Category Archives: buy local

Bookshelf Review: the Rise of the Naked Economy

In the ongoing re-organization called Life, I came across this book and skimmed/read it to make keep/discard decisions.

It’s in the ‘Keep’ pile, but only just barely; and only for the function of identifying fallacies and wishful thinking.

I found the facile tone and smudged glossiness of the imagery very off-putting.

This book described happily the new work reality, in which many of us are super-specialists, providing very highly polished skills to a perpetually delighted market.

Others of us are to be generalists _ also very crucial, we’re told_ filling in gaps and doing – you know – general things.

All the infrastructure and ‘normal’ trappings of work are to be discarded – offices, established work relationships and protocols, permanence of any kind. Except for managers perhaps  – they can have trappings. But none for the rest!

It mentions at the end a few minor glitches – health insurance (and other benefits), collections problems, taxation policies that burden entrepreneurs vs. customers.

So ok, in reality – those minor things are kind of major, and many unstated problems exist which vastly outweigh the benefits.

For one thing, earning enough money to live on as a freelancer is very difficult to do in conjunction with maintaining the skill sets and knowledge base of a specialist. Apparently these new roles come with some sort of time-turning magical device!

Most utilization of freelancers takes place within a mature, structured workplace; because of all the ways in which that structure is necessary. The main body of activity in ‘getting things done’ will always need to happen within a permanent structure. Large groups of people engaging in innovation or existing service provision require permanent physical locations, computer and telephone technologies, long-standing interpersonal relationships.

There won’t ever be a ‘flash mob’ of people who are able to come together all as strangers for a short period to get a new design from research through the marketplace etc..

The flicking-off of a small percentage of positions from employment to contractor status weakens the people in those positions, as well as the organization itself: whether the specifics are adjunct faculty or accounting contractors. A great deal is lost when functional responsibility is lost in the shuffle.

I strongly feel that this push will turn out to have been profoundly wrong-headed; beneficial to small sets of people who managed the provision of freelance service and also to the people making the outsourcing decisions – at least until enough time passes to make clear the full impact of those decisions.

Meanwhile, from day one all the way through until a more complete relationship is re-established, the person providing the service is under-compensated. Financially, and on the wider basis as far as ongoing stability and life-planning foundation and career-wise and so on.

So many building blocks of a solid future exist only within the employment relationship. To actually replace those for freelancers – sincerely and in good faith – would take much more generous monetary compensation as well as a range of other substantive realities that have not at all been even explored, much less implemented. The reality is that these relationships have not been in good faith, but have been part of the hollowing out of the middle-class.

These authors – Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner – are themselves not distanced observers, but directly within the paradigm they’re discussing – they are both involved with NextSpace, an early pioneer in the coworking model.  Which brings up another aspect of this book – it weaves present and future, concrete realities and wishful generalizations, coal and diamonds to such an extent it’s difficult to digest.

But coworking itself is fascinating, and a great environment for certain types of functions. For folks in social media for instance, I can see how it would be perfect. It has its downsides (one example set), and will have growing pains as it matures (real estate prices for instance). But as it solidifies it also becomes one of the ‘infrastructure’ pieces that it itself is replacing, reminiscent of the conclusion of Vonnegut’s ‘Player Piano’.

This book also suggest using free resources whenever possible as a freelancer, to support the no-overhead model. Those free resources are reminiscent of procurement-chain management, in which smaller business were replaced with corporate/global supplies. Both paradigms deprive small, locally-held businesses of needed volume, causing constricted decision-making and diminished futures. More evidence of the wrong-headedness of this model

“Fun to Read!” says the book jacket. Not always ‘Fun’ to live!

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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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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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Site-Member Profile: Nauen Mobile Accounting

Year Established: 1993

Business Name: Nauen Mobile Accounting

Owner: Lindsay Nauen, M.B.A. (Carlson School of Management), accounting concentration.

Product/Service: A full range of accounting and bookkeeping services for small businesses and nonprofits.

Services include:

Weekly or Biweekly activities including data entry of bank deposits and other entries, running payables checks, payroll and invoicing customers.

Month-End activities including bank and loan reconciliations, financial report preparation, budget and cash flow updating, supplemental reports and journal entries as needed.

Year-End activities including 1099 and 1096 production/distribution as well as the same for W-2’s and and W-3 form. Assistance/preparation of reports required by your CPA. Year-end journal entries and closing procedures as necessary.

Management advisory and Consulting services including projections, budgeting, cash flow reports.

Additional services: Quickbooks, Peachtree & MYOB support (plus others), assistance for your CPA in producing your tax returns and other government reporting, and other business services as needed.

Unique Features/Competitive Advantage: Nauen Mobile is so named because services are provided at *your* location, so you retain control and access to your records, and can easily discuss with the Nauen staff your business questions and financials at your convenience. Also Nauen has a range of staff to exactly meet the needs of your business, at the most optimal rate for you given your business requirements.

Organizational Mission: To provide customized accounting and business services to small businesses and nonprofits who wish to outsource those services.

Organizational Vision: To be accountable to our community, clients, our firm and to each other. To form long-term relationships with our clients. To provide customized services, including on-site work when needed.

Organizational Values: Integrity, Confidentiality, Long-Term relationships, Flexibility, Provide customized solutions, Reasonable prices.

Contact Information:
Website: http://www.nauenmobile.com/
Phone: 651/696-8913.
Address: 241 S. Cleveland Ave., A3; St. Paul, MN 55105.
Email: lindsay@nauenmobile.com

Organizational Development: Visit our recently launched website, created by long-time client: NADA advertising!

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Organization Name: Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP)

Executive Director Name: Jason Pettus

Year Established: 2007

Contact Information: http://www.cclapcenter.com/

Product/Service: CURRENT: Electronic books, hand-crafted paper books, performance events, reviews and critical essays, social events, manuscript editing services, and an interview-based podcast. COMING: Classes and workshops, merchandise, eventual brick-and-mortar location.

Unique Features/Competitive Advantage: Nonprofit-oriented but with an underlying commercial business structure, CCLaP works much more directly with its fans and members than traditional non-profits do to determine not only the center’s agenda but which types of artists to most heavily feature; and by generating its revenue through commercial products and services instead of nonprofit grants, the center is free of influence from pressure campaigns by conservative watchdog groups, allowing it to fulfill its mission of supporting edgy and independent artists much more fully.

By currently being a mostly electronic organization with only one paid employee, both overhead and production costs are nearly zero, allowing the center to try such press-friendly experiments as “pay what you want” electronic books and a Twitter-based story series, ironically generating a bigger audience than normal and a healthy financial profit, despite only 25 percent of the books’ readers being paying ones.

Biggest lesson learned in the last year: That success in the small-business world doesn’t gradually rise like a curving line on a graph, but rather in random starts and fits, which also doubles as “most surprising lesson learned in the last year.”

Many times we can toil on a project for months without even the least external sign of success or recognition, the very reason that so many non-business people call entrepreneurs hopeless dreamers when times are tough; what I’ve come to learn is that these might very well be the times when you’re creating the long-term respect in the backs of the minds of random strangers who will eventually bring a big boost to your organization, like a high-profile journalist or venture capitalist, and that it’s this quiet time of simply getting the work done that precisely creates this long-term respect in the first place.

It’s why overcoming self-doubt is such a hidden but important aspect of being a small-business owner.

Best advice for someone starting out: Dream big at first, and get a good mental picture of what you see your business looking like when running at full steam; then cut that dream down to a tenth of its former size, and first try getting that running smoothly before attempting anything else. As I’ve learned the hard way, by announcing small goals and then doing a little better than promised, you will gain an immense amount of respect and loyalty from your customers, no matter how modest those goals are; but by announcing an impressive goal and then not quite reaching it, you will garner almost nothing but ridicule.

Newest Project: CCLaP’s newest original book is a “micro-story” collection called Salt Creek Anthology. Written by local author Jason Fisk, it consists of 75 tiny little interconnected stories concerning four sorta trashy families who all live on the same cul-de-sac in a far rural suburb of Chicago.

Not only content but also the form of this book is remarkable: it’s being released in what’s called a “hyperfiction” style! On top of being able to just read the book normally from beginning to ending in a row, there are also literal hyperlinks embedded within the text of each story as well, with the phrases that are linked giving you a little clue to the subject of the story that comes next.

This is also the first book in CCLaP’s history to be available in a special handmade paper edition right from the very first day as well, title number two in the center’s new “Hypermodern Editions” series this summer, special high-quality physical editions of all our electronic books, designed for collectors but reasonably priced.

Click on the Salt Creek Anthology page to download the electronic copy, order a copy in print version, or check out additional supplemental and promotional materials for this release!

Past activities: Recent video podcasts in the “CCLaP After Dark” series include the latest edition of “QUICKIES!,” a popular monthly reading held at Wicker Park’s Innertown Pub, in which a large group of performers each get exactly four minutes on stage; and an all-comedy edition of “Literary Death Match,” a global phenomenon started by Todd Zuniga which is now held in over thirty cities across the planet.

For information on the latest CCLaP events, check out: http://www.cclapcenter.com/events/

http://www.cclapcenter.com

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Fun Friday: Gay Pride!

Clarity Solutions celebrates Gay Pride for the wellbeing of our entire community.

We urge all citizens of Minnesota to vote NO on the marriage amendment in 2012, and to help organize the defeat of that amendment until then. The constitution is not about discriminating against groups of people. Our community is most well when all members of our community are well.

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