People almost never really see each other, and that is an essential attribute of life, and certainly of business.  And that’s all right.  Our whole selves are not really prime-time ready, not really palatable. We’ve seen comedies involving saying the exact thing one is thinking at every moment – doesn’t work very well. It’s OK to bring our best-constructed selves out to play, intentionally, for best outcomes.

And optimally, we recognize that what we see of others is a constructed picture. We translate and adjust accordingly.

In these current economic times, those translations and adjustments are even more necessary, and that’s what came to mind as I was thinking about New York’s perceptions of Minneapolis.  The economy is enormously challenging for many, many people. It’s hard to know the best way to respond to that at every moment. In this piece I’m exploring ways to do that involving perceptions and reality-constructions.

My take on constructed realities comes mainly from two early fascinations: theater and magic.

Reality Constructs: Theater & Magic

At my first audience experience at Park Square Theater in the 70’s, I was completely fascinated. The space was so small, the actors were Right There, but inhabiting an entirely different paradigm. It was a vivid introduction to the fourth wall (that between audience and staged situation).

I became somewhat involved back stage in High School on the East Coast (where I lived briefly), and then in college, I again became involved in theater, this time in a company called Punchinello Players (second oldest student-run community theater in the US at the time, no longer exists). We did ‘Waiting for Godot’ and other great things, and some that weren’t so great.

Throughout these formative experiences, it was endlessly fascinating to go from the earliest ideas and strategies for putting on a show, through the whole process, to audience reaction and financial outcomes. Particular aspects: knowing the shared script, following the script, improvising in response to the unexpected – were all very useful to my development as a person.

One night there was a bat – a live bat (the building was quite old)- in the green room during the whole show at Punch. Back stage we were very quiet, and moved around as little as possible, in the hopes that the bat would remain still for the duration. And it did! Just like in Noises Off, the drama behind the scenes rivaled that in front of the curtain. And the adage really is true: ‘The Show Must Go On.’

Prior to all that though, when I was 9 or 10, I became fascinated with simple magic tricks. The most important thing was to understand the concept of mis-direction: making a conscious choice of what you want the audience to pay attention to, and acting in such a way as to make that happen. The magic trick of course needed to happen elsewhere.

In both cases, perceived reality is not true. Perceived reality is constructed in a way as to be mutually beneficial to both parties, and it is acted out according to plan, and at the end, both parties are happy.

East Coast & West Coast and… Minneapolis

I’m not upset about how folks on the coasts perceive us here in Minneapolis – it isn’t the truth. There’s no way it could be, most of them have never been here or anywhere but where they live (or the other coast). Their constructions of us are beneficial to them, and they don’t really cost us anything at all. It’s pretty much a win win.

When High School was finishing, and I was letting folks know I’d be coming home to Minneapolis to attend the U, they would say, “But why?? You’re here now; you don’t have to go back there! You can stay Here!”

Some of the messages were:

But you’re OK! We like you! You can stay – you don’t have to go back and be with those lesser-folks!

 Now that you’ve seen what real life is like, how could you give it all up again and go back there?!  Don’t you want what we have, here?!?

 You must resist! Stay strong! Evolving takes effort. You’ve already made great progress. Just stay the course!

And other nonsense.  They simply had no idea! They weren’t that different from folks back home, things weren’t hugely better, certainly not more civilized or evolved in any way, and what the conversation really consisted of was group-defined presumptions and superiority constructs – paradigms that fit for them, but were not accurate for me at all.

Their lack of accurate perception could have cause negative outcomes for me if I’d based my actions on them, but I didn’t and everything worked out just fine.

Constructed Reality and the Workplace

Mass media/stereotypical views of our communities are similar to the marketplace for workplace professionals – an aspect of life, but not a defining factor. It’s simply becoming extremely necessary to see the fourth wall, to spot the misdirection.

Constructed narratives are a crucial linchpin in the business world. Employer and clients each present one, and it’s usually carefully crafted. In the past, employment was thought to be an instance of simply providing one’s work skills, and being paid. I believe now it’s much more about providing a skill-set related narrative, and fitting that in to each work situation. While knowing, just like in theater, that it’s a shared process; and also constantly updating it. Passivity is not your friend.

During these challenging times, some people find themselves in the position of being able to take advantage of their workplace power to reduce costs,  increase their comfort levels and so on. The other side of that coin is that others may receive less and/or have to work harder or under more difficult circumstances.  I feel that these aspects are temporary, for a variety of reasons. But even so, actively seeking that particular best workplace mix for you is always useful.

I saw a tweet recently – things won’t get easier until you get stronger.  I feel that the most true part of that is when we get stronger, it nearly always guarantees that things get a bit easier. And gaining strength – same as any other positive attribute – is always a useful goal. Even more so in times like these.

Workplace Challenges

Some perceptions of the work world today are that it will consist almost entirely of short-term ‘stints’, as in this article by William Ellermeyer describes.  I think there will always be more of a mixture, but the fact is employment no longer carries the long-term assurances it once did. Every person who wants to be working tomorrow, whether they are working today or not, as an employee or a contractor, needs to be learning about the marketplace in order to create their best script that most closely matches their skills and attributes to the optimal client/employer.

We have the choice to try and respond to changes in the marketplace in the way that is best for us and best for our customers and our community.  Part of that involves perceiving things accurately – looking for the misdirection, seeing the paradigm that is being presented and the reasons for it.

For instance, take Facebook. It is presenting the image of a portal for people to have social relationships with each other. It is also selling the presence of consumer-social-space to advertisers. Seeing the inherent misdirection is useful in choosing one’s level of interaction with Facebook.

Each workplace consists of individuals, who are unique, and groups that have a particular culture, and activities that are organized in a certain way. Now especially, people in power want to do things according to their own paradigm. They may choose to present an incomplete view of that to co-workers and employees. Over time, additional information and actions may contradict that presented view. It is crucial to take in non-official information and create your own understanding, and to not be surprised by the difference between your understanding of your workplace, and the official ‘story’ in place. Don’t block things out because they are confusing or contradictory. Take in the information, try and construct a way in which it all fits, and try and match your role on stage to the real situation you are discovering. But understand you also still need to fit the official script as well.

Take in more information; adjust your actions today and your plans for tomorrow. Often. Become nimble. Separate wants from needs.

These days require new skills that prior times didn’t as much. It’s important to be honest with ourselves about what we are willing to do, and what we’re not willing to do. About what is important to us in a workplace – ethical context, work being done, staff attributes, managerial culture, geography, marketplace perceptions, long term strategies. And then using that value information in making all these active choices.

Meeting the Challenge

We have to know ourselves well to constantly determine whether we are willing/able to be a match for this or that situation; when the optimal work relationship is in place and when it has ended; what meets our needs best for the next period; and so on, on a somewhat constant basis.

We all have specific quality markers that define our work. In my case, accounting, I define quality as:

Adhering to GAAP and complying with all federal, state and local laws and business best practices; while instituting and maintaining transaction systems that fit the particular organization and are effective; in order to produce timely accurate information that meets the requirements of external parties and the informational needs of internal decision-makers.

I am going to continue to do that, even when the marketplace changes the workplace relationships and structures.  Over the years through it all I continue to prioritize my most essential workplace actions, doing the rest as much as possible, and communicating about my work within the language of the marketplace today and my workplace relationships.

It requires constant re-thinking; comparing  current demands not to how things used to be done, but to what optimally can work now. There is constant prioritization, value definition and horizon scanning. This article by Christine M. Riordan in the Harvard Business Review is an example of the constant re-formulating I’m talking about.

Back to the theater: the marketplace forces are similar to that bat I mentioned, perched on the mirror backstage during the show: it’s a hurdle. It has to be incorporated in to our actions, but it doesn’t have to exert undue control over the quality of our work or our well-being.  We can still do our best and coordinate that process into the ever-changing workplace narrative.

The show goes on.

And Minneapolis continues to be its authentically wonderful, albeit imperfect, self – regardless of external simplistic perceptions of it.

Ed. Note:

There is a likelihood of future revisions of this piece. I tend to do that for a bit, it’s what works best for me. For those of you who’ve already read this, it won’t take anything away or change it substantively: just will increase the clarity for those coming after you.
The other thing is, I may add links – to external pieces, and to related pieces that I’m going to write in the future. If any of you reading this have opinions about notifying readers of that, I’d be interested.
I could add links added to this section for instance, or in a separate page, or not at all. So any thoughts on that are welcome.

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Socially Medium

With my ingénue eyes, Social Media is a fascinating, vibrant field full of mystery and excitement.. and twists and turns equal to any film thriller. Since I don’t work in the field, it is always new and fresh. And I’m not encumbered by too much actual technical expertise.

So I’m launching a sometime-series of Social Media from the layperson’s point of view, or the consumer’s point of view, or something like that.

Catchy title in process — currently ‘Socially Medium’ under consideration.

Today I just have to mention that HootSuite, much as I love it and celebrate it every day, is making me crazy.

I have used it with a range of accounts, from 2 to 5 at any given time.  These accounts are mine, family members, work places.  I’ve found HootSuite really has a serious ceiling on its functionality, and 2 accounts seems to be a limit (I’m using the free version).

So in my comments today, it’s with that framework in place – 2 account, each of which has all 20 lists in place.

Problem #1: Favoriting – when I favorite a tweet within Hootsuite, it doesn’t give me the choice of which account I want the favorite to be added to.  It makes a decision based on which account I’ve used more it seems like.  So, often the wrong account is used.. not a big problem, since I do the process knowing that that is the likely outcome, but it’s annoying. I could go to the Twitter site and favorite it there, but I’m usually trying to spend fewer minutes rather than more, and staying in Hootsuite is simpler.

Update: You know what? Classic case of the utility of writing — I figured something out about this since releasing it in this post. When Hootsuite doesn’t ask which account the favorite is for, it assigns the favorite to the account that owns the column from which the tweet came.. so if it’s a company-list, it favorites the tweet on to the company account, personal list – personal account. Finally. Still doesn’t work for me, because I put things in lists in a very organic manner, and that 1:1 correspondence is pretty off base. Good to understand though!

And when the thing I want to favorite is in a list/column from the other account, not the one I want the favorite on, just realized: If I click on the account of the tweeter (bringing it out of the paradigm of the particular column that tweet was in), then Hootsuite does ask which account I want the favorite to be on. Hallelujah.

Atleast, those are my working theories for now..

Problem #2: The lists. I often find interesting accounts on Hootsuite that I want to add to a list, or several.  One thing is that the add-to-list process works for one list at a time, which is painful. The other is that Hootsuite doesn’t update the list names from changes made in Twitter .. at all, it seems. So I have to know that X old name = Y current name.

Also, Hootsuite constantly changes the order of the list names that it presents. So I can add an account to a list from either of my accounts in Hootsuite, which is nice.. if I can find it in the constantly newly-sorted order.

Also, it presents some list names twice.. so it’s either showing two different lists with the same name, or one list twice. Neither is optimal..

I have somewhat randomly redundant processes, and overlapping list memberships, so it’s not fatal, but it bothers me. I wish there was some way to tell Hootsuite to update its list info from Twitter periodically. And I’d love to be able to order the lists that it shows in that ‘add to list’ function myself, or just have it use the list order established in Twitter.

Also, the bit.ly links – seems like for a while Hootsuite would just not send scheduled tweets that included those kind of links, so after noticing that, I started trying to remember to replace each of those links with a Hootsuite –generated link. Not time-efficient much.. and then sometimes I forget, and now it seems one tweet with a bit.ly link did go through. So maybe that isn’t required any more.

Finally, I noticed somewhere something about 6 characters being set aside for the tweet wrapper or something.. it had been the case that Hootsuite would send tweets that were longer than 140 characters. My understanding was that other Hootsuite users would see the full tweet, folks using other interfaces would not. But now it seems that Hootsuite won’t send tweets over 134 characters: 140 – 6.. but that’s not always the case either.

Clearly, there is a LOT of mystery involved for me! A smidge less would still be completely sufficient, honest.

Adapting to conditions is constantly required, would be nice though if the conditions would remain consistent – or get better. If only Hootsuite would fix these things, I’d be a very happy participant!

Insights/suggestions welcome. But save your breath if you would tell me to use a different interface – honestly that’s just not going to happen any time soon. The investment is too great.. I save most of my computer-y energy for work, constantly getting the best out of the different accounting software programs I’m using (3 different ones right now, between work and home).. everything else is secondary.  Including this site, etc.. simple suggestions welcome, anything more is probably not realistic. This is the elsewhere-focused outback on social media, hopefully with some attendant charm, despite all interwoven deficiencies!

P.S. Some other things I want to write about soon include Facebook advertising and that new option ‘Listly’..

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claritysol:

Good guidelines!

Originally posted on Caliber Pulse:

Flaming HashtagHashtags became a part of everyday lingo for active Twitter users, but now they are popping up in the strangest places.  You are likely to find them on your television screen while you are watching your favorite shows, on printed pieces arriving in your mailbox, splashed across other social networks (Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram), and prominently displayed on event banners, billboards, websites, etc.  So what is a hashtag and how do you successfully implement this tactic for your brand?

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